Felix’s Cy Young Proved a Change in the State of Mind

22 11 2010

Posted by BaconSlayer09

Since the creation of the box score, statistics have been an integral part of baseball. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, wins, losses, saves, these stats have been with the baseball fan since the beginning of the 20th century. However, these simple counting and arithmetic stats weren’t enough for some. In order to realize the true impact a single player makes, we must take the team-dependent variables away, leaving us with only the player’s doing. That is one of the most basic principles of modern day sabermetrics.

Hernandez led the AL in ERA and innings pitched. He was second in Ks.

However, in its 30-40 year existence, or maybe even longer, sabermetrics has never impacted the voting of the BBWAA awards. But on November 18th, 2010, the silence was finally broken. The BBWAA voters picked Felix Hernandez, a pitcher who posted only 13 wins and 12 losses as the American League Cy Young Award Winner, over 21 game winner C.C. Sabathia and 19 game winner David Price. However, this was selection was not blasphemy by any means. Hernandez led the league in ERA at 2.27 and he also led the league in innings pitched with 249.2.

Felix was worthy, although it is debatable if he was actually the best pitcher in the American League this year. Nevertheless, that’s not the point. The point was that the BBWAA, a clan of writers filled with old-school baseball writers who favor wins and losses over almost anything, ignored Felix Hernandez’s win-loss record and appreciated his sparkling ERA. This was not the first time such a thing happened. In fact, Zack Greinke’s 16 wins didn’t rank in the top 5 in the AL for that specific category, yet he won the 2009 AL Cy Young. But Felix’s 2010 season was a much different case. If you asked the average fan what kind of pitcher would support a 13-12 record, the most likely response is “a pretty mediocre one”. If you asked those same fans what kind of pitcher would have a 16-8 record, they’d probably answer with, “a pretty good one”. The 70 year olds who have been a fan of the game for half a century might have been able to accept Greinke’s 2009 Cy Young, but Felix’s 2010 Cy Young was probably met with some grumpy moans.

Many thought that Sabathia's 21 wins would give him the Cy Young Award.

Felix’s 2010 season is a completely different animal than any other Cy Young award winner’s before. No Cy Young winner in a full season has ever had less wins than Felix Hernandez and if you think about it, very few must have had more than 12 losses. This monumental decision was a game changer in terms of the baseball mindset, at least amongst the Baseball Writers of America. For the first time ever, winning% was not a really factor in the determination of the Cy Young award. This means that the BBWAA, one of the most stubborn and old school baseball groups in the country, practiced one of the basic principles of sabermetrics. They realized that Felix’s offense gave him the least run support in all of baseball. They also realized that the lack of run support, coupled with his incredibly low ERA, didn’t match his 13-12 record. Somewhere, somehow, something clicked in the minds of these writers.

Did the realization come late? Hell, of course, it came about a decade or two late. However, the important thing to note here is that sabermetrics and its ideals are being injected into the mainstream, so much so that it has impacted the outcome of a major award. Now, should have Felix really won the Cy Young in terms of advanced numbers? No, not really, that could have  gone to Cliff Lee and looking at how Lee did in the playoffs, it probably should have gone to him. But the mainstream probably isn’t ready for FIP and UZR just yet, defeating the notion that W-L is somehow important to a pitcher is already a victory in my eyes. For the time being that is.


Derek Jeter and Gold Gloves: The Love Affair Continues

10 11 2010

The voters must have taken the number of Derek Jeter fist pumps into account when voting for Gold Glove awards over the past decade.

Posted by BaconSlayer09

It truly amazes me how much of a joke the Gold Glove awards have turned into. Maybe it’s because I’m biased since there’s sabermetric stats out there that can disprove the eye, but even some of the more traditional fans out there will agree that Derek Jeter shouldn’t be winning Gold Gloves anymore. I mean seriously, the guy hit .270 last year  with one of worst OPS figures in his career and he still wins a Gold Glove? If that’s all the offensive production you need to win one of these things, maybe Jhonny Peralta should be considered too. Sarcasm aside, the award has turned into a reputation contest. If Derek Jeter plays next year and puts up even worse numbers, my bet is that he somehow wins the damn thing again. Is there a way to fix it? Well, maybe we should start off by making Derek Jeter retire, that might be a good start. The good news here is that Franklin Gutierrez, UZR extraordinaire,  finally got awarded for being one of the best defenders in baseball. The voters do get some of these things right, like Evan Longoria, Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Joe Mauer, etc. These guys are some of the best defensive players at their respective positions. However, even if you mess one of these up, people will complain. Are we, the people, being nitpicky? Maybe, but we just want to see justice served. To make myself, and hopefully you, feel better, I’m going to be handing out the Sabermetric Gold Glove Awards today, but don’t get too excited, this post will only contain the AL winners.

American League

Catcher: Matt Wieters (BAL) – You may be wondering, why not Joe Mauer? There is no easy answer to this question, as it’s truly hard to defend a catcher’s defense using statistics. There is one statistic though – Stolen Base Runs (rSB). John Dewan’s Plus/Minus (Defensive Runs Saved) keeps track of how many runs a catcher has saved by throwing out base runners. Wieters led the American League in this category in 2010. Mauer finished at -1 in rSB. I have nothing against Mauer, he’s also a very good defensive catcher. But from fan scouting reports and rSB, Wieters definitely had a very good season. Runner-ups:  Joe Mauer, Jose Molina, and A.J. Pierzynski.

First Base: Daric Barton (OAK) – Daric Barton led all of baseball in first base Ultimate Zone Rating at 12.1. Barton also made a dazzling 51 scoops at 1B, most likely saving Cliff Pennington, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Mark Ellis from committing numerous errors. He led the league in Zone Rating, as well as plays made out of his zone. With the combination of sure-handedness and range, Barton is one of the premiere defensive first basemen in baseball. Runner-ups: Justin Morneau, Justin Smoak, and Carlos Pena.

Kouzmanoff is far from a house-hold name, but statistically speaking, he is one of the best 3B in the AL.

Second Base: Orlando Hudson (MIN) – After numerous off-years defensively, the O-Dog stepped up his game after returning to the American League. Hudson and J.J. Hardy helped anchor the Minnesota Twins infield, one of the better best in all of baseball. Hudson’s 9.8 UZR and 17 defensive runs saved are both tops at his position in the American League. Hudson showed incredible range (9.6 range runs and 36 out of zone plays) while showcasing his reliability (2.3 error runs and a .824 zone rating). A close second was Mark Ellis, who actually topped Hudson in UZR. However, considering Ellis had one of the best defensive 1B in baseball to throw to while Hudson had to deal with Michael Cuddyer for half a season, it became apparent that Hudson was more deserving. Runner-ups: Mark Ellis, Dustin Pedroia, and Aaron Hill.

Third Base: Evan Longoria (TBR) – This was one of the hardest decisions to make while writing this article. The American League has three very, very, good defensive 3B. Those three are Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, and Kevin Kouzmanoff. To some of you, the first two names make sense, but who the hell is Kevin Kouzmanoff, you may ask. Kouzmanoff led all AL 3B in UZR, about 6 runs better than both Longoria and Beltre. However, DRS said that Longoria and Kouzmanoff were pretty much similar at 13 defensive runs saved. Here is where the reputation game starts. Kouzmanoff is a nobody, I haven’t seen many of his games and I don’t think many of you have either. Thus, I had to get some input. So I went to FanGraphs and found Tom Tango’s fan scouting reports. They read something like this – Longoria was the best of the 3 at a rating of 86 (extremely good), Beltre was second at 77 and Kouzmanoff went last at 58 (still a decent rating). So after some thought, I decided to give the award to Longoria. Slightly biased? Probably, but you can’t go wrong with either of the three. Runner-ups: Adrian Beltre, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Jose Lopez.

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez (CHW) – Contrary to the previous award, this decision was one of the easiest. In just one season, Alexei Ramirez transformed himself into one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball, if not the best. The Cuban Missile led the American League in Shortstop UZR (10.1) as well as Defensive Runs Saved (16). After being criticized for being inconsistent and somewhat “baseball-stupid”, Ramirez cut down his mental mistakes in 2010 and delivered some of the most amazing range I have ever seen (67 plays made out of his zone).  What about the glorious Derek Jeter? Let’s just say he made about half of the out of zone plays Ramirez did and had a UZR that was 15 runs worse. Runner-ups: Cliff Pennington, J.J. Hardy, and Elvis Andrus.

Ramirez's strong arm and great range make him one of the best shortstops in the game.

Left Field: Carl Crawford (TBR) – This was another tough decision. Gardner or Crawford? Crawford or Gardner? Thank goodness we have the stats on our side. Oh wait, they say these two are pretty much the same. Crawford did lag behind Gardner in UZR by about 4 runs, but DRS said they were virtually the same fielders. The great thing about Plus/Minus is that their components are easier to see and understand. Crawford had a lot more balls hit to him in his zone (263 as opposed to Gardner’s 168). Crawford also had a better zone rating, put two and two together and the answer is that Crawford had more chances and also capitalized on those chances at a better rate. Making him a lot more valuable to the Rays’ defense than Gardner was for the Yankees. Therefore, Crawford is the victor, but only by a tiny margin. Runner-ups: Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, and Josh Hamilton.

Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez (SEA) – Like the case with Crawford and Gardner, Gutierrez did not lead the AL in center fielder’s UZR. Julio Borbon did and Coco Crisp was a close second. Gutierrez was third, but that’s not the entire story. Gutierrez was one of the best in DRS and he had by far the most amount of fly balls hit to him (Seattle had lots of fly ball pitchers). His zone rating and out of zone plays also weren’t extremely staggering. All in all, this was a great year for American League center fielders, but Gutierrez’s reputation and talent almost makes some of the UZR and DRS data pointless. For example, Coco Crisp was second in UZR in CF, but he only played about a half of the innings Gutierrez played. Julio Borbon led the AL in CF UZR and he only played there for 1000 innings. Therefore, some of that data could be flawed based on sample size. Say whatever you like, but I just have to give the award to Gutierrez. Runner-ups: Julio Borbon, Austin Jackson, and Alex Rios.

Austin Jackson's great rookie campaign was aided by his great defense in center field.

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) – We’re almost finished, but we’re not quite there yet. Can you imagine watching Gutierrez and Ichiro playing defense in the same outfield? I’m jealous of Seattle fans sometimes, but then I remember their inability to score runs and erase that idea completely out of my head. Ichiro, at the old age of 36, was still able to cover a lot of ground (17 range runs) and make a number of great plays (95 out of zone plays). The future hall-of-famer ended the season with an impressive 15.6 UZR and +12 DRS, both tops in the AL at his position. Runner-ups: Nelson Cruz, J.D. Drew, and Ben Zobrist.

There you have it. By my count, the actual voters got the entire outfield correct, but they definitely didn’t do a great job of evaluating the left side of the infield. Plus, let’s not forget about our buddy Derek Jeter. Hopefully, the Gold Glove awards can mean something again in the near future. Until then, I hope these selections can keep you sane. The NL edition will be coming up shortly.

Note: My opinions are not the opinions of every writer here at Pine Tar and Pocket Protectors. If you have hate mail or just want to make fun of me for using nerdy stats, please send all hate mail to BaconSlayer09.

MLB Expansion: The Way of the Future!

8 11 2010

Posted by WAMCO:

Back in 2001, Major League baseball was considering contraction, going from 30 teams down to 28. At that time, the two teams that were to be contracted were the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. Since 2001, the Expos have moved to Washington and are in the process of establishing their identity. The Minnesota Twins? They have won six central division titles. This is the biggest reason I do not believe contraction is the answer.

The Twins have come a long way in a short period of time, going from baseball’s chopping block in 2001 to multiple time central division champs in 2010

Major League baseball is a $6-$7 billion industry. The Twins looked like a hopeless franchise that could never compete and was on death’s doorstep. But given the chance, they have managed to persevere and enjoy a relatively dominant stretch. Now, they have a new ballpark and are in the top ten in major league payroll. As hopeless as any team looks, it can turn it around and be successful. The industry is big enough to support these teams while they do. In the majority of cases, once there is success on the field, attendance and television viewership will follow. In fact, with such a large income base across the entire league, I believe the time is right to expand and grow the game in new markets.

In order to properly balance the schedule (which is a topic for another day in another article), there needs to be an equal number of teams in each league. The obvious question is: where should the expansion teams go? It is important to look at more than a city’s population. The size of the media market, the population of the metropolitan statistical area, and the city’s current ties to minor league baseball should be considered. Below I will examine four potential expansion sites.

Before I get into the examination, I will explain some of the factors that I looked at. One, was the ability of the area to support other major professional sports teams. I chose the four traditional major sports. Perhaps I could have included MLS as well, but I did not in this case. I also reference average and total attendance for minor league teams in the area. The highest minor league average attendance in 2010 was the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of the International league, who averaged 9227 fans per game. There were only ten minor league teams that averaged over 8000 fans per game, to give you a sense of what the below numbers mean. There will be many reasons a city has good or bad minor league attendance, but I did not get too much into that in most cases. I also considered looking at unemployment rates in the individual areas, but felt that this was mostly a non-issue, as there are places with high unemployment rates that still draw well (Detroit) as well as places with good unemplyment rates that do not draw well (its all about winning!). I also reference the size of the media market in relation to other metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, keeping in mind that Cincinnati and Milwaukee are 34th and 33rd respectively in media market size, for reference purposes.

Portland, Oregon: The area around Portland is underrepresented in professional sports. The only other major professional sports franchise in Portland is the Trailblazers of the NBA. The metropolitan statistical area of Portland/Vancouver/Beaverton had an estimated population of 2,241,841 people as of 2009, and the 23rd-largest media market in the United States. The Portland Beavers AAA baseball team drew an average of 4265 fans per game in 2010, and 294,332 fans in total, despite the knowledge that the team was leaving the city at the end of the year due to a stadium dispute. This attendance ranked 71st in the minors, which is obviously not terrific, but I believe their stadium issues would have largely contributed to this. A natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners could develop here, which would be great for baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Charlotte, North Carolina: It is hard to say that the sports market in Charlotte and the surrounding area is underserved. The Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL are both quite popular in the area. Charlotte has the 27th-largest media market in the United States. The Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team in the International League drew an average of 4247 fans per game in 2010, and a total of 305,842, which ranked 73rd in the minor leagues based on average attendance. The metropolitan statistical area of Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord had an estimated population of 1,745,524 in 2009. Greensboro, NC, is less than 90 minutes drive from Charlotte, and this area had an estimated population of 714,765 in 2009. A potential rivalry with the Atlanta Braves is intriguing here. Despite the current number of teams located in the eastern United States, Charlotte would seem to be a decent fit, as there appears to be a geographical dead area in the Carolinas, which would be helped immensely by an MLB franchise.

Nashville, Tennessee: The home of country music is also the home of the Nashville Predators of the NHL and the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.  Nashville has the 30th-largest media market in the United States. The Nashville Sounds of the AAA Pacific Coast League drew an average of 4764 fans per game in 2010 (ranking 64th in the minors), and a total of 319,235 over the entire season. The metropolitan statistical area of Nashville/Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, Tennessee had an estimated population of 1,582,264 in 2009. Nashville has often been criticized as a poor market for the NHL (I hear this a lot in Canada). However, their attendance numbers have been decent since the NHL strike in 2004-2005, filling their arena more than 85% capacity since then. Obviously this is a different sport, but it paints a picture that the city can get behind a major sports franchise. Nashville is directly between St. Louis and Atlanta, which could lead to an interesting rivalry between the cities.

Salt Lake City, Utah:  The home of the 2002 winter Olympics boasts one major professional sports franchise, the Utah Jazz. Salt Lake City has the 36th-largest media market in the United States. There is clearly interest in baseball, as the AAA Salt Lake Bees drew an average attendance of 7292 people per game, ranking 14th in the minor leagues, and a total of 510,484 over the entire season in 2010. The metropolitan statistical area of Salt Lake City had an estimated population of 1,130,293 in 2009. A franchise in Utah would be ideal, from the standpoint that the area does not really have any other franchise even close in proximity, and if paired with an expansion team in Portland, would really stretch Major League Baseball further into underserved areas of the country. A potential natural rival would be Colorado (battle of the four corners, anyone? I guess Arizona would have to be a part of that as well).

Obviously, there would be major and minor details to decipher (revenue sharing, ownership groups, ball park construction, territorial rights, etc.). We all know that these things would need to occur before any expansion would be possible. I feel that all of these sites would be viable major league towns, but there are many other factors that would need to be considered before an expansion team was placed in any of these cities. My preference? I think that Portland, Oregon is the first logical place, because of the geographical gap that it would close. For my second team, I am torn between Salt Lake City and Charlotte. I think Charlotte would be more successful from a monetary standpoint, but there is the potential for a place like Salt Lake City to rally around a team. Based on money, I guess I would go with Charlotte, but its really close. To me, though, the important thing to remember is that all of these teams can make money. The sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. I believe it is worth it to expand to areas without access to major league baseball, for the purpose of growing the game, and reaching more people. Isn’t that what this should be about? 

Would any of these sites actually work? Are there other sites that should be considered? Comments and discussion is appreciated.

*All data for metropolitan statistical areas obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov

**All data for minor league attendance obtained from Ballpark Digest, http://www.ballparkdigest.com

***Media market rankings obtained from Pro Advance, http://www.proadvance.com

Contraction in Baseball: An Economic Gain (Part 2)

4 11 2010

Posted by cubs223425

In Part 1, I looked at factors to consider before contracting baseball teams from the league. To add on, I evaluated teams that I ultimately determined were not worth removing from the league, along with presenting which teams I WOULD consider for contraction from the league. Those

The Mets have been known in the past to spend a lot of money on older veterans, leading to losing seasons

teams are: The San Diego Padres, the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cleveland Indians. This portion of the article will cover which teams would best serve the league by taking the fall.

Since my last posting, I have added on as to what I will use to determine for a team’s contraction considerations. Baseball is, first and foremost, a business. Forbes produces an annual list of team values, offering up a team worth, along with a percentage change from the previous years. This will be key to see how a team’s worth is measured in terms of dollars and cents. As I stated before, though, a pure dollar value is not all that affects a team.

Winning is the ultimate goal of a team, so while a team might not have a high worth in terms of dollar value, it can still be a winner and provide a solid baseball product. Attendance (provided by ESPN here) is to be considered too, along with local TV ratings (provided by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s RSN ratings). Payroll figures can be found here. Now, on to the teams:

All stats in parentheses are from 2010. RSN rating leader is St. Louis Cardinals at 9.70, and the lowest rank is shared by the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, at 1.23.

Cleveland Indians (Record: 69-93; Attendance: 17,395; RSN Rating: 3.13): If I was to name this team with a song, it would be Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” I mean, what happened here? Cleveland was rocking and on the way up with masher Travis Hafner, up and coming stud Grady Sizemore, and two strong starting pitchers named C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, plus a decent young arm in Fausto Carmona. They also sported one of the league’s top catchersi n Victor Martinez.

And since those days? Cleveland managed to have the lowest average attendance in the majors, and was tied for 28th in terms of attendance percentage (just 40.1). C.C. is now CC, and was shipped to Milwaukee for a flop in Matt LaPorta after a Cy Young season. Cliff Lee had a studly 22-3 season to win his own Cy Young, shortly before being shipped off to Philadelphia for four prospects that I’m pretty sure they don’t miss too greatly. Martinez was traded for Masterson (who is the master of inconsistency, if anything) and a solid, young arm in Nick Hagadone that we have yet to see in the majors. Hafner got hurt and looks like he is just done. His OPS+ has been solid, but he hasn’t broken 120 games played since 2007. Carmona’s 148 ERA+ in 2007 has been followed by a 2008-2010 stretch with a 72 ERA+. Sizemore looked like the superstar after a 2008 in which he hit .268 with 33 HR and stole 38 bases. Now he’s managed a combined 139 games in two seasons (just 33 in 2010). Still just 28, it’s way too early to write him off, but he might get too expensive too quickly and get jettisoned like Sabathia and Lee.

Despite being above Kansas City in the standings in 2010, they lack the rich vein of prospects that the Royals have. Still, they have some quality minor league players; one I particularly like is Drew Pomeranz. Just getting healthy and getting the young guys up should help them, so I think Cleveland deserves a chance to see the full return of their fire sale–we saw how it worked for Florida.

New York Mets (Record: 79-83; Attendance: 32,401RSN Rating: 3.25): Last semester, I did a PowerPoint presentation on how much a baseball team spends on wins. The highest cost per win average? The New York Mets, at over $2 million per win. In 2010, they upped their won total from the 70 in 2009 to 79, so that cost is likely lower. However, I would still put my money on the Mets as the team with the highest cost per win, though the Yankees and Cubs might be higher.

Their RSN rating sits at 16th, their payroll is fifth, they have had two consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006. The fallout with Francisco Rodriguez makes that investment look even worse, adding to the bad contracts of Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, and Carlos Beltran, among others. However, the new front office should stabilize the team, and it would be rather unfair to not allow Sandy Alderson and the rest of the new management members a chance to fix this mess, as they aren’t THAT far removed from their last competitive run,

Florida Marlins (Record: 80-82; Attendance: 18,825;RSN Rating: 3.05): This one might seem a little odd. The Marlins have been consistently competitive, while keeping a very modest payroll. And with a new stadium on the way, scraping this club now seems like a very shaky and questionable move. A team settled with one of the best middle infield combos in the league in Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, an overpowering ace in Josh Johnson, and a young stud in Mike Stanton probably shouldn’t be dismantled.

However, there are some problems with this franchise. Twice now, it has gutted its roster after a championship. It took baseball’s explicit complaints to get them to give Josh Johnson a modest, team-friendly extension. This new ballpark is also another example of their cheapskate owners’ dirty tactics to rob the fans of money and on-field production. This has led to a team whose ticket sales rank 28th in the league and 22nd in percentage. The local TV ratings are 20th in the league, and the payroll sits 26th in the league.

San Diego Padres (Record: 90-72; Attendance: 26,318;RSN Rating: 4.79): 2010 might have saved the Padres from the chopping block. The team was looking to move All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell, but they managed to showcase a potential new ace in Mat Latos, while going from projected last-place finish to nearly reaching the playoffs, if not for a late-season collapse (a la the New York Mets) that opened the door to the World Champion San Francisco Giants to get their crack at the postseason.

But even this awesome surprise hasn’t saved the team. The payroll is still minuscule, ranked 29th in the league in 2010, ahead of only the Pirates, and one of two under $40 million. Ownership has still shown an unwillingness to spend to keep Gonzalez, so an early stumble could mean an immediate loss of Gonzo and Bell to trades and a full-scale rebuild mode. With the loss of those two, it becomes Mat Latos

Many fans speculate that Mat Latos could potentially become the Padres' next Jake Peavy

and a rather scary few years that will likely end with a decent team in around 2014, just when Latos is going to command a payday San Diego won’t pay, leading the loss of that ace. This could become an ugly cycle of rebuilds if the team won’t ever move the payroll into the $60 million+ range.

There is hope, though, even if it isn’t a lot. Latos, as stated before, is a stud. He could be what San Diego wanted out of Chris Young and more–maybe even their next Jake Peavy. Kyle Blanks was terrible this year, but he also did not have a lot of time to play, and his bat might be able to take over for Gonzalez in the long-term. Everth Cabrera showed some skills on the basepaths in 2009, and Donavan Tate is a promising hitting prospect in the outfield.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Record: 57-105; Attendance: 19,918;RSN Rating: 3.44): Here is a franchise that is hard to like at all. I cannot recall their last REALLY GOOD pitcher that actually stuck around (really, any guesses?). Jason Bay and Nate McLouth had talent, but they were sent away and have brought little back thus far (though we should hear from Gorkys Hernandez before all is said and done). The team hasn’t had a winning season in 18 years, and it is staring at yet another top pick–the first overall, in fact.

The TV ratings are actually rather solid at 16th in the league, but that’s where that ends. Pittsburgh was 29th in payroll in 2009, with a pitiful team salary just shy for $9 million. In 2010, they actually cut it to 30th in the league, spending just under $35 million on the MLB roster. Some of that went to scouting, but in a rather large market, this is still inexcusable. The Pirates were 27th in per-game attendance at PNC Park, and 25th in attendance percentage.

So, moment of truth. Who goes? I’ve been thinking of it a lot for a couple of days, and I am set on the Pirates and the Marlins. These teams have some of the most horrendous baseball showings in the league’s 100+ years. Why did I choose them? Read on…

The Pirates are the pinnacle of mediocrity. Even with young talent in Tony Sanchez, Pedro Alvarez, and the dynamic Andrew McCutchen, I don’t see any way this team avoids the big 2-0 in terms of consecutive losing seasons. Honestly, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if they broke 25 with the pitiful rotation they are marching out. They had plenty of opportunity to sell high on both Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, but now they are stuck with two mediocre lefties headlining a starting five that looks even worse as a whole. With the Marlins, the story is rather different.

It is hard to not appreciate what the Marlins bring to the field. They lack a big payroll, but they frequently challenge and beat the Mets and Phillies, and the scouting is top-notch. They managed to take their World Series ace Josh Beckett and a solid bat (well, he was) in Mike Lowell, and actually be the runaway winners in the trade. They netted a top-2 shortstop in Hanley Ramirez (and he was the #1 by far until this year, IMO), and they actually shelled out the money to keep him around long-term. Giong into 2012, this new ballpark of there will draw a big crowd in a more marketable area with a face like Hanley to lead away. But the ballpark

After winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins dealt Beckett and Lowell to the Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez. That trade has panned out for them in a huge way

is why I want this team gone.

Rather recently, it was reported that the ownership of the Marlins lied about its financial status to get more money from the state to fund its new home. Of the $634 million to be spend on the ballpark, Florida’s ownership group (led by Jeffrey Loria) will pay just $155 million. That leaves the taxpayers to foot a bill of $479 million for the stadium, or over 75% of the price tag. According to Yahoo, the taxpayers will be paying for this for a LONG time. The loans won’t be paid off in full until 2049, and the interest will end up adding to a loan total of $2.4 BILLION!

Now, is it really fair to tell the sub-20,00/game Marlins fans that they are losing their new stadium and baseball franchise because of the lying and cheating of its owners? No. But is it fair for the entire state to pay over $2 billion to build a ballpark most of them might never even go to? No. And, when it comes down to it, a state’s economic health is more important than baseball. Ideally, the government or SOMEONE stops this, but the only sure-fire way to fix the matter at this time is to kill it at the roots. If there is no baseball team to provide for, then there is no egregious payments that will kill the Florida economy for decades.

So, the Pirates and Marlins are gone. Where does that leave baseball in terms of divisions? Well, we are sitting at fourteen teams per league, so nothing will be 100% even. We will try our best to get it close, though, meaning each league will carry two 5-team divisions on one four-team one.

For the AL, everything can essentially be left alone. In terms of ideal fairness, you would pull the Rays out of the East. You could move the Royals to the West and the Rays to the Central, leaving the East with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles. This would allow all 3 teams–the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox–a chance to get into the postseason, which I think any pure baseball fan would enjoy. I think that is the best option to keep the Boston-New York rivalry intact while keeping competitive integrity intact.

The National League will require no other adjustments. The revamped NL East would open with the Phillies, Braves, Mets, and Nationals. The Central has the Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, and Astros. The West rounds it out with the Giants, Padres, Rockies, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks.

As I said at the beginning of this article, contraction is highly unlikely in the league. Losing revenue is never a business’s first choice.  These choices are about more than just. Cutting these teams helps both to balance the leagues and to stabilize the long-term Florida economy. There are better, more complicated option that could be explored, and I might ramble on about them in the future, but this appears to be the most simple, immediate solution to the nation’s financial woes and the complaints from fans that the leagues lack balance.

Contraction in Baseball: An Economic Gain (Part 1)

30 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425

To start, let it be known that I do not believe that the following is what will occur within the game of baseball. It is simply what I believe to be the best course of action for the financial status of the league, along with the best course of action to achieve a better league. I want this to happen, but I do not think it will.

So, over the last several days on

Evan Longoria made it well known throughout the 2010 Season that he was not pleased with the Attendance numbers at Tropicana Field

the MLB Trade Rumors forums, there have been some discussions on baseball’s league and division formatting. People have stated displeasure with the 16-14 setup that is currently in place between the two leagues (16 teams in the NL; 14 in the AL). For some, they propose the league simply move a team over. However, that isn’t exactly a feasible solution.

As of now, baseball is a daily sport. Mondays and Thursdays are the only time that teams are consistently off throughout the year. Because of that, there are 15 games scheduled 5 days of almost every week. If the leagues were 15 teams each, then who would play the fifteenth teams each day? An odd number of teams will not work in a game that requires two teams to play. It would require considerably more doubleheaders or expanded interleague play to the point of almost one game per day. Since that idea has been mostly established as not being feasible, there are two other options: expansion or contraction.

Being the cynic that I am, I elected to handle the contraction article, and WAMCO is working on his own piece in favor of league expansion. In either instance, the idea is to add or subtract two teams, in order to set the American and National leagues on an even playing field in terms of team count, either at 16-16 in a 32-team league or 14-14 in a 28-team one.

Now this is not going to be a simple matter. To determine which teams would best be contracted, we will have to look at a variety of factors. For starters, the team’s popularity has to be considered. Even though the Yankees are a huge payroll with pinstripes, removing them would not be an option because they are also an enormous source of income for the league, which also means more for the other teams in revenue sharing.

Of course, winning is a large factor as well. Though the Rays might not even be drawing 20,000 fans per game, they have done an excellent job of building a winner through the scouting and player development departments. To reward an ownership group with playing the game the right way and succeeding with a giant axe in the back would be crazy.

Team history is also a factor. When comparing a constant loser like the Pirates to the Padres, the team with the 18-year streak of losing seasons might be the easy pick. Still, Pittsburgh has a rather rich baseball history, so just pulling the rug out from under that team might not be the best idea.

When it came down to it, I saw a lot of potential teams. For the sake of time and sanity, though, I elected the commonplace method of examining five teams is the best way to go. I’ve considered several portions of a franchise when I determined if it should be in the final five to be considered for removal from the league. When it came down to it, my personal preferences went to these teams: The San Diego Padres, the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cleveland Indians.

Before we begin, though, let us cover all of our bases. I am sure there will be fans of some teams that think my choices are without merit, but those questions will be answered in the main portion of the article. Meanwhile, those same fans will start to throw other teams under the bus, suggesting that they are more deserving of a boot. I will quickly voer those teams, just to put those complaints to bed beforehand.

New York Yankees: As I said, it is irrational to think that probably the biggest economic draw in the league would be an option, but many fans have a dire hatred for the way the Yankees operate. That is not their fault, though, as they are well within the league rules, and they feed back into the revenue sharing pool with the huge attendance and merchandise sales.

Tampa Bay Rays: The lack of a crowd draw for a playoff team is almost inexcusable, but they are winning, and how can we really fault them for that? There are plans for a new stadium in the next 3-5 years or so, meaning that the attendance woes will likely lessen over time.

Baltimore Orioles: This team has been a cellar-dwelling team for a long time, so looking at it would be reasonable as well. However, they are building

Building around young talent, such as center fielder Adam Jones, has kept Baltimore off of the hypothetical chopping block.

a great core of players, including  Brian Matusz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters. They have also been showing a willingness to spend on a big free agent that could change the franchise, such as their efforts with Mark Teixeira before ye got Yank(e)ed away.

Houston Astros: My plan was to only cover NL teams, but I thought that a bit harsh. They were the fifth NL club I considered, but they have done a good job in the fairly recent past, and IO would like to see how they do in a rebuilding effort.

Arizona Diamondbacks: There were thoughts with this team as well. I think that having a professional team near a spring training site is desirable as well, and the team has some young talent. Also, their last World Series was fairly recent.

Washington Nationals: Ultimately, I felt that this team is just in a good location. Having America’s pastime in its capitol is almost a requirement, I think. Like Baltimore, they have started to build  a young core of talent. They were also willing to spend on Adam Dunn, and still might.

Chicago Cubs: As a Cubs fan, this suggestion baffles me. I had someone on the forums mention that the Pirates were not a reasonable choice because of their losing, but that the Cubs are more logical because of their World Series drought. Granted, part of the omission is probably my bias towards my team, but that is a small factor. They have the oldest park in the game, so they clearly are not drawing money from taxpayers like teams that have recently erected new homes like the Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, and Twins. Even without being a title contender in a while (2007 and 2008 were major disappointments), the team draws one of the top-10 largest crowds each year, if not top-5. The farm has improved of late, and they have a new owner, so I see good going forward.

There are my defenses for those teams. In Part 2, I will cover the main idea of my post, so stay tuned.

EDIT: Part 2 is up.

Instant Replay: Hidden Costs

1 09 2010

Donald was ruled safe on this play, ending Armando Galarraga's bid at baseball immortality.

Posted by Texas Flats

On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched the most infamous one-hitter in the history of baseball.  We all know what happened by now: 26 up, 26 down, with light-hitting rookie Jason Donald up to bat.  An eager crowd stood in anticipation as Donald grounded to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed over to Galarraga covering first.  The stadium erupted, and for a split second, the 17,738 fans at Comerica Park (and countless more watching the game on TV) were euphoric.  In the span of just 24 days, an unprecedented three perfect games had been thrown in the new Year of the Pitcher.  It was the perfect storyline to signal the end of Major League Baseball’s most imperfect period: the Steroid Era.  Except, it never happened.  Veteran umpire (and if not the best in the game, he’s certainly close) Jim Joyce called Donald safe.  A stunned crowd delivered a raucous chorus of boos and jeers as Galarraga quickly retired Trevor Crowe for the final out.  The fans knew what had happened.  The Tigers knew what had happened.  And after the game, Joyce saw exactly what everyone else did: Donald was out.  One of the most celebrated umpires in the game today missed the call, and Galaragga was robbed of his chance to join the elite ranks of Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, and the 17 other pitchers in Major League history who have thrown a perfect game.

As a baseball fan, I would have been upset no matter who the pitcher was (yes, even if he was a Yankee).  But as a Tigers fan?  I almost cried.  It wasn’t the only blown call we‘ve seen lately, and it may not have had as much an effect as Phil Cuzzi’s or Tim McClelland’s did in last year’s American League playoffs, but it may be the most notorious blown call in recent memory.  The calls for further implementation of instant replay grew, especially after a recent Outside The Lines study showed that umpires miss 20% of “close” calls, a rate of more than one per game.  And as anyone old enough to remember who Jeffrey Maier is can tell you, one missed call can make a world of difference.  It may finally be time for Major League Baseball to enter the 21st Century and use instant replay for all calls (with the possible exception of balls and strikes), but there are some who are concerned with its implementation.  After all, time is money, and instant replay is likely to cost both.

“You have to start somewhere, and now’s the time.” Those are the words of former umpire Don Denkinger, whose blown call in the 1985 World Series helped Kansas City defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. After watching the events of 2009’s postseason unfold, he began to publicly support the further use of instant replay.

Many are opposed to instant replay simply because baseball has gotten by without it for over 150 years.  While tradition is something to be respected, we cannot oppose positive change simply because “that’s how we’ve always done it”.  After all, coat and tie used to be the “traditional” outfit for fans going to a game, but no one does that anymore, do they?  An NFL-style challenge system seems unworkable for a number of reasons, so maybe the simplest suggestion for its execution is to have a 5th umpire in the booth reviewing every call on the field, and if a call is questionable, that umpire can signal down to the Crew Chief that the play should be reviewed.  The most common objection to this (and indeed, every suggestion for instant replay) is that it will increase the time of a game that’s already taking too long to play.  My first reaction to these objections is “What’s another three minutes going to do when the game is already taking three hours?”  Still, these concerns may not be unfounded, so it’s best to analyze the numbers.

In 2009, the average MLB game lasted 175.38 minutes (and contrary to popular belief, National League games, minus the DH, actually lasted slightly longer than American League games did, though only by a couple of seconds).  When we remove extra-inning affairs and rain-shortened games, that time drops to 171.79 minutes, just under the three-hour mark (and if that’s too long for you, then so is a 185-minute NFL game.  But they were able to institute instant replay without the league falling into disarray).

MLB Rule 8.04 directs that “[w]hen the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball… the 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher.”  12 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but according to a recent study, the average time between pitches is 26.3 seconds.  I haven ’t found a statistic showing the average time between at bats, but when the ball is batted (whether in play or foul), this time will obviously increase.  And since it is these plays that are likely to be under review, that extra time comes in handy.  But since I don’t have an exact figure for the amount of time that passes, it wouldn’t be fair for me to make a guess, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just round it to 30 seconds.  If MLB were to institute a rule similar to the NFL’s, where the Crew Chief would be given 60 seconds to review tape and find incontrovertible evidence to overturn a call), then we’re at one minute.  Add in a few seconds for the booth umpire to review the footage and determine the call should be reviewed, the time that the umpire takes to get back to the field and make his call, and for play to resume, we’re probably looking at two minutes or so, which probably isn‘t that much longer than the average time a manager spends arguing with an umpire on a disputed call anyway.  In the NFL, a recent study showed the average length of game stoppage due to replay is just under three minutes, but unlike baseball, the NFL tends to use replay timeouts to air some commercials, which probably lengthens this delay.

It isn’t hard to figure out how many replays might be necessary in any given game; if the Outside The Lines study was accurate, umpires miss approximately 1 in 5 reviewable calls.  If umpires miss approximately one call per game, then logic dictates that there are about 5 plays per game that may require review.  It’s unlikely that all five of these plays will actually be reviewed, but looking at it from a worst-case scenario, let’s assume that they will be.  I mentioned earlier that each review is likely to last about two minutes, and at 5 reviews per game, we’d add 10 minutes per game.  That would increase the average length of a 9-inning game from 171 minutes to 181 minutes, still shorter than the average NFL broadcast.

Much of the concern surrounding instant replay doesn’t stem from the use of replay itself, but whether it will truly be “instant”. As Terry Francona put it, “We’d be out there all night”. But is that really the case?

If that’s still too long for you, there are ways Major League Baseball can shorten the game: actually enforcing rule 8.04 on the pitcher, as well as 6.02(d)(1) (requiring that the batter keep at least one foot in the box during his entire at bat, with just a few exceptions – no more of this stepping out after every pitch to take a few practice swings).  Commercial breaks can be shortened (but since there are some monetary costs associated with replay as well, that might not be a feasible solution).  There are a number of other suggestions for how baseball can pick up the pace of the game, and they are certainly not limited to these three ideas.

Adding a 5th umpire to each crew means an additional 17 umpires will be employed by Major League Baseball, something that former National League umpire and Umpiring Supervisor Ed Vargo spent years campaigning for.  These umpires will be called up from AAA (just like they are when a Major League umpire is on vacation), which may cause a small shortage of umpires in the minors, but minor league games only have three umpires anyway, and a players’ success or failure in the minors will not be determined by a blown call.  The starting salary for an MLB umpire is $120,000/year, so at 17 additional umpires, this will cost baseball just over $2 million per year.  Can baseball afford this?  Sure, Major League Baseball takes in $4.7 billion annually.  The question is, are they willing to?  Additional revenue can be found in a number of places, and one suggestion is to lower the salary cap for revenue sharing tax, and spread that money across the league, including the umpires’ union.  The umpires’ union would get bigger, and MLB would have a better system and more revenue.  These sorts of details would be hammered out during the (probably very intense) negotiations between the league owners, Major League Baseball execs, and the players’ and umpires’ unions, and the best we could do at this point is speculate.

This is an issue that the Commissioner’s Office simply cannot ignore, and it is my hope that Major League Baseball takes steps to make the game more perfect.  It’s time to ensure that the game will be decided on the players and coaches, not the umpires.  The players deserve it, and most of all, the fans deserve it.

Steroids: And Why Nobody Should Care

29 08 2010

Posted by Brady

Please note, that this is not necessarily the opinion of Pine Tar and Pocket Protectors. Nearly me. Brady. Please direct all hate mail and death threats to me. Brady.

Recently, Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th home run, and it was met, largely with a ho-hum from the entire baseball community other than Yankees fans, and ESPN. Why? Because Alex Rodriguez was on steroids, and therefore, nothing he ever did should ever matter.

Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids between 2001 and 2003

Same thing with Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. They do not deserve their records, nor do they deserve enshrinement in the Hall of Fame (however you feel about the potential enshrinement doesn’t particularlly matter for this post). They cheated and used steroids.

Last January, I was at TwinsFest, and the Hall of Fame had some cool artifacts there. Babe Ruth’s jersey. A ball from somebody’s perfect game (I want to say Sandy Koufax’s, but don’t quote me on that) and all sorts of other cool things. I started up a conversation with the representative from the Hall of Fame, and was interrupted by an old man, screaming about Barry Bonds, and demanding that the Hall of Fame strip Bonds of the all-time home run record (because the Hall of Fame has control of such things) and recognize Hank Aaron as the record holder. When I asked why, already knowing his answer, he informed me because of steroids.

After doing more research, I found that Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were also taking amphetamines. And I guarantee you that they weren’t alone.

Hank Aaron took amphetimines, or "greenies", and was likely high when he hit number 715.

As it turns out, amphetamines have a very similar effect on the human body as steroids. They both combat fatigue and cause erectile dysfunction.

Hell, in Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four” amphetamines are spoken about. Everybody took them. There weren’t disallowed in baseball, and it seems that everybody knew that everybody was taking them. And still, nobody cared. In fact, not only did nobody care, but “cheaters” were put into the Hall of Fame.

Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids between 2001 and 2003. McGwire admitted to using in 1998. So on and so forth.

The fact is simple. Every generation of ball players had some sort of performance enhancing drugs at their disposal. Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds had steroids. Hank Aaron and Willie Mays had amphetamines. And there was no rule in any relation to either of them until 2006.

Hell, there are even rumors that Babe Ruth was using cocaine. We should wipe all his records out of the books.