It's all Moneyball now.
October 15, 2011 10:02 AM   Subscribe

It's all 'Moneyball' Now
"You didn’t have to spend the day dancing around the drum circle in Zuccotti Park to see Game 5 of the Yankees-Tigers division series in New York — with its constant cutaways to those slick-suited men hunched over their BlackBerrys in the Legends Suites — as more than just a baseball game."
posted by mecran01 (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In a long and storied history of clueless idiocy, this attempt to draw a connection between the "struggles" of the slightly less wealthy teams in professional baseball and Occupy Wall Street, may be the dumbest thing the New York Times has ever published.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:10 AM on October 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

may be the dumbest thing the New York Times has ever published.

I'll give you "dumbest thing the New York Times has published today". Or even this week. But I continue to maintain that the dumbest thing they've ever published is this piece declaring Philadelphia the "sixth borough".
posted by madcaptenor at 10:21 AM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Made-up grunge lingo.
posted by box at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2011

Moneyball has taught me that if the unemployed families of this country spent their rapidly-disappearing benefits checks in a smarter, more algorithmic manner, they could surely hold their own against CEOs with an income one-thousand times greater.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:29 AM on October 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

But it was just a baseball game. Ha! I refute you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2011

Millenball was a much better movie.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2011

Except for that one fleeting attempt to link baseball payrolls to Wall Street protests, the article is fine, albeit a bit thin.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:57 AM on October 15, 2011

I'm supposed to buy the $92m Texas Rangers (who are reportedly in violation of MLB debt guidelines), the $105m St. Louis Cardinals, and the $105m Detroit Tigers as a small market triumphs? Like thanks no thanks.
posted by xmutex at 11:06 AM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

2011 MLB Payrolls; Tigers are ranked #10, Cardinals #11, Rangers #13, Brewers #17. So in terms of payroll, these are mid-market teams. The article could easily have read "oh my god, three of the four remaining teams are among the top thirteen in payroll!" but we don't have thirteen fingers.

By market population size: Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee are the 4th, 12th, 18th, and 39th largest metropolitan areas. (Among the 25 US metropolitan areas that have baseball -- 30 teams, minus four two-team markets and Toronto -- they're 4th, 12th, 17th, and 25th.) And St. Louis in particular has a history of drawing fans from a very wide geographic area. To me, only Milwaukee really stands out as a small market (and in fact they're a smaller market than a bunch of cities that don't have major league baseball).

But words like "big-market" and "small-market" are elastic. Before the Phillies got good you'd hear them described as a "small-market team" -- at a time when Philadelphia was the fourth-biggest metropolitan area in the country, and the largest one-team market.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:32 AM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Fox may have groaned at the unexpected departure of the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies (not to mention the Red Sox’ September collapse), but a lot of baseball fans didn’t. Thanks partly to the cultural phenomenon of “Moneyball,” which demonstrated that teams didn’t need a big payroll to win, we’re all small-market fans now, no longer rooting for the hapless underdog — sorry, Mets and Cubs — but for the team that is doing more with less.

The New York Times Company is a minority stakeholder in the Boston Red Sox, which has the second-highest payroll in MLB and, until recently, was a perennial underdog.

Expect pay cuts, boys.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:37 AM on October 15, 2011

(Oops -- third highest. Dammit, Philly!)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2011

Baseball is moving “back to an efficient market,” said Beane, sounding every bit like the in-demand corporate speaker that he has become. He went so far as to suggest that the game was starting to resemble European professional soccer, which is dominated by a handful of big-spending “superfranchises.”

The problem with this narrative is that it isn’t true. Baseball is more competitive than ever, and we have this year’s postseason to prove it.

This is just incorrect. Big market teams have a definite advantage during a 162 game season. The playoffs are a crapshoot. You spend the money to get into the playoffs and have a chance, and in the playoffs, any hot team can win.

But you have to get there first, and teams with big payrolls, if spent wisely, will get to the playoffs more often than teams with lower payrolls.
posted by justgary at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2011

You spend the money to get into the playoffs and have a chance, and in the playoffs, any hot team can win.

But do teams with big payrolls win more often in the playoffs than teams with small payrolls? Someone should look at the numbers. I don't feel like it.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:41 AM on October 15, 2011

It's all 'Moneyball' Now

Hey, a headline from 1981!
posted by telstar at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2011

Ugh, Are fans actually sitting there deciding who to root for based on salary and payroll stuff? Seems completely besides the point of enjoying sports. I mean it makes sense in a certain sense: You're considering the 'game' as every aspect of the game, including stuff like salary negotiations, draft picks, that kind of thing. In that sense baseball becomes as much like chess as an athletic sport or something.

Still seems boring, though.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ugh, Are fans actually sitting there deciding who to root for based on salary and payroll stuff?

Clearly. Didn't you see the mountains of evidence that he adduced to prove that this is the case? It's not like he just pulled the thesis for this column out of his ass because he was on deadline.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:36 PM on October 15, 2011

Do teams with big payrolls win more often in the playoffs than teams with small payrolls?

While it pretty much can be a crapshoot in the playoffs, as justgary said, I thought it might be interesting to look at payroll level and ultimate playoff success- winning the World Series. So here's the World Series winners from the past 20 years (1994 excluded because of the strike) and their relative ranking in Opening Day payroll:

1990 Cincinnati Reds- 16th
1991 Minnesota Twins- 15th
1992 Toronto Blue Jays- 1st
1993 Toronto Blue Jays- 1st
1995 Atlanta Braves- 4th
1996 New York Yankees- 1st
1997 Florida Marlins- 5th (the team would be famously gutted after this year)
1998 New York Yankees- 2nd
1999 New York Yankees- 1st
2000 New York Yankees- 1st
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks- 8th
2002 Anaheim Angels- 15th
2003 Florida Marlins- 25th
2004 Boston Red Sox- 2nd
2005 Chicago White Sox- 13th
2006 St. Louis Cardinals- 11th
2007 Boston Red Sox- 2nd
2008 Philadelphia Phillies- 12th
2009 New York Yankees- 1st
2010 San Francisco Giants- 10th
Average Relative Payroll Rank: 7th (7.3)

Even with the playoffs being the playoffs, and outliers like the 2003 Marlins championship team happening, the bigger teams do seem to tend to have success- lookit all those number ones and twos.

(But that bias towards big spenders winning is apparently diminishing. For more thorough data on how money influences wins year to year in MLB, here's an article on the trending of how much money is spent on a win from the amazing SABR site Fangraphs.)

One thing that was also interesting to me going through this list is how much the lists changed, and what teams that are currently thought of as small market underdogs have once had sizable payrolls (This is usually attributed to ownership- look at the spending drop in one team- the Florida Marlins from 97-2003- and they still won again!)

The highest spending team in 1998? The Baltimore Orioles, nobody's idea of a MLB behemoth, a team that now sits in the bottom third in spending. The spending rank of the famously small market A's in 1989, when they also last won the World Series? 5th.

Every team seems to go in waves of spend and conserve, except the Yankees. They just spend.
posted by joechip at 12:54 PM on October 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

There has been a lot of dumb in that paper over the years.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:55 PM on October 15, 2011

But do teams with big payrolls win more often in the playoffs than teams with small payrolls?

Sample size is still too small to make a definitive statement.

Here's the crazy thing: small markets/payrolls may have done better at becoming World Series champions before Moneyball became gospel. Essentially, Sabremetrics may have taken more randomness out of the game, which allows payroll-potent teams to make more certain investments.

Moneyball was written in a window of time where the New York Yankees won all the damn time. 1998, 1999 and 2000 were runaway years for the Yanks in the Series. And they lost in 7 (to small-market but #8 payroll Arizona) in 2001.

2002 is the Oakland A's Moneyball year. (Anaheim #15 beat SF in the World Series). Since then, here are you champions: Florida (#25), Boston (#2), Chicago (#13), St. Louis (#11), Boston (#2), Philadelphia (#12), New York (#1), San Francisco (#10). The Marlins were the only bottom-half payroll team in the bunch. Otherwise, 3 top tier payrolls and 4 upper-mid-range payrolls.

Putting aside that crazy Yankees run at the end of the 90s, here are the teams that won the World Series prior (going backwards): Florida, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Toronto, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Oakland, Minnesota, New York (mets), Kansas City, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis.

I haven't looked up payroll information for those teams, but the list seems far more favorable to the lower half.

Perhaps the most damning thing is that Oakland was more successful in the decade BEFORE Moneyball than in the decade OF Moneyball. They reached the Series 3 times and won once.

So while it's still not totally certain, there's some heavy stuff to think about.

And if you ask me, the common data-nerd assertion that the playoffs have a totally random outcome is bullshit... After all, the sample size is too small to know that it's random. And if you look at playoff results, there are absolutely numerous periods where particular teams dominate (and always for just about the predictable "window").
posted by pokermonk at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Conspicuously absent from the postseason is the team run by the hero of “Moneyball,” Billy Beane. The Oakland Athletics finished the 2011 season 14 games under .500, making it the fifth consecutive year the team has failed to make the playoffs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on October 15, 2011

joechip: interesting that you note the Marlins being gutted, but don't say anything about how the Diamondbacks were similarly dismantled after their 2001 win.
posted by hippybear at 12:57 PM on October 15, 2011

Hippybear- you're right; I forgot to mention that. They did get right chopped up too (and, despite their playoff appearance this year, still rank a lowly 25th in payroll.)
posted by joechip at 1:01 PM on October 15, 2011

On behalf of the Seattle Mariners, a minor league club with a dwindling fan base, can I suggest that what is needed to bring parity back to baseball is not payroll parity, but steroids? Our one great season was almost certainly a product of that, and I miss that.

(Also, can we bring Edgar back? Even at 55 or whatever he is now, he'd be an improvement. I'd be shocked if he still doesn't spend six hours a day in a batting cage.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:46 PM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

> Do teams with big payrolls win more often in the playoffs than teams with small payrolls?

I'll just leave this great Salary v. Performance visualization here...
posted by oldefortran at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, now that Moneyball has made believers out of (most) MLB front offices, it's no surprise that the "small market" teams that use Sabremetrics no longer have any advantage over the "big market" clubs.*

Billy Beane exploited the inefficiencies found in traditional player scouting & analysis. Now that most clubs have adopted his newer "Moneyball" approach, those exploitable inefficiencies have disappeared and we're back to which teams have the largest streams of revenue determining success.

*market size takes a back seat to diverse revenue streams as far as I'm concerned.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:13 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

But do teams with big payrolls win more often in the playoffs than teams with small payrolls?

Sample size is still too small to make a definitive statement.

I'm not sure how sample size is being thought about here. Years? Teams? I also don't know how "definitive" is intended. But anyway, the remark inspired me to do the following very rough calculation (caveats below):

Take joechip's data on Series winners with their payroll ranking. Let the statistical units be ordered pairs of teams and years, like <Cardinals, 2004>, and use joechip's data on Series winners and payroll ranking to construct the following two data vectors, each with 600 entries: Win takes a 1 if the team won the Series in that year and 0 otherwise; Rank takes the ordinal rank of the team in terms of payroll. So, Win(<Red Sox, 2004>) = 1, while Win(<Cardinals, 2004>) = 0. Similarly, Rank(<Red Sox, 2004>) = 2.

(You can get these vectors in as much detail as you need from joechip's dataset because you don't really need to know the names of the teams, you just need to know where to put in the 1's in the Win vector so that they line up with the payroll ranking in the Rank vector.)

Anyway, then run a logistic regression with the form Win ~ Rank.

In that regression, Rank is highly significant: p-value = 0.000133 (when I ran it in R). And as expected, spending more (in ordinal ranking) is positively associated with winning the Series.

Some algebra lets us get values for the conditional probability of winning the Series given a team's ordinal payroll rank. Here are some values (rounded to three decimals):

P(winning | rank = 1) = 0.128
P(winning | rank = 5) = 0.077
P(winning | rank = 10) = 0.040
P(winning | rank = 15) = 0.020
P(winning | rank = 30) = 0.003

Caveats: (1) I suspect that an independence assumption in the model is violated, since the probability of a team winning in a given year conditional on another team winning in that year is different from its unconditional probability of winning in that year. I don't know how much that affects the result. (2) I make no claim about the causal structure. Payroll rank might or might not affect probability of winning the Series. (3) Having actual payroll data would be more informative than ordinal rank. And, also, I'm treating ordinal rank like it's a continuous variable, which is probably safe since there are so many ranks ... but it might not be.

If there are any other major errors, please point them out!
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:36 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

those exploitable inefficiencies have disappeared and we're back to which teams have the largest streams of revenue determining success..

No. Those exploitable inefficiencies have become inexploitable efficiencies. Find the new inefficiencies. That's the real idea.
posted by xmutex at 1:12 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

That Ben Fry link from above.

This turned into a very cool thread, thanks all.
posted by mecran01 at 5:08 PM on October 21, 2011

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