Baseball isn't immune from the economic downturn, but has the damage been as bad as expected?
The year 2009 has been a ridiculously tough one for business, unless you happen to be a bankruptcy lawyer or maybe a psychic (supposedly they do very well when people are getting laid off). For its part, MLB has done its best to manage expectations, projecting huge declines in attendance, and beating the owners over the head with a don't-spend-too-much-on-payroll message during the offseason. If it all seemed like overkill, you can forgive Bud Selig and company for being cautious; according to some, baseball almost spent its way into contraction during the last recession, one that was far more mild than what we've been going through over the past year. So, with the first half officially in the books, how well have they actually executed?
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Who went where, with a blow-by-blow as the action unfolded.
1. Washington Nationals
Pick: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State Kevin Goldstein Says: "Congrats Nats fan, you just got a potential franchise-changing talent. Now the REAL fun begins with the negotiation. I really should start a pool on bonus and total package. I'm guessing $8-9 million dollar bonus and total package around $25 million"
Quotable: "The first thing I'd say is 'good luck.' Then I'd say sit on the fastball, because at least you know he's going to throw strikes. So just step in there and compete and try not to strike out on three pitches."-Texas Christian infielder Ben Carruthers, on how to hit Strasburg.
Read more about Strasburg here.
One expert's educated guesstimate on how things will go down later today.
This one could be a mess folks, and it's all about bonus demands at this point. Right now, you have as many as four high school pitchers-Jacob Turner, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, and Shelby Miller-looking for big, big money, with the first three all telling teams they're looking for Rick Porcello-level deals (or more). This has the potential to blow the first round wide open, and turn it into into a very college-oriented first 30 picks, with numerous top talents falling to later picks than initially expected. One team picking in the top ten I spoke to this morning said he still had very little idea of who was going to be picked ahead of his club's choice.
The right mix of abilities can result in a blend as tasty as a Reese's peanut butter cup.
Let's face it, the word "Moneyball" has been so overused-as a catchall for the game's great Satan, or as its foil to the hoary wisdom of "the book"-that it has almost lost its meaning. However, the book's core concept, searching for market inefficiencies to dig up something extra that gives you a leg up on the other guys running those other teams, still has import. Whether it's OBP in the Nineties, or pitch counts and defense in the Aughties, researchers have been doing new work to give us better valuations of players, and front offices have been similarly beavering away over that data and their own with an eye toward building better ballclubs. So, what's the next big thing?
Here's one gal's argument that it's going to be speed as an augmentation to always-popular power, meaning that we might be headed back to the exciting times of the '80s, when tactical diversity was the rule of the day, and teams were more aggressive in exploiting offensive talent because they understood that, when it comes to scoring runs, there's more than one way to skin that particular cat. It's worth remembering the age of Rickey Henderson-tasty combinations of the Billyball A's of 1980 and '81 or the Rickey and Donnie Baseball run-scoring machine of the '85 Yankees-and we should also remember the other teams that did their enemies in by using every available weapon. The '86 Mets had Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, but Straw also swiped 28 bags as part of a crew of baserunners that included Wally Backman, Mookie Wilson, and Lenny Dykstra attacking the basepaths just as readily as that lineup dented fences from home plate. And how about the even more amazing power/speed combination that came with dropping Jack Clark onto the Whiteyball Cardinals to propel the Birds to a pennant in the high-octane outlier of the '87 season?
Can finding the guys who can pick it help pick your team up?
What Moneyball did for on-base percentage, the Rays' 2008 triumph may have done for defense—even if the book on the latter has yet to be written (although it's reportedly on its way). Of course, the importance of avoiding outs at the plate, and of accumulating them in the field, was as clear to Lane and Chadwick, respectively, as it is to Beane and Friedman; the rest of the class merely needed a little prodding to send it plunging past the tipping point. Unfortunately for those prematurely in the know, these watershed moments often mark the end of their salad days, as other prospectors make inroads on their fertile claims. The rubes are growing scarce: just ask Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, and the other defensively challenged sluggers who failed to douse themselves with eau de Ibañez before seeking long-term relationships this winter.
An appreciation for on-base percentage could have yielded a competitive advantage at any point in the game's history, but until fairly recently, fielding skills remained relatively impenetrable, even to those with the inclination to evaluate them. However, as defensive metrics improve and become increasingly reliable (a process which the imminent arrival of the Hit-f/x system promises to accelerate), the leathery component of run prevention will assume an even greater significance in player evaluation and analysis (while remaining an area in which scouting insight can elucidate persistent quirks in the numbers). In order to determine just how large a slice of the run-prevention pie defense deserves to consume, we might take a quick look back at an earlier investigation.
Skip crystal balls, just dive into what our first cut on projecting the season says as far as this year's likely standings.
Now that the depth charts are out, we have a chance to do a first run of the Playoff Odds chart. The Playoff Odds chart-and I am aware that, strictly speaking, they aren't presented as odds-is a system that we run during the season. We use the team's record and the actual schedule to play out the rest of the season.
In this case, we're playing the entire season from day one, and we're using the depth-chart projections to set the team's strength (though since the depth charts also use a strength-of-schedule adjustment to calculate the records you see, I had to temporarily undo that). We can set a win percentage for each game, and by essentially rolling dice in the computer, we can determine who wins or loses each game. We can do that for an entire season, or a dozen seasons, or a million seasons-and yes, our usual number is a cool million. We can and do play around with the team's strength, knowing that it's ultimately just an estimate, and that the real team may turn out to be better (or worse) than we think.
Another selection from our book on the best pennant races of all time, in anticipation of our upcoming bookstore events.
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, Baseball Prospectus' book on the best pennant races of all time, is available for purchase in stores and also available online through Amazon. If you like what you read here in this sidebar on the chapter covering the 1967 American League's pennant chase, you'll love a book with more than 420 more pages of this sort of content, perfect reading for every fan as he or she settles in to enjoy the final stretch drives and then October's postseason action.
Kevin checks out the newsmakers in the winter leagues.
\nMathematically, leverage is based on the win expectancy work done by Keith Woolner in BP 2005, and is defined as the change in the probability of winning the game from scoring (or allowing) one additional run in the current game situation divided by the change in probability from scoring\n(or allowing) one run at the start of the game.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_18 = 'Adjusted Pitcher Wins. Thorn and Palmers method for calculating a starters value in wins. Included for comparison with SNVA. APW values here calculated using runs instead of earned runs.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_19 = 'Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Added (SNVA adjusted for the MLVr of batters faced) per game pitched.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_20 = 'The number of double play opportunities (defined as less than two outs with runner(s) on first, first and second, or first second and third).';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_21 = 'The percentage of double play opportunities turned into actual double plays by a pitcher or hitter.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_22 = 'Winning percentage. For teams, Win% is determined by dividing wins by games played. For pitchers, Win% is determined by dividing wins by total decisions. ';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_23 = 'Expected winning percentage for the pitcher, based on how often\na pitcher with the same innings pitched and runs allowed in each individual\ngame earned a win or loss historically in the modern era (1972-present).';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_24 = 'Attrition Rate is the percent chance that a hitters plate appearances or a pitchers opposing batters faced will decrease by at least 50% relative to his Baseline playing time forecast. Although it is generally a good indicator of the risk of injury, Attrition Rate will also capture seasons in which his playing time decreases due to poor performance or managerial decisions. ';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_25 = 'Batting average (hitters) or batting average allowed (pitchers).';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_26 = 'Average number of pitches per start.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_27 = 'Average Pitcher Abuse Points per game started.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_28 = 'Singles or singles allowed.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_29 = 'Batting average; hits divided by at-bats.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_30 = 'Percentage of pitches thrown for balls.';
xxxpxxxxx1160988517_31 = 'The Baseline forecast, although it does not appear here, is a crucial intermediate step in creating a players forecast. The Baseline developed based on the players previous three seasons of performance. Both major league and (translated) minor league performances are considered.