In 2012, low payroll teams strike back

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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From Justin Page of ESPN Stats & Information: "Five of the ten teams currently in the playoffs had an Opening Day payroll of 16th or lower. Three of the biggest surprises among teams in the playoffs -- the Orioles (19th in payroll), Nationals (20th) and Athletics (29th)."

The other two teams would be the Braves (16th) and the Rays (25th). Factor in the contending Pirates (26th) and it's been a terrific season for low-payroll teams.

In addition, the only top-five payroll team currently in possession of a playoff spot is the Yankees, which had the highest Opening Day payroll at $198 million. They were followed by the Phillies, Red Sox, Angels and Tigers.

Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron plotted the relationships between wins and payroll for 2012. As Dave writes, "Spending money isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it certainly isn’t the only thing, and this year, it hasn’t even been that important of a thing."

While 2012 has certainly been the Year of Parity, this doesn't necessarily mean spending money won't be important in the future. As Katie Sharp, also of ESPN Stats & Info, points out, "The last time that only one of the top-5 teams in Opening Day payroll made the playoffs was 1993. Every year since then at least two of the top-5 teams have made the playoffs."

Back in 1993, of course, only four teams made the playoffs, so getting in was more difficult. The Blue Jays had the highest payroll and won the World Series, but the Reds, Yankees, Royals and Mets all missed. Yes, the Reds and Royals were in the top five.

That aspect of baseball has certainly changed in the past 20 years.

Over the past 10 seasons, here are the number of top-5 payroll teams that made the postseason:

2011: 2
2010: 2
2009: 2
2008: 2
2007: 3
2006: 2
2005: 3
2004: 3
2003: 2
2002: 2

In going through this year's list, the one thing that stands out is the Yankees' numbing consistency, missing the postseason only in 2008. Yes, they always have the highest payroll, but teams like the Mets, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels and Tigers have regularly ranked in the top five and regularly missed the playoffs. Maybe the lesson is if you're going spend, spend bigger.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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