The New York Yankees and New York Mets spent the most for each win above replacement (WAR), according to an article written by Sam Mamudi of Marketwatch.com. At the other end of the spectrum, the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Texas Rangers got the most bang for their buck in terms of cost per WAR.
The list feels generally correct in terms of teams that are getting the most value, but it doesn’t feel completely right. Take the two New York teams that show up next to each other at the bottom of the list. The Yankees spent $4.16 million per win above replacement, while the Mets spent $4.65 million per win above replacement. Why then are the Mets much more of a failure? Marginal value. In this case, the marginal value of going from a Wilpon (a replacement level owner) to a Steinbrenner (+4.0 in SFAR-Shots Fired above Replacement).
On an individual player level, consider someone that produces 2.0 wins above replacement-an average player-versus another that produces 6.0 wins above replacement. The second all-star caliber player is actually worth more than three times the amount of the average player because of the marginal value that each additional win above replacement provides. By Mamudi’s methodology, though, a team that paid more than three times the salary for that all-star would be getting less bang for their buck.
Now move to the team level, which is just the sum of those individual player contributions. Going from 25.0 WAR (a below average team) to 35.0 WAR in a season (average team) has some additional marginal value, but doesn’t change the chances of qualifying for the post-season very much. Going from 35.0 WAR to 45.0 WAR changes it greatly, even though the arithmetic difference is the same. And going to 55.0 WAR is a virtual lock for the post season.
So while the Yankees have spent the most on payroll by far, they also have the most wins above replacement for the last three years to go with it. The Mets and their second highest payroll are all the way down in 22nd in WAR. That’s the difference between two playoff appearances and a World Series title, versus nothing.
It’s also true at the other end. The Marlins may have spent slightly less than the Rays per WAR, but Florida did that by having the lowest payroll. They are better managed than other low payroll teams and have produced near average teams over the last three years. The Rays, on the other hand, have spent a little more (but still below league average) and produced the 2nd most WAR over the last three years, made two playoff appearances, and reached one World Series. I think most people would agree that the Rays are getting more value than the Marlins because of the marginal value of those additional wins.
I know that as a Kansas City resident, I would gladly take the slightly higher cost per WAR of the Philadelphia Phillies (20th on the list) versus the Royals (15th), Indians (16th), Nationals (18th) or Pirates (19th). I suspect that a method that took into account marginal value of additional WAR would move the Phillies around these franchises in value created per dollar.
[photo via Getty]