Baseball is Unfair: A Deep Look At Money In Baseball

It’s no secret that baseball is unfair. If you take a look at the top teams in player payroll, it’s pretty obvious to any average person that baseball success is defined by money. It only makes sense: more money means better players.

I only wish that I could look any person in the eye and say that baseball was fair, but it’s not. There will always be the top tier and the bottom tier of team success and unfortunately that is mainly based on salaries.

Before we get into those four tiers, let’s look at some statistics. Between the 16th and 17th payroll on the payroll rankings, there’s a $29,740,546 difference. That really signifies the drop off between big and small market teams. Below the line that we’ll call that “BS Line” (Big-Small line, yes that was planned), the only apparent teams are the Royals and the Twins, but those are the top two teams below the BS Line.

Above the BS Line is every big market team in the MLB, including the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Angels. Below the BS Line is the low budget teams, such as the Orioles, Rays, and A’s. The team with the lowest payroll was the Pirates, with a staggeringly small $31,525,000.

With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at some graphs.


On the Y Axis are team wins, while the X Axis holds teams and payroll rankings.

When I first compiled these rankings, I was really surprised. After all, it would seem as if total payroll would correspond to wins. To make sure that these results weren’t just because of a weird 2020, I looked at 2019.


The results of this graph were staggeringly similar to 2020.

What does this mean for baseball? What does this mean for building a team? At this point, there have already been teams using certain strategies to overcome budget problems.

Take the Tampa Bay Rays. The story of the Rays is a sad one. They don’t even have the money to stay in Tampa Bay, much less afford a big contract. We saw that when they traded Blake Snell and let Charlie Morton go. However, they have such a deep prospect pool that it won’t matter; they can make up for Snell and Morton’s total production.

A few months ago, I started work on a writing project looking at building a moneyball team, simulating through Out of The Park Baseball. I successfully built up a team using assorted moneyball strategies. However, there seemed to be a mountain to climb to actually win a championship. This “mountain” prevented me from winning a championship.

Think about this with me in the real world of baseball. In the past 10 or so years, from 2010-2020, there are no small market teams that won a World Series. There was one mid-market team in the Royals, and a relatively big market team in the Cardinals, but beside those two the Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Red Sox, Nationals, and Dodgers all won the World Series at least once (the Giants won it 3 times).

There haven’t really been small market teams with sustained success. Think about the mid and small market teams that have won the World Series over the past 20 years. Have they sustained their success?

Think about the Royals directly after they won the World Series: they haven’t had a year with a winning season since.

Even without that much data and only looking at the years 2010-2020, I can make a premature conclusion that Small Market teams can make the playoffs and go deep but not win, Mid-Market teams can win a championship, and Big Market teams can build a dynasty.

So while wins fluctuate with almost no correlation to money, championships have a huge correlation with money.

In a later article, I will hopefully take a look at this in a more focused lense, with more graphs, tables, words, and more explanations. Thanks for reading.

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