Has the Era of the Super Team Arrived?

There’s been some discussion in recent years about the prospect of super teams in the game, about the ingredients necessary for their development and the respective ETAs of certain specific super teams. The Cubs of 2016 created a road map for others to follow: begin with a collection of young talent, wait for it to arrive in the majors, and supplement it with big-ticket free-agency items. The Cubs are a big-market club that maximized its smarts and financial might. The result? A World Series championship.

I think just about everyone has speculated about whom the Yankees might add in the historic 2018-19 free-agency class, one that will permit them to add to their already impressive collection of young talent. The Yankees have perhaps arrived ahead of schedule, although Indians manager Terry Francona suspects the Yankees themselves don’t believe they’ve arrived ahead of schedule given the contract they handed to Aroldis Chapman this past offseason.

The Astros voluntarily elected to become the DisAstros, tanking with mediocre rosters to collect premium picks and young assets, then rising to become one of the preeminent teams in the game. It was an NBA-type model, this idea that the easiest, most predictable path to becoming really good is first to become really bad, to acquire premium picks and create financial flexibility. This plan has apparently inspired other teams in the game to actively pursue failure.

The Dodgers are another big-market team now being run like a savvy small-market one, enjoying elite pre-arb talent, innovative practices, and elite expensive players. They were being characterized on at least one magazine cover this summer as possibly the best team ever before their late-season slide.

The Nationals were, in some ways, the Astros before the Astros. They used (or, fell backward into) back-to-back No. 1 overall picks that netted them Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. They then signed Max Scherzer to give them two of the game’s best pitchers. Now, they’re one of six teams to have recorded a run differential of 147 runs or greater this season. That does not include the Cubs, who rank seventh in run differential (+127) after producing a MLB-best run diff of 270 last season.

This season marks the first time this century that six teams have produced run differentials of 140 runs or greater, and it’s just the fourth time since 2000 that more than four teams have reached that number in a lone campaign. There haven’t been more such teams to eclipse that run-differential figure since seven teams accomplished the feat in 1999.

Of course, it’s difficult to predict the future, but it appears that we’re in an age when super teams have been planned, some having already arrived, some perhaps have arrived ahead of schedule. The Indians-Yankees ALDS series has a later-October feel to it, which makes sense: it matches the game’s top-two run-differential teams against each other. In fact, all four division series pairings feature teams with +100 run differentials

Run Diff Leaders in 2017
Rank Team Run Diff
1 Cleveland +254
2 NY Yankees +202
3 Houston +196
4 LA Dodgers +190
5 Arizona +156
6 Washington +147
7 Chi Cubs +127
8 Boston +117

In 2011, 2012, and 2014, only four teams had exceeded +100-run differentials.

Of course, these run differentials at the top end are, in part, also being fueled by teams in rebuild mode — or even tank mode — and by a greater run-scoring environment. There’s an argument to be made that the talent at the bottom end of the game’s rosters is weaker than in past years.

In 2014, for instance there were eight teams with run differentials of negative 60 or worse; in 2011, there were seven. This season, there are 12. This isn’t meant to represent an exhaustive study, but the trend upon which the Division Series pairings are perhaps shedding light is that a group of super teams has maybe been created, teams that are benefiting not just from their own talent and roster-building philosophies, but a greater separation between the Haves and the Have Nots.

And among the eight teams left standing in 2017, only Cleveland is a true small-market club, though perhaps Arizona can be regarded as part of the lower end of the middle class of clubs.

Earlier this year, Craig Edwards wrote about the increasing correlation between payroll dollars and wins. In that excellent post, Edwards wondered if baseball’s age of parity is over .

Perhaps these run differentials, these large markets rising to power, suggests that the age of parity is over, or at least is on sabbatical. Perhaps this postseason indicates we’ve entered an age of super teams and those teams aren’t going to be distributed equally by market size.

Maybe this season is just an anomaly, or maybe it’s the beginning of something new.

We hoped you liked reading Has the Era of the Super Team Arrived? by Travis Sawchik!

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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cass
Member
Member
cass

Anthony Rendon was drafted 6th overall in the 2011 draft by the Washington Nationals, a year after Harper. He also leads the NL in WAR. The fact that he was left out of the paragraph on the Nationals just goes to show how he remains, to this day, the most underrated player in baseball. He may also be the best.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Certainly underrated, but the last sentence is cringeworthy.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Yeah, but the major reason it’s cringeworthy is because Mike Trout exists. There’s a pretty spirited competition for #2.

Also what is “underrated”? It seems means whatever the speaker wants it to mean.

cass
Member
Member
cass

It means having the highest WAR in the league and not even getting listed among your own team’s stars. I think that’s a pretty good definition. See also not getting invited to the All Star Game. Rendon is an absolute superstar and he just gets completely left out of the conversation.

Fair enough about the last line (cause Trout), but no one really takes Rendon seriously even though he is one of the very best players in the game? It’s pretty odd.

FranklinP
Member
FranklinP

The site has written two Rendon-specific blogs this season, both (rightfully) gushing about his talent and performance. He is a great player and appears to be treated as such whenever mentioned on the site. People that know baseball know that Anthony Rendon is great. You’re preaching to the choir.

You want to see his name not being mentioned in this article as an omission. This would be due to one of the following:
1. the writer, in writing an article involving the Nationals’ drafts, “forgot” to include his name, because he’s so underrated that he slipped the writer’s mind.
2. the writer thought of including Rendon, another 1st round pick that has blossomed, but undervalued his skills to the degree that he decided against it.
3. Some weird conspiracy theory you have that I haven’t considered.

Or maybe that’s just how the dude wrote it. Strasburg and Harper weren’t just back-to-back 1st round picks, they were back-to-back no. 1 overall picks. Makes for a tight, interesting sentence in a short article. Daniel Murphy didn’t get mentioned along with Scherzer as a great free agent signing. Not a mention of Trea Turner and the trade that brought him to the Nationals. Do you think that’s because the writer doesn’t like them or doesn’t know they’re also good?

Or do you think maaaaybe, just maybe he used a few examples supporting the Nationals inclusion in the, again pretty short, article and then, satisfied that 3 names was a good amount of names, kept writing the rest of it? Three names! And you’re reacting like the article was called “Here’s all the guys on the Nationals that are good.”

TapeyBeercone
Member
Member

Dude! This site sells a T-shift in reference to Rendon’s greatness. Do you even read Fangraphs at all?

Bob Davidson
Member
Bob Davidson

trust me jedi, all of what comes out of this mental midget’s brain is cringeworthy – just skip this person’s bleatings and maybe we won’t have to endure the manure any more

Graves
Member
Graves

Rendon isn’t even the best player at his own position. Bryant, Arenado, Donaldson, are all better. He had a career year, he is very good, he is not as underrated as you think he is.

ItsPoPtime
Member
ItsPoPtime

Yeah Rendon had a great season ahead of some pretty above average ones. Mike Trout has produced 7 elite seasons with the one where he bashed up his money maker (his hands) ended up being per 158 his best season by far.

Rendon is great and all, and im a Nats fan. lets be honest. hes not the best defensive 3 rd baseman (Arenado, Machado, Chapman, Beltre etc etc) hes by far not the best hitter. I dont really have to name those guys. I suppose hes as good a bsserunner as guys like Bryant, but not Jose Ramirez and hes injury prone. And none of those arguments are really close. Hes good at a lot of things while playing in an incrediby stacked lineup with people on base and left/right mashers everywhere.

I love Rendon and all, and he may be the best Nat position player, but being so far behind other 3rd basemen, let alone the offensive dominance of Votto HAS to keep him from MVP. IMO nats MVP goes to guys like Michael Taylor, Gio, or one of the new relievers