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Pete Toms Article Archive
Written by Pete Toms   
Monday, 24 May 2010 00:07

Last Week in Bizball by Pete Toms

This week in “Last Week in BizBall“, has amateur talent evaluation improved?, renos to Progressive Field are on deck, updates on MLB Advanced Media, Bloomberg Sports baseball analytics and the fate of the Portland Beavers franchise, the TV nets need the World Series, player agents prohibiting arbitration and Saturday primetime baseball on Fox makes for scheduling difficulties.


Commissioner Selig and MLB Executive Vice President, Labor Relations & Human Resources, Rob Manfred have (and are) leading a campaign to introduce mandatory slotting to the Rule 4 (aka amateur) draft during the next round of CBA negotiations. Both consistently argue that mandatory slotting will contribute to greater competitive balance in MLB. The theory being that at present the Rule 4 draft is more akin to an auction, with the best amateur talent acquired by the highest bidder. It is argued that mandatory slotting would allow the draft to achieve its - at present, arguably ostensible - goal of distributing the best amateur talent to the worst teams. Mr. Selig and Mr. Manfred are far from alone, many pundits agree “fixing” the Rule 4 draft is key to promoting competitive balance. Proponents of mandatory slotting argue that small/mid revenue franchises are disadvantaged in competing with large revenue franchises for veteran players on the free agent market. Therefore, in order for small/mid revenue franchises to compete, an equitable draft structure where “signability” is no longer a factor in determining which player a franchise drafts is key to competitive balance.

There are two other factors contributing to the increasingly prevailing baseball dogma that the amateur draft has never been more important to the on field success of franchises. One, the performance of veteran players declines earlier in their careers in the “post PED” era. Two, the near ubiquitous use of objective analysis in MLB front offices is yielding better results (fewer busts) in the Rule 4 draft.

LWIB, ESPN blogger Rob Neyer mused about the factors contributing to the clear superiority of the AL over the NL. Mr. Neyer has recently been persuaded by the research of other internet based baseball analysts that AL teams are spending more on amateur talent and international free agents, and thus have better talent. In a nutshell, spending on veteran free agents (evidently virtually equal between the leagues if the Yankees are subtracted from the equation) has not been a factor in the AL becoming the superior league. The AL outspending the NL on acquiring amateur talent is a difference maker.

A link in another of Mr. Neyer’s blog postings LWIB eventually led to this piece from Erik Manning of FanGraphs titled A Reality Check From the Draft Hype. Mr. Manning examined the performance of every 1st round pick from the 90’s and concluded, “So that’s about three-quarters of all first rounders failing to live up to the hype. Every team envisions their first round pick as a fixture in their every day lineup or pitching rotation, but the odds are they produce little to nil in the big leagues.” But is Mr. Manning’s analysis out of date? More teams (practically all now) were using objective analysis in evaluating amateur players during the decade just ended. Did that decade yield better results in the draft than the 90s drafts that Mr. Manning examined? In November 08, a Biz of Baseball report on the Rule 4 draft included comments from Mr. Neyer  that clubs are garnering better results in the draft due to the use of objective analysis. Anyway, it seems to me that teams are doing a lot better in the draft than they used to.....In the 1970s, an entire first round might produce four or five good major leaguers. Probably an average of six or seven per draft (first round only)….. What does it mean?...I think it also means teams have become more systematic -- and thus more effective -- in their evaluation of amateur players. ...

Most pundits agree that mandatory slotting will be introduced in the next CBA. While the argument in favour of it has focused on promoting competitive balance, cynics will argue that it is more about MLB’s desire to control escalating signing bonuses. (See commissioner Selig’s attempts at enforcing “slot recommendations” in recent years). Out of necessity, small/mid revenue franchises are increasingly increasing spending in the draft (KC, Pittsburgh) and in the international free agent market (Cincinnati, Toronto) over the free agent market. But before we conclude that mandatory slotting and a worldwide draft are key to preserving/promoting competitive balance perhaps a consensus on the efficacy of amateur player evaluation is required. How much has it improved?



Earlier this month LWIB reported on the plans to renovate Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Opened in 92, Camden Yards is the seminal creation of architect Janet Marie Smith. The enormous popularity of Camden Yards spurred a construction boom of “retro ballparks” across the US (including the minor leagues). The aforementioned report included remarks made in the New York Times by Earl Santee of sports architecture firm Populous (formerly HOK, the designer of Camden Yards and many others) that the Orioles were only one of 10 teams with plans to revive their retro stadiums. LWIB Henry J. Gomez of The Plain Dealer reported that the Cleveland Indians are in the initial stage of planning renovations to Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field), the second of the retro ballparks which opened in 94. Team and public officials offer up few details but at this point the stadium authority (Gateway Economic Development Corporation of Greater Cleveland), the Indians and Cuyahoga County are negotiating who will pay for what. (Par for the course in these matters). That the first two retro ballparks in MLB are actively planning renovations less than two decades since they opened illustrates the short shelf life of new professional sports stadiums.


LWIB Eric Fisher reported for the SportsBusiness Journal that MLB Advanced Media updated the owners on the state of affairs at BAM during the quarterly owners meetings. Not surprisingly, business is booming. Video consumption at MLB.com for April was triple what it was in April 09. This is particularly impressive given that MLB.com was already amongst the industry leaders in sports video consumption. According to Mr. Fisher, ``The gains are being attributed to improved quality and reliability of the streams as well as increased consumer expectations.`` On that note, LWIB the Sports Video Group blog published recent comments from MLBAM’s senior vice president of multimedia and distribution, Joe Inzerillo on the Future of Live Video Streaming. If you are interested in any of Advantages of Adaptive Bitrate, HTML5 and the a Standards-Based Approach or Adobe and Flash you may find it of interest.


In December the Biz of Baseball reported Bloomberg Sports Making Push to Be Heavy Weight in Baseball Analytics. Maury Brown wrote that, “Bloomberg is entering the analytics field on two fronts: a consumer piece that is geared toward those that engage in fantasy baseball, and a more in-depth product designed for MLB and agents.” MLB Advanced Media is a partner in the venture with Bloomberg. LWIB Eric Fisher provided an update on Bloomberg’s new baseball initiative for the SportsBusiness Journal. According to the report, “Bloomberg Sports this month is beginning an aggressive pursuit of several additional markets for its new baseball analytics products.” Those markets are RSNs (YES and NESN on board on an on trial basis), assisting agents in research for upcoming free agency and arbitration negotiations, mobile apps, casual fantasy gaming, a fantasy trash talk/viral online video series featuring Keith Hernandez and bringing the data to big league stadium scoreboards (so far Citi Field is on board).


Ballpark Digest continues their fine work keeping us abreast of the fate of the Triple A Portland Beavers franchise. One of the much rumoured eventual destinations, the Houston suburb Sugar Land, is evidently now out of the running. According to this report the independent Atlantic League will be moving into that market.


Ratings for MLB on Fox and ESPN were down last season. In recent weeks LWIB has been linking to reports detailing the plummeting ratings for Saturday baseball on Fox this season. LWIB, some good news for MLB vis a vis the broadcast networks. From Media Life:

The broadcast networks have seen ratings sink heading into the final two weeks of the May sweeps, but television viewership will end the season flat to last year thanks largely to huge viewership for three major sporting events: the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Winter Olympics.


Second-place Fox is up 2 percent to 9.95 million, getting a boost from last fall's World Series, which averaged 19.4 million total viewers, up 39 percent over last year.


Take away any of those events, and the broadcast networks would be seeing year-to-year declines, as they have been at the close of this season.


That seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? But Tim Dierkes reported LWIB for MLB Trade Rumors that some agents have negotiated no arbitration offer clauses in contracts. These clauses have been included to avoid situations where Type A free agents decline arbitration and as a result the team signing them must surrender draft pick compensation. In recent years, Juan Cruz, Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera have seen the market for their services negatively impacted by these circumstances. Mr. Dierkes reports that, not surprisingly, Scott Boras was the first to negotiate this clause into a player contract.


Joel Hammond blogged for Crain’s Cleveland Business that Fox’s decision to broadcast Saturday baseball in primetime presents a scheduling conundrum for some clubs. Mr. Hammond notes that the Indians were forced to choose between playing Saturday’s Reds/Indians game in the afternoon when it could be broadcast on SportsTime Ohio or playing it during the evening, attracting a larger crowd at the ballpark but not allowing it to be televised. The Indians opted for the latter.

Pete Toms is senior writer for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.

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