(SEE UPDATE AT THE END)
You still hear a lot about competitive imbalance in baseball (though not nearly as much as you used to), and how certain teams have no chance to win before the season starts.
That might be true (cough Pittsburgh Pirates cough), but I’d maintain it’s become less about inherent inequities in the game, and more about incompetent management. And that’s a good thing.
But this post is not about the benefits of revenue sharing (I can just hear the collective chorus: “Thank God for that!!!”). It’s just a simple observation. I happened to be checking the NBA standings this morning, and I noticed a lot of really, really good teams, and a lot of really, really bad teams (including our once very own Seattle SuperSonics, now hanging their hats, and their heads, in Oklahoma City).
Specifically, there are four teams with a .700 or higher winning percentage (and until the Lakers lost yesterday, two of those were above .800): Cleveland (60-13, .822), LA Lakers (58-15, .795), Orlando (54-18, .750), and Boston (56-19, .747).
There are six teams with a .300 or lower winning percentage: Sacramento (16-56, .222), Washington (17-58, .227), LA Clippers (18-56, .243), Memphis (18-54, .250), Oklahoma City (20-53, .274), and Minnesota (21-53, .284). And there’s only a handful of games left in the regular season.
How does that compare to baseball? Glad you asked. In the last 50 years, there have been exactly three teams with winning percentages above .700: the 1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43, .721), the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46, .716), and the 1998 New York Yankees (106-45, .702). There has never been a team in the modern era (since 1900) with a winning percentage above .800. The highest is the 1906 Cubs at .763.
And in the last 50 years, there have been exactly three MLB teams with a winning percentage under .300: the 1962 Mets (40-120, .250), the 2003 Tigers (43-119, .265), and the 1952 Pirates (42-112, .273).
Sounds like there’s a league with a real competitive balance problem, and it’s not major league baseball.
UPDATE: Thanks to an e-mail from a reader who happens to be a mathematics and statistics major at the University of Washington, I’ve found a blog called “The Wages of Wins” Journal, by three Stanford professors who have written a book called, you guessed it, “The Wages of Wins.” It seems to be an economic- and statistic-oriented analysis of basketball with sabermetric sensibilities. Anyway, in this post, they look at competitive imbalance in the NBA and conclude it’s the worst of all the professional sports.