Had the Pirates won 3 more games in 2011 they would finished with 75 wins. Had The Pirates won 3 more games in 2012 they would have broken the longest consecutive losing season streak in North American professional sports one year earlier. Had the Pirates won three more games in 2013 they would have tied the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. As you can see not all wins are equal. The further up the standings a team goes the more meaningful each extra win becomes. The wins that make the difference between missing the playoffs or making the playoffs are not just the most meaningful, they are also the most valuable. A team’s 90th win generates significantly more revenue than their 81st win. This concept is known as the win curve.
Where a team sits on the win curve has a big impact on how much they are willing to spend for additional wins. ZiPS is projecting the Pirates as an 84 win team in 2014. Marginal upgrades can bring big returns for teams that sit where the Pirates do on the win curve. Including the Pirates, eleven teams are projected by ZiPS to have between 83-85 wins next season. Here is a look at the spending done by these eleven teams this off season:
2) Rangers – 85 Projected Wins – $137 million committed to Free Agents
Key Acquisitions: Shin-Soo Choo
9) Nationals- 83 Projected Wins – $11 million committed to Free Agents
Key Acquisitions: Nate McLouth
10) Pirates- 84 Projected Wins – $7 million committed to Free Agents
Key Acquisitions: Edinson Volquez
11) Braves- 84 Projected Wins – $4 million committed to Free Agents
Key Acquisitions: Gavin Floyd
Obviously, the Yankees are a completely different animal. Win curves vary from team to team. Some have flat win curves while other have very steep win curves. The Yankees have a very steep win curve. The fan expectations of the franchise are enormous and revenues for the Yankees fall considerably if they don’t contend. To some degree that explains the heavy spending the Yankees do every year. Teams like the Royals, Rays, and A’s have win curves that are much more comparable to the Pirates. Those teams have decided that given their positioning on the win curve the opportunity warranted extending their payroll commitments a little further than they other wise would have. Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman recently echoed that position.
“I think it’s an unaffordable figure for our franchise,” Friedman said. “But I think it’s something that Stu has been very steadfast and doing everything he can and putting our best foot forward to win as many games as we possibly can as we continue to build a foundation and fan base in this area.
“But it’s certainly not a sustainable number in terms of where we are revenue-wise, but we felt like we had a really good chance to be great next year, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Meanwhile, The Pirates’ actions this offseason give the appearance that they are motivated very little by the win curve. They have chosen not to strike while the iron is hot. The Bucs are coming off a 94 win season and reached the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. They are positioned solidly to contend for the playoffs again in 2014. The Pirates have targeted free agents such as James Loney, Josh Johnson, and Eric Chavez, but for one reason or another have not been able to seal the deal with any of those players. Perhaps if the Pirates were treating the win curve as seriously as the Rays and A’s they would have pushed harder and landed one of them.