When I first began researching for this post, I intended to present an argument for which team would go down as the best team of the decade (2000-2009). I figured it had to be between the Red Sox and the Cardinals, but that it would all come down to 2009. I soon realized that it is actually the Yankees who have by far the most wins over the past 9 seasons. I know that wins wouldn’t have been the sole determinant, but that fact alone got me thinking. My focus, or lack thereof, had been shifted drastically.

I began by creating a spreadsheet of all 30 teams’ W-L totals for the past 9 years. I also found the winning percentages. In order, the top 5 winningest teams over the past 9 years are the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Athletics, and Braves. It was nice to see that the Cards had indeed been the model for the NL. I also threw in the number of total playoff appearances (PO), league titles (LCS), and World Series titles (WS). At this point in my research, I still didn’t know what I was looking for.

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At this moment I was full of animosity toward Boston and New York (weird, right?). I thought that it was ridiculous how they won all the time but, as we all know, they just spend a ton of money to do it. This is when, finally, I decided to attempt to rank all of the teams by how effectively they use their payroll. Meaning, who gets the most wins but doesn’t spend more than they should have to in order to get them?

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I added up each team’s payroll for the past 9 years and added it to the chart. As expected, the Yankees and Red Sox ranked 1-2 in average annual payroll. I didn’t know exactly how to reduce the broad concept of “effectiveness of payroll management” to a single number, or, better yet, how to find that number. First I tried just total payroll over 9 years divided by total wins ($M/Win). This method didn’t work, because while it gave over-spenders like NY poor ratings, it gave terrible teams like KC good ratings simply because they don’t spend much.

I tried probably 5 more methods total, and I will spare you the explanations, before I settled on $M/Win>60. Everyone in baseball has heard something to this effect: “Every team wins 60 and loses 60; it’s the other 42 that count.” I took that literally. I took the 9-year payroll divided by total wins minus (9*60). Basically, I decided that the first 60 wins of every season for every team are “free” since all teams win 60 games (Please don’t cite examples to the contrary, I know already. Over time, teams will all average at least 60 wins.). This formula worked. Here are the results, sorted by my fancy new stat:

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What this shows is a very arbitrary ranking of teams by the effectiveness at which they “bought” wins (Low number is good). As I expected, Oakland and Minnesota are ranked very high because they spend little money but still manage to win. I was surprised that Florida was ranked so high, but after all, they do win a lot of games for their very low payroll. Using this value and my own insight, here’s my 1-5 for the top organizations when it comes to maximizing value while still winning games:

1) Oakland – Easy pick here. 5 playoff appearances averaging a 91 win season every year for a measly $51 million a year. The Athletics organization has done an outstanding job at putting together a winning team while still being profitable.

2) Minnesota – 4 playoff appearances and an 86 win average for $49 million a year. I’ll buy it.

3) St. Louis – OK, I’m biased. So what? 6 playoff appearances, 2 league titles, and a World Series championship while averaging 91 wins a season is pretty darn good for $84 million a year. Especially when the Cardinals have been (arguably) the best team in the NL over the last 9 years.

4) LA Angels – Another winning franchise that doesn’t pay a ton to do it. 5 playoff appearances and a championship, averaging 89 wins a season for $86 million a year.

5) Florida – Hard pick here. I didn’t like giving a losing team so much credit, but seriously, $35 million a year and they still average 80 wins?!?! They don’t have any fans, so they aren’t making money, so the fact that they can field an 80 win team consistently is amazing. Did I mention the WS title?

So, next time the Cardinals don’t try to sign that big free agent, or make that blockbuster trade, just remember how smart the front office has been. Baseball is a business; owners are in it to make money. The fact that the Cardinals have been able to be profitable while fielding some really outstanding teams this decade is really amazing, and the organization’s leaders deserve some credit.

That’s all I got. I didn’t exactly know what to do with all of this information, but I think it’s interesting. Hope you thought so too.