Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MLB Parity

MLB does not have a salary cap. Teams can spend as much as they want on salaries for players. It is not uncommon, then, to hear people complain that baseball lacks parity and that high salary teams buy championships.

I think this claim is wrong, but because of time constraints, I can't argue for it in this post. Nevertheless, I think the following suggests that we ought to question this linkage between high salaries and team performance.

The following lists the top ten salary spenders for 2010 (according to ):

1. Yankees
2. Boston
3. Phillies
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Mets
6. Detroit
7. Chicago White Sox
8. Angeles
9. Giants
10. Twins

Only 4 of these teams made the playoffs: the Yankees, Phillies, Giants, and Twins.

The same pattern held in 2009:

Top Ten Salaries
1. Yankees
2. Mets
3. Cubs
4. Red Sox
5. Detroit
6. Angeles
7. Phillies
8. Houston
9. Dodgers
10. Seattle

Only 5 of these teams made the playoffs in 2009: Yankees, Red Sox, Angeles, Phillies, and Dodgers.

This is far from definitive, but it is suggestive that there is much more to fielding a successful team than paying high salaries.

1 comment:

Seth Weismer said...

I love this debate, so I'll bite.

It depends on how you look at those numbers. Another way to look at it is:

- 40% (4 in 10) of teams in the top 1/3 of salaries made the playoffs
- 20% (4 in 20) of teams in the bottom 2/3 made the playoffs

- 50% (5 in 10) of teams in the top 1/3 made the playoffs
- 15% (3 in 20) of teams in the bottom 2/3 made the playoffs

Those numbers become even more skewed when you consider that two of the teams perennially in the top 10 are the Cubs and the Mets (who both seemed destined to underperform every year).

I'm not fully in the "salary buys championships" camp. There are many other factors that determine success - general management, such as player evaluation, drafting, contract and trade negotiations, all play into it significantly, as do things like injuries, momentum, and luck (especially around playoff time).

But salary certainly buys you a significantly better chance at making the playoffs and winning a championship. Whether or not the other factors align at the right time certainly determines how much a team reaches its potential in a given year, but that core potential, in my opinion, is largely driven by team salary.

And because of the lack of salary cap (and just as important, lack of significant revenue sharing), certain teams can afford to spend so much that the other factors are not as big a deal. A team like the Yankees can get away with a few bad signings, because they can always afford to keep buying more players until they get the right ones. A low-salary team that signs a high-priced free agent is forced to take a much higher risk than a team like the Yankees, because they can't afford to cover up their mistakes.

I could talk about this all day, but gotta get back to work now :)

And yes - as a disclosure to any readers - I'm a Phillies fan, currently enjoying a huge run of success for my team, but fully acknowledging that salary has played a large factor in that success.

That's all I got for now - interesting in hearing others opinions.