October 2016

2016 Homer Spike Does Not Represent Return to 1999 Style of Game

Tuesday rob Manfred was asked about the spike in home runs. He essentially stated that it is not the ball and it is not due to players cheating the testing system for PED use. The numbers indicate he is probably right, that the spike is based on how today’s game is played and it may not be suited for quality baseball.

It is no secret that strikeouts are up significantly in recent years. Home run rates though were close to the record pace of 1999 and 2000 and the 2016 season broke a record with 111 players hitting 20 or more homers, the old record of 103 was set in 1999.

Using the Play Index at http://www.baseball-reference.com, I ran some quick comparisons of the 103 1999 batters who were in the 20+ homer club against the 111 from 2016. Note Carlos Beltran is the one player who made the list both seasons.

The numbers are rather striking in some particular areas. IN 1999, several players were well into the 40+ range with 2 going over 60, no 2016 player hit more than 47. The 103 players in 1999 averaged 29.75 homers, the 2016 figure was 27.5. The average age of the combined players was just a half year difference, nearly 29 in 1999 and 28.5 in 2016. The 1999 players averaged 13 more plate appearances, nearly 609.5 to 596.3, but the average number of official at bats was nearly identical, 531.5 in 1999 and 531.9 this season. The 1999 batters on average had nearly 12 more hits than the 2016 hitters, 155.1 to 143.4. The difference was similar for walks, 66.1 for the 1999 group to 53.8 this season. Where did the fewer hits and walks go since the number of at bats was similar and the total plate appearances was only 13 higher in ’99, you guessed it, strikeouts. This group of players averaged 101 in 1999, nearly 125 this season. While not the exact and proper figure, one can also get some insight by adding and dividing some numbers that don’t usually get examined in this way. By adding up all the batting averages and dividing them by 103 players, the figure for the 1999 hitters is a batting average of 0.291. doing real AVG combining all hits and dividing by all at bats creates a figure that is about a hundredth of a point higher. This figure as you can expect was way down for the 2016 hitters at just .268. Using a similar method for other hitting stats, the 1999 hitters lead in on base percentage .372 to .339 and in slugging .527 to .487. Among other stats, numbers were not too different for the two groups, more than 2 doubles, a .2 lead in triples, nearly double the rate of sac flies 0.9 to 0.5, a 0.3 lead in GIDP, a 9.5-6.5 lead in stolen bases and a 4.0-2.6 lead in caught stealing was all found with the 1999 group. What the 2016 group had more of besides strikeouts, a nearly 0.2 lead in hit by pitches. So clearly when looking deeper at the numbers, yes 2016 had a home run spike, but it does not mean we have a better game or a more entertaining game. I for one would rather have a 5-4 game with action on the bases and fielding plays, as opposed to home run derby with a 10-8 score, 8 combined homers and 20 plus combined strikeouts.

The 2016 MLB Attendance Decline Headlines are Misleading

The 2016 MLB attendance headline is a bit misleading. When you see that attendance was down a bit over 1% from 2015, it makes you wonder at first glance, what is wrong with baseball. Let me assure you folks, baseball is going to be OK.

The article on ESPN referenced how 2007 was the record setting year before the downturn from the recession and this is a very true statement. But one must dig a bit deeper into the numbers to understand some other factors at play which I am going to look at in great detail.

First, let’s examine the numbers from that 2007 record breaking year and compare them to what we just completed with the 2016 season. When you compare those two seasons side by side, you get some very noteworthy data. First, while a majority of teams drew smaller crowds when using an average per game figure, the great drop in attendance that is the drain on the sport occurred in four of the largest markets, Philadelphia, both New York teams and with the Chicago White Sox. For all the bad press Miami fans get when you compare 2007 to 2016, the Marlins have the fifth best overall change with an increase of almost 4,500 more fans per game. The only teams that did better, the Blue Jays and Royals which both have had recent post season success after decades of nothing to show the fans, while Pittsburgh had a similar story with improved play on the field and Washington as a new market has taken more of an interest in its team. But consider all of the following points.

IN 2007, the Mets and Yankees were expected to be very good teams and contend, which they both did. Both were closing their stadiums after 2008 and many fans outside New York would come into the city so they could check off the former Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium on the ballparks visited list, count me among those in 2008 who did just that. The Mets while coming off a 2015 World Series have had a relatively down stretch since moving into Citifield in 2009 and 2016 represented a significant jump from prior years for the Mets. The Yankees have been in a general corporate support decline as the team following a 2009 championship had gotten old and had not lived up to the expected excellence of Yankee teams for the previous 15 years. The team in the Bronx has not won a division title since 2012 and the only playoff appearance as a 2015 wild Card resulted in a home shutout loss against a young and surprising Astros team. So it should not be a shock that these two teams are among those with the largest negative differences from 2007 to 2016. It should also be mentioned that the two newer stadiums have fewer seats and those fewer seats are for regular fans, not in the corporate suites which made news for their emptiness in the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have the largest drop when comparing 2016 to 2007, the Mets are third. Between them are the Phillies, where the story is a bit more typical. Philadelphia had moved into a new ballpark in 2004 and was aggressively trying to put a winning team on the field. From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies were among baseball’s best franchises and by 2011, a ticket was a hard get as all games were sold out and average attendance was around 45,000. IN 2016, that average was under 24,000 as Phillies attendance dipped sharply following the 2013 season, it was already clearly in decline in 2013 as fans new the same was true for an aging team with huge and hard to move contracts. The Rangers and Rockies, two teams that have always been listed among those with very nice ballparks have experienced success at the gate. The Rangers low would come in 2008 and zoomed to over 42,000 in 2012 following a pair of World Series trips. A bad 2014 pulled the numbers down but the team still averaged over 3,500 more fans in 2016 than it did in 2007 and with another trip to post season, one would expect another increase in 2017. The Rockies hit rock bottom in 2005 and 2006 with a bit over 23,000 a game in 2005. But in 2007 Colorado made an improbable run to the playoffs and right on into the World Series. Attendance got more of a boost with a 2009 trip to the playoffs and while the team had a downturn starting in 2011, the gate did not suffer as Denver is clearly a football and baseball kind of town. Colorado was better than some expected in 2016 and there is hope that this could be a team on the move toward contention in the next couple seasons. With some young talent that has proven to be exciting on the field of play, expect things to maintain a Rocky Mountain high.

It is also worth noting that some of the teams that had high figures in 2007 which have dropped off in 2016 were in newer ballparks back then and as we always see, that newness does lose the charm after a while unless the team is winning. Several of the teams on the negative side went through a very deep dip in on field performance and are now recovering, Houston is a prime example, while others are in a down period now as they were then but saw a peak of successful performance such as Cincinnati. Others on this list had reasonable success early on in new ballparks and have stumbled in recent years, San Diego as an example, and still others were in a honeymoon with the fan base due to prior success leading into 2007 coupled with a contending team that season, Seattle for instance, with a decline that followed. After 2007, the Mets, Yankees, Twins and Marlins moved into new ballparks. Miami’s best attendance was 2012 during this period, Minnesota’s 2010, the first year of the new ballparks. For the two teams in New York, 2008 was the high water mark in the final season of the older and significantly larger ballparks in terms of human capacity.

The Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics mean time are examples of teams that perhaps need their own home markets. Oakland has never topped 30,000 in attendance since 1992, 2014 was the best season for Oakland during this period and the team is at one of its low points at the gate since the middle 1980’s. The white Sox saw a spike in attendance to over 36,000 in 2006 following the 2005 championship, by 2012, attendance was well under 25,000 and has not recovered. A bad team on the field in recent years and a management plan that seems to be missing a Rutter has not helped. The white Sox had the fourth worst drop when comparing 2016 to 2007 numbers. I dare say that if the Sox were in Montreal, they would have more support and yes Chicago fans, there were many years when the Expos did draw better than the team on the south side.

Finally, let’s talk about the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta goes into a new ballpark next year, a new ballpark that many including myself saw as unnecessary. The Braves attendance was dropping, but it was largely due to a bad team on the field and Atlanta fans like those in New York were spoiled and felt entitled. The Braves had two peaks in attendance, over 47,000 in 1993 following two trips to the world Series and a massive jump from just a bit over 12,000 in 1990. Following a dip due to the strike, attendance recovered with a championship and another World Series appearance in 1996, with 42,000+ at the new Turner Field in 2007. Attendance there would not fall under 40K until 2000 and even in 2007, the team still drew over 33,000 a game. The real drop came in recent years when the team management first did not make a serious effort to improve the team, then decided to move into a new ballpark and tear down the franchise at the same time. The loyal fans who showed up at a rate of nearly 25,000 a night in 2016 are to be given credit, those are the real fans and that figure is not far below what the team drew in 1991 when the Braves burst on to the seen as one of the great developing dynasties in modern baseball history.

The below chart list each MLB franchise, followed by its 2007 attendance per game, the 2016 figure and the difference. The chart is sorted from the largest positive difference or increase in the 2016 value to the most negative value or the largest drop based on the 2016 figure in relation to ’07.

TOR 29143 41880 12737
KC 19961 31576 11615
WSH 24217 30641 6424
PIT 22141 28112 5971
MIA 16919 21405 4486
TEX 29795 33461 3666
COL 28978 32129 3151
SFG 39792 41546 1754
BOS 36679 36486 -193
BAL 27060 26819 -241
CHC 40153 39906 -247
TB 17130 15878 -1252
STL 43854 42524 -1330
LAD 47617 45719 -1898
CIN 25414 23383 -2031
ARI 28708 25138 -3570
MIN 28349 24245 -4104
LAA 41551 37236 -4315
OAK 23726 18784 -4942
SEA 32993 27999 -4994
SD 34445 29029 -5416
DET 37619 31173 -6446
MIL 35421 28575 -6846
CLE 28448 19650 -8798
HOU 37288 28476 -8812
ATL 33891 24949 -8942
CWS 33140 21828 -11312
NYM 47579 34870 -12709
PHI 38374 23643 -14731
NYY 52729 37819 -14910