Thursday, December 29, 2005

More Baseball-Related DC Revenue

In my two prior analyses of the revenues generated by a new ballpark, I had left out a couple of sources of revenue that I did not have a complete grasp upon. Just now, I got off my duff to google those revenues, and can add a whole wad of cash to the pile.

1. Tax on Tickets

In addition to getting rent money directly from the sale of seats over a certain number, DC gets tax revenues from each seat sold. As
a part of the legislation approving the stadium, the DC Council initiated a 10% tax on the price of all tickets. Thus, a $45 Field MVP seat has $4.5 going to DC and $40.50 (roughly) going to the Nationals.

I'll make a rough estimate and suggest the weighted average tax per ticket is $2. There are a large number of seats available at $29 or more to more than balance out the number at $14 and less. It's a guess, but an educated one.

This means that, assuming again that the Nats draw 2.5 million fans per season over the course of the 30 years of the stadium, that DC will collect $5 million per year in revenues, for $150 million in total revenues. Those revenues would support a bond worth $72.7 million today.

2. Tax on Parking

DC has also levied a 12% tax on parking in RFK and new stadium lots. On a $10 parking fee, that's another $1.20. We'll assume that parking stays at $10 over the course of the 30 years (this, of course, is an absurdly conservative assumption), and that 6,000 cars park at the stadium per game to support the 30,000 fans in attendance. I have no idea whether that 6,000 figure is accurate (I haven't been able to find an estimate anywhere on the Internets), but one per 5 attendees seems conservative. That's $7,200 per game, and $582,000 per year. The total revenues over the 30 years would be $17.5 million, which would support a bond worth $8.5 million now.

3. Tax on Souvenirs

In my first post on this subject, I erroneously stated that there would be a 5.75% tax on souvenirs sold at the stadium. In fact, that tax will be 10%, according to the DC Council's final bill. Instead of $172,000 in revenues per year on $3 million in merchandise sales, it will be $300,000. The total revenue over the 30 years would be $9 million, which would support a bond worth $4.4 million today.

Add it Up

So, pulling together all the baseball related revenues from my three posts, here is what I get:

Source Per Year $$ Total Amount Bond Value
Ticket Tax

$5.00

$150.0

$72.7

Lease (less maintenance)

$3.50

$105.0

$50.8

MLB Payment

N/A

$20.0

$20.0

Non Game Day Parking

$1.33

$40.0

$19.4

Player/Staff Income Tax

$2.98

$89.4

$43.3

Tax on Concessions

$2.16

$64.8

$31.4

Tax on Merchandise

$0.30

$9.0

$4.4

Tax on Parking

$0.58

$17.5

$8.8

Increased Property Tax

$11.00

$275.0

$147.6

Total

$27.00

$825.7

$398.4



Not too shabby in terms of baseball-related revenue. The stadium produces $825.7 million in revenues for the city over the 30 years, which has a current day bond value of $398 million - roughly three-fourths of the price of the stadium.

I believe this analysis to be conservative. In fact, I think there will be a great increase in tax revenues from the bars, restaurants and other establishments around the stadium. I also think that the area around the ballpark is likely to pull in higher-income individuals who might otherwise live in lower-tax Virginia or Maryland (I am one of the them), meaning that there will be addition income tax revenues for DC. In addition, parking, ticket prices and other bases of baseball-related tax revenues are likely to rise as well, which should generate additional revenues. Altogether, I would not be surprised if the stadium finances itself with baseball-related revenues only.

Comments

It was just brought to my attention that any comments to our posts were waiting in a queue to be "moderated". Bah! on Blogger. We apologize to those of you who posted and didn't see your comment come up. It should work fine now.

Jim Bowden's rationale

Well, DM beat me to a post on the Ramon Ortiz signing. At first, after looking at Ortiz's stats: a woeful 83 ERA+ (ERA+ is a player's ERA relative to all other pitchers taking into account his league and ballpark effects, etc. A score of 100 is an average pitcher--for reference, John Patterson had an ERA+ of 127 last year); a .302 batting average against; only 96 Ks despite making 30 starts; the fact that the only stat he has ever led his league in is home runs allowed; and so on.... I figured, well this is a nice stockpile of #5 (or 6?) starters we are building. I wondered... that can't be Jim Bowden's intent, could it?

And then I saw it. The Nationals went 1-5 against the Reds last year. The only time the Nats won? When Ramon Ortiz pitched for the Reds. Clearly, we here at Nats Blog have stumbled upon Jim Bowden's reasoning: When Ramon Ortiz pitches in a Nationals game, the Nats win.

Ramon Ortiz: The Batted Ball Outcomes

CBS Sportsline is reporting that the Nats have signed pitcher Ramon Ortiz to a one-year contract for $2.5 million. Thanks to the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, we can take a look at his Batted Ball outcomes from 2005 with the Reds:
PlayerPAKBBGBOFIFLDOth
Ramon Ortiz75513%8%34%23%6%13%2%
Average16%9%32%22%3%15%2%
Esteban Loaiza91219%7%31%22%3%16%3%
Correl.0.770.690.790.690.50-0.03

I've include figures for the MLB average and Esteban Loaiza for comparison purposes. The "Correl." line is from THT's analysis of how well these figures correlate from year-to-year for pitchers; essentially the closer this number is to 1.0, the more control a pitcher has over the outcome. These figures show that pitchers exert a fair amount of control over K, BB, GB, and OF (outfield flies), some control over IF (infield flies) and essentially none over LD (line drives). (Now, whether those GBs and OFs turn into outs or hits is much less within a pitcher's control, as Voros McCracken first showed with DIPS a few years ago. Buy the THT book to find our those correlations.)

The Bottom Line on Ortiz: His strikeout rate is low, his walk rate is slightly above average. His GB and OF rates are essentially average -- he's not particularly a flyball pitcher suited for RFK. His LD rate is very good, but that's a crapshoot, and could change dramatically next year. If he pitches like he did last year, he'll be decent -- but don't expect 2005 Loaiza.

UPDATE: Basil from Federal Baseball has astutely noted that a longer-term view of Ortiz shows him to have been a real flyball pitcher in his days with the Angels, and last year he might have been trying to adapt to the homer-friendly park in Cincy. More flyballs is a double-edged sword, of course, and we can't get too focused on RFK's tendency to kill homers -- in general, THT tells us that an OF is worth +.035 runs, whereas a GB in general is worth -0.101 runs, and OF, even in RFK, can turn into doubles and triples.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Nats (blog)'s new owner!

No, the Washington Nationals still don't have a new owner as of yet. But I did notice something today while doing a little web surfing.
This here esteemed blog you are reading apparently does have a new owner, and his name is Michael Briggs. Potential pictures of Mr. Briggs can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. According to blogshares, a site that seemingly does nothing but make up values for blogs (whoo hoo, we're worth almost $2000 per share!) so that people can pretend to buy and sell said blogs, Mr. Briggs has bought 4000 Nats Blog shares and now owns an 80% stake in our blog (what do you mean, I can't say "our" blog anymore?).
Whoever he is, we know that Mr. Briggs has outstanding taste and financial acumen. He probably dislikes Jim Bowden just as much as we (what do you mean we can't talk badly about Jim Bowden anymore? What? What psuedonym? Starts with B.... 6 letters....you're kidding me). This just in folks: We now love Jim Bowden and everything he stands for, including fielding two second basemen at the same time! All HAIL Jim Bowden!!!!

(stupid new owner. I'll be in my trailer.)

In other tidbits, I also noticed from our sitemeter readings, that readership spiked dramatically the day after the Soriano signing and has the day of or day after numerous other big events. That actually means that people are coming to US for news and views on news. To the children of America: that is scary stuff. I'm sure with Mr. "Briggs"'s crystal clear vision, we are sure to become one of the top news sites in the entire world (dedicated to sarcastic views on the Washington Nationals, pop culture, and random irritances).

More Stadium Funding Math

The Washington Post has an article today discussing the possibility that the city may sell some land to raise money for the Nationals' stadium. I'm not in general in favor of selling real estate - they aren't making any more of it (well, maybe just a little). But if it means that Marion Barry loses the vote, I'm for it.

It also gives me the opportunity to discuss another baseball-related source of income for D.C. as a result of the new stadium. My previous analysis suggested that the city would earn $303 million in baseball-related additional revenues over the course of the 30-year lease on the new stadium. That figure would support bonds worth $196.5 million on its own.

One thing I thought about when doing that analysis, but never quantified, was the effect of the stadium on the surrounding neighborhood. Certainly, businesses would spring up around the stadium and pay taxes to the city. It is almost impossible to quantify those benefits. However, it may be possible to quantify the increase in property values surrounding the stadium, which then will allow us to quantify the increase in property taxes.

Ok, let's start with the beginning land values. The city has estimated that the land and building value of the 14 acres upon which the stadium and surrounding structures is $98 million, i.e., the cost of site acquisition. Now, that part of DC is a relatively ugly and depressed area - I've been through it, and it is basically an industrial wasteland east of South Capitol and south of M Street. Let's assume that the stadium will impact favorably the same land it occupies in every direction. In other words, it will impact 8 times the land it occupies in a pattern like this:

0 0 0
0 X 0
0 0 0

So at $98 million times 8, it will impact land currently worth $784 million (this is really a rough estimate, because the west side of the stadium site is a relatively developed area worth more, and the south side has less development). Assuming that half of this land is residential (currently taxed at a rate of $0.96 per $100) and half is commercial/industrial (taxed at a rate of $1.85 per $100), the property taxes on this area run approximately $11,000,000.

Now assume that the property values double in 5 years as a result of the stadium. Assuming the same 1/2 residential (think new expensive townhouses worth 3x the current stock) and 1/2 commercial (think restaurants, bars, and Nats merchandise stores) mix, that would be an $11 million per year increase in property taxes. Over the 30 years of the lease, those 25 years of increased property taxes will lead to $275 million in additional tax revenues to the city, which, on their own, would support $135 million in bonds.

Together with the previously identified $303 million in baseball-related revenues, this would be a total of $578 million in DC city revenue attributable to the new stadium. Even if that revenue would support only $320 million in bonds, the city would be past halfway towards financing the stadium.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Millwood

Hey Bowden, how about making a serious offer on a player we really really need instead of letting him go to the Red Sox? (or paying $10 million to a backup second baseman named Soriano).

Update:

Strike that. Kevin Millwood went to the Texas Rangers (nee Washington Senators) for 4 years and $48 meeeellion dollars. Gee, giving big money to Scott Boras pitching clients has never turned out to be a disaster before for the Rangers, has it?

By the way, the Chan Ho Park deal turned out to be almost as nutty as the Darren Dreifort deal. It's not really clear why LA gave Darren Dreifort that money in the first place. The guy had a 4.00 ERA in Dodger Stadium in his best year. His ERA+ the year before the signing was 104 - this guy got $10 million a year for being no better than Esteban Loaiza, and he got it in 2001 dollars. It's essentially the equivalent of AJ Burnett getting a 5-year, $70 million deal, not a 5-year, $55 million deal.

I'm not sure if Scott Boras knows the Jedi mind trick, but MLB should clearly not allow its general managers to be in the same room with him and their checkbooks at the same time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Perfect Gift

So I'm in Toys R Us the other day looking for presents for my kids, and I see they are having a sale on these small baseball figures. They are of real players, and come 2 to a pack. I start rooting through them, and find a Jim Thome/Ichiro pack, and Barry Zito/Derek Jeter pack, and a Eric Gagne/Alex Rodriguez pack, and, low and behold, another pack that has Randy Johnson paired with ... well, I'll let you guess which player it was.

Answer in the first comment.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's Nice to Have a Monopoly

Today's Post story confirms what we all knew about the incentives of the players in the whole stadium fiasco, which I touched on here. In sum, MLB has told the potential owner groups not to offer to pay for cost overruns of the stadium. As we suspected, MLB does not want the actual owners of the Nats to negotiate a deal with D.C., because they know that such owners would pay for more of the stadium than MLB wants owners to pay. That is why MLB has refused to name an owner to date. It also explains the presence of Smulyan among the bidders -- he's been in the club, and knows how the game is played, apparently unlike some of the bidders, who are merely good businessmen.

I think cities should be able to build stadiums from tax dollars if they think it would be a good thing for the community. I do not think stadiums pay for themselves, in that the economic benefit they generate typically does not cover the costs. But if the owners of the team want to pick up some or all of the tab and reduce the burden on the city, they should be able to, no questions asked. In a free market this is exactly what you would expect. In fact, if D.C. wants to ensure that the latest baseball club doesn't flee like the previous two, it should make them pay for as much of the stadium as possible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Red Sox fans shouldn't despair

If you didn't know it already, Johnny Damon signed a 4 year, $52 million deal with the Yankees, landing a gut punch to the majority of Red Sox fans that considered him the heart and soul of the "idiot" gang. I'm here to tell those Red Sox fans that they can breathe a little easier.

The way I see it, the only reason this deal was done was to stick it to the Red Sox. And if the Red Sox fans can objectively sit back and look at it that way, it might make it easier to swallow.
Johnny Damon is not worth even close to $13 million a year next year, nevermind for 4 years--in fact, look for the Yanks to eat his salary in two years when they trade him elsewhere.
Here's the skinny on Damon. He's a great leader, plays a good center field, and is a very solid leadoff batter. You'd want him on your team and if you could get him for $6-7 million a year, you'd probably be quite happy. However, that's about it. If he wasn't so famous because of Boston and the hair and the "idiot" comments, and reversing the curse, etc. etc., he wouldn't be thought of in the same breath as any elite players.
Here's Damon's OPS last year: .805. That .805 is actually 20 points higher than his career average. Where does that .805 place him on the list of just outfielders that play every day? 29th, 5 points behind Coco Crisp and 1 point ahead of the Royals' David DeJesus and Emil Brown. Again, the fact that his batting average was .316 with some walks makes him a very nice leadoff hitter, but again, he's 32 and that was his 2nd highest average ever--he loses a few points off that a year and the team that signs him is in trouble in a couple of years.
So, if you are a Red Sox fan, I think you have to choose one of two ways to look at this (and try to avoid thinking about the possibility that the Red Sox management blew this one and he would have stayed for less):
1) George Steinbrenner has infinite money and the Red Sox were never going to get Damon. That is, it was irrelevant to Steinbrenner whether he spent $8 million or $13 million or $22 million per year. He just was going to stick it to the Red Sox. This gets Red Sox fans thinking the same way they (and other fans) have always thought--the existence of the Yankees is just unfair, they can buy whomever they want, and the fact that they don't win every year is mostly luck since they can create the best team on paper every year with infinite money.
2) The Yankees DON'T have infinite money and in fact took a loss last year (if you believe baseball accounting). If that is the case, you should be happy about this deal because it could potentially hurt the Yankees' ability to upgrade later. As stated previously, they overpaid for Damon by a ton and for almost all other teams and (the hope would be) maybe all teams, this is an awful and financially irresponsible signing. Plus, as SuperNova pointed out to me this morning, when you're the Yankees, this isn't $13 million per year. Luxury tax, people! It's $17M+ per year. Absolutely insane.
Anyway, that's my three cents.

Rooting for the Home Team

I haven't blogged at all on the stadium thingy, for the same reason I haven't watch the Super Bowl pregame show since I was 8 or watch MSNBC in the afternoon: nothing's really happening, despite the media spotlight. I did manage to find 52 seconds yesterday afternoon to put my view into words over at Yuda's:


MLB overplayed its hand by not naming an owner and trying to wring as much
as a possible out of the deal over the past year. Combined with the increased
costs, the Council is properly pushing back.

Right now I’ve almost gone round 180 degrees on this. I’m rooting for the
City Council. The best way to ensure that a team stays in DC is to have it pay
for the stadium itself. DC should push for that goal as much as possible right
now.

Whether we move much from the current stalemate depends on whether the
other owners are paying attention enough to realize that their $450M price tag
for the Nats will be going down soon.

DM 14 hours ago #

Somehow, I’m starting to think that a book by Nakamura/Heath might be
more interesting than St. Barry’s forthcoming release.

Basil 14 hours ago #


If you want a more coherent exposition of this, with citations to the record, visit Capitol Punishment. I will add this, though. The fact that one of the owner groups is willing to pick up the cost overruns confirms that the City Council is right to negotiate this and push back on MLB. Now we know why MLB is so reluctant to name an owner -- Bud and DuPuy are in this to preserve the precedent for public stadium financing, which has been eroding over the past few years. They know a new local owner won't really care much about that -- they'll have a ballclub to run. What we may really be seeing is how much the other owners are willing to spend to preserve that precedent. My guess it is not very much.

Recall that MLB was more than willing to stick it to the new owners by cutting a bad TV deal that devalues the club, for two reasons: (1) it was afraid of Peter Angelos; and (2) it was afraid of the black eye from having the Nats not on any TV outlet. MLB will be afraid of the black eye from moving this team again, and from the other owners who may be losing out on a free $15 million. Stick it to 'em, D.C.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

You're going the wrong way...

Not just a great line from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but a pithy way to sum up the direction this Soriano fiasco is going.

As has been posted here and other blogs many times over. The Soriano trade was a debacle--trading a high OBP guy who actually plays a decent outfield for a super-expensive, super-low OBP guy who will have minimal power at best in RFK, not to mention us throwing in Termell Sledge and a prospect is just dreadful. But it is going from bad to worse as it becomes clear that Bowden did no research into Soriano's willingness to switch positions. As you might recall, we already have a second baseman, Jose Vidro. Those of you who read this blog might also recall that we posted last week that Bowden would have to be a fool not to do such research and to rely on his own belief that Soriano will of course willingly move positions with no problem "for the good of the team."
Well, we don't have to guess any more. Soriano has made his position known: he will not willingly switch positions. And for good measure, he states that this will be a one year deal as he has no desire to stay in the National League and will flee DC as soon as he can, i.e. at the end of 2006.

This leaves us with very few options.
1) Tell Soriano to go do a rather unpleasant thing (trying to make this post family-friendly) and play outfield (or better yet shortstop, but we know that won't happen). If Soriano hopes to make any real money in free agency, he'll have to post numbers no matter what. That doesn't mean, however, that Soriano won't be a malcontent in the clubhouse and won't choose to make errors and ground into double plays/strikeout at key points for the Nationals--in fact, as we often painfully learn in sports, teams will often sign guys who were intentionally bad or disruptive ("Hey, he might be great for us") over guys who just sucked because they suck.

2) Trade Soriano for whatever we can get. And frankly, I don't know how much that would be. SuperNova and I discussed that the market for AL second basemen is pretty thin.

3) Play Soriano at 2nd and trade Vidro. Out of the question. Besides, then what would we do next year?

4) And sadly, perhaps our best option. Don't offer Soriano arbitration. Let him leave now. Cut our losses that we traded away Wilkerson, Sledge and a prospect for nothing. And fire Jim Bowden ASAP. Of course the owners (hah! what owners?) won't do that since Bowden is essentially part of the ownership group (MLB) until we get actual owners. But at some point and very soon, the trigger must be pulled on Jim Bowden before we really have nothing left.

Digging in heels for a long winter

As I mentioned last week, it appeared to me that all signs pointed towards the city council voting no on the stadium lease, which meant we were heading in the direction of courts (or arbitration to start with) and claims of breach of contract, and that it would be quite some time before this team had a real owner. Apparently, Mayor Williams agrees with me. The vote on the lease is supposed to take place today, but the Mayor has asked Ms. Cropp to delay said vote because, well, he'll lose. I'm not even sure why Cropp would delay the vote if she wants the lease to fail (except of course for her love of the spotlight), but expect more politicking to result in delay, delay, DeLay.

Not voting at all on the lease assures that we won't have an owner for a while as MLB has said no lease = no owner. (On another note, MLB has also said "No Roger, no Rerun, no rent."). On the other hand, a no vote on the lease assures that we won't have an owner for a really long time. Either way, we as fans are forced to wait as the free agent market passes us by.

Nats Blog Book Review: The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'd received a copy of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 and would review it for you. The book is terrific, and well worth the purchase.

It is organized into five sections: "The 2005 Season", "2005 Commentary", "History", "Analysis" and "Statistics". The first two categories recap the past year, with articles on each division and the postseason in the first chapter. These articles are written well but a bit mundane -- they are a good utilitarian review of what happened, but not much insight that those familiar with the races in each division won't have read before. The next chapter on 2005 Commentary is a nice collection of essays on the various big topics of the year, like the steroid scandal, World Baseball Classic, "The DePo Era" and other interesting pieces. I found these to be worthwhile reads.

The "History" section contains the two Bill James articles, one on what happens when a team uses young pitchers predominantly (not much good, according to him) and perhaps the definitive article (and, we can hope, the last) article on why Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame (James says he should, but without the hubris and condescension of some).

For me, the most interesting part of the book is the "Analysis" section, which contains statistical articles from a "macro" perspective rather than from a team or player perspective. This year many of the articles center around some research into "batted ball" data that THT has pored over. Instead of focusing on the traditional outcomes of baseball stats (singles, doubles, triples, etc.), they have reoriented the play by play data around types of batted balls (groundballs, outfield flies, infield flies, line drives). From this viewpoint you can start to more accurately asses "luck" for both pitchers and hitters by determining what typically happens on a line drive and compare it to what actually happens. For example, 71 % of line drives result in hits, making a line drive on average worth about 0.356 runs. In contrast, each 99.6% of infield flies result in outs, so each one of those is worth -0.243 runs, just above strikeouts.

Another fascinating thing they do is compare year-to-year correlation between types of batted balls for both pitchers and hitters to determine how much control each has over the different types. It turns out that pitchers appear to have some control over whether a ball is an outfield fly or not, but as to whether the fly ball will become a hit or not is not within their control, except for home runs. Interestingly, neither the batters nor the pitchers have much control over producing line drives, according to the data.

What is this data good for? It essentially takes Voros McCracken's DIPS theory and allows it to be explored for all types of events in a baseball game, not just strikeouts, home runs and walks. The data confirms McCracken's thesis for the most part, but gives us tools for really determining what parts of the game have the most luck in them. There are interesting and fun implications in all of this for ERV scoring that I am just starting to discover.

They also have batted ball data for ballparks too, which seems a very intuitively useful way to assess park impact. However, the article describing this data could be improved by including a chart with the batted ball outcomes for each park, much like the tables in the back of the book for each player and pitcher. The article gives only a summary of the various park data without the same level of detail found in the other articles.

The last section, "Statistics" provides a good, team-by-team collection of stats that is a handy reference. The charts could use some work, most notably color, as they have many different lines that are to be distinguished by different shades of grey that aren't that different.

One other important feature of the book that must be mentioned is the tone. The folks at THT aren't interested in telling you how smart they are and how dumb you are. They aren't part of any self-aggrandizing crusade against the establishment. They just want to write about baseball and look at it in new and interesting ways, and use statistical methods to help that effort. As A.E. Housman said, some like to use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamppost -- for support, not illumination. The Hardball Times Annual 2006 is full of illumination.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I really do want to be positive...

So, I've been away the past few days in Las Vegas, but let me regale you with my Thursday morning in the airport on the way to Vegas....
[me seeing headline in Wash Post]. "The Nats got Soriano?!?"
[Guy holding paper] "Yeah, it's a big bat. Just what they needed."
Me: "Wow, that's interesting. I better buy a paper."
Me to same random guy reading paper after I read article saying how we traded away Wilkerson and Sledge and a prospect for a second baseman that the article made clear would refuse to play outfield no matter how much the Nats wanted him to and that we would be paying about $10 million for him for one season, and after doing a rough calculation (since the exact stats I needed were of course not mentioned in the article), that Soriano's OBP last year was in the .305-.310 range.... "This is awful!!"
Random guy: "Well, we gave a lot up, but he'll hit 35-40 homers for us."
Me: No, he won't. He'll hit 36 homers if you give him 25 to hit in Arlington and 11 on the road. He'll hit about 18 homers for us and that's if they find him some place to play. Hopefully, shortstop.
Random guy: "We have Cristian Guz..."
That's when I hit him.

Let me tell you. Airport security reacts pretty damn fast.

Anyway, I put it out of my mind until getting back to work yesterday and I can see that those on this board and other respectable boards have the same inclinations. I am not sure how you sign a guy that won't play the position that you want him to and who can't hit in your ballpark because he can't get on base. I'm not saying this is the case, but you could imagine a world in which Rangers owner Tom Hicks mentions to MLB at the fall meetings "I'd sure love to unload Soriano," to which MLB responds "ah, just give him to the Nationals. The new owner (laughs) will pay him."

Speaking of new owners, has anyone else noticed....we still don't have one. Ah, yes, we've all noticed. Personally, I think it will be another while longer. MLB's actions have made it pretty clear that we aren't getting an owner until the lease deal is completely settled. Now MLB has made it clear that despite some councilmembers' wishes, a site near RFK is a non-starter (it apparently needed to do it in a letter because all the sound bites it was giving to the press weren't taking hold as councilmembers continued to say that MLB was open to an RFK site). The councilmembers have given a lot of indications that they will vote down the lease because they want to look good to taxpayers (heck, even Ralph Nader spoke at the anti-lease hearing they had yesterday). All of this spells stadium delays and owner delays, not to mention the icky spectre of having no team at all--I will leave it to SuperNova to explain how MLB has a couple of month window next year in which to contract any team it wants with no input from the player's union. This should all leave a bad taste in fans' mouths, especially as we continue to have no impact on the free agent market without an owner.

Finally, one last point on Soriano. I love Bowden's take on him. From this article:

Soriano has resisted previous attempts to move to the outfield. General manager Jim Bowden said he had yet to speak to Soriano about his role with the Nationals.
"He's such a great athlete that he's able to play other positions," Bowden said. "He could play center, he could play left. Winning players always care about the name on the front of the jersey more than the name on the back of the jersey. I've had instances before in my career where star players have had to change positions. Players normally like the position that they're playing, and that's understandable. If we decided to move him, it'll be because it's in the best interest of the name on the front of the jersey."
----
Given that Soriano has been asked by two different teams to play different positions "for the good of the team" and he has always steadfastly refused, is there any reason to suspect that Soriano cares more about the "name on the front of the jersey?" My gut reaction to all this? Bowden was still in the running for the Red Sox GM job until the Red Sox brass saw this trade and said "oh my! We just dodged a bullet. Give the job to those two kids Theo used to work with." Just a theory.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

Late last week a small dustup occurred over at DCist over a post discussing the Nats' trade for Alfonso Soriano (See DCist: Soriano News is Good News). To date the post has generated 53 comments, and to save you the trouble of reading through them all, I'll summarize: The DCist author gave a big thumbs up to the trade, with an analysis that, at best, could be called conventional, short-sighted and mistaken and, at worst, just plain wrong and insipid. As expected, these kinds of articles attract the attention of the baseball-obsessed, including a roving band of Yudites, who descended upon the post and began to assess the author's viewpoint with vigor. The criticisms were typical Internet fare: caustic, pithy, some personal, but most of them substantive and well-placed.

These barbs brought out the defenders of the original post, whose rejoinder consisted essentially of the following: "Cool it, statheads. Most of us come to DCist for a general overview of things, we're not obsessed about OPS, VORP, etc., and this article served our purposes by informing us generally about the trade and what it might mean for the Nats. Save your in-depth rants for the blogs devoted to baseball and the Nats."

Now, there is a superficial appeal to this position. Many statheads on the Internet do need to cool it. But there is something more to this than meets the eye, something actually quite insidious. It completely sidesteps the substantive criticisms of the original post, and that much of it was ill-informed. It says, essentially, that the general DCist reader would rather have small amount of bad information about a lot of things rather than more good information about fewer things. Those readers seem to be saying, "I need enough to get me through the next cocktail party -- I need to know the Nats traded for Soriano, lost Wilkerson, and then enough to have some opinion on it, regardless of whether that opinion is well-founded or not."

The weird thing about this viewpoint is that it seems so "old school." Those readers are essentially saying, "I want DCist to be like NBC Channel 4 and George Michael. I want them to give me little bits of information squeezed into a strict format. I don't want them to do much research into whether those bits are good or bad, nor research other more in-depth sites to verify those bits. I'm only going one place for my information and I want convenience, not quality." This seems to ignore what many would say is the promise of the Internet -- a place where's one's individual tastes can find deep, knowledgeable sources of information for the most narrow subjects, without having to suffer thin discussion edited to fit a cramped media format.

That problem is not confined to DCist, of course. It is all over the Internet, most notoriously in Wikipedia, the collective online encyclopedia that allows anyone to edit its entries, no matter how offensively stupid the person might be. One critic of Wikipedia found a quote on its site explaining that "While there is no need to be an expert on the article you're working on (in fact, there are some advantages to being completely ignorant of the subject to start with), by the time you're done, you will have at least a working knowledge of the topic." (emphasis added). Nicholas Carr has written some good posts on where this kind of thinking leads (here and here, among others) and I recommend them to you if you find this attitude as discomfiting as I do.

The DCist view is also a species of relativism, of course -- that no one view is right or wrong so all opinions are worthy of being aired and accepted as possibly true. You might have concluded that I don't think much of relativism, mainly because nobody else really does either -- it's just post hoc rationalization for really stupid ideas. If they did, they would let me perform surgery on them for a fraction of the cost of a "true" doctor.

Why did I blog on this, given that it is dangerously close to the abhorrent practice of blogging about blogging? You can say I was inspired by a poem. Last night I ran across Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism (in a book, not on the Internet), which contains the following passage, from which the title of this post (and I assume the cliche) comes:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pieran spring.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

My guess is that 85% of DCist readers primarily seek information from that site for their next pub crawl. What they don't know is that DCist itself intoxicates the brain.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lease Deal Done; And Some Math

The Nats Blog is not dedicated to regurgitations of the news and linkies to the various articles written by vowel-challenged Barry Svrluga or baseball-challenged Thomas Boswell. We do mainly analysis, sprinkle in some clever off-topic references (I mean, who can forget our discussion of Diane Franklin?), DM does his ERV scoring and we try to stay out of history's way.

Other blogs have covered the apparently "final" lease deal between the City and Major League Baseball in loco parentis for the Nationals. I'm sure there is some fine detail on the Internet.

What I'm interested in is math. Pure, unadulterated math. What will it "cost" the city to build this stadium? How much will the team pick up?

1. LEASE

The lease apparently calls for $5.5 million in rent payments per year over 30 years, for a total of $165 million in lease payments. Now, since the cost of construction is paid up front, and the lease payments are made over time, you have to discount those payments overall. If the city of DC were securing a bond with those $5.5 million in payments at an interest rate of 5.5% (that's about the going rate for DC municipal bonds), that amount would be $79.9 million. That calculation does not account for maintenance costs or the fact that the Nationals will pay $1 for every ticket sold over 2.5 million tickets per year. Assuming maintenance costs of $2 million per year (an estimate based on the Ballpark in Arlington's costs), the amortized bond would be worth $50.8 million.

2. MLB PAYMENT

There is apparently a payment of $20 million by MLB towards the stadium construction costs, although the team would get some money back from non-game-day parking revenues.

3. NON GAME-DAY PARKING

There is the non-game-day revenue that the city will earn over the course of the 30 years from the stadium parking lots. Since the team will get 1/3 of those revenues, an amount estimated at $20 million, we could estimate the city's share at $40 million, or about $1.333 million per year. The bond value of that $1.333 million per year would be $19.4 million.

4. PLAYER SALARIES

One forgotten feature of having a team in the District of Columbia is that there will be a fair number of high-priced athletes paying taxes to the District. Now, many will be smart and live in Virginia or Maryland to pay the lower taxes there, but a contingent will undoubtedly choose the luxury of living in the Nation's capital. At D.C.'s current onerous tax rate of 9.3%, this could be a substantial amount of money.

The current team salary of the Nationals comes in around $50 million. Let's assume that 1/2 of the players with 1/2 of the team salary choose to live in the District. That's $25 million in taxable salaries in 2006. Because baseball salaries rise faster than inflation, and the Nats payroll will also rise to befit the Nats' big-market status, we'll assume that there will be $30 million in salaries paid to DC-resident players per year over the 30 years (a very conservative estimate). Throw in another $2 million in salaries and payments to front office personnel and other team employees. That would amount to $2.98 million in additional income taxes for DC each year, which would support a bond totaling $43.3 million.

5. TAXES ON CONCESSIONS

DM, Dexy's and I definitely contribute our fair share of income to the city by buying food at RFK. My guess is that I come it at something like $12-$15 per game between a chorizo, a beer, and the Ice Cream of the Future. Assuming my own consumption is a bit high, I'll estimate $8 per ticket in concession revenues per year. Since we all know that DC extracts an onerous 10% restaurant tax, $0.80 on that dollar is going back to the City. At 2.7 million fans per year, that is $2.16 million per year in revenues to the City. That income stream would support bonds worth $31.4 million.

Then there are souvenirs, which are taxed at D.C.'s sales tax rate of 5.75%. I'll be conservative and estimate that there would be a total of $3 million in merchandise sales at the ballpark, through the Nationals.com web site, and at the team store. That's another $172,000 per year in DC revenue, which would support a bond worth $2.5 million.

The Final Bill

I'm sure that I left out other potential revenue sources to the city, such as parking in non-stadium lots, taxes on money spent in restaurants near the stadium, taxes on team profits, and other baseball-related sources. But the baseball-related revenue I've talked about here amounts to city revenues of $303 million over the next 30 years. The bond-value of that $303 million is approximately $196.5 million, or more than 1/3 of the price of the stadium.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tell Me Why This Hasn't Been Raised

At some point after the trade of Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals, I thought of the fact that Alfonso Soriano came up through the minor leagues as a shortstop. I just googled (yes, damn it, I'm using it as a genericized verb) Alfonso Soriano and shortstop, and sure enough, there are a bunch of hits on the fact that Soriano's "natural position" is shortstop.

I have not been able to get a good read from Mr. Internet on how good defensively Soriano was at shortstop before he converted. Certainly, someone who struggles defensively at second base would theoretically be even worse at shortstop. But with Soriano, who apparently is a stubborn individual, he may thrive back at a position where he may think he "deserves" to play. I have never heard any complaints about his arm strength, but his accuracy seems to be in question. Throws from the shortstop position usually have some momentum towards first, so that may be a benefit.

The truth is, even if Soriano were to have 35 errors at shortstop next year, his offense would be a tremendous upgrade over Cristian Guzman. Assuming that the ownership is willing to eat Guzman's contract, moving Soriano to shortstop would actually be a massive upgrade for the team. I would have to retract my "Oh Good God No!" comment.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A New Face on the Roster

No, not Alfonso Soriano. And I'm not talking about the Nats, anyway. I'm talking about the newest member of the DM family, a baby boy who was born today at 4:41 PM. Most scouts agree he has all five tools (toes, fingers, crying, sleeping, cute), tremendous makeup, and loads of upside.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Oh Good God No!

Rangers trade Soriano to Nationals for three players. Let's see. Brad Wilkerson gets on base. Brad Wilkerson plays centerfield. Alfonso Soriano does not get on base. Alfonso Soriano plays a position where we have a three-time all-star. Alfonso Soriano refuses to move to the outfield from said position. Alfonso Soriano plays really, really bad defense.

Oh, by the way, here is Soriano away from the Hitter's Paradise in Arlington in 2005:

.224 AVG. .265 OBP .374 SLG.

Do those numbers look familiar?

Wrong direction, folks. Wrong direction. Not to mention that Brad Wilkerson is one of my favorite Nats players; he did the wonderful commercial for that bank and hit me a foul ball.

Here's the good news - the deal is pending physicals. I hope that Soriano gets a rigorous diagnosis. [Unrelated notes - (1) the fact that the lead actor on House is actually British blows me away; he's got a flawless American accent; and (2) the chick on House is pretty much a mega-hottie, although she lost a little bit too much weight after she realized House was a hit; (3) the "House Poll" this week is "Do you think House would take Stacy back if she wanted him?" I mean, DUH!!].

Nats Blog Flahsback: Pat Meares

Oh, the days when we could believe that Guzman would be better than Pat Meares. For the record, Pat Meares' lifetime statistics.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Color Me Skeptical

Vowel-Challenged Barry Svrluga's article in the Post today reporting that the Nationals made a 4 year, $40 million offer to AJ Burnett struck me as odd news. The Nationals' interest in Burnett was not reported at all before Sunday, so far as I can tell. In fact, there have been few, if any, reports of interest by the Nationals in any free agents thus far this year.

So something smells about the Nationals offer to Burnett. It was known that the Blue Jays were offering at least a 5 year, $50 million contract to Burnett as early as November 17th. So the Nationals' 4 year, $40 million deal came in late and low...the kind of offer that is only going to get rejected. (Mind you, the Cardinals offered 4/$40 as well, but they could at least hope for the discount of Burnett growing up a Cardinals fan and, oh by the way, the Cardinals having won 100 games last year).

So what's the point of making an offer you have a good idea is going to be rejected? Mollifying your fan base is one reason. It seems to me that you only make that offer if you have an agenda other than signing AJ Burnett. Perhaps it's no more than shutting Tom Boswell up.

But if that was a real offer, and the Nats are willing to spend some money on free agents this offseason, the $10 million per year is encouraging. Nats Blog favorite Jarrod Washburn can probably be had for a similar contract - or perhaps even cheaper, given that Washburn is 31 years old and past what most people think is a pitcher's "prime." Scott Elarton can probably be had for a fraction of that price - think $4 million per year. If the Nats signed Elarton and Washburn for $13 million per year, they could claim victory and depart the field this offseason.

By the way, in my last post, I forgot that the Nats had acquired Brian Lawrence. He'll fill a spot in the rotation - hopefully the #5 spot. That, of course, leaves Ryan Drese for the waiver wire or long relief.

Monday, December 05, 2005

(Not So) Stumbling Into The Winter Meetings

A couple of things first.

One, driving to work on the G.W. Parkway this morning, I noticed I was driving near a silver Honda Accord with the Virginia license plate, "CM Burns." All I could think was...."exxxxxxcellent." To you, young lady driving this car, I say, "Hmmm. . . Eternal happiness for one dollar? I'd think I'd be happier with the dollar."

Two, let me get this straight. Brian Billick is an offensive genius with Minnesota, and gets hired by the Ravens, whereupon he wins the SuperBowl with a team that can't score at all but plays great defense. The defensive coordinator for Billick's team is defensive genious Marvin Lewis. Marvin Lewis wins with a team with a great offense, but really can't stop anyone on defense. Got it.

To the Nats. Dexy's and I had another one of our discussions at lunch today (Chilis, Dexy's had the Baby Back ribs, I had the Chicken Ranch sandwich, although I had blue cheese dressing instead of ranch on the sandwich, making it something of a Chicken Blue Cheese sandwich. But I digest). Dexy's lamented the fact that the Nats were missing out this offseason and that they've done nothing while losing two of their starting pitchers.

My rejoinder to Dexy's was that the Nats were doing well this offseason by doing nothing. What were the Nats supposed to do free agent wise? Pay B.J. Ryan $47 million for 5 years? Pay A.J. Burnett (of the 3.73 career ERA, 110 career ERA+ Burnetts) $55 million for 5 years? You already know what I think about the 3 year, $21 million deal that Esteban Loaiza got. There was simply nothing for the Nats to do in this free agent market so far.

That probably is changing. The first decent catch (contract wise) of the free agent market was Paul Byrd, who signed a 2-year, $14 million deal with the Tribe. Byrd is a great indication of how one number - ERA - can make two pitchers look similar when they aren't. Here's Byrd and his $7-million-per-year buddy, Esteban Loaiza, side by side:

Player

WLERAERA+
Byrd12113.74112
Loaiza12103.77105

So guys with similar figures in 3 columns - wins, losses, and ERA, get the same money despite the fact that, when one takes into account the leagues and parks Byrd and Loaiza pitched in, the difference between Byrd and Loaiza was about the same as the difference between Mark Prior and Jerome Williams. Byrd was about 1/2 a run per 9 innings better than his league, Loaiza was about 2/10 of a run per 9 innings better than his league.

[Of course, Loaiza is 1 year younger than Byrd...but his contract is for 1 year longer, too].

There are still some good arms that the Nationals might afford out there. Jarrod Washburn, who has a 0.74 career groundball-to-flyball ratio, would do well in the spacious confines of RFK. In fact, if I were the Nats GM, I would try to convince Washburn to take a 2-year deal at $9 million per, have a couple of RFK-induced great seasons, and then light up the free agent market in 2007. Other flyball-heavy pitchers ripe for big things at RFK:

Scott Elarton - 0.67 GB/FB in 2005.

Jeff Weaver - 1.00 GB/FB in 2005 (but a career GB pitcher)

Eric Milton - 0.68 GB/FB in 2005 (the Reds may want to get out of his blasphemous contract).

These pitchers all fit the use-RFK-to-your-advantage theory so strongly espoused on Nats Blog. And there may be others out there, too.

With at least 2 rotations spots to fill (perhaps giving the #5 spot to Ryan Drese, or perhaps Jon Rauch), still have time to do everything they need to do this offseason. But watch the Winter Meetings to see what pitchers are going for; it could be critical for the Nats to jump into the starting pitching market very soon.