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What teams got the most wins per dollar in 2019?

Dolla dolla bill, y’all

Photo Illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Now that the 2019 MLB regular season has come to a close, we know which teams had the most wins. The Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Twins paced the league, as MLB saw its first season with four teams breaking the 100-win mark. However, as payroll is forever a hot topic in Twins Territory, which teams made the most of their money?

I’ve gathered the win totals, payroll totals (per Spotrac), and regular season outcomes for every team in the major leagues. In the chart below, you’ll find this information, as well as another measurement: $/W. This is simply the amount of money in a team’s payroll divided by how many wins they ended up with, giving you the price that each team paid for each win in 2019. The lower the value is, the more effective the team’s spending was. The higher the value, the less efficient the team’s spending.

The chart is arranged with the highest-spending teams at the top, down to the lowest payrolls at the bottom. Check it out:

$/Win, MLB 2019

Team Payroll (Mil. $) Wins Outcome $/W (Mil. $)
Team Payroll (Mil. $) Wins Outcome $/W (Mil. $)
Boston Red Sox 229.15 84 3rd AL East 2.73
Chicago Cubs 218.09 84 3rd NL Central 2.60
New York Yankees 218.02 103 1st AL East 2.12
Los Angeles Dodgers 200.60 106 1st NL West 1.89
San Francisco Giants 178.58 77 3rd NL West 2.32
St. Louis Cardinals 174.32 91 1st NL Central 1.92
Washington Nationals 168.31 93 2nd NL East, WC1 1.81
Houston Astros 168.30 107 1st AL West 1.57
Los Angeles Angels 160.27 72 4th AL West 2.23
New York Mets 160.02 86 3rd NL East 1.86
Philadelphia Phillies 157.19 81 4th NL East 1.94
Colorado Rockies 156.58 71 4th NL West 2.21
Seattle Mariners 143.94 68 5th AL West 2.12
Atlanta Braves 137.95 97 1st NL East 1.42
Texas Rangers 128.84 78 3rd AL West 1.65
Milwaukee Brewers 128.61 89 2nd NL Central, WC2 1.45
Cincinnati Reds 128.39 75 4th NL Central 1.71
Minnesota Twins 124.76 101 1st AL Central 1.24
Cleveland Indians 121.58 93 2nd AL Central 1.31
Arizona Diamondbacks 118.38 85 2nd NL West 1.39
Detroit Tigers 114.63 47 5th AL Central 2.44
Toronto Blue Jays 111.37 67 4th AL East 1.66
San Diego Padres 103.55 70 5th NL West 1.48
Kansas City Royals 100.77 59 4th AL Central 1.71
Oakland Athletics 92.89 97 2nd AL West, WC1 0.96
Chicago White Sox 91.37 72 3rd AL Central 1.27
Miami Marlins 75.15 57 5th NL East 1.32
Baltimore Orioles 73.37 54 5th AL East 1.36
Pittsburgh Pirates 72.73 69 5th NL Central 1.05
Tampa Bay Rays 64.18 96 2nd AL East, WC2 0.67
Average 137.40 81 1.71

We find an interesting trend when looking at the values as a whole. Teams that spent over $200 million were fairly inefficient. However, because of baseball’s 162-game season, this should not be unexpected. For example, the Red Sox would have had to win an unheard-of 134 games to reach the average win value of $1.7 million. The highest win total in history in a 162-game season is 116 (2001 Mariners). There is a natural soft limit to how may games a team can win, and payrolls over $200 million are not conducive to efficiency. A payroll that large does raise your chances at success, but you will be paying for it dearly.

The Twins had the lowest payroll of any division winner in 2019. They had the lowest $/W value among teams with payrolls over $100 million (80% of the league), and the most wins among teams with payrolls below $168 million. These facts point to an astounding per-win efficiency of $1.24 million. This may ring hollow after the quick playoff exit, but the 2019 Bomba Squad exceeded any reasonable expectation for the team, in terms of both baseball and money. Take into account the extremely club-friendly deals Polanco and Kepler signed before their monster seasons, and this leaves plenty of room for investment into a core that has now proven itself worth investing in. Perhaps the front office might actually know what they’re doing.

Another noticeable trend is that the league’s worst teams were generally efficient. Most of the worst teams didn’t win very many games, but they didn’t pay very much to do so either. One of the three teams that paid less per win than the Twins falls into this category, as the Pirates weren’t very good, but they had a rock-bottom payroll to match. However, the other two teams (the top two efficiencies) were major outliers.

The Rays and A’s have become known for their success in spite of their extreme thrift over the past years. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the two AL Wild-Card teams in 2019 paid the least per win, and did so by a large margin. Both had more wins than millions of dollars spent. The Rays would have had the best efficiency in the league if they had won only 67 games, but they went out and won 96. The Athletics certainly had a successful Moneyball year, but the Rays out-Moneyball’ed them, and they did it by a wide margin. The notoriously “cheap” Twins haven’t had a payroll as small as the 2019 Rays since 2008! And the Rays made the playoffs in 2019. It is truly astounding.

I won’t do any comparison to past efficiencies in this article, but I will note that there is a built-in error that makes such comparisons very difficult. Salary inflation occurs over the years, just as anything with money does. However, win inflation does not. The 162-game season does not grow, and so win totals generally stay the same over the years.

In conclusion, having a large salary does not guarantee success, and having a small salary does not guarantee a last-place finish. Each team has to make the most of what it has, and some teams do better than others in this regard. Teams that are led by young players have an efficiency advantage, as good young players are almost never paid their true value. This certainly applies to the Twins. However, there is an evident correlation between salary and success, as you’ll observe in the graph below. Rather than try and be the most efficient team, this offseason is a time when the front office should try and become the most successful team, and invest big dollars into some impact pitching.