Grading the Decade's Front Offices

If there's one thing that Oakland prides itself on, it's that we've got one of the best front offices in the business. So, with that in mind, why not take a look at the front offices of the MLB over the last decade? I used team wins as the main measuring stick--it's (relatively) free of statistical errors and biases that other metrics would introduce, and it's far and away the simplest. Only the regular season was used, as playoff performances are easily swayed by small sample sizes, giving the playoffs an unpredictability that makes for riveting games but poor analysis.

Hope you guys like lists.

Top Five Teams of the Decade

  1. New York Yankees (96.5 wins/year)
  2. Boston Red Sox (92.0 wins/year)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals (91.3 wins/year)
  4. Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (90.0 wins/year)
  5. Atlanta Braves (89.2 wins/year)

There's really no way to sugarcoat this: New York was far and away the decade's winner. Add two World Series wins on top of that, and there's really not much of an argument you could make. Averaging ninety six and a half wins over ten years is simply a mammoth accomplishment. For the record, Oakland was sixth, with an average of 89.0 wins per year.

Worst Five Teams of the Decade

  1. Kansas City Royals (67.2 wins/year)
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (68.1 wins/year)
  3. Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays (69.4 wins/year)
  4. Baltimore Orioles (69.8 wins/year)
  5. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (71.1 wins/year)

For all of the words that Joe Posnanski writes about the Royals, it may not be enough--Kansas City was fantastically consistent in being awful. They only had one winning season all decade (83-79 in 2003, and the last one before that was in 1993), and they managed to lose over 100 games four times. Chin up, Pirates fans. At least you're not the Royals.

Top Five Single-Season Teams of the Decade

  1. 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46)
  2. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals (105-57)
  3. 2002 New York Yankees (103-58)
  4. 2002 Oakland Athletics (103-59)
  5. 2009 New York Yankees (103-59)

Anyone could have guessed the first team up on this list. They remain tied for the all-time Major League single-season wins record (with the 1906 Cubs), and they'll likely remain up there for decades to come. It's hard to play poorly when you score 5.7 runs per game and only allow 3.9. Ridiculous.

Worst Five Single-Season Teams of the Decade

  1. 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119)
  2. 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (51-111)
  3. 2002 Detroit Tigers (55-106)
  4. 2002 Tampa Bay Devil Rays (55-106)
  5. 2005 Kansas City Royals (56-106)

I really forgot how bad the Tigers were in the early part of the decade. That 2003 team was legitimately one of the worst ever fielded in Major League history. Remember, a replacement level team would win around 48 or so. The 2003 Tigers collectively batted .240/.300/.375 with a wOBA of .294. The pitching staff had an ERA of 5.32. On any given day, they'd score 3.6 runs and give up 5.7. They were worse than the 2001 Mariners were good.

Top Five Efficient Teams of the Decade

  1. Oakland Athletics (2.2 SD)
  2. Minnesota Twins (1.8 SD)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals (1.5 SD)
  4. Florida Marlins (1.3 SD)
  5. Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (1.2 SD)

I should probably explain myself before I go any further. Feel free to skip the next section if it gets too technical.

By "efficient", I mean that these teams got the most bang for their buck. I calculated efficiency by plotting total wins per dollar for every franchise this decade. (All monetary figures were adjusted to 2009 baseball dollars, based on the average payrolls of each year.) The average market rate came out to roughly one win for every $6.2MM spent (or 0.16 wins for every $1MM), where a theoretical no-expense $0 payroll team would win 67 games. Then, I calculated how far above or below that average each franchise was. The numbers that I used for ranking were expressed in standard deviations, which is what the SD stands for.

The short answer? The bigger the "SD", the further above the average that team was at getting wins out of each dollar spent. Oakland spent a total of $621MM over the decade. At the average market rate, they should have averaged 77 wins per year. Instead, they averaged 89. That 2.2 SD figure is gigantic--if you gave 100 completely average general managers the same amount of money, almost 99 of them would have won less games than Oakland did this decade, assuming a normal probability distribution.

Worst Five Efficient Teams of the Decade

  1. Baltimore Orioles (-2.0 SD)
  2. Kansas City Royals (-1.5 SD)
  3. Detroit Tigers (-1.4 SD)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates (-1.3 SD)
  5. New York Mets (-1.1 SD)

Surprise! The Royals weren't the worst at something. Baltimore had an average payroll of $88MM, and yet didn't even average out 70 wins a season. No team was as wasteful as Baltimore was from 2000-2009. The rest of the teams on the list are pretty much who you'd expect, except for New York. It's hard to lose so much when you're spending so much money. With an average payroll of $129MM, they only played .500 ball.

Top Five Efficient Single-Season Teams of the Decade

  1. 2001 Seattle Mariners (3.2 SD)
  2. 2002 Oakland Athletics (2.6 SD)
  3. 2001 Oakland Athletics (2.6 SD)
  4. 2008 Tampa Bay Rays (2.1 SD)
  5. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals (2.0 SD)

According to the single-season market rate, the 2001 Mariners would have had to spend around $340MM 2009 dollars to win 116 games. The fact that they didn't spend Yankees-esque amounts of money gives them the top spot on this list with ease.

Worst Five Efficient Single-Season Teams of the Decade

  1. 2003 Detroit Tigers (-3.3 SD)
  2. 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (-2.9 SD)
  3. 2008 Seattle Mariners (-2.3 SD)
  4. 2002 Detroit Tigers (-2.3 SD)
  5. 2003 New York Mets (-2.2 SD)

Here's where my theoretical market rate model breaks down, because the market rate approximation for a 43-win team is negative $183MM. Of course, Detroit managed to blow $61MM 2009 dollars in the process. Fantastic.

Odds and Ends

  • All of the efficiency calculations were assuming that the market rate was linear. The actual market rate is closer to being sigmoidal, as a team that spent a billion dollars wouldn't go 162-0, and a team that consisted of free volunteers would still probably manage to scrape together a few wins. Anyway, the relevant section of the sigmoid curve is close enough to being linear that a linear approximation is close enough.
  • I'm still amazed at how bad the 2003 Detroit Tigers actually were. That offense was roughly equivalent to what would happen if you threw one 2009 Jack Cust in with eight Bobby Crosbys. Did I mention that they were also over 40 runs below average defensively?
  • The average payroll actually went down by one million dollars from 2008 to 2009. Payrolls increased every other year this decade. I'd guess that the recent payroll drop was the first time that has happened since free agency.
  • The 2005 New York Yankees spent $208MM. Based on the 2005 average payroll, that's equivalent to $252MM today.
  • Using W-L record was definitely simpler, but it also actually had a better correlation with payroll than total team WAR. That'd be an interesting puzzle for someone to tackle.
  • Update: Spreadsheet is here, if you want it.
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