What to Build, Part 2

Last time, we waxed on about how home runs impact the game. Today we want to flip the proverbial coin and talk about the pitcher’s version of a deep drive: strikeouts.

But first, some self congratulatory bullpuckey: I called it. Back on Christmas Eve I released the second part of my self important screed on marketing and it contained the final 3 of 6 specific initiatives. Number 5 was “Embrace the Tailgating Culture.” While I can’t say that it was my idea that spurred this Fan Appreciation Tailgate, I can say that I think this is a good move and kudos to the A’s for taking an approach that embraces what they have and doesn’t just explain what they don’t (another example of coolness is Roy Steele Bobblehead Day on April 17th which aligns with “Appeal to Nostalgia”). Now, back to the matter at hand.

Last time I gave a high level explanation of Ball Park Factors. To go all stats geek on you, here is the formula for BPF (Batting Park Factor):

PF= 100 * ((homeRS+homeRA)/homeG) / ((roadRS+roadRA)/roadG)

So what does Park Factor have to do with strikeouts? From a pitching perspective… Strikeouts are a key to transcending the effects a given field’s dimensions have on offensive performance. Before I get into a case study, or two, I should cover another stat that is useful for this discussion: FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). That formula is as follows:

FIP= (13HR+3BB-2K)/IP

There are other variations of the formula that vary slightly, but this one is by Tom Tango and I love his blog, so I am calling it the official version.

This stat is meant to remove the outcomes that a pitcher doesn’t have direct control over and properly weight those that he does to create a sort of more “true” ERA. As a baseline reference, last season Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke dominated this stat. Lincecum had 2.34 and Greinke 2.33. The next closest, as shown at the link, was Javier Vasquez at 2.77.

So what do I aim to prove with these 2 stats? Well one (BPF) is a measure of how likely it is that runs will be scored in a  given stadium and the other (FIP) is a measure of how a pitcher controls the opponents ability to score runs, stadium impacts included. And both say, “Strikeouts are important.”

Let’s start by examining the newest Athletic of Oakland, Ben M. Sheets. Every year that he has pitched in the big leagues he has pitched at Miller Park. The place sort of has a reputation for more than excellent tailgates, it is consider “offense friendly.” BPF backs that up, mostly. Between 2001 and 2008 (Ben Sheet’s active seasons) Miller Park had BPF’s over 1.000 (indicating an offensive friendly park) in 5 of 8 years, as well as a BPF of 0.999 in one season.

Over that same period of time, Ben Sheets has amassed a career FIP of 3.56. His best seasons were in 2004 and 2006 when his FIP was 2.65 and 2.43. In those season Miller Park had BPF’s of 1.042 and 1.004. In an offensive friendly park, Ben Sheets was absolutely dominant because he struck out roughly 10 hitter’s per 9 innings pitched, which removed the ability for a ball to leave the yard, hit the fence, squirt down the line, roll through a Short Stop’s legs, be botched by a Right Fielder or any other outcome that he couldn’t control. In short, he dominated because he kept hitter’s from impacting the at bat in any meaningful way. Of course, his arm has nearly fallen off a few times, but that is a different story.

But maybe Ben Sheets isn’t the best case study. He did play every home game in the same park after all… Perhaps a better example of a pitcher’s ability to transcend park effect’s would be Bay Area native and wearer of multiple uniforms, Carsten Charles  Sabathia.

C.C. has now played a lot of home games in three different yards. Cleveland, Milwuakee and Homer Heaven in New York. In his rookie season, C.C. had a respectable FIP (4.22, for reference Brett Anderson’s was 3.69 last season). He also played in the park with the highest BPF for run’s, the since renamed Jacobs Field (BPF 1.584). He walked a lot of guys, but he was able to be successful due to his 171 K’s.

Fast forward to 2008. Contrary to most seasons, in 2008 both of Sabathia’s home parks (Progressive Field in Cleveland and Miller Park in Milwaukee) had sub 1.000 BPF’s for runs scored.  So, it can’t be said that his dominance was completely at odds with his home stadium(s). That said, his 2.91 FIP shows that he didn’t need much help from his defense. The root of his success can be traced to his 251 strikeouts (and his vast improvement in avoiding walks over his rookie season).

Last season, his first as a Yankee and the Yankees’ first in the most homer friendly park in baseball (league leading BPF 1.261 for HR’s) he continued to dominate. He walked a few more per 9, he struck out a few less per 9… But he still had a really good FIP, 3.39.

So what do these case studies prove? My first thought is that they don’t so much talk about what a new yard’s dimensions should be, as much as they say how to make them irrelevant. They don’t say “Lew, bring the fences in and get rid of the foul ground.” They say, “Billy, use any additional revenue a new park brings to get more strikeout pitchers who don’t walk a bunch of guys.”

What do you think?

Winter of our discontent

Supposedly something or someone’s going to make news on this ballpark matter in a couple of weeks. Not now. A couple of weeks.

In the meantime, Mark Purdy’s getting impatient.

There’s a complex land swap deal that could result in a new arena for the Kings at the railyards north of downtown Sacramento. Marcus Breton raises questions and thinks the deal might be too big for Sactown.

The Quakes are about to break ground on a training field near the location of their future stadium.

The 49ers are greenlit for the June election.

The NY Times chronicled the fight to keep the Cubs in Mesa.

MLB.com is already advertising its app for the iPad as part of the MLB.tv subscription. Too bad I’d have to be outside Northern/Central California to appreciate it (A’s blackouts).

Fremont rally brings out over 200

Earlier tonight, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “Rally for the A’s to Fremont” shindig at the Saddle Rack. At least 200 people attended, including Argus reporter Matthew Artz, who thought there might have been 300 there. Of course, the TV crews were out capturing the event. Outside the Saddle Rack was a group of what looked like less than a dozen “Keep the A’s in Oakland” protestors.

Every party needs a Debbie Downer, and on KGO’s report it was San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, who dismissively said, “They had their chance and they struck out.”

Michael Savage to KTRB is inexplicable… or is it?

According to Rich “Big Vinny” Lieberman and the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci, right-wing talk show host and author Michael Savage will be returning to the Bay Area airwaves at KTRB. Savage, who was booted off KNEW last September, was famously left without station in his own market. KTRB’s bringing Savage back into the Bay Area belies the “Xtra Sports” tagline pitched by the station since it became the A’s flagship station last spring.

Whatever your take on Savage’s political views, the fact is that baseball games and “hot” talk aren’t the most compatible types of programming. Rush Limbaugh held the 9-noon spot at KNBR throughout the 90’s in part because his show generally didn’t interfere with Giants broadcasts. Savage’s show will be in the drive time slot (3-6 p.m.), which will make it automatically pre-empted when the A’s go on those weeklong road trips to the Central and Eastern time zones when accounting for pre and postgame shows. While Savage was not an awesome performer in the Bay Area, he was the #3 hot talker in the nation at the time of his demise at KNEW.

If anything, the move seems like a hail mary to grab listeners without properly going local. Currently, KTRB runs a delayed broadcast of Fox Sports Radio/KLAC’s Myers & Hartman show, a dreadfully boring show. The only constants in the station’s slate have been two Sports Byline USA properties, the flagship show run by veteran Ron Barr at 7-10 (live), and former KNBR morning guy Chris Townsend at 1-4 a.m. With Myers & Hartman on the way out, no more FSR shows will be on the slate. What’s left is an odd pastiche of syndicated programming, none of it locally focused. Even though both of the Sports Byline shows are out of Northern California, both are decidedly national and that’s unlikely to change. Besides, night and overnight programming doesn’t pay the bills, and Barr’s show is often pre-empted because of A’s West Coast games anyway.

For his part, Savage swears he will bury KNEW and KSFO, his first radio home. That seems rather unlikely unless KTRB starts going on an extremely heavy marketing blitz tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see what KTRB does in terms of getting out the word. Savage is clearly being brought in because of name recognition, despite the inherent polarization he inspires. Other than the A’s, KTRB had little to hang their hats on when trying to court advertisers. The A’s on radio have often underperformed compared to regularly scheduled programming on previous flagship stations, so something had to help bolster the station’s image. Even then, with KTRB’s frequent schedule shuffling there’s no guarantee Savage will be around for long. Chances are good that a Pappas will bite the bullet and bring in real on-air talent. If not, well that mountain’s going to be that much harder to climb.

What does $30 million buy anyway?

Depending on who you ask these days, $30 million is either substantial or inconsequential. I’m certainly not going to turn it down if that amount were dropped out of an armored truck onto my doorstep. However, it does mean different things to different people. $30 million (or so) can buy:

To really catch the weight of what Billy said, here’s the entire quote courtesy ESPN’s MLB Network’s Peter Gammons:

“The way the system is right now, there really is no difference between a $75 million and $40 million payroll,” said Oakland GM Billy Beane. “I think a lot of small-market clubs look at that and ask, ‘Why pay $75 million when $40 million will buy me as many wins?’ “

The sad part is that I left out $5 million to keep the analogy going. As discussed earlier in the week, the A’s budgeted $79 million in ’07 only to get 76 wins. Last year they budgeted $47 million and got very nearly the same record.

Remember that we’re talking about a league with no salary cap and no salary floor. Where the biggest team can outspend the smallest by nearly tenfold. Where, unlike other North American pro leagues, certain teams can get away with having their contention windows extend infinitely while less endowed teams may have to count on 1-2 years in a decade as their window. Where my modest plan for a salary cap was ripped to shreds by Billy in the span of a paragraph. Where the Marlins are shamed into working out a deal for an informal salary floor of their own, yet there’s no talk of a formal floor in the next CBA.

I can’t blame Billy for shrugging. $30 million in a single year – via a revenue sharing check perhaps – might get you an ace starter and a dynamic hitter or slugger. Instead you might get Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. Or Eric Chavez, Matt Holliday, and Mark Ellis. Or most of A-Rod. You get the idea.

Instead, you might put that money towards scouting or high draft pick bonuses. Fair enough. But maybe that gets boring. Maybe you want to mess around with the system a bit, even if you know there’s only so much you can do. The way Mychael Urban is interpreting the A’s interest in Ben Sheets, messing around may be exactly what Billy’s doing.

We know what would likely happen if Sheets donned green and gold. Sheets, who didn’t pitch last year while coming off elbow surgery, finds Oakland a good place to beef up his numbers (as long as he stays healthy), increasing his trade value for a post-ASB pickup by a big money contender. Billy and David Forst get yet another set of nice prospects in a July trade, Sheets gets the stretch run to earn his last serious multiyear deal, everyone’s happy. Same goes for Duke. Meanwhile, B/D figure out who’s desperate for starting pitching now while also potentially keeping an ace arm away from an AL West or wild card rival (if the A’s are actually competitive in 2010). The best part? Since the $30 million is from revenue sharing, it’s quite literally found money.

One way to make the whole charade more, well, fair, is to implement that cap and floor together. I suggested $50 million three years ago, which is far too low in this day and age. The NFL’s team salary floor for the 2009 season was $100 million, which was baked in thanks to the league’s heavy revenue sharing (the 2010 season will neither a cap nor a floor). That’s not realistic in baseball given the nature of both MLB owners (greedy) and union (stubbornly proud). If $75 million is not enough and $100 million is too much, is a realistic figure $85-90 million? There’s no way the have-nots will consent to spending $90 million on payroll unless they got a ton more shared revenue in the process, and the haves won’t consent to subsidizing the whole affair.

Since we’re just playing with funny money at this point, let’s say that all of these historically self-serving parties suddenly become their better angels. There’s still a disparity as the Yankees’ payroll is around $180 million, but he lowest is $90 million while the average payroll is somewhere around $105 million. The free agent market is more lively each offseason as all teams look for various veterans to fill out their rosters instead of just replacement-level players. Would this make MLB more competitive overall? Put yourself in Billy’s shoes. What would you do with the extra scratch?

War of Words in Oakland

I wouldn’t have seen Guy Saperstein’s recent, brief letter to the Trib from over a week ago had BaseballOakland’s Garth Kimball not responded to it. In fairness, I’ll put both here in their entirety. First, Saperstein’s letter:

Need business plan

The City of Oakland, after many years of doing nothing to keep the A’s in town, have come up with three potential parcels of land, none very attractive for a baseball stadium site. But what the city’s proposal lacks is any business plan, let alone a viable business plan.

The A’s have been losing $30-plus million a year in Oakland for some time — an amount subsidized by Major League Baseball. No team owner wants to lose $30 million a year, nor can MLB be expected to continue subsidizing the A’s.

Unless Oakland produces a viable business plan for building a new stadium as well as successfully operating the team in Oakland without losing tens of millions of dollars every year — a plan that works not only for the team but also the city and its taxpayers — those who think finding a few parcels of land is enough to keep the A’s in Oakland are simply misleading the public.

Guy T. Saperstein

And now Kimball’s response:

My Word: Oakland A’s fans deserve better ownership

Guy Saperstein and the A’s ownership continue to distort the truth in an attempt to destroy the A’s fan base and to get Major League Baseball approval to move out of Oakland.

Saperstein’s Jan. 8 letter to the editor, “Need business plan,” about A’s ballpark sites failed to disclose that he is an A’s co-owner. He also wrote that Oakland does not have a ballpark business plan. Yet, Oakland officials recently announced that the city and MLB officials together have fully analyzed three waterfront sites and provided detailed ballpark and economic redevelopment plans to MLB’s Blue Ribbon Committee.

Saperstein mentioned the Jack London Square sites are just a few parcels of land and not very attractive for a stadium. Those three proposed sites total more than 90 acres and are ideal MLB stadium sites. Also, since when is a waterfront ballpark with wonderful transit options and beautiful views not attractive?

Saperstein also claims the A’s are losing $30 million per year. According to Forbes magazine, the A’s are one of MLB’s few teams that regularly turn a profit, due to their low payroll and their sweetheart Coliseum lease from the city of Oakland and Alameda County.

Meanwhile, A’s co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher have done nothing but depress attendance and hurt their own bottom line by providing poor customer service, trading away fan-favorite players, threatening to move every year and excluding many fans by tarping off the third deck.

Wolff has repeatedly stated he exhausted all efforts in Oakland. Yet, city officials last year quickly found two new excellent waterfront ballpark sites. All it took was effort and working with, not against, city leaders.

A new ballpark in Oakland certainly would be successful. However, what we need even more is ownership like the Haas family provided; an A’s ownership that will reach out to the entire East Bay and an ownership that will be committed to staying in Oakland and winning.

Oakland is a wonderfully diverse city with great transportation options. We deserve better than Wolff, Fisher and Saperstein, who whine instead of trying to win. The team should be put up for sale and a new ballpark should be built in Oakland.

As the 31,000 people (and growing) who have joined the “Let’s Go Oakland” Facebook page illustrate, A’s fans are yearning for MLB to grant the city of Oakland its first real chance since the Haas years to retain its team and return it to glory.

Saperstein warns about misleading the public. Unfortunately, if A’s fans and the public have been misled by anyone, it’s Wolff, Fisher, Saperstein and their fellow A’s co-owners. We deserve better.

I’ve mostly refrained from commenting on the Oakland plan simply because I don’t know much about all of the details. However, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw coming out of the press conference and I’m not sure the panel will be either. In light of the large amount of information that Fremont has released, Oakland has to come up with something approaching that level of detail to give an impression that they are really trying, not just posturing. And that’s why the one criticism I made at the time was that Oakland should be focusing on one site, not three. Now I suppose I can let loose:

  • Instead of buying web ads all over the place for Let’s Go Oakland, supporters could have used the money to get a feasibility study completed. A study for three sites might be prohibitively expensive, one site would be more cost-effective. The 2002 HOK study is incredibly outdated, another one is needed for any Oakland site.
  • Saperstein refers to a lack of a business plan. Kimball’s retort is that Oakland supplied redevelopment and ballpark plans. That’s not what Saperstein, the rest of A’s ownership, and MLB are looking for. We know why JLS is the preferred area in Oakland for several reasons, not the least of which is that there are plenty of business interests at JLS that would love to have an anchor like a ballpark where none exists currently. But it’s not about them. It’s about the A’s and MLB – how can you make it work for them? Simply claiming that it would be successful, and then citing figures from 20 years ago when a massive sea change has taken place since then, isn’t going to cut it. On the public side, Mayor Dellums has alluded to funding sources outside the city to help pay for land and infrastructure costs. Okay, since that’s a wildcard among wildcards, what is that funding? Will any of the Oakland options be dependent on this funding? How much of a risk does that entail?
  • Saperstein claims that the A’s lose $30 million a year – not for them, for MLB – and the annual revenue sharing check is proof of that. Kimball then cites the Forbes income numbers, which are bolstered by revenue sharing in the A’s case. In other words, the A’s are a long time money-losing franchise for MLB. If you’re focusing on just the A’s or Oakland, you’re missing the big picture.
  • While certain details of Oakland’s plans have been available to the panel and some of the media, they’re not available to the public. There’s a press release. There is no dedicated website, no pictures or downloadable documents, not even a FAQ. In fact, if you click on the “New Ballpark” link at BaseballOakland, you get a “Page not found” error. Let’s Go Oakland’s page hasn’t evolved past the petition drive stage. It’s great to rally the troops through a Facebook page, how about giving them something to chew on as well?

What I will agree with Kimball on is that Oakland deserves a fair chance to keep the A’s in town. I hope that through the process put forth by the panel, they’ll have that chance. What I’m afraid of is that Oakland is focusing its resources too much on P.R. and not on the meat of a deal, which if true doesn’t do anyone any good. That said, Kimball’s closing plea is for the A’s to be sold to someone more Oakland-friendly. Thanks for the oh-so-predictable cop-out. Let’s try proposing something a little more practical, shall we?

What to Build? Part 1

Today we are starting a series! Instead of talking about the stuff that goes on around the park, it is my assignment to cover what goes on inside of it. Regardless of where a stadium may one day be constructed, the design of the stadium will have a real impact on the game.

You can go and read stories from back in the 90’s, you can read them from a few years ago, or you can read them in the past few weeks. Whenever a GM is asked “What do you want to see in a new ballpark?” they will give a similarly worded answer that say, “As long as it plays fair, I am okay with it.”

Hogwash! What is the point of having a home field if you have no advantage? What sport gives you more of a home field advantage than the only one with different playing field dimensions depending on where you are playing?

So, for the first installment, let’s tackle Home Runs.

“All this land is mine for as far as this ball shall travel!”

Who remembers this being shouted on Sportscenter? My personal favorite was the time I heard Craig Kilborn (I think?) say, “And Giambi says, ‘mecca lecca hi mecca hiney ho!’ to that one.”

While Home Runs inspire some irreverent banter on highlight shows, their impact on the game is much bigger than that. There are many angels we can look into here but I am going to focus on two interrelated concepts. Signing free agents and building teams that win games.

First, let’s start with a non A’s related factoid. As Marine Layer once semipredicted- Citi Field hath wrought havoc upon David Wright! Look at the precipitous drop in his slugging percentage… That sucking noise is future millions disappearing from David Wright’s future bank account.

And this brings me to my first point… What do Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche have in common? I’d say agents who understand park effects… except Bay’s let him sign with the Mets. Of course, Bay doesn’t have to worry about his future millions, so much, when he is getting 80 of them now. That’s right people… Randy Johnson came to SF because he believed it was a great place to pitch while two above average hitters decided they wouldn’t listen (in Bay’s case) or would turn down a metric tonne of cash (in LaRoche’s case) rather than to spend a summer in the coldest winter of San Francisco.

Or, more succinctly… Free agent hitters will come to a new Bay Area ballpark if there is a place they can hit home runs and get paid ridiculous amounts of coin. Free Agent pitchers on the other hand…

The next question is, on behalf of those free agent pitchers, “Are these park factors real or are they the result of the team that plays in the stadium?” It sounds dumb, right? Of course some parks are easier to hit in and others are easier to pitch in. Right?

In the sabermetric community, Park Factors, are used to normalize performance. The argument goes that, since Kevin Kouzmanoff played half his games in Hades for hitters (Petco Park has a PF of .721 for yard balls hit in 2009) than his 720 OPS is actually more like 800. Or, actually, if the park has a PF below 1.000 than it is harder to hit bombs than if it has a number above 1.000. For the record, in 2009, Petco was the worst with .721 while the next closest was Cleveland with a .838. These Park Factor numbers are published for offensive categories including Runs, HR’s, 2B’s, 3B’s, Hits and Walks.

Let’s check out Oakland, using the rate of runs scored as a barometer,  just to prove the point (all park factor numbers from espn.com, barf):

  • 2001- 1.357
  • 2002- .703
  • 2003- .515
  • 2004- 1.012
  • 2005- 1.061
  • 2006- .921
  • 2007- .833
  • 2008- .916
  • 2009- .974

Well… ugh. How the heck did the park move all over the place if the park is what drives the numbers? Or, is it that a team can be built to accentuate a given park’s factors? Or is it both?

When I think of teams built for the park in which they play, off the top of my head, I think of the Colorado Rockies in the mid 90’s. Also known as the Blake Street Bombers. That team always felt like a team that was built on the premise that, if slow pitch softball games are going to be played in the big leagues we might as well build the best slow pitch softball team possible. Or, if our park is suited to home runs, let’s get a bunch of dudes who can swing from their heels. Come to think of it… that isn’t all that different then the A’s in 2001.

But to cut to the chase on this team building thing… If I had a vote I would ask that the stadium be built with a short porch in left field, a plus 400 foot center field and an average right field. Then, I would get right handed sluggers (and borderline sluggers) to come play in my new digs. I would overpay for ground ball pitchers and a good defensive infield. It is a fool proof plan, says I.

While everyone else is chasing the left handed sluggers, like Johnny Damon, and I get the right handed bats all to myself. The pitchers will want to come where they will get run support and the punch and judy middle infielders will want a ring. I feel like a Doctor Evil pinky pose is in order.

What’s the worst that could happen? Like Rafael Furcal would turn down my offer (that is clearly superior to the Dodgers’ offer) or something.

What do you guys think? Do you want to see a Home Run hitter’s paradise?