31 March 2004

The Void is Filled

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the other season of the year: Baseball Season.

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays officially began the 2004 regular major league baseball season at something like 5:00 AM Eastern time on Tuesday, and three hours later, the Yankees were officially the Worst Team in Baseball, with an 0-1 record, after losing to the Devil Rays, 8-3. This, as you might have guessed, was exactly what all the muck-raking baseball writers who hate the Yankees had been waiting for, all these long, wintry months. Never mind that it was only one game (out of 162!) Never mind that they turned around and beat the Devil out of the Rays, 12-1 this morning. Never mind Hideki Matsui's 2-run homer, or Jorge Posada's dingers from both sides of the plate in the next game. Never mind that they have nearly a week to regroup before playing another meaningful game. All that matters, apparently, is that the Yankees lost an actual game, a situation which is simply not acceptable.

Perhaps chief among those proficient at raking muck is ESPN's Buster Olney. Olney seems to write fairly often about the Yankees, if for no other reason than that the Yankees tend to do more that merits writing. I don't think that he hates them or anything, but perhaps he hated the way they operated in the '70s and '80s, with Steinbrenner throwing too much money at virtually any problem, and generally screwing things up. Come to think of it, I guess that's approximately how they operate now, except for the screwing up part. But Olney, as a baseball writer, knows that there are few things that garner more hits on a baseball column than the Misery of the Previously Successful. So Buster tries, in his most recent offering, to get the masses stirred up, and to paint a bleak picture of the Bronx Bombers.

Bleak, indeed. Olney penned (raked, really) a column yesterday that epitomizes timely but ill-informed hand wringing. Consider some of thse excerpts from said column:

The Devil Rays thumped the Yankees, 8-3, in the Major League Baseball season-opener that almost nobody in the U.S. saw, a single-game result that is virtually meaningless, considering that 161 games remain. But for the Team That Isn't Supposed To Ever Lose, of course, any defeat will weigh just a little bit more.

Despite the fact that the 2003 Tigers tried to make a convincing argument otherwise, nobody likes to lose. Least of all the Yankees, pre-or post-Steinbrenner. But even King George knows that the first game of the season means next to nothing. For all the wailing and lamentation that the New York papers recorded on Tuesday and Wednesday about this loss, the one thing you didn't see was a lot of quote from Steinbrenner about breaking up the team or suspending video game priveliges or whatever. He didn't say much, and you can ecpect that he won't. In fact, the last time the Yankees started a season with a Team That Isn't Supposed To Ever Lose, 1998, they began with an 0-3 record, and the worst thing George said was something to the effect of "I think my boys may have been reading some of their own press..." Not so outlandish or terrible, was it? And those Yankees certainly rewarded George's patience, by going out and winning 125 of their next 172 games, including all three playoff series.

The Yankees' Opening Day record since Joe Torre took the helm was 4-4, prior to Tuesday morning, and they'd won four World Series in that span, lost two others, and made the playoffs the other two seasons, getting eliminated in the ALDS:

Year	Result	         Final	Playoffs

1996 W, 7-1 @CLE 92-70 won WS
1997 L, 2-4 @SEA 96-66 lost ALDS
1998 L, 1-4 @ ANA 114-48 won WS
1999 L, 3-5 @ OAK 98-64 won WS
2000 W, 3-2 @ ANA 87-74 won WS
2001 W, 7-3 KC 95-65 lost WS
2002 L, 3-10 @ BAL 103-58 lost ALDS
2003 W, 10-1 @ TOR 101-61 lost WS
2004 L, 3-8 @ TAM/TOK ??? ???

Doesn't strike me as though the result of the first game has anything to do with whether or not they win in the playoffs.

How about this little tidbit:

Steinbrenner has loaded his team with staggering talent, adding the game's best player, Alex Rodriguez, and perhaps the best right-handed hitter, in Gary Sheffield...

Those titles, I think, belong to Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, respectively. As good as A-Rod is, he's still not on a level with Bonds, and 2003 NL MVP runner-up Albert Pujols' .359/.439/.667 line is clearly just a smidge better than Sheffield's .330/.419/.604. OK, two smidges.

Success was a new concept for the Yankees' players in Joe Torre's first year as manager in 1996, but since they beat Atlanta in the World Series that fall, a presumption of success has hovered over them.

How's that? Hadn't the Yankees just won the AL Wild Card in 1995, the year before Torre got there? Hadn't they had the best record in the AL when The Strike hit in August 1994? If the three-division format had been in place in 1993, wouldn't the Yankees have won that Wild Card as well? That 1993 team spent most of the season neck-and-neck with the eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. Hadn't the Yankees' front office spent the better part of the previous three years re-building the Yankees that had finished dead last in 1990, like Steve Austin with cleats? Success was not something new to them, nor was winning a new concept, and Steinbrenner has always been one to punish anything less than the standards of success that he sets for himself and his team.

But there are cracks in this $182.3 million dreadnought. Giambi will be expected to play many games at first base, where he is a liability.

Actually, according to Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average, Giambi's about 2-3 runs better than an average firstbaseman over the course of a season (actually, it would be more, since he hasn't played 1B full time as a Yankee), so if nothing else, it does not appear that he's a liability there, conventional wisdom be damned.

Olney then proceeds to explain how the outfield defense will suffer, since Sheffield and Kenny Lofton have let balls drop in front of them during exhibition games that formerly Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams would have caught. He does mention that his observations occurred during exhibition games, for which Torre stresses NOT getting injured, if possible (you listenin' Griffey?), but then blows this off and says that "this is likely to be a recurring problem". He doesn't say what he bases this argument on, just that he's afraid the problem will become frequent.

In reality, neither Kenny Lofton nor Gary Sheffield is as bad as most of the baseball print media would have you believe, and Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill were never as good as Tim McCarver or John Sterling would have you believe. The last time either of them was even a "good" fielder at their own position was 1996(!). That was the last season in which O'Neill had a Baseball prospectus Fielding RAA (runs above average) in double digits, AND the last season in which Bernie Williams even had a fielding RAA greater than negative one. I'm not sure where Bernie's "Gold Glove" reputation comes from, or for that matter, but it appears to be pure myth. Besides this, Sheffield and Lofton are essentially average or slightly above average defensive players at their respective positions, so in the long run, there's no reason to fret here either.

The Yankees' starting rotation is aged; they're going to throw out their share of clunkers, as Mike Mussina did in the season-opener, allowing five runs in five-plus innings, including four straight extra-base hits in the sixth.

An aged rotation, eh? Let's see:

2003 Rotation			2004 Rotation		

2004 Age 2003 ERA+ 2004 Age 2003 ERA+
Mussina 35 129 Mussina 35 129
Clemens 41 112 Brown 39 169
Pettitte 32 109 Vazquez 27 153
Wells 41 106 Contreras 32 133
Weaver 27 73 Leiber 34 104*

They've gotten younger at three of the five rotation slots. The exceptions are Mike Mussina, who's still in New York, and who seems to have no more ability to pull a Dorian Gray than any of the rest of us, and Jeff Weaver, who, as you may recall, had no more ability to pitch than any of the rest of us, at least last year. Since Jon Leiber didn't pitch in 2003, I used his career adjusted ERA (ERA+) instead of his 2003 number, like everyone else. The rest of the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will be taken up by Jorge DePaula, who's much younger than any of these guys, and Darren Oliver or Orando Hernandez, who aren't. I agree with Buster that they'll have their share of "clunkers" but not because they're old, simply because baseball is not a completely consistent and predictable game, especially not on a one-game basis.

And the Yankees will have to play young and hungry and aggressive teams from Tampa Bay and Toronto that will occasionally make them look very slow.

Perhaps, but "young hungry and aggressive" rarely wins three out of five games against "experienced, talented and patient". I'll take the latter, even if they don't steal bases all that often, thankyouverymuch.

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26 March 2004

'Mo Money, 'Mo Money...

Lee Sinins led off his Around the Majors report on Wednesday with this:

The Yankees re-signed P Mariano Rivera to a 2 year, $21 million contract, covering 2005-06, with an option for 2007. The option will become guaranteed if Rivera finishes either 114 games over the 2 years or 60 in 2006.

After 2.34 ERA/19 RSAA and 2.74 ERA/8 RSAA seasons, Rivera had a 1.66 ERA/21 RSAA in 64 games. He has a 2.49 career ERA, compared to his league average of 4.72, and 153 RSAA in 512 games.

Rivera ranks 10th in the majors in RSAA since 1997--


1 Pedro Martinez 389
2 Randy Johnson 331
3 Greg Maddux 242
4 Curt Schilling 236
5 Kevin Brown 204
6 Roger Clemens 182
7 Mike Mussina 169
8 Tom Glavine 156
9 Tim Hudson 145
10 Mariano Rivera 123

Having gotten Lee's reports for over a year now, I can see that he typically isn't privy to any information that you and I couldn't find on our own, in terms of the stories and facts themselves. (This story was out on Monday or Tuesday on the major websites and such.) But Lee comes in handy in two areas. First, his amusing commentary and sense of humor make many of these reports of otherwise mundane transactions more interesting. And second, and more importantly, his analysis of the significance of the players signed/released/traded sheds light on the subject that would otherwise elude those who typically write about these things, i.e traditional baseball beatwriters. And this ability to analyze what's going on beneath the surface leads Lee to sometimes come to conclusions about a transaction that differ greatly from what your local newscaster of newspaper writer would tell you.

In this case, as you can see, there's not a lot of commentary here, but despite that, I think there's a message. The first thing I noticed is that the rest of this list consiste entirely of starting pitchers. Look at this list:


Pedro Martinez 1408 201 2.20 389 0.276 56
Randy Johnson 1601.1 222 2.70 331 0.207 47
Greg Maddux 1603 239 2.93 242 0.151 35
Curt Schilling 1597.2 218 3.23 236 0.148 34
Kevin Brown 1367 206 2.72 204 0.149 29
Roger Clemens 1502.2 224 3.44 182 0.121 26
Mike Mussina 1531 225 3.51 169 0.110 24
Tom Glavine 1571.2 239 3.40 156 0.099 22
Tim Hudson 1052 156 3.26 145 0.138 29
Mariano Rivera 475 432 2.16 123 0.259 18

Tim Hudson, it should be noted, has only been pitching in the majors since 1999, so everyone else has got a 2-year head-start on him. Mariano Rivera, despite pitching less than a third of the innings of most of the pitchers on this list, is ranked right up there among them in RSAA (Runs Saved Above Average, Lee's own metric for measuring pitcher effectiveness) over this seven-year span. Now, I'm not saying that Mariano is as good as these guys overall, but still, he's on the list. Even if he's at the bottom of it, he's still there. Without a copy of Lee's Baseball Encyclopedia of my own, I couldn't check to see who else is on this list (say, ranked #11-25, or something), but I would guess that there aren't many relief pitchers on it.

As you can see in the RSAA/Inning column, Riviera's been almost as effective, inning-by-inning, as Pedro, which is saying something. I just don't know what yet. You can also see that, averaging 18 RSAA per year, Rivera's not quite as good as the others on this list.

However, his total of 123 RSAA over seven years means that he's better than Andy Pettitte, better than John Smoltz, Robb Nen, Troy Percival, Armando Benitez, Trevor Hoffman, or Billy Wagner, better than Bartolo Colon, Jason Schmidt, Kerry Wood, Jamie Moyer, Matt Morris, Russ Ortiz, Al Leiter, Kevin Millwood, David Wells, Derek Lowe, Jarrod Washburn, and yes, even Cory Lidle. (Incidentally, has anyone who had the worst qualifying ERA in the majors ever been asked to start on Opening Day the following year? Because Cory has.)

Anyway, a lot of guys who are considered to be among the better pitchers in the majors, both starters and relievers, aren't on this list either. So my question is:

Is Mariano Rivera, making about $11 million in 2004 and $10.5 million/year for each of the following two seasons, underpaid? Brown is getting $15M. Pedro gets over $17M in 2004. Clemens got about $20 mil last season, when you factor in what the Yankees paid him to pitch in 2003 and what his previous contract with the Yankees paid him whether he pitched or not in 2003. Randy Johnson will get $16M this year. Schilling just signed an extension for about $13M/year, I think. Glavine gets paid as much as Rivera and he's not even any good anymore.

Typically, I'll be among the first to point out that looking at Saves as any kind of indicator of quality is a bad idea. They are a self-fulfilling prophecy, an event-driven statistic that the manager can control as he sees fit, and that too many pitchers have parlayed into an inappropriately large contract. But, at least in this one way, you can see that Mariano Rivera is at least measurably comparable to the best starting pitchers in the majors, over the last seven years. I wanted to compare him to the other relief pitchers who have been pretty good since 1997, but there hardly are any. Anyone who was among the best in '97 is either now retired or was injured in 2003, or is no longer with the same team. Only Wagner and Percival pitched in each of those seven seasons AND stayed with one team, besides Rivera. Mo has had the good fortune to be both good and (mostly) healthy over those seven years (as well as 1996), a stake to which no other relief pitcher can lay claim. Billy Wagner had an injury- and suck-prone 2000 season, to knock him off the list, and Trevor Hoffman and Robb Nenn have both missed at least a year with injuries. Troy Percival is kinda brittle (only averages about 50-55 innings/year) and typically puts up ERAs in the mid 3.00s, so he's not in the rankings.

So clearly Mariano Rivera is the best "closer" of his generation, no newsflash there. But who woulda thunk that he was nearly as effective a pitcher, in some ways, as Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, and better than a lot of others, since he became the full-time closer for the Yankees in 1997? Not me. Not til Wednesday, when this showed up in my Inbox.

The Yanks will have to retire Rivera's #42 when he retires anyway. He's the last player in the majors wearing that number, grandfathered becasue he had it before El Bud decided to make everybody retire it in a publicity stunt to honor Jackie Robinson. But even if they didn't have to do this, they should probably retire it, since it will probably be a long time before we see a guy spend 7 or 8 years with one team and consistently put up numbers like his, RSAA or otherwise. And if he manages to pitch three more years with similar results? Finishes his career with ~350 saves, an ERA around ~2.50? Continues the success in the postseason that may be, according to Rob Neyer, one of the primary reasons that the Yankees have four World Series wins in nine postseasons, while the Braves have only one in twelve shots at the trophy?

Well, after they retire his number, he ought to get a plaque in Cooperstown, too.

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21 March 2004

Book Review: Red Sox vs. Yankees - The Great Rivalry

Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry
by Harvey Frommer and Frederic J. Frommer

The newest offering from father/son duo Harvey and Frederic J. Frommer, Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry (Sports Publishing LLC, $24.95) found its way into my hands about a week and a half ago, and I have taken nearly any opportunity I could to review it. Not only because I promised the senior Frommer that I'd get this review out in a timely fashion for once, but also because as a Yankee fan myself, there are few endeavors more satisfying than reading about the histories of my favorite team, its closest rival, and their competition with each other.

Having had the good fortune to have been raised a Yankee fan (and the good sense not to switch alliances when they started to suck in the early '90s), this book was and is a pleasere for me to read. Its pages are filled with stories of Yankees and Red Sox games and series, players and trades, fans and fights, quips and quotes, playoff wins and losses, heartbreak and joy for both teams. OK, so mostly heartbreak for the Red Sox.

Frommer starts the book with a timeline that starts with the birth of Babe Ruth in 1895 and ends with the acquisition of Curt Schilling by the Red Sox in November of 2003. The book then provides an entire chapter on the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry as it was played out in the 2003 playoffs, which, while incredible to watch, somehow was not nearly as exciting to read about only a few months later. The chapter, however, like the rest of the book, is well writen, interesting in its own right, and very readable. I expect that ten or twenty years from now, I shall be able to pick up this book and find it an excellent resource as I recount my own memories of that exciting seven-game series to my own children or (God help you) yours. The book, like the rivalry it recalls, will stand the test of time, I expect.

I know this because the very next chapter focuses especially on the 1978 season, and it is a great read. The Yankees and Red Sox were both vying for the AL East title and were forced to play a one-game playoff to win it, which the Yanks did, even though they had been down as much as 14 games in the standings as late as July 18th. From that huge deficit, to Reggie getting benched for dogging it, to Billy Martin getting canned to Ron Guidry's 25-3 record to Bucky-Effing-Dent, there is no dull paragraph in the chapter. Harvey and or Frederic Frommer could have made a great living as a beat writer, had they not gone into slightly more prestigious careers as an Ivy League professor and a political journalist, respectively.

Moving on through the book, the Frommers spend chapters focusing on the general histories of the teams, the cultures and moods cultivated by the Rivalry, the merits and limitations of the respective ballparks, special games between the two clubs, a collection of quotes from various players, fans ad others, and list of statistics and trivia about the two teams. They even devote an entire chapter to perhaps the greatest rivalry between players on these two fabled teams, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Frankly, this is one area in which I think the Red Sox have a decided advantage, though I doubt if many of my fellow Yankee fans would back me up on this.

As you may have deduced, the Red Sox don't have many advantages in this rivalry, and therefore I would venture a guess that this book doesn't offer nearly as much for them as it does for Yankees fans. In fact, the title, "Red Sox vs. Yankees", is about the only time that Boston has gotten first billing in this struggle for the last three quarters of a century. Personally, I can't imagine being very excited about spending hours on end reading about the myriad disappointments and seemingly endless heartbreak associated with my chosen team, thankyouverymuch. But maybe that's just me.

Regardless of your particular bent, Red Sox vs. Yankees is still a very well-done book. As a coffee-table book, it offers large, whole-panel pictures, many of them in vibrant color, to appease the eye, and solid writing to appease the mind.

And even the price is right!

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19 March 2004

Who is Baseball's Greatest Current Ambassador?

Alex Rodriguez

Baseball has many ambassadors, of course. Not all of them actually help very much in their ambassadorships (this means you, Bud). Each of the players, in his own way and within his own sphere of influence, serves as an ambassador for baseball to at least the region in which he plays and probably in the area where he lives or grew up.

Several players have been the Face of Baseball for a time: Don Mattingly in the ‘80s, Cal Ripken in the early ‘90s, Sosa and McGwire in the late ‘90s. But who holds the torch now? Who is worthy?

You guessed it: Alex.

Is there a more recognizable face than that of Alex Rodriguez in all of the major leagues today? Sure, Barry Bonds is awesome. But he’s old, surly and possibly about as natural as the breasts on Baywatch. (I don’t actually believe that, but there are enough people who do to make his candidacy a moot point.)

Albert Pujols? Fantastic player, but he’s also foreign born, and is probably lying about his age. Derek Jeter? A great player, who does a lot of charity work, but spends too much time on the gossip pages in the New York Daily News and is too controversial a figure in some circles because of his defense, (or rather the apparent lack thereof).

So who’s left? A-Rod. He’s the best player in the league, playing on the best team in history, in the biggest city with a baseball team. Whether he plays the hot corner or moves back over to shortstop, he’ll remain highly visible. He’s attractive, articulate, playing in the prime of his career. He’s American, but with a Hispanic heritage, so he reaches out to more extensive markets than one player normally can. Plus, his trade to the Yankees netted him to rights to use their logos in any of his own advertising and publicity campaigns, so you’ll be seeing a lot more of him everywhere.

And when the Yankees win the 2004 World Series, Mr. Ambassador will get to meet Mr. President. What a photo-op.

You can read the opinions of some of my colleagues here.

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18 March 2004

Not That Anyone Cares: A Plan for the Expos

I got to thinking, as I was writing that piece on baseball teams' attendance numbers as they might be affected by the relocation of the Expos to North Jersey: Maybe there is hope. Maybe there's a way to save the Expos without preferentially stepping on any other franchise's toes, and without even relocating the team. For that matter, maybe without even selling the team.

You see, there's this long-standing rule in the MLB bylaws that nobody is allowed to own controlling interest in more than one franchise at once, because it would create a conflict of interest. An owner who has two teams could trade all the good players from one team to the other, for all its lousy players, with no repercussions at all. Then the one team could be great, and the other would suck. This thought occurred to a couple of different owners at approximately the same time, over a hundred years ago. But that's another story.

This story, on the other hand, is more interesting because it affects all the teams. A couple of years ago, when the Yawkey Trust wanted out of RedSox nation, the only guy who really wanted to buy the team was John Henry, who, besides being pretty handy at turning a jack and swinging a hammer, also owned the Florida Marlins at the time. So he needed someone to buy the Marlins so he could buy the RedSox. The only guy interested in that was Jeffrey Loria, who had been such a cheapskate as the owner of the Montreal Expos that their games weren't even broadcast on TV (and only in French on the radio, I think) the first (& last) year he owned the team. And of course, nobody wanted to buy the Expos, given that the franchise has been in self-imposed limbo for the last ten years, so now what?

Henry buys the Sawx.

Loria buys the Marlins (and they win the World Series. C'est la vie.)

And the other 29 baseball owners buy the Montreal Expos until someone with some brains and/or balls figures out what to do with them. Well, hold onto your hockey pucks and Bare Naked Ladies CDs, because Boy of Summer's got a Plan.

Here's the deal: Because the owners of the other 29 MLB teams own the Expos, and because to some extent or another the Expos are their competition, none of them wants to pony up any significant money to fund the enemy. The result of this tactic is that the Expos have less and less ability to retain or acquire talent, making the team that much less attractive both to any potential fans and to any potential buyers.

Well, I say that they're going about this entirely the wrong way. The Expos should have an extraordinary competitive advantage. Think about it: the other teams each only have one multi-millionaire owner to support them. The Expos have almost thirty! They shouldn't be scrimping and saving! They should be piling it on! Lavishing the franchise with payroll money! With a relatively minor investment from each of the 29 owners/ownership groups, they could have an enormous pool of money with which to pay the salaries of any and every player they can get their greedy little paws on! Think of the possibilities!

They've already got a pretty good second baseman in Jose Vidro, probably one of the three to five best in the majors right now, plus a pretty good shortstop in Orlando Cabrera. They had a superstar right fielder in Vladimir Guerrero and another decent player in Brad Wilkerson. Javier Vazquez was one of the better pitchers in the NL, even though the radio guys in NY don't seem to be giving him any credit yet. Tomo Ohka, Livan Hernandez and Zach Day all have their merits as starting pitchers, as did Tony Armas before he got hurt. Luis Ayala and TJ Tucker are certainly more than serviceable relief pitchers.

So you've got some talent with which to start building. And you've got 29 multi-millionaire owners. So why not pool your resources, maybe based on some kinda sliding scale according to revenues of the other team owners, and make a SuperTeam!??! You could get something like a $200 million payroll without enlisting more than $10 mil from any one team! With a pool of money like that, they could keep Vazquez and Guererro, sign Bartolo Colon, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmiero, anyone they want!

I wasn't able to find accurate numbers for 2004 MLB team payrolls yet, but based on last year's numbers, it looks like an investment of ~6% of each team's payroll, in addition to what they're already spending, would be plenty to make the Expos a Super Team. Besides, almost every team currently has or recently has had a worse investment than the one I'm suggesting, as you can see:

Approx 2003 Player(s) on whom team
Team Opening Day Payroll 6% wasted a LOT of $ in 2003

NY Yankees $149,760,995.00 $8,985,659.70 Steve Karsay $5M, Sterling Hitchcock $6M
Los Angeles $105,897,620.00 $6,353,857.20 Darren Dreifort, $11M
Boston $96,631,677.00 $5,797,900.62 John Burkett, $5.5M
Atlanta $104,622,210.00 $6,277,332.60 Paul Byrd, $3M
San Francisco $82,352,167.00 $4,941,130.02 Robb Nen, $8.8M
Seattle $87,184,500.00 $5,231,070.00 Jeff Cirillo, $6.8M
NY Mets $116,868,613.00 $7,012,116.78 Mo Vaughn, $17M
Chicago Cubs $80,743,333.00 $4,844,599.98 Shawn Estes $3M
St. Louis $83,150,894.00 $4,989,053.64 Fernando Vina, $5.3M
Arizona $80,657,500.00 $4,839,450.00 Tony Womack, $6M
Texas $104,526,470.00 $6,271,588.20 Chan Ho Park, $12.9M
Philadelphia $70,780,000.00 $4,246,800.00 Joe Table, $5.2M
Chicago Sox $51,010,000.00 $3,060,600.00 Billy Koch, $4.2M
Anaheim $79,031,667.00 $4,741,900.02 Kevin Appier, $11.5M
Minnesota $55,605,000.00 $3,336,300.00 Eric Milton, $6M
Baltimore $69,452,275.00 $4,167,136.50 Albert Belle, $12M
Houston $70,489,840.00 $4,229,390.40 Brad Ausmus, $5.5M
Colorado $66,981,667.00 $4,018,900.02 Denny Neagle, $9M
Cincinnati $56,979,777.00 $3,418,786.62 Barry Larkin, $9M
Florida $48,368,298.00 $2,902,097.88 -
Oakland $50,360,834.00 $3,021,650.04 Jermaine Dye, $11.7M
Cleveland $48,834,834.00 $2,930,090.04 Bob Wickman, $6M
Detroit $49,163,000.00 $2,949,780.00 Bob Higginson, $11.9M
Montreal $51,949,000.00 $3,116,940.00 Fernando Tatis, $6.5M
San Diego $45,430,000.00 $2,725,800.00 Trevor Hoffman, $9M
Kansas City $40,518,000.00 $2,431,080.00 Brent Mayne, $2.75M
Pittsburgh $54,542,099.00 $3,272,525.94 Kevin Young, $6.6M
Milwaukee $40,627,000.00 $2,437,620.00 Glendon Rusch, $4.25M
Toronto $51,279,000.00 $3,076,740.00 Cory Lidle, $5.35M
Tampa Bay $19,630,000.00 $1,177,800.00 Rey Ordonez, $6.5M
sum of contributions w/out Montreal $123,688,756.20
Potential Montreal payroll $175,637,756.20

I had to list two players for the Yankees, because nine or ten million dollars is a LOT of money, but maybe we can suspend the ridiculous Yankees Revenue SHaring Tax for a year or something, y'know?

Interestingly enough, Florida did a pretty good job of avoiding having any real albatrosses on the payroll. They had a pretty low salary to begin with, and the few big-ticket guys they had were all reasonably productive. And of course, we can't count Montreal's own payrollin contributions to its own payroll. That would be silly.

The point of listing those players (The Overpaid All-Stars) is not that the team couls or should take away the salaries of those players to give them to better (or healthier) players. It's simply to point out that what I'm suggesting, in most cases, would be neither the largest expenditure nor the most ridiculous investment most of these teams have made in the last year, much less the last several seasons.

And assuming that they could have done this, take a look at what their lineup could have been by signing free agents to the deals they got elsewhere and making a few key trades:

Starting Lineup
SS Miguel Tejada $12.00M
2B Jose Vidro $7.00M
CF Vladimir Guerrero $14.00M
RF Manny Ramirez $20.50M
LF Gary Sheffield $13.00M
1B Rafael Palmeiro $4.50M
3B Troy Glaus $9.00M
C Javy Lopez $7.50M

C Gregg Zaun $0.50M
1B Travis Lee $2.25M
OF Kenny Lofton $3.10M
3B Robin Ventura $1.20M
OF Raul Mondesi $1.75M
IF Mark McLemore $0.73M

Offense Total $96,300,000.00

RP-R Armando Benitez $3.25M
RP-L Arthur Rhodes $3.10M
RP-L Ricardo Rincon $1.30M
RP-R Tim Worrell $2.75M
RP-R Scott Sullivan $2.50M

SP-R Javier Vazquez $10.00M
SP-L Greg Maddux $ 8.00M
SP-L Kevin Brown $15.00M
SP-R Curt Schilling $12.00M
SP-R Bartolo Colon $13.25M
Pitching Total $71,150,000

Team Total $167,450,000

Are you telling me that this team wouldn't kick butt?

They already had Vazquez and Vidro under contract, and now they could afford to resign Guerrero. They could afford to pick up the Manny Ramirez contract when Boston dangled him on waivers last winter, and most of the rest of these guys were free agents. They had some talent on the roster already, which could be used to trade for Troy Glaus, Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown. Brown, especially, would not require much back in trade, since the Dodgers really wanted to clear salary more than anything. They could send Orlando Cabrera to Anaheim in the trade for Glaus, to give them someone who could eventually play 3B. Between the Starting and relief talent the Expos already had and their newfound ability to take on big salaries, they could make the trades for Schilling, Glaus and Brown with little or no trouble at all.

As we learned in our previous endeavor, looking at attendance, fans go to see games when the team plays well, so how much better a way could we come up with to drum up attendance in Montreal? Besides that, Maddux and Palmiero are sure fire Hall of Famers, setting potential milestones in each game they play. There must be at least two or three more HoFers in that lineup as well, which always helps fans to be able to say that they saw the Montreal SuperTeam back when Manny Ramirez was just a marginal Hall of Famer...

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10 March 2004

Random Thanks and Stuff

Well, that was nice.

Thanks muchly to the kind hearts of John Perricone, David Pinto, Lee Sinins, and numerous others with slightly smaller spheres of influence, Boy of Summer received 567 visits in three days last week, including a record 377 in one day that shattered the previous record of 143, set last year on Opening Day. I know fewer than 400 hits is an off day for some of you, but I'm excited, and they can't take that away from me. That, and the way you sing off-key...

Incidentally, if you're a blogger or someone to whom I sent an email asking for a plug and I don't already have you linked on my site, let me know and I'll remedy the situation.

Speaking of links, I haven't had the time to say anything about the steroids situation yet, and it's likely that I won't, but you can go check out John Perricone's place. He's written quite extensively on the subject and has links to lots of other resources.

Also SethSpeaks has a pretty long but interesting look at Minnesota Twins playoff teams.

And, in case you've been under a rock for a few weeks, Dan McLaughlin continues his series on Win Shares-based analysis, division by division, with the AL Central.

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02 March 2004

I Got Ya Expos Right Here!

WARNING: Some of the following material is GRAPHIC in nature, and is therefore not recommended for children over the age of three, the colorblind, or people who have trouble reading maps.

I lived in northern New Jersey for a long time, almost twenty years. And despite the fact that I happen to agree with the former NJ governor who thought that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” would have been an appropriate state song (“We’ve got to get out while we’re young…”), I also believe that Jersey has a lot of good aspects. Being closer to New York City, for one, where my favorite baseball team happens to play.

At one time, while I still lived there, the possibility of the Yankees moving to a yet-to-be built stadium in the Meadowlands became a very hot topic. Everyone from radio and TV personalities to your local supermarket cashier had an opinion on the matter or used the phrase “New Jersey Yankees” as a punch line to some bad joke.

Speaking of bad jokes: The Montreal Expos.

The joke, sadly, is that the rest of the major league teams actually own the Expos franchise, one of their competitors (in more ways than one), and don’t appear to be willing to sell their interest in it to anyone who might actually be able to do something useful with it. That is, anything besides helping to stock the other 29 major league rosters with some fairly decent baseball players. (Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Javier Vazquez, Ugueth Urbina, Vladimir Guerrero, Moises Alou, Kirk Reuter, Rondell White, Carl Pavano, and others were all allowed to leave as free agents or traded away when they became too expensive.)

The problem is not the notion of selling the team, as no fewer than three major league franchises, including the past two World Series winners, have changed owners’ hands in the last couple of seasons. The hang-up appears to be that they just can’t seem to find a buyer who has both the wherewithal to purchase the team and a city to which it could be legitimately moved. A city/region that will appreciate (support) the team and won’t step on the toes of at least one other MLB franchise does not appear to exist. Places like Las Vegas, Portland, Memphis, Washington DC, and Northern NJ have all been suggested, each with its own set of problems. Baseball Prospectus’ Andrew Baharlias recently penned an article (sorry, premium content) about the possibility of the Expos (or some other team?) moving to New Jersey, and he came to the conclusions that:

1) It would never happen, because the Yankees and Mets would veto it.
2) South Jersey might actually be a better option for a stadium site than North Jersey, based on minor and independent league baseball attendance last year, and
3) The Yankees might be a better option to move to the Meadowlands anyway.

But why wouldn’t this work? Doug Pappas has been telling anyone who would listen for years that New Jersey should be able to easily support a third team in the area, and that the Baltimore/Washington area is also a very viable option, economically. Naturally, if Baharlias’ suggestion to put such a team in southern or central Jersey were taken, the Phillies would intervene to prevent it, as would any other team that perceived an economic threat in its backyard. Heck, ten years ago the Phillies wouldn’t even allow a minor league team to enter the Lehigh Valley, 60 miles away! They’re certainly not going to roll over for one in Trenton, right across the river.

The trouble with any of these plans is that the baseball owners all perceive that they will lose revenue if another team takes root nearby, that their fans will somehow become brainwashed and start going to the games of this new franchise, instead of their own, well-established one. But is this an accurate perception? I looked at the seasonal attendance records for three different areas over four spans of time, to see if there was any observable, long-term affect on attendance due to the placement or removal of another team in the same vicinity. (Thanks to BaseballReference.com for these numbers, by the way.) And do you know what I found?

Of course you don’t. That’s why you’re still reading.

What I found was that if there is any significant effect, it is either not permanent, or not significant enough for anyone to really worry about it.

NY Yankees, Giants, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers

Take a look at what happened to attendance in New York City while it had three teams in the 1950’s, then after the Dodgers and Giants fled to the Left Coast, and then when the Mets were born.

Initially, you can see that the Yankees’ attendance (the dark blue line) was pretty much stable throughout the mid-1950s, while the Dodgers and Giants were still around. Even as the Dodgers’ attendance fluctuated and the Giants attendance plummeted, the Bronx Bombers drew just about the same average attendance from 1953-1957. They actually lost a few fans in 1958, for no discernable reason I can see, but more than gained them back in 1959, despite the team’s third-place finish.

You can also see that the Yankees’ attendance numbers steadily climbed from 1958-1961, reaching a pretty high peak in 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing the Babe’s single-season home run record. Naturally, there’s really nowhere to go but down from there, and perhaps also because they were no longer the only game in town, they took a hit in 1962, when the Amazin’s were hatched. Yankee attendance continued to decline throughout the decade, while the Mets attendance climbed steadily. Could this be possible evidence of a deleterious effect on the Bombers’ ability to draw a crowd?

Take a look and the white line. That’s the Yankees’ winning percentage in each of those seasons (multiplied by a constant to bring it up to the level of the attendance numbers). It doesn’t take Lobachevsky to figure out that those two lines trend pretty nicely together, much better than any inverse correlation between the Yankees’ attendance and that of their competitors. Another thing you can’t see from the graph is that the Yankees were still the #1 or #2 draw in the AL in each of these seasons, despite the decline. (In fact the Yankees average attendance had been first or 2nd in the AL every season from 1926 to 1965, and did not lose their hold on that status until a last-place finish in ’66.)

But in the early ‘60s, for whatever reason, MLB attendance (the maroon line) was down everywhere. Maybe a lot of the ‘purists’ stopped going to games when the leagues expanded. Maybe people had more games available on TV. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The point is that while their total attendance may have been down, their relative strength in attendance was nearly as high as ever, until they started losing a lot.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels

Let’s move on to the next area, Los Angeles. The Dodgers arrived in 1958, and had the town all to themselves until 1961, when expansion dropped the Angels out of the sky.

Again, you can see that the Dodgers attendance fluctuated more with their in-season success than it did with how many fans the Angels were drawing. Incidentally, some of the sharp fluctuation in the Angels’ attendance was likely due to the instability of their stadium situation. In 1961, they were playing in Wrigley Field, a converted minor league park that held barely 20,000 people. From 1962-65, they played their home games in Dodger Stadium, and in 1966 they got their own venue, Anaheim Stadium, and immediately jumped up to 1st in the AL in average attendance.

You would imagine, I think, that if there was ever a situation in which having another, proximate team would have a detrimental effect on your own team’s attendance, this would be it, right? Angels’ tickets were probably less expensive than Dodgers’ tickets, and they were playing in the exact same location. Again though, the apparent drop in attendance from 1962-64 is more attributable to general trends in all of major league baseball that anything to do with the Dodgers themselves. LA was 1st in the NL in average attendance, despite these fluctuations, every year from 1959-1966. In any case, though, it seems fairly clear that there is little correlation between the numbers of fans coming to Angels games and the numbers of fans NOT coming to Dodgers games.

San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics

Also out in California, the Giants’ home turf was invaded by the Athletics, who moved in across the Bay, to Oakland in 1968, after thirteen mostly dismal years in Kansas City.

This graph shows a slightly different picture from the two we just examined. For one thing, the Giants’ attendance numbers fluctuated significantly, while their winning percentage stayed pretty constant. The one dip in their winning in 1972 also coincided with the first players’ strike, and so attendance was probably hurt more than it would otherwise have been for just a one-year blip in an otherwise reasonably successful on-field team.

That precipitous drop from 1966-1968 certainly doesn’t correspond to the team’s winning, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the A’s, since they were still playing in KC in 1967, and they were a mediocre team (82-80) that drew poorly (8th in the 10-team AL) in 1968. With a few exceptions, both Oakland’s and San Francisco’s attendance numbers were fairly consistent throughout the next several years.

I think, though I don’t have any evidence to prove it, that the huge variances in attendance (almost 5,000 patrons/game stopped going in both 1967 and again in 1968, as well as the spike in 1971) are due to Willie Mays, or rather the lack thereof. Mays was a wonderful, Hall of Fame player, arguably the greatest centerfielder ever, and he still played with the Giants through 1971, but age was taking its toll. He was 36 years old in 1967, and started to drop from Demigod status to Mere Mortal, as you can see here:

YEARS     G    AB   R    H   2B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA

1962-66 157 581 117 177 28 45 114 74 78 .305
1967-71 136 456 81 128 20 21 70 72 91 .281

Some players, like Babe Ruth, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds, so transcend the game, and the level at which their competition plays, that they can actually bring many more fans to the ballpark, just to see them. Maybe when Mays lost some of his touch, some of the Bay Area fans lost interest. It could also be that the spike in 1971 was due to Mays as well, if people knew it would be his last year with the team. Lots of fans may have wanted one last chance to see the Say Hey Kid before he retired, or to take their kids or grandkids so that they could at least say they saw him play once. If anyone has a better theory, I’m willing to hear it. John Perricone didn’t have one, and I would think that he’d know.

All of that, while perhaps an interesting tangent, really doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the presence of the Athletics hurt the Giants’ attendance, but I think that the graph does show one thing. The A’s drew pretty consistently around 10,000 to 12,000 fans per game in their first five years, with a slight increase that approximates the general trends in MLB attendance during that time (the maroon line), but offers no direct explanation for the instability in the Giants attendance.

Washington/Baltimore, Pre-1961

For all the harping that Orioles owner Peter Angelos does about the possibility of the Expos cutting into his profits if they move to Washington or Northern Virginia, he seems to forget that his own franchise did the same thing half a century ago. In 1954, a failing and flailing St. Louis Browns franchise decided to pull up stakes and head East, for Baltimore, which had not had a major league team since the Orioles left for New York in 1903, eventually to become the most successful and storied franchise in all of professional sports (no, the Yankees, silly). The Browns became the Orioles, and at that time, they were encroaching upon the Washington Senators’ home area.

Not that the Senators were exactly a model of success at the major league level, in terms of winning, attendance or anything else. But still, the place was theirs, and the Orioles’ arrival definitely didn’t help the struggling franchise.

As bad as things were for the Washington Senators (“First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the American League”) before the Orioles turned up, they didn’t exactly improve with the arrival of some “healthy competition”. In truth, for the first few seasons in Baltimore, the only thing for which the Orioles really competed with the Senators was the American League basement. From 1954 to 1959, Baltimore and Washington were two of the three worst teams in the AL every year except one (1957), when Baltimore finished 4th from the bottom.

But were they competing for fans? You can see from the graph that Washington’s attendance numbers were on a slight but steady decline even before the Orioles arrived, and that the same trend continued through 1955. Then the team’s attendance essentially leveled off at about 5,000-6,000/game, and since there was nowhere to go but up from there, they did. A little. Even that slight improvement, however, again coincided with a slight increase in the quality of the on-field product (and the general MLB attendance trend), as the Senators won 73 whopping games in 1960, just before they left for Minnesota. As before, we see that the notable fluctuations in the attendance levels of the newer team (Baltimore) had little to do with the previous team’s fan base.

Baltimore/Washington, Post-1960

Baltimore’s attendance continued its weirdness into the next decade, as the Senators left and the Newly Improved (not really) Expansion Senators took their place. This new team wasn’t any better at baseball than the old one had been, and they didn’t draw any better either, which is why they also left, this time for Texas, after the 1971 season.

This graph shows that the Orioles attendance (the black line) continued to fluctuate significantly throughout the mid 1960s, while that of the Senators (the blue line) remained fairly constant. And by “constant” I mean “lousy”. As we mentioned before though, the Senators’ attendance was pretty awful before the Orioles got there. It seems that it took about a decade for Baltimore fans to make up their minds whether or not they were really interested in the Orioles. Despite only minor fluctuations in the Orioles on-field success, the attendance varied from fewer than 10,000/game up to 14,000/game, back down to 10,000 and then up to over 15,000 fans per game, before finally stabilizing around 12-13,000 for the decade from 1967-76.

You can also see that the Orioles attendance trended pretty nicely with their winning from 1966 or ’68 on, so it would appear that once people got comfortable with the Orioles, convinced that they weren’t going to skip town (as the Senators had now done twice in barely over a decade), and convinced that Earl Weaver and his Oriole Way were going to work, they settled on how often they would go to games. These numbers, while below the major league average, were still pretty solid, and gave the Baltimore organization a foundation on which to build one of the more successful transformations of a franchise from Perennial Patsy to Consistent Contender.

However, returning to the question at hand: No, the departure of the Senators for Texas after the 1971 season did not create any significant spike in the Orioles’ attendance, which mostly followed the gentle upward movement that the rest of MLB followed.

So, what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that Travis knows how to make pretty graphs. Also, we’ve learned that history has a few lessons for us regarding the effects of major league baseball franchise relocation on the attendance of the existing team.

Lesson #1: Teams that have lousy attendance before a new team moves in continue to have lousy attendance after the new team arrives (cf. 1950s Washington Senators). Teams that have good attendance tend to have continued good attendance (cf. 1960s NY Yankees) unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Losing A Lot. Call this Nelson’s First Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #2: Existing teams’ attendance levels tend to follow the trends of their on-field success fairly closely, unless acted upon by an Outside Force, e.g. Demise of a Superstar. (cf. San Francisco Giants, mid-late 1960s) Call this Nelson’s Second Law of Attendance Motion.

Lesson #3: Newly relocated or expanded teams will have a 5-10 year period wherein their attendance will fluctuate significantly, depending upon the team’s on-field success, stadium situation, previous history, manager, uniform colors, phase of the moon, etc. (Unless they’re the Devil Rays, in which case the attendance will start out slowly and taper off. That Law is called Entropy, which means that everything is in a constant state of breaking down and spinning out of control, at least in Tampa Bay.) Otherwise, call this Nelson’s Third Law of Attendance Motion (Chaos Theory).

Overall, of the five (six, really) location/time case studies we’ve done, it appears that the Yankees have the most cause for complaint, as theirs is historically the team that lost the most attendance with the onset of another team across town. As we’ve already discussed, that correlation seems to make less sense than the correlation of attendance drop with losing ballgames, but at least they have a correlation to show. And, since we’re talking about the possibility of a MLB team being placed in northern New Jersey (remember when we were talking about that?), this is relevant.

However, I do believe that we have pretty well established, according to Nelson’s Second Law, that the Bronx Bombers have little about which to worry. With their success, the Yanks have drawn over 3 million fans per season for each of the last four years, even though ticket prices have essentially doubled in the last decade. You’d imagine that if people were going to stop going to Yankees games, the prices would have pushed them away, and they haven’t, because for every fan who can no longer afford to go to two or three games a year, there are two fans who will go once or twice just to watch a good team play.

Fans choose which team they will follow early in life, and it’s usually not easy to pry that away from them, regardless of what the team does. If the team’s successful, more fans go to games. If the team loses a lot, the fans tend to stay home, watch the games or read about them and then complain to their barbers, or whatever. But under no circumstances would any lifelong Yankee fan trade in his Yankees tickets to go see the East Rutherford Expos, even at half the price. If anything, they might do both, but as long as the Yankees keep winning, they really shouldn’t bother about the Expos.

Nobody else does.

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