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Home Maury Brown Inside the Numbers: Does Having A High Payroll in MLB Put You in Contention?

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Inside the Numbers: Does Having A High Payroll in MLB Put You in Contention? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 08:52

We’re not there yet. No, there is still some ground to cover before October. But, with over half the 2011 MLB season in the books, we can start to see whether player payroll is a driving factor in team performance.

Using Opening Day payroll figures from USA Today, shows that where your rank in terms of Division (at least for now), matters. But, if it’s any consolation, you don’t have to have the highest player payroll, just anything higher than ranking fourth.

Only two Divisions (NL East and NL West) see the clubs with the highest player payrolls leading the pack. The Phillies, who posted the second highest player payroll in all of MLB this year ($172,976,379), and World Series Champion Giants, who rank eighth overall ($118,198,333), hold those distinctions. That would make sense. The Phillies stocked up on pitching talent to get past the Giants this year while the Giants have taken the increased revenues through consistent sellouts over the entire season and are parlaying that into a push to retain the title.

But, money doesn’t always mean spending it wisely. Case in point the Chicago Cubs and lesser extent the Mets, Twins and Dodgers. The Cubs have the highest player payroll in the NL Central and rank sixth highest overall in the league. That’s garnered them nothing more than a 42-62 record (.402), all of 13.5 games out of first. That’s not how you want to spend $125,047,329. You’re both in inefficient and ineffective.

For the Dodgers, Twins, and Mets, they don’t have the highest player payroll in their divisions, but they do have the second highest. As for the Dodgers and Mets, their bloated payrolls have been due to prior contract structures. For the Twins, this year was supposed to be about pushing over the top, not struggling to get to 6 games behind the Tigers.

In terms of overall payroll ranking for first place by League, the AL has an ever so slight advantage over the NL (AL ranks 2.33 to the NL ranking 1.66 as an average).

So, what Division gives clubs the best sporting chance? The NL Central.

Based upon league ranking, all but the Cubs rank in the middle to lower quartile of the 30 clubs. Your top 3 teams in the standings rank as follows:

  • Brewers (League rank – 17, Division rank – 3) $85,497,333
  • Cardinals (League rank – 11, Division rank – 2) $105,433,572
  • Pirates (League rank – 28, Division rank – 6) $45,047,000

This makes a bit of sense as the division markets are weighted toward small to mid-markets where lower revenues would be pulled in. The lone exception is the Cubs, but with the futility mark raging for well over 100 years now, in a given season you have a sporting chance.

How about the distance between the amount that the first and last place teams by Division are spending? The biggest gap between first and last is currently in the NL East where $109,119,451 separate the Phillies and the Nationals. The only Division remotely close in this department is the AL East where $76,458,437 separate the Red Sox and Orioles

The smallest gap?  That goes to the AL West where the Rangers look to continue to their dominance and the Mariners…. well, what can one say about the Mariners this year? The difference between the two in terms of payrolls? Just $5,774,664. That doesn’t speak well as to how the money the Mariners are using is getting performance in the standings.

Finally, there’s this…

In some senses, this is exactly what MLB wants. You don’t want to have large revenue makers dominating the standings year in and year out, but you don’t want to see just small markets ruling the roost, as well. What Bud Selig and the league needs is balance. You want that Cinderella story each year. Whether it’s been the Rays, Rockies, Reds, or for the Pittsburgh faithful, baseball gods willing the Pirates this year, having a few teams in the mix is good.

Of course, you also want to see large market strong brands in the mix in the postseason, as well. Be that the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, et al, those teams have a national presence that bolster the television ratings and viewership nationally.

Always remember this… In baseball right now, each club has a chance to be competitive and make the playoffs. The big difference is it’s impossible for all but a handful to be that way year-after-year. Clubs will pick their windows in which to spend depending on how player development is going – that 5 year development cycle that the league likes to talk about. If you have smart minds, then between centralized and local revenues, there’s not a club in MLB that can’t go all the way to the World Series these days. How well GMs do spending ownership money determines where your team will ultimately do.

Select READ MORE to see how each of the 30 clubs in MLB ranks in the standings by Opening Day payroll, ranked by Division and League.

American League

EAST W L PCT GB Sal Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
Boston 64 38 .627 - $161,762,475 ($40,926,553) $76,458,437 $110,675,382 2 3
NY Yankees 61 41 .598 3 $202,689,028 $161,635,457

1 1
Tampa Bay 53 50 .515 11.5 $41,053,571 ($21,514,229)

5 29
Toronto 52 52 .500 13 $62,567,800 ($22,736,238)

4 23
Baltimore 41 59 .410 22 $85,304,038 --

3 17
CENTRAL W L PCT GB Opening Day Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
Detroit 55 49 .529 - $105,700,231 $56,509,665 $69,574,231 $86,308,559 3 10
Cleveland 52 50 .510 2 $49,190,566 ($78,598,434)

4 26
Chicago Sox 51 52 .495 3.5 $127,789,000 $15,052,000

1 5
Minnesota 49 55 .471 6 $112,737,000 $76,611,000

2 9
Kansas City 43 61 .413 12 $36,126,000 --

5 30
WEST W L PCT GB Opening Day Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
Texas 59 46 .562 - $92,299,264 ($46,243,902) $5,774,664 $95,975,883 2 13
LA Angels 57 48 .543 2 $138,543,166 $72,006,666

1 4
Oakland 47 57 .452 11.5 $66,536,500 ($19,988,100)

4 21
Seattle 44 60 .423 14.5 $86,524,600 --

3 16
National League

EAST W L PCT GB Opening Day Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
Philadelphia 65 38 .631 - $172,976,379 $85,973,687 $109,119,451 $99,925,462 1 2
Atlanta 61 44 .581 5 $87,002,692 ($31,844,617)

3 15
NY Mets 53 51 .510 12.5 $118,847,309 $61,903,309

2 7
Florida 51 53 .490 14.5 $56,944,000 ($6,912,928)

5 24
Washington 49 54 .476 16 $63,856,928 --

4 22
CENTRAL W L PCT GB Opening Day Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
Milwaukee 56 49 .533 - $85,497,333 ($19,936,239) $14,803,333 $84,611,061 3 17
St. Louis 55 49 .529 0.5 $105,433,572 $60,386,572

2 11
Pittsburgh 53 49 .520 1.5 $45,047,000 ($30,900,134)

6 28
Cincinnati 50 54 .481 5.5 $75,947,134 ($49,100,195)

4 19
Chicago Cubs 42 62 .404 13.5 $125,047,329 $54,353,329

1 6
Houston 34 70 .327 21.5 $70,694,000 --

5 20
WEST W L PCT GB Opening Day Diff 1st to Last Avg Div Rk Lg Rk
San Francisco 60 44 .577 - $118,198,333 $64,558,500 $72,329,193 $82,008,875 1 8
Arizona 57 47 .548 3 $53,639,833 ($34,508,238)

4 25
Colorado 49 56 .497 11.5 $88,148,071 ($16,040,928)

2 14
LA Dodgers 47 57 .452 13 $104,188,999 $58,319,859

1 10
San Diego 45 60 .429 15.5 $45,869,140 --

5 27


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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