Archive for April, 2007
My good friend and intellectual collaborator Doug Drinen, posts his review of The Baseball Economist. Granted, it’s a biased review—he’s a friend and we co-authored some of the studies that I discuss in the book—but Doug probably knows more about the book than anyone since he watched it develop.
Most of you are probably not aware that I used to be as intensely into baseball analysis as I currently am into football. I wrote for a few sabermetric sites and publications and I like to think I came up with a few nifty little studies along the way and contributed a bit to the field. But it’s now clear that my biggest contribution (by far) was that I introduced John-Charles Bradbury to the existence of sabermetrics.
I could drone on about how much of a hero I am for leading J.C. out of the wilderness of RBIs and pitchers’ wins, but I’ll spare you. It is worth mentioning, though, that the fact that J.C. didn’t encounter sabermetrics until relatively late in life probably prevented him from becoming Just Another Sabermetrician. Rather than viewing things through a traditional sabermetric lens — as those of us who grew up with Bill James tend to do — he started to look at them in light of his training as a professional economist. When combined with the tools of sabermetrics, it leads to a fresh perspective.
I owe a lot to Doug for his contributions, as he tempered my thinking on many issues. And I’ll never forget watching the Aaron F’n Boone game with him. “What the hell are you doing, Grady? Take Pedro out!”
I am occasionally asked about using my approach in other sports. I point them directly to Pro-Football-Reference.com and his blog. I’m hoping that his work there will result in a book on football in the near future. If I were a literary agent looking for prospects, Doug would be near the top of my list of targets.
In today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution I list five myths about baseball—all of which are discussed in The Baseball Economist. The AJC didn’t put in online, but it does appear in the San Diego Union-Tribune. It may be syndicated in other papers as well.
Here are the myths:
1.) The disparity in market size explains most of why the Yankees are better than the Brewers.
2.) Steroids are the main reason home runs are up in baseball.
3.) MLB owners pay players well above their true financial worth.
4.) A good on-deck hitter “protects” the batter in front of him and increases his hitting power.
5.) Baseball’s antitrust exemption allows MLB to act like a monopoly compared with other professional sports leagues.
To learn why these are myths, see the article or, even better, read the book.
— — —
Are the final standings a product of pure financial determinism, or do small cities have a fighting chance?
JCB: While it is true that the big-market Yankees have been one of the most successful franchises and the small-market Brewers one of the worst in recent baseball history, these teams differ in more than just the sizes of their fan bases. Over a 10-year span from 1995–2004, I calculate that every 1.6 million residents of a city translates into one additional win for the team in that market. Given the disparity in market sizes between New York and Milwaukee, the Yankees were expected to win about 11 more games a season than the Brewers. That is not chump change; however, the actual disparity between these franchises was a whopping 26 games. Market size explained a minority of the difference (about 40 percent) between these organizations, which means that a majority of the blame must be placed somewhere else: the ineptitude and skill displayed by the front offices of these teams.
— — —
Also, the newsletter includes an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the book, Accidents Happen…but More So in the American League.
To many baseball fans the game has been ruined — hallowed records toppled, managers playing less small ball as they wait for that three-run homer. But the blame shouldn’t be placed on pills, needles and balms. The true culprit is…
Addendum: The response I have received to this article is overwhelming. If you have sent me an e-mail regarding it, it is very likely that you will not get a response; I just don’t have enough time. I have done my best to answer many of these questions and concerns in the comments below, because most of the e-mails I am receiving argue similar points. Also, several critics have pointed out that I have left out other potential causal factors out of the op-ed. This is true, but unfortunately necessary, because there is only so much I can say in 610 words. However, I devote a full chapter to the topic in my book, where I address these concerns. I want every one to know that I appreciate almost all of your correspondence (excepting a few rude e-mails) regarding your concerns. I think it’s important to explore this line of inquiry. I appreciate the positive e-mails as well.