Expert: No, the Yankees DID NOT buy their title

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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.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.