No ‘Parity’ in Baseball? Think Again

Money doesn’t guarantee success.


Major League Baseball teams are proving it this postseason as only three of the teams among the top 10 in league payroll (Yankees, Phillies, Giants) made the playoffs.

That’s the fewest teams of the heavy spenders to make the playoffs in the last decade.

It’s also the first time since baseball added the Wildcard in 1995 that at least four playoff teams came from the bottom half of payrolls (Braves, Reds, Rays, Rangers).

So what has happened?

Well, the truth is, nothing really. Despite the perception of not having parity, baseball actually has the most parity of any sport. Over the last 30 years, Major League Baseball has had 19 different teams win the World Series. Compare that to the number of teams over the same period of time that won the Super Bowl (16), Stanley Cup (14) and the NBA title (8).

In the last 30 years, 25 different teams have played in the World Series. That’s only topped by the NFL, which has 26 teams that have played in the Super Bowl over that time period. And that’s without a salary cap.

Spending more money in Major League Baseball does make it easier. According to a paper by two Northeastern University professors, Frederick Wiseman and Sangit Chatterjee, the difference in the average number of games won between teams whose payrolls were in the top quartile and those teams whose payrolls were in the bottom quartile was almost 15 games between 1998-2002.

But over the last decade, if your team is among the top 10 payrolls in the game, your team only has a 46 percent chance of making the postseason. Check out the chart below of teams in the top 10 payrolls that have made it.

  • 2001: 6 of top 10 (Yankees, Indians, Braves, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Mariners)
  • 2002: 4 of top 10 (Yankees, Braves, Giants, Diamondbacks)
  • 2003: 4 of top 10 (Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Braves)
  • 2004: 5 of top 10 (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Cardinals)
  • 2005: 5 of the top 10 (Red Sox, Angels, Yankees, Cardinals, Braves)
  • 2006: 5 of the top 10 (Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Cardinals)
  • 2007: 4 of top 10 (Red Sox, Angels, Yankees, Cubs)
  • 2008: 6 of the top 10 (Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies)
  • 2009: 5 of the top 10 (Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies)
  • 2010: 3 of the top 10 (Yankees, Phillies, Giants)

The number is what it is, but it is a bit skewed by the fact that two teams (the A’s and the Twins) have been so successful over the last 10 years, taking up a combined 10 playoff spots despite never being in the top 10 in payrolls. And teams like the Cubs and the Mets have been so bad. The Mets have been in the top 10 in payroll for at least the last 10 years and have only made the playoffs once. The Cubs have had a top 10 payroll six out of the last 10 years and have also only made the playoffs three times.

Bud Selig and his cohorts take a lot of credit for the parity, but it’s my opinion that the reason why there is so much parity is because a couple smaller revenue/lower spending teams have had great talent evaluators, while a group of bigger revenue/higher spenders have had horrible talent evaluators.

Questions? Comments?