Extending Tradition: Why the Yankees Win and the Cubs Lose

Nothing really changed today. No plan was destroyed. No value created on the field. We have 4 months before the games matter. So this is not some whine about how the Yankees still have too much money, or overpay for their talent, or any other various takes that pop up in all the blogs and message boards or Twitter feeds regarding baseball.

No, this will have some analysis about the actuality of maybe why the Yankees are willing to pay exorbitant 2013 prices, thanks, in part, to the windfalls coming from television revenues. If you believe otherwise, even the A’s and Royals have plunked down some serious cash on what are called “mediocre mid-level” free agents: at a price of $8-11 million a season. (Kansas City might not be done if in at 3yr/$48M for Carlos Beltran.)  This is due to the market price for WAR (wins above replacement) now sitting at about $6M large for 1 win according to Dave Cameron earlier in the free agent season work. I have a feeling this is still about right.

So now to the why the Yankees win much more than anyone else. And the Cubs are traditional losers.

 

Ballpark

The Yankees have always built to their ballpark’s greatest asset: that of advantaging power lefties. No need to recite them all, from Babe Ruth to Gehrig to Maris to Jackson to Giambi to Granderson and Cano, across 3 different incarnations (70′s remodel), of Yankee Stadium is all you need to know. The new Yankee Stadium is smaller than the remodeled versus as this picture tells you.

While they don’t win every year, 27 times pretty much is a lock to never be broken during the next century. Unless, the Cardinals, the Cubs arch nemesis, started running up their score. Somehow, it will get harder to do this as competitive balance is working a bit. But 100 years from now? Baseball will be played in Virtual Reality for a different version of money. Maybe Chinese yuan will be more important to the game’s finances.

So for the 2014 season the Yankees have loaded up on lefties: Catcher Brian McCann, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, and in the final stages of negotiations with 2B-UT Kelly Johnson. And they are likely not completely done. So what? None of those guys have real pop to take real advantage of the new Yankee stadium?

Oh, contraire mon frère. The Yankees know their pigeons well. And they will fly fly out to right field with a vengeance. To go with Mark Teixeira’s return (though a switch hitter) who has done damage in The House A-Rod Financed with Credit Default Steroids, Teixeira will continue to do well from either side, assuming he’s all better. His splits by ballpark and overall lefty/righty hitting splits:

Mark Teixeira Overall Statistics at Various Parks (Sorted by SLG)

Teixeira Park Perf. G GS PA AB 2B HR BB BA OBP SLG ▾ OPS BAbip tOPS+
OAK-McAfee Col 69 69 311 261 17 20 39 0.284 0.392 0.586 0.978 0.276 118
TEX-Rangers Bpk 365 361 1570 1388 94 88 152 0.300 0.376 0.571 0.947 0.321 111
NYY-Yankee Stad3 302 297 1289 1098 60 79 155 0.270 0.369 0.544 0.912 0.266 104
SEA-Safeco Fld 69 68 310 278 21 16 28 0.288 0.352 0.543 0.895 0.302 99
ATL-Turner Fld 88 88 389 327 18 21 57 0.291 0.404 0.538 0.942 0.311 112
NYY-Yankee Stad 26 25 113 105 8 5 8 0.305 0.354 0.524 0.878 0.329 96
LAA-Angel Stad 90 90 382 316 15 20 54 0.266 0.380 0.503 0.883 0.259 99
BAL-Camden Yards 49 48 228 198 14 10 26 0.278 0.360 0.500 0.860 0.287 93
TOR-Rogers Ctr 51 51 230 200 16 11 26 0.240 0.330 0.485 0.815 0.257 82
CHW-US Cellular 35 35 151 133 10 4 14 0.286 0.358 0.466 0.824 0.321 86
TBR-TropicanaFld 53 53 226 191 14 8 25 0.262 0.358 0.461 0.819 0.284 85
CLE-Progressive 32 32 141 122 9 3 18 0.303 0.390 0.451 0.841 0.358 92
DET-Comerica Pk 38 38 170 149 5 8 16 0.228 0.306 0.436 0.742 0.23 66
KCR-KauffmanStad 32 32 147 123 9 4 21 0.244 0.354 0.431 0.785 0.265 78
BOS-Fenway Pk 52 51 241 196 8 9 36 0.214 0.357 0.403 0.760 0.244 74
Batting Splits Career G PA AB HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 1395 4553 3928 243 762 514 0.267 0.359 0.518 0.877 0.277 96
vs LHP as RHB 882 2037 1761 97 348 238 0.300 0.389 0.541 0.930 0.32 109
vs LH Starter 490 2160 1891 110 372 231 0.290 0.374 0.531 0.905 0.307 103
vs RH Starter 1022 4461 3826 231 741 523 0.272 0.366 0.522 0.888 0.283 99

One way to know the additions will work is their spray charts by distance. Ellsbury’s play favorably to the dimensions of Yankee Stadium’s tweaked dimensions. From Bill Petti at tableausoftware.com:

Jacoby Ellsbury’s hits over 300 feet:

Jacoby

McCann’s Chart:

brianmccann

Johnson’s Chart:

kelly johnson

So, those pull happy lefties explains the ballpark factor. Yankees are about guys that can crack a baseball to right field. It’s not a hard formula.

Money

The Yankees are the largest market (followed by Los Angeles). The New York area hosts in 2014 about 7.4 million TVs. Los Angeles is at 5.6 million, and Chicago is third at 3.5 million in the Neilsen viewership rankings.

As we know, the new TV deals are to help out in revenues, for now (another post). And the Yankees have rarely shown an inability or lack of propensity to spend freely. As will see, it matters that they do spend. With the A-Rod potential steroids suspension of 211 games favorably in the Yankees corner, they’re legitimately shopping like an old, die hard American consumer before Globalization took some of the fuel and thunder from our pocket books. So what did the Yankees spend on:

  • $153 million on CF Ellsbury (potentially a 5+ WAR player for first 2 seasons)
  • $12 million on SS Jeter (potentially a 1+ WAR guy; if they don’t play him at SS much)
  • $85 million on C McCann (maybe 3.5+ WAR guy for 2 seasons)
  • $4 million on SS Brendan Ryan (2- WAR guy)
  • $3 million 2B/UT Kelly Johnson (1.5- WAR guy)
  • $90 million salary projection for Masahiro Tanaka (4+ WAR pitcher)

Seems about the exact amount, minus Tanaka, they would of had to pony up to keep Robinson Cano in the Bronx ($257 million over 9-10 years).

But too, their necessity to do this is tied to no postseason appearance in 2013 and the revenues needed to fulfill public debt requirements. As this piece from the Wall Street Journal by Brian Costa points out:

Proceeds from ticket sales and stadium suite licenses alone totaled $295 million through Sept. 30 this year, according to public records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. That is down from $353 million in 2012, $377 million in 2011 and $384 million in 2010, the records show.

The figures appeared on financial statements the Yankees are required to file with the city to demonstrate their ability to make payments on the bonds used in the construction of Yankee Stadium. Attendance represents just one of the Yankees’ revenue streams, but it highlights the enormity of the financial incentives for the team to make the playoffs.

People with knowledge of the team’s finances said the drop-off from 2012 is almost entirely a result of the fact that they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Had the Yankees failed to reach the playoffs in 2012, their ticket and suite revenues would have been closer to $300 million rather than $353 million, the people said. Similarly, in 2010 and 2011, postseason games accounted for $59 million and $58 million of all such revenues, respectively.

[in short] a Yankees team that wins 93 games and makes the playoffs brings in about 15% more ticket and suite revenue than a Yankees team that wins 88 games and misses the playoffs.

So there is incentive to win. Who knew?

That Masahiro Tanaka contest will also heat up now that the posting system has settled at $20M (see below). Though this is not so good news for the Yankees, as the upfront winning posting bid does not count against the luxury tax, that they are close to breaking again. As Brett Taylor at Bleachernation last night looked at the Ellsbury signing, he did some dirty math:

“…$25 million in luxury cap space in the form of an Alex Rodriguez suspension, and, sadly, signing Cano after Ellsbury doesn’t make nabbing Tanaka dicey. Really rough math here (courtesy of Cot’s contracts, a calculator, and quick arbitration guesses), but I’ve got the Yankees at about $135 million in payroll after signing McCann. Ellsbury puts them at $152 million, and Cano would put them around $180 million. An ARod suspension brings them down to $155 million. Miscellaneous other moves (and the expenses tied to payroll that every team has) probably bring that back up to about $165 to $170 million. Still plenty of room to grab Tanaka and stay under the $189 million mark.”

Tanaka, as I surmise before, is a 4+WAR pitcher per season. (Though I had Dombrowski making his starting pitching trade and landing a closer – he went and got Joe Nathan as a closer instead.) If we factor another $90 million in a 5-year deal (not counting the posting) then the Yankees will have added $347 million in payroll over 7 seasons. And will have built up the middle – the key to winning championships, is to get offense plus guys at catcher, shortstop, centerfield, and second. Yet, they will lose Cano.

So the financials done, time to do WAR math: 17 WAR potentially added (with the Tanaka deal) minus Cano  (at 6.5 WAR) seems very reasonable in 2014. They lost Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Mariano Rivera. Basically, 8WAR. So, the math is still positive. Teixeira’s rebound to 2-3 WAR or outside chance of 4 WAR, and the Yankee’s spending spree will not break them. Soriano likely cancels Granderson. 3B is still a hole to fill, possibly Brendan Ryan. RF is Suzuki at 40. Not much left there.  But they could do a swap or two to other teams and add Gary Sanchez as a piece. And the Yanks need another starter unless their call ups are to their liking.

The Yankees have to spend money to make money. Funny how that is.

Tradition and the Difference

The Cubs have their tradition for losing. Currently, going on 106 years. To put that in perspective, the Yankees had not been called the Yankees yet.  Before 1913, it was the Highlanders. Their first New York manager: ex-Orphan/Colt star Clark Griffith.
Now, the problems of the Cubs are long and deep. First big blow was the death of William Wrigley. This after 2 World Series losses after a decade of creative ownership (radio stations and broadcasts and ladies’ day in the 1920s). His gum magnate son, P.K. Wrigley, took over and cared little about developing the product on the field. He spent to beautify the joint. Give a mystique. A hallowed place. Bill Veeck put in concessions storage under those bleachers and put in the ivy. Yet, the needs to create a successful baseball team fell to the hands of sportswriter GMs, or other poorly equipped people, like John Holland, to get a product worth watching. Veeck at least won a World Series as an owner in Cleveland.

For perspective: In 1930, the Cubs drew 1.46million people during the first year of the great depression. The 1930 Yankees (with Ruth and Gehrig): 1.169 million. The most dynamic duo of their age, could not put more butts in the seats than the Cubs.

Fast forward. The Moneyball Model is being implemented by Theo Epstein. This is not due to the inability to have cash flows to support the franchise. The Cubs had 3M+ fans for 8 consecutive seasons, ending in 2011, right before Theo’s entry with Jed Hoyer. They have still the 3rd highest ticket prices for the privilege to watch two sub-70 win seasons in a row.Their commitment to excellence, so far, this off-season: $5.95 million to Ryan Sweeney, a lefty reliever in Welsey Wright,  and a backup catcher from KC.

So far, other teams new commitments:

  • White Sox: $72M
  • Twins: $73M
  • Royals: $46M + potentially $48M to Carlos Beltran
  • Rockies: $30M
  • SF Giants: $161M
  • A’s: $32.5M

While it is still plenty early, the biggest impact bats left are: Shin Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. Detroit: was hard on Choo. Cano: Seattle man crush. Cruz is a plausible add…to Chicago, if Granderson ditches the Mets. (But Cubs too seem to like Tanaka…)

bildeMeanwhile, new owner Tom Ricketts & the Ricketts family of directors have drastically cut payroll; put up a privately-funded, yet to be started, renovation plan (like Phil Wrigley in the 1930s), which adds more debt (they would have received public funds – but the books would be visible too), and continued to give lip service regarding building from the ground up (which requires more losing to get higher picks).

This is a nice plan to promote, and say, “the best teams do this.” Cite the Cardinals. Or now, the Pirates (ignoring 20 seasons of bad baseball) or even Tampa Bay, who also took a decade of bad baseball, high draft picking to succeed. Many others that went the long-pain route to success. But the worst thing is: these owners and middle managers say it with caveat of “will spend when it is time.” Or: “We project we will be where we want to be in 2015-6.”

The Yankees? They never do this. They rarely have ever been a top rated farm, yet, the signed Robinson Cano as an amateur free agent in 2001. Soriano came via Japan Central. They have both been lucky, and they take risks. The Yankee way is to put money into their product at the top. Keep the revenues flowing… It is why they are valuated higher than any other franchise in the MLB. And now, you see it is a necessity to keep revenues flowing.

Meanwhile, when Theo ran Boston, he had money to do things. It certainly help him win those 2 World Series. He also found some nice players not in the top 5 of the draft. Jacoby Ellsbury was a 23rd pick in 1st round. Dustin Pedrioa: 2nd round. Now: $100M+ players.

The Cubs’ current ideas can be summed up by Brett again at Bleacher Nation:

“And here we are, with Ellsbury getting the kind of absurdly large contract that I figured he would get … and hoped he would get from a team not named the Cubs. I am perfectly comfortable with how this played out.”

This tradition of being comfortable with how this played out, losing out on talent – even as overpriced as it is by our normal rationale – must be considered too part and parcel to the problem. To be this overwhelmingly content and confident as a front office and owner of the Chicago Cubs smacks of too smart by half. The valuing of prospects yet to swing bats in the bigs or throw pitches, when actual probabilities outweigh wildest possibilities. That whatever analysis is being done, hasn’t affected the outcomes seen most recently in 2013; as three most expensive pieces on the roster (Castro, Rizzo, Jackson), had regressions when progress should have occurred. The keeping around cast-offs, or swapping them out liberally, did nothing for team success.

That too trickles down as apathy undoubtedly to the current hodge-podge of ill-fitting players and the 2nd, newly hired coaching staff ( after a long search yielded an unproven manager in Renteria). This lack of pressure to succeed, or make the attempt to fulfill many a Cubs fan, often, dying wish, is again a lack of urgency. To tread water; or just maintain the semblance of a MLB team that is exasperating in its defeatist mentality is a bitter pill after 2 close calls in 30 years. The 1984 Cubs thirty anniversary of a wonderful season is about all there is to celebrate come 2014. A 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field is going to be like being present at a funeral procession past a relic of once very admirable qualities now filled up with glitz and adverts from the Twitter era. It’s like Bach meeting Beeber.

george_steinbrenner_a_kennedy_democratIf George Steinbrenner (The Boss) were in Chicago, well, crazy would follow, but so too, would the money. He’d never be so complacent. He’d drive people nuts. Hire, and fire, the best people. Then rehire. Buy up three 1B, if you let him. But: he would not tolerate losing. Neither did his predecessors – as exploitative as the Yankees were of teams going back to Boston and Ruth – as they won by hook and crook and No, No Nanette. The Yankees modern tradition is to even putting the cash in Cashman’s hands. And now, they have put two All-stars on their roster (and a third potentially on the way). This is pricey, but you can’t say they lack moxie, or motivation, to succeed at all costs. Literally, all costs.

Even Billy Beane seems more Boss-like, risk-seeking, as Yahoo! Sports reported:

“We’ve never really straddled the fence,” A’s general manager Billy Beane told reporters in Oakland. “We’re either all in or all out.”

Well, Beane stays in, more than out. So far, Theo has been out…by June.

And sure, you can say the games aren’t won in December. Yes, that is true. You haven’t lost out yet on what remains available. The Bedards, Youkilis, Grandersons of the world…But the talent you acquire best be had soon enough to make a substantial difference from April-October 2014. So, if the strategy is to buy a bunch of 1 year/5M or less  players (and probably only 2-3 of them, 40-man roster) that makes for pretty pathetic moves to secure any hopes of winning, even in 2015.

Lastly, it also assumes the Cubs do much at all as this flippable asset idea will not work forever. Other teams see the Cubs doing this, and likely as not, won’t want to play that trader game as much. (At least, I wouldn’t, if I were them.)

But it’s a Cubs move. Heck, it’s a modern tradition.

2 thoughts on “Extending Tradition: Why the Yankees Win and the Cubs Lose

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