I’ll start this with a disclaimer. I generally use Baseball-Reference’s WAR statistic when writing, but in this case I am using Fangraphs’. Their calculations differ slightly but give you the same general idea. I’m using Fangraphs here because of their team WAR calculations. It saves me a lot of time having that figure pre-calculated.
The plight of a small-market club is well-documented. They are playing an unfair game. They can’t compete with the juggernauts of the Red Sox and Yankees. They can’t win. The Padres clearly fall into the small-market club category. Their payroll hovers around $40 million a year consistently. Yet, they’re in good company. According to USA Today, 9 of the 30 Major League clubs had 2011 salaries below $65 million. I am using $65 million as the “small-market” cut-off.
The Padres actually ranked ahead of three other teams. Of the teams on this list, two made the postseason, seven had records better than the Padres, and six were competitive in their respective divisions for most of the season.
There have been teams that completely disprove the notion that you must spend a lot to win. The A’s, the Rays, the Diamondbacks, and the Marlins come to mind. In fact, teams like the Rays have found a way to accumulate wins and WAR as a team with a payroll millions less than the Padres.
With that information as a backdrop, we are now going to take a look at how the San Diego Padres stack up. With the vast number of stats and analytic measures available, we could choose an endless number of ways to compare the club to the league. In this case, we’re going to focus on WAR. Wins Above Replacement is one of the better tools for evaluating how individuals performed on a team and how teams as a whole performed. Below is chart tracking the last ten seasons of average WAR for the entire league. You’ll notice the chart includes the Padres last ten years and the Rays last ten years.
While the league average has remained pretty constant, the Padres’ team WAR has fluctuated wildly. For five of the ten years, they operated below the league average in WAR. If we were to add a trend line to the chart, we’d see a slight downward trend for the Padres in WAR over the last ten years.
Now, let’s look at the Rays. After 2007, the Rays were the Devil Rays, and they were a dismal team. But after the 2007 season, they shot through the roof on team WAR. Their trend line would have a drastic upward slope. All this was done with a payroll in the same range as the Padres while playing in the American League East. How was it done? New management, sound player evaluations, and getting the most out of their money.
Simply put, the Padres upper-management needs to do a better job of winning with what they have. Success isn’t measured by how well you can explain failure. It is measured in wins and losses. WAR plays a big role in this, but the Padres can’t seem to move their line in a constantly upward direction.