Rich League, Poor League

In a comment on Wilbur’s Bucco Breakfast payroll post (link), user Jukeboxpenguin brought up the following question:


Boston-Seattle in one league and Milwaukee-Tampa Bay in another league?
Can anyone calculate what our record is overall against the poorer teams?

(Brian Cartwright has in the past proposed a similar idea, of which he reminded everyone:

an 8 team ESPN league and a 24 team Fox league

Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals & Dodgers are permanently part of ESPN while the last 3 spots as subject to promotion/relegation with Fox.

The trickiest part is figuring out which teams go into which tier. Using data from SteveTheUmp (which only has opening day payrolls, so it’s not perfect, but it’s got a 21-year history that is relatively easy to work with), only four teams have been in the top 15 in payrolls every year of the last 21 (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cardinals – the Cubs were 23rd in 2012, and the Angels 21st in 2001). Two more teams (Giants and Mets) were in the top 15 at least 17 of 21 times, but after that, nine teams were in the top 15 anywhere between 10 and 15 seasons out of the past 21. If you drew the line for the upper tier after the 15 teams that were in the top 15 in opening day payroll the most times in the past 21 years, you would leave out Toronto, Washington, and the White Sox.

So, for an arbitrary first cut, we’ll take the above 8 teams that were in the top 15 OD payroll at least 17 of the last 21 times, add the Mariners and Braves who were in the top 15 OD payroll 15 times, and the Rangers, Tigers, and Phillies, who were in the top 15 OD payroll 14 times out of 21. Then, instead of the Orioles and Astros (13 and 12 times, respectively), we’ll add the Nationals (only 6 times, but all in the last six years) and White Sox (11 times, in the third-largest market).

That leaves the second-tier league with the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Reds, Indians, Rockies, Astros, Royals, Marlins, Brewers, Twins, A’s, Padres, Rays, and Blue Jays. Against those teams, from 1999-2018, the Pirates have a record of 743-846 a .468 winning percentage. Against the top-tier teams over the same time period, the Pirates have a record of 739-906, a .449 winning percentage. (Their overall winning percentage was .458.)

If alternately we look at the Huntington era (2008-2018) with the same teams, the Pirates are actually better against the top-tier teams – 452-477 (.487) compared to 400-450 (.471) against the second-tier teams, with an overall winning percentage of .479.

I have not tried to construct a simulation of Brian’s approach with year-over-year pro/rel – I suspect in a lot of cases there aren’t enough H2H inter-league results each year for a good simulation. But for the "static" split of high/low-payroll leagues, I would say there wasn’t a significant difference.

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