World Series 2011: Why Rangers-Cardinals, Not Yankees-Phillies, Is Good for MLB
There is no salary cap in baseball. We have the New York Yankees, whose 2011 payroll was just over $207 million, and then we have the Kansas City Royals, whose payroll was $38 million. For the sake of perspective, Kansas City's payroll was 18 percent of the Yankees' payroll.
In other words, what the Yankees spent to pay Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia this season totals $18 million more than what the Royals paid to field an entire team.
So the logical result in terms of success for these two franchises would be that the Yankees compete for a world championship with the largest payroll in the game, and the Royals, well, they keep the cellar warm for a few years.
While the latter part of that scenario is, indeed, true, the Yankees are once again watching the World Series from home this October.
In fact, the Yankees, who have consistently held the position of richest franchise in the sport, have won exactly one world championship in the past 11 years.
Not exactly a list that would crack the Forbes top 10 list of sports franchises in the wealth category.
So what accounts for the discrepancy?
With Moneyball opening in theaters earlier this year, many observers of baseball, both casual and die-hard, are thinking about the merits of sabermetrics and the battle of computer models vs. old-school scouting.
But even the Moneyball theory has its limitations when it comes to success in the postseason. There appear to be two key statistics that go a long way toward determining what team will be crowned World Series champion when all is said and done in any given year: win-loss record in September, and margin of victory in the standings.
Let's take some recent world champions as examples.
Beginning with last year's surprising Giants, we see that San Francisco went 18-10 in September. The Giants won the NL West by two games over the San Diego Padres, only clinching the playoff berth after defeating San Diego on the final day of the regular season.
The self-proclaimed "Band of Misfits" went on to go 11-4 in the postseason, never having played a single elimination game, tearing their way to a World Series title.
In 2003, the Florida Marlins didn't even win their division. In fact, they finished 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. They won the wild card, however, by four games over the Houston Astros and then defeated the 100-victory San Francisco Giants in the NLDS to move to the NLCS and, eventually, the World Series.
In 2002, the Los Angeles Angels became the second wild card team ever to win a World Series. On August 25 of that season, the Angels and Mariners were tied atop the wild card standings. Anaheim finished with an 18-9 record in September to clinch the wild card and eventually win it all.
In 2001, the Diamondbacks had to fight their way into the postseason as well, finishing just two games ahead of the Giants in the NL West. They then beat the Yankees in seven games to win their first world championship.
All of these examples indicate that the team that has to overcome the most in getting to the postseason, and is playing the best baseball down the stretch in September, is the team most likely to have success in the postseason and the World Series.
But that was certainly not the case for the Cardinals. In fact, the situation was the polar opposite for St. Louis, a club that was 8.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL wild card race on September 1, and then went 18-8 to clinch a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.
If the trend holds true, the Cardinals will be this year's World Series champs.
But which team's victory in this year's Fall Classic would be better for baseball? Either one. The Rangers and Cardinals, even by making it to the Fall Classic over teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, are continuing baseball's drive in a new direction—away from antiquated modes of "buying a winner" and further into an era of tactical ingenuity that values team chemistry and a team-centric focus over the compilation of individual $100 million superstars.
Here's to a world in which the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies are not favored to win it all year-in and year-out.
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