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September 3, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Update: Hope and Faith

by Keith Law

Tell me again about hope and faith.

Before the season--heck, before every season--the irresponsible among the baseball media like to tell us that half to three-quarters of the teams in baseball have no hope of contending or reaching the playoffs. Most readers of Baseball Prospectus know that this isn't true, regardless of their opinions on the state of parity in baseball. But it's interesting to note now just how false it is.

  • Right now, on Labor Day, 17 teams are either in a division lead, a wild-card slot, or within ten games of one or the other. Thirteen are within five and a half games of something that matters.

  • Seven teams ranked in the bottom half of major-league teams in total Opening Day payroll are still within ten games out of a playoff spot (rank, record, status):

    • Oakland: 29th, 80-57, AL wild-card leader

    • Houston: 17th, 80-56, NL Central leader and holder of the NL's best record

    • Philadelphia: 24th, 72-64, one game out of the NL East lead

    • Minnesota: 30th, 72-65, 5 1/2 games out of the AL Central lead

    • Chicago White Sox: 16th, 69-66, 7 1/2 games out of the AL Central lead

    • San Diego: 25th, 69-68, 7 1/2 games out of the wild card

    • Anaheim: 21st, 70-67, 10 games out of the wild card

  • The Giants just missed the above list, ranking 15th and sitting just two games behind Arizona in the NL West.

  • The Boston Red Sox, with the highest Opening Day payroll in the American League, are seven games out of the wild card in the loss column and eight out of the division lead. Handed a golden opportunity to take at least the first two from the Yanks this weekend, Joe Kerrigan managed his team out of at least two and arguably all three games.

  • The Mets (fourth), Rangers (seventh), Blue Jays (tenth), Orioles (12th), and Rockies (13th) are all going to miss the playoffs and have been out of the playoff race all year.

  • The Dodgers (third) and Cardinals (ninth) are very much in the hunt, but are both chasing at least two teams with lower payrolls.

  • The Braves (sixth) are clinging to a one-game lead and the Diamondbacks (eighth) are clinging to a two-game lead, each over a team with at least $15 million less in total player salaries.

In other words, fans of small-market teams who didn't listen to the bleating of Bud Selig and his mirthless minions about the complete lack of hope for their teams this year were probably rewarded for their faith. Nearly half of the sub-median-payroll teams have winning records right now; two are likely going to the playoffs and two more have excellent chances of joining them. When you consider that winning often begets larger revenues and thus larger payrolls, there's nothing here that's out of line with what we should expect from the business of baseball.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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