First Pitch: MLB Parity is a Parody

For most of the previous decade, the argument surrounding Major League Baseball was that the league had parity because of all of the different World Series winners. From 2000-2008 the league had eight different winners in nine years. That gave the impression that anyone could win, and that baseball was a fair game.

After the Boston Red Sox won the World Series tonight, I looked at the list of the recent World Series winners. What I noticed is that the “anyone can win” argument has been destroyed. The Red Sox have won three of the last ten World Series titles. During that ten year span, the Cardinals have won twice, and the San Francisco Giants have won twice. That’s three teams combining to win seven of the last ten World Series titles. The only other teams to win during that time were the Yankees, Phillies, and White Sox.

Let’s expand the picture and look at all of the winners over the last 19 years (dating back to MLB’s first year after the cancelled 1994 World Series).

New York Yankees – 5 titles

Boston Red Sox – 3

St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Florida Marlins – 2

Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Anaheim Angels, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies – 1

As I point out every year, the thing about those teams is that all but one of them (the 2003 Marlins) finished in the top half in the league in payroll. The teams that have won the most titles (New York and Boston) are consistently top three teams in terms of money spent.

It would be easy to say that money buys championships, but there’s the logic of how anything can happen in a playoff series. In theory, the most expensive team will have more talent, and make a team the favorite. But underdogs can certainly win a Best of Five or Best of Seven series. Of course, the whole “anyone can win in the playoffs” thing doesn’t explain why there have been three teams winning 70% of the World Series titles over the last ten years. And if you’re a fan of a small market team, it’s crushing to see the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series, while part of you wonders if there’s any hope at all for your team that can’t afford to spend $150-175 M per year in payroll.

In about five days, free agency will begin. In about a month, the off-season will start to heat up. Every team and every fanbase will be thinking about their chances to win the World Series next year, and no one will be thinking about how a select group of big spenders has the inside track, while everyone else is on the outside lane. For now, the Red Sox are celebrating their third World Series title in the last ten years, and they’ve got a strong chance to get another shot next year no matter what happens over the off-season. Meanwhile small market fans will spend all off-season talking about what needs to go right to just make the playoffs, and wondering how many years they can be successful before the need for another rebuild.

Calling this parity is a parody.

Links and Notes

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**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Shortstop

**The Pirates Might Be Best With Mercer and Barmes in 2014

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**Winter Leagues: Gregory Polanco’s Streak Reaches Double Digits

**AFL: Phil Irwin Goes Four Innings In Scottsdale’s Sixth Straight Loss

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • emjayinTN

    Congratulations to both the Red Sox and Cardinals because they are teams who will be expected in the playoffs and beyond every year because they know how to build winners. The Sox were terrible last year and signed quite a few expensive FA for 2013, but still cut their team payroll by $21 mil down to $154 mil. The Cards have not done that as much, but still have a payroll of $116 mil. The Cardinals and Pirates are building in the right way, through development of drafted players, and adding a Free Agent when absolutely necessary. After a few years of walking away from Albert Pujols and Kyle Lohse, do we expect the Cardinals to sign Carlos Beltran?

    The Sox won with their own players – Pedroia, Big Papi, and Ellsbury most of the year and then got lucky with guys like Gomes, Victorino, and Napoli coming on during the playoffs. And, how else can you explain how a guy like Koji Uehara comes from nowhere to be the untouchable Closer after 2 Free Agents have failed – Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. From worst (or close to it) to first is very nice stuff for a city still reeling from the Marathon Bombing.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      “And, how else can you explain how a guy like Koji Uehara comes from nowhere to be the untouchable Closer after 2 Free Agents have failed – Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey.”

      Because Uehara has been a dominant reliever for years and that’s all you need to be able to close.

      • Cato the Elder

        Yeah, Uehara hardly came from nowhere, he had a 2.40, 3.03, and 2.40 FIP the last 3 years. He has always struck out > 10 batters per 9 innings and has while walking < 2 per 9; the fact that Hanarahan and Bailey had to get hurt for him to become the closer doesn't exactly speak to the wisdom of Boston. But more to the point, if the Pirates had sunk 11 million dollars into 2 relievers who combined to pitch 35 innings, they would never recover. And this is really the point: big spending teams like the Red Sox and Cardinals can make mistakes and still be competitive, where small-market teams like the Pirates do not have that luxury.

  • buster09

    You can salute and congratulate the Red Sox all you want emjay,but I hate their orginization and all it stands for,along with their arrogant and whiner fans.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      I know at least four Bosox fans personally and not a one of them is arrogant. They are some of the finest people I know.

      Two more are on the PBC blog I frequent and they are the same way.

      Congrats to the Sox!

      However, having said that, YANKEE fans are arrogant!!!! lol

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      Kinda like how the rest of the world thinks about the Steelers?

      I don’t have a big problem with this particular Sox squad. Yes, their bank account allowed them to buy low and take a risk on Napoli and overspend on Victorino. Yes, their pitching staff gets paid more than the entire Bucs 40-man roster – and a third of that money is dead weight.

      OTOH, they gave a guy like Nava a chance. Their subs and rookies came through in the clutch. They held onto homegrown guys like Petey & Ells. When it came down to it, their aces pitched like aces and their MVP hit like an MVP.

      The Cards didn’t. Neither did the Bucs.

      • emjayinTN

        Well stated.

  • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

    I think we’re still a few years away from seeing the gap between the large market and small market teams reach its widest point. MLB is just a couple of years into the cap on draft signings and international signings, both of which (the former especially) are anti-small market measures–any system where the Pirates can theoretically be giving money to the Red Sox and Yankees is simply ridiculous. Teams like the Pirates and Rays and Royals have been robbed of one of their few weapons–the over-slot signing. I think in four or five years (and perhaps sooner) we’ll see the true effect of the hard slotting system on the small market teams, and it won’t be good. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Rays are no longer in Tampa a half-dozen years from now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      wkk….and what was in place to prevent the Yankees, Dodgers, et al from signing LOTS of over slot draftees?

      If they wanted to, these teams could’ve started playing in the same sand box and would’ve kicked us out of there in no time.

      • ginbear

        The big teams can do it too, but it’s still advantageous for small teams. The big difference is draft rights. Signing a free agent is your bid vs other teams’ bids. Draft signings are your bid vs. the kid’s incentive to go back to school. Big difference.

        If you look at non-drafted amateur talent, the big market teams dominate that too (ie. Puig, Abreau, Darvish, etc, etc).

        • Cato the Elder

          Cespedes, Chapman

      • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

        Nothing was–but the point is that over-slot signing was an area where the Pirates could act to try to level the un-even field of the free agent market to an extent. That’s not the case anymore; in what manner can the Pirates compete financially with the Yankees and Dodgers now?

        • Cato the Elder

          They can’t now ; they couldn’t then. The King is dead. Long live the King.

  • leadoff

    IMO, numbers can tell a story, sometimes a story that is not really true.
    The Sox won the series, but lumping them in with the rest of the winners of previous winners tells the wrong story IMO. I don’t see the Sox as a dominating team, yes they have money and yes the playing field is tilted in their favor, no doubt, but the team that they put on the field against the Cards was nothing special. IMO, if the Bucs don’t run into a fresh hot pitcher from the Cards, the Pirates might have made it all the way.
    I would have rooted for the Cards if the media was not trying to shove the Card’s rookies and their organization down my throat. I said before Wacha pitched last night that Wacha would probably wind up back in the minors sometime in the middle of next year and Lynn was figured out and that Miller was nothing special. As far as the Card bullpen, those guys can be had in trades and will also be figured out. The common theme that I say with Card rookie pitchers was that they use only one pitch most of the time and the other pitches are show me pitches, if all you can throw is a fastball, sooner or later the league will catch up to you. I think as long as the Pirates can’t sign Japanese top talent and the Sox can, the field is tilted. IMO, the Pirates have to be able to comfortably spend 100-115mil for the playing field to be level and there is no way the Pirates have that kind of money. Believe me money matters, when the Pirates lose Pedro and Cole because they will be way out of their pocket book, some people will understand and many will go the stupid route and blame Nutting.

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      Essentially true as far as the Sox not being “anything special”. If you look at the individual WAR of each Sox starter vs. Bucs, it’s just about equal w/o the DH (29.0 for Bucs, 29.7 for Sox). The Sox get a big boost having Ortiz/Napoli as 1b/DH (Ortiz 3.8, Napoli 3.9) whereas Bucs have nothing for DH. And you’re not going to convince me the Sox pitching is better – I didn’t run those #s but I’d guess the Bucs more than make up the difference in pitching.

      My personal feeling is that if Cutch cashed in on more RBI opportunities, Bucs would’ve had the division. Given his opportunities, he should have topped 100 which would’ve added two more wins. For all those who insist “clutch” is not real, well, then I guess Cutch is just fine with 17% less production and a higher K rate in RISP situations.

  • piraddict

    I say that as small market fans we should stop whining about this and start doing something about it. The only thing that will effect change is to hit MLB in the pocket book.

    What if, through the Blogosphere we inspire a rebellion among small market fans that demands change, to a revenue sharing system like the NFL?

    What if, we swear to stop watching baseball as soon as the last small market team is eliminated from the playoffs

    • piraddict

      Upon further thought, what if when the Red Sox, or the Yankees or Dodgers etc. came to town we all stayed home (but watched on TV)?

      The inequities will continue as long as the fans continue to support the system. Are we willing to do something about it or not?

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      It’s not in the hands of the fan base of small-market teams–it would take the ownership groups in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and so forth realizing that the “enemy”, so to speak, is not the MLBPA, but the owners in LA, New York, and Boston. The big-market owners are the true threat to the survival of the small-market teams, not the players.

    • https://www.facebook.com/jerry.maloney Jerry Maloney

      It’s not the blogosphere that pays the bills. It’s the casual fans who won’t tune in to see Felix Hernandez pitch against a solid, exciting young lineup for the Rays, but who will gladly watch a meaningless game between the Red Sox and the Yankees just because they’ve heard of them. There are many more fans like that than like us.

  • piratemike

    I really fought myself about posting this again because I’m tired of writing about this but I can’t help it, I have to bring it up again.
    The small market teams need to have a permanent place at the top of the draft no matter where they finish. ( I’m talking about 1 – 15 )
    Will this solve all the problems ? no but for small market teams who are really trying to put a winner on the field it can help them stay relevant longer and provide them with better picks to offset the stars that they lose to big market teams.
    I’m not saying that this is a perfect plan and that there isn’t another way to bring about some semblance of parity but I think at least it is a starting point.
    I understand that MLB wants big market teams in the World Series every year I think they would dread a Pirates – Rays series. So it would be hard to pass something that would bring about true parity.
    The only way to bring about some change is something that wouldn’t cost big teams money and this idea wouldn’t, besides most big market teams draft in the 16-30 range every year anyway. It wouldn’t be like they are giving up a #1 pick.
    A lot of people want to go back to overslot spending but MLB stopped it for a reason and they are not going to revisit that again. It is a dead issue.

    • Andrew

      MLB attempted, at least aesthetically attempted to do something like this in the most recent CBA with the 10 competitive balance picks, 5 at the end of 1st round and 5 at the end of the 2nd round. However, the league added a lottery and some questionable identifiers. Below post on it. I think your idea is good in but I feel the effect is of having the entire round determined by market size or revenue would quickly compound to put those teams selecting earlier at a significant advantage after several years. The average returns from the draft slot decline rapidly in a non-linear fashion.

      http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/7/18/4533346/competitive-balance-lottery-fixing-a-broken-system

      • piratemike

        As I stated this is not a perfect plan it is just a starting point for others who are a lot more knowledgeable and a lot smarter than me.
        As for teams with a permanent high draft slot gaining an advantage over time I don’t see where it is any more an advantage than teams with an ability to outspend other teams by 3-5 times more.
        After all where do all those high draft picks that are successful eventually end up?
        Bad management happens to big and small market teams but even a badly managed big market team can buy it way to a good season while a badly run small market team loses for 20 yrs.

  • leadoff

    IMO, the only way to fix major league baseball is to put a salary cap on the player, not the team. All walks of life have levels that pay different amounts of money, some based on performance, some based on tenure.
    I know that the magic word that comes up is “Collusion” and I know that any attempt to adjust salaries properly becomes a union issue, but major league baseball and the union need to have another good fight, this time the MLB has to win.
    My thoughts come from a guy like Kershaw getting offered 300mil, if he gets that much there is no way that Cole and Alvarez are not going to get 200-300mil, could the Pirates in anyway compete with the Dodgers for talent when this stuff happens. Major league baseball has got to find a way that teams can hold on to their prime players.

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      A cap is part, but only part, of the solution. If you think about what a cap figure would have to be–probably around 175-200 million at the very minimum–there’s no way the Pirates, under the current system, could spend anywhere near the cap figure. You need to have revenue reform–if you look at the disparity in local cable revenue between what the Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels make from local TV money, compared to what the Pirates receive, it’s staggering. Until you have meaningful sharing of that money, you won’t have a situation where the Pirates can even dream of competing in terms of salary.