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September 23, 2013

Baseball Therapy

If One Win is Worth $5 Million...

by Russell A. Carleton


Lately, there’s been a lot of writing among baseball analysts and thinkers about how teams might leverage small investments to their benefit. You know the ones. They all start with “Well, if a win is worth five million dollars, then spending fifty thousand on this has to net just one hundredth of a win to be worth it.” (I’ve written a few of them myself.) Then they continue with an exasperated tone, wondering why teams don’t seem to do much of this sort of thinking. (Or do they?)

The reason can be summed up in four short words: “It’s not that simple.” It never is.

It’s such a tempting argument to make, because changing one strikeout to a walk is worth something like half a run, and if you can do that a grand total of once each year for each guy in the lineup, the net benefit is half a win. And signing up everyone on the team for the Coffee of the Month club costs only $19.95 a month. All it takes to justify that expense is a quick explanation of how the coffee will give everyone on the team a little extra focus, and that once in a while, it will allow them to be sharp enough to avoid swinging at ball four on a 3-2 pitch.

It’s entirely possible that some of the ideas that have been floated out there really would be cheap ways to make teams better, and substantially enough that they would be worth the cost. But a simple model of anything often ends up being overly simple. As a vehicle for illustration, allow me to review one of the most harebrained proposals of all, which has the added benefit of being one of my own. I wrote about it a few months ago, suggesting that teams should, instead of providing starvation wages (sometimes literally) in the form of per diem to minor leaguers, they should instead invest (i.e., spend a lot more money) on providing full catered meals to their players at all levels of the minors, both at home and on the road. I call it the “Food for Kids” program.

Let’s examine “Food for Kids” with a more critical eye, examining of the issues that have to be overcome after we’ve had the crazy, yet brilliant idea.

That’s a lot of money…
In my original piece, I suggested that the cost of providing catered meals over the course of a year would be something on the order of $1.3 million per year. The exact number isn’t as important as the order of magnitude. It would be something around a million dollars. Believe it or not, even in baseball a million dollars is still a lot of money. Yes, I know that a million dollars buys you a 32-year-old utility infielder who hits .250 with barely passable defense (if you’re lucky) and that even the low-budget teams carry payrolls around 80 million.

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Related Content:  Inefficiencies

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