Expert: No, the Yankees DID NOT buy their title

Leave a comment

A week and a half ago I asked whether or not the Yankees bought their title.  Given that, as of this morning, 652 people have commented on that, I feel comfortable saying that the subject struck a nerve.

Today noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says in the Wall Street Journal that, nope, the Yankees did not buy their title:

It’s a little surprising, but the statistical relationship between a team’s winning percentage and its payroll is not very high. When I plot payroll and win percentage on the same graph, the two variables don’t always move together. In other words, knowing a team’s payroll does not enable one to know a team’s win percentage.

More precisely, depending on the year, I find somewhere between 15% and 30% of the variance in team win percentage can be explained by the variance in team payroll. That means between 70% and 85% of a team’s on-field success is explained by factors other than payroll. Those factors can include front office smarts, good team chemistry, player health, effective drafting and player development, intelligent trades, a manager’s in-game decision-making, luck, and more.

Interesting, sure, but this should all be taken with a grain of salt.  For one thing, while Zimbalist is the most famous sports economist out there, he has had his butt handed to him over what appears to be some pretty sloppy work in the past.  He obviously knows more about sports business than you or I do, but whether he always uses that knowledge to reach sound conclusions, as opposed to starting with conclusions and using that knowledge in an effort to justify them, is an open question. Indeed, it’s an open question with all supposed experts.

Secondly, while the Yankees have always had money, with the opening of their new stadium, that money is reaching unprecedented levels (another sports economist, Vince Gennaro, thinks that their revenue went up by $100 million based on the stadium alone). Zimbalist talks about how the contracts they buy now may eventually become burdensome as the players age and “will weigh on the team’s ability to acquire other players,” but with the kind of cash flow the Yankees are seeing now, that conclusion is questionable.  Sure, there’s some payroll number that the Yankees can’t afford, but there’s no indication that they’re anywhere close to reaching it. 

Finally, while the Yankees have long been free agent players, we may very well be seeing something new in the past couple of years in terms of their ability to consistently and effectively use their money to get the right players.  Ask yourself: what could have happened in the early part of this decade if the quiet Hal Steinbrenner had been in charge instead of the boisterous and emotional George?  Can we say for certain that the Yankees wouldn’t have won more titles if, rather than waste their time with the Jaret Wrights and Kei Igawas of the world, they had done what they did last winter and simply decided to sign the absolute top free agents?

Maybe those are unanswerable questions, but two things are certain: (1) while the Yankees have always had a fat wallet, that wallet is now fatter than it has ever been; and (2), while the Yankees have always spent their money freely, they have only recently really started to spend their money wisely. Each of those factors may radically change Zimbalist’s dollars/wins graph going forward.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

Getty Images
Leave a comment

For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: