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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