The Cost of Winning an MLB Game

A salary cap in Major League Baseball has been debated for a long time, is it really fair to allow teams like the Yankees and Red Sox to spend more money than everyone else and therefore be more successful than everyone else? Or are small market teams just using it as an excuse?

What does it cost to win a game?

In 2010, the average salary of a MLB team was $91,020,056. The average number of games a team won was 81 (half the 162 game schedule).

The team with the highest salary—the Yankees at $206,333,389—won 95 games, good enough for third most in the League. The team with the lowest salary—the Pirates at $34,943,000—won 57, the fewest in the League. The team that spent more won more.

The Yankees spent $2,171,930 for each game that they won (salary/wins) while the Pirates only spent $613,035. The Pirates are obviously more efficient, getting over 3.5x more bang for their buck, but nobody would rather be on their side than the Yankees. Again we side with the team that won more.

The big question is can somebody spend Pirates money and get Yankees’ wins? The Padres prove that you can. At $37,799,300 San Diego spent just over what the Pirates do and they won 90 games. Their average cost per win is the League’s lowest at $419,992.

Still, the goal is to win and even with their efficiency the Padres didn’t make the playoffs. The Rangers who won the same number of games did though—and they rank third behind the Padres and Pirates for least spent per win.

Four teams made the playoffs spend more than the League average on salary: Minnesota, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York. While the remaining four spend less: Cincinnati, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Texas.

Spending money works, but so does being efficient. Which one is better?

The average cost of a win was $1,123,704 and only two playoff teams, Philadelphia and New York, spent more than that. The other six playoff teams—including San Francisco who won the World Series—all spent less.

These figures, while limited to 2010, show that even in a world with no salary cap it might be better to spend money on someone to find the right players rather than throwing all the money at the players themselves.

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