The Depressing Connection: Spending and Winning in MLB

I've been angry with A’s team ownership (to put it mildly) but also was interested to see the connection between payroll and winning. Here's what it looks like in 2022:

1. The top 3 spending teams (Dodgers, Mets and Yankees) will all win their divisions.

2. The next 2 spending teams (Phillies, Padres) will be Wild Card teams.

3. By the power of addition(!) that means that the top 5 spenders are all going to the playoffs.

4. Among the league's top 12 spenders, 9 will go to the playoffs.

5. In the National League the 6 playoff teams are … the 6 highest spending NL teams.

So when "dumb" fans complain and say "we have to spend more or we can’t make the playoffs…" they aren’t so dumb. They are very likely right.

The outliers to the above trends are the division winning Guardians, but with a winning percentage of just .532, and the Mariners and the Rays.

Only the Rays seem immune from the connection between consistent winning and spending.

Of course, that was once said of the A's.

You don’t get a ring for efficient spending, but let’s look at the numerical connection between spending and wins.

In MLB, there are 4 teams on pace to win more than 1 game per $1 million of payroll:

1. the Orioles (1.9 wins)

2. the Guardians (1.3)

3. the A's (1.2) and

4. the Rays (1.0)

By this metric the league looks entirely competitive:

Of the 12 playoff teams, 3 are in the top 10 of wins per dollar, 5 are in the bottom of wins per dollar, and 4 are in the middle. The distribution seems largely random.

The Dodgers ranked 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in terms on wins per dollar. The Mets and Yankees were 27th and 28th, respectively. This shows compellingly that if you spend enough money -even with far less efficiency than others- you are very likely to go to the playoffs.

The wins per dollar outliers here are the Red Sox, the White Sox and the Angels. These 3 teams are in the Top 10 of spending but the Red Sox and White Sox have a combined winning percentage of .500 and the Angels are well below that.

The league is broken. It is not competitive. For no reason other than money, most fans know before the season even begins that their team is extremely unlikely to be competitive (or, indeed, uncompetitive.) Throw in the fact that many games are dull ("three true outcomes" means a lot of slow movement,) and take 3 hours to play, and we see a sport likely to be in huge trouble outside of New York, Los Angeles, and a diminishing handful of cities.