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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

From the basement November 24

BARRY BONDS

IS HE FINISHED?

My initial reaction to the indictment - along with everybody - was that it ended his career. I'm having 2nd thoughts......

For starters, after reading this very informative piece by federal criminal defense attorney Keith Scherer, I'm convinced that if Bonds does go to jail it won't be until after the 08 season is completed. Says Mr. Scherer, "Unless Bonds takes a deal, his case won’t go to trial before the end of the 2008 season. It can take several months—often more than a year—to bring a relatively simple case to trial in federal criminal court. Even when both parties expect that the case will eventually end in a plea, it can take that long to get to it."

Also we assume that Bonds won't want to play. He won't want the hassle. He broke Aaron's record ( ok, he doesn't have 3,000 ). He should be rich ( what's he made? $180 million? How much has he kept?...). So, he'll walk away. But Bonds has put up with the scorn and the media circus for many years, perhaps it would just be more of the same for him. The baseball writers have portrayed him for his entire career as being oblivious to all that goes on around him. Wouldn't it be like Bonds to play one more season if for no other reason than to say "fuck you" to everybody in the game?

Maybe more importantly, as I and many others have speculated, nobody will employ him. I wonder if Billy Beane is the exception? ( Obviously he needs Lewis Wolff's approval ). The Hot Stove League, pre indictment, had Bonds moving across the bay for 08. Still plausible? Yes. Bonds remains a GREAT offensive player. Plus Beane knows now that he can get him really, really cheap because nobody will bid against the A's. ( Again, this assumes Bonds wants to play ) And Beane might be the one GM who wouldn't be dissuaded by the media circus. Beane loves the limelight and fancies himself unconventional. ( Well, from what I can glean from reading about him ) Beane may be the only man in MLB with an ego comparable to Bonds'.

IS BONDS GOING TO JAIL?

The popular wisdom is that Bonds is not going to jail. The supporting arguments are typically:

Indictments are easily obtainable ( the ham sandwich argument ).

The case against Bonds is weak, that's why it took 4 years for an indictment.

The indictment is a face saving move by the prosecutors.

Even without a conviction Bonds is further discredited.

Mr. Scherer thinks contrary. "The U.S. Attorney’s office isn’t perfect, and federal prosecutors lose on occasion, but they never bring a weak case to trial. This is especially true in a celebrity case like this one, one that is being overseen by the highest levels of authority. A loss in the Bonds case would be a career killer, and the prosecution wouldn’t risk taking this case to trial if it was as weak his Michael Rains says." ( Rains is one of Bonds' lawyers. )

BONDS - AN OLIVER STONE FILM

Mr. Scherer doesn't share the conspiracy theorists ( I'm in that camp ) opinion that Bonds was the ultimate target in the BALCO investigation. "The U.S. Attorney’s office doesn’t offer immunity to the target of an investigation." I am in no way qualified to disagree with a US federal criminal defense attorney on this point but what the hell, this is the 2.0 age of amateurism & narcissism. I agree with Diesel . "The crime Bonds is being pilloried for today is lying to a grand jury, when the opportunity for "immunity" was presented should he offer any testimony that would be self-incriminating. But, considering that what he said that day was going to become public knowledge, he was really faced with a witch's "water test": If he confessed to a crime everyone had already assumed him guilty of, then he would be finished. If he maintained his innocence — honestly or not — then he would face the punishment nonetheless."

Recent recommended reading for Bonds conspiracy theorists: This NY Times piece on the IRS special agent who has gathered key evidence against Bonds - amongst other steroid offenders - isn't a conspiracy rant but it does raise questions about the investiagators' ethics and motives. Jemele Hill , is lockstep with me on all things Bonds including conspiracy theory and race.

WHY DO THE YANKEES SPEND SO MUCH?

There has been plenty of speculation that the Yankees had no serious competition in the free agent market for A Rod and consequently they could have signed him for much less than the $275 - $300 million that they've agreed to. As well, Rivera @ $45 million for 3 years and Posada @ $52 million for 4 years, has raised eyebrows particulary in light of the advanced age of the players ( 38 & 36 respectively ).

There is plenty of opinion that the Yanks have grossly overpaid for all 3 players. Why? The easy answer is that they generate so much more revenue than anybody else. There are other opinions however and the best place to look is always the Sports Economist.

On November 15 one of the sports economists wrote about the "Yankee premium", i.e. why do they overpay? The conversation that followed the blog posting is very interesting, some ( I've edited ) of it is below. ( note my intellectually lame contribution ).

I understand the Yankee premium. What I don't understand is why the Yankees continue to pay it. So many times it seems from the outside that they are outbidding themselves. I don't see why they insist on a $200 mil payroll when $150 would get them the same results and add $50 mil to the bottom line. A-Rod is just the latest example. Since A-Rod is quickly signing the $30 mil per year deal, my guess is that no one was willing to match the $25 mil he was currently getting (for 10 years).

James Roane 11.16.07 - 4:38 pm #
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Hi Brian. Thanks for the post.

I've always wondered if this isn't the intersection between MRP theory and superstar effects (also as I am able to read it, part of MRP).

MRP = MP x MR. The arguments about similar players stats are all about MP. But for superstars it is the MR that matters.

And if Yankee fans fit the "superstar" idea, then we will not find an explanation in analysis of MP.

So... if Yankee fans simply want to see "the best" (superstars) and the technology is there to give it to them at the gate and on TV (and it is), then marginal talent differences can generate very large pay differences.

Perhaps we can get at this question using empirical models developed around superstar theory.

Rodney Fort Homepage 11.19.07 - 9:57 am #
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Pardon my ignorance but what are MP & MR? I suspect M denotes marginal?

Peter Toms Homepage 11.19.07 - 11:57 am #
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Sorry Peter.
MRP = marginal revenue product.

MP = marginal product (typically, contribution to winning or some such).

MR = marginal revenue earned from that marginal contribution.

Rodney Fort Homepage 11.19.07 - 5:14 pm #
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Hi Rod

I agree that this is largely about the MR rather than the MP. The MR in question here relates to two things: the MR of a win, and the MR of everything else, e.g. star quality, personality etc. Mostly we focus on the the MR of a win, and we think the Yankees will pay a lot more for a win than anyone else, since the revenue potential is large, but fans in the Big Apple have plenty of other entertainment opportunities if the Yankees start losing.

stef szymanski 11.20.07 - 6:36 am #

So, if I "get it" and I'm never certain that I "get" what the economists think, the Yankees overpay because their superstars / celebrities are more valuable in the NYC market than elsewhere. ( Rivera & Posada for example are not better baseball players in a different market but they are bigger superstars / celebrities in NYC than in any other market. )

Is this the same point that SBJ made in a recent feature on "team brands"? "You can be the Spurs and own San Antonio. Or you can be the Yankees and share New York....Walk the streets of New York, stopping fans along the way, and you will find you share of Yankees fans. But you'll also find Mets fans who despise them. You'll find Giants fans, but also Jets fans who decry them. The Yankees ranked first in New York, but the Mets were a close second. The Giants were third and the Jets were an eyelash behind them in fourth. Then came.....You get to play to vast audiences in the nation's four biggest markets. But you also have to play over lots of noise."

George Steinbrenner understood this, that baseball is show biz, superstars are essential, baseball is just baseball. He bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in 1973 and remade them into THE YANKEES, paying big dollars for the likes of Hunter and Reggie and on and on and on. Worked out ok for him didn't it?

WORLD SERIES ON TV Part III

One more time, does it matter that the 07 World Series was the 2nd lowest rated EVER?

Maury Brown asks the same question. "The postseason is no longer the event that captivates a nation. Note that this year’s World Series was watched by an average of 17,123,000 for the four games. Compare that to the ’78 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees which pulled on an average of 44,278,950 for six games)." If I get my bong out and the music is right maybe I can ponder baseball's place in America ( from a Canadian basement ). As for how baseball's relatively puny World Series ratings effect the bottom line, a quote from Bill Shaikin. "Revenues from traditional tickets and local broadcast rights have more than tripled since 1994. And, with the value of sports programming rising to national advertisers struggling to reach mass audiences amid the proliferation of cable and satellite channels, national broadcast rights have soared from $52 million to $935 million." I'll add to Mr. Shaikin's comments that sports are TIVO proof, we still watch ads.


In addition to huge increases in broadcast rights, clubs are investing in RSNs which soon become more valuable than the clubs themselves. YES - Yankees - is valued at $3 - $3.5 BILLION and the O's have never been worth more - although their attendance is declining - thanks to their ownership in MASN. Ted Turner was a broadcast visionary ( as well as a nut job and an anti semite ). He was the first to realize the value of baseball to broadcasters - it provided a lot of relatively cheap content - way, way back in the early 70's.

JAYS

Are the Jays, along with a number of other other mid / small revenue teams, increasing their spending in the amateur Rule IV draft? The Jays doled out the 7th largest amount of bonus money in the 07 draft. This appears to be a change in strategy from previous years. Jim Callis from Baseball America told me in an email last offseason that in the 06 draft the Jays, "...came in at 26th among the 30 teams despite giving out more late six-figure bonuses than most clubs. In the past, they haven't spent exorbitantly on anyone, and my guess is they'd rank below average on an annual basis." The baseball amateur draft is not like the drafts in the other "ball & stick" leagues where the teams with the earliest picks usually acquire the best available amateur talent. "Signability", is the key in the Rule IV draft which makes the Jays change in approach significant. See more of my blather here on the Rule IV draft.

Travis Snider is the best Jays hitting prospect since...? Delgado? He's getting rave reviews in Baseball America ( Midwest & AFL). Jays fans who are anti Ricciardi / Moneyball can point to Snider as an example of the failings of the Moneyball approach under Ricciardi. Snider was chosen in the 1st round in 06 out of high school. From 02 - 05 Ricciardi had practiced the Moneyball orthodoxy, selecting college players in the 1st round - Adams, Hill, Jackson, Purcey & Romero. So far only Hill - a tremendous player - has performed up to the standards of a 1st rounder. You can also argue that the change in approach is a result of the success of Moneyball in Oakland being copied by their competitors which negates any advantages it once had. Or you can argue that Ricciardi's draft performance pretty much blows.

I still have high hopes for one of Ricciardi's 1st round college picks. SP David Purcey - selected in 04 - also performed very well in the AFL. Purcey, along with fellow starter and 05 1st rounder Ricky Romero, are often cited as Moneyball busts by Ricciardi's critics. Both have struggled since being drafted but Purcey's strong showing in the AFL could be an indicator that he is on the rise. Purcey certainly has a high ceiling, I've seen him pitch for Syracuse and although he was hit hard I was impressed. LH's who throw in the 90's ( I saw the guns ) are very rare.

MORE ON FREE AGENTS

As I wrote here, signing free agents is bad. The baseball geekdom immediately and unanimously express their disdain for GM's short sighted enough to "block prospects with overpaid veterans who also cost valuable draft picks" and all that. Last offseason the Cubs were the object of such ridicule for blowing $300 million in the free agent market but it was key to them making the playoffs. Yes the Cubs had some young talent step up - Hill, Marmol, Theriot, Marshall - but free agents Soriano, Lilly, Marquis, DeRosa and Floyd made them a playoff team . ( Playing in the NL Central where 85 wins makes you champ - 83 in 06 - certainly helps as well )

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