The Correlation Between Payroll And Record

Posted by Noah Wright on

By: Noah Wright


You have probably heard the saying “so-and-so team bought their championship”. You probably heard it last year with the Red Sox, and a lot with the Yankees. Big market teams are usually the culprit of this saying, but the correlation between payroll and record isn’t really true. Big payroll doesn’t always mean good team. 

Let’s look at the Red Sox payroll from last year for example. Sure they had the highest at $227 million, but the amount of retained salary was very high. They owed Hanley Ramirez $22.75 million, they owed Pablo Sandoval $14.5 million, and they owed Rusney Castillo $10.35 million. In total, that’s nearly $50 ($47.90) million added onto the taxed payroll. So in reality, they only had a payroll of about $179 million. Plus if you look at the roster, they didn’t really “buy a championship. Of the 25 players that were on the team’s World Series roster, they only signed 4 players as free agents. 5 If you want to count Eduardo Nunez who they signed after trading for him in a rental year. 

Now if you look at the World Series runners up in the Dodgers, they had the third highest payroll with a $199.52 million payroll, but roughly 15% of the team’s payroll was owed to Clayton Kershaw alone. Like the Red Sox, they didn’t ‘buy’ too many MLB players. Justin Turner, Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen were all players who had played with the Dodgers in their contract year before signing on again. While they did have a handful of international free agents such as Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda on the team, the amount of players who were already MLB proven commodities when they were signed were slim.

Looking at the 2019 payroll leaders, it really shows that you don’t need a lot of money to win. Here are the top 10 in payroll right now:

  • Red Sox
  • Yankees
  • Cubs
  • Giants
  • Cardinals
  • Nationals
  • Astros
  • Angels
  • Mets

Among those 10, only the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros are doing very well, and each of those 3 teams’ rosters are made up a lot of players who they raised through the farm system. 

Then, we look at who has the lowest payroll: the Tampa Bay Rays. They’re sitting at a 52-39 record. While they might not be leading the AL East, they have the 4th highest win total in the AL, and the 5th highest win total in the entire MLB. The Oakland A’s have the 6th lowest payroll total, and own a 51-41 record. 

With teams who want to compete becoming more in tune to advanced metrics, a team doesn’t need to have a high payroll to win. The correlation between $ and record is becoming less and less. Before the boom of the analytic era, the correlation was stronger. But anymore, a team like the A’s, who won 97 games (4th highest win total in the entire MLB) last season with 3rd lowest payroll last season, can make up for it with strong analytic departments.  

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