Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Joe Sheehan's Hope and Faith article spoke to something we recently talked about, the supposed competitive imbalance in baseball. Yes, the Yankees and Boston are going insane in their never-ending war to one up each other. This make one of them a virtual lock to make the playoffs. Note that I am not entirely convinced that the AL wildcard will come from the East. The teams in that division are good enough that in a weakened AL West, two teams could have very good records. So how does the Yankees and Red Sox spending all that money affect the other teams? Not that much, there are still six or seven playoff spots available and once the playoffs start, anything can happen. The Yankee "mystique" created by there string of World Championships seems to be wearing off of late. And in two of the years they won it they were lucky to escape the Division Series. Yes, both the AL East powerhouses are very talented many talented teams have come up short in the end?


What does competitive imbalance really mean? The same team winning the World Series every year or something that relies a little less on "luck" like having 75% of the same teams in the playoffs every year?

The former means that the Yankees haven't been successful because they haven't won a world series in 3 years and blows the imbalance argument out of the water. The latter more effectively reflects the true nature of the game where the "average" fan becomes disenchanted with the game because "the same team always wins", even if they don't.

The Yankees vs. Red Sox story, while great press, really only affects the Orioles, Blue Jays and Devil Rays playoff chances.


I decided to compare competitive balance to another sport (I only had time for one). I picked the NFL, the league that MLB seems to want to emulate. Here are some numbers for playoff teams over the last five years (1999 - 2003).

                         NFL     MLB

Total Teams 31-32 30
Size of playoffs 12 8
Appears at least once 27 16
(at NFL ratio) 22.5
Teams that never made it 5 14
Appears exactly 1 time 9 4
Appears exactly 2 times 8 6
Appears exactly 3 times 5 3
Appears exactly 4 times 5 0
Appears exactly 5 times 0 3

Well, it doesn't look to good. Only five NFL teams have not made the playoffs in the last five years, compared with almost half the teams in baseball. Certainly they let more teams in in the NFL, but even adjusting for that baseball comes up short. There are numerous reasons for this, many that don't show the NFL in a good light. Their treatment of players might be good for the owners wallets, but I'm quite uncomfortable with the annual shakedown that gets performed by teams to their veteran players (renegotiate your contract or else). I find that final two lines interesting. This shows dominant teams and there is not as much difference here. Five NFL teams have made the playoffs four or more times while 3 baseball teams have done the same.


The NFL gets more churn and the tradeoff is that they treat their players like cattle. I wouldn't mind the NFL "system" if all the contracts were guaranteed. The NFL cap is tied directly to league revenue and contains a minimum team salary (no Brewers here) and a rookie salary cap (I do object to this). This system came about by breaking the union twice.

There are more intriguing questions for me to propose.

1) Now that more MLB teams are using statistical analysis to uncover the cost effective players does this indicate an end in the ability of small market teams (Oakland, Toronto) to compete against bigger markets?

2) Will the small market teams, that want to compete (big caveat) , evolve a new system that will again "balance" the market?

3) Does revenue sharing solve anything?

4) If the big market teams continue to dominate during the regular season will we see a downward spiral in the small market areas? If you do truly start the season where 50% of the teams have no chance at making the playoffs what affect is it on league wide revenue?

5) Can any of these questions be answered without waiting for the actual events to occur? Can you model the scenarios and predict the outcomes with any assurances in the predictions?


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