First Pitch: More Big Market Success Stories

I haven’t watched much of the MLB playoffs. To be honest, I haven’t watched any of it, outside of catching the box scores at night and watching the highlights in the morning. When the playoffs started, I mentioned I was rooting for Oakland, even though the chances of them winning it all were slim. Ever since 1994, only one team with a payroll in the bottom half of the league has won the World Series, and that was the 2003 Florida Marlins. It’s looking like that streak will be continued another year.

Oakland was eliminated tonight by the Detroit Tigers, who came in to the year with the fifth biggest payroll in the game. In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds were eliminated by the San Francisco Giants, who had the eighth biggest payroll in the game heading in to the year. Baltimore and Washington both fought to stay alive and force a deciding game five. Those two teams are the only two with payrolls in the bottom half of the league, ranking 19th (Baltimore) and 20th (Washington) heading in to the year.

It’s not ground breaking analysis to point out that the teams that spend more win. But it’s also not as simple as “the more you spend, the more you win”. There’s a huge disparity in baseball. When I talk about the top half in team payroll, I’m talking about 15 teams with a payroll of $88 M or more. Nine of those teams are spending $110 M or more, and four came in to the year spending $150 M or more. When I talk about the bottom half, I’m talking about a lot of teams who, at best, can spend in the $80 M range.

The Chicago Cubs were the number 15 spenders coming in to the season, with a little over $88 M. The Cubs can spend far more than that. In fact, this is the first year they’ve opened the season with less than $100 M in payroll since 2007, when they spent barely under $100 M on Opening Day. In the last three years they’ve been between $125 M and $147 M on Opening Day.

That $88 M range is the floor for a team like the Cubs. They get to that point after they watch Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez depart as free agents. Meanwhile, teams like the Pirates, the A’s, the Reds, the Rays, and other smaller market teams can only dream of spending more than that $88 M mark. Those teams can spend up to $80-90 M in a season, but not every season. They usually only spend when they have a team put together that can contend. At that point they’re only spending for a short window of time before dropping the payroll back down.

Oakland was dominated by Justin Verlander tonight. Detroit is paying Verlander $20 M a year from 2012-2014, as part of a five year, $80 M contract. Imagine how well Oakland would do if they could afford to pay a pitcher that much. Imagine if they could just afford to pay a pitcher. This is a team that dealt Gio Gonzalez, one of the best pitchers this year, right when he was eligible for arbitration for the first time. They also dealt Trevor Cahill. After all of that, they opened the season with a $52 M payroll. That’s where they live — in the $40-60 M range, occasionally spending in the $70 M range for one season.

With Oakland gone, I’d have to turn my rooting interests to Baltimore and Washington, even though those two aren’t really small markets like Oakland (the DC area definitely isn’t a small market, and Baltimore has an owner who in the past has tried to be George Steinbrenner Jr.). But I don’t place their chances high. I wouldn’t be surprised if both were eliminated, which would set up the championship series to have four teams that entered the year in the top nine in spending. That’s $110 M or higher in Opening Day payrolls, and that’s a figure that small market teams could never spend.

It’s useless pointing all of this out. Baseball isn’t going to do anything about it. As long as an Oakland makes the playoffs, and as long as the Yankees don’t win the World Series every year, MLB can tout parity. But that doesn’t exist. There might be parity in baseball, but it’s only among the big spenders. If you’re not capable of spending mega dollars, you don’t stand a chance. That’s why I have no interest in the playoffs. It’s hard trying to get excited about a movie when you already know how it ends.

Links and Notes

**Pittsburgh Pirates Season Recap: Second Base.

**George Washington University Hires Former Hitting Coach Gregg Ritchie.

**AFL Recap: Kyle Kaminska Makes His First Start.

**Wednesday was a camp day at instructs, and they only had a situational game, which is pretty boring to write about. Yesterday they were on the road, so I took the day off, went across the state to visit my dad, and hit up some local food trucks. That resulted in a burger called the Mark Twain, which was a cheeseburger with peanut butter and jelly. It was pretty awesome. On a somewhat related note, I’m going to die before I reach 50.

**The Pirates are home tomorrow, and I’ll be back in Bradenton with coverage of the game.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • BlueBomber72

    What do you mean by big market?  Payroll or actual market size?  The TV market in Detroit (1.8 mil viewers) is not significantly bigger then the TV market in Pittsburgh (1.2 mil viewers).  DK had a nice article about this a couple years ago, and as it turns out Pittsburgh is not a small market team, its more middle of the road.  Our attendance is crappy, but that might have more to do with 20 years of losing than market size.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      What helps Detroit is that they signed a TV deal for $1 billion a few years ago. So while their TV market might not be significantly better, they are getting paid significantly better for their TV games.

      • BlueBomber72

        I would say that TV contract has more to do with Ilitch owning the Red Wings and Pistons then with the size of their market. The demand the Tigers generate is also a factor. I think the distinction should be more along the lines of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ teams. The Tigers and Pirates play in similar markets, but do not have similar incomes or resources. I’d say it’s more a result of Mike Iltich being super rich, owning 3 sports franchises, and wanting the best for each. Not market size. I think that’s a lame excuse.

        • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

          exactly. The Pirates signed their TV deals for less than they could have gotten now. Not the ‘markets’ fault. St. Louis is always not discussed, it’s not ‘bigger’ than Pittsburgh’s market. Sucking 20 years though does drive down demand for the product. And not even trying tends to deflate potential customers.

    • john.alcorn

      Per the US census Detroit is at $4.3 million versus $2.3 million in our market, that’s nearly double.

    • azibuck

      You’re saying 50% larger is not significantly bigger? Those numbers place Detroit as the 11th largest TV market, Pittsburgh 23rd.

      Dejan was wrong. I recall the article but can’t find it now, but I remember that how he defined “market” was debatable.

      Also remember that the three largest markets have two teams each. Even if you split Chicago down the middle (which would be flawed), that pushes markets like Atlanta and Houston outside the top 10. Pittsburgh is a small market, period. Worse, they’re small revenue.

    • gorillagogo

      One thing to remember with these TV markets is that the actual TV market includes the core city as well as surrounding TV markets. For Detroit, that means Lansing, Grand Rapids, Flint and Toledo while Pittsburgh gets Johnstown, Erie, Youngstown and Wheeling. Because of these extended market differences, Fox Sports Detroit reaches 3.5 million viewers while Root Sports Pittsburgh only reaches 2.4 million.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=759082507 Stephen Stull

    I am tired of excuses.  Just spend some $$ on quality players and win games.  Get enough veterans and enough depth that you don’t collapse every second half of the season.  TIRED OF EXCUSES, JUST FREAKING SPEND WHAT YOU HAVE TO IN ORDER TO WIN GAMES. 

    • Lee Young

      Stephen…I’m as frustrated as you, but it is never happening in Pgh. If it had been this way in the 60s and 70s, Stargell and Clemente would’ve never finished their careers here. New era….

    • http://twitter.com/DXR2 DXR

      Tim isn’t making an excuse. Noting that MLB has problems doesn’t mean that he is justifying the Pirate’s shortcomings..

  • leadoff

    I have to disagree, I believe there is parity because the product itself has parity.
    What I am saying is the Pirates can have players that are as good as anyones players.
    Look at the Yankees, go around the field player by player and of the starting 8, the Yankees have 4 players that are better than the Pirates starters, the Pirates have 4 players that are better than the Yankees starters.
    Look at the Cards, go around the field position by position and the Pirates have 5 players that are better players that the Cards do in their starting 8.
    Baseball is a very complicated game, not as simple as go out and spend money on name players, you still have to find the RIGHT players and then you have to develop chemistry.
    For a couple of months the Pirates were easily one of the best teams in baseball with their little payroll. If the season would have ended in July, everyone would have been saying what a great season it was.
    What the good teams do is spend money on a manager, most of the time it works, they can get it wrong to. But if the Pirates would learn that spending money on brains is a priority. If you look at all the teams in the playoffs, none of them stands out with talent above and beyond anyone else, what they have are the best managers in the game, that is the one constant.
    IMO, the GM and the Manager are the keys to putting a winning team on the field, I think Huntington has given the manager as much talent as anyone else has.
    There are X Pirates all over the playoffs and doing very well, the same players that did not succeed when they were with the Pirates, the same guys that we called bums.

    • Lee Young

      which 5 players do we have that are better than the Yankees or Cards? I count AMac.

      Walker is better than Schumacher, but that is it.

      • leadoff

        Make that 4 positions I forgot about their right fielder.
        I go by positions.
        3rd- I’ll take Alvarez or Freeze
        SS- I’ll take Barmes over whoever they use at SS
        1B- I’ll take Jones over Craig
        2B- I’ll take Walker over Shumaker
        CF- I’ll take McCutchen over Jay
        These guys are close to the same, certainly not a big difference in talent. The post was about how even the talent is.

        • leadoff

          Sorry can’t add, 5 positions

          • RandyLinville

            If you go position by position, fan graphs WAR shows PIT having an advantage over STL only at 2B and CF in 2012.

            • leadoff

              You are correct I am sure.
              I don’t use WAR to determine who the better player is, never did, never will. According to your post you would take Freeze over Alvarez, i wouldn’t and I do not think Pitt would trade Alvarez for Freeze. McClouth had a terrible WAR with Pitt, what does he have in Baltimore? Same Guy in Pitt as he is in Baltimore. McCutheon has a high WAR, in my book it should be a lot lower, I think he is an average defensive center fielder and a good hitter for 4 months (two years in a row).

              • RandyLinville

                That’s fine to look at it completely subjectively. But I’d be willing to bet that most GMs don’t merely do an ‘eyeball’ test on the value of their players – they measure it as objectively and with as little bias as possible. To believe that the Pirates are better than the Cards in five spots even based on an eyeball test is considerably off base.

                I agree – in terms of future value – that Alvarez is better than Freese (in part because Freese is four years older). So, in that sense, I wouldn’t trade Alvarez for Freese even up. But in 2012, it’s pretty clear by any metric you can find that Freese had a better season – Freese had a higher AVG and OBP and an equal SLG to Alvarez. Freese was better at OPS, OPS+, wOBA and WAR. And in terms of future value (and even in present value), I’ll choose Craig and whomever the Cards have at SS in 2013 (Kozma, Furcal) over Jones and Barmes.
                McLouth has nothing to do with the conversation. What is the point in bringing him into it?

                • leadoff

                  I agree that most GMs don’t merely do an “eyeball test”, in fact rarely do they use an “eyeball test”, I don’t either, I see the WAR numbers, but I think the WAR stat is full of holes. Someone asked Rizzo of the Nats how he grades a player when he has to make a decision on them, he said if it comes down to stats or my scouts intuitions, I go with my scouts everytime.
                  What ST. Louis players do better than Pirate players as a whole, is they play under pressure very well, there is no WAR stat or any other stat for that.
                  As far as McClouth, I was just pointing out how bad his WAR was with Pitt and how much different it is with the Birds, same guy different numbers. If WAR was the main criteria for acquiring a player, McClouth would never be in Baltimore.

                  • RandyLinville

                    How do you measure players if you don’t use WAR? What is your method? I don’t see any way to claim STL is worse at five spots. So, I’m curious as to how you got to that opinion.
                    I’d say STL does a lot more better than PIT than just play well under pressure. For the whole season, STL had a higher batting average, OBP and SLG than PIT.

                    Also, how do you differentiate between an eyeball test and scout’s intuition? I’d say they are pretty much the same thing. Yet you dismiss one and claim the other is the deciding factor in some decisions.
                    It makes sense to use stats when comparing players position by position (Alvarez vs. Freese for example). It makes less sense when analyzing whether a vet like McLouth can still play after he had a couple of awful months. I mean, if he hadn’t had a couple of awful months, he wouldn’t be available. So, his WAR would be considerably less important than looking at whether his skills had eroded.

        • gorillagogo

          fWar comparisons for the guys you mention
          Freese 4.1 vs Alvarez 2.9
          Craig 3.1 vs Jones 1.9
          Kozma 1.4 vs Barmes 1.7 — note that Kozma only played 26 games and was worth almost an entire season of Barmes

          Walker and McCutchen are the only two that are better than their Cardinals counterparts.

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      That’s delusional. The Pirates have 4 better position players than the Yankees? I was unaware that McCutchen was cloned three times.

  • http://twitter.com/DXR2 DXR

    Nobody is saying that the Pirates don’t deserve blame for their mistakes. In fact, for all the Pirates problems I would blame just a minute sliver of it on the payroll disparity in baseball. However, I would blame MLB on something like the Aramis Ramirez trade.
    However, to anyone who thinks MLB is a credible sports organization should take a look at the facts.

    The Yankees can afford to waste a ton of money and make a lot of mistakes and still be a game away from the ALCS.

    In 2003, the Yankees wasted $21 million on Jaret Wright.
    In 2005, they wasted $40 million on Carl Pavano.
    In 2006, they wasted $17.5 million on Kyle Farnsworth.
    In 2006, they wasted $32 million on Randy Johnson and gave the Diamondbacks $9 million to take Javier Vazquez off their hands.
    In 2007, they wasted $18.7 million on four months of Roger Clemens.
    In 2007, they wasted more than $46 million on Kei Igawa.
    In 2007 and in 2008, they wasted $42 million on Jason Giambi. Then, in 2009 they gave him $5 million to buy out the last year of his
    contact.
    In 2010 and 2011, they wasted $33million on AJ Burnett and then paid the Buccos to take him off their hands.
    They benched Arod the last two games and he is making $30 million this year. He really has to pick up his game as he is still under contract for five more years!

    The Yankees have wasted more money of the past few years than the Pirates gross in any particular season!!!!

    This league is such a pathetic joke. If a team such as the Pirates made any one of these errors, they would be in a heap of trouble. However, I do think they’ll lose tonight and a team with a smaller payroll such as Baltimore or Washington could very well win the World Series.

    Now look at the Pirates: In August of 2010 Deadspin reported that the Bucco owners obtained $20 million from the team over three years. In response, the Pirates, for the first time, opened their books to show that about half of that $20 million was to pay taxes and the remaining was interest payments made to Nutting. You see in 2003, the year we dealt Ramirez, the team was broke. Nutting gave them $20 million in the form of a loan. He had the option of obtaining the principle balance in the form of shares of the team and did so. He also attempted to turn the interest payments he was due into equity but was denied in doing so. According to the post gazette, the remaining interest payments due to Nutting were WRITTEN OFF!!! Therefore, Nutting essentially gave the team $20 million in 2003 and only obtained around ½ of that from 2007-2009. He won’t get his money back till he sells the team.

    This league is in no doubt a joke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.hodgkiss Rusty Hodgkiss

    Is there a point that can be pointed to when baseball became “an unfair game”? (To quote Moneyball) Sometime around when Bonds left Pittsburgh? Money didn’t seem to be an issue until around then? Was it A-Rod’s big contract when he left Seattle? What landmark can be pointed to as the point where teams without huge media markets stood no chance?

  • http://twitter.com/DXR2 DXR

    Now that the A’s and Nationals were eliminated last night, this year will mark the 8th consecutive year that a team in the top half payrolls will win the world series. Does anyone know the last time that both teams in the lower half payrolls were in the world series? 1991.

  • http://twitter.com/jrgsstuff Quinton McLargeHuge

    The four remaining teams in the playoffs, when the World Series ends, will have 49 of the 108 Championships.