Finding in Favor of the MLB: Part 1

In the last two weeks, there have been two major court decisions that have found in favor of the Minnesota Twins and the General Area of Southern California and Orange County Angels. Both of htese cases have huge ramafications for these teams, and the Angels case may resonate throughout baseball.

I'll take a look at the Twins case in the first installment. The Twins ruling looks bad for the future of Minnesota Baseball, at least at face value. Hennepin County District Judge Charles Porter freed the Twins from any obligations to the Metrodome, meaning that the team could move to another stadium as their heart desires. However, since there is no party of city known to be wooing the Twins, and the market for relocation is incredibly weak (despite what the Marlins would like the Florida legislature to believe), what this really does is bring the Twins stadium issue to the forefront. The Gophers and especially the Vikings have dominated the stadium discussion, and this gives the Twins a real opportunity to resurrect the talks that ran out of time in the government shutdown that took place last session.

I'd like to take a second and talk about why I feel it's more important, at an empirical level, the the Twins get a new stadium. The Twins suffer from low attendance and this problem affects them for each one of their 81 home games. The Vikings and Gophers have very high attendance, spurred by alumni and rabid fans and by the very limited number of games they play. This limited supply ensures that there is always enough demand for high ticket revenues.

It also seems to me that while baseball attendance is affected by winning (see here, here, and here) it is also affected by amenities, style and ballpark attractiveness. When spent my summers in the Bay Area, all things being equal, I would rather have gone to Pac Bell / SBC / AT&T Park than Network Associates / McAfee Coliseum simply because it was a much nicer ballpark. I also feel like a brand new ballpark here could bring in casual fans who want to find a novel activity for the evening (or afternoon). But a domed, ancient concrete baseball stadium isn't much of a draw. Without the mosquitos, the summers in Minneapolis are wonderful, and let's face it, we all know that baseball was meant to be played outdoors.

The Brewers have averaged over 2 million a year since they started playing at Miller Park, and it is a wonderful park to watch a game in. The last time they had any season as high in attendance was in 1992 when they went 92-70 and finished 4 games behind Toronto for the Al East crown. Their winning percentage in the five seasons in Miller is .4185. So by winning only about 40 % of their games, a team in a city of about 600,000 can draw 2,150,791 people in a year. However, the Twins, who have a wining percentage of almost .550 and draw from a combined Minneapolis and St Paul population of about 655,000.

Let's recap that for those of you in the cheap seats. Positive things will be in bold, negative in italics. The Brewers pull in more fans from a smaller city while they win fewer games. The Twins pull in fewer fans from a larger city-area while winning more games (and making the playoffs THREE STREAIGHT YEARS).

Is there that much of a cultural distance between Minnesota and Wisconsin? Do Milwaukee and the Twin Cities differ that greatly in love of baseball? My guess would be no. Maybe we can call this an entirely new kind of ballpark effect.

Stay tuned for part two, and the naming controversy in So Cal. T-minus 48 days and counting.


ESPN Watch: Central Controversy

After this article, I swear I'll write about something other than ESPN for awhile. However, they've managed to get it all wrong again. Jerry Crasnick published an article yesterday about who he saw as the two surprise teams this year. The Brewers and the Twins. Now I actually think his comments on the Brewers were well thought out, and there is some evidence to suggest that they could be good enough to pick up a Wild Card berth. The Astros lost a piece or two, and will need another starter to stay in contention. The Cubs always find a way to blow it, and the Reds and Pirates suffer from a complete lack of an organizational strategy, and the West and East in the NL haven't been very good, as a whole recently.

But the Twins? The Twins would be a surprise to contend in the AL Central? The Twins who won the division three years running (2002 to 2004)? The twins who added a .313/.348/.489 slugger and a .301/.391/.374 leadoff man? By the way, only three regulars in the offense posted any one stat better than White, and none posted a higher overall line (Mauer and LeCroy had better OBP, Hunter had a slightly higher SLG), and White's one liability, his defense, is mitigated by the fact that he will be playing as a DH. Castillo's OBP is easily higher than any Twin last year, and his career average for SB is almost double the highest Twin total. True, they did lose Jacque Jones, but he hit .249/.319/.438 last season and hit 254/.315/.427 the year before. Mauer should also be better than he was last season, with men on base to drive in and protection behind him in the order. All the intentional walks for Mauer should go down too. Opposing teams took the bat out of his hands last year, knowing he was the only real power threat on the team. Now that he should have more opportunities to hit in situations where the pressure is on the pitcher, he could do some damage.

And let's not forget the 2004 AL Cy Young winner (who was damn close this season as well) and his backup Radke. This is a 1-2 punch that most teams would kill to have. The bullpen, even with the loss of Romero, is rock solid, and should remain so for a long time.

So, no, the Twins don't surprise me, and I think they have an excellent shot to win the AL Central. When you take into account that the White Sox had 36 one-run victories in the regular season (over 36 % of their wins), and if you believe in the Bill James wisdom on one-run games (that they're luck), they don't look that dominant. They're dangerous, as are the Indians, but the Sox aren't the juggernauts they're made out to be, and the Indians didn't do enough to improve. I expect to see a three horse race, and if the Twins come out on top, well, I wouldn't be surprised.


ESPN Watch: More of the same

Don't get me wrong, there is a good deal of accurate commentary on ESPN, but at times they simply don't bother to take enough time to do any real analysis. Sure, Gammons might be doing something, but whatever he's writing is trapped behind the impenetrable curtain of Insider. Another article out today exhibits this almost complete lack of critical thought. Most of Sean McAdam's column (found here) was well written, but in his analysis of the NL West, he seems to have lost it. I've reproduced the worst paragraph here.

The Dodgers (Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra and Danys Baez) have made great strides and the Giants figure to be more of a factor with Barry Bonds healthier. Then there are the Diamondbacks, who continue to take steps back to contention.

Half true, complete understatement, and completely false.

The Dodgers have taken steps to improve, but I don't really think that losing Milton Bradley, adding a huge injury risk in Nomar and adding Dany Baez are completely offset by acquiring Furcal. They got better, but not much.

The Giants have a solid number two behind Schmidt, for the first time in memory, Bonds proved last season that he was healthy enough to keep playing like himself (see his HR at RFK if you doubt this), and Randy Winn seems to have had a renaissance. The Giants will win significantly more games than last year; count on it.

The Diamondbacks made a trade to make Vazquez happy, and picked up a pitcher who isn't much better, or much worse. But more to the point, I have the two most important statistics from the D'Backs 2005 campaign: 696 runs scored, 856 runs allowed. Using the Pythagorean Win Theorem, they had a predicted winning percentage of less than 40 %, which roughly equates to 64 wins. The Padres, by the way, were at 684 RS and 726 RA. Statistical anomalies do not persist season after season, and the snakes play the way they did last season, they could rival the Rockies for last in the West.

Just doing my part to keep your heads on straight, Confines readers. With the season ramping up, and the Classic less than two months away, expect more in the way of articles, especially with the return of Aho from overseas. Just 54 days until Opening Day.