Monday, March 30, 2015

Baseball Getting the Business End

A Visit to the Mound

Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game

Image result for mound visit
If you kids don't get your sh*t together I'm replacing all of you
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of emails touching on a wide range of baseball subjects. 

Uncle Bones

Since we seem to be trending towards the business side of things here a bit check out this link to Forbes valuations of all the MLB franchises:

Granted, this is only a snapshot of an organization's financial health, but I'm still curious if any of these numbers jump off the page at you. (Beyond the $ values which are largely hypothetical)

Pay particular attention to the teams who are operating in the red this season. A few of them are floating right around breaking even, but a some others like the Phillies, Tigers & Blue Jays are operating at major losses.

Does MLB owe it to its consumers to ensure that these franchises have a long term plan to get in the black? Or is it really OK for an owner or ownership group to throw money around like they're Rick Ross at a strip club until they're like MC Hammer at the soup kitchen?


I feel like you were lofting a Detroit poverty joke over the plate for me, but I am going to Joey Votto that one and let it go by, hoping to earn the walk.  

I always find the idea of "owing" consumers interesting. What DOES a team owe it's fans in general?  Going back to the tanking debate, some might say that the team owes it's fans the best product they can put on the field night in and night out. OR does the team owe them long term sustainability, which is what tanking is working toward?  I tend to agree with the latter.  Earlier in the year Buster Olney pointed out that Joe Girardi hit Jeter second in the lineup due to "organizational pressures."  In that case, did the team owe it's fans the best line up possible, or did it owe them the ability to watch a legend go out on his own terms?  The line is murky at best, totally open ended at worst.   

That wasn't a filibuster, but more of an establishment of how debatable the idea of "owing" your fans something is.  I do believe in owing them long term sustainability.  I live in Buffalo, and until Terry Pegula fracked his way into our hearts, we lived with a constant dread of the Buffalo Bills moving. Once the Bills started playing games in Toronto, the dread went from minor anxiety to full blown freakout.  Much like the "presence" in the current horror hit It Follows, the fear was ongoing, ever present and impossible to shake. When the Pegula deal was announced, grown men called into the local radio station crying tears of joy. So does a team owe it's fans peace of mind?  Ideally yes, but this idea is better in theory than in practice.  Just ask San Diego Chargers and St Louis Rams fans how they feel right now.  

In regards to the financial numbers, if anything I took away that baseball is in the age of parity.  Look at the Royals and Athletics, two contenders last year operating with low payroll and showing financial health.  The Mets, Phillies and Yankees appear in the top 10 franchises, further proof that money buys you a chance but guarantees you nothing in baseball. Parity rewards fans. The NFL probably likes the Pats and Seahawks playing in the super bowl, but poll casual fans outside of those two fan bases and I'd wager you hear about how they're tired of seeing those teams in the finals. Who WASN'T excited watching the Royals last year, you know? 

Uncle Bones

Being a Bills fan the last 10 years was sort of like having a loved one being diagnosed with a terminal illness. We felt like it was just a matter of time before they were gone, but we really didn't know when or how exactly we would deal with it. Then suddenly a pop-up billionaire swooped in with the miracle cure and here we are. Personally, I had already started the "moving on" process only to be sucked right back in. I'm still not sure how I feel about it given my other apprehensions surrounding the NFL, but I'm fairly sure I'll be tuned in come September.

I like to pretend that I can disassociate the emotion of being a fan with the business realities of professional sports, but it's not quite that simple. I think what surprised me the most about that list was the total valuation of all the MLB teams combined that fell somewhere around $36 billion give or take. Theoretically, should MLB be posted for public trading it would fetch around that number for an IPO, but I suspect it might creep up a little higher than that.

That's seems like a lot of money and it is, but it still less that half of what Facebook was offered for. That's crazy to me. MLB has an over 100 year history and has been an American establishment as long as any who is alive can remember. Facebook has been on the planet for the third of the time that you and I have been and I can't even hold it in my hand. I've never attended a Facebook, its not on TV, it only exists on the Internet and something tells me that in 40 years we won't be talking about the comment that Parker liked that Madison made about the picture Lily posted of her cat's birthday cake in the same way we still talk about 1975 World Series.

So yeah, baseball is a business and it's a big one, but there are bigger ones out there. I was also surprised to see that some teams didn't make money last year. I know that there are debt issues attached to that math, but what it reminds me is that you don't buy a sports team to necessary make money. Its kinda like the ultimate rich guy status symbol. You know you're rich when you own a team and so does everyone else.

That also says to me that if you cared enough to buy a sports team then you are probably a fan yourself. And as a fan you would want the team that you own to win as much as possible. I wouldn't want to own a loser. Some people might be fine with it, but it would piss me right off.

Keep that in mind when I own (sponsor) a slew of Little League teams. You'll just hear in the news that "Local man ejected from LL game again", but truth will be that I was just doing everything in my power to urge those little tykes to victory. Oh and also to grow my brand.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pete Rose For Dummies

Image result for pete rose
'There's only one pinch hitter who can win this game and his name is Pete Rose'

If you've been around long enough to remember Pete Rose as an actual baseball player you probably have fond memories of him. If not, I better not hear a peep about 'playing the game the right way' because in researching this piece it sure sounds like Pete Rose went out and played the game the 'right way' every damn day. You don't record 4,256 base hits by lolly-gagging it down the line. You don't make the All Star team at 5 different positions if you're not a team first guy. And you don't plow through a catcher in an All Star game if you don't care about winning more than anything else. If that's not 'playing the game the right way', then I don't know what the definition is.

But if you're not someone who remembers baseball from the 60's and 70's then Pete Rose is something more like a cartoon character. He's sort of like the Michael Jackson of baseball. While Rose was doing his thing he was great, one of the all time greats, but people's opinion of him changed after certain things came to light. To be clear, I am not comparing the alleged crimes of either man to the other, only how are perceptions of these men have changed. Michael was never the same musician and Rose was never officially a baseball man again, but both persisted in the peripheral, periodically grabbing our attention in passing.

However, while Michael's existence lent itself to a short lifespan, Rose has mad the absolute best of the hand he's been dealt. He's largely gone the Donald Trump route by using his heyday exploits combined with savvy marketing to continue to make a living off his image. According to Wikipedia, Rose is able to pull in close to $1 Million a year for just being Pete Rose. For that I give him a lot of credit, but then again you don't earn the nickname 'Charlie Hustle' because you sit around on your ass all day.

Now, I'm not here to excuse away what Pete Rose did. He bet on baseball while he was an active player and manager and the sport has always had a sore spot for that. It's probably because baseball is such a precise sport dependent on so many single moments, controllable by individuals that even the smallest hint of maleficence for profit feels like such a betrayal. There have been very clear rules in place in baseball regarding gambling for a very long time and Pete Rose broke them. Whether or not you agree that the punishment fits the crime, the rules were on the books and Rose himself agreed to the banishment.

Bud Selig seemingly had no interest in entertaining the idea of a baseball world with Pete Rose as a card carrying member. I get where he's coming from. During Selig's tenure baseball went corporate. Once a sport in decline Selig shepherded an era with unprecedented revenue and player salary growth combined with a 20 year period without any labor disruptions. Guys with Rose's reputation would have been bad for business. The thing is though, Selig wasn't exactly playing on the level either. PED use was rampant during his time as commissioner and he did nothing to stop it until after all the new stadiums were built and public pressure finally made it a priority. Once again, I don't necessarily blame Selig fom handling the situation that way. There's a fine line between integrity and opportunity, and when you're playing a game for a living opportunity weighs. 

New commissioner Rob Manfred recognizes the position MLB is in now regarding Rose, PED's and the future of the game. We've already seen his openness to do something about the pace of play, at least discuss the affects of defensive positioning and shifts and he let Will Farrell fly by helicopter to different Spring Training games in a charity stunt that was far more interesting that last summer's 'look at me fest' Ice Bucket Challenge. Manfred has a clear idea of where things are going, what the sport needs and how baseball's position regarding Rose has changed at the conclusion of the PED era.

Baseball can no longer sit back an claim that Rose has no place in the sport because he's a gambling addict. Yes what Rose did was bad for the game, but on a whole his contribution to the game has been an unequivocal positive. Just like with PED's. Does it send the wrong message to the children? Sure. Did it prolong the careers of otherwise great players? Probably. Did it elevate some meh players to the spotlight? Maybe. Did it drive ticket sales, merchandise sales, advertising sales, TV contracts? Yep. Because at the end of the day teams win, but stars sell. Just ask Brian Wilson or Pablo Sandoval.

Probably the funniest thing that I heard during my podcast research for Fantasy Baseball season this year was the claim that if Pete Rose was reinstated he would just start gambling on baseball again. I get that these guys look at baseball in a different way, but that doesn't make a lick of sense. Pete Rose could be betting on baseball right now and maybe he is. Its not like if he got reinstated tomorrow that teams would be lining up to hire him as a manager, GM, team liaison, or beer guy. It ain't gonna happen. The Reds might have a welcome back ceremony or Phillies might do something because it would be the most entertaining baseball story in Philly this season, but Rose's days as a paid baseball employee are over.

Funny thing is that reinstating Rose might actually be the worst thing for him financially. Right now he is able to make a good living on being the outcast. The best player who ever played who cannot get into the Hall of Fame. He goes to Cooperstown every year and signs autographs. He makes commercials. Hell, he's in the WWE Hall of Fame. He'd probably get an initial bump for a year or two after he was reinstated and maybe another when he gets in the HOF, but after that nothing. His whole appeal would be gone. Then he'd just be another face the on the autograph tour. He'd lose his sports villain status. Bonds and Clemens could try to claim it, but why. They made so much money that they can do what they want now. Rose didn't play in that era. He may need to keep working his image as long as he can.

So Rob Manfred has an interesting choice to make. He could leave things the way they are. Rose broke an established rule and agreed to the punishment, Manfred doesn't have to do anything. But doing nothing leaves baseball in the position of looking like a hypocrite for punishing one type of transgression while leaving the other in a sort of limbo. Or he could really punish Rose be reinstating him and watching his revenue streams dry up. I'm not suggesting that's the right thing to do, but Manfred would look like the 'Great Forgiver' for letting Rose back in baseball while still finding a way to twist the knife quietly.

For the record, I think Pete Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He's one of the greatest players who ever lived and he's ultimately no worse than a lot of other players whose plaques hang in that museum. And while actually reinstating him may do him more harm than good, I also suspect that Pete knows the score. I wouldn't doubt that he has a 3rd act up his sleeve, People have been counting him out for as long as he been able to tie his shoes. You don't get the nickname 'Charlie Hustle' because you sit around on your ass all day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Great Fantasy Tank

A Visit to the Mound

Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game
Image result for mound visit
"You're staying in Charlie"
"But Skip, I'm done"
"You're staying in"
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of emails touching on a wide range of baseball subjects. 


I had this thought about tanking in fantasy sports like the  Buffalo Sabres are doing now. They and the Arizona Coyotes are both tanking and they play each other twice within the next week.  it's like the reverse Stanley Cup.  The Connor McDavid bowl.   Like, if you knew Mike Trout was going back in the pool in a keeper league you were having a bad season, would you purposely sell off assets to get the top pick? That only works in snake drafts.  I suppose in auction you'd just have to free up a lot of salary.  And would it be worth it?  Would other owners take a moral high ground about it? 

Uncle Bones

To tank or not tank, that is the question.

On a real, professional level its a debate with no easy answer. Everyone wants to root for a winner and tanking is a strategy directly in conflict with that. But when the Indianapolis Colts threw a season away with Curtis Painter at QB they were rewarded with Andrew Luck and a prompt return to the status of perennial playoff team. On the surface (and as a Bills fan) it seems like an obvious choice, but when the vast majority of professional sports teams play in publicly funded stadiums, are given generous tax breaks, and derive income from those of us who root for laundry it complicates the picture. Shouldn't each team, every year put the best team forward possible? If we are owed anything as a fan, I would think it would be promise that our favorite organizations would try to win every year. Then again, that's what the Buffalo Bills have been doing for the last 15 years and well, the results have not been so pretty. So maybe its a good idea for the long term health of an organization to raze the fields every now and then.

When it comes to fantasy sports, you don't owe nothing to nobody. You paid your league fee and if you want burn it to the ground with an eye on more fruitful days be my guest. Like you said, its probably dependent on your league format, but I can see ways to accomplish either draft formats.

In a keeper snake draft format I would probably announce my intentions to tank the moment I knew I was going to pursue that strategy. If that's in July, its a fire sale. If its in May, then I start letting assets go in calculated manor. If I look at my team during draft prep and see no way to compete (a rare, but possible situation) I'd announce it right at the draft then proceed to draft a team that has a very specific theme. Maybe I'd draft a team composed entirely of Yankees and Mets (an all out declaration of tanking). Maybe I'd draft a rainbow team of equal parts White, Black, Hispanic, & Asian players. Then again maybe I would just draft a team that ensured maximum chaos starting in the first round with middle relief and go from there. The point is, I'm not going to hide anything.

In an auction league I'd be much sneaker. If it was a season long plan, I'd head into the draft with the plan of bidding up every player that I could. If I wound up paying $45 for Wil Myers so be it. I can always just drop him later on and rebuild a team off of the waiver wire. But at that point everyone would be wondering why everyone on the waiver wire is so damned expensive and why they are stuck with the team that they have. Then at the end of the year I would keep nobody and head into the next draft with the flexibility to not be outbid. A mid year tank job would be your standard trade off the best players for cheap ones, but that's not funny or interesting.

Really, any strategy that I undertook to tank would be designed to elicit the maximum amount self-righteous condemnation possible. I would love nothing more for other members of my league to seethe and boil over in disgust in email chains. I want the other owners to be so angry with me that are openly calling for my resignation from the league, because they don't have the testicular fortitude to suggest my expulsion. 

After all, I paid my league fees and maybe being the most hated owner is the kind of fantasy that I enjoy.


Every fantasy sports league needs a heel. You should take it all the way and give a pro wrestling style diatribe to open the draft, labeling people's hometowns as "stinktowns."  Ultimately it would unite the league in their singular mission of not letting you win. ::Gary Oldman gravely voice:: "He's  the hero the league deserves, but not the one it needs right now.  So we'll hunt him, because he can take it. He's a silent hero, a watchful protector..." 

On a pro sports level, I can see why you'd ultimately root to tank for the long term future of the franchise, and also why that concept would make you cringe. The tank vs. non tank debate  over the Buffalo Sabres has become so insufferable, I think I'd rather watch Skip Bayless and Bill O'Reilly host a book club. The old guard is steadfastly against it but able to add a nice helping of finger wagging, moralizing and old man yells at cloud-ing. The younger, analytics savvy crowd are pro tank but practically trip over themselves to point out examples where finishing low to get a high pick has worked. Their insecurity is at Rivers Cuomo on Pinkerton level, and not anywhere near as chiming. And almost as creepy.  

I like your idea of above board tanking, but you risk the rarely employed fantasy sports trade embargo, used only for bots and players who offer you Lucas Giolito in a short term keeper league and try to sell you on "upside." These are the same people who lose at poker then complain the other players are "jackals" who "chase cards." Prospect potential in fantasy sports is sort of like rustproofing and undercoating on your car: fine buzzwords but no real practical value.  I think we've all spent long nights researching prospects, wasting roster spots, hoping for the next Clayton Kershaw.  More often than not, they turn out to be the next Daniel Bard. I feel there's a life lesson in there somewhere, and the sad walking away music from the Incredible Hulk should accompany it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Draft Weekend Reax

A Visit to the Mound

Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game

Image result for mound visit
Son, I'm cutting you loose from my 16 team H2H Categories league
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of email touching on a wide range of baseball subjects. Its like a podcast only in words and can be consumed in short bursts.

Uncle Bones

Well Josh,

Our draft season came and went. Weeks & weeks of preparation crammed in to 72 hours of hand wringing and binge drinking.

Now that you've had a few days to digest both drafts & get in some early jabs at the waiver wire its time to really make heads or tails of this situation.

Tell me in both leagues your favorite, "I'm the smartest guy in the room" picks & your "oh crap, this could go bad quick" picks.

Please be prepared to explain your answers.


Ah yes.  Much like Christmas, fantasy baseball draft season brings much hype, needless preparation and overall undue anxiety.  And also much like Christmas, it ends in a flash and you leave saying "welp, I don't need to see that person for another 365 days."  

To get to the Monday morning draft quarterbacking (insert Peter King coffee reference here), let's start with the 12 team H2H auction points league.  The most obvious "oh crap" pick comes from the events surrounding what shall now be referred to as the "Edwin Encarnacion incident."  Double E is a fine player, but through spontaneously coordinated coercion and collective ruthlessness, one of our league members was bid up to $41 for a guy who could have been kept at 30, or won by reasonable people for roughly $29-33. Said member is a Blue Jays fan, so once he entered the bidding for Edwin, the rest of the league started working with with the chemistry of a grizzled group of bank robbers, donning the Reagan masks for one last score. Once the vault was blown and the dust settled, our poor friend spent $3 less than the price paid for Paul Goldschmidt on Edwin.  Cut to the rest of the league walking away in slow mo, putting on sunglasses, slinging their tuxedo jackets over their shoulders and smoking cigars to the sounds of Thin Lizzy.

The cheer to Edwin's jeer comes at the price of tooting my own horn, but I really liked getting Anthony Descalfini for $1 late in the draft.  This bid came during the phase of the draft when at least 3 members passed out with beers in hand, or were called away to watch Dinosaur Train with their future assistant managers. Descalfini has already been declared a member of the Reds rotation, and both his xFIP and the fact that opponents batted .306 on ground balls against him points to some bad luck that is due for a regression back to the mean.  The Reds plucked him from Miami, the same team that sent Jacob Turner to the Cubs and Andrew Heaney packing as well. The Marlins are the used furniture store in your neighborhood that always throws a "going out of business" sale, but somehow has been in business for a decade and can afford expensive commercial time slots.  

On to the 12 team H2H snake draft. Most people say once you do an auction draft, you'll never want to go back to snake. I am now one of those guys, and doing snake second in the rotation felt like ordering a beer flight that went from Heady Topper to half of a Keystone left in the cup holder in a Dodge Ram at a Foreigner concert. Yet, we still carried on.  The head scratcher pick of this draft was naturally the selection of Jake Arrieta over Giancarlo Stanton AND Miguel Cabrera.  Sure, we're in a keeper league and pitching was scarce.  Arrieta was the best pitcher there, but to let Miggy and Stanton pass by you makes me think Phineas Gage may have had a better plan here.  As for the STRONG PICK of the draft, call this a hot take if you must, but I'm going with Jayson Werth.  He went in round 7, which is round 12 if you count the 5 keepers.  Werth is likely going to be ready for opening day, and there's no reason to think he can't still produce in that line up. He may look like he sells baja jackets outside of burning man, but the guy can still hit. 

Also of note, I am high on Mark Trumbo this year. I compared his 2013 stats to Yasiel Puig's 2014 stats using CBS' standard scoring format, and the basic production was very similar. Obviously they are different players and got there different ways, but in H2H points are all that matters.  Trumbo came at $14 while Puig is priced at $28, and Trumbo offers 1B/CI eligibility. Puig is younger sure, but give me Trumbo and let me put that $14 toward filling out the rest of my roster.  Do you KNOW how many Kyle Gibsons that buys?  14 Kyle Gibsons, to be exact.   Remind me of this paragraph in August when Trumbo is on the bench and Puig is bat flipping his way into the hearts of Americans everywhere

Uncle Bones

I giggled pretty hard imagining 14 Kyle Gibsons. Like you could do damn near anything with that many of them. I think I would rent them out in the spring to do landscaping. Do you know how much brush 14 Kyle Gibsons could clear in 8 hours? Its a lot.

That being said, in the 2015 auction league your Kyle Gibson pick may go down as one of the best over all values. For example, I was left in a situation where paying $10 for Carlos Rodon somehow made sense. I don't regret it, but I'd much rather have 10 Kyle Gibsons running around that one Carlos Rodon. He'd barely clear any brush at all.

Beyond that there was not a lot of "value" to be found in a traditional sense. With keepers the way they were, you could not expect to pay any kind of reasonable amount for anybody since most of the "value" in the league was already kept. And while I do expect that the Edwin Encarnacion debacle will probably go into the Pantheon of Fantasy Foibles, I'm gonna lay an under the radar angle on you here:

The owner who kept Clayton Kershaw at $40 of his $110 really put himself in a pickle. He had over half of his keeper budget invested in 2 players (Altuve @ $19), and while those both seem like good values compared to what he would have paid for them in the 2015 auction, it left him with way to many holes to fill & no money to do it. His outfield of Ozuna, Rios, and Arcia is a train wreck for a 12 team 3 OF league and he's starting Buster Posey at first base!!! Posey is a fine player, but you don't spend $24 on the best catcher in the game only to put him at 1st. Its gonna be a long season and he knows it.

The live auction draft was really thrown off kilter by the announcement that this would be the final year of that scoring format. Not that any owners in the league draft with much of an eye on the future, but the general sense in the room was "eff it, I'm taking who I want". I know that's how I wound up with Mookie Betts at second base in the like 5th (10th round w/ keepers). I know it was a reach at that point in the draft and I don't care. That's how Jake Arrieta went off the board with the 2nd or 3rd pick and how Miguel Cabrera fell to me with the 4th pick.

In a way, winding up with Miggy is a nice piece of symmetry as I started the league with him on my team. Its like everything came full circle. Unfortunately, this off-season I have told every one who will listen that I think the Tigers are just about done. So what did I do? Kept Victor Martinez and drafted Miguel Cabrera as soon as I had the chance. On the one hand, if I'm wrong about the Tigers? Ballin'. But if I'm right about the Tigers, well some small consolation that's going to be.

The pick I like the most from that draft was Xander Bogaerts in the 13th (18th) round. I remember thinking 'Damnit, I would much rather have Bogaerts than Elvis Andrus'. And I took Andrus sooooo many rounds earlier. But at that point I had drank so much coffee that I thought I could stop time and go back and do it over. Turns out not so much.

One final note on the auction draft: right now its a league of haves and have-nots. Some owners managed the keepers system well, and others were totally unprepared. I think it will make for an awfully interesting season and a very active trade market.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mike Napoli hasn't had a dream In 8 years

Image result for mike napoli streets of boston
Well no shit, he hasn't slept

This is a real story and here's the proof: 

by: Ricky Doyle (Huh, a "Ricky Doyle" writing about sports in Boston. I never would'a imagined...)

In case you couldn't be bothered to read Mr. Doyle's blurb I'll sum it up in the remaining two sentences of this paragraph. Boston Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli spent the last 8 years sleeping so poorly that he wasn't unable to dream. This offseason he had surgery correct sleep apnea and now he dreams again.

When this story peaked my interest I ran to my best friend on the internet and found out a few things. One of those things is the fact that Mike Napoli is 6 months younger than I am. I've always sort of loosely followed his career from back when he seemed like a catcher with some offensive potential that Mike Scioscia just plain didn't like (Scioscia is particular about his catchers). He was then traded to Toronto, who promptly flipped him to Texas where he had some good seasons and then signed as a free agent with Boston. At that point catching was in the rearview mirror and Napoli became the Red Sox full time first baseman. That much I already knew, but what I also learned on my fact finding mission was how good of a hitter Mike Napoli has always been. His career OPS+ over nine years is 126. He's lost some games to being a catcher, a few injuries and work load concerns, but Napoli has been a 26% better than average hitter at a time when offense is being oppressed. The guy can hit and he's a pretty darn good defensive 1B.

The part of this story that I find the most curious has to do with our very similar ages. I more or less know what sorts of changes you go through from your 20's to your 30's. Mental, physical, mood to keep it brief. I honestly can't imagine how hard all of that would have been to go through while not sleeping at all. Without being able to shut down enough to let your brain fix itself. I cringe thinking about it. I'm sure anybody with sleep apnea knows even better, but the fact remains: you gotta sleep. 

Even Napoli himself said his life was so miserable last year that he considered retiring. I don't know about you, but I've never seen a picture of the guy looking like he'd didn't enjoy his job. So it must have been bad.

As much as I'd like to write a fiction series on Mike Napoli's new dreams... (I'm leaving that one in there. Don't nobody steal it) I'm just going to keep it focused on real world implications. With Napoli entering his age 33 season we are likely seeing the end his "peak", but its certainly possible he could keep up his current pace. He's an athletic guy with a career .359 OBP who strikes out a bunch, but still manages 20 or so HR's and as many RBI's as you'll put in front of him. His BA is a lottery ticket. As long as he stays healthy, Napoli should age pretty gracefully as a ball player. 

Then again, he may still have 1 or 2 "peak" years left in him. And for the first time in his career he can sleep. I've spent a considerable part of my adult years figuring out how to get a good night's sleep and once I got it, what a difference it made. At one point in my early 20's I went like 2 or 3 years without dreaming. It was hell. Now I dream, and I've never felt better or more productive. There's no reason that Napoli can't have a big time boost now he's finally able to dream about himself as a hockey player who lives at Costco and exclusively eats cereal like the rest of us sleepers.

That's why this year I'm betting on Mike Napoli. The guy can hit. He's always been able to, but he hasn't always been able to sleep in the way that improves his life. This year will be the first year in Mike Napoli's career that he's been able to dream after a game. That will mean something.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Baseball's a Helluva Drug

92? I didn't know they had D-linemen in baseball...

Like many Northeast baseball fans I found myself searching through the AtBat app looking for what Spring Training games might be available the first two days. Whether its this awful winter or my new obsession with Ken Giles and the Philly's bullpen I am Jonesin' for some baseball. And the strange thing is, I'm not the only one.

Take a look at some of the attendance numbers from the first Friday of Spring Training baseball:

Grapefruit League:

Twins at Rays - 4,148

Nationals at Braves - 5,936

Yankees and Phillies - 7,365

Tigers at Mets - 7,444

Marlins at Red Sox - 9,830

Cactus League: 

Rockies at Angels - 5,739

Giants at Rangers - 7,497

Reds at Cubs - 15,331

That's right. Over 15,000 people showed up to see Jon Lester throw 2 innings. The only "Baby Cub" to even make an appearance was Javier Baez. Unless you count Mike Olt and no one does.

Now, these might seem like meh numbers to a lot of people considering that the smallest parks in MLB hold around 37k and most parks draw at least 20k plus a night. But having spent a lot of time around a AAA team (Where many of the players who played today will wind up this season) I can tell you that crowds around and over 10k in the right sized ballpark are nothing to sneeze at. In fact you can really get a stadium rocking with those kinds of numbers and quite honestly you only get them on the weekends in the summer.

So what gives? Why are these Spring Training games so popular? It could be price. In a quick glance at ticket prices for these early games seem to be going for anywhere between $10-$40. Which might seem like a bargain at MLB prices, but exceeds anything that you would pay for a minor league game (once again where the vast majority of these players will wind up). 

Another possibility might be that Spring Training is played in baseball starved areas. I might buy that reason for the Grapefruit league in Florida if the Rays and Marlins weren't already within easy driving distance (especially considering that everyone in Florida drives 105 mph everywhere). Also laying low that argument is the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays 2014 average attendance was just under 18k per home game. That tells me that central Florida (home to the Grapefruit League) isn't baseball starved, its baseball indifferent. Now I understand that there are other factors that go into the Rays' poor attendance: their field is a converted convention center, I've read its in kind of a bad location, Florida is America's armpit (just repeating what I've heard), blah, blah, blah. But way more that 18k people turned out to see MLB players for a couple of innings and then minor league players for the rest on Friday. Why can't those people turn out for the Rays who have been a highly entertaining team to watch for the better part of a decade?

And don't even get me started in the Cactus League. The Diamond Backs play in downtown Phoenix and every Cactus League team has a facility nearby. I'll admit that I don't understand the American Southwest all that well (It's hotter than Satan's ass crack & there's no water. THERE'S NO WATER), but I do know what highways look like and if any of these facilities are more than an hour away from downtown Phoenix then feel free to take to internet and label me a moron. That town ain't baseball starved. That's all I'm trying to get at. So why on Earth did 15k people show up to a Spring Training game?

So as I sifted through possible explanations two commonalities remained on my screen. You know what Florida and Arizona both have a lot of? Old people. And you know who really likes baseball? Yep, old people. Who has lots of free time to take in an afternoon baseball game on a weekday? You guessed it, old people.

It seems so obvious now. But what does it really mean? Is it like other Spring Training stats and completely meaningless? Or is there more to it?

That MLB has the oldest fan base all the 4 major sports seems sort of odd considering how baseball is probably the best suited sport for the internet age. Its perfect for Twitter because there is plenty of time between action to fire off a snarky tweet about an awkward Ryan Howard swing or 2nd guessing a managers in game decision from a thousand miles away. Baseball has also been probably one of the more discussed sports in America and more words have been published than could ever be read. It was also the first sport to truly embrace advanced metrics and the internet has been amazing at spreading that gospel.

Unfortunately, young people tend to trend as stupid. I was young once, I know. Baseball is a game that requires patience and perspective. Something that your average teenager cannot even define let alone practice. Baseball is something that you love as a child, neglect as a teen (chasing booze, drugs, & tail are WAY more fun), and rediscover as an adult. And that's OK. You can't properly appreciate watching a player mature through his career until you have lived enough life to know that nothing lasts forever.

So numbers may tell us that the average baseball fan is trending older, but it might not be the canary in the coal mine some think it is. Games are on awfully late for children. Teenagers don't care about anything. In your 20-40's you're building a family, career, etc., but it seems like in your golden years, the game starts to make a little bit more sense. Like clockwork its there damn near every day for the better part of 8 months and its just plain fun to watch a child grow into an adult within the confines of an artificial environment. And when your forced to endure those long, harsh winters trying to rationalize to yourself why following the NFL is still OK or planning on which NBA team to follow next, you start to miss the stability that baseball provides.

My advice, just lean in to it. Enjoy being a child those first few weeks of Spring Training leading all the way up to opening day. After that its OK, if you miss some April & May games. Things start coming together in June and by July you'll know what you've got on your hands. By then you can settle in for August & September just in time for the Post Season. That's when the game really gets interesting.