Archive for September, 2009

So, Now Land Deals in Gwinnett Are a Story

AJC: Gwinnett D.A. seeks special grand jury for county land deals

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter on Monday requested a special grand jury to investigate questionable land purchases by the county’s Board of Commissioners, he announced Monday….

Each land deal involved politically connected developers who had ties to county commissioners who pushed for the purchases, which were at inflated prices and based on questionable appraisals.

Funny, almost exactly one year ago, I was told by an AJC reporter (no longer with the paper) that a potential conflict of interest relating to the Gwinnett Stadium site wasn’t newsworthy. Details here and here.

Addendum: Oh, and the Gwinnett Daily Post doesn’t even mention the story. Nice work.

ESPN Enters Local Sports Markets

There is an interesting article in this week’s Sports Business Journal (subscription required) regarding ESPN’s venture into local sports.

ESPN calls itself the Worldwide Leader in Sports, but it’s the company’s locally driven ambitions that have the sports media world talking and could have a seismic effect on how fans consume news about their favorite teams.

The company today will launch ESPNBoston.com, the second of its locally oriented sports sites following a successful spring launch in Chicago. Similar to the Chicago venture, the Boston site will feature a mix of beat coverage on the local pro, college and high school teams; audio content from ESPN’s 890 AM sports talk radio; Boston-oriented columns and podcasts from Bill Simmons, Peter Gammons, Michael Smith and others; a locally oriented online version of “SportsCenter”; and locally driven social media functions, among other material.

The Boston arrival, which had not been publicly discussed until late August, puts the ESPN effort into one of the country’s most passionate and hypercompetitive sports media markets. It also marks the beginning of a marked acceleration for ESPN’s local play, with a Dallas site slated for a late September or early October launch, and New York and Los Angeles destinations scheduled to follow early next year….

The initiative in part seeks to exploit the gap in locally driven sports coverage created by the historic and ongoing economic woes of the newspaper industry and the resulting reduction of content. To that end, ESPNChicago.com has been greeted with some early success: Its tally of more than 700,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million minutes of time spent on the site in July was up 19 percent from June on both counts and up 87 percent in audience size from May, according to comScore.

If local newspapers weren’t worried before, they should be now. The only thing that keeps them in business is superior local coverage. The economies of scale the ESPN has in covering sports on the web give it a significant advantage over existing outlets. I do not expect local coverage to disappear, but I will not be surprised to see the best local-market writers to be hired away by ESPN. Other online sports platforms like Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! may follow suit. This is all-good for sports fans, who typically prefer local coverage.

Should Chipper Jones Retire?

Chipper Jones says he’ll retire if he continues playing as he has this season.

“I’m certainly not going to stick around for a big contract if I’m not having fun and not producing,” said Jones, hitting nearly 100 points lower than his .364 in 2008. “I’m not saying I’m retiring at the end of this year or the end of next year, but if I become an average player, I’m not sticking around.

“I’m not going to hamstring the ballclub with the money I’m making, and I’m not going to be happy being a mediocre player.”

It’s a noble gesture, but I think he’ll be sticking around. This season he’s posted a .268/.390/.437 line, which is significantly below his career .308/.407/.542. Even in a slump, he’s a well-above-average player. Yes, Chipper Jones is getting older and is no doubt declining, but it would be a mistake to take this season as full-proof evidence that he’s near the end. In 2004 Chipper posted a similar performance decline of .248/.362/.485 before rebounding to bat .332/.430/.585 over the next four seasons.

I remember at that time pundits saying Chipper was done. Having watched Chipper hit numerous at’em balls that seasons, I developed a method for measuring unlucky performance known as PrOPS, which showed that Chipper was underperforming relative to the way he was hitting the ball. (Here is a WSJ article that discusses the development of PrOPS.) The Hardball Times still reports PrOPS. Though it is based on some older numbers, it is safe to consult for examining deviations of PrOPS from OPS. In 2009, Chipper’s predicted batting line is .293/.413/.477—still below Chipper’s expectations, but more in-line with his past performance. Chipper is getting older, but he’s also been a bit unlucky this season.

I expect Chipper will have a better season in 2010, and I’d advise him to take the opportunity to move over to the soon-to-be vacant first base position. I think the Braves made a mistake moving him to the outfield, so I can understand his reluctance to move, but I think he’ll have an easier time at first. There is no shame in moving across the diamond in your late-30s.

And even though he won’t be the Chipper of the recent past, no one expected him to be. We all age, and Frank Wren knew this when he signed the extension. If the Braves want to compete next year, the team is going to need his production, even if it is reduced. An low-.800 OPS is still useful. I’d also appreciate it if fans would lay off Chipper given all his past good play and his willingness to restructure his contract to help the organization.

Piling On Mark Whicker

Yesterday, I was appalled when Craig Calcaterra pointed out the worst sports column ever written. The column by Mark Whicker uses the Jaycee Dugard tragedy as his hook for a phone-it-in potpourri-of-sports column.

It doesn’t sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.

Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until Aug. 31 of this year.

She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn’t high-fived in a while.

She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey.

Now, that’s deprivation.

Can you imagine? Dugard was 11 when she was kidnapped and stashed in Phillip Garrido’s backyard. She was 29 when she escaped. Penitentiary inmates at least get an hour of TV a day. Dugard was cut off from everything but the elements.

How long before she fully digests the world she re-enters? How difficult to adjust to such cataclysmic change?

More than that, who’s going to explain the fact that there’s a President Obama?

Dugard’s stepfather says she’s going to need a lot of therapy — you think? — so perhaps she should take a respite before confronting the new realities.

So, Jaycee, whenever you’re ready, here’s what you’ve missed:

Whicker then inserts list of trivial sporting event that wouldn’t interest an avid sports fan, much less a girl who was imprisoned by a deranged rapist for 18 years. He then follows it up with this delightful closing pun:

And ballplayers, who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a home run that you might appreciate.

Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.

The article is so vile that the best Deadspin could do with it was post it verbatim. Imagine that, you say something so outlandish that Deadspin can’t make further fun of you. That’s bad.

As if the column wasn’t bad enough, Whicker’s unapologetic response to readers who complained compounded his gross error in judgment to write and publish this column. Here is a sample of personal e-mail responses he sent to readers.

“Name one thing in that column that was insulting. It was a column celebrating the girl’s release and using an athletic context to show just how long an 18-year period is, illustrating just what she had been through.”

“The column celebrated the girl’s release and tried to use sports as a context to explain just how long 18 years is. I’m sorry you misinterpreted it.”

“I can’t comprehend the motivation of anybody who would interpret “Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard” as anything other than sympathetic or congratulatory.”

He’s not embarrassed—hell, I’m embarrassed for him—he’s blaming his readers for “misinterpreting” his words.

Eventually, he was forced to apologize, but the damage was done. Keith Olbermann was already making him the worst person of the day, and news stories about the column were already widely circulating. If he had quickly posted an apology instead of reflexively defending his journalistic integrity and insulting his critics, a simple statement might have reduced his transgression to a minor embarrassment. But, these e-mailed responses indicate he’s just a jackass who thinks he’s above criticism.

I have seen some harsh criticism for his editors at the Orange County Register; though, they should have spiked the piece, every author knows that he is fully responsible for his published words. The Register might want to dole out some sanctions for their editors, but the public blame should be directed at Whicker.


Update:
Mark Whicker denies that there was anything inappropriate about his article.

“I vehemently believe I wasn’t insensitive about the fact that she was kidnapped,” he said Wednesday evening while at his son’s soccer practice. “I never made light about the fact that this woman was abducted. I don’t think anyone can cite anything in the column that says I did.”

Further Update: OC Register editor apologizes, and seems a bit more sincere and understanding of the inappropriateness of the column than Whicker.

Assorted Links

– An invention to reduce the danger of broken bats. Cool, if it works.

— Maury Brown scoops the traditional news outlets with the news that the BALCO case leaker Troy Ellerman was released from prison early. Here’s some advice for the kids: if you’re going to break the law, do drugs so you can get out of jail sooner.

Did Jeff Novitzki fabricate the 2003 failed drug test list? Possibly, but given the response of the players and the ensuing court battle over the list, I doubt it.

— Is it time for Bobby Cox to go? Mark Bradley thinks so. Though I’m a Cox fan, I believe that it is time for the skipper to move on; though, not for all the reasons Bradley cites. Cox has done a poor job at managing the bullpen and using Greg Norton in tight spots when other superior hitters were available on the bench. Oh, and never benching Jeff Francoeur is still unexplainable. I estimate that Cox’s use of Francoeur over Matt Diaz has cost the Braves about $2 million a season in lost production. Most of all, the general atmosphere that surrounds the club seems to indicate that it is time for a change.

— Objective journalism fail: The Gwinnett Daily Post has yet to report that the County failed to sell its stadium’s naming rights by the contractual deadline. (no link).

Should the Braves Pick Up Tim Hudson’s Option?

Like all Braves fans, I was happy to see Tim Hudson make his return to the mound for the Braves last night. This led me to wonder whether or not the Braves will pick up Hudson’s option for next season. If the Braves decide to keep Hudson, they will have to pay him $12 million; if they decline, they must pay him $1 million. Therefore, the cost of hiring Hudson for the 2010 season is $11 million—$1 million is a sunk cost and therefore not relevant. If Huddy’s value is close to this figure, then it may be a worthwhile investment.

Valuing Hudson is a bit difficult, because of his recent past performance. He pitched well in 2007, but his 2006 and 2008 seasons weren’t as good—the latter season was marred by injury. Let’s just assume that 2007 was Hudson’s true-talent level. Given aging and league salary growth, I project Hudson will be worth $11.25 million in 2010. The Braves having an above-average team pushes this value upward a bit, but slower-than-normal revenue growth would lower the value. In addition, injury recovery isn’t guaranteed, which makes him riskier than I have assumed in this analysis.

By the rosiest of scenarios, Hudson will be worth the option. Given the dearth of pitching already owned by the Braves, and the possibility of a weak free-agent market (Update: by weak, I mean talent will be cheaper than usual, not weak in talent), I suspect that the Braves will pass on Hudson’s option.

Postscript: The salary estimates presented in this post—and from now on—are derived from an updated methodology that differs from estimates that I previously presented before my blogging hiatus. The underlying marginal revenue product framework is the same, but the calculations have changed significantly following updated analysis. I shall be presenting this new method in the future.

Dayton Moore’s Extension Was a Bad Idea

So, just after I a write a post about Dayton Moore, he gets an extension. That’s probably a coincidence, but I’m not sure that it is such a coincidence that the announcement took place just after Joe Posnanski left the Kansas City Star.

This was a bad idea, but not because he’s bad at his job. I really don’t have enough information about what he has done within the mess that is the Royals organization to say. He could be running the team into the ground or setting up a foundation to breed long-term success. The reason the extension is a bad idea is that it sends a message to the public that you are committed to the status quo for five more years. If I’m a season ticket holder, does this make me happy or sad? Right now, I’d have to say sad.

The extension represents an unnecessary vote of confidence in Moore. Is he in danger of taking a job elsewhere? Maybe if he turns things around he becomes a candidate to move in the future, but if he does this, you’ll have a good organization to build off of. There is very little to be lost by keeping Moore in place and extending him year to year if needed. Until he proves he can build a winner, there is little danger that he leaves. The five-year extension means the Royals are going to be hesitant to fire Moore, and less likely to change.

I think this is a situation where a lack of stability actually signals a brighter future and increases fan interest. If you are a Royals fan, change represents hope; just as a sick dictator may signal coming freedom. The organization has just committed to a man who’s guided the Royals through four losing seasons. And no matter how good Moore may be, that’s not information that is going to excite season ticket holders.

Gwinnett Whiffs On Stadium-Naming Deal

The title of Patrick Fox’s article in today’s AJC exactly describes what happened.

The deadline has passed for Gwinnett County to garner the lion’s share of money from the sale of naming rights for the Gwinnett Braves Stadium in Lawrenceville.

The county had until midnight Monday to secure a deal, which would have given it all the proceeds above the first $350,000. Terms of the contract now call for the Atlanta Braves to receive the first $350,000, the county to receive the second $350,000, and for both to split anything above that level.

It also calls for the Braves to take over shopping the stadium to a corporate sponsor.

This essentially kills the County’s pie-in-the-sky expectation of garnering $500K per year—about 20% of the annual debt service on the stadium bonds—from naming rights. I predicted this would happen almost as soon as the deal was announced; yet, the County blames the economy instead of its obviously unrealistic projections.

“I believe the Convention and Visitors Bureau did everything they could to market it,” said County Administrator Jock Connell. “It’s just unfortunate that we find ourselves in the midst of one of the worst economies that anyone can remember — not an environment conducive to naming rights deals.”

I guess it’s a good time to remind readers that Jock Connell said that the stadium would pay for itself from day one. The economy certainly isn’t helping, but the initial revenue expectations were outrageous for a booming economy.

But don’t worry, the County still has the ability to pay for the stadium with…taxes.

“The good news is that, based on the current performance, our rental car tax has been outperforming what we forecasted, and so we have made all our debt service payments … without the naming rights revenue.”

So, it’s “good news” that Gwinnett residents with car trouble are paying more than anticipated for the stadium?

My proposed name for the stadium: Nasuti’s Folly.