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Friday, June 01, 2007
Do Baseball Statistics Measure Fairness?

Over on PrawfsBlawg, Matt Bodie has a thoughtful post on the oddity of Major League Baseball teams and many of their fans being so openly obsessed with nuanced, sometimes esoteric, statistical measurements of players while being tolerant or at least less vocal towards glaring inequities between teams (thanks to Octagon associate general counsel Ryan Rodenberg for the link). Here is an excerpt from Bodie's post:
Sports are supposed to be played on an even playing field. For example, every team should have an equal chance of making it to the playoffs. But there is one league that defies this logic. In this league, 20 teams have a 20% chance of winning their division, 4 teams have a 25% chance, and 6 teams have a 16.7% chance. In addition, 14 teams have a 7% chance of winning a wild card entry to the playoffs, while 16 teams have only a 6.25% chance of winning it. What league is this? Major League Baseball.
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Why would any team or any sport allow for this unfairness? I'm sure there was some discussion of it at the time of realignment, and there are occasional posts about it on the Internet. But in a league newly obsessed with the smallest statistical advantages, you would think that these glaring differences would get more attention.

* * *

So is the current breakdown unfair? Statistically, it is undoubtedly unfair. But perhaps the relative silence on this issue means that the reality is somewhat grayer.

To read the rest of the post, click here.


Thank you for grading our exams.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/01/2007 2:38 AM  

1. What are these statistics based on? (payroll, win-loss records, individual player stats) And then, how were the percentages calculated? Somebody else could use different measures and formulas that would result in a completely different outcome.

2. How is "unfair" defined? And from whose perspective are we talking about? -- the teams? the league? the fans? sports law professors?

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/01/2007 8:36 AM  


I am more than happy to be done grading those exams!


1. I'm not sure what he bases those statistics on and I agree that a different methodology could yield an entirely different result. But, in his defense, and I think you would agree, there is a general sense that some teams begin the baseball season with virtually no chance of making the playoffs and that is true for those teams in most, if not almost every season. To the extent that also occurs in football or basketball, it seems that the usual explanation is one of poor management or under-performing players (given the salary caps in those leagues) rather than unequal payrolls and disparate resources among teams, as found in Major League Baseball (e.g., with the addition of Roger Clemens, the New York Yankees payroll this season apparently exceeds $200 million; in contrast, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a payroll of $23 million).

2. I can't speak for him, but I am guessing that his definition of "unfairness" relates to payroll inequities that make it harder for smaller market teams to succeed in Major League Baseball. I assume that he does not mean that it is unfair for fans of teams with lousy managements or under-performing players (although those fans might disagree!).

Blogger Michael McCann -- 6/01/2007 9:40 AM  

Don't get me going on high payrolls in baseball, which simply do not equate to success. What place are the Yankees in right now? In my opinion, based on me crunching a few numbers, every dollar spent over $75M is a waste. Read my post from last October:

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/01/2007 3:26 PM  

It looks like the statistics are based purely on the number of teams per division, i.e., treating every team in a 5-team division as having a 20% chance of making the playoffs. Which at it's most base level is sort-of true, if you ignore all of the other factors that make baseball less than purely random.

One of the reasons no one complains is that the current system replaced one in which teams had a significantly worse chance to go to the playoffs, and there's ample evidence that in this system a well-managed team is not at a significant competitive disadvantage in terms of making the playoffs (the odds are better for the big money teams, but not by all that much, and lower payroll teams make it to the playoffs every year).

Blogger Leigh -- 6/01/2007 5:59 PM  



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