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July 7, 2011

BP Unfiltered

SABR 41 Liveblog, Day One

by Colin Wyers

4:22 pm: Daryl's main point: in 1960, Washington, D.C., was 54% African American. Imagine how successful that team may have been if Clark Griffith was smart enough to sign someone like Willie Mays or Josh Gibson earlier. It's an interesting point. --LG

4:14 pm: After some finagling with the hotel, I'm back at the convention for one final presentation. Daryl Grigsby is using the 1937 - 1960 Washington Senators to show how a lack of early integration by some teams hurt the franchises, on the field and, more importantly, off. Washington D.C. of 1950, for example, was ~35% African American. The presentation is just now underway but certainly sounds interesting. Daryl's Washington Nationals' jersey is pretty sharp as well. --LG

2:21 pm: Bill Squadron from Bloomberg Sports just answered a question complaining about MLB.tv's blackout policy by pointing out that it's a trend that won't last. The same thing that caused "the music industry couldn't force us to keep paying $14.99 for a piece of plastic when we only wanted one song" will force MLB to fix their issues. These technologies - including Kindles and whatnot - are still in their infancy and will change for the better soon. It's a fair point, but it doesn't help me watch the Brewers on my computer right now! --LG

2:08 pm: After a long morning of driving (and a less-than-wonderful trip down the Pacific Coast Highway yesterday), I'm finally here at the SABR conference. The room is packed as everyone here seems anxious to hear what the media guys have to say. As Colin said, though, there hasn't been much more than that the internet is going to be changing things in a lot of ways. It's question time, though, so hopefully there will be a few new things said. I'll keep you posted. -- Larry Granillo (LG)

1:50 pm: Shorter version of the media panel so far - there's this thing called the Internet, and it's changing how we get baseball information. As noted before, the median age of SABR is about 60, so this may actually be news.

Exciting to me is the fact that I found a chair by a power outlet. --CW

1:44 pm: I have, per request, changed to reverse chronological order. I'm also tagging my posts with "CW," in anticipation of Geoff Young jumping in soon.

Also, the media panel has begun. --CW
 
10:34 am: Boras only took two questions for Q&A, as his talk ran wildly over time. One question was about tax minutia, which Boras thankfully managed to turn into a broader answer about how players understand what taxes are for (especially if they play winter ball in other countries) and are happy to pay them. (Please, please screen questions in the future, guys. Thanks.) The other was about parity. Boras first joked about "free agency after three years" as the answer, before going on to talk about things like trading draft picks.
 
Parity is an interesting thing - a lot of the most popular methods of "achieving parity," like salary caps, don't work. They don't lead to labor peace (see the NFL and NBA), they don't actually lead to parity (see the NFL and NBA) and they don't make leagues profitable (see the... oh, you get my point).  What they do is artificially restrain player salaries - Rottenberg's invariance principle predicts all of this, and it's been around for decades.
 
Now the business meeting has occured. I won't be live-blogging all the details (frankly I've only been barely paying attention, having side-conversations with a lot of great people about baseball). The overall theme here is the greying of SABR, and how the organization isn't growing (demographics suggest the opposite, in fact, will occur). One of the big problems for SABR, from where I sit, is that they are no longer the essential thing they were. The Internet has been a boon to baseball researchers of all stripes, and SABR was very slow to embrace the Internet, and has created a walled garden separate from the larger Internet community. It's an interesting question of how to solve this problem space, and I don't know if there's a good answer. (If it comes up here in the business meeting, I will share it.)
 
Now someone is complaining about the lack of printed bulletins, as SABR is transitioning to online methods of communication. This is an example of the problem SABR faces - satisfying their core membership's desires is contrary to the goal of growing the organization. --CW

9:39 am: Talking about market sizes and how the size of a revenue base isn't the same as the size of a city's population base - TV markets and other factors can make a "mid-market" much more lucrative than a "larger" market. Says press needs to be educated on revenue bases, not market sizes.
 
Now he's discussing how "advanced metrics" like quality starts (hey, this was twenty years ago) can be used in arbitration hearings, and how teams object to bringing in "voodoo numbers" in arbitration hearings. --CW
 
9:34 am: Now he's addressing the idea that players are making too much money - "'Isn't 10 million enough?'" is the rhetorical question. He talks about how baseball revenues have grown, and how arbitrators are still afraid to "go to the next level" while revenues are rising.
 
Now he's talking about negotiating Greg Maddux a contract with the Cubs (hint: it ended poorly for them, alright for the Braves), and asks the Cubs fans to raise their hands so he can see where the boos are coming from. (For the record - I didn't boo.) --CW
 
9:27 am: "Having data is one thing, knowing how to relate it to a player is another." Says psychology plays a key role, recommends the book "Mental Game of Baseball" by  H.A. Dorfman. Boras has worked with Dorfman a lot, he says.
 
One example is a player who hits really well when ahead in the count, but poorly when behind in the count. (This, of course, is all players.) He talks about how you get players to understand that sort of thing.
 
Now he talks about how his agency does a lot of things (sports fitness institute, database infrastructure, hiring sports psychologists) that aren't revenue sources; they don't add much to the bottom line.
 
I think he's still doing okay for himself financially, though. --CW
 
9:22 am: Boras says negotiating contracts is only about 30 percent of his business - the other 70 percent is helping his clients reach their best performance. That's a stark contrast to what you'd think, where the agent's role in contracts is pretty much the only time you hear about them. It'd be interesting to see if his clients feel the same way about it, and if other agents view themselves the same way. --CW
 
9:15 am: He says players have to be protected from themselves - most players won't end up as stars, or even as everyday players, and so expectations need to be managed. Players (even sucessful ones) also retire very early, relative to a lot of careers.
 
Now he's comparing how he gathered information for Caudill's arbitration hearing, where he and his wife sorted through notes on paper by hand, to now where he has a database system designed by "people a lot smarter than I am," as he puts it, and how important it is not only to have information (as he notes, information is everywhere these days), but in having access to that information and interpreting this. He points out how he set up a fitness system for his players, and how he looked at DL days by teams and how the White Sox consistently have fewer DL days than other teams. (Our own Ben Lindbergh has looked at the White Sox's remarkable health before.) --CW
 
9:08 am: Boras is talking about studying for college while he played in the minor leagues - he got his doctorate in pharmacy after his playing career ended. In order to divert attention from his pharmacology texts while on the road with the team, he says he bought, ahem, "men's magazines" to hide them in. Got a lot of chuckles from the crowd with that one. --CW
 
9:03 am: This isn't really day one of SABR 41 - that would be yesterday. But it's the first full day of the convention, so I'm calling it Day One for this liveblog. We're set up at the Long Beach Hilton, and starting things off is the keynote address by noted agent Scott Boras.

Boras is, not shockingly, very personable and a real joy to listen to. He told the story of how he became an agent - it's a fascinating story, at least how Boras tells it. During the talk, the lights went out, and Boras didn't miss a beat - he said, "Don't worry, that happens all the time" and follows up with talking about how SABR is like the Dodgers - "they don't pay their bills, either."

Now he's talking about how he got involved in the draft, which is not only interesting but somewhat timely. Boras says that scouts had fed a certain line to draftees - that asking for more money was "greedy" and that they were unproven players. Boras talks about how bonuses were falling behind what other sports were offering players, and how the low bonuses weren't just hurting these players, but all of baseball. I've never hidden my feelings about this - I tend to side with the players in terms of th economics of the game, and whatever you may think of Boras, he is certainly one of the most sucessful advocates of the players. --CW

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

Related Content:  Sabr,  Sabr Conference

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