Saturday, September 29, 2012

#OccupyTheODotCo

If you weren't at the first two games of this Mariners series, you are missing some amazing baseball. Last night, this catch by Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth inning to rob Jesus Montero alone was almost worth the price of admission. However, only 16,232 (46.7 percent of capacity) made it out.

Today's game was the 14th walkoff victory. Josh Donaldson's home run to tie it, and by Brandon Moss' home run to win it (below) are all you need to know. Easily one of the best games of the year.



Only 21,517 saw it. The fans that come are great but when will the stadium really start to get packed?

At this point the team can't do much more to entice you. Tickets are cheap (including a $10 Plaza Level offer for Monday) and the quality of play is great. It's lunacy to say that fans, with a team knocking on the door of the playoffs, are staying away because they don't like the team's ownership. Crowds like Friday's make you wonder if the playoff games will even sell out? If they make it, and they don't, then ownership has more fodder for bringing in the moving vans.

It's well time to #FillTheODotCo.

Albert Who? -- The recent criticism on Twitter of Josh Reddick as he labored through an eventual 0-30 hitless streak before busting out on Wednesday in Texas was astounding considering the value he has brought the team over the course of the year. The new sabermetric gold standard for value is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Here is a good definition of WAR and how to calculate it. In simplest terms, it determines value -- expressed in additional games a team wins -- by weighing a particular player's contributions over a potential waiver-wire/AAA replacement. WAR looks at the season in the aggregate and so does not give a +1 for a walkoff home run.

Taking a look at this year's WAR rankings according to FanGraphs, Reddick is outperforming quite a few big money players -- including Albert "The Machine" Pujols.

Player
WAR
Salary
Josh Reddick
4.1
$485,000
Albert Pujols
4.0
$12M
Josh Willingham
3.8
$7M
Derek Jeter
3.4
$17M
Andre Ethier
3.4
$10.95M
Adrian Gonzalez
3.4
$21.857
Nick Swisher
3.2
$10.25M
Corey Hart
3.1
$9.33M
Carlos Beltran3.0$13M

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yesterday's Weird Connections

Yesterday was a bizarre "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" sort of day for the A's. The team dropped the last game of a four game set with the Rangers, while the hard-charging Angels lost to the Mariners preserving the A's two game lead for the second Wild Card spot. Really though, the interconnectedness is far greater.

Consider:
  • Three of yesterday's starters in these two games were: Travis Blackley (A's), Dan Haren (Angels) and Hisashi Iwakuma (Rangers)
  • Haren, of course, is a former A. 
  • Iwakuma, who the A's really needed to pitch well against the Angels was almost an A. Remember, Iwakuma -- a Japanese player -- entered into exclusive negotiations with the A's after they won his posting rights in the 2010 offseason. The two sides never reached an agreement, and the A's were accused by Iwakuma's agent, Don Nomura, of not showing any respect for the pitcher with their reported offer of four years/$15.5 million. Nomura said this about the A's, "Their offer was low and they weren't sincere." Some camps accused the A's of using the refundable posting system to block Iwakuma from a division rival like the Mariners.
  • Yesterday's starter for the A's would have been Brett Anderson had he not suffered an oblique strain in Detroit. Anderson was acquired in the trade that sent Haren to the Diamondbacks in 2007.
  • It's possible, although clearly not in any way measurable, that the game's momentum might have shifted had Chris Carter not ground into an inning-ending double play when two were on in the first. Carter was also acquired in the Haren trade.
  • The A's are battling to make the postseason for the first time since 2006. The last game for the A's in those the playoffs was started by Dan Haren.
Positives from Yesterday:

1) Josh Reddick's two home runs. 
2) Jesse Chavez and Pedro Figueroa pitched clean innings. 
3) The A's late rally forced the Rangers to use their closer Joe Nathan.
4) Balfour, Blevins, Cook, Doolittle and Scribner got the day off.

Attendance Woes -- Last night on the South Side of Chicago with the White Sox just a game behind the Detroit Tigers and clinging to their fading playoff hopes the team drew a mere 18,630 (45.9 percent of capacity). Not only was the game key for the Sox, it also featured one of baseball's hottest team in the Tampa Bay Rays. Meanwhile, across town the Cubs, currently 59-94, drew 33,354 (81 percent of capacity) at their most recent home game on September 23. How this makes sense is anyone's guess. Ben Strauss of the New York Times on August 26 explored the issue.

Stockton -- A's pitcher Dallas Braden gave an interview to KOVR-TV in Sacramento following expressing very vocally his concerns regarding the state of Stockton and its crime level at a public rally. At the end of the interview, the reporter notes that Braden -- one of the biggest champions of the 209 -- is moving to Sacramento.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The A's $100 Million Payroll

This past Saturday, the New York Times featured a piece by Tyler Kepner regarding the A's quixotic quest for a new stadium. This passage, thinking long term was interesting:

If the A’s knew their destination, (A's part-owner Lew) Wolff said, they could begin to secure their core players and prepare for a payroll that could eventually almost double, to $100 million.

A $100 million payroll would be nice, however if the team can do what it has done this year, then they really would have no need to spend that much. Below is a chart comparing actual salaries versus value in millions assigned by FanGraphs (hitting/pitching). Many of the current A's are making less than the league minimum for the season as their salaries are prorated from when they are called up. The A's also paid a prorated portion of the league minimum for Brandon Inge.

For totals, full league minimum salary was given to each rookie. This is also only a snapshot with respect to the FanGraphs data. Tomorrow the numbers will be adjusted per today's performance and so on through the end of the season. It is also worth noting that, unlike in real life, players can generate a negative value.

What these numbers show, however, is that spending money wisely is paramount. Every player on this list is performing above their market value. The A's key players are playing like a $100 million plus team already.

PlayerActual Salary (in millions unless noted)Value Per FanGraphs (in millions)
Josh Reddick$485,000$17.4
Jarrod Parker$480,000$16.7
Coco Crisp$6.0$11.4
Tommy Milone$480,000$11.1
Yoenis Cespedes$6.5$10.5
Bartolo Colon*$2.0$10.4
Brandon Mossless than $480,000$10.2
Jonny Gomes$1.0$8.7
Brandon Ingeless than $480,000$8.2
Brandon McCarthy$4.275$7.9
Seth Smith$2.415$7.6
Josh Donaldsonless than $480,000$7.0
Sean Doolittleless than $480,000$7.0
Cliff Pennington$490,000$6.2
Travis Blackleyless than $480,000$5.4
Ryan Cook$480,000$5.7
A.J. Griffinless than $480,000$5.7
Grant Balfour$4.0$4.9
Chris Carterless than $480,000$4.5
TOTALS:less than $26.582$166.5

* Colon, although suspended for PEDs and thus having a smaller sample size, still had a substantial impact on the season. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Feeling Better?

Last night's victory for the A's was a possible turning point for this road trip from hell. It was the first time on the trip that the A's did not drop the first two games of a series. In both Detroit and New York, the A's faced the added pressure of a possibly sweep before pulling out game three victories.

With the win, in light of another evening of complete futility for the Mariners in losing to the Angels, the A's avoided having their second Wild Card spot lead trimmed to one game on the Angels and set up today's match-up with current staff ace Jarrod Parker against the Rangers' Martin Perez giving them a chance to slice Texas' division lead to three games and guarantee at least a split in the four game series.

Meanwhile, In Anaheim the Angels face the M's best starter and one of the best pitchers in baseball in "King" Felix Hernandez. Even though, as Dave Schoenfield of ESPN reports, Hernandez hasn't really been dominating either the Angels or the A's lately, he still gives the A's a good chance to move three games above the Angels for the second Wild Card spot.

Looking Forward

Darvish's next start is TBA. His turn is scheduled for this Sunday against the Angels. If he makes the start, it means the A's would not see him in the series at home against Texas to conclude the season. This is the best-case scenario. However, should the A's be charging hard for the division, would this alter Texas' calculus? The Rangers could set up Darvish to go on the last day of the season if the A's had a chance to win the division. The thinking here would clearly be that it was worth burning your number one starter to avoid the one-game Wild Card playoff. The downside for the Rangers, obviously, is if they were to lose that last game than they couldn't start Darvish in that winner-take-all Wild Card game.

Felix Hernandez, as mentioned, starts today against the Angels. His next turn, five days after today is against the Angels. This means the A's are poised to avoid Hernandez in their upcoming three game set in Oakland, instead getting Blake Beavan (10-10, 4.64 ERA) on Friday, Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.94 ERA) on Saturday and Erasmo Ramirez (1-3, 3.42 ERA) on Sunday.

Crazy, Just Plain Crazy!

ESPN's Jayson Stark detailed how things might work out in the AL if ties were to occur.

An interesting nugget from the New York Times to think about in light of transcontinental travel:

Even within the United States, traveling east over just three time zones can be taxing: a study led by Dr. Lawrence D. Recht, a neurologist, of 19 Major League Baseball teams using season records from 1991 to 1993 showed that the team that had just completed eastward travel would give up more than one run than usual in every game.

Update: You may recall a previous post regarding "radio only" games and lamenting the fact that tomorrow's day game against the Rangers was set to be one of them. In case you hadn't heard, SportsNet Reports has been bumped in favor of this critical matchup. Truly a no-brainer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Few Positives After Some Tough Losses

If baseball is designed to break your heart, then the A's are certainly living up to that expectation of late.

The extra-innings loss over the weekend in New York was soul-crushing and bone-rattling. It also had very real implications for the A's bullpen as it was worn down to the Jesse Chavez/Tyson Ross-nub that that is the end of it. Balfour, Cook and Scribner pitched two innings each. Doolittle was unavailable after having pitched 1+ the night before. The damage to the pen for a team in the midst of a meat-grinder of a road trip cannot be understated.

Last night, we saw more of the impact of the heavy workload. Tyson Ross once again absorbed the loss, this time to the division-leading Texas Rangers, after Pat Nishak coughed up a two run lead in the seventh. Melvin's hands are pretty tied at this point in terms of available relievers. He didn't want to burn Balfour, who was warming up in case the A's grabbed the lead, as that would leave him with few options to close the game. Doolittle was seemingly unavailable after working on Sunday. He had already lightly used Jerry Blevins in the seventh.

These seemed to be his options:

Jeremy Accardo (Just called up from AAA and possibly rusty)
Grant Balfour (again, you need a closer, also overworked. Essentially he would be pitching his fourth day in a row -- counting Saturday's game as two)
Jerry Blevins
Jesse Chavez (has been as bad as Ross)
Ryan Cook
Sean Doolittle
Pedro Figueroa (who can't locate anything it seems)
Jim Miller (long man, who may be needed today given Milone's troubles on the road)
Pat Neshak
Tyson Ross
Evan Scribner

Second guessing a manager is easy. Melvin might very well have punted and hoped for the best with Ross -- who has really fallen off a cliff in terms of his stuff -- 96 hits over 73.1 innings isn't going to get it done.

Imagine that Ross pulls a Houdini and escapes the 9th last night and then the A's go down in order. Who pitches at this point? Do you bring in Balfour who is presumably continuing to warm? Doolittle? Let's say you go 12 innings and use Doolittle, Scribner and Balfour. How confident are you in your bullpen today if this scenario were to play out? You might only have Blevins out of your "A" relievers. Burning the pen down night after night is a dangerous idea.

With the loss, today the A's should have Balfour, Blevins and Doolittle to back up Milone. (Ryan Cook has thrown over 70 pitches the past three games, so you have to wonder if he is available.)

A further caveat to consider is that last night was a game the A's could more afford to lose. The Angels were off and the O's had split a doubleheader -- meaning they couldn't gain a full game on the A's for the first Wild Card spot. If the Angels had won last night against the hapless Mariners, the A's would have a 1.5 game lead, allowing the Angels to gain a full game. The loss last night was only a half game, and that may be crucial. If the A's and Angels both win tonight, the A's maintain a 2 game lead. This sets up Wednesday's game where the A's have their best pitcher in Jarrod Parker going while the Angels face Felix Hernandez. If the A's win and the Angels lose, then you leave Texas with no worse than a two game lead in the second Wild Card as you get ready to welcome in the Mariners at the O.co while Texas (fighting for the #1 seed) takes on the Angels at home. Gain a game in that series and you guarantee at least a one-game playoff (in Oakland) for the right to the second Wild Card spot. That playoff would only be needed if the A's are swept by the Rangers at the Coliseum and the Angels sweep the Mariners at Safeco to end the year.

There is a reason why Baseball Prospectus gives the A's a 74 percent chance of making the playoffs. They just need to figure out why the baseball gods are upset with them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Radio Only Games Make No Sense

As this is written, the Tampa Bay Rays are battling the Baltimore Orioles in an absolute gem of a game 14 innings deep. Rays fans must be enjoying watching it right? Nope. If you live in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area you can't the game isn't on TV. In an era of record TV contracts for live sports, shouldn't these "radio only" games -- something A's fans are quite familiar with -- be a thing of the past?

In Tampa Bay/St. Pete what will you see on SUN (TB's equivalent of CSN) instead of the Rays game? "ScubaNation" started off the afternoon. (The show bills itself as, "Highlights of scuba diving and underwater sea life.") Currently, "Fishing the Flats" is on the air.

The Rays, however, did something today that the A's have never tried -- a viewing party. Fans are watching the teams battle it out in the Tampa Bay area at a team-sponsored event featuring the Baltimore broadcast feed. (How this is even possible considering MLB.TV's strict blackout restrictions is a whole different story.)

Here's hoping that the A's for the final three "radio only" games -- at least the road ones -- will consider something similar. If few people RSVP for the events then cancel them. They key is providing fans with most ways to connect with the team.

Here are the A's upcoming "radio only" games:

Date and Matchup CSN California TV Listing
9/20 10:05 a.m. A's @ DET Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
9/27 11:05 a.m. A's @ TEX SportsNet Reports
9/29 1:05 p.m. A's v. SEA SEC College Football: TBD @ TBD

The 20th and the 27th are likely some sort of contractual issue. The 27th is just inexcusable. The A's might as well be showing "ScubaNation" during that time slot. CSN can't switch the game to California's sister channel Bay Area as they are showing the Giants. However, if "SportsNet Reports" is truly unmovable, why not show the game on CSN+? Taping and broadcasting A's day games also allows provides CSN with great footage to run at night, when there are no games and folks are looking to catch up on the day's action.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Toxic Situation in Cleveland

Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez seems to have missed the Indians media training sessions.

Perez in May lashed out at his team's fan base after a quick start failed to generate a boost in attendance. This is from an article by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans," said Perez. "We know the weather stinks, but people see that [attendance]. Other players know that.

"You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It's going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That's just how it is. That's another thing that you have to go against. It's not only the payrolls of the AL East teams, but that kind of stuff."

Fast forward to September and the team has utterly cratered -- including two recent sweeps by the A's. Perez, in a Fox Sports article on how some small markets (including Oakland) have found the recipe for success, this time rips into his team's ownership for being spendthrift.

When asked why the Tigers are successful and the Indians are not, Perez said this:

“Different owners,” Perez said frankly, in reference to Detroit’s Mike Ilitch and Cleveland’s Lawrence J. Dolan. “It comes down to that. They (the Tigers) are spending money. He (Ilitch) wants to win. Even when the economy was down (in Detroit), he spent money. He’s got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do.”

To summarize his thoughts: People don't come to the ballpark, even if we are winning.

We can't compete because ownership is cheap. Players don't want to come here because it is a ghost town.

Those exact thoughts regarding the A's have flashed across any number of fans' minds.

Spending money dosen't guarantee winning. Ask the Red Sox. Ask the A's opponent today, the Angels, how much of their recent success can be attributed to Vernon Wells' bloated $21 million contract and .228 batting average. You do have to spend money, but you need to do so wisely. The Indians spent more than the A's this year (opening day payroll of $78.43 million vs. the A's $55.37), but their investments in some big-money players has been a bust -- Travis Hafner ($13.5 million, injured, played in only 60 games) and Grady Sizemore ($5 million, injured, played in no games) and the gamble they took with Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't worked out ($4.2 million, 9-15, 5.58 ERA).

Even though the A's have a lower payroll, they did make two smart somewhat big-money signings -- Coco Crisp for two years and $14 million and Yoenis Cespedes for four years and $36 million. You need to spend money, but even more important is doing so strategically. Crisp is worth the extra money as a table setter and veteran leader. Cespedes' current production indicates that he is actually underpaid. A's GM Billy Beane knew that restrictions on international signings were coming, and exploited that market inefficiency.

Perez' diatribes against Cleveland don't quite work in Oakland. It is true that people aren't coming to the ballpark, despite the team's winning ways. With that comment, A's fans can sympathize -- except that the Coliseum is not the architectural gem that is Progressive Field. However, the A's success -- in spite of their paltry payroll -- is proof that the total amount of money spent isn't what counts, it's who it is spent on.

Time will tell if this remarkable season helps lure free agents and bring fans to the park. Recent off season history has indicated that both Adrian Beltre and Lance Berkman spurned larger offers from the A's to play for other teams. While A's ownership used these instances as fuel for the new stadium campaign, it very well could also have been that these free agents didn't want to play for a team that wasn't competitive (Beltre signed with the Red Sox and made the playoffs in 2010 and Berkman last year signed with the Cardinals and won the World Series.) Someone might need to let Chris Perez know that the Indians haven't been all that good in a while. His example of a free agent turned off by the thin crowds in the 'Cleve is Carlos Beltran, a member this season of last year's champs the St. Louis Cardinals.

Winning fixes a lot of things and may make Oakland much more attractive this off season to free agents and season ticket holders. Sadly, and partially due to the toxicity of comments like Perez, Cleveland is not looking like an attractive destination for free agents or fans.

Marlins Owner Sets Record for Creepiest Quote

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was asked his thoughts on the current season by a reporter at the Miami Herald and responded, in part this way:

“What have I been thrilled with?” Loria said, asking his own question. “Watching Jose Reyes. Every breath he takes is worth watching.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Broadcasting Dollars Level the Playing Field (a Little)

MLB's ESPN deal last week is about to be followed by deals renewing the league's coverage on both FOX and TBS according to John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Journal. The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown analyzed the report and broke down what the FOX and TBS deals will mean when combined with the ESPN deal with respect to individual clubs:

While I projected as much as a 175% increase in television revenues in the new deals, that is likely too high. If the SBJ story holds water and a combined deal to cover the FOX and TBS programming hits $800 million annually, MLB will see total national television revenues of $1.5 billion annually, up 111% from the $711.7 million they receive now. 

How will this affect the individual clubs? With MLB’s national media rights revenues part of the league’s central funds that are distributed evenly to all 30 clubs, each one will could see $50 million annually, up from $23.72 million, now. That could give each club the ability to be competitive for a star-caliber free agent, and then some.

Consider that the A's opening day payroll this year was $55,372,500 and you can see how the central funds are pivotal to small market teams. The money from these deals will actually increase -- ever so slightly-- payroll parity as the luxury tax of $178 is working, for the most part, like a salary cap.

In this exercise we are assuming the additional broadcast money is being plowed in to big league payroll -- as opposed to scouting and development or just being taken out as profits. If a team decides to breach the $178 million number -- I'm looking at you Dodgers -- with these new funds, the real value of the money over the $178 limit will be 20 percent less per the luxury tax for the first year and will increase thereafter. (Here is a good explanation of the luxury tax.) However, consider too that agents will know that each team has more to spend and will continue to push salary numbers up.

A's Aren't Smartest Spenders

According to Bloomberg Businessweek they are #48 in all of professional sports.

Anywhere and Everywhere

Part of baseball's interest in renewing with ESPN is, per this week's Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story, is the cable network's ubiquitous nature -- mobile app (Watch ESPN), magazine (ESPN The Magazine), multiple cable networks and strong social media presence. Per August 30th article by Karl Taro Greenfeld:

(ESPN President John) Skipper’s advantage over his potential competitors—NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports, TNT—is ESPN’s ability to monetize live sports across multiple platforms. ESPN isn’t just buying the rights to televise a game on TV, it’s buying the rights to build hours of TV content around the game and to stream the action digitally and over its WatchESPN mobile application. Each live sporting event also generates advertising revenue on ESPN Radio, highlights for the ESPN networks’ various studio shows and websites, plus fantasy league updates, streaming sports news content, and beyond. That diversity of delivery vehicles gives ESPN more flexibility in terms of pricing.

Surely this appeals to baseball, which has adopted a similar strategy itself. The MLB.TV app turned 10 this year and remains the gold standard for professional sports (MLB's subsidiary has even generated non-baseball business with the NCAA on CBS and Glenn Beck's show). This year the league also created the "Full Count"  app in partnership with Yahoo! that is akin to NFL's RedZone network -- full of live look-ins and highlights. The league also has several TV shows it produces, notably Showtime's The Franchise and NBC Sports Network's Caught Looking. Of course, the league also has a its own cable channel as well.

With football starting yesterday, that league's perennial walled-garden approach truly pales in comparison to MLB's largely open one. For instance, only Verizon customers can download the NFL Mobile app and out of market fans can watch their favorite team -- the Monday after the Sunday that team plays. Surely at least part of baseball's popularity is owed to its ability to produce, leverage and make readily accessible troves of high-quality content across platforms -- a lot like ESPN.

Billy Loves Trout

In case you missed the August 27th cover story on the Angels phenom Mike Trout, it featured a good bit of Billy Beane.

Here is part of what Beane had to say about Trout:

I will go to a box score every day to see what he's done—and you've got to go to so many categories that it takes a while. I swear, he's the only major league player where I will become an eight-year-old kid again.

The A's in the 2009 draft passed on Trout and selected current River Cat Grant Green. A contributing factor to passing might have been Beane's experience personally scouting Trout, as told by writer Tom Verducci:

Trout went 0 for 4 with four pop-ups and never was challenged on defense. Beane left Millville (NJ, Mike Trout's hometown) without seeing Trout's explosiveness. "You just had to believe what others were saying," the A's G.M. says now. "That's why scouting in high school is very challenging."

Oh well, at least the A's got Green who, while not being compared to Mickey Mantle, is doing fine in the minors and seems more akin to the Rays versatile Ben Zobrist.

The one funny thing about the SI article is that there is a lot of talk about the bias against cold weather, East Coast towns when it comes to prospects. Hasn't Moneyball taught us anything? You would think, if this bias is real, that the A's -- masters of market inefficiencies -- would be flooding the Northeast.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More of the Same, Expos and River Cats

Last night's game was a stinker on the field and at the gate. An "announced" crowd of 11,688 that seemed a good 2-3 thousand less than that. This prompted the Angels beat writer Mike DiGiovanna to tweet, "Attendance in Oakland Coliseum for #Angels-#A's: 11,688. Begs the question, What if they threw a pennant race, and no one came?"

Houston Chronicle Astros writer Zacahry Levine pointed out today that the A's were hardly the only contender to draw lightly last night.  Levine added some perspective on the scant 12,785 who showed up at PNC Park in Pittsburgh last night to see the Pirates play the 'stros:

....The Nationals, who own the best record in baseball, drew 17,648. The Reds, who are second, drew 17,806. 

The Braves, who lead the NL wild-card race, drew 16,686. 

Then compare those numbers to the Phillies, who have not drawn fewer than 41,227 this year and are nowhere near any races. But they won a title four years ago. 

Baseball’s attendance operates as a lagging indicator to performance, and that’s where the Astros have to be concerned.

Fans don’t come back in the year that a team gets good, as we see in especially Washington and Cincinnati. They come back later as a result of past performance. 

So as the Astros try to put a timeline on the finish line or even the minor milestones of their rebuilding process, the increased gate revenue probably isn’t going to come then....

As seemingly no new stadium/a relocation is forthcoming in the next three years and the bulk of this team is under control, there should be an opportunity to see if the old O.co can draw larger crowds next year and beyond should the team continue to contend.

Les Expos!

Several recent articles (here and here) touched upon a small, but hopeful group of Canadians trying to stir interest in MLB returning to Montreal.

Here is former Expo Walter Cromartie, who runs the Montreal Baseball Project and is helping drive efforts to get a team back in Quebec, in the August 31st article on SportsNet:

"When we lost Gary Carter this year, I think the city really woke up, realized how much of an impact he made on the city," said Cromartie. "That had a big impact on Montreal and its sense of being left out and having baseball here since 1969, and before that Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente played here. It brought back a lot of memories."

If baseball was to leave Oakland, or worse if the A's were to relocate out of the Bay Area down the road, it pains one to think of what a similar quote might be when someone like Rickey Henderson passed.

Further in the piece, Jonah Keri -- of ESPN, Grantland and who is writing a history of the Expos -- offered this:

The biggest obstacle is just Major League Baseball. The whole situation was so poisonous (in 2004). It was a given that the team was going to move and it was such a headache for Major League Baseball that even if you tell them, it's 10 or 20 years down the road and Bud Selig isn't commissioner, even if the circumstances change, to the outside observer, I think that legacy is going to remain there. That sour taste, if anything, is what I think would prevent Major League Baseball from going there.

This "sour taste" is why the cities of Oakland and San Jose might want to tread lightly in terms of any possible litigation down the road against the league.

Cats Playoff Baseball!

If you are pining for some baseball after today's day game, consider checking out the River Cats whose first playoff game is tonight. The pitching match-up against the Reno Aces is Bruce Billings (7-6, 3.98 ERA) vs. Trevor Bauer (5-1, 2.85 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. from Raley Field in Sacramento. Bauer, who was briefly up with the Diamondbacks, is an interesting guy.

Meanwhile, these playoffs are a swan song for Wes Timmons who has toiled in the minors for 1,047 games and counting with zero MLB appearances. He intends to retire after this season ends.

Dot Racing

Having forgotten to bring a radio, I was more acutely aware of the in-stadium festivities between innings. I clearly missed something as the venerable "Dot Race" now -- finally -- features A's colors of green, gold and white. According to DiamondVision, the lifetime record is white -- 1,023; gold -- 3; and green --2.An odd stat to display during an inning -- especially in light of the small amount of available real estate for stats.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Different Cities and Teams, Same Attendance Issue

Attendance is a funny thing.

Despite playing some of the most compelling baseball the last two months, the A's haven't made the turnstiles spin. The A's are currently averaging (through September 3rd) 20,416 per game. This puts them second to last in baseball, just slightly ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. 

There is no simple answer as to why this number is so low, and other contending team's have been pondering it as well.

Consider these three contenders:

White Sox --

The White Sox are battling for the A.L. Central Division title and yet are being outdrawn handily by the hapless Cubs. Per, Ben Strauss' August 27th New York Times article,

With both of Chicago’s major league teams home over the weekend, a season-long — decades-long, for that matter — trend was on full display: at the box office, the White Sox, despite being a contending team, are no match for even a cellar-dwelling Cubs squad. Through Saturday, the White Sox, sporting a 70-55 record, were 24th in attendance, averaging 24,568 fans. The Cubs, 27 ½ games out of first place, were 10th at 36,826....

There is no shortage of theories about this puzzle, which is part of the fabric of the city. As many explanations are rooted in psychology, geography and socioeconomics as in baseball. The Cubs play on the tony North Side, the Sox on the grittier South Side. Slick bars and restaurants surround Wrigley, while the not so affectionately nicknamed Cell is nestled among parking lots and the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Or there are just a lot more Cubs fans than White Sox fans. Conventional wisdom holds that the fan split in a metropolitan area of 9.5 million is around 60-40 in favor of the Cubs. Even if the disparity is greater, that still leaves plenty of White Sox fans, and according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago, while the numbers are close, White Sox broadcasts have generated higher ratings than the Cubs’ this season.

The arguments sound familiar, no? The industrial location of the Coliseum and the grittiness of the west Oakland pale in comparison to the glimmer and shimmer of 4th and King in San Francisco and conspire to keep people away.

You also can't say the Sox they don't spend money. They had an opening day payroll of $96 million.

Orioles --

Speaking of the White Sox, here is Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck on August 28th writing about the O's poor gate in a recent home series against the Pale Hose:

Just 10,995 showed up on Monday night for the opener of a four-game series against the Chicago White Sox, who happen to be leading the AL Central right now and very possibly could be a playoff opponent if the Orioles continue along their merry way in this surprising season. 

Sure, it was the first day of school for a lot of kids in the area, and you can string together all sorts of reasons why the O's drew their second-smallest home crowd of the year, but still, not even 11,000 fans showed up for a very important game against a highly competitive team just days before the start of the September stretch? 

 Really?....

Even though the Orioles have raised their national stature and are on track to have their first winning season since 1997, they obviously have a lot more work to do to get fans back in the habit of coming to the ballpark. Getting to the playoffs for the first time in this century would help a lot, but it might take another year or more of winning baseball to put a big dent in the hard-earned cynicism of Birdland's silent majority. 


"We've got to keep winning and keep winning for a long time and make them believe,'' center fielder Adam Jones said. The Orioles, who somehow, someway are challenging the Yankees for the A.L. East title, are averaging just 24,921 fans a game through September 3rd. While you could say the White Sox play in a bland stadium, the O's play in one of the games most celebrated ones.

Similar to the last post, consistent winning is a major factor in driving attendance. Having a beautiful stadium isn't enough (see Cleveland). The A's haven't won squat since 2006 and -- even for the most ardent fans -- this season has been a bit of a surprise.

Rays --

The Rays, just like the O's and the White Sox, are battling for a playoff spot and playing good baseball. Yet, they averaging through September 3rd a MLB-worst 20,056 fans a game. Look at the important three-game  set last month against the A's:

Aug. 23 -- 11,613 (32.2 percent full)
Aug. 24 -- 18.913 (52.5 percent full)
Aug. 25 -- 18,187 (50.5 percent full)

Here is ESPN and Grantland's Jonah Keri talking about the attendance issue on August 24:

....The Rays' stacked pitching staff, the return of Longoria, and contributions from legions of rejects and second-chance guys have Tampa Bay pointed toward a possible fourth playoff berth in five years, an incredible achievement given the perennial strength of the AL East and the Rays' consistently tiny payroll. Yet the team ranks dead last in the majors in attendance, at a shade over 20,000 a game. As it has in the past, the Rays' attendance has become a bigger story than it should be. It's trolling fodder for those who choose to vilify a region and a fan base they know little about, but also a source of legitimate concern for some of baseball's most respected figures, who admire the team's winning ways and wish more people would show up to appreciate those wins in person. 

I've documented the sources of those attendance struggles at length already: The Rays play in one of baseball's oldest stadiums, but one that obviously lacks the charm of a Wrigley or a Fenway; the Tampa Bay region's trying to tunnel out from one of the most aggressive local recessions in the nation; the area's rife with transplants from all over the country, and doesn't yet have enough history for parents to foster new generations of Rays fans; and fewer people live within a 30-minute drive of poorly located Tropicana Field than any other major league ballpark. These issues aren't going away anytime soon, and trying to shame fans into showing up isn't going to help. A new, better-located stadium would likely boost attendance. But finding the right location, and especially the money to build that new park, will require jumping over a huge number of political and financial hurdles....

Across the country you can see shades of the A's Bay Area. The recession hit California the hardest. Alameda County has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate and Contra Costa has a similar rate at 9 percent. Also similar to Tampa, the A's stadium is old, but -- arguably -- without charm. However, the Coliseum is extremely accessible (perhaps more so than any stadium in the Bay Area). Like the other bay area, the San Francisco Bay Area is chockablock with transplants.

No Magic Bullet

The central point to consider here is that the reason why people are not showing up is not as simple as the stadium, the owner or the payroll. All three surely contribute, but there is no magic bullet.

It seems the attendance needle isn't going to move that much this season -- no matter how well the team plays. Tonight, being a Tuesday night game against the Angels, is a good test. There might not even be 15,000 in the stands.

Here's hoping that's a wrong guess.

National Media Love

ESPN
-- No-name A's having a special season (9/3)

ESPN -- Oakland A's have become best story of 2012 (9/2)

Cespedes Blogs

Here is a link (ESPN Insider subscription required) to Yoenis Cespedes guest blog post on Buster Olney's blog from August 24th. Very good read.

Power Rankings

#4 on ESPN's Buster Olney's
#5 on ESPN
#4 on Sports Illustrated

Extra Credit

If you haven't "liked" the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society on Facebook, please consider it! They have been posting some great photos, including today's look at a 1954 concession menu. Prices have increased just a little bit.