All posts by ubelmann

Cost of the Status Quo

Thought experiment! Let's say that the Twins were so taken by the 2006 squad that they decided to keep each player from that team as long as they were good enough to play professional ball. In this experiment, we could think of all the Twins' players as restricted free agents where the team would always match the offer sheet. Looking back at that squad, there are a bunch of guys who make next to nothing these days (or are out of baseball), but there are some pulling down big money. The list, by 2012 guaranteed compensation:

$24M -- Santana
$23M -- Mauer
$18M -- Hunter
$14M -- Morneau
$11.9M -- Lohse
$10M -- Cuddyer (est, full contract is $31.5M over 3 yrs)
$7M -- Kubel (est, full contract is $15M over 2yrs)
$7M -- Nathan
$7M -- Garza (arb. estimate)
$6.5M -- Baker
$5.5M -- Bartlett
$5M -- Liriano (arb. estimate)
$4.5M -- Crain
$3.75M -- Guerrier
$2M -- Silva (yes, the Cubs still owe Silva $2M next year)
$1.5M -- Punto
$1.5M -- Perkins (arb. estimate)
$1M -- Casilla (arb. estimate)

So that's $153M for 18 players (but 17 active players.) Figure about $1M/player for the last 8 spots on the active roster and $400K/player for the 15 spots left on the 40-man, and that gets you to $167M for a full 40-man roster. If you figure that Blackburn and Span make the active roster, then you're up to about $173M. I'm not sure how many wins that team would be expected to win, but at first glance I wouldn't be too optimistic.

Of course, if the Twins had managed their roster this way, Luis Castillo would never have been traded and we wouldn't have gone through the Drew Butera experience. Maybe that's worth $173M all by itself.


Not sure if this has been covered yet, but:

MLB wants to expand replay to include fair-or-foul calls, "whether a fly ball or line drive was trapped" and fan interference all around the ballpark. Umpires still must give their approval and it's uncertain whether the extra replay will be in place by opening day.

Personally, I'm not a fan of replay on fair-or-foul calls, but there it is. My guess is that we're going to see a lot more close calls get called "fair" and then (maybe) rescinded on replay, for the same reasons that NFL refs consistently err on the side of ruling a fumble on the field--if you reverse a "foul" call, it's hard to tell what might have happened, but it's generally really straightforward to reverse a "fair" call. I think it's a matter of taste, but for a call that umps get correct so often, I'd rather see focus on improvement directed elsewhere. We'll see how it plays out, I know to a large degree I'm swimming upstream on this issue.

Eliminating a practice of some teams, there is a prohibition on "taxi squads" -- calling up players from the minors and not activating them.

Do teams really do this? I can't think of any recent examples. Usually the Twins are in dire need of the player they call up since they tend to have a wait-and-see approach to players going on the DL.

And there's at least one issue still to be decided.

For the postseason, the sides agreed to negotiate on tiebreaker rules -- do teams tied for the last wild-card berth meet on the field, or will the tie be broken by a formula?

I hope it's on the field. I hate tiebreakers with the unbalanced schedule. I mean, I guess I hate the wild card with the unbalanced schedule, but tiebreakers are a further injustice (in my book.) I suppose the issue is that this means the players have to play more games without additional compensation, since paying players extra for the playoff game would conceivably provide an incentive on some level for teams to want to tie to end the season. Yeah, it's a little far-fetched, but given its history with gambling and game fixing, I think they are right to be cautious.

I'm probably getting ahead of myself, though--travel and schedule are likely bigger culprits. Who wants to be the team that plays three games in three days in three different cities? Well, I guess I'd rather do that than sit at home because I lost a tiebreaker, but I suppose on some level that's a matter of taste, too.

Quick uniform number switches will be a thing of the past.

Players must tell the commissioner's office by July 31 of the preceding year if they want a new jersey. That is, unless "the player (or someone on his behalf) purchases the existing finished goods inventory of apparel containing the player's jersey number." As in, every replica jersey, jacket, T-shirt, mug and anything else with a number that's anywhere in stock.

I wonder what made this a pressing issue. It seems like most players that switch their number spontaneously are either accommodating a teammate or pretty unknown. This also makes me wonder if, say, the NBA got burned when Kobe switched his number and MLB didn't want that to happen to them. (Unsure on how the timing works there.) I'd guess the major ramification here is if a team makes a big free agent acquisition and the new guy wants an occupied number, the new guy is going to have to buy a whole bunch of jerseys to make it happen.

The deal also bans players and team officials from asking official scorers to reconsider decisions -- clubs must instead send video to MLB to appeal calls -- and increases punishments for slow-moving hitters and pitchers, raising pace-of-game fines up to $10,000 each for the sixth violation and beyond.

Anything that reduces bias on the part of official scorekeepers is a plus in my book. The scorekeepers don't get paid enough to deal with players complaining about their decisions anyway. Not a big fan of the pace-of-game fines. Does the league get fined every time the players are ready to play and the commercial break isn't over yet?

That's about it, except for no corporate tats. Have there been any high-profile cases of this? I can imagine some corporation might pay good money for a forearm tattoo.

$3B over 20 years in perspective

The Angels reportedly just signed a new TV deal worth $3B over 20 years. I'd guess that it's backloaded to some degree, so let's say for the sake of argument it starts at $131M in 2012 and goes up $2M/year after that.

Say you had a 40,000-seat stadium and hosted 81 home games per year. You charge $70/ticket on 10% of your seats, $60/ticket on 10% of your seats, $50/ticket on 20% of your seats, $30/ticket on 30% of your seats, $20/ticket on 20% of your seats, and $10 on 10% of your seats. If you sell out all 81 games at those prices, you'd make $120M.

Angels ticket prices are probably a little higher than that, but but we can see that roughly speaking, this puts their local TV revenue on the same magnitude as what we might expect their ticket revenue to be. On top of that, they've got national TV revenue from the league, luxury box sales, parking revenue, concessions revenue, and ad revenue from the outfield walls, etc. I don't really know what those add to the bottom line, but it's not hard for me to envision a total revenue of about $700-800M next year.

How much extra money can signing Pujols make them in the really short term? I don't think it's too bit a stretch to say that adding Pujols, not so much adding any kind of star appeal there is, but adding 6 wins next year, pushes them close to 48K/game attendance next year. It doesn't seem like a huge bump from 40K/game, given the size of their market. Then say they get revenue from an additional 3 playoff home games (1 in ALDS and 2 in ALCS), at ticket prices double that of regular season games, because Pujols (or Pujols/Wilson if you want to look at it that way) is enough to push them ahead of the Rangers. That'd be roughly an extra $24M in regular season ticket revenue and an extra $10-11M in postseason ticket revenue.

So in the short term, it's pretty easy to see outcomes where the Pujols signing turns a profit for the Angels. In the longer term, I think the security of that long-term TV deal gives the Angels enough payroll to compete even if Pujols is nearly a non-contributor, and by that point they've potentially gained a bunch of fans along the way.

Moving Astros to AL West leads to incredibly simple scheduling solution?

Looking around professional sports, MLB has to have one of the most convoluted scheduling schemes in the world. On the simple/elegant end of the spectrum, you have many professional soccer leagues, in which a team plays every other team in the league once on the road and once at home. On the other end of the spectrum is MLB: play each team in your division (which may have 4, 5, or 6 teams in it) 18 times each year, and play teams outside your divison but in your league 6-10 times each. Then play your "rivals" from the opposite league in 6 games each year, unless of course you don't have a rival because with uneven number of teams in each league not everyone can have just one rival. Then play three games with a handful of teams from the NL, mostly from the same division, but not always.

I feel that no matter what individual justification there is for each aspect of the schedule, the end result is a big mess. Surely it doesn't spoil my enjoyment of baseball, but it seems to make the season unnecessarily complicated.

With the Astros reportedly moving to the AL West, all divisions will have 5 teams, removing a huge barrier to a more elegant schedule. Yes, there will always be some interleague baseball going on, but I'm personally not opposed to this. As a counterbalance to the large number of intradivision games, it's nice to have some variety in the schedule.

With balanced divisions, there are a number of realistic simple schedules that can be created. The first one that came to mind for me was:

1) Play all teams within your divisions 9 times at home and 9 times away.
2) Play all teams in your league but not in your division 3 times at home and 3 times away.
3) Play all teams in one NL division 3 times at home.
4) Play all teams in a different NL division 3 times on the road.

And there's your 162 games. While I'm not a big fan of playing each team in the division 18 times a year, I do like playing intradivision teams more often than other teams, and 18 is a number which makes things work out easily. Setting the schedule this way would make it so that each team within the division played the same schedule, which I think is a big improvement on the current schedule.

The one thing this would do away with is the intraleague rivalry matchups, which can lead to persistently unbalanced schedules within a division. If it is so important that two teams play one another, they should be in the same league or the same division. A lot of the high attendance for these series can be attributed to the timing of the games--they are typically scheduled as a summer weekend series, which is going to have higher attendance anyway because the weather is warmer and it's easier to go to the games on the weekend.

The one big problem I see here is that the schedule is almost too symmetric--in order to get the season done in the same number of weeks as now, you can't always play two 3-game sets each week. It might be possible to split up the 9-game intradivision sets in such a way (1 4-game, 1 3-game, and 1 2-game) that you can compress the schedule enough. Looking back to 2009, the Twins had at least nine 4-game series in the schedule, so it could be tricky to make everything work out right.

Back in reality, there is probably little chance that the schedules will be this balanced when they come out in 2013, but they shouldn't be quite as arbitrary as they are now.


Do the Twins ever trade players who both have a few years ahead of them and are not supposedly difficult to manage? Off the top of my head, I can think of the following players who have been traded and had value:

(J.J. Hardy? were there personality issues there? -- 0.3 fWAR and counting)
Carlos Gomez -- 2.0 fWAR and counting
Jason Bartlett -- 7.7 fWAR and counting
Matt Garza -- 10.2 fWAR and counting
Kyle Lohse -- 9.8 fWAR and counting
A.J. Pierzynski -- 12.9 fWAR and counting

Going back further, I suppose you could even add Chuck Knoblauch (6.9 fWAR) and Todd Walker (11.1 fWAR) to that list. Castillo was traded not that long ago, but his knees barely worked and I don't think anyone expected him to have a lot of productive seasons ahead of him. If Jim Mandelero is to be believed, Ramos was hard to manage and didn't get along with his teammates. The Twins arguably got along well enough with Pierzynski, but I can't help but think that if he had Michael Cuddyer's personality, Joe Mauer's road to the majors would have involved additional minor league stops.

Excepting J.J. Hardy perhaps (I'm not sure what the Twins thought of his personality) I think maybe the last guy the Twins traded away with much potential for a future but no personality issues was Bobby Kielty. At least, I don't remember any run-ins with management, and I do remember being peeved that the Twins traded him for Shannon Stewart. Kielty went on to do essentially nothing, and Stewart had a great 750 PA with the Twins until 2005 hit and he ran out of gas.

Anyway, this was motivated because this Slowey situation is a dead ringer for Lohse's 2006 Twins exit. In terms of age and value over the three seasons prior to their trade, it practically couldn't be closer:

Slowey, trade pending, age 27, last three seasons fWAR: 2.2, 1.4, 3.0
Lohse, traded age 27, last three seasons fWAR: 2.2, 1.8, 3.3

I can't really argue that most of these guys were easy to get along with. Bartlett and Garza didn't last in Tampa all that long, Lohse pitched well for the Reds and they let him go, the Giants lost their minds and let AJP go for nothing in return. For all I know, I couldn't stand being in the same room with them. Yet, personality is a really frustrating motivation for a trade from where this fan sits. I can't tell you anything with any degree of certainty about any Twins' personality. I'm sure there are some legitimately good guys, and I'm sure there are some pricks. But I don't feel I can rely on the media to make those judgements, so I generally don't. And at that point, I'm left looking at a move where the Twins traded away a useful player, sometimes a player I was pretty excited about.

Anyway, am I missing someone big here? Or is just about the only way to get out of the Twins' organization to become a free agent or get on someone's nerves?

And this invites the question, are the Twins building a team of nice guys, and as nice guys are they indeed destined to finish last?

NBA Lottery Alternatives

There's something about tweaking the rules of sports leagues that really appeals to me. It's probably because I'm a control freak, but there could be other factors.

No one seems all that happy about the NBA's lottery process. If I understand correctly, it used to be evenly weighted amongst non-playoff teams, which would reduce the incentive for tanking at the end of the season. Under that system, some didn't feel the worst teams were getting enough help. Fair enough. Now there's a weighted lottery, but some teams clearly play to lose "improve their draft position" at the end of the season. The system opens itself up to conspiracy theories, and it doesn't seem to be all that fair to fans of some of the most terrible teams in the league. Is there a better way?

I'm not really sure that there's an absolute better way, but I like exploring alternatives.

Continue reading NBA Lottery Alternatives

2011 vs. 2010 Thought Experiment

So far this season, the Twins have played 3 games at Toronto, 3 games at NY, three vs Oakland, two vs KC, four at TB, four at Baltimore, two vs Clelveland, three vs TB, and three at KC. So 17 away games and 10 home games.

As a thought experiment, let's consider how the Twins did in those games last year. For situations where the Twins played more of that type of game, I will use the results of the 2010 games that were played first in chronological order.

@TOR, W 1-0
@TOR, L 1-1
@TOR, W 2-1
@NY, L 2-2
@NY, L 2-3
@NY, W 3-3
OAK, W 4-3
OAK, W 5-3
OAK, W 6-3
KC, W 7-3
KC, W 8-3
@TB, L 8-4
@TB, L 8-5
@TB, W 9-5
@TB, W 10-5
@BAL, W 11-5
@BAL, L 11-6
@BAL, W 12-6
@BAL, W 13-6
CLE, W 14-6
CLE, W 15-6
TB, L 15-7
TB, W 16-7
TB, L 16-8
@KC, W 17-8
@KC, W 18-8
@KC, L 18-9

Huh, here I thought with 16 of 27 games against the AL East and 17 of 27 games away, that looking back at last season the Twins would have been somewhere around .500 in that group of games, but it turns out they did great in those matchups last year.

More than anything, at this point I worry that the Twins don't have much depth and that seems to have hurt them so far this year as much as anything. It's possible they'll get healthier, but as they see some players come back to the lineup, they'll likely see others hit the DL.

The schedule isn't doing them any favors for a while, either. 40 of their first 61 games are on the road. These are the times which try fans' souls.