Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Memory Lane

Like my last post, I'm still thinking about last year. (Do you blame me, after the past two weeks, in which we are 3-12, having been outscored 101 to 55, and having scored more than 3 runs only 4 times?) In that one I compared the Mets' current record with ours from the 1st half of 2005, because I was surprised to find that the Mets did not have a better record than that. But that got me thinking about our second-half collapse, and wondered how the pre-All Star Break 2005 Nats stack up against the Mets in other categories besides wins and losses. Also, I decided to throw the "surprise" team of the year, the Tigers, into the comparison for fun (as of Tuesday's games).

Records and Runs

Nats 2005, 50-31, 4.13 RS/G, 4.11 RA/G, Pyth 41-40 (+9)
NYM_ 2006, 47-29, 5.33 RS/G, 4.32 RA/G, Pyth 45-31 (+2)
DET_ 2006, 53-25, 5.23 RS/G, 3.71 RA/G, Pyth 51-27 (+2)

Here, the obvious difference is offense, as our runs per game is more than 1 run below the Mets and Tigers. As a result, our Expected W/L was nine games below our actual, prompting the skeptics to predict our fall last year. As we'll see below, it was the power in our offense that was anemic, and in the second half it got worse, not better as expected, which caused the bottom to drop out. (I have not adjusted the numbers for ballpark, but all three teams play in pitcher's parks, so it should not make much difference).

As for 2006, note the Tigers and Mets defenses, the big difference between the two clubs. This bodes well for Detroit.


Nats 2005, .261/.332/.404/.735
NYM_ 2006, .268/.335/.461/.796
DET_ 2006, .275/.330/.461/.791

When it came to getting on base (the second number in the series -- AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS), we were just as good as the 2006 clubs, but our power was awful, which left a lot of those runners on base. I also suspect that the hit and runs and bad baserunning cost a lot too. We were 50% succesful on steals, about 25% less than you need to be to actually generate runs. In the second half we dropped to .243/.313/.373/.686. Thank you, Preston Wilson!

Note that the Mets and Tigers have very similar offenses this year.


Nats 2005, 3.88 ERA, 0.76 HR/G, 3.39 BB/G, 5.60 K/G, 1.65 K/BB
NYM_ 2006, 3.90 ERA, 1.12 HR/G, 3.37 BB/G, 7.50 K/G, 2.23 K/BB
DET_ 2006, 3.50 ERA, 0.98 HR/G, 2.96 BB/G, 6.27 K/G, 2.12 K/BB

Here you see another weakness of the Nats last year -- the pitching was good, but not dominant, as indicated by the relatively low K/G and K/BB numbers. As a result, it could not save us when the offense went completely sour. One of the most depressing and telling stats from last year was our July team ERA, which was the best month of the year, at precisely the moment when we lost all those games and our lead.

As for the 2006 clubs, pitching is where the Tigers have excelled so far, nearly half a run better than the Mets in ERA, and under 3 walks per game.

Bottom Line

As I see it, both the Tigers and Mets have more solid fundamental numbers to support their records than the Nats had last year. If either club is to make a slide backwards in the second half, I'd bet on the Mets, and I'd predict it is a pitching problem that causes it. I doubt it will be 31-50 dramatic like ours last year, and the rest of the NL East is so weak that it won't cost them the division. The Tigers strike me as the real deal, and the bold prediction by some that the AL Wild Card will not come from the East is looking better and better.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Benchmark

By any measure, the New York Mets are having a superb season. The sit atop the NL East, 11.5 games ahead of the second place Phillies, and have controlled the division from Opening Day. Even their Tradesports contract for winning the division has gone from about 50 before the season to around 95 today, meaning the Mets likely have a 95% chance of winning the division.

But there is one measure that us Nats fan can take some pride in.

If the Mets split with the Red Sox and Yankees this week -- no small feat -- they will be 50-31, the same first-half record as our beloved nine in 2005.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Baseball on Television

This post, which appears to reprint a Thomas Sowell column from 2002, has a lot of good thoughts about baseball on television. My favorite point asks why we never see a camera angle that shows the whole field. I'd be perfectly happy if the standard angle was from high behind the plate, perhaps with an inset showing the traditional "behind the pitcher" angle so you can see the pitches. I'm looking forward to this weekend's game between the Nats and O's because I'll be sitting behind the plate upper deck, which has become my favorite place to watch a game, because you can see the whole field, and judge the distances and angles best among runner, fielder and ball, which are indispensible to evaluating many plays.

Hat tip: Dan Agonistes

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Baseball, Blackouts and Buyouts

This weekend I was finalizing our summer vacation plans, and noticed that the house we are renting in the Outer Banks has WiFi. "Cool," I thought, "I'll bring the laptop and watch the Nats on vacation." But then I hesitated -- a few weeks ago I was in Princeton, NJ and tried to watch the Nats on my laptop, but was told I was in the blackout area. Wondering whether Corolla, NC would be subject to Nats blackout, I found a relevant Zip Code and checked out "the list," and sure enough, the Outer Banks is part of the Nats' empire, which we now know stretches from Eastern North Carolina to the middle of New Jersey and to Central Pennsylvania. So it looks like I won't be watching Nationals' games on vacation this summer.

I am not alone. This story on Yahoo chronicles similar frustrations of fans around the country. As Capitol Punishment points out, the reason for the blackout rules is not to protect ticket sales (well, not anymore), it's to protect advertising revenue, which is still the predominant way baseball telecasts are paid for.

Most clubs earn revenue from telecasts of their games by selling exclusive rights to the local broadcasters; "exclusive" being the key for the broadcaster, who wants to make sure that if you watch the Nats, you see the advertisements it has sold. If you can watch the Nats without seeing those ads, advertisers will soon take their money elsewhere. Also, because the broadcaster is local, the area of exclusivity is measured geographically -- Koons Toyota would pay WDCA-20 to reach people in Arlington, Bethesda and Landover, not people who are "out-of-market" in far away places. So no one cares whether someone in Texas watches Nats games on the Internet -- the advertisements have little value to those viewers. (Blackouts can also theoretically protect the attendance at RFK -- if I can watch on TV I won't go to the park -- but most people agree that TV actually promotes attendance, rather than detract from it.)

But there are several areas where this theory gets mangled by practice in the case of the Nats and First, of course, is that there are no local broadcasters who paid anyone anything for exclusive rights to Nats games in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. If there were, I'd be perfectly happy watching those games on the local TV like I do here in the D.C. area. The blackout lists for are, at this point, little more than a game of Risk, where the U.S. has been divided up in concept, without any real marketplace analysis behind the assignment.

Second, even here in D.C., watching the games on the, you would still see the advertisements from the local advertisers (assuming didn't cover them up or replace them). The problem for MASN and DC-20 is that those viewers don't get counted in the Nielsen ratings, and thus they won't get paid by the advertisers for those viewers.

But that leads me to my main point -- since this is all about money and not about spite, why can't I choose to "buyout my blackout", or pay extra to watch Nats games anywhere I want, regardless of the exclusive rights sold to a local broadcaster. That premium I paid could go mostly to the local broadcaster affected by my viewing on, to cover any potential "losses" from me not watching on television.

To help me understand why this option is not presented by, I tried to figure out how much that premium would cost. To do this, I started with the basic metric for selling ads, the CPM, which stands for "cost per thousand" (the "M" is the Roman numeral for 1000). According to one website, the average CPM for broadcast television is $20 for a 30-second spot -- in other words, for every 1,000 people that watch that ad, the advertiser pays the broadcaster $20. I think that is a little high for the Nats, but I'll use it here for simplicity.

So, with that $20 CPM, number we can figure out how much I'm "costing" the broadcaster when I watch a game on instead of television: 2 cents for each 30-second ad ($20 divided by 1,000 viewers, or "cost per one" -- CPI?). It sounds like a pittance, but wait, it adds up, because there are a fair number of 30-second spots during a single game. If there are 3 commercials each half-inning, that would be 54 spots (9 innings X 2 halves X 3 spots), plus there are spots in pregame and during pitching changes. A decent estimate is 75 spots (18 inning breaks + 4 pitching changes + 3 pregame/postgame breaks, all X 3 spots). Now, this will be a little high, given that many of the spots will be "house" ads for DC-20 TV shows and ads for the Nats themselves ("Let yourself go!"), so let's reduce our total to 50 ads that will be truly "sold". Thus, for any one game, I am costing the broadcaster $1 (50 x 2 cents) by watching it on instead of television.

$1 doesn't sound too bad, does it? But remember, there are 162 games, so in theory, the premium I'd have to pay to cover the "costs" to the local broadcaster is $162. Now that's probably way too high in reality -- for example, if the Nats are drawing only $15 CPM on only 35 spots per game, then the cost drops to $0.525 per game, or about $85 per season. You could probably think of other ways to whittle that number down, but ultimately my point is that the premium in the end would be a not insignificant number -- a number I'd probably still be willing to pay, but perhaps one that many would not. Now, I still shouldn't have to pay extra to watch in North Carolina or New Jersey or Pennsylvania or anywhere else where the local broadcaster is not showing Nats game. But there is value for where such games are televised.

But even if the number is big, there should still be an incentive to offer it to consumers. Why isn't it? There are transaction costs that must be considered -- it probably would cost something to keep track of my extra payment and make sure I could get the games I paid for -- but given those are probably absorbed in great part by generally, I doubt they would be very high. The real transaction costs is probably the fact that the deals with the broadcasters have already been struck, and don't allow for such a buyout. would have to repoen the deals with MASN and DC-20, and they probably don't want to do that. At least, it seems the additional revenue from allowing buyouts of blackouts isn't enough to make it worth their while.

Another important obstacle is fear of the unknown. Neither, the broadcasters or anyone else really knows what the demand is for Internet-based viewing of games -- it sure seems high, but judging such things is often harder than it looks. Going through the trouble of redoing the basic television deal, pricing the buyout premium, keeping track of additional payments, etc. may not be worth it if demand is lower than expected. But maybe when they have more experience with how people enjoy games on the Internet, there will be a better base on which to build new customer options.

But they'd better figure it out quickly. Because consumers like me can be impatient, and there are other solutions available to us, as the Yahoo story describes. I have heard of, but never used, technological tricks that help you get around the blackouts -- as demand increases for blacked out games, use of these tricks, which entail payment to no one -- will increase. Also, independent companies, such as Sling Media, will offer me a Slingbox to allow access to my Tivo recordings of the games from any Internet connection, even ones in the Outer Banks. I'll have to pay them some money for the technology and maybe a service fee, none of which will go to MLB, the Nats or the broadcaster. Both of these options may be of dubious legality, but that uncertainty cuts both ways. Again, if demand for blackout games increase, so will use of devices and technology like these. It's your choice, MLB.

Monday, June 19, 2006


I'm not as bad as Needham. Sure, I too watched the USA-Italy match instead of the Nats on Saturday, but yesterday I listened to the game on radio as I built a basketball hoop in the driveway with Little DM and his brother. (And when I say "with", I mean it; at one point I said to myself, "Where's my mallet?" and Little DM said "It's in the shed. I'll get it. You focus on the hoop." A five-year-old supervisor.)

I had heard the Nats first run, but then lost track of the game and how the Yankees went ahead. Then I started to listen a bit more closely when the bottom of the ninth began. But of course some socket mishap distracted me, and the next thing I heard was Charlie's voice rise as Zimmerman hit the ball. I ran to the radio, heard "...Cabrera going back..." (a good sign) and then knew it was a walk-off. Charlie did a neat thing by not saying anything as the crowd roared, and for once I didn't care that he didn't tell me the score -- I knew what had happened, the details could wait.

Little DM was right beside me, even he knew it was good and we exchanged several high fives. Later I made a point to show him the highlights on ESPN, and this morning, in his room, when he thought he was alone, I caught a glimpse of him doing a Ryan Zimmerman impersonation: a swing, looking up, holding his fist up as a he ran, then jumping onto an imaginary home plate and being clobbered by his imaginary teammates. Bang, Zoom !!

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Pitchers, it seems to me, are like anyone else; they have good days and bad days. Sometimes they have their stuff, and sometimes they don't. One would think that the main job of the manager, pitching coach and bullpen coach is to figure out whether a guy has it or not in any given day.

Based on this, I've often wondered about managers who like to bring in lots of relief pitchers. It seems to me that by doing that, you are simply increasing the chance that you'll bring in a pitcher who is having a bad day. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that a particular relief pitcher has his stuff today is more important that the lefty-righty matchup, or whether he is coming to bat the next inning.

I don't think Frank ever considers this. This is an obvious second-guess, but I was really hoping at the time that he would have left Jon Rauch in last night after he struck out A-Rod and Cano to end the seventh. Those were huge outs, and Rauch has been struggling lately, I thought it would have been a good confidence boost to send him out there in the 8th to help keep the lid on the game.

But, of course, that didn't happen. Frank, as usual, brought in three more relievers, none of whom had anything, and we blew the game. Frank appears to expect that all of his relievers must be able to perform at the highest level in every game. While that is a reasonable expectation in general for professionals who get paid a lot of money to play this game, the reality of our bullpen requires more nuanced management that appears beyond the ken of our current skipper.

Monday, June 12, 2006

ERV Renovations -- Update

As you know, last month I shut down the ERV Boxscores to redesign the process that creates them. The work has been going pretty well, and this weekend I finally constructed the guts of the new database that will hold the information. It can now calcuate the basic RV and WV for each event. Right now it ascribes all of the value to the batter and pitcher, even if the play has errors or other aspects that should be given to other players involved. I have to code the parts that account for errors, fielding and baserunning.

But the real advantage of this new system is that I have data for every team, not just the Nats. So we'll be able to compare RV and WV with other players in the league. For example, here are the 2005 NL Batting WV Leaders:

NameTotal RVTotal WV
Chipper Jones38.31454.142
Jason Bay38.36846.264
Derek Lee50.64544.553
Bobby Abreu54.40342.941
Carlos Delgado40.52741.785
Adam Dunn37.80537.268
Lyle Overbay27.88637.029
Chase Utley38.65936.416
Ken Griffey33.14834.526
Lance Berkman29.00033.585

Where's Albert? Pujols was 14th, with 44.76 RV and 30.42 WV. Nick Johnson was 11th, with 24.89 RV and 33.00 WV.

Here are the best NL pitchers:

NameTotal RVTotal WV
Roger Clemens-50.246-61.176
Andy Pettitte-53.525-56.694
Dontrelle Willis-44.242-56.627
Carlos Zambrano-31.614-50.201
Chris Caprenter-39.947-46.454
Tim Hudson-32.968-45.341
Todd Jones-21.705-42.636
John Patterson-30.653-39.580
Derrick Turnbow-20.319-39.184
Jake Peavy-24.321-38.769

What's interesting to me is that most of these guys are starters. I had thought that because closers pitch in high leverage (i.e. high Win Value) situations, the system would be biased in their favor, and they'd cluster near the top. But apparently that's not necesarily the case.

Keep in mind that these numbers are rough and I haven't checked the data thoroughly. But I do think it tells me that when I'm finished that the data will present some interesting things to think about.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Draft -- Where Do You Stand?

I don't have nearly enough knowledge to provide any meaningful commentary on the Nats draft selections, so please visit Nationals Farm Authority, Capital Punishment, and Federal Baseball for real information on that. But I will use it as an excuse to comment on an interesting segment I heard last night on XM Radio. Chuck Wilson, who is quite good and is vastly under-utilized on MLB Home Plate, replayed quotes surrounding the controversy over Luke Hochevar, the first overal pick of this year's draft. Hochevar was drafted by the Dodgers last year and nearly signed with them, but then swtiched to agent Scott Boras at the last minute, didn't sign, and opted to re-enter the draft this year.

First, Wilson played a quote from Hochevar's former agent (I didn't catch his name), who complained that Hochevar left a voicemail for some Dodgers executive 45 minutes before he backed out the deal saying how happy and excited he was to be a Dodger. He painted the picture of a kid who went back on his word at the last minute purely for more money. Then Wilson played Scott Boras' reaction to that quote, who argued that the former agent was inexperienced and, in doing the deal with the Dodgers, was essentially putting his interest in establishing relationships with the Dodgers and build up a stable of MLB players ahead of Hochevar's interest, and would have left, in Boras' view, millions of Hochevar's dollars on the table. Then Wilson played a quote from Hochevar, who pretty much echoed Boras' points by saying young players should go with experienced agents like Boras. To me, he'd been coached pretty well on that answer.

Who's right? Who knows. Economically, we'll find out if Hochevar made the right move when we learn the size of his contract with Kansas City, but it seems that being picked first overall will get more $$ than being picked 40th like he was last year. So Hochevar may have made a good gamble, which was largely good because of the weak draft this year. I will say that my first instinct was to side with the former agent, and to view Hochevar as a spoiled greedy kid, but I have to say Boras made a good argument to my rational side that the Dodgers' deal would not have been the best for Hochevar, and his claims about the former agent had the ring of truth to them.

But what struck me as really interesting was this question: On which side of the line, management or player, do we fans typically fall? We obviously identify with the players first and foremost, because we watch them all the time and root for them. But we typically only like players on our team, so when it comes to contract disputes, we can be quick to say that player is greedy if they are threaten to leave or not sign with our club. We also like to complain about large salaries and agents like Boras. On the other hand, if the player is beloved by most fans, then we curse management for not giving in to every demand he makes. In the end, I'm not sure there's a clear answer to the question, but I do think we are not careful enough to consider the different perspectives of the parties involved, and Chuck Wilson's segment on XM helped me understand where guys like Hochevar and Boras are coming from in making the decisions they make.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Intuitive ERV

I heard an interesting interview on XM Radio this morning with Jamie Moyer of the Seattle Mariners, who pitched a 2-hit complete game shutout on Friday night. Here it is from memory:

Obviously you'd like to go out there and put 9 zeros on the board every night, but you can't do that. You give up a hit, then a run, then you have runners on 2nd and 3rd with less than 2 outs, and your trying to get that second out, and while you may let the runner on third score, you work hard to keep the runner on second from scoring.
(emphasis added). The expected run value with runners on second and third and 1 out is about 1.4 or 1.5, depending on which table you use. I like Moyer's quote because it shows he's developed a feel for when runs score over his 20+ years in the big leagues -- he knows, intuitively, that if only the runner on third scores, you've beaten the expectation by 0.4 runs. If the runner on second also scores, you lost by 0.6 runs. He also appears to have a good understanding of sunk costs -- runners on third with less than 2 outs usually score, so it may be better to focus on avoiding a big inning.

P.S. Wanna feel old? Buck Martinez on XM pointed out that the last time Moyer threw a 2-hit shutout, Ronald Reagan was President.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Future's So Bright ...

I was all set to post some optimistic thoughts about our hometown club. Something along the lines of "If the Mets go 13-13 the rest of the first half, and we just win 2 out 3 over the same time frame, we'll be five games out at the break, and anything can happen then." But then I read the pessimistic crap over at Capitol Punishment, and my heart's not in it anymore. Needham, you are the wind shear on my wings! Even the company men over at Nats Triple Play couldn't cheer me up. It really sucks when your season was effectively over May 15.

So now we're left with individual accomplishments to watch. Alfonso Soriano leads the American League in HRs, and with Albert Pujols headed to the DL, he could soon lead the majors. That'll be cool to watch. Speaking of Pujols, his injury becomes a dramatic new chapter in the long-running litigation of Non-Baseball Fans v. Baseball Fans. We can envision the cross-examination, and it won't be pretty:

Non-Baseball Fans Lawyer: How exactly did Mr. Pujols hurt himself?
Baseball Fan: He hurt his side going after a foul ball.
Lawyer: So, he was diving into the stands full-speed and bruised it against a seat, like Jeter?
Fan: No.
Lawyer: OK, so he fell into the dugout and banged it against the steps?
Fan: No.
Lawyer: He must have hurt it on a dive stretching out for foul pop headed down the RF line, right?
Fan: Ummm .. No.
Lawyer: Well, then, what exactly did he do?
Fan: [nervously] He just hurt it, that's all.
Lawyer: [beginning to shout] How did he hurt it ?!?
Fan: Ummm ... he turned to his left and started running.
Lawyer: "He turned to his left and started running." How old is Mr. Pujols, 87?
Fan: No, he's in his late 20s.
Lawyer: Late 20s. Is he obese?
Fan: No.
Lawyer: He's one of the worst players in the league right?
Fan: No, he's the best player in baseball!
Lawyer: So, the best player in baseball can't turn to his left and start running without hurting himself, right?
Fan: Well, he just turned too quickly ... it was the cross-over step ... it's a thinking man's game ... it's designed to break your heart ... [begins sobbing]
Lawyer: Nothing further. Your honor, I won't need to offer the videotape.