These days, the correlation between payroll and winning is historically weak

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It has been repeated so often that it has turned into a religion more than anything else: rich teams can buy their way into contention, poor teams cannot. Books have been written under that assumption. A swath of people who claim they were baseball fans have cited it as a reason for tuning out the game. Those rich teams like the Red Sox and Yankees have an unfair advantage, the story goes, and the other teams have no shot, it is claimed. Baseball needs a salary cap or something!

Except, even if there was some truth to that ten or fifteen years ago, it’s certainly not the case now. Today Brian MacPherson Providence Journal tells us just how un-true that is. He has run the payroll numbers against the W-L records and has found that a list of teams in alphabetical order has greater predictive power of team success than does a list of team payrolls from highest to lowest:

Ten years ago, by correlation calculations, a team’s payroll accounted for around 25 percent of its success . . . By correlation statistics, payroll accounts for barely more than four percent of teams’ success now.

The correlation coefficient between payroll and wins this season (0.202) is even smaller than the correlation between the standings and the first letters of the cities in which teams play (0.24). In other words, you’d have a slightly better chance of predicting playoff participants simply by using alphabetical order than by using payroll numbers.

There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which we’ve talked about around these parts for years. Smarter front offices, locking young players up to long term deals before they get too expensive. More overall money available to smaller revenue teams due to TV deals and the like. Changes to the draft and international free-agent signings. The reduction of PEDs in the game which means fewer older guys (i.e. the guys who can be acquired via free agency) making impacts.

I doubt this will change the mindless talking points of the baseball bashers. They’ll still auto-pilot on “baseball needs a salary cap” talk next winter when big free agents sign someplace. Or they’ll just change their complaints, moving from “The Yankees and Red Sox win it all the time because they’re rich!” to “No one can get excited about baseball now that marquee teams like the Yankees and Red Sox stink! Who wants to watch a Royals-Brewers World Series anyway?”

But the cool thing about facts is that they remain facts even if idiots ignore them. And the fact is, baseball has a far more level playing field now than it has had in a long time.

Matt Harvey has a 13.19 ERA since coming back from the disabled list

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Matt Harvey‘s season was mostly a loss due to extended time on the disabled list. He’s been given a chance, however, to end the season strong and make a case for himself in the Mets’ future plans. Unfortunately, he has been unable to make that case. He was shelled again last night, and his late season opportunity has been a disaster.

Last night Harvey gave up seven runs on 12 hits and struck out only two batters in four innings against a Marlins team that, until facing him anyway, had been reeling. It was his fourth start since going on the shelf in mid-June and in those four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. His average fastball velocity, while ticking up slightly in each of his past four starts, is still below 95. Back when he was an ace he was consistently above that. His command has been terrible.

Injury is clearly the culprit. He had Tommy John surgery just as he was reaching his maximum level of dominance in 2013. While he came back strong in 2015, he was used pretty heavily for a guy with a brand new ligament. Last year he was felled by thoracic outlet syndrome and this year a stress injury to his shoulder. Any one of those ailments have ended pitchers’ careers and even among those who bounce back from them, many are diminished. To go through all three and remain dominant is practically unheard of.

Yet this is where Matt Harvey is. He’s 28. He’s still arbitration eligible, for a team that is, to put it politely, sensitive to large financial outlays. While his 4-5 start opportunity to end the year may very well have been seen as a chance to shop Harvey to another team, his trade value is at an all-time low. It would not be shocking if, on the basis of his recent ineffectiveness, the Mets considered non-tendering him this offseason, making him a free agent.

Someone would probably take a chance on him because famous names who once showed tremendous promise are often given multiple chances in the big leagues (See, Willis, Dontrelle). But at the moment, there is nothing in Harvey’s game to suggest that he is capable of taking advantage of such a chance. All one can hope is that an offseason of rest and conditioning will allow Harvey to reclaim at least a portion of his old form.

Noah Syndergaard is concerned about climate change

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Mets starter Noah Syndergaard has been on the disabled list for most of the season so it’s not like “sticking to baseball” is an option for him. The man has a lot of time on his hands. And, given that he’s from Texas, he is obviously paying attention to the flooding and destruction brought by Hurricane Harvey and its fellow storms in recent weeks.

Last night the self-described “Texan Republican” voiced concern over something a lot of Republicans don’t tend to talk about much openly: climate change and the Paris Agreement:

The existence of Karma and its alleged effects are above my pay grade, but the other part he’s talking about is the Trump Administration’s decision, announced at the beginning of June, to pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on climate change mitigation. Withdrawal from it was something Trump campaigned on in 2016 on the basis that “The Paris accord will undermine the economy,” and “put us at a permanent disadvantage.” The effective date for withdrawal is 2020, which Syndergaard presumably knows, thus the reference to Karma.

Trump and Syndergaard are certainly entitled to their views on all of that. It’s worth noting that climate experts and notable think tanks like the Brookings Institution strongly disagree with Trump’s position with respect to tradeoffs and impacts, both economic and environmental. At the same time it’s difficult to find much strong sentiment in favor of pulling out of the Paris Agreement outside of conservative political outlets, who tend to find themselves in the distinct minority when it comes to climate change policy.

I’m not sure what a poll of baseball players would reveal about their collective views on the matter, but we now have at least one datapoint.