A few random thoughts about Ian Desmond, free agency, and ‘franchise players’

Last season, I visited Target Field in Minnesota for the first time. I like visiting other Major League stadiums, not only to see the parks, but also to observe the baseball culture in other American cities.

I knew very little about Minnesota and the Twins. They’re off the national radar. But I did know one thing: Joe Mauer was Minnesota’s Cal Ripken, the hometown kid who grew up to win an MVP and sign long term with the team that drafted him. The fans loved him. He was a local hero.

I didn’t know much about Minnesota, but I knew this. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard boos after Joe Mauer was introduced for his first at bat. When he grounded to first base after a pretty weak at bat, the boos grew louder. At first, I thought maybe Joe Mauer had a nickname the fans were chanting, like when Nationals fans chant “Dreeeeew.” But the guy sitting next to me quickly clarified that the fans “hate” Joe Mauer. According this guy, Mauer was “overpaid” and “overrated.” I was a little confused since I thought Mauer was still a pretty good player. I checked my phone for Mauer’s stats, and Baseball Reference confirmed to me that his numbers, while not quite MVP level, were still pretty good. To be a contrarian I cited these stats to the fan next to me. He didn’t care. He continued booing Mauer each at bat. He even pulled out his phone and tweeted something nasty about Mauer with the hashtags #overrated and #overpaid. Apparently in a baseball city with very little to cheer about, giving the “hometown hero” a hard time seems to have become a pastime in itself.

What the hell happened? Joe Mauer is a hometown hero. He went to high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. He made six All-Star teams. He won an MVP Award in 2009. In fact, that offseason, two years away from free agency, Joe Mauer became a “test” for the small market Twins. Local fans and media demanded the Twins resign their hometown guy. Minnesota is known for letting talent flee once they become free agents, or sooner. Chuck Knoblauch, Torii Hunter, and Johan Santana are just a few of the elite players the Twins choose to get rid of before they became expensive. If the Twins couldn’t keep Mauer, the thinking went, who could they keep?

Well, the Twins “stepped up” and gave Mauer a record-breaking 8-year, $184 million contract prior to the 2010 season, guaranteeing he would stay in Minnesota until 2018. Some national commentators criticized the deal, but many local fans didn’t seem as concerned. If Joe Mauer’s a little bit overpaid, who cares? He’s the type of guy you build a statue for outside the stadium someday. Cost shouldn’t be a concern.

Since then, Mauer has spent time on the disabled list. He played only 82 games in 2011 and only 113 in 2013. He’s since been moved to 1B to preserve his health. But he’s continued to produce at the plate when playing. His power numbers have never again approached his 28 HR 2009 season, but he got on base at a .361 clip last season, and .404 the year before that. His WAR was an outstanding 5.3 in 2013, although the move to 1B seriously cut into that last season.

The point is Mauer’s contract changed the fans’ perception. When someone is 26 years old and winning MVP awards, the fans want them forever. Give them a blank check. When that same player is over thirty, often injured, and clogging a team’s limited payroll, everyone starts to look at things differently.

That brings us to Ian Desmond. History often repeats itself, and it definitely did last offseason when fans and media said many of the same things about Desmond that the Minnesotans said about Mauer in 2009. Desmond, however, looks like he’s headed for a different fate. Mike Rizzo doesn’t even seem interested in signing Desmond to a contract extension anymore and Ian will likely pursue the record-breaking deal he seeks on the open market.

The PR battle over Desmond’s departure hasn’t even really begun yet. It’s painful for some fans to see a popular player go to another city and Ian Desmond will most assuredly sell his departure as the Nationals “letting” him walk away after refusing to offer him a “market value” deal. The Nationals will probably try to sell to you that their offer was more than fair and Desmond chose to leave.

Whatever side you choose believe doesn’t particularly matter. Looking ahead, the case of Joe Mauer could be very instructive. Mauer’s early years brought great memories for Twins fans: division titles and All-Star appearances. Maybe both sides would have been better off to quit while they were ahead.

The problem with Buster Olney’s comments about the Nationals and Max Scherzer

The payroll limit of the Washington Nationals has been a mystery since the Lerner family purchased the team back in 2006. Ted Lerner is the wealthiest owner in baseball, but the team doesn’t have the highest payroll. Washington D.C. is one of the largest and wealthiest markets in MLB, but the Nats are saddled with an unfavorable TV deal.

Meanwhile, contradictions abound. Mike Rizzo has repeatedly stated that the Lerners have always given him the necessary financial resources to compete. At the same time, Ted Lerner’s son, Mark, publicly stated last year that the Nationals were “beyond tapped-out” in terms of payroll. And this offseason, the Nats made a variety of penny-pinching moves such as trading Tyler Clippard and bypassing a number of affordable second base options (like Asdrubal Cabrera), only to give out the largest free agent pitching contract in baseball history to Max Scherzer.

No, this fiscal inconsistency isn’t unique. The Yankees publicly trimmed payroll prior to the 2013 season in an effort to get under MLB’s luxury tax, only to blow that plan to smithereens last offseason by signing Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann. Perhaps the lesson we can draw is this: people are inconsistent. Your average MLB owner is just as unpredictable as your average American who pinches pennies on everyday purchases only to run out and buy a luxury vehicle they can’t afford. Billionaires: they’re just like us!

This speculation about the Lerner’s desire to spend money would be a pointless parlor game if it didn’t have real world implications on the payroll itself. If that last sentence confused you, consider this tweet from Buster Olney last weekend after the Nationals signed Scherzer.

It’s a little bit of a mystery what Olney–who I otherwise really like–is trying say here. Whatever it is, Olney doubled down with this comment in his “winners and losers” column about the Scherzer signing.

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The troubling– and most logical–implication from Olney’s comment is this: why do the Nationals need more money? They just signed a huge contract with one of baseball’s best players!

Well then. How do I start to unpack this nonsense? First, let’s start with the understanding that Peter Angelos is making millions–hundreds of millions, really–of dollars from MASN that he is not reinvesting in his team. The numbers behind MASN are just now being dragged into court, but SNL Kagan estimated that MASN produced over $160 million in revenue in 2012, while sharing only a fraction of that amount with the Nationals. This, of course, was the design of MASN, which was originally conceived as a mechanism to pay off Peter Angelos to prevent him from challenging the Expos move to DC in court. Of course, MASN ended up in court anyway after a MLB panel awarded the Nationals a slightly larger share of the MASN profit (the Nationals initially demanded even more).

MLB, at its heart, agrees with the Nationals and attempted to make the MASN profit-sharing deal a little bit more equitable. Equitable is not a factor for Peter Angelos, who still views the MASN as a vehicle to transfer money from the fanbase of the Washington Nationals into the coffers of the Baltimore Orioles.

This leads us back to Olney’s comments. Why does anyone—MLB, the Nationals—need to explain to Peter Angelos why the Nats need more money. The MASN dispute is not about the Nationals demanding more money than they are entitled. The dispute is about whether the Nationals are receiving “fair market value” which they are guaranteed under the original terms of the deal. The Nationals define fair market value one way (somewhere above $100 million/year). The Orioles define it another (somewhere around $40 million/year). Major League Baseball split the difference (around $60 million/year). Now the Orioles are challenging MLB’s determination in court. Nowhere in this dispute is a consideration of how much the Nationals need. It’s about how much they’re entitled to under the MASN contract. The entire concept of the Nationals being under an obligation to prove how much money they need has been imported into this conversation by Olney. The Nationals are a party to a contract, not a kid asking for lunch money.

More troubling, though, is the implication that the Nationals will be financially hurt by any decision to invest in their team. Peter Angelos has decided to horde his money and run a payroll far under what he can afford considering the annual MASN windfall he is receiving. Peter Angelos could sign a Max Scherzer but he chooses not to. The Lerners, by contrast, appear to be investing in their team. The Nationals now have Top 5 payroll in baseball, despite not having a top 5 revenue stream.

Olney’s comments give the Lerners a perverse incentive avoid spending on their team. This of course is what Angelos wants, lest his competitor to the south win too many ballgames, and thus siphon off more fans from his already shrinking fanbase. See the MASN deal is fine! They can afford Max Scherzer! Such backwards thinking may lead the Lerners to fulfill Nationals fans worst fears by letting talented players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon walk away in a misguided attempt to play pauper to appease a crooked owner like Angelos who thinks the Nationals “have enough.”

With the Scherzer signing, the Lerners plans became a little clearer: they’ll fight for their contractual rights under MASN deal, but they won’t let the dispute prevent them from building a winner. After a few more ignorant comments like Olney’s, those plans might change.

Insta-Reaction: Nationals Sign Max Scherzer

Today is a great day to be a Nationals fan. Max Scherzer is an absolute assassin on the mound. Already one of the best pitchers in baseball, like Doug Fister before him a move to the NL East will make him even more deadly. Scherzer’s numbers will get a boost from the lack of a designated hitter and pretty good infield defense (Ryan Zimmerman at first!).

Since it’s so obvious Max Scherzer makes the Nationals a better team short term and long term, let’s break down the implications of this signing–of which there will be many–and try to answer some of the biggest questions.

Does someone get traded?

Likely. It’s really hard to imagine the Nationals going into 2015 with six above average starting pitchers (and “above average” is really underselling how great they all are). It just seems like an incredible waste of resources to have Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark in the bullpen when either one of them could be a number 2 on a number of MLB teams. It’s highly likely Rizzo will try to leverage his resources by trading one of his starters for future assets (i.e. prospects).

But who to trade? The most obvious candidate is Jordan Zimmermann, who becomes a free agent next year. In fact, it seems like the Nationals took some of the money designated for Zimmermann’s contract extension and gave it to Scherzer instead (more on that below). Therefore, it seems logical Zimmermann would be the player traded, essentially making this a Seven Years of Scherzer plus prospects for one year of Zimmermann transaction. You can’t just assume Zimm will be traded however, simply because we don’t know how hot the market is for a pitcher one year from free agency. If recent history is a guide (Jeff Samardzija to trade to the White Sox), the Nationals could fail to attract an elite prospect for Zimmermann.

Stephen Strasburg, with 2 years until free agency and just as unlikely to re-sign with the Nationals, seems like a better trade prospect. Strasburg would demand more in a trade and Rizzo might be willing to move him with 2 top pitching prospects (Lucas Giolito and AJ Cole) on schedule to join the rotation in 2016.

Doug Fister, with one year until free agency, has the same problem on the trade market as Zimmermann. And since his return is likely lower, the difference between the trade return and a first round pick in 2016 (the compensation if he leaves) is that much lower.

Gio Gonzalez, under team control for 3 more years, is an underrated trade candidate. He may draw some interest as a lefty, but shoulder troubles last year might scare off a few trade partners.

Considering all factors, the best guess here is a Strasburg trade.

What if the Nats don’t make a trade?

This is where it gets weird. Do you move Tanner Roark, and his 2.85 ERA in 198.2 innings to the bullpen? Even though Roark is considered the Nats “5th starter”–judging by his move to the bullpen in the 2014 playoffs–it seem illogical to move him there full time. First, Roark doesn’t have traditional “bullpen stuff”–a big fastball and devastating secondary pitch. Moreover, Roark is under team control for 5 more seasons, meaning he has a big role in future starting rotations. It seems like a poor player development choice to move a guy to the bullpen only to move him back one year later. The franchise is better off letting him continue to develop as a starter.

By the same token, can you move Gio Gonzalez, a 2012 Cy Young contender, to the bullpen? As a lefty, Gonzalez would create more matchup problems for opposing hitters, and his high strikeout numbers (9.2 per 9 innings in 2014) make him an attractive bullpen candidate. On the flip side, Gio Gonzalez would need to harness his control to be effective as a reliever. Gio might have trouble transitioning to the bullpen, considering he often takes a few innings to “settle in” as a starting pitcher.

One outside the box solution that’s unlikely but intriguing: go with a 6 man rotation to keep your starters fresh throughout the season and operate assuming one of the six starters will get hurt, thereby having the problem solve itself. The 6 man rotation isn’t as crazy as it sounds, as the difference between the Nats’ number 1 and number 6 starter is the smallest in baseball. And if you were to look at numbers alone, you’d have a hard time even distinguishing starter number 1 from number 6. The Nats are truly is a weird world right now.

If the Nationals have the money to sign Max Scherzer, why didn’t they just re-sign Jordan Zimmermann?

This is the question that’ll be asked a million times, and only Mike Rizzo has the answer. But here’s my best guess. First, Rizzo might prefer Scherzer. Why is there the presumption a team prefers to sign it’s own players? Scherzer is an elite starter and one Rizzo is very familiar with (Rizzo drafted Scherzer with Arizona). With Scherzer and Zimmermann on the table side by side, each demanding market money, maybe Rizzo simply chose the better player.

Second, Scherzer was a free agent; Zimmermann was not. This may seem like a distinction without a difference to you, but extending a player carries more risk than signing one via free agency. Zimm is already under contract next year, meaning the consequences for a bad 2015 (performance or injury) falls entirely on the Nationals. This is why teams often demand players accept less money if they’re extending before they’re eligible for free agency. It might be as simple as this: if a player wants free agent money, he better be a free agent.

Does this mean Zimmermann and Desmond will leave as free agents?

Yes.

Insta-analysis: Tyler Clippard traded to Oakland

We knew Tyler Clippard was the Washington National most likely to be traded heading into this offseason. Relievers–especially relievers with closing experience–in their final year of arbitration often are. The reason is simple: they can be replaced at a fraction of the cost. Tyler Clippard is headed into arbitration this offseason, and history tells us he may earn up to 9 or 10 millions dollars in salary. For a team looking to cut costs–and yes, it appears the Nationals are closely monitoring their payroll–players like Clippard are prime trade bait.

We made it through the Winter Meetings and into the New Year with Clippard still a National. For a moment, it looked like he’d have one more run at the World Series in a Nats uniform. But there was an opening at second base, and Rizzo needed to fill it.

We knew Rizzo wouldn’t go into the season with Danny Espinosa as his everyday second baseman. Some folks on Twitter have been the debating the merits of that lately, but in reality it was never a realistic possibility. If Rizzo wouldn’t trust Danny with the second base job last year, there’s no reason he would this year.

The writing on the wall for this trade probably arrived when Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for a reasonable one year deal last week. Cabrera, the Nats second baseman at the end of last season, was not a hot commodity on the open market. While Cabrera didn’t bounce back to his all-star form last year, he was a reasonable option as a plug-in for an otherwise complete Nats team. By letting a player like Cabrera walk out the door–on a reasonable one year deal–it was a signal the Nats wouldn’t be upping their payroll this year.

So second base would be filled via trade. Enter Clippard.

The Nats last week allegedly tried to get Yunel Escobar in a blockbuster trade involving Ian Desmond and Ben Zobrist. We’ll never know how close that trade came to being reality, but after Escobar got shipped to Oakland instead, Rizzo didn’t take long to zero in.

Escobar isn’t exciting, but he plays a serviceable middle infield and carries a respectable lifetime OBP of .347. Batting in the 8th hole, he’s an offensive upgrade over what we’ve seen the past few years from the Nats. More importantly, Escobar is under team control until 2017 with reasonable salaries. Mike Rizzo saved himself a lot of sleepless nights knowing he has a backup option if the Nats are unable to find a replacement for Ian Desmond next season. Rizzo, again, is thinking long term. He swapped one year of a replaceable reliever for three years of a middle infielder, where the Nats may soon have a huge vacancy.

And Clippard is replaceable. Rizzo stockpiles young arms for exactly this purpose. Aaron Barrett may soon find himself pitching in the 8th inning, while a rookies like Blake Treinen or Erik Davis might fill the opening in the bullpen.

This brings us back to salary. Treinen or Davis will literally earn a twentieth of Clippard’s inflated salary next season. If the Nats had unlimited payroll (or big MASN money), a trade like this wouldn’t be necessary. But bullpen is a place salary can be trimmed. The Nats will miss him, but maybe not in the standings.

Were this trade hurts is on the emotional level. I try not to get sentimental about baseball players since they’ll all inevitably leave us, but with Clipp, it’s hard not to. Clippard was here for the bad years. In fact, for a few years, he was a bright spot on a pretty dreary landscape. His 2011 season stands out in particular with a 1.83 ERA in 72 games. Clippard’s biggest asset was his durability; he’s had over 70 appearances in each of the last 5 seasons. For a time, it appeared Clippard had a rubber arm. We kept waiting for him to break and he never did. He kept going and going and eventually played a huge role in 2 division championships. Clippard’s swagger, goggles, and devastating change ups have been staples at Nats Park since he was traded for Jonathan Albaladejo in winter 2007. The Nationals got six years of lights-out relief for guy nobody will remember.

We’ll miss Tyler Clippard. I wish there were another way. But this is baseball. Rizzo did what he had to do.

NatsFest 2015 for People Who Don’t Like Lines and Crowds

I went to NatsFest this year and didn’t stand in a single line, pretty much avoided people and had a very good time.  I am genuinely surprised by the number of serious Nationals fans who didn’t attend NatsFest this year.  I know people are busy, but I get the sense from some, especially on Twitter, wouldn’t have gone even if they had the time and happened to be eating a slider at Matchbox on H Street.  I can assure you that NatsFest has something for everybody.

One thing I find interesting is that there is so much going on, no two people will have the same experience.  Some fans love getting photos and autographs.  I couldn’t care less about that aspect of NatsFest.  This year, similar to last year at the Gaylord, the entire event happened in one giant room in the lower level of the Convention Center with areas cordoned off for interview rooms.  This was  big improvement over two years ago when it was held on a couple very crowded floor with not enough food offerings.

One fun aspect of the event is open microphone time the Owner, GM, and Manager held for season ticket holders at the very start of the event; this year didn’t disappoint. The fans that rush to the front of the line to get their thoughts directly to the top three in the organization are a unique breed of Nats fan.  They are solid core of @MASNcommenter

In just about every panel I attended there was a take away or an insight I picked up about the team.

Insight: Rizzo was asked by a fan who was going to play 2nd base next year.  The first answer he gave was a Danny Espinosa platoon.  Anybody who follows the team knows that has always been on the table, but to have Rizzo make it pretty clear that they don’t really plan on having Espi hit from the left side this year is interesting to hear him say.

As the panel was wrapping up, I had a chance to check out some of the photo ops set up around the event.

My favorite part of the NatsFest is the panel discussions they set up in the smaller rooms off the main stage.  This year they added twice as many chairs as last year, which were not used for the first couple of panels, but completely full during Matt Williams event later in the day.  FP, hosting the event used the room setup to mention the other more “popular” sports team in town.

The Minor League Panel was pretty much Souza and Taylor giving their second by second breakdown on the final out of Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter.  Souza mentioned that he had a poor day in the field game 161 and was pretty surprised he was going to be used as a defensive replacement.  One funny thing he added is that he rarely uses two hands catching a fly ball, but for some reason did for that iconic catch.

Insight:  This may be recency bias, but the Zimmermann no hitter might have actually surpassed the Werth game 4 home run as the most iconic moment in franchise history.  It was all any fan wanted to talk about.  Just about every player was asked to give their take, even Fister and Strasburg.

The 3rd panel I watched was some kind of interview event hosted by Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  As Ryan Zimmerman pointed out, they are two of the most introverted players on the team; throw Strasburg into that mix and it was incredibly awkward from the start.  It was fun to watch them kid each other on stage though.

At that point someone in the crowd asked about pets and every player went into great detail about his pet dog.

I

Bryce Harper, Scott Boras, and NatsFest

It says something about a player when he can be the biggest story at an event he didn’t even attend. Bryce Harper, of course, was the biggest story coming out of NatsFest this weekend precisely because he didn’t attend. Despite being scheduled to appear, Harper skipped the event, allegedly in protest of a contract dispute, which has since been resolved.

There were other Nats who didn’t attend NatsFest–Gio Gonzalez, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, just to name a few. But the sun shines a little bit brighter on Bryce Harper, and his no-show dominated the news Saturday, especially when Mike Rizzo took the unusual step of saying he was “disappointed” Harper didn’t show up.

Judging by the anecdotal responses I saw at the event, and on social media, it seems like a fair number of fans were upset at Harper’s decision. If Rizzo intended to fan the flames of fan outrage, he succeeded. Rizzo could have easily invented an excuse for Harper, but he clearly didn’t want to, proving he’s just as annoyed with Bryce as Bryce is annoyed with the Nationals.

In the middle of the situation, of course, is Scott Boras. Boras has been Harper’s advisor and agent since high school, where he thought up the scheme to graduate Harper two years early from high school to enroll him in Community College, allowing him to be drafted one year earlier than he otherwise would have been.*

*We should thank Scott Boras for pulling off this maneuver. If Bryce hadn’t graduated high school early, he would have become a Pittsburgh Pirate.

We’ll probably never know whether Boras advised Harper to skip NatsFest, or Harper decided to do it himself. Either way, it was a silly and self-defeating gesture. Boras for quite some time has been the savviest agent in the league, at least in terms of getting his players the most money possible. Boras has become a rich man, mainly by making his clients very rich men. Boras regularly surprises the baseball world with the free agent contracts he secures, for example the $200 million deal for Prince Fielder in 2012. It was Boras who originally shocked the baseball world back in 2000 with Alex Rodiguez’s original record-breaking $250 million contract, when the next highest bidder allegedly offered $80 million less.

The Alex Rodriguez reference is appropriate here because Harper is probably Boras’s most valuable client since A-Rod. Harper, like Rodriguez before him, has more talent than any other player his age. And like A-Rod, Harper made it to the majors at an exceptionally young age, guaranteeing that he’ll enter free agency before he even enters his prime. If Harper reaches his potential—or gets anywhere close—he’ll set records too. It’s fair to say Harper is currently Boras’s most valuable asset.

But the A-Rod comparison is also appropriate because, while Boras made him richer than anyone imagined, he failed him in nearly every other aspect. Boras led A-Rod from a winning team (the Mariners) to a losing one (the Rangers), only to see his client start whining a couple years later that he was tired of playing for a losing team. The A-Rod to Boston-to-New York saga is too complicated to recount here, but let’s just say the PR was handled poorly. In 2007, A-Rod’s contract opt-out with the Yankees was conducted so badly by Boras, Rodriguez made a public show of “firing” Boras before agreeing to his next contract. With Boras and A-Rod, there’s really no better example of winning money and losing everything else. Rodriguez is the richest player in baseball history, but it’s hard to find a fan—or fellow player for that matter—that doesn’t hate his guts.

So after this weekend, it’s entirely fair to ask where Boras and Bryce Harper are headed. I don’t make the A-Rod analogy to suggest Harper is heading down the same path; I only make it to demonstrate that Boras can be as tone-deaf as he is financially savvy. (But go ahead and tweet something like “crazy blogger compares Harper to A-Rod if it makes you happy).

Walking around NatsFest on Saturday, there were more Bryce Harper jerseys on fans than of any other player. While Harper is booed at nearly every other MLB stadium, he’s regularly given standing ovations at Nationals Park. The public perception of Harper around the country has not improved over time. This, in turn, has made some Nationals fans love him even more. The gulf between Nationals fans’ impressions of Harper and the impressions of the other 29 fan bases seems to grow bigger every season.

Boras only cares about the size of Bryce Harper’s first free agent contract. However, we don’t really know Harper’s motivations. Is he a typical Boras client, looking only for money, or is he more like Ryan Zimmerman, a player who attaches actual value to playing for the Nationals franchise? In the past, Harper has expressed that he understands the appeal of playing for one team throughout a career, achieving an iconic status in one city that endures well after a player retires. Bryce has demonstrated knowledge and interest baseball history, with an understanding why the legacies of Tony Gwynn and Ryan Sandberg are different than the legacies of Dave Winfield and Andre Dawson.

We’ll soon forget about Bryce Harper’s absence from NatsFest. I never really cared. Even the kids who lined up to get his autograph Saturday, only to walk away disappointed, will still cheer for him on Opening Day. In the vast sea of Bryce Harper “controversies” this is a small one.

But it does make us ask, however briefly, the uncomfortable question to which only one man knows the answer: How much does Bryce Harper actually care about playing baseball in DC after the 2018 season? If the answer is “none at all,” then we know we’ll soon be asking another question: who do the Nationals get to replace Bryce Harper?

A Proposal to Change the Baseball Playoffs

Baseball needs to make a significant change in the format of its playoffs.  MLB should consider moving away from the traditional best of five, best of seven games format to round-robin tournament to determine the pennant winner for each league.  Changing the playoff format will likely increase fairness of the playoffs, improve television ratings, increase revenue, and more importantly reward the fans of the game.

The new format, which we can call the “Pennant Chase”, will have each team play a slate of games against all the other teams in the league playoff. The team at the end of the round robin with the best record will be awarded the league pennant and move onto the World Series which will still be the best of seven.  The number of games each team plays could be anywhere from nine to fifteen.  I favor an additional 12 games or three, four game series with two home and away for each team each series.  For example: This year the Nationals would have played the Giants, Cardinals, and Dodgers in three successive four game series.  This eliminates the home field advantage unless you want to reward the best record with an additional home game against the wild card team

The 12 game series allows MLB to wrap up the post season pennant tournament in two weeks with a couple off days thrown in.  That schedule will also have each team match up with the other team’s top 4 pitchers, staff vs. staff.  Basically, we are talking about two solid weeks of the four best teams in each league matching up against each other to determine the World Series matchup

Fairness:

Does the current format result in the “best” team winning or does it hinge on chance?  The more games played, the more likely the best team from each league will make the World Series by creating a larger sample size of games. A longer playoff better resembles the rhythm of the baseball season, where even the best teams only win 3 out of 5 games.   As it stands, half the teams are eliminated after a five game series.  In a league that plays 162 a five game series is similar to a coin toss.  The 2014 World Series was a matchup of the #4 National League and #5 American League Wild Card Teams.  The whole “anybody and win” vibe is interesting, but tends to invalidate a 162 game season when top seeds are bounced early in the playoffs.  The sudden and brutal losses the Tigers and Angels fans felt this year isn’t particularly good for the game as each team was swept in 3 games.

Due to the structure of the MLB schedule, even teams in the same league only have one home and away series over the course of the season.  The best teams in the league rarely face off against each other unless they share a division.  A twelve game slate allows the each team to match up head to head to determine the class of the league.  By the end of the two weeks, there is no way any team can feel like they got cheated out of an opportunity.

Fan Interest:

Baseball popularity is very different from many of the other major sports.  Individual teams have intense local followings.  We see this with 24 team’s attendance topping 2 million and 11 team’s local television ratings leading their markets in viewership.    National ratings tell us a different story, fewer and fewer of the intense local fans care about teams that play in other markets.  If they did we would see a doubling of viewership as teams were eliminated.  Many fans “check out” on the sport after their team loses.  Ensuring that all four teams get an additional 2 weeks of games, the “Pennant Chase” also ensures that MLB doesn’t lose top markets like Los Angeles or Washington/Baltimore in the first three or four days of the playoffs like happened this year.

Under the current format, game times and schedule are decided well after the tickets are sold.  Fans purchase tickets for all playoff games not knowing if a game 5 or 7 will even be played or if they can attend the game.  If a series ends early, teams have extended off days and playoffs lose momentum.  A full slate of games will provide a more predictable schedule for fans and a gradual build to the climatic games.

Financial:

The “Pennant Chase” format would also ensure a guarantee of playoff games for each team. In the current format each league plays a maximum of 18 games assuming that each series goes the maximum distance.  Each team would be guaranteed 6 home playoff games, a number that doesn’t dilute the value of the ticket, but will still allow teams to charge a premium price.

This year, the NL only had 14 total games and the AL had the minimum number, 11.  Under the new format, each league would likely have 25 total games in the above 12 game 4×3 format; each game is television commercials/content sold.  Assuming each game broadcast is four hours, this results an increase of 28 hours of broadcast content and 50 hour increase over this year.

A slate of playoff games would also ensure that the more and the biggest markets will stay active in the playoffs for its duration.  More markets, more interest, higher ratings.  Teams like the Red Sox and Yankees or even the Cubs have huge national fan bases that automatically increase the profile in ratings of any series they are in.

Problems

So what are the problems with this new proposal?  This is a very different way to look at Continue reading