The 2010 World Series opened on Wednes­dayin San Fran­cisco, as the Giants faced the Texas Rangers. The Series matchup may be heart­ening to those who decry the astro­nom­ical salaries in Major League Base­ball: the Rangers and Giants defeated two big-​​market teams with much higher pay­rolls, the New York Yan­kees and Philadel­phia Phillies, respec­tively. This Q&A with Fred­erick Wiseman, a sta­tis­ti­cian and a pro­fessor of infor­ma­tion, oper­a­tions, and analysis in the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion (CBA), offers per­spec­tive from his research on Major League Base­ball salaries.

Why did you choose to research base­ball? Does this sport have the most over­paid players?

During the last decade, there has been a sub­stan­tial increase in the use of sta­tis­tical analysis and mod­eling in sports, espe­cially base­ball. In fact, a new field, “sabre­met­rics” (the math­e­mat­ical and sta­tis­tical analysis of base­ball data), has emerged as Major League Base­ball teams are now fre­quently using advanced sta­tis­tical analyses.

Given my back­ground, inter­ests and the wide avail­ability of his­tor­ical base­ball sta­tis­tical data, it was nat­ural that my research would extend into this area. As an added ben­efit, there are numerous exam­ples in which my research can be brought into the class­room to show stu­dents the use­ful­ness of sta­tis­tics in decision-​​making.

It is hard to say which pro­fes­sional ath­letes are the most over­paid given the dif­ferent length of sched­ules and the require­ments (both phys­ical and mental) placed upon these athletes.

Have you done this type of research with any other sports?

Yes, due to the wide avail­ability of his­tor­ical data, CBA Pro­fes­sors John Friar, Mohamed Habibullah, Sangit Chat­terjee and I have con­ducted exten­sive research and written a number of papers related to the per­for­mance of pro­fes­sional golfers and how they have improved over time. Our find­ings have been pub­lished in numerous aca­d­emic jour­nals and pre­sented at con­fer­ences, including the World Sci­en­tific Con­gress of Golf, which was held in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Is there a cor­re­la­tion between pay­roll and post­season play?

There is a rel­a­tively weak pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion between a Major League Base­ball team’s pay­roll and how well the team per­forms during the season. For example, in 2010, New York, Min­nesota, Tampa and Texas reached the play­offs in the Amer­ican League and, out of the 14 teams in the league, the four playoff teams had the first, sixth, ninth and 13th highest team salaries, respec­tively. In the National League, Philadel­phia, San Fran­cisco, Atlanta and Cincin­nati reached the play­offs and, out of the 16 teams in the league, the four playoff teams had the second, fourth, eighth and 11th highest team salaries, respec­tively. Fur­ther, if you split the teams in half by the amount they paid their players, the highest paying teams won, on average, 10 more games than the lowest paying teams. This all high­lights the point that there is a rela­tion­ship, but not a very strong one (at least in 2010) between pay­roll and on-​​field performance.

Why do you believe that a few lower spending teams have had great talent eval­u­a­tors, while a group of higher spenders have had poor talent evaluators?

There are a variety of rea­sons why some teams do better than others, and this includes talent eval­u­a­tion. How­ever, there clearly are other fac­tors, such as injuries to your team and to opposing teams, travel schedule, strength of schedule, man­age­rial ability, fan sup­port and team chem­istry, to name but a few.

In addi­tion, our research has shown that how a team dis­trib­utes its pay­roll among its players also impacts how well a team per­forms. Specif­i­cally, the more equally divided the pay­roll is dis­trib­uted among a team’s players, the better the on-​​field per­for­mance of the team.

- Christina Barrows