Thursday, August 6, 2009

Putting a Cap on the Competitive Balance Argument

Listen to any talking heads these days and they'll tell you that Major League Baseball has a problem. Read any mainstream media column and they'll tell you that Major League Baseball has a problem. Heck, read countless sports blogs on any number of sports websites and they'll all say the same thing - Major League Baseball has a problem. And they're not even talking about steroids now. The alleged problem in baseball is competitive imbalance. And, we've been told by the media that a salary cap will solve everything. The big market teams won't be able to spend as much. The small market teams will get to be more competitive. They point to the three other major sports as examples of how the salary cap works to keep a somewhat level playing field. And this must be true, since the media is never wrong. Well, wait, what if someone went and actually did research? Would the media's assertion still hold true? Turns out, it doesn't. The media and all its sheep believe a bill of goods that not even President Obama and his minions would try to slip past the American public.

With the sample size being the current decade (since that's when this alleged competitive imbalance has hit its peak), there are some startling numbers. Just not the numbers the mainstream media ever shares (for either lack of research or just plain good old fashioned lazy reporting).

In the current decade, each sport has had the ability to crown 9 different champions so far. The NHL has crowned 7 Stanley Cup winners out of that potential 9. The NFL (the model by which all things are measured in America now) has crowned 6 different Super Bowl Champions. The NBA has crowned just 5 different champions. Meanwhile, MLB has had only one repeat winner (the '04 & '07 Red Sox). Meaning that out of 9 possible champions, MLB has had 8 different winners. But that's only one out of 30 (or 32) teams. You have to go deeper than that to prove your theory, David. Ok. Let's do just that.

Since their have been 9 championships awarded, that means there have been a total of 18 possible teams playing for their respective league's title. Again, here are the numbers. NHL - 11 total teams have played for the Cup. NFL - 13 total teams. NBA (pulling up the rear yet again) - 10 total teams. While MLB has had 14 out of 18 possible teams playing for the World Series. 14 teams. That means, in 9 seasons, almost half (14/30 = 47%) of all the teams in MLB have played in the World Series. 14 out of 30 fan bases have been 4 wins away (or fewer) from buying World Championship t-shirts and other swag. But David, that's still not enough information. You're skewing something. Ok, let's look at trends.

The NHL and NBA each invite 16 teams to their tournament. That's over half the league. Yet the NHL has only had 37% of it's teams play for the Stanley Cup and the NBA has only had 33% of it's teams make the finals. Even more disturbing is the fact that in the NHL, the last two Stanley Cup Finals featured the same two teams. The last time MLB had the same two teams play in the World Series in back to back years was in 1977-1978. Meanwhile, in the NBA, the Lakers have appeared in the NBA finals 5 out of the 9 years in question. Throw in the Spurs' 3 appearances in that span and the Lakers or Spurs have been the western conference's representative in 8 of 9 seasons (and NBA Champions 6 of 9 years). The NFL is a little bit better, but they have their share of competitive imbalance, too. That Patriots have appeared in 4 out of a possible 9 Super Bowls, and the Patriots and Steelers have combined to represent the AFC in 6 out of 9 Super Bowls (and 5 out of the last 6 Super Bowls).

All the while, the cap-less and "un-level" playing field that is baseball has not had a team in the World Series more than 3 times during the same span (the Yankees, who have not made a World Series appearance since 2003). And no two teams have combined to represent it's respective league more than 5 times in 9 years. Baseball has also produced at least one World Series team every year that is making it's first appearance in the World Series this decade. And in 5 of the 9 World Series', it was a first trip this decade for both teams. But David, you're still only talking about the World Series. In order to get to the World Series, you have to make the playoffs, and not enough teams in MLB can be competitive enough to even make the playoffs. Oh really?

The NHL and NBA each let 16 teams into the playoffs each year. The NFL lets in 12. MLB lets in 8. Paultry, by comparison. Yet, in just the last 9 seasons, 23 out of 30 teams in the MLB have made the post-season, at least one time. That's 77% of teams in a playoff system that lets in only 27% of it's teams each year. Only 7 teams have failed to make the playoffs this decade - Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Baltimore, Toronto, Cincinnati, Montreal-Washington and Texas (though the Rangers have a real shot at the playoffs this year). It has been reported that competitive imbalance is getting worse by the year. That big market teams are pulling away from small market teams. What they fail to tell you is that traditionally small market teams such as Milwaukee and Tampa Bay made the playoffs last season, while the biggest of big markets - New York - failed to put either of its teams in the post season. And god forbid anyone mention traditional mid-market teams, San Francisco, Colorado, Texas and Minnesota, are all in playoff contention this season.

In 2003, Larry Beinfest built a World Champion with the smallest payroll in baseball. And who did he beat to win the World Series? The highest payroll in baseball that year, the Yankees. Competitive imbalance has nothing to do with a salary cap. It has to do with drafting right. And trading right. And making the right decisions in your front office and on the field. Ineptness is what creates an un-level playing field, not how much money a team has to play with. Remember, it was just three years ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates (who allegedly have no money to spend) traded for an aging Matt Morris. They still had to pay Morris $9 million a season. They had the money. They just invested it poorly. Very, very poorly. Don't cry for a salary cap. Just cry for better management.


  1. I don't want to ever see another 83-win team win the World Series. And baseball needs to ditch interleague, improve upon it or add a wild card, because the inequities are affecting how the WC is determined. Almost every year that's the case. It's crap that the Mets have to face the Yankees six times and the Red Sox and Rays three apiece while the Cardinals can get away with playing a dogshit Royals team six times, along with the Indians and Twins. People have had it with interleague. The luster is way gone.


  2. A stat for you, MB, while it's on my mind. Caught this watching the Yankees last night. Of the last 56 playoff teams, none has had a shortstop over 35 years old. Jeter would be the first in a long while.


  3. Damn, that's a great stat, Zeech. Love it! Wait, I gotta go look up Edgar Renteria's age...I might be about to be very depressed.

  4. Woohoo! Edgar's birthday is tomorrow, and according to at least one of his birth certificates, he will only be 34!

  5. First, interleague competition as an argument??? Are you serious? Do the Yankees not play those same Royals, Indians, and Twins the same amount of times per year? The Cardinals also play the Mets the SAME number of games per season as the Yankees. Interleague was brought in to entice the fans of the game. Has it worked? For most rivalries, yes. Are there some matchups that are just worthless? Sure. Pirates vs. Royals, for example. Save me a ticket to that snooze-fest. NOT.
    Second, number of wins making you sick. That team won its division. Tough circumstance for any team in any division is baseball. Then it had to win 11 games to become world champions. If regular season wins are the most important part of the resume, then reward the 100+ win teams by giving them a runner at first the start of every inning the first round of playoffs. Sounds silly, doesn't it?
    What I would suggest is that it is time to tinker with divisions within the leagues. It is unfair that some divisions have 4 teams, while others max out at 6. Granted, 30 teams does not work well for the schedule makers, as you can't have two 15-team leagues without a constant dose of interleague. Expand baseball to 32 teams. 4 divisions of 4 teams each. 4 division winners, two wild card teams in each league. 2 best records get a first round bye. Three rounds might eliminate those "weak" 83 win teams before they get to hold the trophy.

  6. Have a schedule that will keep it fair. Make the standings have real meaning. Baseball's beauty is a 2,400+ game schedule that separates the good from the shit, in a way better than any sport out there. Interleague doesn't allow you to figure out what a team's strengths and weaknesses are in the same manner you can determine that if you're playing a team home-and-home or inside the division 18 times a year. The White Sox do not need to go to Houston for a weekend and the stinking Reds don't have to come to the Rogers Centre for a three-game midweek series in June.

    There's no f-ing point.

    If I'm the Cubs or Cardinals this season, and I'm facing the Twins in a single three-game series, I might not see their best pitcher in that series at all. While the Brewers (they played Minnesota six times) might see that best pitcher twice. In an ALW-NLW year, the Rockies saw Tampa Bay and Detroit for reasons that aren't rational. The Yankees had to go on the road and play nine straight games at NL parks, which is roughly equivalent to asking an AL team to play on the moon for almost two weeks.

    The owners who orchestrated this false system -- and Bud is an owner at heart -- will say, "Oh, what're you whining about, it's as fair to one team as it is to another." No, it isn't. Here barely 10 years later the "mystique" is completely wiped out, and we're stuck with the reality that the owners pissed away a century of tradition for a quick buck without giving any thought to the spirit of fairness. But that seems to be how baseball likes it.