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Expert: No, the Yankees DID NOT buy their title

Nov 16, 2009, 10:30 AM EDT

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.

  1. Joe - Nov 16, 2009 at 5:29 PM

    Of course they bought it. The big money teams use the rest of the league as an unaffiliated minor league system. Most pitchers take five years to hone their skills. Cleveland never could have afforded to keep the two pitchers of theirs that appeared in the World Series. N.Y. doesn’t produce its own talent because it doesn’t have too. The Yankees, Red Sox and Angels have ruined baseball.

  2. Hasdrubal - Nov 16, 2009 at 9:02 PM

    Stop crying people. Owners need to start spending their money and reinvesting in their “business!”

  3. Ron - Nov 17, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    Hey Joe
    Last time I checked the Yankees developed Jeter Rivera Pettitte Posada
    Cano Cabrera Hughes Chamberlain Robertson Bruney Coke………
    Do some research before you open your lame brain jackass mouth.
    Jeter Rivera Posada and Pettitte were developed by the Yankees and all have 5 rings Jackass. They also set a major leaguue record by being together and winning a championship 13 years apart 1996 and 2009.
    If you are a Cleveland fan blame your own team they had Manny Martinez Lee Sabathia etc…. and they used to draw 4 million fans to Jacobs field then their owners were too cheap to keep their players and sold the fans down the river while they pocketed 4 million fans worth of cash and also made stupid personnel decision.
    cry me a river………… hoo…….
    Yankees before free agency 20 championships
    Yankees after free agency 7 Championships
    No matter the system the Yankees will always be the class and tradition of major league baseball. deal with it Losers

  4. NYY27 - Nov 17, 2009 at 3:29 PM


  5. jonb - Nov 17, 2009 at 3:32 PM

    The yankees won the world series?
    I hadn’t heard.
    Really, you folks should find something useful to do with your time…

  6. Ramblin' Bob - Nov 17, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    “…they have only recently really started to spend their money wisely.”
    Only recently? I guess that’s true if you compare last year’s free agent spending to the free agent spending of the last decade. However, that’s a rather short-sighted view of the Yankees’ history.
    One might consider the money they spent on George Herman Ruth, or the money spent on Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle, etc. as money spent wisely.

  7. generic - Feb 11, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    yea nice Work

  8. FADJL - Mar 29, 2010 at 3:59 PM


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