The Cleveland market is not the problem

I’ve been beating the Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro drum quite a bit lately, including this morning, when I wondered why in the heck one or both of them haven’t been fired yet.

Cleveland Frowns, however, says that the problems lie elsewhere:

But before becoming too shaken up by the prospect of either of these men hanging on to their jobs here in Cleveland, we recommend considering just how much we should expect from them and our baseball team that plays on the low end of what is unquestionably an uneven playing field . . .

. . . in the seventeen baseball seasons since the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 World Series title, only ONE team that plays in a media market smaller than Cleveland has won baseball’s big one, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals . . . So the next time we get that sick feeling in our stomach when the next Tribe star leaves, we might comfort ourselves with the knowledge that there are real world stats that correspond with our sickness.

There’s more to it than that — some numbers talking about market size, mostly — but the gist is that it’s market size rather than Wedge and Shapiro that lies at the root of the Indians’ losing ways.

I guess I’d be more willing to buy that if (a) the Indians’ biggest problem was losing its superstars as opposed to not even having their less-than-star-studded club play up to its potential; and (b) if the Indians’ didn’t field multiple enormously successful clubs since 1994 or so, with all of those teams playing under the same basic business dynamic as today’s club.

More generally, the Frowns’ article makes a big effort to explain away much of the success of smaller market teams in the past couple of decades, discounting the Rays because they had so many high picks, discounting the Cardinals because they play in “the best baseball town in America” (never mind that it’s a smaller town than Cleveland), both the Cardinals and Blue Jays because of new stadiums just prior to winning their titles and removing the Marlins and their two titles from consideration altogether because they were “unquestionably weird.” Frowns doesn’t explain how those titles were “weird” apart from the fact that their example cuts against their argument.

I think the final nail in the coffin of that argument is the resort to football and basketball:

Or, you might also protect yourself from such bad feelings the way we do here at Frowns, that is with a growing sense of apathy toward Major League Baseball as a whole, and especially in comparison to the NFL and NBA, leagues that understand that meaningful competition requires a level playing field.

Number of teams who have won the World Series since 1990: 12
Number of teams who have won the Super Bowl since 1990: 12
Number of teams who have won the NBA Finals since 1990: 7

Level playing field, indeed.


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Timmy
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Timmy
Blaming the market is a pretty horrible retort. And while football may be a slightly more level playing field, that’s just the nature of a game where injuries dictate nearly everything, and many only last a handful of years. Trying to say the NBA is more balanced is ridiculous when only the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Heat, Pistons, Rockets and Sixers have won titles since 1979.  That’s eight team in 30 years, and two of them, the Sixers and Heat, only won once; meaning six franchises have taken 28 of 30 titles, and three franchises have won 19 of 30. … Read more »
Grant
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Grant

Also, the Browns, in supposedly the most level league, are always freaking terrible.

Unless you count the Baltimore Browns. They’re usually quite good.

Zach
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Zach
I basically agree with your argument, except for the following: “(b) if the Indians’ didn’t field multiple enormously successful clubs since 1994 or so, with all of those teams playing under the same basic business dynamic as today’s club.” I came of age as a sports fan in norther Ohio in the mid-90’s, right as Art Modell was tearing the still-beating heart out of Cleveland’s chest.  That void had to be filled with something, which ended up being a group of young ballplayers by the names of Lofton, Vizquel, Joey, Thome, and Ramirez.  They filled that void and the seats… Read more »
Rob²
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Rob²
Remember too that MLB has done this in two fewer seasons (1994 was a strike year, and the 2009 World Series has yet to be played). It’s also an arbitrary endpoints problem if you only look at the champion and ignore the team they beat.  We all know that any series can usually turn on a little bit of luck here or there, so to only pick out the winner leaves some of the picture obscured. The total number of different teams who played for the championship in each league: MLB: 22 teams – 12 champions (in 18 seasons) NFL:… Read more »
Daniel
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Daniel

I love when people try to tout the parity of the NFL over MLB without looking at any actual numbers.  They always wind up looking foolish.

Doracle
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Doracle
Craig, As a Clevelander living in Charlotte, I am very ambivalent about the Wedge-Shapiro situation.  On one hand, I think that there is some truth to the idea that Cleveland’s market works against it.  I remember some pretty pitiful crowds in 2007, the year the team made it to game seven of the ALCS, and the attendance didn’t improve much the following year. Also, I think that the business climate actually is much different than it was during the Renaissance of the mid- to late-nineties.  Back then the Indians were selling out on a nightly basis, but they also had… Read more »
Jeremy Fox
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Jeremy Fox

You can’t blame the market; Cleveland Frowns is using an overly-narrow and stochastic measure of success (winning the World Series). Plenty of small-market teams have made the playoffs since 1990. And once you’re in the playoffs you’ve got a legitimate shot to win the Series, which is all you can ask for.

GWR
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GWR

What is the significance of the 1990 date? Is that when NBA or NFL implemented a salary cap or something? Just wondering why 1990

Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra

Not sure why they picked 1990. Could have been because it’s a nice round number with a largish number of years in play. Could be that it’s the closest round number to the time when people generally agree that market size and payroll started to play a bigger role.  Seems rather random to me. Maybe it’s just as simple as avoiding 1989 (and the 20 year span) so that they didn’t have to account for small-revenue Oakland winning a series.

Mark
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Mark
Oh Craig, tell me you didn’t use the “number of different champions” argument to show that MLB is on an even playing field. I feel like this argument comes up all too often, with people pointing to the (almost completely fair) NBA system and questioning whether there is really any parity in that league. The problem in the NBA is not the system, it’s the game. It requires fewer “moving parts” than the other sports, so it’s much more prone to dynasty than the other sports. In basketball, if you get one or two outstanding players, you can be a… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Mark—the Frowns post is the one that brought up the number of different champions thing to show, well, whatever it wanted to show. I merely used their own metric back at them to show them that they can’t rely on the number of champions as a decent measure of parity if, at the same time, they wished to espouse the superiority of the NFL and NBA. I’ll agree that there are much better measures, and I’d submit that by those better measures, baseball still comes out better. Finally: whatever claim someone wants to make about the NBA’s allegedly superior system… Read more »
Mark
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Mark
“I’ll agree that there are much better measures, and I’d submit that by those better measures, baseball still comes out better.” It doesn’t come out better because of the collective bargaining agreement, it comes out better because the nature of the game is more prone to parity. In effect, it sounds like you’re saying that because baseball has more parity than basketball that nothing should be done to promote further parity. And that’s an argument with which I cannot agree. I agree that the “expiring contracts” phenomenon is peculiar, but it’s an automatic byproduct of a system in which you… Read more »
Vin
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Vin
Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit, San Antonio, Miami, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago The only small market here is San Antonio. All of the rest are relatively-to-very large. Sure, Detroit, Houston and Philly may not be the first places that spring to mind when you hear the phrase “large market,” but they aren’t exactly Milwaukee, or even Cleveland. FWIW, I’ve always wondered at people calling Miami a “small market.” I think it’s more a “city that, for some reason, cannot support a baseball team, especially one that is notoriously terrible at public relations.” Miami is one of the dozen largest TV markets in… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Mark—I guess I don’t get what you’re measuring by then, because it is undeniably the case that Chicago and Los Angeles fans have had far, far more to cheer about in basketball over the past 20 years than they have in baseball. I’ll grant you that if you’re measuring by some platonic ideal of what a CBA can look like, sure the NBA’s may be better. Heck, maybe soccer has it right, I have no idea.  But we don’t operate in platonic ideals. In baseball at least, there is over a century of owner-player interaction that got us to where… Read more »
Mark
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Mark
Craig, See, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. No, I’m not suggesting that Selig could unilaterally impose a salary cap. But I would be completely in favor of those fixes that you suggested. That’s sort of the essence of my point—if there are ways to make the system more “fair” (i.e. teams on equal footing regardless of market size), then those ways should be implemented if at all possible. As I said before, baseball has more de facto parity than any other sport. That’s just the nature of the game; the best teams aren’t much better than the… Read more »
Aarcraft
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Aarcraft

“Can the same be said for basketball in January or February?”

Well, yes, Craig, but only because the majority of teams make the playoffs. That is what makes the “most championships in x number of years” lean even more favorably to baseball as compared to basketball. The NBA has 16 teams elegible for the playoffs, compared to 14 uneligible. Yet, despite this, only 7 different teams have actually won the championship since 1990. I honestly can’t figure out how they pulled that off.

Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra

The we don’t really disagree, because I’ll grant that baseball’s system is not fair. I just won’t go so far as to say that it’s blatantly unjust (as so many columnists argue when free agents sign in the winter), or that the inherent unfairness in the system is so bad that it’s worth doing radical things to address it.

Ultimately there is so much that is right in baseball that I’d hate to mess with simply to address the relatively fewer things that aren’t right.

Mark
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Mark
“Well, yes, Craig, but only because the majority of teams make the playoffs. That is what makes the “most championships in x number of years” lean even more favorably to baseball as compared to basketball. The NBA has 16 teams elegible for the playoffs, compared to 14 uneligible. Yet, despite this, only 7 different teams have actually won the championship since 1990. I honestly can’t figure out how they pulled that off. “ The reason for this, as said above, is that the difference between teams in basketball is much larger than in baseball. The top basketball teams win 75%… Read more »
Cleveland Frowns
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Cleveland Frowns
Thanks for the link Craig, but I have to take issue with the substance of your post.  First, your nail in the coffin doesn’t work because we never once referred to the metric of “number of different champions,” which is not all the issue.  We only referred to “market size.”  Note that the San Antonio Spurs, a team in the league’s smallest market, had a legitimate dynasty in this last decade with four championships— something for which there is absolutely no corrolary in the modern MLB.  As your commenter Mark pointed out, there are other reasons why the NBA is… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Frowns, Thanks for commenting. A couple of points: I didn’t ignore the footnote, I simply missed it. I’ll note, however, that “The confluence of successful drafting in the dark years after his sell-off, with Loria’s willingness to spend big bucks for some high priced free agents” sounds like anything other than “weirdness.” It sounds like a pretty good game plan for any small to mid market team. Draft well, develop talent, and then in the short window during which time that talent is ready to bloom, get some finishing touches and hope for the best. And that hope for the… Read more »
Cleveland Frowns
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Cleveland Frowns
PS: Just want to clarify that we only “attempt to explain away” the success of the Marlins and Cardinals after including them in the original calculation that yields an average media market size of 7th for WS winners since 1990.  After taking those two statistical outliers out of the analysis (for what we suppose are at least decent reasons, as stated) then the number goes down below 5th, just further illustrating the point. We didn’t have media market numbers for Toronto vis a vis the U.S. markets, but we don’t think it’s unfair to assume 1) that it’s a bigger… Read more »
Cleveland Frowns
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Cleveland Frowns
Craig, thanks.  To address your comment in pieces:  —- “I didn’t ignore the footnote, I simply missed it.”  Sorry about that.  I understand that there is a difference and I shouldn’t have assumed that you “ignored.”  —- “The confluence of successful drafting in the dark years after his sell-off, with Loria’s willingness to spend big bucks for some high priced free agents” sounds like anything other than “weirdness.” It sounds like a pretty good game plan for any small to mid market team.”  Agreed, but my point is that such a plan is difficult to execute at a Championship level,… Read more »
Cleveland Frowns
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Cleveland Frowns

Also, Bartman!  Can’t forget how Bartman figured into that second Marlins title.

Colin Wyers
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Colin Wyers

Toronto is one of the top five MLB markets, looking at the MSA and media market data, IIRC.

But really, is there any evidence that salary caps improve competative balance?

Looking at some of the academic research on the topic, such as this:

http://sandcat.middlebury.edu/econ/repec/mdl/ancoec/0402.pdf

suggests otherwise.

Cleveland Frowns
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Cleveland Frowns
Colin:  As best I can tell, that study only measures balance of the league in a given year, and does not at all track individual teams’ mobility from year to year, which is the kind of “competitive balance” that’s more desirable as far as I’m concerned, the kind that was the subject of my post, and the kind that’s more endangered by the lack of a cap.  I don’t find that study particularly useful, and find it interesting that, with all of the talk about stats proving that salary caps are ineffective, that this is the best that folks have… Read more »
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