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Royals, Giants bucking recent payroll trends with World Series appearance

The Royals are historical underdogs in the 2014 World Series because of payroll, or lack thereof.

World Series here we come
World Series here we come
Dilip Vishwanat

The Royals are in the World Series!

No, really, you can look it up.

On Tuesday, the San Fransisco Giants face the Kansas City Royals in Game One at our very own Kauffman Stadium.  Madison Bumgarner vs. James Shields, it should be a great way to kick off what is arguably the most important sporting event in Kansas City history.

At the moment, the Royals are slight favorites to win the World Series, at least by Vegas oddmakers.  However, Fangraphs also favors the Royals as well as ESPN's 'Experts', for what that's worth.  Taken as a composite, I think it can be pretty safely said that the Royals are the overall favorites to win the 2014 Fall Classic, which is as weird to write as it is to read, trust me.

History, though, tells a different story.  A high payroll is very highly correlated with wins, and the Royals do not have an elite payroll.  Yes, the payroll is respectable, but is still slightly below average.

Almost one year ago, I wrote that, as far as championships go, money absolutely matters, and I took a look at World Series teams to see just how much.  My methodology was simple: look at each World Series from the past decade, find out the average payroll of that year, find out each team's payroll for that year, and calculate how much above or below average that team was, in percentage points.

Now that the Royals are in the World Series, I thought it would be a good thing to reexamine.  This time, I'll look at every World Series in the 21st Century, including 2014.  Results are as follows:



Average: $114.9 million

Kansas City: $91.1 million, 20.7% less than average

San Fransisco: $148.3 million, 29.1% more than average


Average: $106.3 million

Boston: $150.7 million, 41.8% more

St. Louis: $116.6 million, 9.7% more


Average: $100.7 million

San Francisco: 132.0 million, 31.1% more

Detroit: 133.1 million, 32.2% more


Average: $96.1 million

St. Louis: $109.8 million, 14.3% more

Texas: $96.7 million, 0.6% more


Average: $94.2 million

San Francisco: $97.0 million, 3.0% more

Texas: $58.5 million, 37.9% less than average


Average: $92.1 million

New York Yankees: $203.3 million, 120.7% more

Philadelphia: $137.8 million, 49.6% more


Average: $91.1 million

Philadelphia: $100.5 million, 10.3% more

Tampa Bay: $47.1 million, 48.8% less than average


Average: $84.0 million

Boston: $147.6 million, 75.7% more

Colorado: $57.1 million, 32.0% less than average


Average: $79.1 million

St. Louis: $89.1 million, 12.6% more

Detroit: $85.2 million, 7.7% more


Average: $73.4 million

Chicago White Sox: $75.7 million, 3.1% more

Houston: $78.8 million, 7.4% more


Average: $69.4 million

Boston: $128.5 million, 85.2% more

St. Louis: $81.9 million, 18.0% more


Average: $70.7 million

Florida: $47.9 million, 32.3% less than average

New York Yankees: $153.8 million, 117.5% more


Average: $67.3 million

Anaheim: $61.4 million, 8.8% less than average

San Fransisco: $78.5 million, 16.6% more


Average: $65.0 million

Arizona: $85.1 million, 30.9% more

New York Yankees: $111.2 million, 71.1% more


Average: $55.4 million

New York Yankees: $92.3 million, 66.6% more

New York Mets: $79.4 million, 43.3% more


Here's a quick breakdown of World Series payroll:

Less than average: 2014 KCR, 2010 TEX, 2008 TB, 2007 COL, 2003 FLA, 2002 LAA

0-10% more than avg: 2013 STL, 2011 TEX, 2010 SFG, 2006 DET, 2005 CHI, 2005 HOU

10-50% more than avg: 2014 SFG, 2013 BOS, 2012 SFG, 2012 DET, 2011 STL, 2009 PHI, 2008 PHI, 2006 STL, 2004 STL, 2002 SFG, 2001 ARI, 2000 NYM

50%+ more than avg: 2009 NYY, 2007 BOS, 2004 BOS, 2003 NYY, 2001 NYY, 2000 NYY


Divisional and wild card winners often can have a burst of success with a small payroll, and while certain teams--most notably Tampa Bay, Oakland, and rising Pittsburgh--are showing and have shown that a team can sustain success with a small payroll, the history of World Series champions and contenders shows that payroll is important in a deep playoff run.

Out of 15 AL and 15 NL champions since the dawn of the 21st century, only six have appeared with a below average payroll, and only two of those, the 2003 Marlins and the 2002 Angels, won the Series.  In other words, out of 30 chances to win the World Series, only 2 of those came with a payroll below the league average that year.  Furthermore, no World Series since 2000 included both teams with below average payroll.

Obviously this isn't predictive; there are no laws among baseball gods that require a team to have a high payroll to win the thing, as the Marlins and Angels can attest.  In addition, this is a smallish sample size, and there can't really be much statistical analysis done to this set.

However, payroll is still important.  Money matters, and it's absolutely necessary that David Glass continues to spend, opening up his pocketbook to have competitive payroll.  Though the Angels and Marlins won their respective World Series with a below average payroll, neither of them have won a league pennant since.  The teams with consistently competitive payroll--the Giants, Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers--have appeared multiple times, and that's no fluke.

Last year, I wrote this, of course not expecting in the least bit that the Royals could or would make the World Series:

The Royals should aim for winning a World Series, just as any other team should do. To have a good shot at this, Kansas City needs to have a larger payroll. Kansas City is big enough to sustain a $100 million payroll, and its fans are passionate enough to go to games. This is the same city whose NFL fans are the loudest in the world, the same city whose MLS fans fill Sporting Park every single game.

I still believe that Kansas City can sustain a $100 million payroll, especially after the success of this year.  These Royals have reinvigorated the series.  It is no longer 'Party Like It's 1985,' as we are partying like it's 2014.  These Royals will stand on their own pedestal in the pantheon of Royals teams, spoken of in the same tones as the 1980 and 1985 Royals.

Rooting for an underdog is all sorts of fun, and far more satisfying than rooting otherwise.  Though they are the favorites overall, the Kansas City Royals are seeking to become the first team in over a decade to win with a below average payroll.  That's good enough for me.