Saturday, March 07, 2009

Math and Baseball

In 2007, when the Indians beat the Yankees and lost in game seven to the Red Sox (I think I might still owe my brother some northeast beer from that series), I remember thinking how much higher both of those teams payrolls were than the Indians. While the Yanks ($195M+) were outspending the universe, the Red Sox ($144M) weren't far behind, and the Indians ($62M) were lower than middle of the pack. When it came down to it, the Sox won 1 more game than the Indians through the ALCS. That means that extra win in game 7 of the ALCS needed to be worth at least $82M for Boston, the organization, to feel satisfied. Now, perhaps the Sox made their money back since they then went out to sweep the Rockies ($54M+) and win the World Series. However, the question remains how much is a win worth and how much does it cost to get a win?

Well, there's an interesting article on The Baseball Analysts about that very topic. The article asks first whether all wins cost the same, but I don't think so and neither does the article. A team of people making just the major league minimum starts of at a salary of $10M (25 men times the 2009 league minimum of $400,000). Even a team of all rookies making minimum will win some games, as the worst teams in the history of the 162 game schedule win at least 50 some games with most teams winning no less than 62, as a 100 loss season is somewhat rare. This means to me that the first 60-some wins and $10 mill of payroll are givens and shouldn't be included in the calculation.

The article goes on to fit a polynomial curve to their information and gets slightly better results in explaining wins (now close to 50% instead of 40% of a win is explained by payroll). I would guess that the results would get better if they started at the base levels suggested above (maybe I'll even calculate this when I'm feeling very bored).

Beyond my concerns in starting point, the numbers tell us something that is relatively well known: money doesn't necessarily buy championships. However, the article doesn't look at several important aspects including:

1) Does money buy playoff appearances?

I'm not sure of the answer of this one, but I'll look it up in the next few days and see what I can find out. My gut feeling is that teams with above average payrolls have a better chance of making the playoffs, but there may or may not be long term trends that prove my gut.

If money buys playoff appearances, then the money is better spent than it might first appear as playoffs mean more games, which means more gate. Not to mention making the playoffs means more excitement about late season games which should lead to yet more revenue.

2) Because of the unbalanced schedule, the money per win is highly affected by the behavior of other teams in your division, league, and, to some extend, immediate geographical location.

I'll answer this if I ever put facts and effort in.

3) Are the teams worried about something else besides winning?

Money, money, money. In the NBA, the Clippers are rather notorius for being more interested in profits than competitiveness. It might not work everywhere, but I am sure there are similar MLB teams.

4) Is there a viscous cycle in spending?

Let's assume that the biggest bump in money comes from making the playoffs and not winning the WS (a big assumption, but I can't imagine the team that wins the WS makes that much more than the team that loses in the same series). So, making the playoffs one year brings in extra revenue. Despite the fact that only one team can win every year, the teams that came close but didn't win it all are more motivated to spend to get over the hump the following year. Those teams' GM's say "hey, look at all this money we could have spent to win" and go out looking to spend money so they can win and make more money. Same thing could happen with teams that almost make the playoffs, since their revenues raise in the playoff race. Teams that win spend more, and need to spend more than the more they already spent to get more competitive.

Of course, the bottom feeders are in the opposite position where they don't make much money because they don't do all that well. The next year, they try to cut their losses on expensive players and, at best, go into rebuilding mode where they rely on inexpensive young players. In most cases, they hit some payroll floor where they can't spend any less and still fill a 25 man roster.

So the trick is how to break the cycle if it does indeed exist. The breaks come in a few ways, such as many players having career/breakout years (2008 Rays) or new management, or a new stadium that shoves new money into the system that needs to be spent.

Wonder what this means for 2009... I'll follow up with at least two of the following: 1) the Yankees still kill competitive balance regardless of luxury tax and revenue sharing, 2) actual facts and figures to back up my thoughts here, 3) predictions for the 2009 season.

Friday, March 06, 2009

World Baseball Classic

So I'll admit I haven't seen much of the WBC just yet, but I plan on watching as it moves along. To this point, I've seen the last few innings of a couple of games that were airing over Mike & Mike on ESPN2 and both of those games were long-odds shutouts.

Here is a good impassioned article by Jayson Stark on ESPN about how this needs to mean more to USA players and fans alike.

The points I want to make as it gets started:
1) How do you name something a "classic"? Maybe I'm missing something, but there's no nostalgia involved here so it seems forced. Why not tournament or cup or trophy?

2) I can completely understand by US players are underwhelmed at the prospect of playing more games with and against many of the same people they already play against for an extra month.

3) If you're trying to get American viewers, how about not having the initial few games at ungodly early hours? Like I said earlier, I stumbled on a couple of games in the morning, but couldn't bring myself to wake up at 4:30am to catch the game.

4) Why not find a good way to show the games via the internet? I had mixed results watching NCAA men's basketball online last year, but the point is that it was available if I wanted it, even if I wanted to watch during work.

As I'm about to leave, I'll finish here. I hope to have more WBC content up tomorrow.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

1 Draft Down

So I made it through one draft. Basically, I tend to go with drafts and see what happens, despite a lot of preparation. In this case, I ended up getting a lot of scarce, top tier or just below position players, then a bunch of mediocre starting pitchers. Don't know what it means just yet, but I like my chances to win at least half my matchups.

actual baseball content

What is a month worth?

This comes up because of the A-Rod injury/injury scare. Instead of being an arguable 1-3 fantasy pick, he's been dropped by ESPN below a 30th pick (that's round 4! in some leagues).

The baseball season is 6 months long, plus another year or two of post season (though baseball fits in lots of games over a few weeks whereas basketball fits in a few games over a few months of post season). In any case, for fantasy baseball, all you care about is the regular season, so a month is worth 1/6th a season. So is it worth taking a player you know will miss the first month?

First, the player has to be exceptional. If you take the players normal stats and look at 5/6 of them, most first rounders will continue to be worth that elite tag. Maybe not first rounders anymore, but certainly 2nd, or 3rd.

Second, just because he's hurt now doesn't excuse him from future injury. If anything, being hurt now seems to set a bad precedent that the player may re-aggravate (I'll look around and see if I can't find some evidence to this point).

Third, I'm trying to work out whether taking a player that starts out on the DL is better for head to head or rotisserie leagues. Losing a early rounder (especially 1-2) has a potential to sink a season in head to head leagues. If you lose your first several matchups, you could be so far behind that the player's comeback is inconsequential. Although, if you're able to tread water for those first 4-5 matchups, the elite player you get back can be a terrific boost. On the other hand, in a rotisserie league, you can't catch back up for lost production. So the big question is, can you find some slug on the waiver wire that can give you about average production for the time your elite is gone.

I imagine you should be able to find a decent replacement, so drafting a player you know is coming back may well be worth it.

This is more important when you think of all the injured or otherwise delayed players that get passed over (Pujols, Longoria last year, Chase Utley this year?).

I suppose if I had drafted 3 days ago and ended up with A-Rod, I would wince immediately when I heard the news, but other than that I think having the excuse to have already taken a huge producing 3B would be fine. As long as he comes back...

And the baseball reformatting begins

So, at this point in my life, I am actively participating in 3 fantasy baseball leagues of varying types (league managing two of them). Also, though I'm a native Ohioan, I'm living on the east coast so I have to really work to get my Indians and Reds content. In doing so I tend to pick up a bunch of interesting information about baseball in general and plan on sharing the stuff I actually like here. I'm also hoping that this might serve as a sounding board for others random thoughts on baseball.

Thrown in there will be musings on other things I enjoy, such as beer, biking, and other b words.