Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nats, Orioles Have TV Deal

It was announced at about noon today that the Orioles and Nationals would be seen on a regional sports network to be formed by a joint venture of the two clubs. I would be (mildly) surprised if the local dominant cable operator, Comcast, were not included in that deal, but this is a real step forward for both clubs. The ownership of a RSN has proven to be highly profitable for other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, and hopefully will add to the profitability and competitiveness of both teams.

It's unclear how quickly such a new RSN could be up and running - much less how long it would take to get cable and satellite carriage - but we'll assume that it will be as quickly as humanly possible.

Also note that Peter Angelos - the #1 Democratic supporter in the state of Maryland (and perhaps the country) - gives a shout-out to Maryland's Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich. Strange bedfellows and all.

Let's play ball.


The tickets have arrived.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds ...

is the title of new book describing an old economics principle -- the collected judgments of a large group are almost always more accurate than one person's alone. Although challenged by some examples, it has proven resilient.

What does this have to do with our beloved Nats? Well, at Tradesports, they offer contracts for various sports propositions, that can be traded with others on the site. The current price essentially reflects the "wisdom of crowds" on the Nats fortunes. Right now, it is pretty bleak:

World Series: 0.3 percent chance
NL Pennant: 0.5 percent chance
East Division: 1.2 percent chance

On the bright side, though, there's some money to be made for those who can dream.

Red Cap, Blue Cap

Washington, DC, is a political down. We've got all three branches of the federal government within the borders of the District, and you can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a lobbyist trying to influence one of the branches.

And, as we know, some of those people are "Red" people and some of those people are "Blue" people. In fact, when I offered an extra Nats home cap to a "Blue" friend of mine, he said to me that there was no way in hell he'd ever wear something red with a W on it.

Which got me to thinking, why not actually play up the political nature of DC in the Nationals' uniform habits? In 2004, many talked about how the outcome of the Redskins' last home game was an accurate predictor of the presidential election. How about having the outcome of the presidential election affect what the Nats wear on their caps?

Here's the idea. When the Republicans hold the White House (as now), the Nats should wear the Red W caps at home, and the Blue W caps on the road. When the Democrats hold the White House, the Nats should wear the Blue W caps at home, and the Red W caps on the road.

Like it? I do. I don't know if someone has had this idea before, but it seems a good way to add a little juice to the Nats and give a bow to the politics in DC.

I mean, after all, we should have at least one grandstand named after members of Congress.

Good News From Spring Training

There hasn't been much posting on Nats Blog lately. Quite frankly, one reason I haven't been posting is that I hate spring training. The games are meaningless and somewhat misleading, and you have to look very closely at the box scores to find out anything useful. In addition, since pitchers work on new pitches, hitters work on new stances, trying to hit to different parts of the field, etc., the stats produced by spring training are useless.

But, the composition of a team's roster going into the season IS meaningful. Thus, I took it with great joy today in reading that Endy Chavez will start the year in AAA. Yes, that's right - Endy Chavez of the you-can't-steal-first-Chavez's will not suck up at-bats and produce outs from the top of the Nats' order.

Now, there are significant questions about how the lineup is structured without a speed-guy like Endy Chavez at the top. However, you should know by now that lineups do not matter much (subscription required), and it's just good to have him out of the lineup.

Friday, March 18, 2005


By all accounts of the steroid hearings yesterday (and Howie Kurtz has a nice summary of them here, Mark McGwire essentially admitted (by refusing to discuss and evading all questions) that he took steriods while he played. Everyone seems to come away with the same conclusion.

As our dwindling readership knows, I've been pretty firm on this issue. I believe Barry Bonds took steroids and his performance over the past few years reflects their effects, and thus his "records" are not what they appear to be. I think I can say the same about McGwire now too. My gut says Sosa is in the same camp, but not sure if the evidence is all there on him yet.

But on the question of whether there should be "asterisks" in the record books or not, I am firm too. Absolutely not. We don't need them. Asterisks are for a time when the places to get information about basebal were limited (Baseball Encyclopedia, Sporting News, Etc.) The record on Bonds, McGwire, Sosa et al. is well-documented and easily accessible today, and people can make there own judgments about their numbers, just as we do about the pitching stats from the late 1960s and the pre-1920 hitting stats.

Even without asterisks, my own judgment will still be clear: Roger Maris still holds the single-season HR record, and Aaron Ruth and Mays are safe in my book. When someone passes them in the post-steroids testing era, that will be really impressive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Angelos Hinge on TV Rights

Thomas Heath has a nice column today about the television rights issues with respect to the Nationals and Orioles. While Heath appears to spot all the issues, his conclusion that P. Angelos must be compensated for giving up territory is somewhat mistaken.

What the Orioles are giving up is exclusivity in this particular area, whether it is de jure exclusivity (i.e., MLB has granted exclusive rights to the Orioles) or de facto (i.e., they are exclusive by the fact that there was no team in DC from 1972-2004). It is not uncommon for two franchises in the same market to share that market. For example, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs share the Chicago market, and also have rights that expand into central Illinois, Western Indiana and Eastern Iowa as well.

It would surprise me both if the Orioles gave up the rights to being able to telecast any games in the Virginia/North Carolina reason. At best, they would be giving up exclusivity.

The other point worth making about exclusivity is that it is somewhat overrated. The benefits of exclusivity are defined by the amount of money you get above what you would have gotten if you were not exclusive. In other words, the benefit of exclusivity for McDonald's would be that they could charge $4 per burger if the other burger chains did not exist, whereas if Burger King is around, they can only charge $3. The $1 extra is the benefit of exclusivity (all other things being equal).

As it turns out, you can try to figure out the benefits of exclusivity yourself. Philadelphia is in the 4 largest market overall, with 2.9 million homes. According to the Commissioner's 2001 disclosure of Baseball's finances (note: Excel file), Philly got about $18.9 million from local broadcast, cable and radio rights. San Francisco, in the 6th largest market, got $17.2 million, about $1.2 million less. Oakland, sharing the market with San Francisco, got $9.5 million. Philadelphia's exclusivity doesn't really help it much versus the Giants...and note that the combined Giants/A's dollars exceed that of Philadelphia alone. There are, of course, a number of anamolies in these figures - the Red Sox have $33 million in local TV and cable rights despite being in a smaller market than Philadelphia, and Seattle, which has only about 90% of the population of Houston, got 3 times the local broadcast revenue in 2001 (Ichiro!). In any case, the benefits of "exclusivity" are really hard to pin down.

It will be interesting how this plays out. With a lot of the Nats/O's stuff, it strikes me that a little knowledge by Boswell and other reporters at the Post can be a dangerous thing.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Baseball Prospectus 2005

I just received my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2005, and have been enjoying it so far. Sure, the Win Expectancy article is written so poorly (not even counting the typos) that it is almost impossible to read, but the ideas are so interesting that it is worth the extra effort.

However, when I started to go through the player pages, the entry for Barry Bonds brought me up short:

Do steroids, all things considered, improve a baseball player's performance? For all the hand-wringing, moralizing, and high-horsing the issue has triggered, the net effect of steroids on baseball players remains unknown. ... As performance analysts, we're far more interested in the on-field effects than anything else. Given the obvious difficulties in setting up control groups of major league players using and not using, it's unlikely we'll find anything conclusive anytime soon.

... At the end of the day Bonds remains the best hitter in baseball. He posted the best on-base percentage of all-time and one of the highest slugging averages ever in '04, well after the first steroid rumblings were supposed to send baseball's sluggers back down to Earth. Bonds will remain the best hitter in the game in '05, though injuries and age will start cutting into his production. We'll leave the moral outrage to someone else.

Where to start with this? First, as "performance analysts", BP should start with the numbers, something they are always telling other people to do. Even a preliminary analysis (like the one I began here) shows that Bonds' performance since age 34 (when he started associating with known steroids peddlers) goes dramatically up, even though EVERY OTHER comparable baseball great goes down (yes, even Hank Aaron). As Dexys put it, you don't need a degree in stats to know that such a result is multiple standard deviations away from "normal".

Moreover, the BP "analysts" should be VERY concerned as to whether Bonds took steroids -- because if he did, then his numbers show their effects, not his achievements relative to other ballplayers who were not taking them. Just as we've learned from them that RBI tells us more about a team around a player than the player himself (hello Vinny Castilla), we should know when the numbers tells us more about the advantage a player has given himself over other players through steroids. And frankly, figuring out a way to isolate the effect of steroids in stats is more important than new fielding stats right now.

Finally, what bugs me most about this is the last line. By saying that they will leave the "moral outrage" to others, they ARE taking a moral stance: that those who question Bonds and his stats are not asking legitmate questions. It also strikes me that they are upset that reality has entered their world of getting excited about Bonds' player card every year, and they are simply in denial about objective proof against their worldview. Actually, it's funny -- they sound like a bunch of scouts complaining about "Moneyball".

Nats TV

This article describes the latest about the wrangling over the Nats television agreement, which is to say that there is no agreement yet. But, regardless of the terms of the deal, I have very little hope that the final product for us fans will be any good. That's because the quality of sports telecasts has diminished dramatically over the years, with now it being the norm that announcers fail at the very fundamental point of their job -- telling you what is happening in the game.

Case in point: Saturday's Nats-O's game on Comcast. Round about the 7th Inning or so, George Arias pinch-hits and gets on first, later coming around to score. When did Fred Manfra and Buck Martinez tell me about Arias? When he came to the plate? No. While on First? No. When he scored? No. In fact, they NEVER identified him. I was rewinding my Tivo trying to figure out who he was -- I finally found out when he came out to celebrate Wilkerson's home run.

Now, I know this is preseason, and this is the O's telecast, and there were probably about only 7 people left watching the game at this time, but COME ON! In fact, it is a pretty safe bet that anyone watching at that point ONLY cares about who the players are -- they could care less about the score. Yet we get none of that information from either the announcers or the graphics on screen.

Even during the regular season, announcers fail to tell you who has come into a game as a defensive sub, for example. And would it kill them to put the batter's fielding position on the graphic they show when he is at the plate? I'm stunned at how rare this is -- Comcast never did it during Saturday's telecast.

Yes, I'm ranting and tilting at windmills here. But if you can't do that on a blog, then I'm not sure why the technology exists.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

My better half ...

... finally joins the blogosphere, but buries this gem in the comments, which I must bring to a full post:

As wife of DM I have tried to stand back and, well, let DM shine in his own light by way of this oh so clever forum.

Alas I can no longer remain silent . . .

With no offense to anyone, the Wash Post beat writer for
the Nats is JUST AWFUL (Barry Svrluga)

Please please -- no more tired sports cliches about how no one has really ever heard of these guys but gosh golly come the middle of the season we're all going to know them . . . he's written this same tired story in 15 different venues.

Enough already . . .

Please let's not turn into a bunch of Orioles fans before the season
even starts . . .