October 25, 2014

FALLING FAN BASE

An ESPN study concluded that the NFL remains the most popular league among 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States, with 38.9 percent of respondents naming it their favorite. The NBA was next at 30.1 percent, surpassing NCAA football at 27.5 percent. Next were college basketball at 23.8 percent, the MLB and Major League Soccer at 18.0 percent, and the National Hockey League at 8.9 percent.
Selig's legacy may be that he lost the next generation of baseball fans. This is Selig's last World Series. Perhaps nothing demonstrates how baseball has turned off young sports fans than how young sports fans have turned off the World Series.

Television ratings were up for last year's World Series. And so was the age of the viewers who watched it. The average age of those who watched the series was nearly 54, which is believed to be the oldest in history.

On the other hand, only 4.1 percent of children between the ages of 6-17 watched the series, the Nielsen media research firm reported.

One criticism of Bud Selig's reign as commissioner is that baseball has lost the next generation of fans. The games are too expensive for a family of four. Teams charge fans for everything, including signing up their children in a team fan club. The games are too long to hold the attention span of more technology astute kids who now have iPads, iPhones and hundred cable channels to explore.

Selig's tenure will be marked by the rise of the massive television contracts, and the huge increase in team values to owners. However, many believe that this is the high water mark of the sport. The television deals will fall due to the new distribution model emerging in the mobile digital age. With the major influx of international players, many young kids do not identify with their local players. And if the kids aren't playing the game with friends, they will have little interest in practicing their favorite ball player's batting stance.

What will be left for baseball: the statistical data farm for fantasy leagues? You don't need to watch games to play fantasy baseball.

There may be a tread of truth in the fact that baseball is as American as apple pie and Chevrolets, but America is not the America of 1950. Its demographics have changed significantly. It's culture embodied in the American Dream has stalled after the financial crisis. And there is no guarantee that any sport will continue to receive widespread, national support. A prime example is professional boxing. It used to be the king of spectator sports, with international superstars like Muhammad Ali. But today, hardly anyone knows who is the heavyweight champion.

October 24, 2014

TO POINT C

When Andrew Friedman left the Rays for the Dodgers, Tampa was mildly shocked. But with today's news that manager Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract, he won't manage the Rays in 2015. That is a death knell to the Rays.

Maddon has a stellar reputation as a major league manager. He has great feel of mentoring young players. As a franchise with a limited payroll, the Rays have been highly competitive in the AL East.

But the Rays are going head first into a transition period after the David Price trade. Times will be difficult, and the departure of two major foundational men is going to accelerate the decline.

But this puts Maddon on the market for a new job. Every other team is going to look hard at their current manager to weigh a potential upgrade.

Does anyone think that Rick Renteria has the skill set to lead the Cubs to a championship?

Does anyone think that Robin Ventura has the skill set to lead the White Sox to a championship?

By most measures, insiders would consider Maddon an upgrade over the two Chicago skippers.

But since Friedman has left for LA, Don Mattingly, who was already on the hot seat for some of his moves (especially in the playoffs), may be on the way out to make room for Maddon.

And since the Dodgers are apparently paying "double" for talent, Maddon will be drawn to the Dodgers by finances alone.

ROY-AL

Tribune:

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has been named the Sporting News American League Rookie of the Year, as voted on by fellow AL players.

Abreu received 149 votes to run away with the award. The Angels’ Matt Shoemaker received four votes, followed by the Yankees’ Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka (three votes each) and White Sox infielder Marcus Semien (one vote).

“For me, it means a lot that the players who play against me recognize my efforts, my numbers and performance,” Abreu said through an interpreter on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I am thankful for all of them to give me support. It’s a lot. I don’t really have words to describe what I’m feeling right now.”

Abreu, a 27-year-old from Cuba, hit .317 with 35 doubles, 36 home runs, 107 RBIs, a .581 slugging percentage and a .383 on-base percentage in 145 games this season.
He was the first rookie in major league history to rank in the top five in his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He also set the Sox rookie record for home runs and ranks among the top three rookies in Sox history for RBIs.

“I really am not a person that follows the numbers and the stats,” Abreu said. “I don’t like to talk about it. But I am sure that I will prepare every year like this to get the numbers I got this year and better. … I prepare myself in the best way possible for every day and every year. I don’t have to work on anything special, just to be more disciplined with my (work ethic) and that’s it.”

Abreu was a real bright spot for the White Sox this season. He can be a long term piece on a competitive team. If the White Sox can fix their bullpen, add a reliable catcher, and shore up left field production, the White Sox can be very competitive in 2015.

October 23, 2014

WHY TRADITIONAL SPORTS ARE ON THE WANE

The Cubs barely hit 40,000 for any of their home games. Television ratings were dismal all season, with some reports the games barely getting 40,000 local viewers.

But that does not seem to be a huge problem in Korea.

Forbes reports that last Sunday,  a World Championship match series was held in Korea, where 40,000 fans sold out Seoul’s World Cup Stadium to watch Korean pros Samsung White and China’s Starhorn Royal Club compete for the honor of being the best team of the most popular game of the world, "League of Legends," which boasts 67 million monthly players.

Last year's championship held in LA had roughly 11,000 were in attendance. This time around the sponsor moved proceedings to Korea, the country that invented eSports where League has unsurprisingly been hugely popular. The venue nearly quadrupled in size, though Forbes had no official stream viewership numbers, the matches aired on Riot’s website, Twitch and even ESPN 3, the channel’s livestream service. Last year's ratings showed the viewership total was 32 million with 8.5 million watching concurrently. While the common assumption might be that this year’s viewership may surpass that, it is important to note that because of the placement of the final in Korea, it aired in essentially the middle of the night for North America, which could affect the total.

No matter. The numbers speak volumes on what interests young, international audiences.

40,000 people watched live  two five-man teams play a video game! And probably more than 8.5 million people watched the Koreans defeat the Chinese, 3 games to 1 in the best of five match.

In one day, this eSports event surpassed Cub viewership probably two-to-one.

And this eSports culture is going to grow, because the winning team won $1 million dollars.

Instead of playing organized sports, a kid today can sit on his sofa and dream of being a champion Legends player.

October 22, 2014

LOST GENERATIONS

Some researchers use the period of 30 years to define "a generation."

In baseball terms, that means passing the fan torch from parent or grandparent to child.

In all fandom, the purpose to root your team to victory, and enjoy the ultimate success, a World Series championship.

The drought for some teams is staggering:

SeasonsTeamLast Won
104Chicago Cubs1908
64Cleveland Indians1948
52Texas RangersNever (formed 1961)
51Houston AstrosNever (formed 1962)
44San Diego PadresNever (formed 1969)
44Washington NationalsNever (formed 1969)
44Milwaukee BrewersNever (formed 1969)
36Seattle MarinersNever (formed 1977)
34Pittsburgh Pirates1979
30Baltimore Orioles1983

October 21, 2014

A MANAGERIAL NOTE

Cardinal fans are ripping their manager, Matheny, for losing the NLCS. It was the way he used his pitching staff which was the most damning for fans, especially putting in Wacha, who had not pitched in 20 days, to throw the 9th in a tie game.

Tommy Lasorda once said, "No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference."

Lasorda is probably overstating his case. Statistically, a good manager may actually win only one or two games for his team by his in-game decisions, but a bad manager could lose a team three to five. Since the game is played on the field, the players executing their assigned tasks are the most important aspect of wins and losses. However, there is recognition that a manager needs to put his players in the best position to succeed. Letting a starter who is out of gas continue to pitch, like Dusty Baker did during the Cubs NLCS, led to a demoralizing team collapse.

Lasorda's take on a long season is based on his experience. Every team will lose at least 54 games. Every team will win at least 54 games. So how a team performs in the remaining 54 games is the key to the season. A .500 team only needs to win 27 of those contests. So for a team to be good to competitive, the season really comes down to those last 27 games. 

But those last 27 games are not necessarily at the end of season. Those could be critical contests in April, where teams with great starts tend to be front runners throughout the season. It comes down to about 9 three game series. Even if you go .500 in those 27 games, your team would win 94.5 games.

If you have an ace starter going in those 9 big series, the chances are you are more likely to win. If you have another near ace quality starter also pitching those series, you are more likely to take 2 of 3 games. So that takes the equation down to 18 critical games.

Even if a manager is tuned to this statistical dissection, one cannot manage the post-season like the regular season. In the post-season, you must play each game like it is an elimination game. There is much more pressure on the players. A good manager will try to shift the pressure to the other team, by forcing play on the field with base stealing, bunt hits, long at bats to wear down a pitcher. A good manager will also use his pitching staff differently, especially near the end of a series. An ace starter may be a better option from the pen in a game seven than the set-up man. And these decisions are magnified by the situation; and second guessing becomes a blood sport.

So it is not an exact science to determine whether Matheny deserves any of the fan wrath. On the other side, Ned Yost of the Royals had been considered a terrible manager during his career. But his team, despite his reputation, is in the World Series. This is one of the quirks of baseball. You never know.

October 20, 2014

INCREASE THE FLOOR OVER THE CEILING

Fangraphs has an interesting article on the Orioles rise to contention in the highly competitive AL East.

Fangraphs concluded that GM Dan Duquette has done an excellent job in focusing on raising his team’s floor while many clubs are more focused on raising the ceiling.

I have always thought Duquette was one of the brighter GMs in the game. He has not gotten the glowing press that other big market GMs tend to get. Most teams are looking to obtain All-Star caliber talent. A team of quality players, like the Yankees and Dodgers or Angels, should win a boat load of games.

The Orioles are not in the same financial atmosphere to try to buy a pennant. Instead, how a roster is created and sustained can yield very good results.

No doubt Duquette has created a deep Oriole roster, many relatively unknown players.

Fangraphs looked to see how it could calculate the floor for a team. It used negative WAR as a means of illustrating the base talent level for a squad. If you have negative WAR players on your roster, then your floor is lower than Replacement Level (AAA) talent.

Over the past three seasons, the Orioles have received the sixth-lowest cumulative negative WAR total, suggesting that while they may not always have a lot of star power, they don’t stock up on expensive stars while punting roster spots at the bottom of their 25-man group.

Fangraphs noted in 2014, Baltimore gave just 3.2 percent of its innings to negative-WAR pitchers (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 13.4) and 3.2 percent of its plate appearances to negative-WAR position players (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 19.4).

This follows a pattern that new Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman used when he was with the Rayswho have had the lowest negative WAR total over the past three seasons.

In contrast, the 2012 Cubs who lost 101 games had 22 players with a negative WAR. In 2014, with 89 losses, the Cubs had 19 players with a negative WAR. The 12 game improvement shows that the bottom was raised by 3 less negative WAR players and better performance from higher ceiling starters.