Wait ‘Til Next Year: Which League Gives Last Place Teams the Most Hope

(Click Chart to Enlarge) This is the second part of a four-part series in which I will try to compare parity in NBA, NFL, and MLB.  The proxy for parity in this series will be “the ability of the cellar-dwellers to improve next year”. 

I won’t concentrate as much on the year-to-year improvement as I will on the 5-year average because the 5-year average is a more stable and shows a trend.  To create this chart I looked at the worst 5 teams in the league for each season from 1980 to 2009 and calculated the average improvement of those teams in the following season.  For example, in 1997 season the worst 5 teams improved by an average of 16 games from the previous season.

The graph shows that the teams’ abilities to improve increased steadily until it peaked in 1993.  It has since been on the decline until recently.  Since 2003 the improvement has jumped up and down, but stayed in the same range.  There are several possible reasons for the steady decrease in the bad teams’ ability to improve.  I think the main reason is that beginning around 1993, with the Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux contracts, the growth in players salaries seemed to increase exponentially more than the growth in team revenues.  When that happened, the large market teams began to have a distinct advantage in acquiring superstar players.  The future does look bright for the smaller-market teams; the worst year for improvement since 1981 was 2010.
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