Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just How Much is a Championship Worth, Anyway?

There was an interesting story on the other day by Tom Verducci, one of the most thoughtful baseball writers around. Verducci decided that he wanted to determine the most efficient franchises over the last decade (even though, of course, 2000-2009 isn't a decade; we'll let that go). So he put together a pretty simple formula. First, he started with cost per win, basically dividing the number of games a team won per decade by their aggregate payroll. And this alone is a pretty interesting. We see that the Yankees, despite winning the most games in the decade, still had the highest Cost Per Win (CPW) because their payroll is so freaking high. Just glancing at the list, you can see that the Angels and Cardinals were the big winners, because they were the only teams that won over 900 games (900 and 915, respectively) with a CPW under 100. And the Orioles are the biggest losers, because they had a CPW over 100, but failed to win 700 games (the Tigers are not much better, as they were over 100, and won 729 games).

Verducci wants to take it further, though, as he should, since CPW doesn't include postseason performance. So he devises a formula in which he rewards various milestones: one point for being in a pennant race (defined as finishing within five games of a playoff spot); two for a postseason appearance; three for each series won; four for making it to the World Series; and five for winning it all. And that makes sense, I suppose; each successive level of success should be rewarded. He adds all these scores up, meaning that a team that wins a World Series earns 21 total points for that year. He then takes the point total (called Achievement Points [AP])for the decade and subtracts it from the CPW, for a new score, Efficiency Rating (ER).

This all seems well and good, but Verducci's results should have told him that there's a flaw in his logic. Why? The Marlins win.

The Marlins. The team that has twice in it's short history won world championships and turned around and torn up the team immediately thereafter. The team that was just told to either put more of their revenue into their payroll, or the union can sue them. That team, they're the model of baseball efficiency.

Let's take a look at their Achievement Points. They get 22; 21 come from their World Series title year, and the other from being in a pennant race (I've no idea what year that was). So the message here is: Be really good one year. Win the World Series. And then suck. Don't even try. Repeat every ten years.

Verducci is overvaluing postseason success in his formula, I think, especially because (as he's said several times) the postseason has become a crapshoot. Were he to redo his calculations, and award one score per year (meaning you'd get five points for the year you won the World Series, four for making it there, ect.). Otherwise, one year of success ends up meaning too much; in this case, the Marlins one year of extreme success trumps the other nine of mediocrity.

And this got me thinking (and is the reason I'm writing this post); how much goodwill does a championship earn, anyway? It certainly isn't as much as Verducci suggests; otherwise, coaches and managers that win championships should have ironclad job security for at least the next five years, and we know that's not the case. I'd say it earns you one year, two tops. If the Phillies had fallen apart this year, I don't think anyone would be calling for Charlie Manuel's head. But next year? All bets are off.

And then there's that other Philadelphia team. You may have heard that the Eagles were very successful in the Aughts; in fact, they were the best team in the NFC, by a wide margin. And you may have heard the the postseason for the Philadelphia Eagles has been... a mixed bag. But what would you rather have? Unwavering consistency, with your team always in the playoff/ championship mix, or that one great year? Would fans really trade one championship year for several wasted ones? The answer, of course, is that neither is acceptable. We want our cake and we want to eat it, too. Win over the short term and the long term, that's the only acceptable result.

Let's go back to Verducci's piece, because there's still some value there, despite it's flaws. For one thing, the Mets have been exactly as bad as you think they have. Despite making it to the World Series in 2000, the Mets managed to be the most inefficient franchise in baseball. The Orioles, in addition to their rather pathetic win total mentioned above, managed to not even contend for the entire decade. Not enough is made about how bad the Orioles are; they (and Toronto and Tampa) often get a pass for being in the middle of the Yankees-Red Sox turf war, but there's no excuse for having spent all that money without even giving your fans one meaningful late season game in ten years. And the Cubs sure spent a lot to try and not become the first sports franchise to go a century between championships... and it wasn't enough, apparantly, because they became the first sports franchise to go a century between championships. That really is amazing, when you think about it. I mean, they haven't even played for a championship since World War II. That's inefficiency for you.

When do pitchers and catchers report again?


  1. The new name is, as the kids say If they're still saying that. I'm guessing they're not. I agree that the Office is slipping. 30 Rock was taking a nosedive, but its been regaining altitude. There's a great article in The Awl about what's wrong with the Office, I'll send it to you!

  2. This "study" that reveals the Marlins as CPW champs is VERY revealing even if we do not like its results. Baseball (or any other pro franchise) is a business first, entertainment second and sport last. The Marlins do not ever make the post season but remain pesky enough that their August and September games matter. They don't make much money but they don't spend it either. Indeed, their franchise is a crapshoot that has happened to succeed twice. I think in someways it is reassuring to know money doesn't win championships, except, of course, this last year excepted.

  3. But, Andrew, their August and September games usually don't matter, at least according to Verducci. That's my point: they've only been in contention one other year besides the year they won the title. Of course, you're right that they are much better then the other "hopeless" franchises in baseball. They're sure doing a better job then the Pirates.

    And James, I think you posted that with the wrong post... but it's appreciated nonetheless.