The “Index of Competitive Balance,’ which is a new measurement introduced here, is composed of two elements. Those two elements are:
1. The standard deviation of winning percentages for teams in each single season during the decade, averaged.
2. The standard deviation of winning percentages among franchises for the decade as a whole.
The first of these measures the extent to which the best teams in any season are able to dominate the weakest teams. The second measures the extent to which the same teams win season after season throughout the decade.
If baseball was perfectly competitive – that is, if every team was exactly as good as every other team, and the only differences between them were in luck- then the first measure above would be .039, and the second would be .014.
The actual figures for the 1870’s were .170 and .081; I’d have to spend about three more paragraphs to fully explain the parameters used to derive these numbers, and I’m going to skip that, because it’s boring. These two figures (in each decade) are then added together, and the sum is divided by .053, which is what the sum would be in a perfectly competitive environment. This figure is then divided into 100 to produce the index of competitive balance. In other words, if the sum of these two standard deviations was .106, that would be 2.00 times what it would be in a perfectly competitive environment, which would produce an index of 50%. A perfectly competitive index is therefore 100%.
You may not have understood all of that, and you don’t need to. The essential point is that the greater the difference is between the best teams and the worst, the lower the index of competitive balance. The 1870s are the least competitive decade in baseball history, with an index of 21%.
Decade Index of Competitive Balance
Notes: (One thing) that made the races more competitive (in the 60’s) was expansion…….because a twelve-team league is inherently more difficult to dominate than an eight-team circuit.
…….The 1980’s, the first full decade of free agency, were by far the most competitive years in baseball history up to that point, and also the decade in which the small-city markets enjoyed their most success ever……In the early 1990’s this continued to be true; baseball was highly competitive, and not at all dominated by Big Market teams. But as the decade has moved on, competitive balance has begun to fray. The standard deviation of winning percentage, which was .054 in 1990 (one of the lowest figures in baseball history) jumped to .081 in 1998, the highest figure since 1977.
I have a theory that the quality of play in major league baseball, over time, could be tracked by what we could call “Peripheral Quality Indicia” - PQI, for short. Hitting by pitchers is a peripheral quality indicator; the higher the quality of play, in my opinion, the less the pitchers will hit. I have a list of about a dozen of these:
1. Hitting by pitchers
2. The average distance of the players, I age, from 27.
3. The percentage of players who are less than six feet tall or more than 6’3”
4. Fielding Percentage and Passed Balls
5. Double Plays
6. Usage of pitchers at other positions
7. The percentage of fielding plays made by the pitchers.
8. The percentage of games which are blowouts
9. The average attendance and seating capacity of the game location.
10. The condition of the field.
11. The use of players in specialized roles.
12. The average distance of teams from .500.
13. The percentage of games which go nine innings.
14. The standard deviation of offensive effectiveness.
15. The standard of record-keeping.
16. The percentage of managers who have 20 years or more experience in the game.
Ok, more than a dozen. Anyway, let’s array teams in ways which we all agree represent top to bottom:
1. Major League Baseball.
2. Minor League Baseball.
3. College baseball.
4. High School baseball.
5. Ten-year-old kids playing baseball.
6. Seven-year old kids attempting to play baseball.
If you studied that list, you would find that all of these things increased or decreased predictably as the quality of competition improved. The eigth indicator, for example, is the number of blowouts. My seven-year old son (Reuben) is on a team that lost one game 26-3, and won the next game 31-0. In high school blowouts are still common, but there are more games which aren’t blowouts. In college ball you get a few 18-0 games – more than you get in the minors or the majors. If you hear that a game has been decided 41-2, don’t you tend to assume that that was probably a low-level competition?
Batting stats and pitching stats do not indicate the quality of play, merely which part of that struggle is dominant at the moment. But fielding stats are somewhat inevitably tied to the level of competition, I ways which are reflected in the ratio between double plays and errors. In Reuben’s games, most balls in play result in errors, while I have seen only one double play all year. In my thirteen-year-old son’s games, there are still about five times as many errors as double plays. In college ball there are still more errors than double plays, but it is closer, while in the majors there are more double plays than errors.
In Reuben’s league, the average distance from age 27 is abot 20 years; in high school, about ten years, in college, about seven years, in the majors, probably three years.
In Reuben’s league, the games are attended by a handful of people; in high school, by a few dozen; in college, by hundreds; in the minors, by thousands; in the majors, by tens of thousands.
In Reuben’s league, pitchers make far more fielding plays than players at any other position. In high school, they still make as many as at any other position; in college, fewer, but still some, while in the majors the pitchers make only one or two fielding plays per game.
When kids start playing baseball the pitchers are the best hitters, in high school, the pitcher is still very often the cleanup hitter, but as they climb the ladder the pitchers hit less and less.
In Reuben’s league there are no statistics at all. In high school baseball there are sketchy statistics kept by some teams. In college ball there are statistics, but not lots of them, while for the major leagues there are nitwits like me who grind them out by the ton.
If you worked at it hard enough, you could make up a set of standards to “score” each of these things, which would track the increases in the quality of competition as Reuben moves to the major leagues, although frankly how you score the quality of the grounds keeping, I don’t want to know.
Anyway, my point is that if track major league baseball from 1876 to the present, all of these indicia, without exception, have advanced steadily. As late as the 1920’s, there were still major league managers who had little experience with the game. I know that many people passionately disagree with me when I argue that the quality of play in the majors has continued to increase, but even since 1950, all or virtually all these indicators would suggest that the quality of major league play has improved steadily.
The best-hitting pitchers of the 21st century don’t hit anything like what Bob Lemon hit, or Spahn, or Newcombe, or the other good-hitting pitchers of that era.
Success in the majors by very young players has become significantly less common (although success by old players has probably become more common).
In the 1950 major league pitchers averaged about 240 assists per team; in 2001, in a longer season, the average will be less than 200.
In 1950 there were about 1.2 double plays for each error. In 2001 the ratio will be at least 1.3 to one.
Player/managers, who were the youngest and least experienced managers, have become extinct.
The stadiums and crowds are bigger, the statistics are better, the grounds keeping standards are far higher. The teams are closer to .500. I haven’t studied it, bt I would bet there are fewer blowouts, fewer lop-sided games.
During World War II, when we could all agree that the quality of major league play dropped, these indicators reflect the drop. World War II brought into the game more players who were remote in age from 27 – more teenagers, and more old men. The double play to errors ratio, 0.86 to 1 in 1941 and advancing almost every year, dropped slightly during the war years.
When there is an expansion, these indicators reflect the drop in the quality of play. Expansion brings into the league younger players, and keeps in the league older players. Expansion pushes the standard deviation of winning percentage up and the fielding percentage down.
And yet, over time, these effects are not large enough to keep the PQI from moving higher. Is that proof that the quality of play is getting better? Perhaps it isn’t. But that is what I believe, and this is one of the reasons I believe it.