A Simple Kind of Fan. A Giant Game of Major League Monopoly. 2.8.11
I love baseball. I love the history, tradition, and numbers associated with the game. Unlike football, the game has been played the same way for over a hundred years. Unlike football, you can make crude comparisons of players from different eras and not have to take time to discuss MAJOR changes to the game such as allowing the forward pass. No matter the era, at the core there is still a pitcher trying to get a baseball past a hitter swinging a wooden bat. Despite the appeal rendered from the simplicity and consistency baseball provides, the economic structure of the game has completely changed. Unlike football, baseball has struggled to adapt and develop an economic system that treats all participants of the system equally. As a result, the system has become unfair and is antiquated. In my opinion, baseball’s economic structure and television revenue sharing plans is designed like a giant game of Monopoly.
The board game Monopoly is named after the economic concept of a monopoly, which essentially is the domination of a market by a single entity. Generically speaking, the baseball playoff landscape is often dominated by the same teams each year. What makes the sport of football so appealing to fans is that in the last 10 years there have been 10 different teams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That type of diversity makes every fan believe that their club can win. Try to tell fans in Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Miami that their team has a legitimate chance to win in 2011 and that sentiment will almost always be met with great skepticism.
In the game of Monopoly, players are given $200 each time they pass GO. In my baseball version of Monopoly, small market teams such as the Brewers, Royals, and Twins still get the standard $200 each time they pass GO. The big difference in this twisted game is that the large market teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies get $600 total each time they pass GO. This slants the playing field heavily in favor of the large market teams. Can a small market team win the World Series playing the game this way? Sure. However, they must be completely error free in player acquisitions and avoid any major injuries. The margin of error is razor thin and there can be no mistakes. Meanwhile, the large market teams can sit back and collect that $600 every time they make it around the board. Much like local television revenue, this extra monopoly money gives the big boys a decided advantage. The value of organizational skill is diminished in this economic set up of the game. The large market teams can continue to make mistake after mistake and just keep chugging along.
Most fans of large market teams will point out that the teams are just doing whatever they can to win. They will say that management should be applauded for doing all that is necessary to achieve success. They will also say that teams shouldn’t be punished for using their demographic and population to milk a large local television contract. To an extent they are correct. However, I think these viewpoints are a tad short sighted and entirely based on the self interest of their own team.
I believe that teams should be allowed to generate revenue as they see fit. However, I feel that a higher percentage of that revenue should go back to the rest of the teams for the better of the game. Thirty organizations make up Major League Baseball. While some teams generate more revenue than others, together they create a single powerful business entity. How successful would the Yankee product be over 162 games if they had to play the Red Sox, Mets and Phillies 54 times each? As much as they may hate to admit it, the Yankees need the other teams to help fill their stadiums with opponents and fill their airwaves with baseball. Of course, baseball certainly needs the Yankees as well, but that is my point. The teams need each other to succeed. Having a salary disparity of over $170,000,000 per year between teams is not good for the overall health of the game. This salary disparity has convinced me that the playing field needs to be leveled with some sort of a maximum salary cap structure.
With all of that being said, none of this will matter, or change moving forward, without the requirement of a salary minimum as well. Teams should be required to spend that shared revenue given to them and not just pocket the money as profit. This type of sleazy ownership is just as bad for the business of baseball as the rich get richer mentality. While the player’s union may not like teams operating on a capped payroll on the high end, at least they can take some comfort in knowing that every team would have a minimum payroll.
When it comes to the current economic structure of baseball, it has done a poor job maintaining a level playing field for all franchises. As a result, they have created a system with wild variances in payroll and varied approaches to mere survival. They have also fostered an environment of realistic hopelessness in fans for many franchises. In my opinion, this unfair current economic structure has been a contributing factor in the general decline in popularity of baseball and the general rise in popularity for football, which has a minimum and maximum team salary cap (I know there is no cap this year, but it will be back whenever they play again.)
The “What the f*&# does that stat mean” stat of the week.
There has been much talk about the potentially lethal defense of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. I have highlighted the concerns, which caused my brother-in-law to give me the stink eye the other night when discussing the team. It has caused many of my friends to ask me, “Is it going to be that bad?” Yes. Yes it is. The outlook for defense appears to be bleak at best. I thought today I would highlight one of my favorite advanced pitching statistics today that removes defense from the equation.
Today we are going to learn about FIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. What this statistic does is attempt to determine what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average, while only taking into account things the pitcher has direct control over. In other words, pitchers have little control over balls in play, so a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level is by looking at things a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns. This statistic will give you a much better sense of what kind of year a pitcher had by taking things such as a porous defense out of the equation. By looking at only things a pitcher can control, you can get a better feel for the type of true talent the pitcher has. FIP is also useful for predicting future results. I, of course, use this statistic for fantasy baseball all of the time, and this article says it all about that aspect of FIP.
The major league FIP average in 2010 was 4.08. Let’s have a look at the 2010 FIP for the Brewers starting rotation….
Zach Greinke: 4.17 ERA & 3.34 FIP
Yovanni Gallardo: 3.84 ERA & 3.02 FIP
Shaun Marcum: 3.64 ERA & 3.74 FIP
Randy Wolf: 4.17 ERA & 4.85 FIP
Chris Narveson: 4.99 ERA & 4.22 FIP
Looking at the starting staff, clearly there is much to be excited about in 2011. Much has been made about the four aces Philadelphia will trot out this season. After all, Philadelphia’s staring five won 56 games last year. Not much is made, however, of the fact that Milwaukee’s starting staff actually won 52 games themselves last year. According to FIP, as a staff they should have been even better. The telling statistic is that Randy Wolf actually got hit harder than the numbers show. Remember, last year Wolf had to take several starts in the shorts for the team and as a result had to eat some bad, bad innings. After the All Star break Wolf was much better and his numbers leveled off a bit. If the second half Wolf can pitch in 2011, this would bode well for a post season appearance for Milwaukee. FIP is essentially saying that with an average defense behind them this starting staff has the potential to be special. Remember, in 2009 Greinke had an ERA of 2.16 and a FIP of 2.33. Grienke and Gallardo could provide a fearsome 1-2 punch that rivals Carpenter and Wainwright or even Lee and Halladay.
The two chief concerns I have about the starting pitching are the lack of depth and the substandard defense. As we have discussed, the defense is going to be bad. The Brewers training staff was just recognized as the second best staff in baseball at preventing injuries (h/t Pags at Brew Crew Ball). Hopefully past success in preventing injuries will translate into a healthy 1000 innings for the starting five in 2011 and the question of depth will not have to be answered. Personally, I predict that the above average offense will make up for much of the defensive shortcomings of the team, provided the starting staff stays healthy all year.
Throwback of the week.
Today we are going to go local for our throwbacks. Campbellsport High’s own Jim Gantner not only is from Wisconsin, but played his college ball at UW- Oshkosh as well. Gumby was well known as having a good glove and little power. In fact, he once went 1762 at bats without a home run. Despite the lack of offensive prowess, in 1983 Jim had 11 homers and 74 RBIs to go along with a .282/.329/.401 line. Anyone can have a Yount or Molitor throwback, but I notice when someone wears a jersey like this to the game.
This blog has gone on long enough without mentioning Bob Uecker. The Patron Saint of the Pocketdoppler still has a great sense of humor and makes an out of contention September much easier to stomach. Even today, Uke is the face of the franchise. He is a man that needs no introduction anywhere in the civilized world. One of the fondest memories I have as a young Brewers fan is listening to the Easter Sunday call in 1987 by Uecker. Having a career in Outside Sales, I often spend some windshield time during summers driving and listening to the soothing sounds of Bob Uecker. Here is a sweet jersey highlighting his time with the Braves in the 1960s.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
February 17. Pitchers and Catchers finally report. It’s getting close!
February 28th. Split squad action kicks off the 2011 Spring Training Schedule