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In most aspects of our lives, we expect the quality of any given product to reflect the financial investment we pour into it.

When I bought a “Gucci” belt for $5 at a Turkish street market a few years ago, I knew I was not getting a belt that would last a decade. I just needed one to get me through my two-week Euro trip. It didn’t even last that long, and I couldn’t be angry. Had I purchased a real Gucci product, I would have been incensed about its short lifespan. Because when you pay for an industry’s most valuable commodities, you safely expect a positive outcome from your transaction.

The same cannot be said about athletes, and how much money franchises shell out to sign the most accomplished players. One can simply look at the teams involved in this year’s MLB playoffs to gather that much.

There are as many teams that qualified for postseason baseball ranked in the bottom five of Opening Day payrolls (two) as there are from the top five. Of the 12 teams who ended the season with total player salaries north of $120 million, only four (Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Cardinals) made the playoffs, and only one has a chance to make it out of the divisional series round.

Even though there’s a weak correlation between a team’s payroll and its winning percentage, it’s not strong enough to justify small-market clubs jacking up their payrolls above $200 million. So where are these hopeless high spenders going wrong?

The visual below breaks down each team’s payroll by positional spending. Though it’s interesting to dissect how teams spend their cash compared to franchises with similar financial constraints, that doesn’t tell us the whole story.

If general managers had to decide between placing their teams in the upper percentile of spending for position players, starters or relievers, which should they choose? PointAfter plotted each team’s winning percentage this season alongside each of those three positional groups to shed some light on that question. There isn’t a clear winner among the bunch, but there is a definite loser.

The statistic r-score measures correlation on a scale of -1 to 1. The first two visuals illustrate moderately weak positive correlations between both position player spending (r-score = .18) and rotation payroll (r-score = .25) to winning percentage. This shouldn’t be surprising.

The third visual, however, actually indicates a moderately weak negative correlation between bullpen payroll and winning percentage (r-score = -.22). This supports a commonly held thought among baseball’s sabermetrics crowd: The year-to-year performance of relievers is extremely finicky. Accordingly, it’s dangerous to allocate too much money to them. A formidable closer in one season can be a disastrous option the next year, or even the next month (ahem, Jim Johnson).

Though the Royals built a World Series team last year on the foundation of an otherworldly bullpen, they are the exception to the rule. Just three of the 17 teams that paid their relievers more than a combined $15 million this season qualified for the playoffs (Dodgers, Royals, Astros), and only two are still alive.

If you were hoping to find the secret to building a championship team on a shoestring budget in this article, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I can assure you that small-market teams shouldn’t be throwing gobs of money at veteran bullpen arms. Those guys are ultimately replaceable in a sport that’s churning out more flame-throwing relievers with each passing second.

After all, even the exception to the rule fell one Madison Bumgarner short of a World Series title last season.

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