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


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.

Pete Rose suggests Josh Donaldson should have stayed in Game 1 despite head injury

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
AP Photo/Gary Landers
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Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was forced to exit Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers on Thursday after he took a knee to the head on a takeout slide at second base. The Blue Jays announced after the game that Donaldson passed concussion tests, but he’ll be reevaluated on Friday.

After the game, the Fox Sports 1 panel consisting of Kevin Burkhardt, Pete Rose, Frank Thomas, and Raul Ibanez discussed the high-profile injuries from Game 1. This led Rose to suggesting that Donaldson should have stayed in the game despite his head injury. Seriously.

Courtesy of Big League Stew, here’s the quote from Rose:

His comments created some awkwardness, but the other panelists gently tried to remind him that things have changed for the better and nobody takes any chances with a head injury. In fact, Donaldson wouldn’t be the first player to pass a concussion test one day before feeling symptoms later. It’s remarkable that nonsense like this could be said on a major sports broadcast in 2015, but here we are.

Blue Jays have to beat Hamels after losing Game 1

David Price
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With their rented ace on the mound and the home crowd riled up, this was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ game. After all, they’re the one overwhelming favorite to win their LDS. Well, they were. After a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, the Blue Jays face an uphill climb to advance in the best-of-five series.

It’s not over, obviously. For one thing, the Blue Jays get to face left-handers in at least two of the next three games, and the Jays destroy southpaws. The Jays will have the pitching advantages in Texas after Friday’s Game 2 showdown against Cole Hamels, and they’ll probably have a sharper David Price out there next time if the series goes five games.

How Toronto’s lineup shapes up in the coming days will hinge on the health of Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Donaldson passed his initial concussion tests after colliding with Rougned Odor‘s knee, but he’d be far from the first player to experience lasting effects after initially getting the all clear. Bautista, too, is expected to be ready to play Friday after leaving with a hamstring cramp. At this point, there’s no reason to suspect that the Jays are understating the extent of the problem.

If Donaldson is fine, the Jays will have a much better chance of taking down Hamels. Game 2 starter Marcus Stroman has looked outstanding since returning from his torn ACL, and he should be able to hold down the Rangers’ offense better than Price did. He might not even have to face Adrian Beltre, who left Thursday’s game with a back problem.

The Rangers have yet to announce the rest of their rotation, though it sounds like Martin Perez is the favorite to get the ball opposite Marco Estrada in Game 3. It would then be either Colby Lewis, Derek Holland or Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest in Game 4 (with the Jays starting knuckleballer R.A. Dickey). Lewis seems the more likely choice because of Holland’s inconsistency and the Jays’ dominance of left-handers. Those would both be winnable games for Toronto.

So, what it comes down to is beating Hamels. If the Jays head to Texas tied 1-1, they’re still the favorites to advance to the ALCS. If it’s 2-0 Rangers, three in a row is going to be a lot to ask.

Cubs to start Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 of NLDS vs. Cardinals

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Jon Lester is lined up to pitch against John Lackey in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals on Friday, but Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports that the Cubs will start Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 on Saturday.

Hendricks got the nod over Jason Hammel, would could start Game 4 if he isn’t used out of the bullpen this weekend. Jake Arrieta, coming off his brilliant performance in the Wild Card game against the Pirates, is scheduled to pitch in Game 3 when the series shifts to Chicago.

Hendricks posted a 3.95 ERA and 167/43 K/BB ratio in 180 innings over 32 starts this season. He pitched well down the stretch, including back-to-back scoreless outings to finish the regular season. That ultimately gave him the edge over Hammel, who had a 5.10 ERA during the second half.