Author Archive

An Unchanging Truth: Positional Offense Through History

Baseball has seen many changes in the past 100 years. Some changes are significant enough, retrospectively, to define an era. There was the Deadball Era from roughly 1901 to 1919, characterized by an emphasis on pitching, defense, and a low run-scoring environment. The Liveball Era began in 1920, ushered in by Babe Ruth, cleaner baseballs that were easier for batters to see, and rule changes like banning the spitball. When the offense started to overpower the game, more changes were made to temper that environment, like the introduction of the ground-rule double in 1931. Before that, a ball that bounced on the field and over the fence was considered a home run.

There’s Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1946, and the following years when African-Americans finally were permitted to play in the majors. There’s expansion, the lowering of the pitcher’s mound, the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League, free agency, more expansion, newer ballparks, PEDs, testing for PEDs, and an ever-expanding strike zone — all marking the beginning of other, overlapping eras. And then there’s the sabermetrics revolution — using advanced statistical modeling and analysis to construct rosters, manage bullpens, and deploy extreme defensive shifts.

All of these changes in baseball and yet, for the last 100 years, the offensive hierarchy among defensive positions has remained pretty much the same. First basemen, right fielders, and left fielders produce more offense than the average player; catchers, second basemen, and shortstops produce less. It was that way in 1914, in 2014, and in nearly every season in between. Clean ball, dirty ball, higher mound, lower mound, PEDs, no PEDs — whatever the conditions in the game and on the field, first basemen, left fielders, and right fielders have dominated on offense.

Let’s examine more closely this relationship between offensive skill and defensive position — both the historical averages and outlier seasons.

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For Perennial Postseason Teams, Ticket Price Fatigue

The secondary ticket price market for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series was the worst I’d seen in the postseason since the Giants opened AT&T (nee Pac Bell) Park in 2000. I had extra tickets to the game, listed them on StubHub for 15% above face value, and watched them sit unsold for days. I dropped the price to my out-of-pocket cost. Nothing. I dropped it to face value. Nothing. I dropped it below face value. Nothing. I offered them for free to friends of Facebook. No takers. I tried to sell them to shady ticket brokers outside the ballpark. They offered peanuts. I offered them free to my twitter followers. Free. The “Oh, I wish I could, but have to work!” responses rolled in.

Granted, it was a weekday game, with a 1:00 p.m. start time. But it was Game 3 of the NLCS, damn it. I could not give the tickets away.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone.

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Divvying Up Postseason Ticket Revenue

During the 2012 postseason, I wrote this post explaining how revenue generated by postseason tickets sales is shared among the league, postseason teams and players on postseason teams. The basic distribution formulas are established by MLB Rules and the collective bargaining agreement, and haven’t changed. But let’s review to make sure we’re all on the same page.
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Defensive Replacements and Their Role in No-Hitters

Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins on Sunday. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the ten-year-old franchise. It was also the last day of the regular season. Those facts alone will keep the memory of Zimmermann’s effort alive for Nationals fans for years to come. But they won’t be the most memorable aspect of the no-hitter. That belongs to Steven Souza Jr.

Nationals manager Matt Williams sent Souza in to replace Ryan Zimmerman in left field for the top of the ninth inning. Zimmerman isn’t a natural left fielder, but a shoulder injury has hampered his throw across the diamond from his usual spot at third base. That, and the emergence of Anthony Rendon, has lead to Zimmerman playing left field quite a bit this season.

With Souza in left, Michael Taylor in center and Nate Schierholtz in right, the Marlins’ Christian Yelich stepped to the plate against Zimmermann. There were two outs and Yelich was the last hope for the Marlins to break up Zimmerman’s no-hit bid. Courtesy of Erik Malinowski, a Vine of Yelich’s fly ball out.

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Innovations In Sports Analytics: Marketing & In-Game Experiences

I attended the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in San Francisco last week. On Tuesday, I wrote about the presentations that focused on player training, development and performance. You can read that article here. Today’s post will discuss how teams and leagues use analytics to boost ticket sales and enhance the in-game experience. As with the performance presentations, NFL and NBA teams were most strongly represented.

  • Using Analytics To Define The Ticketing ExperienceRuss Stanley, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, San Francisco Giants. This was the one marketing presentation from an MLB team. The Giants have 30,000 full season ticket holders. They do not offer partial season ticket plans. Season ticket holders are capped at 30,000 because the Giants are required to have 12,000 or so tickets available for MLB for the postseason and season ticket holders are guaranteed postseason tickets. On any given game day, 15,000 of the 30,000 season tickets exchange hands through StubHub. Stanley said that the secondary marketing place is critical for season ticket holders because they are required to by all 81 home games.

    This season, the Giants started experimenting with a repurposing system where season ticket holders let the Giants re-sell tickets they can’t use, and the proceeds from this second sale are split 50-50. The Giants pioneered the use of dynamic pricing for single-game tickets with ticket analytics company Qcue. (I explained the ins and outs of dynamic and variable pricing in this post.) The 12,000 non-season ticket holder seats are subject to dynamic pricing from the time they go on sale until the game starts. On the day of the game, the prices could change 400 times. The season ticket holder price for each seat is the dynamic pricing floor (so as not to undercut the secondary market for season ticket holders.

    The Giants have aggressively used dynamic pricing to keep alive their sell-out streak — which dates to September 2010. Stanley admitted that the Giants have “left money on the table” to keep the sell-out streak alive because the ownership group likes the sell-out streak and because it builds a narrative of scarcity, and that helps with season ticket holder renewals. My thoughts: I was pleased to finally get a Giants executive to admit that the sell-out streak is itself a marketing ploy and has been somewhat contrived.

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Innovations In Sports Analytics: Training, Development & Performance

Innovation Enterprise conducted a two-day Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in San Francisco last week. This is Innovation Enterprise’s speciality — conferences and online learning focused on “big data” across business, finance, media and sports. Last week’s summit featured presentations focused on two general areas of sports analytics — (1) analytics that enhance training, development and performance; and (2) analytics that enhance marketing, ticket sales and fan engagement.

This post will highlight the presentation on analytics for training, development and performance. Later this week, I’ll focus on innovations in analytics for the business side of sports.

Before getting into the details, a few preliminary thoughts.

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Royals Are From Mars, Tigers Are From Venus

The Royals lead the American League Central by one game over the Tigers after Detroit defeated the Indians Thursday night, 11-4 in 11 innings. The teams are even in wins with 77; the Tigers have two additional losses. The Royals are 19-19 in blowout games and 20-22 in one run games. For the Tigers, those numbers are 23-18 (blowouts) and 20-18 (one run games). Both teams have a higher winning percentage on the road and both have dominated in interleague games.

This morning, FanGraphs’ playoff odds gave the Tigers a 54.5% chance of taking the division. The Royals’ odds are at 44.4%. No other division race features such closely-divided odds. Even in the National League West race between the Dodgers and Giants — which the Dodgers lead by two games with 22 to play — FanGraphs gives LA an 83.3% chance of winning the division.

If you believe the projections, the AL Central race is as close as it can get between the Royals and the Tigers. And yet the teams have reached this point in completely different ways. Read the rest of this entry »

Longtime Agents Slash Fees, Try To Shake Up Industry

When deciding who will represent them in contract negotiations, professional baseball players can choose from hundreds of certified agents. There are big shops like Boras Corporation, Excel Sports Management (Casey Close) and Wasserman Media Group (Arn Tellum), and smaller agencies like Frye McCann, Sosnick Cobbe and Jet Sports Management. Whatever their size, most agencies charge a commission between four and five percent of the value of the player’s pro contract. For that commission, the agency does everything: negotiate the contract, arrange for equipment endorsement deals, and advise the player on financial planning and taxes. It’s a concierge approach: the player is cared for 24/7 in all aspects of his life, whether at home or on the road.

Proformance Baseball is trying a different approach. The Richmond, Virginia agency was created by Jeff Beck and Bean Stringfellow more than 20 years ago. The two met in Virginia Tech’s baseball program in the 1980’s. Stringfellow was drafted by the New York Yankee in 1984 (didn’t sign) and then re-drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1985 but never made it to the majors. Beck started his career in the capital markets.

Proformance dropped its commission to one-and-a-half percent and will stick to what Stringfellow calls “the business of baseball” — negotiate the player’s contract and equipment deals, advise him on baseball rules, and answer questions when the player reaches out. No more flying to have lunch with the player six times a season. No more marketing efforts to land local appearances and commercials. No more financial planning and taxes.As Beck and Stringfellow see it, most agencies charge four to five percent commission to cover the costs of all the other services, whether a player wants or needs them.

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Ninth Circuit Court Leans Toward MLB In Dispute Over Antitrust Exemption

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments today on the existence and scope of Major League Baseball’s exemption from federal antitrust law. The arguments arose in the city of San Jose’s federal antitrust lawsuit against MLB over the league’s failure to allow the Oakland Athletics to build a new ballpark in, and move to, San Jose.

San Jose sued MLB last summer claiming that the league’s rules creating exclusive operating territories for teams — and requiring a three-fourths vote of owners for an existing team to move into another team’s territory — violate federal antitrust law. Upon MLB’s motion, the federal district court in San Jose dismissed the city’s claims on the grounds that MLB enjoys an exemption to federal antitrust law dating to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in the Federal Baseball Club case. That decision was based on a view that baseball was a game, and not a business, and thus not subject to antirust law.

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The Dark Side Of Booming Local TV Deals

Bud Selig has been giddy watching baseball teams attract bigger and bigger local television deals. More local TV revenue to a team means more money for the league to spread via revenue sharing and greater competitive balance. And Bug Selig sure loves competitive balance. On a recent visit to PNC Park, Major League Baseball’s commissioner told Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters that he got “goosebumps” watching the Reds and Pirates square off in last year’s postseason.

But big local TV contracts aren’t all Skittles and puppies. Certainly not for fans who are forced to pay higher and higher cable and satellite TV bills to watch their home team. Nor for cable and satellite TV customers who don’t care about baseball but have to pay the higher prices as part of their bundled programming.

It turns out that big local TV contracts aren’t always good news for teams either. That has turned Selig’s mood quite sour.

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Mid-Season Local TV Ratings And Measuring Fan Engagement

Sports Business Journal published an article on Monday sounding the alarm about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ plummeting local TV ratings. Last season, the Dodgers averaged 226,000 households per game telecast. This season, the average is 40,000 households.

Of course the Dodgers’ ratings have plummeted. The team’s new regional sports network — SportsNetLA — isn’t available to fans who don’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable, because the network has been unable to reach distribution deals with the other cable and satellite companies like DirecTV and DISH. Only 30% of households in Los Angeles have Time Warner Cable and, thus, access to SportsNetLA. But the Dodgers lead the majors in attendance with 2,277,891 tickets sold through 49 home games, for an average of 46,487 per game.

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The International Spending Limits Are Not Limits At All

Major League Baseball’s signing period for international prospects kicked off on Wednesday and will continue until June 15, 2015. Teams may sign players residing outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico who have or will turn 16 by September 1 of this year. Just a few years ago, teams were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to develop and sign international prospects. That all changed with the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in 2012.

The CBA imposes bonus pool limits on international signings. The team with the worst winning percentage in the prior year receives the largest bonus pool for the next year. The team with the best winning percentage receives the smallest. The remaining 28 teams fall in between, again according to their winning percentage from the prior season. International players who are 23 years of age or older, and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. Click here for the list of bonus pools by team, with the Houston Astros on top with $5,015,400 and the St. Louis Cardinals at the bottom with $1,866,300.

In additional to the bonus pools, MLB also assigns slot values for international prospects, even though there is no international draft. But the slot values are tradeable, and are therefore valuable for teams looking to spend more on international prospects than their assigned bonus pool would allow. A team can trade for up to 50% of its bonus pool, but it must trade for a specific slot value. For example, a team with a $4 million bonus pool can trade for up to $2 million in pool space, but it must receive in return specific slot values that add up to $2 million, or less. Click here for the list of 120 slot values assigned to each team. The Astros have the top slot value of $3,300,900 and the Cardinals have the lowest at $137,600.

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Athletics To Play In Oakland At Least 10 More Years — Or Not

For years, the baseball world has been waiting for Commissioner Bud Selig to say something definitive about a new home for the Oakland Athletics. On Wednesday, he finally did. The reaction was anything but definitive.

The A’s have been negotiating a lease extension with the Oakland-Alameda County Joint Powers Authority, the entity that operates the Oakland Coliseum complex. The current lease expires at the end of this next season. Despite all the problems at Coliseum — the sewage, the water leaks, the outdated scoreboard — the A’s need a lease extension because they have no where else to play for the foreseeable future.

Lew Wolff and Gap Inc. heir John Fischer led an investor group that bought the A’s in 2005. Wolff is the managing partner and the public face on the team’s efforts to locate, finance and build a new ballpark — efforts which so far have been unsuccessful. .

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Trafficking in Cuban Ballplayers: A Look at Florida’s New Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that gives local governments access to $13 million annually in funding for the construction or renovation of a professional sports facility. To be eligible, the sports facility must be owned and operated by a local government or owned by a private entity that’s located on land owned by a local government.

Under the general terms of the new law, the Tampa Bay Rays would be eligible as a beneficiary of the new funding stream, as Tropicana Field is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. Same for the Miami Marlins, which play in a ballpark built largely with Miami-Dade County bonds. Then there are the nine teams that play in spring training facilities in Florida (Phillies, Blue Jays, Astros, Rigers, Rays, Pirates, Orioles, Mets and Twins) and the 14 minor league teams in Florida that play in a ballpark owned by — or on land owned by — the local government.

But an amendment to the bill added as it made its way through the Florida legislature carves out facilities used by MLB and MiLB franchises unless and until MLB changes its rules to permit Cuban ballplayers to sign as free agents if they defect from Cuba directly to the United States. Under current rules, MLB requires players to defect and establish residency in a non-U.S. country before coming to the United States to sign as a free agent.

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Ryan Zimmerman Is Enjoying Left Field, But Third Base Looms

Left field at AT&T Park in San Francisco is spacious — but compared to center field and right field, it’s not terribly complicated. No unusually high brick walls; no tricky angles. After Barry Bonds left the team, the Giants rotated some pretty mediocre defenders through left (and towards the end, Bonds was pretty mediocre himself). If the left fielder could hit, he’d probably be an overall plus, despite subpar range or weak arm. Think Pat Burrell in 2010.

The Washington Nationals’ four-game series in San Francisco this week, then, couldn’t have worked out better for new left fielder Ryan Zimmerman. The former Gold Glove third baseman made his first start in left on June 3 after returning from a 51-day stint on the disabled list for a broken right thumb. Zimmerman’s in left because Bryce Harper went down with his own thumb injury that is expected to keep him off the field until July. The Nationals moved Anthony Rendon to third — his natural position — and Danny Espinosa came off the bench to retake his old job at second. Before Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth rotated in left and posted an 88 wRC+ and 58 wRC+, respectively.

But there’s much more to it. Zimmerman has been battling an arthritic condition in his right shoulder since 2012 and the injury has significantly affected his throwing motion. From 2007 through the 2011 season, Zimmerman had two of the top 10 defensive seasons for third baseman in the league, as measured by Defensive Runs Saved. Cumulatively, the only third baseman better than Zimmerman in those five seasons were Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen, again using DRS.

That all changed with the shoulder injury in 2012. A cortisone shot allowed him to play through pain — and he delivered at the plate to the tune of a .352 wOBA and 121 wRC+ — but his defense suffered. He and the Nationals hoped off-season surgery would alleviate the pain and the effects of the injury on his throwing motion, but 2013 wasn’t much better from the hot corner. Zimmerman’s cumulative DRS from 2007 through 2011 was +55; in 2012 and 2013, it dropped to -2.

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Getting Ready for the 2014 Amateur Draft

Major League Baseball will hold it’s Rule 4 amateur draft on this week, with the main action on Thursday, June 5. MLB Network and will broadcast and stream, respectively, pick-by-pick coverage of the first four rounds: Round One, Competitive Balance Round A, Round Two, and Competitive Balance Round B. In essence, the top 74 spots. The draft will continue untelevised on Friday and Saturday.

This is the second year for the new draft rules that were implemented as part of the collective bargaining agreement inked at the end of 2011. Before last’s year’s draft, I wrote a two-parter on the new rules. Part I (here) discussed the changes to the free-agent compensation system and the competitive balance draft picks. Note that the qualifying offer price after the 2013 season was $14.1 million. Part 2 (here) explained the new draft slot values (the amount a team can spend on each particular draft pick, with the most money going to the number one pick) and the new draft bonus pools (the total amount each team can spend in the Rule 4 draft). If you’re unfamiliar with the new rules, or just need a refresher, take a look at last year’s posts before reading on.

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MLB Strongly Defends Local Broadcast Territories In Court

Major League Baseball asked a federal court this week to toss out claims by several fans that the league’s broadcast territories violate antitrust laws. The fans claim that MLB’s divvying up of the United States and Canada into exclusive broadcast markets means that regional sports networks need not compete with each other to telecast a team’s games in the local market. Plaintiffs also allege that MLB has a monopoly over broadcast packages of out-of-market games through Extra Innings and, and that MLB uses that monopoly for anti-competitive purposes by imposing blackouts on local games. My initial post explaining the lawsuit is here.

This week, MLB filed a motion for summary judgment with U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is presiding over the case in Manhattan. Under federal procedure rules, a party can file a summary judgment motion to argue that under a set of undisputed facts, the other side’s claims (or defenses) are legally untenable, and therefore a trial on those claims (or defenses ) is unnecessary. You can read a copy of the motion here.  

Note that several parts of the motion are redacted, which means they refer to MLB’s confidential business information. From what I can discern, most of the redactions relate to MLB’s national TV contracts and what would happen to those contracts should the plaintiffs succeed in blowing up the exclusive local markets. The evidence in support of the motion — documents and pre-trial testimony — is even more off limits, with much of it filed under seal. That means only court and the attorneys have access to it. The public does not.

Still, even with the redactions and the filings under seal, MLB’s position is clear.

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Financial Cost Of Tommy John Surgery To Young Pitchers

Jose Fernandez. Patrick Corbin. Jarrod Parker. A.J. Griffin. Luke Hochevar. Matt Moore. Brandon Beachy. Cory Luebke. Bruce Rondon. Bobby Parnell. Kris Medlen. Ivan Nova. And now Martin Perez. Top and mid-tier pitchers in the early stages of their professional careers who have had Tommy John surgery this season, or in the case of Perez, are about to have it. Then there’s Matt Harvey, Jonny Venters, Dylan Bundy, Alex White and Eric O’Flaherty, who went under the Tommy John knife last season. For these pitchers, the surgery and rehabilitation will consume critical service time in their careers when they would otherwise be building up value for their arbitration-eligible seasons or free agency.

So while we lament the loss of these talents to our favorite team and to the game, the players face a troubling question: how will Tommy John surgery and the typical 12-18 month recovery time affect their short-term earning power?

Let’s start with the “lucky ones”: Matt Moore, Martin Perez, Cory Luebke and Dylan Bundy.

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MLB’s Attack On Fan-Created Podcasts

At the request of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, Apple removed several baseball-related podcasts from iTunes on Wednesday. HardballTalk broke the news Wednesday morning when Aaron Gleeman, one of HBT’s lead writers, learned that his Minnesota Twins-related podcast known as “Gleeman and the Gleek” had been taken down by Apple. By midday, the list had grown to include another Twins-related podcast “Talk to Contact,” a Yankees-themed podcast on the site “It’s About The Money, Stupid,” and the Cubs-centered podcast on “Bleacher Nation,” among others. Awful Announcing catalogued the reaction on social media, which was swift, fierce and uniformly negative.

MLBAM publicly released the letter it Apple after news of the podcast takedowns spread. HardballTalk published it:

As we have done in the past, yesterday we notified Apple about certain podcasts on the iTunes Store whose titles and/or thumbnails include infringing uses of trademarks of Major League Baseball and certain Clubs.  And, as we have done in the past, we asked Apple to have these trademarks removed from the podcast titles and thumbnails. Although we did not ask for or seek to have any podcast removed from the Store, it has come to our attention that Apple removed them.   Given our many years of experience in notifying Apple about trademark issues on the Store, we trust that removing the podcasts was an oversight, and ask that you please look into this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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At the Ballpark: Race, Community and MLB

Race, racism and sports have been at the top of the news cycle for several weeks, thanks to Donald Sterling. But if you look deep enough, they’re in the news cycle every day.

The undercurrent bubbled to the surface among baseball writers this week, when San Francisco Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area penned a column lamenting the Atlanta Braves’ decision to leave 20-year-old Turner Field in downtown Atlanta at the end of the 2016 season for a shiny new ballpark to built at considerable taxpayer expense in Cobb County, a suburb just north of the city limits. Baggarly didn’t pull punches.

If the grading and construction and everything else goes to schedule, the Braves will make their white-flight move – and yes, that’s precisely what it is — in 2017.

This is outrageous. I don’t live within 2,000 miles of Atlanta and I am outraged.


Why are the Braves moving? Braves president John Schuerholz, in a taped statement that sounded thoroughly vetted and polished, cited difficulty with fan access at Turner Field along with lease that is expiring in three years and explained how millions in upgrades wouldn’t have come close to “improving the fan experience.”

“We wanted to find a location that is great for our fans, makes getting to and from the stadium much easier, and provides a first rate experience in and around our stadium,” he said.

I’ll leave you to wonder which fans they care about.


The Braves’ new ballpark might make financial sense. It might be too sweetheart to turn down. But every baseball ownership group should see itself as stewards for the franchise and the community, both those who are economically important and those who are less so. And that’s what makes this wasteful flight to Cobb County such a disappointment. It just feels wrong.

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