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September 20, 2006

The Ledger Domain

Are the Marlins the Biggest Overachievers of All Time?

by Maury Brown

There's always a reason games aren't played on paper. For one, it would make for pretty boring television. But to my way of thinking, perhaps the biggest reason may be that it keeps those of us who chronicle and analyze the games on our toes.

While the Tigers have garnered a lot of attention this season due to their quick turnaround, you have to be fascinated with the Florida Marlins. Anibal Sanchez's no-hitter on September 6th certainly brought more attention to the club, but long before that, one had to look at the standings, the make-up of the team, and that Opening Day player payroll figure that was just under $15 million and say, "I never saw this coming."

This isn't just a case of the people at BP or ESPN missing on their analysis as the season began. Short of Nostradamus or the diehard delusional Marlin fan I dare say few saw this type of performance by the Marlins coming.

Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel contacted me for a column he was writing and asked where the Marlins stood as far as the size of their payroll, and what would happen if they made the payoffs. I said that I hadn't looked yet at total team payroll figures, but I was pretty sure that there had never been a case of a club with a lower payroll in comparison to the highest that had ever done so much with so little. As I said to Mike, "If the Marlins make the playoffs, it's the biggest story in baseball."

So, after the call, I went looking at player payrolls, which I have back to 1976. I wasn't going to be able to look at, say, some of Connie Mack's clubs, but given prior research, payroll disparity has grown during this time, not decreased.

To place this in perspective, consider the following: 53 of the 59 players who showed up for the Marlins Spring Training camp this season had played at least part of last season in the minors. The Marlins dropped their Opening Day payroll $45,410,334, from $60,408,834 in 2005 to $14,998,500 in 2006; that's a 75.17% drop. The Yankees' Opening Day payroll of $194,663,079 was 1298% higher than the player payroll for Marlins on Opening Day. The last time the Marlins had an Open Day payroll close to this low was 1999, when it was $14,650,000. The Devil Rays had the second-lowest Opening Day payroll at the start of this season at $35,417,967, which is still 236% higher than the Fish.

Since 1976, there has only been one season that came close to this disparity: 1982, when the league-leading Angels had a payroll of $10,917,284, and the Twins had the lowest payroll of $947,380, which made the Angels' payroll 1152% higher than the Twins'. The Twins finished with an abysmal record of 60-102 (.370), while the California Angels won the old AL West and finished with the third-best regular season record in the league at 93-69 (.574).

But have the Marlins really been the biggest overachievers of all-time, or at least the last 30 years? The answer appears to be yes. Using the BP Postseason Odds Report, and applying Doug Pappas' Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins, we can see how much bang for the buck the Marlins are getting by comparison to the Yankees.

                      Opening Day   Marginal    Marginal    Cost per
Club     Proj.-W   Proj.-L   Payroll     Payroll      Wins     Maginal Win
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yankees    98.4     63.6  $194,663,079  $185,180,079  49.8    $3,718,475.48
Marlins    79.8     82.2   $14,998,500    $5,515,500  31.2      $176,778.85

In other words, the Yankees are spending 2003% more per marginal win than the Marlins, or more than 20 times more per Marginal Win. The Yankees will say it's worth it if they get into the postseason and win it all, and in the New York market with the revenues that go with it, it may be that it's hard to argue that matter. Still, the question that could be asked is, "Are the Marlins the new Moneyball club?" Well…

As the season starts to come to a close, it seems that barring a late charge by the Marlins, they will miss the post-season. As of this morning, they have less than a 1% chance of making it. Nevertheless, one has to tip your hat to GM Larry Beinfest and to Joe Girardi, who easily gets my nod for NL Manager of the Year. Beyond the off-field staff in the Marlins organization, it is the players that we should marvel at. Clearly, they are the ones that deserve to be applauded the most for achieving so much at such high levels so quickly.

The larger question may be, "Will this become a trend?" I doubt it. It seems that there is a better than good chance that the total percentage of net local revenue will get bumped up from 34% in the next CBA, which means that clubs should be spending more given the increased revenue sharing. Certainly Ted Rogers and the Blue Jays have said they will in 2007, and others will most likely do the same.

Will the Marlins increase player payroll? Will they see if they spend a bit more they have a chance to make the post season? Maybe.

What if--and this is a big if--a payroll floor were instituted in MLB? It is no secret that both the MLBPA and some of the higher-revenue owners have been concerned about the poorer owners pocketing revenue-sharing dollars, as opposed to using them on their player payrolls. A floor would be one method of forcing clubs to not field an entire roster that was made up of low-cost players. The flip side to the salary floor is that it's halfway to a ceiling. Management has tried to get a salary floor negotiated in the past, but the union has seen it as unfavorable. If one were instituted, it could well be that this Marlins team would be the all-time overachievers. It's something to ponder this offseason as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is hammered out. Until then, here's to hoping that those that can watch the Marlins--on television, the internet, in person, or otherwise--do so. They are simply amazing, whether they make the playoffs or not.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

Related Content:  Florida Marlins,  The Who,  Marlins,  Payroll

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