The last ten years

Did you ever see the Dennis Quaid movie Frequency? It’s a sappy but enjoyable flick, building on the classic connection between baseball and fatherhood. I’m a sap for movies like that. In addition to Quaid, you can catch Elizabeth Mitchell (of “Lost” fame) and 12-year-old Michael Cera in it. And while I wouldn’t call it a “baseball movie,” there is a strong baseball theme in the plot.

I mention it because one of the characters wishes he had bought Yahoo stock when it first went public (hey, the movie was filmed in 2000). I know how he felt, cause that’s how I feel about Google now. Wish I had bought some of that stock at $100 a few years ago…

…cause Google has some awesome products. If you don’t use their online documents, you’re missing out. I particularly like their word processing documents. And although their spreadsheet isn’t as powerful as Excel (I’m an Excel power user), it does have some neat gadgets associated with it.

Like the following graphs. These are called Google Motion Charts. They’re animated charts that show trends over time, such as this visualization of population trends. And given that baseball has a long and rich history, I thought we could use a few baseball motion charts, too.

Here’s what I came up with. The following charts (the American League is first, then the National) show the development of each team over the past ten years (the tenure of our current team and division configurations). The bottom axis is each team’s salary; the vertical axis is each team’s winning percentage; and the bubble size is the size of each team’s market (as measured by population and media market).

The bubble color also tracks each team’s market size, moving from hot red (big market) to cold blue (small market). ROY G. BIV is a grapher’s best friend.

Click on the arrow to watch the teams in motion. Stop it any time you’d like. Roll your mouse over each circle to see the team’s name. Watch as the Yankees (the big red circle) jump ahead in payroll and the Red Sox start to catch up. Click on a specific team, such as the Royals, and watch their pattern. Well, there isn’t much of a pattern for the Royals. Just a lot of spinning.

Try it, you’ll like it:

Seattle’s an interesting team to track; they had that big 2001. Of course, the A’s are pretty fascinating too.

Notice how increases in payroll don’t always line up with higher winning percentages? More often, payroll increases seem to follow big jumps in winning percentage rather than causing them. The 2005 World Champion White Sox are a case in point.

The graph is structured to show the relationship between market size and salary (the big bubbles tend to move more quickly to the right) and salary and winning (there’s a general trend from the lower left to the upper right). These relationships get broken a lot, however, and you can’t help but cheer every time a small-market team manages to break through the top.

Wanna see the National League? Course ya do.

Boy, that 2003 was a disappointing year for the Mets. Largest payroll and just about the worst record. Then there are the Diamondbacks. A big jump in 1999 payroll and 100 wins to boot. Their payroll has been declining every year since 2002. You can also track the Marlin payroll purges.

Another team to watch is Milwaukee, the smallest of small market teams (that’s why they’re dark blue) but increasing their payroll a lot the past two to three years. Not to be a drag, but don’t the Cubs bounce up and down like a yo-yo?

Pictures tell stories, and major league baseball’s history of wins and money is one heck of a yarn. Once you’ve got the Google chart, the story kind of writes itself, doesn’t it?

References & Resources
I used salary data from the Lahman database. The market and media size figures were pulled from an article by Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required). The team that is labeled “WAS” played in Montreal most of the years in question, but I used Washington D.C. demographics for the graph. Many thanks to John Walsh for pointing me to the graphics.

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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