As World Series Begins, How Much Will Payrolls Matter?

Studies
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The World Series begins Tuesday night, and the story going in is the revival of the Kansas City Royals. A franchise that had not been to baseball’s postseason for 29 years swept through the first two rounds, and are just four wins away from ending a long drought. Meanwhile, their opponents, the San Francisco Giants, are going for their third championship in six years.

The Royals are here for several reasons: They developed young talent through their minor league system, made a few shrewd personnel moves and have a bullpen that can effectively end games after six innings. They also started spending more.

For most of the 1990s and 2000s the Royals were one of the most miserly franchises in major league baseball, ranking near or at the bottom of the league in total payroll. They were also one of the worst. But the past few seasons have seen owner David Glass be more generous with his cash, and that has coincided with more success on the field.

 

Royals payrolls 1985-2014

 

The Giants, on the other hand, are a big-market team with a big-market payroll. This season, the Giants’ number is $145.1 million, sixth highest in baseball, and some 63% more than the Royals’ $89.3 million. So, Giants in five, right? Not necessarily. Since 2000, five of the 13 World Series winners had the lower payroll among the two teams.

 

World Series payroll comparisons

 

So while it certainly helps to have money, it’s not the only thing. Three of the five teams that spent the most in 2014 didn’t even make the playoffs this year. And the 10 teams that did (highlighted in blue below) were somewhat evenly distributed across the payroll rankings.

 

MLB payrolls

 

Of course, baseball is contested not on the balance sheet but rather on the field. And the first pitch is just a few hours away.