What’s the Key to Postseason Success? MLB Data Reveals One Thing Most Teams Have in Common

The MLB postseason is underway, with the Mets, Cardinals, Rays and Blue Jays bowing out in the Wild Card round.

Key MLB division series matchups ongoing between the Dodgers and Padres, Braves-Phillies, Guardians-Yankees and Astros-Mariners.

For several of those teams, the Padres, Phillies and Mariners, 2022 marked a long-awaited return to the postseason.

While the Padres did make the 2020 playoffs, fans weren’t permitted in the opening rounds, meaning 2022 marks the first time since 2006 that San Diego will host an MLB postseason game with fans in attendance.

The Phillies are back for the first time since 2011, while the Mariners broke baseball’s longest postseason drought, a painful 21 years.

The Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals and Blue Jays however, have frequently played October baseball in recent years.

A quick look at what the majority of these teams have in common can uncover the secret to success in MLB: spending money.

From left, Dodgers Mookie Betts celebrates with Cody Bellinger and Trayce Thompson after Game 1 of the MLB NLDS.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

According to Spotrac, the MLB teams that made the postseason rank as follows in terms of payroll:

  • #1: New York Mets – $283 million
  • #2: Los Angeles Dodgers – $276 million
  • #3: New York Yankees – $265 million
  • #4: Philadelphia Phillies – $255 million
  • #5: San Diego Padres – $237 million
  • #8: Atlanta Braves – $200 million
  • #9: Houston Astros – $193 million
  • #11 Toronto Blue Jays – $189 million
  • #12: St. Louis Cardinals – $170 million
  • #21: Seattle Mariners – $129 million
  • #25: Tampa Bay Rays – $104 million
  • #28: Cleveland Guardians – $82 million

That’s correct, of the 12 playoff teams, nine ranked in the top 12 in payroll.

Only the Red Sox, White Sox and Angels missed the postseason among teams with top 10 payrolls.

Of the eight teams remaining in the division series, six rank in the top nine in payroll, with the Mariners and Guardians the exceptions.

Although with both lower budget teams facing 1-0 series deficits, it’s possible that the championship series matchups could exclusively be among top spending teams.

The Most Important Factor

The key to success? Spend money.

While it’s certainly possible to make the playoffs or a deep postseason run with a smaller market team, it’s more clear than ever that investing in the roster creates massive dividends.

Building through organizational depth by drafting and developing well has long been seen as the best, most sustainable method to have sustained success in the regular season.

That might be true, but if you don’t spend money to improve in positions of weakness, it’s simply not enough.

The Yankees drafted and developed Aaron Judge, the Dodgers did the same with Clayton Kershaw and Will Smith, the Astros have Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but they’ve supplanted those stars with high-powered free agents.

The Yankees signed Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole, the Dodgers brought in Freddie Freeman and extended Mookie Betts, the Astros signed Justin Verlander after their 2017 trade.

Acquired Talent

Meanwhile, the Padres have essentially given up on the concept of using homegrown players.

Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger, Joe Musgrove, Austin Nola, Jurickson Profar, Ha-Seong Kim, Brandon Drury, Josh Bell, Josh Hader – nearly every impact player on the roster was acquired through trade or free agency. Tatis Jr. was even brought in via trade.

While many of those trades involved prospects in the system, the key contributors that led San Diego to the playoffs have all come to the team through ownership’s willingness to spend money.

That said, nothing can guarantee a title; the gap between the teams is too small, and the playoffs too random…the Mets are the latest example of a top-spending team falling far short of their goal.

But it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The teams ranking #2-4 in payroll all lead their series as of Wednesday afternoon, and while there’s a long way to go, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of them collect a trophy in the coming weeks.

If you want your team to improve, do whatever you can to convince your owner to spend more money on it.

Written by Ian Miller

Ian Miller is a former award watching high school actor, ice cream expert and long suffering Dodgers fan. He spends most of his time golfing, eating as much pizza as humanly possible, reading about World War I history, and trying to get the remote back from his dog. Follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Reply