A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

From the basement October 16

The post season is well under way but as far as I'm concerned the real baseball season - the regular one - ended over 2 weeks ago.

I start looking forward to the end of it when September rolls around, primarily because so many of the September games are de facto meaningless exhibitions. But as well I enjoy the end of it because it frees up a lot of time. I spend a lot of time during baseball season watching baseball and following the day to day grist of it; ALL the boxcsores, injuries, probables, transactions, stats, minor league prospects.....but once the box scores for the 162nd games ( this year there was a 163rd ) have been read, the day to day obsessive routines of the season end with it.

Yes the post season takes up some of my time but in relative terms a lot less. Now that the NLCS is complete, we're down to a paltry 1 game per day with plenty of off days in between. I don't spend time reading the the post season analyses because it's the post season. The analyses are irrelevant because the outcomes are literally a crapshoot. If there is one thing that the math heads have proven about baseball, it is that the randomness of baseball is what makes it baseball. Even the Rockies 21 / 22 run, while unprecedented in my time, is an example of the randomness. In other words, playoff prognostications, whether proven right or wrong, are complete bullshit.

So what happens in the basement now? Hopefully a lot more blogging and more frequent reading of a few brilliant web sites that I neglect during the season

THE SPORTS ECONOMIST

This is the site of Raymond "Skip" Sauer, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, Clemson University. His vitae lists his Research Interests as "Industrial organization and regulation; financial economics; economics of sports; also monetary theory and business cycles, academic labor markets."

Thankfully Mr. Sauer is also a sports fan, as are his stable of 9 regular contributors / economists to The Sports Economist. I'll admit, I don't know a regression analysis from a coefficient, but if you want opinion and commentary on sports that is at the front of the curve, read this blog.

Wanna see how far off the deep end the math geeks can go into the statistical anyalysis of baseball? I dare you to try and understand the math - not the ideas or conclusions, the math - in the paper "The Monyeball Anomaly and Payroll Efficiency", co authored by Professor Sauer and Professor Jahn K. Hakes ( you'll find the link in the October 04 posting ). As Alan Schwarz revealed to us in his wonderfully entertaining history of the baseball geekdom, The Numbers Game, there is a community of math geniuses who are really, really, really into baseball stats.

But it's not the math that makes this site entertaining, it's the opinion and the commentary that you don't find in the mainstream sports media. Take the always popular subject of competitive balance. MLB takes great pride in the increased parity they have orchestrated the past several years. The prevailing wisdom amongst the chattering classes is that parity & the Wild Card ( the two go hand in hand ) are the principal factors in the 4th consecutive season of record attendance. Well, not so fast, Professor Sauer doesn't agree. "Many in the media....are singing the praises of "parity," as if the shrinking gap between the best and worst clubs this year is responsible for MLB's record attendance. I'm on the record as being skeptical of this claim." One of Professor Sauer's colleagues, Professor Dave Berri, also thinks that the impact of competitive balance on increased attendance in pro sports is overstated - he uses the NBA to illustrate his point - and makes this controversial remark , "If competitive balance is not necessary for the survival of a sports league, aren’t the rules designed to promote balance just an attempt by owners to take money away from players?" Hmmm, I'd love to ask Don Fehr if he is in agreement.

Listen to the interview - solely on the subject of baseball - with Professor Sauer courtesy of Bloomberg News ( you'll find the podcast link in the October 09 posting ) and you will hear more unconventional opinions on matters MLB. I.E. Professor Sauer doubts that steroids have had a material impact on baseball, he thinks they help the pitchers as much as the hitters and that the juice has made more of an impact on sportswriting than anything else. On the trendy subject of AL superiority, Professor Sauer agrees with the chattering classes that the AL is superior, but unlike the baseball writers he does not attribute it to the challenge of keeping pace with the superpower Yankees and Red Sox. Professor Sauer believes that the superiority of the AL is a result of the DH. He believes the DH has changed the allocation of talent in MLB, not just in the batters box but on the mound as well.

The next baseball econometric frontier? Professor Sauer is examining the productivity of managerial in game decisions. I doubt the Managers are ready for his conclusions, Paul DePodesta couldn't convince Jim Tracy that bunting is a bad strategy.

FIELD OF SCHEMES

I can't remember where I read about this site but I bookmarked it in March and then the season started... but it's really good stuff, from a very liberal ( Village Voice ) perspective, on all the crooked shit that goes on building stadia ( I always thought the plural was stadiums, but Field of Schemes says stadia ) in the US. As you would anticipate from the Village Voice - and as the blog title indicates - the author Neil deMause does not treat his subjects ( leagues, owners, politicians ) with respect ( not that they deserve any ), in fact he's pretty much contemptuous of them all. I can abide by the editorializing because I enjoy his reporting, it's very thorough and well researched.

Recent subjects on Field of Schemes include the screwing over of NYC residents vis a vis the construction of the new Yankees Stadium as well as Congressional hearings on public stadium funding. If you think this wisecrack is funny - I do - you'll enjoy Field of Schemes. "....Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy takes on the question of whether sports facilities "divert public funds from critical public infrastructure." (Otherwise known as the "Did the Twins make the I-35 bridge fall down?" question.)"

In addition to the new Yankee Stadium, what I hope to bone up on this winter at Field of Schemes are the politics of stadium construction in:

NYC: Citifield - the new Mets stadium as well as the as yet unnamed Giants / Jets facility.

Miami: Will a new baseball stadium be built? When Charlie Christ succeeded Jeb Bush the consensus amongst the chattering classes was that this was a big boost for those ( The Marlins ) wanting to spend tax dollars on a new baseball stadium. Well, 07 ends soon and still nothing has happened. I say never underestimate Bud Selig in these matters.

Fremont / Oakland: Lewis Wolff wants a new baseball stadium for the A's, which if you believe the hype is gonna be super hi tech and as is the trend, is part of a much larger real estate play. ( I don't really know what a real estate play is, but...). Much larger as in 200 acres and $1.8 billion. I think the baseball stadium is more about influencing public opinion in favor of the development than say, a baseball stadium.

I suspect Field of Schemes will clarify all of this for me this winter.

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