On parity and the playoffs in baseball

Arguing against more Stadium public funding
Fun with Bill James' projections: Everything Else

The writers at Pinstripe Alley post a question about a parity in baseball. They note a recent Peter Gammons column about parity in which Gammons writes:

In those 30 years, 20 different teams have won World Series titles, and it would likely be 21 without the 1994 strike that cost the sport’s best team — the Montreal Expos — a chance to win it all. In those 30 years, 14 different teams have won the Super Bowl, 13 have won the Stanley Cup, nine have won the NBA championship.

PA asks, “Does the three tier playoff system create parity in baseball, or do the short series create the illusion of parity?”

Now, assessing parity is a dangerous exercise. If you go back in time too far, as Gammons did, you run the risk of heading from one economic era to the next. In baseball, the past 30 years has been an eternity. The average salary in 1978 was just under $100,000. That’s just $325,000 in 2008 or less than the current MLB minimum.

So let’s start in 1995, the year after the strike and arguably the beginning of current economic era in baseball. We’ve witnessed 14 seasons of baseball and nine different World Series champions. More impressively, 26 different teams have made the playoffs since 1995.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. In the AL, five teams — the Yanks, Red Sox, Indians, A’s and Angels — have made the playoffs five or more times, and in the NL, that numer is four (Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Astros). Is that parity? It’s hard to say.

I think jscape’s question is tougher to answer than with raw numbers. By having a field of eight head into October, MLB guarantees that 26.6 percent of its teams will make it to the postseason. That’s enforced parity. But if the same teams return on a near-annual basis, are different World Series victors simply illustrative of the fact that in a short series anything can happen? Perhaps so.

What I do know is that of the 2007 playoff teams, just two — the Cubs and Red Sox — made encore appearances in 2008. Money may give teams a natural advantage, but in the end, I’d say that baseball has done an admirable job of creating parity. Most teams have a shot at the playoffs each year, and any team can win in October. That’s good for the game no matter how you slice or dice it.

Arguing against more Stadium public funding
Fun with Bill James' projections: Everything Else
  • jsbrendog

    “Most teams have a shot at the playoffs each year,”

    indeed, and the one’s that do not are poorly run and make horrible personnel decisions at the draft, minor, and major league level. The talent evaluators on teams such as the marlins and rays prove that teams like pittsburgh and washington and kansis city can and could still become competitive with the right personnel decisions.

    and once they get into october as we all know anything can happen.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Good point, jsb. Money certainly helps, but in the end, there are other factors in play, like smart decision making and shrewd team management.

      The same two things that helped me crush you during the playoffs of the RAB Fantasy Football League, on my way to my well-deserved Championship.

      [ Fantasy Football Championship Bragging Rights Name Drop #5 of 1000 ]

      • Rafi

        TSJC…..maybe you should put a link to the previous FFCBRND so that everyone can follow along, I know I will be. I missed the thread that it was in, and had trouble finding #1. BTW, did you not get enough congrats, is that what this is?

        • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Nah, too much work. I just keep the number in my head.

          And it’s not about me not getting enough congrats, it’s just me being snarky and irrelevant.

      • jsbrendog

        like i said, finishing 4th in a 20 team league is right nice.

        especially when my qb all yr was schaub/rosenfels and my rb other than gore was duckett/jerome harrisson/gary russel/jakob hester/ahman green/my grandmother until the last 3 weeks when ig ot lucky with choice.

        next yr. ima coming for ya

        • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          like i said, finishing 4th in a 20 team league is right nice.

          It is nice. But not as nice as finishing first. Which I did, standing proudly astride all you peons like a mighty Colossus. I have no peer, I am unequaled. I am the champion, my friend.

          The champion of the Inaugural RAB Fantasy Football League, that is.

          [ Fantasy Football Championship Bragging Rights Name Drop #6 of 1000 ]

  • A.D.

    I think part of baseball parity is that one player can’t carry a team, like basketball. A team with Kobe or LeBron should always make the playoffs. A team with Pujols or A-Rod has no such guarantee

    • Barry

      Actually, I think you have it completely backwards. In baseball, one great player can carry an average team to the playoffs. In basketball, not so much. Think about Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, before last year they were great players on average teams, and both of their respective teams sucked. Now in baseball, a player like Manny can carry a team, aka Dodgers circa 2008.

      • Ed

        Manny only managed to lead an average team to the playoffs because the 2nd place team had a .506 winning percentage. In any other division, you’d need a lot more than a motivated Manny to take an average team into the playoffs.

      • GG

        Nah, Im with AD on this one, Pierce and Garnett are not on the Kobe or LeBron level. LeBron took that Cavs team two years ago to the finals with a terrible supporting cast, this year hes got some help finally and they should go far also. Manny had a lot of good young talent around him in LA, and having him there definitely helped guys like Eithier at the plate. That was not a soley Manny show, they have A LOT of good young position players and pitchers. Baseball is much more of team game, you need a lot more players performing at a high level. Last year nobody knew what would happen in STL but because Ludwick, and Ankiel had great years in additional to Albert, they were pretty good, had they had more pitching they might have snagged the wildcard but even with Albert and some other contributers they were a 3rd place team. Basketball, Hockey (Ovechkin last year) and Soccer (whocares) are the sports where one guy can make the biggest difference in my humble opinion.

        • jsbrendog

          plus in baseball hitters cant pitch and pitchers cant hit (mostly) so if your pitcher gives up 22 runs then youre gonna lose (most likely) and if youre pitcher throws a 1 run game but you cant hit youre gonne lose (most likely)

      • andrew

        And Garnett and the Twolves had made the playoffs pretty consistently throughout his time there.
        Also look at the Heat, Wade gets injured, they go from finals to last place. Even with all the Yankee injuries last year they were able to compete.

      • A.D.

        Look at A-Rod on the Rangers, they had the best player in the game, and they didn’t come close to the playoffs

  • bigbankyanks

    The other interesting part of that article…only 2 teams have won the world series with a payroll greater than 100 mil…the 2004, and 2007 Red sox….I thought we were the ones buying titles…kinda funny right..

    • Barry

      Boston can’t be hated on nationally.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      only 2 teams have won the world series with a payroll greater than 100 mil…the 2004, and 2007 Red sox

      Although, Gammons was being a bit disingenous with the numbers there.

      First of all, it’s pointless to say a statement about teams with 100M+ payrolls “over the past 30 years”, because for the first 20 of those 30 years, NOBODY had a 100M payroll. In 1992, the World Champion Toronto Blue Jays lead the league with a 44M payroll; three years before that, there wasn’t a single 20M payroll in ALL of baseball. But go through the B-R league standings pages, and you’ll see that the teams with the biggest payrolls invariably are clustered near the top of the standings.

      Now, then, starting with the post strike era, here’s your World Series participants, with payroll and rank:

      95: Braves (47M, #2) over Indians (38M, #6) – #1: NYY 48M
      96: Yankees (54M, #2) over Braves (49M, #3) – #1: BAL 54.4M
      97: Marlins (48M, #8) over Indians (57M, #4) – #1: NYY 62M
      98: Yankees (67M, #2) over Padres (47M, #14) – #1: BAL 72M
      99: Yankees (87M, #1) over Braves (73M, #5)
      00: Yankees (92M, #1) over Mets (80M, #6)
      01: Diamondbacks (85M, #8) over Yankees (112M, #1)
      02: Angels (62M, #15) over Giants (78M, #9) – #1: NYY 125M
      03: Marlins (49M, #24) over Yankees (153M, #1)
      04: Red Sox (127M, #2) over Cardinals (83M, #9) – #1: NYY 184M
      05: White Sox (75M, #13) over Astros (77M, #12) – #1: NYY 208M
      06: Cardinals (89M, #10) over Tigers (83M, #15) – #1: NYY 194M
      07: Red Sox (143M, #2) over Rockies (54M, #22) – #1: NYY 189M
      08: Phillies (98M, #13) over Rays (44M, #28) – #1: NYY 207M

      So, firstly, the Gammons statement…

      Move the line back from “100M payroll” to “85M payroll”. For most of the past 10 years (the true “100M” era), a payroll of 85M or more firmly places you in the top 10 overall salaries, definitely upper echelon.

      So, add the 98M 2008 Phillies, 89M 2006 Cardinals, 85M 2001 Diamondbacks, 92M 2000 Yankees, and 87M 1999 Yankees to the list of “100M World Series Champions” and the Gammons statement carries less weight… in addition to the fact that the 153M 2003 Yankees losing to the Marlins was (and is) still considered an upset. Now, instead of two teams in the past decade, we’re talking about SEVEN of the past ten, with an 8th team that was upset by the buzzsaw of the red-hot Baby Marlins. Not as impressive. The big money teams still make and win the World Series.

      There does seem to be two separate phases in the post-strike era: 95-01, where the big money teams ruled the day, and 02-08, where mid-market teams (the #10-#20 payrolls) were able to remain more competitive, mainly through good decision making and calculated gambles. But, overall, from 1995 to the present, of the 28 WS participants, 19 of them came from the top ten payrolls in the league (67.8%), 14 of them came from the to six payrolls in the league (50.0%), only three times has a bottom-ten payroll team made the series (10.7%), with only one win.

      Oh, and, I could be wrong, but I believe the 2008 Yanks were the first #1 or #2 payroll team to not at least make the playoffs. So, basically it takes a huge rash of injuries and bad luck for a big market team to not at least buy their way into the postseason, FWIW…

  • MattG

    The outcries have nothing to do with parity, really. They have to do with fans being emotional about their 32 year old veteran they can no longer afford, and the assumption this will effect parity.

    Of course, the effect is negligible, if there is one at all. Most core players on good teams are in that 25-29 age range (unless they are superstars), and therefore not very expensive, by MLB standards.

    If you want parity, all that needs to be done is to eliminate arbitration. For example, if the owners were to offer the players free agency after 5 years (instead of 6), in exchange for abolishing arbitration, then the smaller markets would be able to keep more of their homegrown talent together in years 27-28-29. That would make a huge difference in their success.

    They couldn’t just abolish arbitration. There would need to be some sort of mandatory raises for 4th and 5th year players, but I bet a deal could be reached. It would dramatically change the game, and continue to reward teams for drafting and developing wisely.

  • Adam

    As an aside: can someone explain to me how a seven-game series came to be referred to as a “short series,” when it is in fact longer than any played during the regular season?

    • kunaldo

      I believe it’s considered a “short-series” when compared to the 162 game season…just a smaller sample size in which anything can happen

  • steve (different one)

    here is a question: why is parity “good”?

    is the NFL really a “better” product now that there is so little seperating the good teams and the bad teams? and that any team can be terrible one year and make the playoffs the next year?

    is it “parity”, or just enforced mediocrity?

    is there even one team in the NFL this year you could call “great”?

    this year, who is going to win the Super Bowl? the Giants are probably the closest thing to “great”, but no one is confusing them with 1986 Bears. what we will probably see is a very mediocre team win the Super Bowl.

    but this seems to be what everyone wants, “fairness”. 32 teams going 8-8 and the team that gets hot for 3 weeks wins it all. that seems to be what the NFL is striving for.

    is this what we want in MLB?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      This is the argument I tend to buy in regards to a potential MLB salary cap. We want the dominant team. They bring excitement. They are the narrative of the season.

      The only flaw I can see in the argument is that you don’t want the same teams dominating year after year. Even though the Yankees haven’t won the WS since 2000, they’ve had a shot every year — including 2008.

      An MLB salary cap is like DDT. You try to introduce a cure, but the cure causes a rash of new problems that are even worse than the original.

    • MattG

      Parity is not good. Parity is boring, because with the more parity, the more chance plays a role in deciding the champions. The three tiered playoff system has already impacted the significance of winning the world series too much.

      But, the possibility of parity is good. A level playing field should mean that if every team makes all the right decisions, everyone is likely to win 81 games. There is much thinking that with such different payrolls, this is not possible.

      It is somewhat true, but mostly because players can get too expensive too early in their careers. If you have the money, signing 32 year old free agents can keep you competitive. If you don’t, drafting and developing 26 year old players can do the same. The only issue occurs when you can’t keep those 26 year old players long enough to replace them with someone else you can draft, develop, and afford.

      But owners aren’t really interested in parity. They are interested in capping salaries, and use parity as a convenient excuse, bolstered by conventional (ie wrong) wisdom.

      • andrew

        The thing is, in the NFL, teams have a chance to be great every year. Look at the Pats last year, that was one of the best teams of all time, that’s exciting. Greatness and parity can coexist.

        • Bo

          And you can’t maintain greatness in the NFL. You can’t pay your own guys. You can’t maintain depth because of the money involved. Salary caps hurt players most of all because there is no cap on how much owners can make is there?

          Why do people constantly gripe about athletes salaries yet you never hear them bitch about how much an owners pockets?

  • WhizzoTheWize

    Is this kindergarten or sports?

    Parity is the watchword for teams that suck.

    Winners win.

    • Should be working

      Actually winners go home and fuck the prom queen. :d

      • Barry

        Nah man winners fuck the prom queen at the prom, and then they fuck the prom queens best friend after prom.

        • Should be working

          Its a quote from a movie. Sean Connery in The Rock.

          “Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!”

          • Mike Pop

            Great movie.

            • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Any movie made with Nicholas Cage in it is gonna suck balls, because Nicholas Cage, in fact, sucks balls.

  • A.D.

    The main issue is that every team comes in with a shot. You think this year of teams fans that figured we have no chance, and then proved just that, I think of the following:


    Which isn’t too bad, otherwise your team did/almost made the playoffs, is in a very weak division, or made the playoffs the previous year. That’s what’s important, its boring if the same teams run away with it each year.

    • Ryan S.

      And The Giants are looking to bounce back after just a few years of mediocrity. They’re gonna be a factor next year. Of course, the Padres will be replacing them.

      I think the AL West is going to be really interesting to watch this year, and should be a good example of baseball parity. The Angels, one of those fancy big market teams, got hurt bad by FA since they lost out on Teixeira, while The As could be a total dark horse, and if the Rangers can have some effective pitching, they’re a forced to be reckoned with as well.

      And seriously, the AL Central seems to always be a brutal fight to the finish. Between the ChiSox, Twins, Tigers and Indians, I don’t have a clue who is going to do what. The Royals might even finish in not last place!

      • A.D.

        You figure the O’s and Giants have a bright future.

        The Royals, Nats, and Pirates have all not been competitive for over a decade, which essentially means poor management.

        The Reds are eh, they have some great young talent, and are shedding some payroll, so they may be in the mix, just tough with biggest division in baseball.

        • jsbrendog

          but gil meche and jsoe guillen on long term contracts!!! come on!!!

    • GG

      Im against a salary cap. Pitt’s president came out now and said he wants one too I believe. Some teams like Pitt wont be contending for a LONG TIME but I dont think thats the Yankees, problem. The two florida teams have already proven you can be good on a low budget. Its easy for bad teams to blame the financial differences for their poor team performances but thats a cop out! As the article elaborates, many teams have been able to win other than just the big market clubs….Would the cap give every team a good shot every year? Maybe but thats not the way the sport is configured and I dont think changing it would be a good move for really anyone….Does Pitt think that if a cap gets imposed it would make them any better??? They have serious problems and I’m not going to pretend to know much about that franchise but I dont think a cap would be the solution for those guys

      The Giants will have a shot BTW

      • jsbrendog

        exactly, a salary cap does nto prevent pittsburgh from trading away a serviceable minor leaguer for a washed up matt morris no one wanted for free and then paying his full salary on top of that

    • GG

      Also I dunno if your leaving any team off that list, but if you look at the other leagues with caps, there are at least that many teams who this season had/have no shot at all

      • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Good point. The NFL has a hard cap and non-guaranteed contracts, and yet the Bengals and Lions have sucked for a decade.

        The NBA has a soft cap and guaranteed contracts, and yet the Sonics/Thunder, Grizzlies, and Clippers have sucked for a decade.

        A cap prevents great teams from staying great forever (since they eventually have to break up their core). It does not prevent bad teams from staying bad. Putting a cap in baseball may keep the Yankees or Braves from making the playoffs for 14 straight years, but it won’t fix the problems in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Washington, San Diego, or Cincinnati. Only smarter ownership (and changing the draft/international market talent acquisition processes) will do that.

        The biggest thing that ensures parity in the NFL is not the cap, it’s the draft and IRONCLAD revenue sharing that assures all teams of a salary FLOOR, not a salary ceiling.

  • Ryan S.

    The Yankees are the team by which every other team is measured. We sell out stadiums, we get huge TV ratings, and we keep America excited for next season even when football is in full swing. We’re such a polarizing force – everybody loves us or hates us.

    And for every Brewers team that fails to make an impact and has to take a step back, there are teams like the Rays or Phillies who are blossoming and are in a position to remain competitive. Mismanagement is easily the single biggest reason for any team doing poorly.

  • Thomas

    Dave Solomon of the New Haven Register wrote this about the need for a salary cap/need for more parity in baseball, “15 or 16 teams are all but eliminated from the playoffs at the All-Star Game and by August, 25 have no shot of making the playoffs.” (paraphrased)

    In a league with 30 teams, where 8 make the playoffs, how can 25 teams ever be eliminated before the end of the regular season?

    • Ryan S.

      Dave Solomon obviously isn’t very familiar with the Astros recent history. Some teams choose to give up on their season by the all star break, but if more you look at the teams that don’t have any quit in them (like Houston, the Yankees or even Cleveland), its amazing how you really can comeback and overcome a horrible first half and be able to at least remain in the conversation.

      • Bo

        Lazy writing from a person who is paid to write about sports. Anyone surprised by it?

        • Ryan S.

          I’m surprised when its anything but that.

  • Januz

    There have always been winners and losers in sports, not just baseball (For example: On Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals won their FIRST home playoff game in over 60 years). Certain franchises in sports have always stunk, and it is not always demographics and small market size (The Cubs and Black Hawks come to mind (The White Sox and Bears are slightly better (ONE title EACH in 40 years)). The Oakland A’s vs the San Francisco Giants is another.
    Sports needs teams like the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Lakers, the Rangers, Notre Dame Football, and North Carolina Basketball. Someone to root for or against, they generate fan interest.
    Finally, I am willing to bet that the NFL and NBC would be sick if Super Bowl XXXXIII consisted of the Tennessee Titans vs the Carolina Panthers, instead of say my team (The Pittsburgh Steelers) vs the New York Giants. That would generate little if any interest nationwide.

    • Should be working

      You mean like the world series this year? Yawn.

      • Januz

        The Phillies were a compelling story, and I rooted for them. There is nothing to root for between Carolina and Tennessee, execpt a competitive game. There are only three teams left in the playoffs that generate much fan interest: The Eagles, Giants, and Steelers.

        • Bo

          Where is it required that a WS or Super Bowl or NBA Finals or NCAA tourney should be compelling and great viewing?

          • Januz

            No one requires that sporting events be compelling (Tiger Woods can blow away a field by 10 shots and still get superior ratings to almost any tournament he is not in). But if you look at projected numbers that advertisers, leagues, and broadcasters are looking for, it involves capturing the casual fan. The reason being, they know they will get the hard core fan, no matter who is playing.
            Using myself as an example, I will watch any Yankee, Steeler, or Penn State football game available. But I needed Red Wings/Penguins and Celtics/Lakers in order to watch the NHL & NBA Finals. These leagues need the Sidney Crosby’s & Kobe Bryant’s of the world in order to generate major fan interest. PS: Guess why soccer is not a major sport in this country (Even trailing hockey)?.

  • ko

    Unclear to me why parity is this unbelievably wonderful thing that should be strived for at all costs. Look at the NFL – parity = mediocrity. It would be nice if the fans of a team had a shot at rooting for a contender every so often to keep interest – and revenues – up, other than that I don’t see much charm in parity. If you’re worried about teams being unable to contend, then the problem is that there is no salary floor, not that there’s no salary cap. Teams like Kansas City that have a zillionaire owning them (David Glass who owns Wal-mart) have no excuse not to spend. If parity is what you crave, force these folks to spend.

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  • ‘The’ Steve

    Nice piece Ben. Enjoyed reading it.

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