MLB 2014: Parity, Parody; Paradox, Paradise?

Yes, it’s been quite a parrot-y season so far, but that’s not what we had in mind….

If you haven’t been numbed yet by the level of parity in major league baseball so far, here are more measures to glaze your glazzies. Through Thursday, June 5:


The last wild-card spot is currently split among two 30-28 teams, on pace for 84-78 — with six more teams within one game behind them.

  • Last 10 games — 18 teams between 6-4 and 4-6.
  • Last 20 games — 18 teams between 11-9 and 9-11 … 23 teams between 12-8 and 8-12.
  • Last 30 games — 16 teams between 16-14 and 14-16 … 23 teams between 17-13 and 13-17.

Overall, 18 of 30 teams are within 4 games of .500 (32-28 to 28-32); 21 are within 6 games of .500 (31-25 to 27-33).


Parity Past

Most teams have played about 60 games so far. Has any recent season seen such parity through 60 games?

  • 2014 — 18 teams within 4 games of .500 … 21 teams within 6 games.
  • 2013 — 7 teams within 4 games of .500 … 10 teams within 6 games.
  • 2012 — 12 teams within 4 games of .500 … 15 teams within 6 games.
  • 2011 — 13 teams within 4 games of .500 … 18 teams within 6 games.
  • 2010 — 8 teams within 4 games of .500 … 14 teams within 6 games.
  • 2009 — 14 teams within 4 games of .500 … 20 teams within 6 games.
  • 2008 — 14 teams within 4 games of .500 …17 teams within 6 games.
  • 2007 — 9 teams within 4 games of .500 … 15 teams within 6 games.
  • 2006 — 10 teams within 4 games of .500 … 16 teams within 6 games.
  • 2005 — 14 teams within 4 games of .500 … 15 teams within 6 games.
  • 2004 — 10 teams within 4 games of .500 … 14 teams within 6 games.

By the 4-games standard, none of the last 10 years was even close to this year. Only 2009 was close on the 6-games count.

Okay, but not all teams have played 60 yet, and some have played one or two more. So let’s dial back the measuring stick to the first 57 games (all but Detroit have played that many), and split the difference at teams within 5 games of .500:

  • 2014 — 20 teams within 5 games of .500
  • Avg. of 30-team era — 13 teams, with a high of 19 (in 2011)

… and if the Tigers lose Friday, there would be 21 teams within 5 of .500 through 57 games this year.

In percentage terms, no other year in the expansion era had a rate as high as this year’s 67%. Just two years since 1914 had a percentage that high: 75% in 1958 (12 of 16), and 69% in 1944 (11 of 16). Of the prior 100 seasons, just 24 were over 50%. The average for this measure has held fairly steady in all eras since 1914:

  • 2014 — 67% of all teams within 5 games of .500 after 57 games
  • 30-team era — 43% avg., max. 63%
  • Divisional era — 45% avg., max. 63%
  • Expansion era — 45% avg., max. 63%
  • Pre-expansion — 41% avg., max. 75%
  • 1914-2013 avg. — 43% of all teams; highs of 75%, 68% and 63%

Where were the eventual playoff teams after 57 games in the other high-parity years? Here are the five highest “5-by-57” parity rates from 1914-2013, those with at least 63% of all teams within 5 games of .500 through 57 games:

  • 1958, 1944 and ’43 — both pennant winners were in 1st place after 57 games, at least 7 games over .500.
  • 1916 — NL champion Phillies were in 1st place, 13 games over .500; AL champ Red Sox were just 3 games over.
  • 2011 — All eight eventual playoff teams were over .500 (by an average of 6 games), with six of them at least 5 games over. Just one of those eight sat lower than 2nd place: the Rays were in 3rd, 4 games behind the leaders.


Parity Future

In those five listed years, high parity at this (roughly) one-third point foretold little change at the top thereafter. But the second wild card could drastically alter the outlook in a high-parity year. Since the second wild card’s record is (by definition) no better than the first, and probably worse, it make the brass ring seem reachable for many more teams. Compare this year to 2011, the one high-parity year in the one-wild-card era:

  • In 2011, both WC holders after 57 games were 31-26, and 13 teams either held a WC or were within 3 games back.
  • This year, all the wild cards were 30-27. But with the extra slot and just one less win (seeming) needed, 18 teams either held a WC or were within 3 games back.
  • At least 4 games out of a playoff berth: 11 teams in 2011, just 6 teams this year.

Any team can imagine sweeping their next 3-game series and maybe vaulting into the thick of the race. And the longer this parity lasts, the more mediocre teams will prioritize winning every possible game over objectives like player development and payroll management.

Deadline deals have already been dampened by the second wild card. Look at the number of players (including pitchers) who changed teams during the season and finished with 3+ WAR:

  • 2010-11 (last 2 years of one wild card) — 10 players.
  • 2012-13 (first 2 years of two wild cards) — 4 players.
  • At the 4-WAR level, those counts were 7 vs. 1.

Greater parity this year could mean even fewer teams facing the music and looking to dump salary. Meanwhile, top prospects that might have been kept in the minors to control service time could get called up instead, while less-promising youngsters might lose playing time to proven veterans.


Bud’s Secret Plan?

All of this fosters a race towards the middle, instead of the second-half separation that tended to occur in a typical year, especially before the wild card. That might create a slew of entertaining playoff races, but it could also drag down the level of postseason play, with good teams less able to strengthen themselves at the trade deadline.

But here’s the beauty part: The controversial “play-in” wild-card game could prove a saving grace in a high-parity year, sparing us from a long series between teams that barely topped .500. In Bud Selig’s swan song, the format he foisted upon us could make him look like a genius who had his cake and ate it, too, with the broadened playoff races goosing interest and revenue without seriously diluting the October showcase.

No matter what happens from here, it should be an interesting stretch run.

7 thoughts on “MLB 2014: Parity, Parody; Paradox, Paradise?

  1. 1
    Albanate says:

    Interesting. I’m assuming that this year’s parity is kind of a freak thing…I don’t expect things to be like this in the future, even though it’s harder for the big money teams to take advantage of their big money than it was in the past.

  2. 2
    PaulE says:

    Bud is not a genius; however, he is a politician.
    If we get the Mets Astros or Phillies in the post-season,then Selig would be a magician. It’s turning into the N F L….

  3. 3
    Doug says:

    I have no idea what the scheduling rules are (if any) for inter-league play. Possibly. that randomness factor has contributed to higher parity levels.

    But, I really think baseball needs to decide what to do about inter-league play. Either, get rid of league distinctions altogether, or have a predictable IL format as the NFL does for inter-conference play. I’ve mentioned this before that the 6 divisions of 5 teams sets up perfectly for balanced inter-league play as:
    – 16 games against division opponents = 64 games
    – 8 games against league opponents = 80 games
    – 3 games against 6 IL opponents = 18 games

    The 6 IL opponents would be the 5 teams in one matched division plus the one “natural” rival. The matched divisions would alternate each year with home-and-home series against the natural rival when that rival is in the matched division.

    This approach would put teams on an equal footing when competing for division titles. I really think it’s wrong that a team today might win a division by a game or two with the runner-up having the legitimate beef that they had had a tougher schedule.

    • 4

      One thought I have had:

      Three leagues of 10 teams each — put all the 1969-98 expansion teams into the third league and put the Astros back in the NL.

      I still haven’t figured out how and if to have interleague play, but there would not be any in September with every league having an even number of teams.

  4. 5
    JDV says:

    Now six weeks later, 29 of 30 MLB teams went in to the All-Star break with 40+ wins. Has this ever happened before?

    • 6
      John Autin says:

      JDV — It has happened once before, in 1974. But remember, the Break comes at different points in the season. Both 1974 and this year averaged about 95 team games at the Break. The typical average is a bit less.

      A measure that I think is even more remarkable is that no team this year is under a .400 winning percentage.

      Using a .395 W% (to avoid completely cherry-picking this year’s numbers), here are the seasons since expansion with no team under .395 at the Break:

      — 2014 (Texas worst at .400, 38-57)
      — 1992 (Angels worst at .402, 35-52)
      — 1974 (Angels worst at .398, 39-59)
      — 1967 (Mets worst at .397, 31-47, Astros at .398)

      In 1958, the Break was right at the midway point, and the worst record was .408 by Washington (31-45), then the Dodgers at .440 (33-42, first year in L.A.). As for the best teams at that Break, only the Yanks were over .550; their 48-25 mark gave them an 11-game lead. In the NL, just 8 games separated the 1st-place Braves from the last-place Dodgers.

  5. 7
    Jim Bouldin says:

    I computed the standard deviations of the win percentage for each year from 1901, for each league. Relative to the year of last expansion (’98) to last year, the 2014 AL seems to be a bit more anomalous than the NL over that time frame, but both are unusual:


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