If you're going to trash baseball, at least use the right data

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NOTE: See below for an update/addendum

The Big Lead ran a big story yesterday about baseball attendance in which the author attempted to argue that baseball’s attendance gains in recent years are a function of the novelty of new stadiums, that novelty has worn off and now attendance is about to crater.

That’s an interesting idea. And in particular markets it may have some validity. Unfortunately none of the data in the piece supports the premise, and there’s a giant, giant omission that renders the post completely useless.

I won’t reproduce all of the tables — click through to read them yourself — but the meat of the piece sets forth attendance gains by the Indians, Orioles, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays and Braves in the years after their stadiums were built. Then those numbers are compared to average attendance figures for those stadiums for 2005 to 2009.  All but one of them — the White Sox — showed a big decline.

See! The novelty has worn off!! You’re doomed, baseball! Doooooomed!

Of course, maybe it would have been helpful for the author to include the one bit of data that has been shown by multiple other studies to best correlate with attendance: winning. If he had, he would have to note that every single one of those teams save one — the White Sox, who won a World Series in 2005 — suffered major on-the-field declines during the sample period. Yeah, the Indians had a blip in there for 2007, but overall the team was way worse off in that period than in the decade after Progressive Field was built.

The statistical recklessness continues when the author attempts to show that even in the old stadiums (e.g. Fenway, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley) the increases in attendance do not match the overall increase in population, with the haughty conclusion that “If the upsurge was from baseball’s burgeoning popularity and not new
stadiums, the teams that kept the same stadiums from 1989 to 2009 . . . would show
increases,” presumably commensurate with population growth based on what he wrote earlier in the piece.

Except Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium were pretty damn full during the early parts of the sample he uses. Sure, Fenway has added some seats over that time, but we’re not talking a gigantic number. How can the author expect these parks to match the nearly 20% increase in population over that time? Not that those parks didn’t show attendance increases anyway (they did).

Look, you can argue all day about whether baseball is popular, deeply popular, deceptively popular, the bestest thing ever, the worst thing ever or anything in between.  But if you’re going to attempt to do so quantitatively, at least don’t leave out the most important variables (i.e. wins and loses) and please, don’t be so disingenuous as to expect the Red Sox and the Dodgers to violate the laws of physics in order for them to refute your point, OK?

UPDATE:  I received an email from J.C. Bradbury, economist and baseball dude extraordinaire.  This is territory he knows very well, so his comments are definitely better reproduced than merely summarized:

While the evidence provided includes glaring omissions, as you correctly noted, even after controlling for factors such as winning and population
the general theory is right.  There is typically a huge boost in
attendance from new stadiums, and within the economics literature this
boost is known as the “Honeymoon Effect.” [note: see more from Bradbury on that here]  It tends to last 6-10 years
after a new stadium has been built.  Here is a link to a recent study of
the issue
 

So, I think the Big Lead story falls in the
Unjustified True Belief category of knowledge.  Like seeing a broken
clock stopped at the exact time it actually is.

San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus asks for fired DJ to be reinstated

SAN DIEGO - APRIL 06:  The grounds crew works on the field before the start of the game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres during Opening Night at Petco Park on April 6, 2007 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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OK, I lied. Earlier I said we had the final word on the National Anthem dustup in San Diego from over the weekend. The final word, it seemed, was the Padres apologizing, the revelation that the screwed up Anthem thing was a mistake by a DJ hired to run the music and the DJ then being fired. Oh, and then the DJ apologizing.

Now a new twist! The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus said today that they’d like to see the DJ rehired by the Padres! Their statement, in relevant part:

We also would like to publicly accept the sincere apology of DJ ARTFORM and recognize his support for the LGBT community and equality for all people. We do not wish to see him lose his job with the San Diego Padres and kindly ask the Padres to reinstate him. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

That’s quite a shift in the past few days, as all of this was came into the public eye via a Facebook post by a Gay Men’s Chorus official saying that this whole thing was part of a pattern of troublesome homophobia. Now we’ve come full circle. Or maybe around the circle a few times and back again. I don’t know. I’m dizzy.

Whatever the case: everyone’s all happy now, and that’s way better than everyone being all mad.

Great Moments in Dealing with Hecklers: Bartolo Colon edition

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  Bartolo Colon #40 of the New York Mets pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Last week the news broke that a lawsuit was filed against Bartolo Colon for back child support for two children he apparently fathered out of wedlock. As we noted repeatedly at the time, the case was sealed and the facts were mostly unknown. Still, the possibility at least exists that Colon has been a deadbeat dad to some degree. And the underlying facts are no doubt a sensitive matter to his family, right? I hope we can all agree on that.

As we’ve all seen in the past, this sort of stuff is what hecklers thrive on. Ask Chipper Jones or any other athlete who have been caught up in scandal, especially sexual scandal, in the past. Fans of the opposition are going to pounce on it. And the fans in Washington for the Mets-Nationals series are no different in that regard:

I wish fans didn’t use stuff about the personal lives of ballplayers like this, especially when it involves their families, but I suppose it’s inevitable. And hey, Colon got him back right? Quickly showed the heckler that he couldn’t be gotten to. The first impulse in reading this is to laugh for just that reason. Indeed, the first impulse in reading a lot of things dealing with Colon these days is to laugh because he’s become a pretty popular and affable figure.

But I also wish Colon, even if this was meant flippantly in order to deflect a jerk, didn’t respond this way in this situation. Why? Because it seems to diminish what, for his family and the woman with whom he fathered a couple of children out of wedlock, is a pretty serious and personal situation. And possibly one with some negative legal consequences in the offing. At the very least Colon’s comment will bring him an extra question or two at a deposition from the lawyer for the mother of his children, putatively to probe him for any other similar situations but, in reality, just to get under his skin. For that reason it was kind of a dumb comment.

More broadly, however, it just doesn’t look great to treat this whole situation flippantly. Maybe Bartolo Colon gets away with this way easier than someone else might because of his current popularity, but how would we feel if another, less popular player were accused of something unseemly and he treated it as a joke like this? I feel like the knives would be out for him in ways they’ll likely never be out for Bartolo Colon based solely on how we feel about the player in question.

It all goes back to what I wrote about all of this last week: we have a sliding scale for behavior for certain athletes and public figures based on their preexisting popularity. We shouldn’t have such a sliding scale. Personally, I think we should be far more hands-off and lenient when it comes to judging these men than we currently are because there is so little we truly know and so little of it is truly the business of fans. But if we do get in the business of judging these guys, we need to be fair about it.

I don’t think we should have the knives out for Colon over this, especially given how little is known about his case and his situation. But I feel like we’d treat someone who was not Bartolo Colon very differently under the same exact facts and that it would do us well to contend with that some.

Report: James Loney’s representatives to contact the Mets

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - MARCH 14:  James Loney #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays swings at a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium on March 14, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that representatives of Padres first baseman James Loney are expected to contact the Mets, who are in need of first base help after losing Lucas Duda to a back injury on Monday.

Loney, 32, has spent the season with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. In 155 plate appearances, he’s hitting .333/.368/.417 with a pair of home runs and 23 RBI. Loney hit slightly below the league average last year with the Rays and has generally played a solid first base defensively. He wouldn’t begin to replace Duda’s power, but he would be a good stopgap on short notice.

Loney has the privilege of opting out of his deal with the Padres if he can find a major league job elsewhere. The Rays are paying the balance of his $8 million salary, so the Mets would only need to pay the prorated major league minimum.

Duda is dealing with stress fractures in his lower back and said “it will be a while” before he returns. The Mets had Eric Campbell start at first base on Monday, and he figures to be the club’s short-term solution.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 20:  Manager Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees watches batting practice before a game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on May 20, 2016 in Oakland, California.  The Yankees won 8-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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Last Wednesday night, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave a vote of confidence for manager Joe Girardi. The Yankees entered the day 16-22 in last place in the AL East. They beat the Diamondbacks that night to salvage the series. Starting on Thursday, the Yankees would go on to complete a four-game sweep of the Athletics in Oakland and enter tonight’s action in third place at 21-22, on a five-game winning streak.

The Yankees have been hitting well lately, but it’s the pitching that’s responsible for the turnaround. The starting pitcher in four of those five wins went at least six innings and yielded exactly one run, which gave the Yankees the privilege of handing the game off to Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman for the final three innings. That’s exactly the way the Yankees want to win ballgames — play to their strengths.

Nathan Eovaldi will toe the rubber for the Yankees tonight, opposing Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey at Yankee Stadium starting at 7:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Shelby Miller) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Francisco Liriano), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Mets (Matt Harvey) @ Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jason Hammel) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 7:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa) @ Boston Red Sox (David Price), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Jhoulys Chacin) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Houston Astros (Doug Fister), 8:10 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Chicago White Sox (Chris Sale), 8:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Minnesota Twins (Ervin Santana), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Daniel Wright) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Mike Bolsinger), 10:10 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Seattle Mariners (Nathan Karns), 10:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner) @ San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija), 10:15 PM EDT