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Updated as of the release of final 2019 payrolls on December 18, 2019.

Provided below is a graphical illustration of total player compensation (in terms of year over year growth and percentage of industry net revenue) segmented by CBA iteration and presiding MLBPA executive director.

Also presented are two interactive charts displaying how much each Major League Baseball team has spent on players relative to their annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. To display or hide an individual team in the chart at the top, click on the circle icon next to each name. To display or hide a specific period in the chart at the bottom, click on the circle icon next to each year.

Player Cost (Payroll/Luxury Tax) as a Percentage of Team Revenue, 2001, 2003-2018

Note: Revenue is net of revenue sharing and stadium debt service. Payroll costs excludes benefits, but include luxury tax payments, and is based on final figures for each year released by MLB, and may not necessarily equal the amount upon which the luxury tax is based.
Source: MLB releases published by AP (final payroll), MLB releases published by AP (luxury tax) and Forbes (revenue)

Because Major League Baseball teams share revenue, but are not subject to a salary floor, teams can pretty much guarantee a hefty profit by maintaining a low payroll. However, according to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), clubs are supposed to use revenue sharing to enhance their winning percentage, not their bottom line. The MLBPA isn’t convinced that every team is operating in accordance with that stipulation, and the recent trend toward tanking seems to back up their claim. Unfortunately, MLB’s revenue sharing plan remains shrouded in a bit of mystery. Not only is the formula very complicated, but the exact inputs remain elusive. However, there is enough information available to build an educated model from which to assess the plan’s effectiveness.

MLB really has two revenue sharing components. The first is the Central Fund, which collects revenue derived from national sources (e.g., network TV rights and merchandizing) and then distributes an equal share to each team. According to Forbes’ estimates, in 2018, about $2.76 billion was allocated in this manner. The second component involves local revenue, which Forbes estimates to be about $7.29 billion, a portion of which funds MLB’s “Revenue Sharing Plan.”

As defined by Article XXIV of the CBA, the basis for the revenue sharing plan is a percentage of each team’s “Net Local Revenue”, which is basically the money a team makes in its local market (mostly ballpark and media related receipts) minus the cost of stadium expenses, including debt service. Also excluded from this total are distributions from the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund as well as post season revenue. After making all required deductions, what remains is net local revenue. However, the formula for the plan is not as simple as multiplying this figure by a constant rate. Rather, each team’s contribution to or receipt from the plan involves a multi-pronged, retrospective accounting of net local revenue. A hypothetical calculation is detailed in the model link above and outlined below.

Please note, for this exercise, Forbes’ net revenue estimate is used. However, that figure includes post season revenue and revenue sharing transfers, so, though the net transfer amounts of the plan should be accurate (assuming Forbes’ estimates are), individual team contributions or receipts may be under or over stated.

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MLB’s proposal to expand the post season to 14 teams is a question for the future. With the implementation of changes contingent on the next round of collective bargaining, the status quo will likely remain for at least the next two seasons. So, instead of looking forward to what might change, let’s look back and examine how the proposed format would have played out retrospectively.

As the charts above show, adding two more wild cards does significantly lower the bar for the postseason in both leagues. By extending the format to a seventh seed (fourth best record for a non-division winner), the average minimum win total for that slot since 1998 would be a paltry 83 and 84 wins in the National League and American League, respectively. That compares to a respective average of 94 and 91 wins for the lowest wild card in each league under the current system.

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(This updated post was originally published on February 16, 2011, and has since been updated before each season)

For over 20 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively harken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the iniquities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ball clubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901
yankees-st

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The Astros’ sign stealing scheme has gripped the baseball world. Like any good scandal, it comes with corruption, intrigue, and, in keeping with the times, it also has a whistleblower. What’s lacking, however, is clarity, both with regard to the extent of the scheme, not to mention the prevalence of ones similar to it throughout the league, and the impact it had on outcomes.

There have been several attempts to determine the degree to which stealing signs may have helped the Astros, but the findings have been both inconclusive and contradictory. That’s not surprising when you consider the complexity involved in doing such an analysis. In order to accurately determine the effect from the cause, it’s not enough to rely on correlation (i.e., every “bang” was followed by a home run). One must also know the “opportunity context”, which includes the other variables involved and the likelihood of outcomes under those conditions. Of course, as with any scandal, that doesn’t mean we can’t look for smoking guns.

In a recent article at the Athletic, some “eye popping” evidence was offered, suggesting that the Astros might have benefitted significantly from their sign stealing scheme. In particular, the article highlighted the teams declining strike out rates and suggested the Astros’ improvements were at “levels unparalleled in the last 100 years”. But is that really true?

MLB’s and Astros’ Strikeout Rates, 1962 to 2019

Source: fangraps.com and baseball-reference.com

To its credit, the Athletic article does link to another study showing that the altered composition of the Astros in 2017 augured for a strikeout rate improvement before the season even began (the team’s actual strikeout rate was only 0.4 percentage points lower than what Fangraphs predicted). But, roster makeup wasn’t the only variable that needed to be acknowledged, much less considered. Another pertinent contextual factor left out of the analysis was the current high strikeout environment. By relying on a comparison of the number of strikeouts, and not the percentage change in the strikeout rate, the findings exaggerated the degree to which the Astros cut down on strikeouts. Put more simply in mathematical terms, declining from two strikeouts per game to one is a much bigger relative drop (50%), than going from nine to seven (22%), even though the latter results in twice as many fewer strikeouts. As the chart above shows, both MLB’s and the Astros’ historical strikeout rate was already at or near all-time highs by 2016, so if the team was successful in executing a strategy to lower strikeouts, the result in terms of the number of events would likely be historic.

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Since MLB’s intention to realign and contract the number of minor league affiliations was first revealed, criticism of the plan has reverberated throughout the game and even in the halls of Congress. The negative responses have accused MLB owners of being greedy and shortsighted and suggested that the rumored proposal would not only deprive fans of the game they love, but also exacerbate the cultural divide in the country. Do these reactions have merit, or has a hyperbolic narrative overwhelmed a sensible plan? Let’s consider the arguments.

The Impact of Realignment

First, some facts. While 25% of affiliates are slated for removal, this percentage is somewhat misleading, though useful if the intention is to portray a more dramatic upheaval. However, because most of the teams that would be disaffiliated play abbreviated schedules in front of small crowds, the impact on a per game and per fan basis is much more muted. That’s doesn’t justify contraction on its own, but does put the potential impact in a more proper perspective.

Affiliate Attendance by League: Remaining vs. Contracted Teams

There are currently 160 affiliated teams in 14 leagues covering six basic classifications. This excludes the independent Mexican League as well as team owned Rookie Leagues (Arizona, Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer), not to mention independent leagues that have no connection to MLB. That gives major league franchises as many as 300 players in their organization, which is well in excess of what’s required at the big league level. Obviously, many of these players are at various stages of development, and can be relied upon to supplement the major league club at some point in the future. But, even considering longer-term player development, the current minor league structure seems to be a bit of overkill.

Using 2010 as a proxy, 1,525 players were drafted, but only 248 eventually made it to the major leagues. Not surprisingly, the deeper you go in the draft, the smaller the percentage of players who played at least one big league game becomes. With only eight major league-bound players, on average, entering each organization in a given year, the need for 160 affiliates seems dubious. In many ways, a 40 round draft is almost as much about stocking an oversubscribed minor league system as finding future major leaguers.

Percentage of Players from 2010 Draft to Make the Majors

Instead of having a system designed to optimize player development, MLB has remained committed to a structure that prioritizes quantity over quality. That may have been an effective approach when teams had less scientific means for evaluating players, but with so many advanced tools at their disposal, MLB clubs are not only better equipped to identify more likely prospects, but there is greater incentive to expose those players to better technology, facilities, training and competition. Having fewer concurrently playing affiliates seems to be the optimal way to achieve that end

The Arguments Against the Plan

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All data is final as of the conclusion the of the 2019 postseason.

One of baseball’s most often repeated axioms states that, although home runs work just fine in the regular season, once the calendar turns to October, small ball becomes a more effective method for scoring runs. This mantra is proclaimed with such certainty that all who hear it seem to unquestionably accept its infallibility. However, since the dawn of the wild card era, history has suggested otherwise (though home runs have declined in the post season since 1995, runs scored by other means have dropped more significantly). So, as a service to those home run fanatics who refuse to accept the short comings of the long ball in the post season, the Captain’s Blog Presents the 2019 Long Ball Meter (click on the links for 2016, 2017 and 2018), which will not only keep a running breakdown of how runs are scored this postseason, but also present that data in a historical context. In addition, a historical comparison (since 1995) of the share of post season innings by role is also presented.

Current Season Data

Long Ball Meter: Regular Season vs. Postseason, 2019

Note: Long/Small Ball Meter compares the rate of runs scored via the home run to all other means. Regular season data is for playoff teams only.  Averages are per team per game.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Long Ball vs. Small Ball Tactics: Regular Season vs. Postseason, 2019

Note: Averages are per team per game.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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