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April 12, 2004

Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins

1990-1994

by Doug Pappas

Capping his series on the top teams in terms of marginal dollars spent per marginal win, Doug Pappas today examines the 1990 to 1994 seasons. Click here to read the introduction to this series and the 1977 to 1979 seasons, here for 1980 to 1984, and here for 1985 to 1989. For a breakdown of the 1995 to 2003 seasons, pick up a copy of the best-selling Baseball Prospectus 2004.

Table 14. Marginal Payroll/Marginal Win, 1990


Team        W   L    Pct    Marg  8/31 MLB     Marginal     Marginal $/
                            Wins  Payroll      Payroll      Marginal Win

Baltimore   76  85   0.472  27.9   $8,087,702   $5,287,702  $189,713
Boston      88  74   0.543  39.4  $22,848,698  $20,048,698  $508,850
Cleveland   77  85   0.475  28.4  $15,394,298  $12,594,298  $443,461
Detroit     79  83   0.488  30.4  $17,848,737  $15,048,737  $495,024
Milwaukee   74  88   0.457  25.4  $18,453,999  $15,653,999  $616,299
NY Yankees  67  95   0.414  18.4  $20,592,948  $17,792,948  $967,008
Toronto     86  76   0.531  37.4  $18,193,500  $15,393,500  $411,591

California  80  82   0.494  31.4  $21,960,389  $19,160,389  $610,203
Chi WSox    94  68   0.580  45.4  $11,462,310   $8,662,310  $190,800
Kansas City 75  86   0.466  26.9  $23,617,090  $20,817,090  $774,854
Minnesota   74  88   0.457  25.4  $14,162,299  $11,362,299  $447,335
Oakland     103 59   0.636  54.4  $22,669,834  $19,869,834  $365,254
Seattle     77  85   0.475  28.4  $12,591,199   $9,791,199  $344,761
Texas       83  79   0.512  34.4  $12,803,035  $10,003,035  $290,786

Chi Cubs    77  85   0.475  28.4  $13,831,702  $11,031,702  $388,440
Montreal    84  77   0.522  35.9  $16,472,220  $13,672,220  $380,611
NY Mets     91  71   0.562  42.4  $22,229,333  $19,429,333  $458,239
Phldelphia  77  85   0.475  28.4  $14,156,000  $11,356,000  $399,859
Pittsburgh  95  67   0.586  46.4  $15,550,000  $12,750,000  $274,784
St. Louis   70  92   0.432  21.4  $19,647,498  $16,847,498  $787,266

Atlanta     65  97   0.401  16.4  $14,188,833  $11,388,833  $694,441
Cincinnati  91  71   0.562  42.4  $15,819,728  $13,019,728  $307,069
Houston     75  87   0.463  26.4  $18,229,781  $15,429,781  $584,461
LA          86  76   0.531  37.4  $20,943,107  $18,143,107  $485,110
San Diego   75  87   0.463  26.4  $16,718,332  $13,918,332  $527,210
San Fran    85  77   0.525  36.4  $22,456,224  $19,656,224  $540,006

The 1990 season opened a week late, thanks to a spring training lockout. The owners began by proposing a wage scale for all players with fewer than six years' seniority, with each player's compensation based entirely on statistics. This would have eliminated not just salary arbitration, but all individual contract negotiations for most players. The ultimate deal actually increased the number of players eligible for arbitration.

In a year when Oakland won its third straight divisional title and the Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers all finished above .500 with veteran clubs, MLB's highest-salaried roster was...the Kansas City Royals. Owner Ewing Kauffman had signed free agent Mark Davis, the 1989 NL Cy Young Award winner, to close for 1989 AL Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, only to have both pitchers blow out their elbows. The Royals still spent more efficiently than the Yankees, who finished last for only the second time since 1912.

Both NL divisions were won by efficient, low-payroll clubs: the Pirates of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, and the Reds and their "Nasty Boys" bullpen, who pulled off one of the unlikeliest World Series sweeps ever. Their large-market rivals, the Mets and Dodgers, were still paying for their 1988 titles.

Table 15. Marginal Payroll/Marginal Win, 1991


Team        W   L    Pct    Marg  Opening Day  Marginal     Marginal $/
                            Wins  Payroll      Payroll      Marginal Win

Baltimore   67  95   0.414  18.4  $14,627,334  $14,347,334    $779,746
Boston      84  78   0.519  35.4  $32,767,500  $32,487,500    $917,726
Cleveland   57  105  0.352   8.4  $18,070,000  $17,790,000  $2,117,857
Detroit     84  78   0.519  35.4  $28,756,001  $28,476,001    $804,407
Milwaukee   83  79   0.512  34.4  $24,398,000  $24,118,000    $701,105
NY Yankees  71  91   0.438  22.4  $27,615,835  $27,335,835  $1,220,350
Toronto     91  71   0.562  42.4  $27,538,751  $27,258,751    $642,895

California  81  81   0.500  32.4  $31,782,501  $31,502,501    $972,299
Chi WSox    87  75   0.537  38.4  $16,630,457  $16,350,457    $425,793
Kansas City 82  80   0.506  33.4  $28,131,662  $27,851,662    $833,882
Minnesota   95  67   0.586  46.4  $22,331,000  $22,051,000    $475,237
Oakland     84  78   0.519  35.4  $36,332,500  $36,052,500  $1,018,432
Seattle     83  79   0.512  34.4  $16,126,834  $15,846,834    $460,664
Texas       85  77   0.525  36.4  $19,184,500  $18,904,500    $519,354

Chi Cubs    77  83   0.481  29.4  $26,813,120  $26,533,120    $903,640
Montreal    71  90   0.441  22.8  $20,208,500  $19,928,500    $872,488
NY Mets     77  84   0.478  28.9  $32,590,002  $32,310,002  $1,118,835
Phldelphia  78  84   0.481  29.4  $20,073,332  $19,793,332    $673,243
Pittsburgh  98  64   0.605  49.4  $23,064,667  $22,784,667    $461,228
St. Louis   84  78   0.519  35.4  $21,435,001  $21,155,001    $597,599

Atlanta     94  68   0.580  45.4  $18,923,500  $18,643,500    $410,650
Cincinnati  74  88   0.457  25.4  $25,069,166  $24,789,166    $975,951
Houston     65  97   0.401  16.4  $11,156,000  $10,876,000    $663,171
LA          93  69   0.574  44.4  $33,316,664  $33,036,664    $744,069
San Diego   84  78   0.519  35.4  $22,585,001  $22,305,001    $630,085
San Fran    75  87   0.463  26.4  $30,839,333  $30,559,333  $1,157,550

After the 1991 season, Commissioner Fay Vincent used his annual State of the Game address to declare: "The present salary situation is out of hand and small-market franchises cannot compete in this environment." This in a year when the Minnesota Twins won the World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their second of three consecutive NL East titles, and the Yankees finished 20 games under .500!

In fact, of the four division winners, only Pittsburgh had even the third-highest payroll in its division. Toronto and Minnesota ranked fourth, while Atlanta ranked fifth. On Opening Day, the Oakland Athletics had the majors' highest payroll, over $3 million more than anyone else's, as they paid the price for three years of dominance.

Another quirk saw the entire AL West finish at .500 or above, with the Twins, White Sox and Mariners spending especially wisely. The Twins won the division easily; but in the annual Sporting News preseason poll of sportswriters, not only had the Twins been tabbed for last, they were the only AL club not to receive a single first-place vote. The Yankees and Mets threw money at their problems without success

Table 16. Marginal Payroll/Marginal Win, 1992


Team        W   L    Pct    Marg  Opening Day  Marginal     Marginal $/
                            Wins  Payroll      Payroll      Marginal Win

Baltimore   89  73   0.549  40.4  $20,997,567  $17,945,567    $444,197
Boston      73  89   0.451  24.4  $42,203,584  $39,151,584  $1,604,573
Cleveland   76  86   0.469  27.4   $8,111,166   $5,059,166    $184,641
Detroit     75  87   0.463  26.4  $25,557,834  $22,505,834    $852,494
Milwaukee   92  70   0.568  43.4  $30,253,668  $27,201,668    $626,767
NY Yankees  76  86   0.469  27.4  $34,462,834  $31,410,834  $1,146,381
Toronto     96  66   0.593  47.4  $42,663,666  $39,611,666    $835,689

California  72  90   0.444  23.4  $33,529,834  $30,477,834  $1,302,472
Chi WSox    86  76   0.531  37.4  $27,813,500  $24,761,500    $662,072
Kansas City 72  90   0.444  23.4  $31,783,834  $28,731,834  $1,227,856
Minnesota   90  72   0.556  41.4  $27,432,834  $24,380,834    $588,909
Oakland     96  66   0.593  47.4  $39,657,834  $36,605,834    $772,275
Seattle     64  98   0.395  15.4  $22,204,834  $19,152,834  $1,243,691
Texas       77  85   0.475  28.4  $28,245,667  $25,193,667    $887,101

Chi Cubs    78  84   0.481  29.4  $29,435,833  $26,383,833    $897,409
Montreal    87  75   0.537  38.4  $15,869,667  $12,817,667    $333,793
NY Mets     72  90   0.444  23.4  $44,464,002  $41,412,002  $1,769,744
Phldelphia  70  92   0.432  21.4  $23,804,834  $20,752,834    $969,759
Pittsburgh  96  66   0.593  47.4  $32,589,167  $29,537,167    $623,147
St. Louis   83  79   0.512  34.4  $26,634,836  $23,582,836    $685,548

Atlanta     98  64   0.605  49.4  $32,975,333  $29,923,333    $605,735
Cincinnati  90  72   0.556  41.4  $25,203,999  $22,151,999    $535,072
Houston     81  81   0.500  32.4  $13,352,000  $10,300,000    $317,901
LA          63  99   0.389  14.4  $43,788,136  $40,736,136  $2,828,898
San Diego   82  80   0.506  33.4  $27,454,167  $24,402,167    $730,604
San Fran    72  90   0.444  23.4  $32,488,168  $29,436,168  $1,257,956

The 1992 Cleveland Indians marked Bill James' low point as a prognosticator. The Tribe had gutted their roster, trading or letting go every high-salaried veteran. James wrote in The Baseball Book 1992 that the Indians had "become the first team to abandon the hope of paying a competitive salary to a quality player."

Not exactly. GM John Hart was quietly assembling a phenomenal core of young hitters: Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr. Even before they were eligible for salary arbitration, Hart locked them up with long-term contracts, most including club-option years. The Indians' payroll rose as these players gained seniority, and the Tribe lay waste to the AL Central, winning five consecutive division titles between 1995 and 1999.

The 1992 season was a dismal one for the usual large-market suspects. Boston, Los Angeles and the two New York clubs each finished at least 10 games below .500, with the 63-99 Dodgers becoming the first club ever to spend over $2 million per marginal win. Both AL divisions were won by the club with the highest payroll--but the champions were the Blue Jays and Athletics, with Toronto winning the World Series and drawing over 4 million fans to SkyDome.

17. Marginal Payroll/Marginal Win, 1993


Team        W   L    Pct    Marg  Opening Day  Marginal     Marginal $/
                            Wins  Payroll      Payroll      Marginal Win

Baltimore   85  77   0.525  36.4  $26,914,000  $23,862,000    $655,549
Boston      80  82   0.494  31.4  $36,608,583  $33,556,583  $1,068,681
Cleveland   76  86   0.469  27.4  $15,717,667  $12,665,667    $462,251
Detroit     85  77   0.525  36.4  $36,548,166  $33,496,166    $920,224
Milwaukee   69  93   0.426  20.4  $22,948,834  $19,896,834    $975,335
NY Yankees  88  74   0.543  39.4  $40,405,000  $37,353,000    $948,046
Toronto     95  67   0.586  46.4  $45,747,666  $42,695,666    $920,165

California  71  91   0.438  22.4  $27,230,334  $24,178,334  $1,079,390
Chi WSox    94  68   0.580  45.4  $34,568,166  $31,516,166    $694,189
Kansas City 84  78   0.519  35.4  $39,802,666  $36,750,666  $1,038,154
Minnesota   71  91   0.438  22.4  $27,284,933  $24,232,933  $1,081,827
Oakland     68  94   0.420  19.4  $35,565,834  $32,513,834  $1,675,971
Seattle     82  80   0.506  33.4  $31,461,333  $28,409,333    $850,579
Texas       86  76   0.531  37.4  $35,604,959  $32,552,959    $870,400

Chi Cubs    84  78   0.519  35.4  $38,303,166  $35,251,166    $995,796
Florida     64  98   0.395  15.4  $18,196,545  $15,144,545    $983,412
Montreal    94  68   0.580  45.4  $14,881,334  $11,829,334    $260,558
NY Mets     59  103  0.364  10.4  $38,350,167  $35,298,167  $3,394,055
Phldelphia  97  65   0.599  48.4  $26,812,334  $23,760,334    $490,916
Pittsburgh  75  87   0.463  26.4  $24,240,670  $21,188,670    $802,601
St. Louis   87  75   0.537  38.4  $22,615,334  $19,563,334    $509,462

Atlanta     104 58   0.642  55.4  $38,131,000  $35,079,000    $633,195
Cincinnati  73  89   0.451  24.4  $42,851,167  $39,799,167  $1,631,113
Colorado    67  95   0.414  18.4   $8,829,000   $5,777,000    $313,967
Houston     85  77   0.525  36.4  $28,854,500  $25,802,500    $708,860
LA          81  81   0.500  32.4  $37,833,000  $34,781,000  $1,073,488
San Diego   61  101  0.377  12.4  $25,557,333  $22,505,333  $1,814,946
San Fran    103 59   0.636  54.4  $34,567,500  $31,515,500    $579,329

The 1993 season brought MLB's first expansion since 1977. The changes free agency had wrought in MLB's economics soon became apparent. Like earlier expansion clubs, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins had to stock their rosters from scratch; unlike those predecessors, they could hasten their path to respectability by signing free agents. Florida signed Charlie Hough, Dave Magadan and Benito Santiago; Colorado inked Andres Galarraga, who hit an altitude-assisted .370. The Rockies made the playoffs in 1995, the Marlins won the World Series in 1997, and neither club finished last in its first season.

The Marlins could thank the New York Mets for keeping them out of the cellar. The year after being dubbed "the worst team money could buy" in a book by two local sportswriters, the Mets became the first club to pay over $3 million per marginal win. The NL's second-most expensive roster finished with the majors' worst record. The Braves and Giants had a pennant race for the ages in Barry Bonds' first season as a Giant, while the low-budget Expos came heartbreakingly close to catching the Phillies, who jumped from last place to the NL championship.

In the AL West, Oakland, which had won four division titles in five years, plummeted from first place to last after trading Jose Canseco and letting Dave Stewart and Mike Moore leave as free agents. The White Sox rode their expensive lineup and good, cheap young pitching to the title. The AL East saw Boston spend a lot of money to little effect, the Yankees spend slightly more to better effect, and the Blue Jays spend even more to become MLB's first repeat World Series winner in 15 years.

Table 18. Marginal Payroll/Marginal Win, 1994


Team        W   L    Pct    Marg  Opening Day  Marginal     Marginal $/
                            Wins  Payroll      Payroll      Marginal Win

Baltimore   63  49   0.563  42.5  $37,669,770  $34,617,770    $814,057
Boston      54  61   0.470  27.5  $36,334,083  $33,282,083  $1,211,598
Detroit     53  62   0.461  26.1  $42,707,500  $39,655,500  $1,521,649
NY Yankees  70  43   0.619  51.8  $44,785,334  $41,733,334    $806,379
Toronto     55  60   0.478  28.9  $41,937,668  $38,885,668  $1,346,538

Chi WSox    67  46   0.593  47.5  $38,413,835  $35,361,835    $745,196
Cleveland   66  47   0.584  46.0  $28,480,167  $25,428,167    $552,552
Kansas City 64  51   0.557  41.6  $40,481,334  $37,429,334    $900,685
Minnesota   53  60   0.469  27.4  $27,641,500  $24,589,500    $898,007
Milwaukee   53  62   0.461  26.1  $23,375,513  $20,323,513    $779,848

California  47  68   0.409  17.6  $20,691,000  $17,639,000  $1,001,721
Oakland     51  63   0.447  23.9  $33,169,500  $30,117,500  $1,261,535
Seattle     49  63   0.438  22.3  $27,872,167  $24,820,167  $1,114,261
Texas       52  62   0.456  25.3  $32,423,097  $29,371,097  $1,161,154


Atlanta     68  46   0.596  48.0  $40,502,167  $37,450,167    $779,699
Florida     51  64   0.443  23.2  $20,275,500  $17,223,500    $741,004
Montreal    74  40   0.649  56.6  $18,640,000  $15,588,000    $275,611
NY Mets     55  58   0.487  30.2  $29,890,324  $26,838,324    $887,230
Phldelphia  54  61   0.470  27.5  $31,422,000  $28,370,000  $1,032,779

Chi Cubs    49  64   0.434  21.6  $35,717,333  $32,665,333  $1,508,946
Cincinnati  66  48   0.579  45.2  $39,826,333  $36,774,333    $813,781
Houston     66  49   0.574  44.4  $32,041,500  $28,989,500    $653,301
Pittsburgh  53  61   0.465  26.7  $20,265,500  $17,213,500    $644,319
St. Louis   53  61   0.465  26.7  $28,956,001  $25,904,001    $969,614

Colorado    53  64   0.453  24.8  $22,979,000  $19,927,000    $804,007
LA          58  56   0.509  33.8  $37,194,000  $34,142,000  $1,009,490
San Diego   47  70   0.402  16.5  $13,529,333  $10,477,333    $635,879
San Fran    55  60   0.478  28.9  $40,054,300  $37,002,300  $1,281,320

The strike-shortened 1994 season was also the first in the current three-divisions-plus-Wild Card format. As MLB was happy to announce, doubling the number of teams qualifying for the playoffs gave many more teams a realistic shot at the postseason. This, in turn, increased the number of clubs looking to sign that one more free agent who might give them a better shot at playing into October, encouraging contenders to spend all the extra money generated by their increased attendance on players. MLB wasn't talking about that.

Instead MLB was demanding that the players accept a salary cap that would have reduced player salaries by an average of 15%. The players refused. The owners didn't back down. Acting Commissioner for Life Selig canceled the postseason, vowing to start the 1995 season with replacement players if necessary to force the players to accept sub-market wages. Otherwise, how could small-market clubs ever hope to compete?

Ask Montreal. The perennially impoverished Expos had the majors' best record when the season crashed to a halt. None of the Expos' regulars, and only one of their regular pitchers, was older than 28. The labor stoppage killed interest in baseball in Montreal, and Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and others all eventually went elsewhere. The strike also spared MLB the embarrassment of a sub-.500 division winner: George W. Bush's first-place Texas Rangers were 52-62 when the season ended.

Related Content:  Mlb 12,  The Who,  Oakland,  Payroll,  Pittsburgh,  George W. Bush,  Kansas City

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