Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The low-payroll pennant race

I recently heard a friend claim that the Cubs don't deserve their underdog status because in spite of their history, they are today just another big-market behemoth stomping the true underdog: his beloved Brewers. That argument made me wonder whether you could argue that the current Brewers are doing about as well as a team can given Milwaukee's payroll.

I translated that curiosity into a testable question: do the Brewers have the best record of any team with their payroll or lower? According to Ben Fry's chart, the answer is no, but I found the stats interesting beyond the simple question, so I constructed the standings of the Brewers-or-lower-payroll teams:

Cleveland 93-63 $62M 0
Arizona 88-69 $52M 5
San Diego 86-71 $58M 7.5
Colorado 85-72 $54M 8.5
Milwaukee 81-76 $71M 12.5
Texas 74-84 $68M 20
Cincinnati 71-86 $69M 22.5
Washington 71-87 $37M 23
Kansas City 68-89 $68M 25.5
Pittsburgh 67-90 $39M 26.5
Florida 67-90 $31M 26.5
Tampa Bay 65-92 $24M 28.5

Obviously, Cleveland has had a remarkable year. Milwaukee is just above the TEX-CIN median of the twelve. The selection criteria exclude a handful of higher-salary teams doing worse than the Brewers, so Milwaukee looks better in the context of the whole MLB, but still only a little above average for their payroll. I'm surprised by how competitive the mid-level payroll teams are. Arizona and (in the truly low-payroll division) Washington stand out as teams producing a lot of value for the money. And to go back to an old hobbyhorse of mine, Tampa Bay must be a very, very profitable team given that puny payroll and revenue sharing, and that is a great shame.

A bottom line: if the season ended today, these 12 teams at the bottom of the payroll standings would produce three of the eight playoff squads. Not bad.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Generality, meet example

Today's guest on the Baseball Today podcast made this sensible and important remark:

"Teams are never as good as they appear to be on hot streaks and never as bad as they appear to be when things are going badly."

Right on, brother!

One minute later, he made the case that the Padres are the best team going in the National League because "over their last dozen games or so," they're averaging about six runs per game. And "if they're going to hit the ball, they're going to be good." "I think the Padres, right now, might be the best team in the National League."

I leave it to you, reader, to put those two moments together and see what happens.