Florida and the Legacy of Billy Beane
|February 9, 2012||Posted by ReubenFB under Quick Map|
Billy Beane, long-time GM of the Oakland A’s, got a contract extension today through 2019, and as you can tell from yesterday’s featured poll above people are not exactly impressed by the whole thing. 39% is not a great result for a man who’s 2002 performance inspired both a best-selling book and an oscar-nominated role, so what happened?
The easy answer is that Beane never won a World Series for Oakland, but this isn’t exactly fair as only seven GM’s have pulled that off in that span, and one of them was Ozzie Guillen. What really happened to Beane’s legacy is that he got out-Moneyballed, not by suddenly wise big-market teams like the Red Sox but by a new frontier: Florida.
By the 1990′s, Florida was the most obvious untapped region for a professional team, and the MLB rewarded the state with the Marlins in 1993 and the Rays in 1998. These moves immediately created two new small-market teams, which slowly began to compete with Oakland for limited wins in a league packed with big spenders.
How do we measure the success of these teams? The essense of Moneyball is finding undervalued players to extract maximum wins from limited budgets, so a fair measurement of how good a GM’s performance is how much a team spent (in payroll) for each of its wins in a given season. Starting in 1998 – Beane’s first full season as GM of the A’s - here are the those spendings:
(Note: All spending represents opening day payroll, data is available here)
Oakland A’s: The A’s averaged 92.2 wins a season during this span, spending only $366,000 per win. This was good for first in the league, 66% less than the $1.1 million per win the league-lagging Rangers were spending. The peak was the legendary 2002 “Moneyball” season, when the A’s won 103 games and 20 in a row, which is just stupid.
Florida Marlins: Coming off their shocking 1997 World Series win, the Marlins averaged a mediocre 73.8 wins per season, and their $399,000 per win was good for 3rd in the league. The era ended on a strong note, as the Marlins took the wild-card route to an equally shocking second World Series win in 2003.
Tampa Bay Rays: The fledgling Rays averaged a terrible 63.5 wins, spending $601,000 per win that was only good for 12th in the league.
2004-2007: Like Moneyball, but more expensive
Oakland A’s: During these 4 years the A’s averaged a solid 87.0 wins per season, but big contracts for Eric Chavez, Jason Kendall, and Jermaine Dye sent their spending up 102% to $739,000 per win, good for only 10th in the league.
Florida Marlins: The Marlins improved slightly after their second WS win, averaging 78.8 wins per season. They also pissed off their fans by trading all their stars in 2005, leading to a $470,000 spending per win that was good for 2nd in the league.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays didn’t see much of an improvement in record, averaging only 66.0 wins per season. Their payroll dropped sharply though, and their $451,000 per win jumped them to 1st in the league, 77% lower than the $2.0 million the Yankees were spending per win during these four years.
2008-2011: Here come the Rays
Oakland A’s: Here’s when things went downhill. The A’s dropped to 76.3 wins per season, and spending only slightly declined to $749,000 per win (5th in the league). This stretch included zero winning seasons and nagging stadium battles, which have done as much as anything else to chip away at Beane’s popularity.
Florida Marlins: The Marlins passed the A’s by bumping their wins up to 80.8 per season, and somehow stayed relevant in the competitive NL East every year. They spent only $530,000 per win, good for 1st in the league (besting the Yankee’s $2.1 million per win by 75%). Looking forward towards 2012 though, it’s pretty obvious that this stinginess isn’t going to last.
Tampa Bay Rays: Click! The Rays’s pulled 92.0 wins per season, made it to the World Series, and looked good doing it. Their $601,000 per win was 2nd in the league, while playing against the highest and second-highest spending teams in baseball. Critical to this success: former A Carlos Pena - made famous in Moneyball - who posted an OPS+ of 135 for the Rays from 2007-2010.
So there you have it, starting in 2003 the Oakland A’s began to decline in both wins and spending efficiency, while the Rays and Marlins established themselves as two of baseball most successful Moneyballin’ teams. While the normal narrative is that Beane’s ideas were co-opted by richer programs, the continued success of the Florida’s small-market franchises - and the continued struggles of Oakland – can only hurt Beane’s legacy.
If the A’s somehow win a World Series in the next 7 years of Beane’s contract, expect public opinion swing back his way quickly. For 2012, Vegas got them at 200/1 odds, second worst behind the Astros. Still more likely than winning 20 games in a row, right?