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July 27, 2009

Ahead in the Count

Aces and Attendance

by Matt Swartz

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In last week's article, I estimated a dollar value of adding Roy Halladay for each of the contending teams mentioned in trade rumors related to Doc as of last week. Using an approximation of the effect on playoff odds and subsequent success in the playoffs, I found that Roy Halladay's contract was worth nearly $15 million more to a contender than he is to the Blue Jays. However, there are many other factors that play a role in revenue that vary by team, and one factor is that Blue Jays fans love Roy Halladay. Many of those fans cannot stand the thought of losing him, and the Jays certainly may wonder if subtracting him would hurt their attendance enough to deem it unwise. The concept of a franchise player having a high sentimental value to a city is one worth exploring, so let's discuss the effect of Roy Halladay on the Blue Jays' attendance.

For a comparison, back in the late 1990s Curt Schilling played for a series of bad Philadelphia teams. However, Schilling was very good. As a result, the Phillies won 55 percent of the games that he pitched from 1996 until he was traded in 2000, against only 42 percent of the games that he did not pitch. As a young Phillies fan who hated going to games that his team lost, I developed a strategy of picking the games that I attended based on the pitching matchups, and as a result I went to about every fifth game-and the Phillies would win about 55 percent of the games that I went to. Throughout 2002-2009, the Blue Jays have won 64 percent of the games that Roy Halladay has pitched and only 46 percent of the games that he has not pitched. This led me to ask the question: Is it possible that there are a lot of Blue Jays fans doing exactly what I did in my pointedly aiming my attendance at Schilling's starts? Are Blue Jays fans going to Halladay's starts more often?

The reason that this is useful to study is that looking at attendance by starting pitcher is a way to gain some insight into the true value of a losing team's franchise player. It would be difficult to study the cost of what would have happened if the Orioles had traded Cal Ripken to a contender during his career, because he played in every game. The question of how many Orioles fans came out only because they would get to see Ripken is a very difficult one to answer. However, as starting pitchers' schedules are well known, Blue Jays fans may be going to games only to see Halladay.

Initially, I tried to simply compare the attendance in Halladay's starts to the rest of the Blue Jays' games. During the average Halladay start between 2002 and July 21, 2009, the attendance at the Skydome/Rogers Centre was 27,918; when Halladay did not start, it was 26,426, a difference of 1,492 seats sold. If we stopped the analysis there and concluded that these fans would simply stop coming if Halladay did not pitch, then with about 17 home starts per year and about $30 per ticket, then this would cost them about $761,000 per season. Given last week's adjustment to Nate Silver's approximation of the value of a win excluding the impact on playoff odds would have put Halladay's value at $6.75 million, then an additional $761,000 in value of people coming to see Halladay's games is what I'd call 'nontrivial.' While some of that attendance factor may already be included in the value of a win, that still seems like a pretty large effect to ignore.

However, if we just focus on how the Blue Jays sell tickets in games that Halladay pitches and in games that he does not, then we ignore a lot of other significant factors in team attendance. For instance, Halladay pitches more often on Sundays and the Blue Jays get more attendance on Sundays than other days of the week. Halladay pitches more often against the Yankees too, and those are often hot tickets in Toronto. So I decided to run a regression analysis to consider the effect of Halladay pitching as well as other effects on attendance for the Blue Jays. I included dummy variables to account for year and month, as well as several other factors: whether Halladay pitched, whether the game was on a Sunday, whether the game was on a weekend, whether the game was against the Yankees, whether the game was against the Red Sox, and-another huge factor-whether the game happened on Opening Day. The inclusion of the home opener was important; the Blue Jays' attendance in home openers over the last eight years is 49,342, while their attendance in other games is 26,551. As Halladay pitched in five of the last eight Opening Days, not including the impact of Opening Day will overstate Halladay's effect on attendance.

Here are the effects on attendance of each of those variables (excluding the years and months) without including the home opener variable:

Halladay: 1,873
Sunday: 2,397
Other weekend: 1,918
Vs. Yankees: 10,231
Vs. Red Sox: 5,472

Here are the effects on attendance of each of those variables (excluding the years and months) with the regression properly specified:

Halladay: 758
Sunday: 2,901
Other weekend: 2,146
Vs. Yankees: 10,278
Vs. Red Sox: 5,359
Home Opener: 28,466 

Each of the non-Halladay variables was statistically significant, as were all of the year and most of the month dummy variables. The one exception was whether Halladay pitched. Although there seems to be a slight positive effect, it is not even statistically significant and is less than half of the original estimate that did not account for these factors. Clearly ignoring the home opener effect is wrong, and doing so will lead us to overstate the effect of Halladay pitching by 150 percent. It turns out that instead of $761,000, the dollar value of the extra attendance in Halladay's starts is around $386,000. What this means is that Halladay is probably not doing all that much to increase the Blue Jays' attendance beyond winning ballgames.

This reinforces the idea that the goal of player acquisition should be to win baseball games and not build around hometown favorites. Even a Toronto legend like Roy Halladay is not helping their attendance very much, and it becomes even more imperative that Riccardi trade him. The dollar value of the offers being reported by various teams are very close to the value of Halladay to a contender, which is around $25-28 million. The dollar value of Halladay to the Blue Jays is clearly about half that much, even after adjusting the attendance effects as specified in this article.

Of course, this is just one pitcher's effect on one team, and it may be that in other circumstances, the value of a franchise player is higher than this. There is also the much larger issue of price's effect on attendance which frequently gets ignored in these studies, which I did not get into in this article. Nonetheless, the qualitative lesson that we can learn from this analysis is that franchise players do not have anywhere near the effect on revenue as the standings do. This reinforces what I said last week-if Riccardi does not move Halladay now, he's costing the Blue Jays a lot of money and a lot of wins.

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

37 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ncassino

Thank you for this very interesting article but I think it might miss a significant factor. Specifically, if Blue Jays fans see keeping Halladay as "still trying to win" vs. trading him and "rebuilding", the effect specifically of trading Halladay in your analysis may be understated. If trading Halladay means "giving up", then fans could stop going to games for that very reason.

I think a great follow up article could be to analyze how attendance changed for teams in the past after they traded their best player/face of the franchise and "gave up" on the season. I realize the definition of such player is fairly subjective but I'm sure you could come up with a few comparables.

The follow up article combined with your original article might paint a more complete picture. Thank you.

Jul 27, 2009 10:17 AM
rating: 4
 
bozarowski

I'm right with you on this issue - it seems very reasonable that, especially for a casual fan, the idea of going to a rebuilding team (or in this case a team that if a move is made will, in the short term, 'hurt' the fanbase) is less appealing than if the team is merely out of the hunt. I think there comes a point where, as a casual fan, you can become so frustrated with your team or with so-called competitive imbalance (especially if Halladay ends up with New York or Boston) that it just isn't worth the effort to go out to the ballpark or [another source of revenue worth monitoring] watch them on TV or listen on the radio.

A few comparable stature players from recent years that might merit comparative consideration: CC Sabathia ('08), Mark McGwire ('97), Randy Johnson ('98).

Keep up the good work.

Jul 27, 2009 10:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew

Agreed - this is exactly what I was thinking while I read the article. If this is seen as a white flag then there could be higher-level effects. It might be instructive to look at teams that threw in the towel midseason, like the White Sox of several years ago or the Phillies when they dumped Abreu.

Jul 27, 2009 11:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm glad you liked the article. My concern with trying to do the analysis of what happens to attendance when a team is rebuilding is how much that factor is mixed up with the effect of just having a bad team. We know that attendance will be lower for bad teams, but we don't know if rebuilding is the issue. I agree that it would be an interesting follow up to do an article on trading big stars and the effect on subsequent attendance. I know that attendance falls for non-contending teams over the course of the season, but I would not be surprised if the effect were different based on their deadline activities.

Drew points out the Phillies' trading Abreu, which is interesting but would confuse the analysis because the Phillies saw Hamels and Howard click at once right after they traded Abreu, and so their attendance shot up in August and September. Including Abreu would make it look like the white flag was a ticket seller!

Jul 27, 2009 16:48 PM
 
raid18

Thanks so much, this is very interesting. Though you obviously can't do this for offensive players as they tend to play everyday, are there any pitchers out there who do have a significant impact on attendance? Off the top of my head, Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, Zach Duke, Zach Grienke, Dan Haren and Felix Hernandez.

Jul 27, 2009 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
ndubby

Interesting piece. I think your conclusion could be evidenced in the rather poor turnout in last Friday's game.

As a displaced Torontonian, I was a tad disappointed that attendance was only 24k according to the boxscore (I thought the TV broadcast had said 21k). Jays fans could only muster barely above average attendance in what could be Halladay's final home appearance as a Jay.

Jul 27, 2009 10:36 AM
rating: 2
 
eliyahu

This is really good and, wjile it may seem counterintuitive at first to a serious fan, actually makes sense. Out of the universe of ~25K (mostly casual) fans that come to a game, how many are really coming to see a given starter, as opposed to any number of other factors? Upon reflection, I'm not surprised that the neumber is fairly small.

What would be useful, however, is seeing how (and if) attendance declines for non-competitive teams -- particularly those that make dump/rebuilding trades -- after the trade deadline.

Jul 27, 2009 11:18 AM
rating: 2
 
eneff1
(940)

"Even a Toronto legend like Roy Halladay is not helping their attendance very much, and it becomes even more imperative that Riccardi trade him."

Imperative? I like the strong language Matt. A little part of me thinks that you are hoping Riccardi reads your article and trades Halladay to the Phillies.

Jul 27, 2009 11:39 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

LOL. I certainly would like that, it's true. But last week's article might show you that I'm pretty honest in my numbers-- I threw a few names out there for teams that would benefit more from having Halladay than the Phillies. (Mr. Amaro, please ignore this comment ;-))

Jul 27, 2009 16:51 PM
 
dsc250

I wonder about the effect on the team he's traded to (if he's traded). For instance, the attendance affect on the Phillies will be minimal, as they are selling out almost every game this year. But, for other teams that aren't, will his trade make a difference in fans going to his starts? Maybe even in fans going to more games overall as they perceive their team to be going for it now?

Jul 27, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I wonder if this is testable. Maybe checking the attendance after the deadline in games with a new pitcher versus the rest of the team would work? That would certainly require a lot of data gathering, but would be interesting. Maybe I'll do that at some point. I like the idea :-)

Jul 27, 2009 16:53 PM
 
tercet

As a Blue Jay fan, I don't think matters too much when Halladay pitches or not. Its only when the Red Sox or Yankees come into town we get 35,000 +

Maybe if the Jays are in a pennant race in september all the bandwagon fans will come.

Jul 27, 2009 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
tercet

Also the Jays owner Paul Beeston said a week ago on the radio that "they have all the financial needs" to sign Halladay if need be. So paying 25-30/year shouldn't be a problem for Toronto, fielding a winner is the only thing that matters to Halladay in the tough AL East.

Jul 27, 2009 12:23 PM
rating: 0
 
tercet

CEO Paul Beeston*, the owner is Rogers, my bad.

Jul 27, 2009 12:23 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I agree that the Blue Jays probably would not go broke paying for Halladay. However, the goal is to maximize your playoff appearances/world series rings given your spending level. I believe that trading Halladay away and putting the money that would have been used for his salary in the bank to be used when they become competitive in a couple years would do that. I'm sure Blue Jays' fans are sick of fielding 81-81 teams every year, and would rather win 70 games for a couple years and 92 games the next couple years, wouldn't they? Certainly the owners would make more money that way.

Jul 27, 2009 16:58 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think the effect is still a bit understated when you factor in the ingame concessions and merchandise sales... though I also then wonder if pitchers worse than Halladay might help concession sales a bit more because they make the game go a bit longer with all the hits and runs given up and pitching changes.

It also might be interesting to see how Holliday's attendance impact compares to a bobblehead or fireworks night.

Jul 27, 2009 12:30 PM
rating: 0
 
koopbri

As a Blue Jays fan who attends 10 - 15 games a year, my intuition matches the regression results. I love Halladay and I prefer to attend his starts, it means better odds of victory and also a briskly paced entertaining game. But there are many other baseball and personal factors that influence when I attend. Initially it surprised me to see such a low Halladay effect, but it makes sense.

Extra Yankees and Red Sox attendance, especially on summer weekends, includes lots of tourists who support the other team and don't really care who starts. The real fans enjoy watching Halladay and you hear lots of "wish he was on our team" comments, but it's not why they showed up. I'm not sure this matters to the analysis, but it's interesting that on Yanks/RedSox game days in downtown Toronto, you might wonder what city you're in.

Jul 27, 2009 13:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

Given that the entity owning the team also owns the primary broadcast station for the team (Rogers Sportsnet), I wonder what the effect is on TV ratings for Halladay games vs non-Halladay games.

Jul 27, 2009 13:49 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I have no idea where to get that data, but that is an awesome idea.

Jul 27, 2009 16:59 PM
 
Hoff

This is interesting analysis, and a really cool approach to trying to determine a players individual contribution to organizational bottom line.

A couple of things you might also try: Stub hub prices on pitchers day. Thats good for marginal value fans add on those days, tough to extrapolate towards total value, but could give some evidence(or more death notice) to the franchise player.

Also, can you publish your methodology of valuation for making the playoffs and an individual win? If we're basing all of this on the revenue implications of marginal wins, it might be trickier to extrapolate additional revenue on a day by day basis beyond that. After all, in a macro sense, the doc's marginal revenue value to the jays already includes the revenue effects of those days when the team looks more likely to win, on what is probably only a evenly prorated basis. This stems from the multiplication of his warp total and the price per win.

Is there any conceivable way to find out how teams revenue changes on a year to year basis with performance? Regress revenue with win percentage, post season gear and look for collinearity? Is the implication of all these value per win figures that with enough 95 win seasons the mets would take over as the revenue champions of new york? If that is not so is there a seamy underbelly to all this analysis? If adding a win to go from 88 on the season to 89 can't statistically significantly gain you x million dollars, what is all this advanced analysis worth?

Jul 27, 2009 14:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I like the idea of looking at Stub Hub prices. It would be kind of hard to retroactively check that data, though. I think I'd need to be tabulating it over time. It does sound like an interesting project though, with the resources to pull it off.

The methodology of valuation for making the playoffs is in last week's article which is linked above. If you need more details, please let me know and I'm happy to explain. In general, I checked the PECOTA playoff odds which projected an expected winning percentage and odds of making the playoffs, and I figured out about how much more likely the team would be to make the playoff if the (binomial) distribution if wins shifted up by 2.6. I also adjusted the playoff series effect of him replacing a replacement level pitcher (which isn't far off for most teams). As for the dollar value of each of those things, I approximated based on Nate Silver's numbers from his 2005 article but with some inflation in the values to make it match up with the commonly accepted price per win. I also cooked up some reasonable approximations for the value of winning each series-- changing these values didn't alter the results much so I just picked numbers that worked.

The way to determine revenue changes with respect to performance is very, very tricky. Check out the comments section on last week's article and you'll see a really interesting exchange between dpowell & ben solow about this very topic. There are a whole host of issues involved. Obviously, it's worth looking into but for these two articles, I just approximated what Nate Silver had used with some logic and some inflation.

Jul 27, 2009 17:50 PM
 
Wrigleyviller
(883)

I don't know if the Blue Jays do it, but many teams now use variable pricing methods for tickets. So when the Red Sox visit Toronto, higher prices as well as the draw of a popular team may affect attendance. And if Doc is pitching primarily against those teams, the higher ticket prices may have an effect on a study about his drawing power.

Great article, btw.

Jul 28, 2009 08:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

This is a very good point. I mentioned in my article that I thought looking at pricing would really be important to do this more thoroughly.

In reality, pretty much all teams probably do variable pricing. They just don't call it that. Most teams send out two-for-one deals by email, and throw in giveaways sometimes too, all to effectively change the price of games.

Jul 28, 2009 17:54 PM
 
Isaac Lin

The Jays do indeed use variable pricing, with nearly all weekend games labelled as Premium, and Yankee and Red Sox games labelled as Super Premium. (See the Jays schedule on their MLB web site for more details.)

Jul 29, 2009 18:32 PM
rating: 0
 
brianpsmith
(832)

Matt, is there a relatively quick and dirty way you could take a look at the starters (historically) who have had the greatest effect on attendance? That would be interesting. I'm thinking Mark Fidrych would have to #1, with maybe Ryan on the 70s Angels, Carlton on the 70s Phils, etc.

Jul 27, 2009 14:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Unfortunately, there is no quick and dirty way to run that kind of analysis. It does seem like there's a lot of interest in something like this, so maybe I'll do another article on this topic later. It's certainly an interesting question. I wonder if the effect of the starting pitcher is larger now with the internet everywhere? In another article, I showed that All-Star voting online clearly helped fans make more informed choices, so I'd bet it helps them picks their games easier too.

Jul 27, 2009 17:01 PM
 
agentsteel53

wonder what this analysis would run for Pedro in his Red Sox prime.

Jul 27, 2009 14:48 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Dave Cameron did a very interesting article just posted on this topic for the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203609204574314610170070226.html

He looked at a number of pitchers but only for 2009 data. He found that the effect of Halladay was much larger-- about 3,000, as compared with my 758. This was because I looked at 2002-2009 total.

Both methods have their drawbacks-- clearly more recent data is more relevant but the effects for one or two seasons are not going to be statistically significant (and so the 3000 and 758 are not statistically different from each other).

Cameron also found that Halladay had the largest effect of any pitcher in the big leagues. This brings home the point-- it's about the standings!

Jul 27, 2009 20:14 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

That game Cameron cited where 43,737 showed up to watch Halladay throw versus the Yankees had Burnett as the opposing pitcher and the recap indicates there were a lot of late walkups who came solely to boo Burnett...

Just looking at 2009, Halladay's numbers don't seem to stand out except for that one game against Burnett and a May 17th game against the White Sox... there are some 20k and 15k attendance games in there that Halladay threw in.

Jul 27, 2009 23:34 PM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Matt, 2002 was Halladay's first full season. He won the Cy Young in 2003. 2004 and 2005 were injury shortened. How much do your numbers change looking just at 2006-2009?

Jul 28, 2009 06:58 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Interesting. The attendance effect is now around 1809 people, but the sample size is small enough that this is not statistically different than 758 or even 0 people for that matter. That still doesn't justify keeping him but it might mean that he adds nearly a million dollars that is possibly not otherwise accounted for if you just consider his effect on the win total. It doesn't qualitatively change the results, but it does suggest the Halladay effect may have grown in recent years. Thanks for the suggestion!

Jul 28, 2009 07:22 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Even if Halladay is the pitcher that affects attendance the most, does he affect it so much more than some other ace pitcher or a HOF candidate like Randy Johnson to justify the additional expense? In other words, is there something particular about Halladay that generates attendance, or is merely being an ace pitcher on a team that doesn't always sell out allow for more of a chance for his effect to be seen than a constant sellout stadium like Fenway, for example.

Jul 28, 2009 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

As good as Halladay is, I doubt he's any kind of an outlier when it comes to attendance. Its not like people are looking ahead and trying to find out when his starts are so they can plan their trips to see the Blue Jays. Very few pitchers are that good. The last one I can remember was Nolan Ryan.

Year Avg Attendance W/Ryan
1989 25,234 29,287
1990 25,096 31,586
1991 28,367 31,752

Jul 28, 2009 16:57 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

What happens when you adjust for the fact that Ryan normally pitched Opening Day? That might cut that difference in half easily I would think.

Jul 28, 2009 17:51 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

There's also a bit of a problem that good pitchers tend to be on good teams who regularly draw well.. so a team that draws well or sells out would get less of a marginal increase in attendance.

Jul 28, 2009 22:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Simon C.

I think you forget a very important point: season ticket holders are included in every attendance count. The "Halladay Effect" would be based solely on walk-up sales (nobody is ever going to buy season tickets because they only want to watch Doc pitch), so what you should really use as your responding variable isn't total attendance, but the difference between total attendance and season ticket sales (ie. TOTAL - SEASON TIX). Otherwise, your numbers are going to be skewed by the season ticketholders included in every count because you're not actually counting the marginal effect of each Halladay start. Though theoretically, this would be accounted for by the constant in your regression as it's currently designed, but I digress.
Not sure if season ticket numbers are readily available, however...

Jul 29, 2009 08:33 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

This wouldn't change the numbers. Since I included variables for year and month among the independent variables, it would not effect the coefficients for the other factors, just the intercept.

Jul 29, 2009 10:36 AM
 
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