Fixing Baseball, One Yankee At a Time
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on October 17, 2004
While performance enchancing drugs are a black eye to baseball’s collective integrity, both steroids and the rabid spending of George Steinbrenner are an equal poison to the game’s level playing field. New York’s $188 million payroll dwarfs the salary total of the second highest team, the Boston Red Sox, by more than $60 million, or a little less than the salary-equivalent of Alex Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Gary Sheffield combined.
Those players were’nt picked off of the Yankees roster because they are the best five players on the team. They were chosen because they are among the latest four big-money players added to the Bombers’ 25-man roster via trade and free agency, and the player that was re-signed last as one of their own.
Imagine where the Yankees would be without those five. Think of the New York lineup with the “average” player at four critical positions such as C, 3B, RF, LF, and their best starting pitcher. Lets pretend for a moment that the Baltimore Orioles landed Hideki Matsui instead of Steinbrenner’s checkbook. Matsui’s absence from New York would not only help the Orioles, but hurt the Yankees.
And lets assume, for payroll purposes only, that in place of Matsui is the league’s average player in left field. The difference could be the equivalent of a few games, at the very least, and in each direction – more wins for Baltimore and less for New York. To assess the effect of this sort of analysis we will use a statistic called Win Shares, created by Bill James, the inventor of the Sabermetric world that has become a stat head’s dream.
Win Shares are calculated into one number that represents what the player’s contribution to his team’s wins that particular season, depending on the player’s performance.
To be most accurate in attempting to see how many wins the Yankees gained by spending so much more money than any other team, for each player we remove from the Yankee lineup we will calculate his Wins Shares Above Average, or WSAA. For every three win shares he was worth, the player was worth one win to his team’s total.
If we took the difference of payrolls between the two teams playing in the American League Championship Series, which is about $63 million, and removed that amount, in players, from the Yankees roster, what would have happened?
Let’s use WSAA and find out.
For payroll purposes we will assign each of the removed players’ replacements with a $2 million salary, just to keep the math workable but as accurate as possible. We’re being nice to the Yankees here by assigning such a low salary to the replacements, but we’re nice people and we’re just doing this for the good of the game of baseball, aren’t we?
Matsui was worth 12 win shares above average and since each three win shares are worth one team victory, Matsui was worth four more wins to the Yankees this season than the average left fielder would have been in the same situation. But to be safe, and to account for margin of error, we will call it three.
Removing the three victories is a lot more crucial than you would think at first glance. With 101 wins bowing to 98, the Yankees would have tied for the divisional lead with Boston and lost the tie-breaker. Ultimately, the Yankees would have been awarded the wildcard and removed home field advantage from their postseason schedule.
Matsui was paid $7 million this season, or $5 million more than the average player’s salary, and we still have a long ways to go to get the Yankees back to operating on the equal playing field as the rest of baseball.
The Yankees are now a 98-win club with a still-ridiculous $183 million payroll.
Next we rip Gary Sheffield off of the Yankees roster and the Yankees lose 15 WSAA, valued at five wins. Five wins less than 98, which was the result of Matsui’s absence, is 93.
Sheffield made $13 million in his first season with the Yankees, or $11 million more than the average replacement.
Together, you and me, we have made the Yankees a 93-win team with a $172 million payroll.
Who should we take next? How about Mike Mussina, the Yankees’ right-handed starting pitcher.
Mussina was worth 10 win shares but only one above average. So the loss of Mussina wouldn’t have hurt the Yankees much, if at all, during the regular season. Sounds like a waste of money but hey, it’s not our money so why do we care?
Mussina earned $14.75 million this season (ouch), a difference of $12.75 million above the average replacement.
Now with a payroll of $159.25 million, the Yankees remain at 93 wins.
Alex Rodriguez made over $26 million in 2004, but only $18.58 million of it, or $16.58 million more than the average replacement, was paid by the Yankees, thanks to the Texas Rangers. AROD was worth 12 win shares above average, which is worth four wins. Since we’re taking a “margin of error” approach, we will again call it three even.
After removing AROD and starting player X in his place, the Boss’s payroll is now down to $142.67 million, and their win totals are down to 90.
For the sake of time and energy we will allow the Yankees to keep Jorge Posada and his salary on their payroll because we have accomplished what we set out to do.
The Yankees are 11 wins worse now than when we started this study. As we began, New York was a 101-win club. Now they sit at 90 wins. Again, I repeat-90 wins.
Why do I keep repeating the fact the Evil Empire sits at 90 wins in this analysis?
Because 90 victories in 2004 would not have been enough for the almighty Yankees to make the postseason, and consequently it would not have been near enough to keep Steinbrenner’s temper below legal limits.
Anaheim won the West with 92 wins. Oakland was a game behind them at 91, and missed the postseason. But in this scenario we have created for baseball to truly be fair, the A’s would have won the wildcard, finishing one game ahead of the Yankees.
You can make the argument that if any random club was allotted $188 million that they could put together a club that would contend for a playoff spot at the very least.
Add anything near $135 million onto the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ payroll in 2004 – in the form of say; Miguel Tejada, Mike Mussina, Keith Foulke, LaTroy Hawkins and Kazuo Matsui and all of a sudden a Hall of Fame manager like Lou Piniella has a championship caliber baseball team.
What the Yankees have done since 1996 is eye-popping. What the players and manager Joe Torre have done is a feat to be admired, for sure.
Four titles in seven seasons, six American League pennants in the same span, and numerous memorable moments for the world of baseball.
But what have they accomplished other than making a mockery of baseball’s financial structure?
No, the Yankees haven’t done anything wrong. They haven’t broken any rules or circumvented any laws of baseball’s financial outline.
So what I’m saying is that it’s not the fault of the Yankees or George Steinbrenner. But what they have been doing the past nine seasons is purchase championships.
Yes, I said it. They purchased titles. Buying World Series wins since 1996.
For every Yankees supporter that comes back and says that they grow most of their talent is just wrong. Like most competitive teams, New York makes several trades and free agent signings to get the club they feel will give them the best chance to win. Boston does it. The Mets do it. Seattle does it.
But the difference is that every other team has a limit. The Yankees do not. How is that fair?
It’s clear they haven’t been playing on a level playing field. Their ability to acquire any and every player they virtually care to add is unparalleled in all of baseball, and all of sports for that matter.
So how is this different, on the field anyway, than the league’s steroid use issues?
The reasons why the league does not want players using performance enhancing drugs is two fold. First of all, they are proven to have negative long-term effects on one’s health. Secondly, it gives the guilty an unfair advantage over those who choose not to break the laws of the game and not to jeopardize their future health.
I think all baseball fans of every team agree that steroids have no place in baseball. It is a poison to the game’s integrity that it cannot afford to endure. After the work-stoppage, the game needs nothing less than a scandal.
The Yankees have been allowed to “poison” the game by outspending the rest of baseball and destroying the balance of the 29 teams chasing them.
Without nearly every last dollar of their $188 million dollar payroll, the Yankees not only don’t win 101 games, but they lose the Eastern Division to their hated rival in Boston and lose out on the wildcard to Oakland.
The Yankees at home in October? How sweet the sound.
Now if we could only get the players union to come together with the owners and get something done about it.
The league has tried several ideas to try and fix the issue. Luxury taxes and revenue sharing have helped somewhat but nothing has worked, at least not yet. The more the second and third tier teams spend, the more the Yankees spend to keep the distance in the area of the ridiculous level.
So Bud Selig will keep trying and trying.
What can we do?
I don’t think we can do anything as outsiders but let me give you some advice on what NOT to do as we wait for baseball to be brought back to where it needs to be financially.
Don’t hold your breath.