Birnbaum: Is MLB team payroll less important than it used to be?

From SABR member Phil Birnbaum at Sabermetric Research on August 30, 2014:

As of August 26, about 130 games into the 2014 MLB season, the correlation between team payroll and wins is very low. So low, in fact, that *alphabetical order* predicts the standings better than salaries!

Credit that discovery to Brian MacPherson, writing for the Providence Journal. MacPherson calculated the payroll correlation to be +0.20, and alphabetical correlation to be +0.24. 

When I tried it, I got .2277 vs. .2346 — closer, but alphabetical still wins. (I might be using slightly different payroll numbers, I used winning percentage instead of raw win totals, and I may have done mine a day or two later.)

The alphabetical regression is cute, but it’s the payroll one that raises the important questions. Why is it so low, at .20 or .23? When Berri/Schmidt/Brook did it in “The Wages of Wins,” they got around .40.

It turns out that the season correlation has trended over time, and MacPherson draws a nice graph of that, for 2000-2014. (I’ll steal it for this post, but link it to the original article.)  Payroll became more important in the middle of last decade, but then dropped quickly, so that 2012, 2013, and 2014 are the lowest of all 15 years in the chart.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: September 2, 2014. Last Updated: September 2, 2014.