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.