Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Monday, May 10, 2021

No MLB Team Is Great, And Fewer Are Awful. Is This The Parity We Wanted?

One quick way to measure how much parity baseball has seen this year — relative to the same stage of previous seasons — is to look at the standard deviation of winning percentages. Through 34 games for each team,1 that number is 0.0747, meaning one standard deviation below .500 lands you on a pace of 69 wins per 162, while a standard deviation above .500 puts you on pace for 93 wins. That may sound relatively ordinary, but early season records usually vary a lot more than that. Through 34 games in 2018, for instance, one standard deviation below .500 would have put a team on pace to win just 60 games, while a standard deviation above .500 meant winning at a 102-victory pace.

Granted, the 2018 season was one of the most imbalanced in MLB since 1969, the start of the divisional era. But 2021 is shaping up to be one of the most balanced. Only in 1974, when just one team (the 102-win Los Angeles Dodgers) won more than 91 games and just three won fewer than 70, did a season start with as much competitive balance as 2021, according to the standard deviation of winning percentages through 34 games:...

A big reason is that the teams that looked most dominant on paper going into the season have gotten out to slow starts. Remarkably, each of the top nine teams in our preseason Elo ratings has seen its rating dip since then; only the 10th-ranked Toronto Blue Jays have exceeded expectations in the early going:

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 10, 2021 at 06:24 PM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: parity

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. donlock Posted: May 10, 2021 at 07:04 PM (#6018139)
There is no tanking. The most recent example was the Astros who managed to lose rough to get a too as. Few examples come since. It is just very hard to get good players. The amateur draft may take 5 tests to see a star make the team. Waiver wire and rule 5 draft show few success.

Teams do lose but often after their own stars refusing contracts to test free agency. If you lose your best guys, how do you compete with the few teams that paid for them?
   2. rr: cosmopolitan elite Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:57 AM (#6018207)
Only in 1974, when just one team (the 102-win Los Angeles Dodgers) won more than 91 games


Nitpick: The Reds went 98-64 that year--ended up 2nd in the old pre-WC era NL West, which is probably why the writer missed it--just looked at other division winners (Bal 91-71, Oak 90-72, and Pit, 88-74).
   3. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 11, 2021 at 07:25 AM (#6018212)
In a related story, the Tigers still bite teh big one.
   4. The Duke Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:13 AM (#6018215)
The story is already losing its luster. The cardinals, Red Sox, white Sox, Oakland giants are all making big moves and the Rockies, tigers, pirates are quickly Moving to suckitude. It’s just taking a while for teams to find their level - within a month the normal distribution of really good and really bad will be apparent.

And I suspect the mid year tanking exercise will happen earlier. Cubs would be crazy not to trade Bryant right now and max out their return. Same for Rockies and Story. The Nats will likely keep trying but they should dump their starters and try again. They’ve been passed up in talent and should retool.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 09:09 AM (#6018220)
There is no tanking. The most recent example was the Astros who managed to lose rough to get a too as. Few examples come since. It is just very hard to get good players. The amateur draft may take 5 tests to see a star make the team. Waiver wire and rule 5 draft show few success.

Teams do lose but often after their own stars refusing contracts to test free agency. If you lose your best guys, how do you compete with the few teams that paid for them?


What do you call having a sub-$60M payroll when you're receiving $150-200M in centralized revenue?
   6. Paul d mobile Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:02 AM (#6018228)
I wonder if the spate of injuries also centres the teams a bit. Good teams lose quality players, but much easier to replace an injured player on a bad team.
   7. bunyon Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:06 AM (#6018229)
What do you call having a sub-$60M payroll when you're receiving $150-200M in centralized revenue?

Profit. I'm sure those guys would be fine if they won, so they aren't tanking. They just like money more.
   8. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:24 AM (#6018235)

It's just 34 games. Two additional wins in 34 games is equivalent to ~10 wins over a full season, so I wouldn't read too much into things like the number of teams that are on pace for >100 wins or <60 wins. A few top teams are underperforming their Pythagorean winning percentages, which is partly driving this. The Dodgers, White Sox, and Astros are all underperforming their Pythagorean records by 2 or 3 wins.
   9. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:42 AM (#6018240)
I'm amazed that the Rangers are basically playing .500 ball in mid-May. Looking over the roster, I saw this as a 100-loss team that would be among the worst in franchise history.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 11:48 AM (#6018255)

Profit. I'm sure those guys would be fine if they won, so they aren't tanking. They just like money more.


That is tanking. It's never meant intentionally losing games. It means cutting payroll to the bone, and not caring if you win.
   11. sanny manguillen Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:23 PM (#6018262)
It's never meant intentionally losing games.


I think the Pirates would prefer to lose 110 than to lose 100. I think the benefit of the bigger amateur pools for losers is now baked into their player acquisition analysis.
   12. JJ1986 Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:57 PM (#6018270)
I can only read this headline as "...fewer than (no teams) are awful."
   13. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:12 PM (#6018273)
It's my parity and I'll cry if I want to.
   14. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:22 PM (#6018276)
I think the Pirates would prefer to lose 110 than to lose 100. I think the benefit of the bigger amateur pools for losers is now baked into their player acquisition analysis.

Sure, but they're not actually playing bad on purpose. The players still care about performing as well as they can, even if ownership wants the #1 pick.
   15. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:30 PM (#6018279)
That is tanking. It's never meant intentionally losing games. It means cutting payroll to the bone, and not caring if you win.


The word "tanking" can mean a lot of different things, but this isn't how I've understood the word to be used to describe a relatively new phenomenon. I was a Cubs fan when they did their "tank" when Epstein arrived and the concept of tanking actually does involve caring if you win, it's just intentionally pushing out the window when you care about winning and not caring about winning before then. What the Cubs and Astros did was trade away all of their short-term assets in exchange for longer-term assets with an eye toward winning a World Series five years out - which both teams then subsequently did. The White Sox more recently seem to have followed this same model - they didn't care about winning in 2018 and 2019 but very much care about winning in 2021.

This is distinct from, say, the Orioles or Tigers, who, my impression is, simply got bad, in a way that is indistinguishable from, I don't know, the Orioles of the late 1980s or the Tigers of the mid-1990s. There have always been bad teams - that's the zero-sum nature of sports - and there have frequently been teams who didn't much care about winning (and/or were just very bad at doing so - sometimes it's hard to tell the difference). But I get the sense that when people talk about the Astros "tanking" they perceive that what the Astros did was new and different.
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:41 PM (#6018281)

The word "tanking" can mean a lot of different things, but this isn't how I've understood the word to be used to describe a relatively new phenomenon. I was a Cubs fan when they did their "tank" when Epstein arrived and the concept of tanking actually does involve caring if you win, it's just intentionally pushing out the window when you care about winning and not caring about winning before then. What the Cubs and Astros did was trade away all of their short-term assets in exchange for longer-term assets with an eye toward winning a World Series five years out - which both teams then subsequently did. The White Sox more recently seem to have followed this same model - they didn't care about winning in 2018 and 2019 but very much care about winning in 2021.


Pushing out talent is one thing, and has a long history. What's different, I think, is not making any effort to field a respectable team. Slashing payroll to the bone, and not signing any short term stopgaps.

In the days before massive shared revenue, running out a 50-60 win team, instead of a 70-75 win one would cost you too much in ticket sales and ratings. Now that teams can turn a huge profit without selling a single ticket, and have long-term TV deals locked, they don't even bother to try for normal badness.
   17. The Honorable Ardo Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:42 PM (#6018296)
I get the sense that bad teams plan to be bad in one area and then get run over in a different aspect. My beloved Tigers are dead last in R/9 and everyone expected that. But, with so much (putatively?) good young pitching, we hoped they'd be better than 28th, trailing only the Angels and Rockies, in RA/9.
   18. donlock Posted: May 11, 2021 at 03:32 PM (#6018320)
No one has really addressed how a team gets better if its best players won’t re-sign. So yes they saved the salary but how do you replace Machado or Harper or Betts on the field? Please name all the great #1 picks who came from the amateur draft. Correa was drafted 9 years ago.
Even If you could afford them, top free agents are not going to bad teams in small markets. There is very little player movement that would help bad teams improve. Waiver wire, rule 5, provide marginal value. If I gave the Tigers and the Rockies $100 million, how could they improve the team on the field. Where would you spend it?
With teams setting their own payrolls, baseball is facing a tough future. Some sort of sharing of tv money, attendance profit is needed to let Detroit and Denver compete with the Dodgers and Yankees.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 03:46 PM (#6018323)
No one has really addressed how a team gets better if its best players won’t re-sign.

Look at Tampa Bay. There's your answer. They don't even spend money.
   20. Walt Davis Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:03 PM (#6018356)
#18 ... please. Betts and Harper? You're going to pretend that the Red Sox couldn't afford Betts and the Nats couldn't afford Harper?

And of course the O's could afford Machado. To reiterate what Snapper said -- EVERY TEAM GETS OVER $200 M IN COMMON AND SHARED REVENUE EVERY YEAR. They get to add 52% of their local revenue to that. The O's payroll this year is under $60 M; two years ago it was about $80 M.

And Machado went to San Diego, a bad team in a small market.

Cubs would be crazy not to trade Bryant right now and max out their return

Once again ... the Cubs are a 500 team, currently 1.5 games out of a WC spot. He's not going anywhere anytime soon barring a silly offer. Maanwhile, few of the "contenders" are sure they're real contenders yet and it's not clear any of those have a need or the prospects to trade. And nobody except Theo trades real value for a rental anymore.

Trade value of a pending FA is sorta U-shaped. It hits a peak in the offseason because the acquiring team gets a full year, makes other personnel decisions based on the acquisition and has plenty of time to work out an extension if they want. But at season's start, really once rosters are set, the value drops because teams have made their decisions, have pushed their payrolls as high as they want and want to see how things work out. Sometimes something happens in the early season that requires a quick move but not often. Once the AS break arrives, it becomes make or break time for contenders and trade value goes back up. I don't think it quite reaches offseason value but (a) I could be wrong and (b) of course you get the occasional Cubs who are desperate to win and have a big hole to fill. Then it's a matter of who's got payroll room or is will to go over threshold.

For Bryant there's the "problem" that 3B is a very strong position right now. Yanks, Dodgers, Padres, Oakland, Houston, Twins (Donaldson), Cleveland (Ramirez), White Sox, Red Sox, Cards are all set at 3B. Even the surprising Giants have Longoria surprisingly putting up a 146 OPS+. That leaves the NL East. Of course Bryant can also play a corner OF and has some experience at 1B so might fit a contender better there.
   21. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:19 PM (#6018363)
And Machado went to San Diego, a bad team in a small market.


true, but this seems to be the exception that makes the rule. Everyone has been lauding SD's commitment to winning, I guess because they didnt do what all the other small market teams are doing.
   22. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:21 PM (#6018364)
We're 35 games into the season. The Dodgers, at the very least, remain a great team on paper. If their injury issues clear up it could be the same story in the NL as the last few years.

In short: it's far too early to write this kind of article.
   23. Dr. Pooks Posted: May 12, 2021 at 01:39 PM (#6018564)
Waiver wire, rule 5, provide marginal value.


I looked up a little while back "Who was the last Rule 5 player the Jays lost that actually stuck with their new team all last season ?", considering how much hand wringing and pearl clutching occurs every November and December by fans re: which prospects get protected and which get left exposed.

The answer was Matt Ford in 2002 who was a lefty swingman who gave the Brewers 43.2 innings of 100 ERA+ ball and a 1.24 K/BB ratio, never to pitch in the majors again despite lasting the entire 2002 season on the roster.

If the Rule 5 draft is only costing you the equivalent of a league average reliever every 20 years or so, fans should definitely fret less about it and teams perhaps should second guess wasting 40-man spots on marginal prospects every fall.

Interestingly enough, the Jays current bullpen has two returned Rule 5 selecting (Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen). They also have Dany Jimenez in AAA, who was selected in the Rule 5 draft and returned back in two consecutive years. They also have Elvis Luciano, a forgotten man in the minors, who the Jays selected from KC 2 years ago, managed to hide on the MLB roster all year, send him down for 2020 and seemingly no one knows what happened to him.
   24. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 12, 2021 at 01:59 PM (#6018570)
He left the building.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Dynasty League Baseball

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Harry Balsagne
for his generous support.

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogNBA 2021-2022 Season Thread
(5 - 5:02pm, Oct 15)
Last: Your favorite TFTIO, me!

NewsblogDodgers Albert Pujols Hits the COVID-19 Injured List
(172 - 5:02pm, Oct 15)
Last: Never Give an Inge (Dave)

Newsblog2021 LCS OMNICHATTER!
(33 - 5:00pm, Oct 15)
Last: bunyon

NewsblogChicago Cubs hire Cleveland Guardians executive Carter Hawkins as their new general manager
(11 - 4:38pm, Oct 15)
Last: Barry`s_Lazy_Boy

NewsblogMike Shildt out as St. Louis Cardinals manager, per report
(52 - 4:11pm, Oct 15)
Last: Infinite Yost (Voxter)

NewsblogBeyond the Selig Rule: Can Baseball Fix Its Pipeline For Managers of Color?
(15 - 3:07pm, Oct 15)
Last: John Northey

Sox TherapyThe Boston Red Sox Will Play for the Pennant
(87 - 1:53pm, Oct 15)
Last: Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer

NewsblogTampa Bay Rays' David Hess diagnosed with cancerous tumor in chest, to start chemotherapy
(2 - 1:05pm, Oct 15)
Last: Mayor Blomberg

Newsblog2021 LDS OMNICHATTER!
(882 - 12:57pm, Oct 15)
Last: What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face?

NewsblogNBA 2021 Playoffs+ thread
(4930 - 12:52pm, Oct 15)
Last: Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus

Hall of MeritMost Meritorious Player: 2021 Discussion
(16 - 12:21pm, Oct 15)
Last: DL from MN

NewsblogOT - 2021 NFL thread
(20 - 12:03pm, Oct 15)
Last: 57i66135 right now is attacking rest

NewsblogSources: New York Yankees shake up staff under Aaron Boone, won't renew contracts of hitting coach Marcus Thames, 3B coach Phil Nevin
(7 - 11:31am, Oct 15)
Last: Rally

NewsblogTheft Falls To Historic Lows
(27 - 11:19am, Oct 15)
Last: John DiFool2

NewsblogThe mascot created to be hated
(16 - 11:04am, Oct 15)
Last: McCoy

Page rendered in 0.3494 seconds
48 querie(s) executed