Tanking

September 1, 2021
 Even if we agree that teams aren't trying to lose but simply cannot compete , THERE are a number of formerly contending teams (Cubs, Nationals) who have sold off most of their "assets" in return for younger prospects and payroll flexibility.  Both teams are losing most of their games; the Nats are talking about a "short" rebuild, but who knows?  Other teams-Pirates, O's-seem to be constantly in rebuild mode, selling of assets as soon as they can.  In the latter case, one can argue that they simply don't have the resources to compete, but that seems belied by the A's and the Rays. My impression is that you find this problematic, but you also said that it makes no sense to penalize teams by reducing their resources.  So, do you think that this, ie selling off assets in mass during the season, is a problem for baseball and, if so, what would be your favored solution?  

Asked by: Marc Schneider


Answered: 8/31/2021

 I think it benefits the building of a fan base if you keep your best players.   If MLB were to adopt some system of rewarding teams for roster consistency (a) that would not be difficult to construct, I don't think, (b) it would not meet strong resistance from the union, because players generally are not crazy about being traded in mid-season, (c) it would be easier to sell, because you're rewarding good behavior rather than punishing behavior that you don't want, which is always easier.  

 

But fans have adjusted; I don't think fans resist shuttling of players in and out to the extent that they once did.  I have developed ways to measure roster consistency, but I'm not a good enough programmer to make those things self-generate automatically, you know, so I can't develop a library to compare 1920s teams to 1950s teams to 1980s teams to contemporary teams, or to compare successful teams to less successful teams, or to study the impact of roster consistency on attendance, etc.  

 

 

HeyBill, okay, you said "Teams become non-competitive not because they CHOOSE not to compete, but because they become unable to compete."  

 

Not to be pedantic, but, what about the Nats? On July 30 they won, making it 3 out of 4, and moved to 6.5 games of first place in the very winnable NL East. They had gone 19-9 in June. They had a veteran core 1.5 years removed from the World Championship.  

 

They had 4 players in the 2021 All Star game. Two weeks later they traded 3 of the 4, Scherzer, Turner and Schwarber. They traded their closer Brad Hand. They traded veteran SP Jon Lester, their most effective setup man, Daniel Hudson and their starting 2nd baseman, Josh Harrison. They traded their starting catcher, Yan Gomes. So four starting position players, their closer and setup man, and two starting p?SPs.  

 

On Aug. 1, were they fielding the best team possible for that night's game? I realize this is the Monopoly game MLB has become. But you gotta try and win, no?

Asked by: OBS2.0


Answered: 8/31/2021

Yeah, well, you can choose to understand the problem, or you can keep peddling this talk-show bullshit.   But you're never going to actually understand the problem unless you give this up.  

 

 

 

 

*************************

        

 

         I should be more patient.  

 

         It seems to me that there are four largely distinct sets of events which tend to be badly described and jumbled together in this discussion. 

 

         The "problem" being pointed out in these two questions is that teams which (a) believe that they are in a position where they cannot make the playoffs this season, and (b) have players whose futures they cannot control because of upcoming free agency rights. . . .teams which have that combination of circumstances react to that by trading away the players they are going to lose anyway in exchange for players whose future production is less certain, but who can be part of the team several years into the future if they do develop. 

         This is just time/value shifting, which is something that all sensible people do.  You want a new car, you could scrape the down payment together and get a new $25,000 automobile now, or you can drive the old clunker for another year, work a second job, and be in a position to afford the $35,000 car a year from now.  That’s time/value shifting; it’s the same thing that the Cubs and Nationals are doing.  It’s not anything to complain about.  It’s just putting off having a baby until you can afford a nicer apartment; that’s all it is.  It’s not a "problem".  It’s intelligent management of your resources. It is recognizing the situation you are in and making the best of it.  It is saying "OK, if we can’t win this year, we’ll try to win next year."  For Christ’s sake, stop pretending that is some sort of a crisis; you make yourself look like a jackass.    What’s the solution here?  The solution is, STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT IT.  Stop acting like it is some terrible problem.  Stop pretending it is somehow a new thing, as if there was some golden era in the past when there were no terrible teams.

 

         Oh; I was supposed to be practicing patience, wasn’t I?  Sorry.  I grew up rooting for the Kansas City A’s, who had 13 losing seasons and left town the minute they began to put a team together.  I survived. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016; the Nationals in 2019.   Their fans are not being mistreated because they have a bad half-season.  These teams are behaving rationally.  You cannot stop teams from behaving rationally, nor can you accomplish anything by punishing them for behaving rationally.  When you try to legislate policies forcing people to make irrational decisions, those policies WILL backfire, 100% of the time. Don’t go there.

 

 

         The second problem which gets entangled in the foggy concept called "tanking", is that, the economics of the game being what they are, there are a significant numbers of teams—ie, the Royals, the Pirates, the Padres, the Marlins—which are competing at a serious economic disadvantage with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and a few other teams.  Some of those teams have decided, perhaps correctly and perhaps incorrectly, that it is not practical for them to try to compete consistently with the wealthier teams.  It’s not necessarily true; Cleveland is not inherently better positioned than Pittsburgh, nor is St. Louis inherently better positioned than Kansas City, nor is Tampa Bay inherently better positioned than Miami, nor is Oakland inherently better positioned than San Diego.  Yet Cleveland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Oakland DO compete consistently. 

        

         The Tampa Bay Rays vacuum up every percentage and every bit of wasted talent that they can find, and put those little edges together to win a good number of games with a team that lacks the spine and muscle that normally identifies a competitive team.  The Kansas City Royals took an opposite approach, husbanding their resources and synchronizing their timelines to put together a traditional championship team, even though they could only hold it together for a few years. 

 

         My point is, there are different ways to think about how to compete with limited resources. Some teams are well run; other teams are not as well run.  THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM.   The problem is that the current economic structure of baseball makes it difficult for many teams to compete. 

         This has been the case through most of baseball history.   How do you think the Yankees got Babe Ruth?  They bought him.  How do you think they got Joe DiMaggio?  There was a bidding war, and they won.  They had more money than the other teams.  Economic inequality leads to unequal results.   It has always been that way. 

         The problem of teams having greatly unequal opportunity to win has always been there.  Sometimes it gets better; sometimes it gets worse.  Right now it is pretty bad. 

 

         The fact that this problem is ground into the history of the game does not mean that we have to accept it.  There is a simple principle that would help greatly.  The principle is:  when two teams play a baseball game—or any sporting event.  When two teams arrange a sporting event and the rights to broadcast that event are sold, both teams share equally in the profits. 

         That doesn’t mean that the Yankees and the Royals come out even.  Let us say that the broadcast rights for Team A generate $1 billion a year, and the broadcast rights for Team B generate $10 million a year, a hundred-to-one ratio. Team A keeps $500 million, and puts $500 million into a fund to be divided among the teams they have played, proportional to the games played.   Team B keeps $5 million, and puts the other $5 million into a fund to be divided among the opposition.   Team A still comes out far ahead, but the ratio changes from 100 to 1 to something more like 5 to 1. 

 

         An inequitable allocation of resources among competing teams is not a good thing.  It is a inevitable nuisance.  It’s a problem.  Baseball should mitigate that problem to the extent that it can be done. 

 

 

         The third type of team that gets entangled in the vague spidery web of "tanking" is teams which make no effort to win, but merely cash the checks that are attached to owning a major league team.   Not literal checks, of course; well, some of them are literal checks.  You COULD own a team, make no effort to build a team, even over a period of years, and profit from the ownership as the value of the franchise increases.  But what team has actually done that?  Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, certainly has not done that.  He has owned the team for 28 years.  His problem is not that hasn’t tried; his problem has been stupidity.  He gave Chris Davis $161 million.  It was stupid.  But it wasn’t "not trying to win." 

 

         There is no team you can point to that, over a period of years, has not tried to win, within their resources.  And there is a fourth category, semi-included here, which is teams which lose on purpose today in order to improve their chances of winning in some future year, years from now.  But nobody is going to do that, for a simple reason.  You’ll get fired before you win.  Nobody wants to get fired.

 

         I don’t believe in tanking.   I don’t believe it makes sense, I don’t believe anybody is doing it.  This much of it is true:  that there are some teams that make little effort to win right now because they know that they can’t, so they only do the things that will help them to win sometime in the future.

 

         It would be better for baseball if all teams were in an economic position such that they could compete every season.  That would be a better world.  It is not the real world; it wasn’t the real world in 1935, or 1955, or 1975, or 1995.  There are teams which are not strong enough or not smart enough to stay in the hunt. But that isn’t tanking.  It is not a betrayal of faith with the fans.  It is a natural consequence of the economic disparities within the game.  

 
 

COMMENTS (53 Comments, most recent shown first)

KaiserD2
I recommend to Brock Hanke that he read or reread Veeck as in Wreck. Bill Veeck did not simply "sell the Browns to Baltimore interests" after Busch bought the Cardinals. He tried for two years to move them, first to Milwaukee, then to Baltimore. The other owners hated him so much, however, that they blocked him from doing so, and he eventually had no choice but to sell the team to Baltimore interests after they stopped him from moving there himself.

Speaking of Veeck--he was already pushing for a variant of Bill James's proposal back in the early 1950s. He wanted owners to share their TV contracts with opposing teams. I often thought about that in the late 1980s-early 1990s when I was living in Pittsburgh and the Pirates were battling the Mets. The rivalry was generating a lot of TV revenue in New York. Of course the Yankees blocked Veeck's proposal and the big-market teams would surely continue to block it today.

I think another aspect of the situation is that owners do have to spend a lot of their own money to contend year after year. John Henry did that for the Red Sox for over a decade, but he apparently got tired of it and now the Sox under Chaim Bloom are acting more like a small-market team. That's why they gave Mookie Betts away. I agree that owners are competitive and want to win but some are satisfied with just one world championship--Wayne Huizenga comes to mind--and unload everyone after that. Some may also have realized that with four rounds of playoffs no amount of money can guarantee a world championship now.

David Kaiser
10:19 AM Sep 21st
 
Brock Hanke
I don't want to argue tanking, but there are some factors involved in team finances that haven't shown up yet, and may be relevant. It is certainly true that the range of winning percentages is greater in leagues that have few games, and also sports that have small numbers of players actually out there on the field. The first is why NFL has greater range; the second is why NBA (5 players on the field) have a wide spread.

Second, most people do not grasp the financial model that actually applies to MLB ownership. MLB owners do not really operate on the profits year to year. Instead, the owners are usually willing to take yearly losses as long as the price of franchises keeps going up. You don't really OWN a team, you INVEST in a team. This is a large part of why teams end up owned by multi-millionaires: they can take the yearly operating losses.

If you run into a team whose ownership really needs to make a yearly profit (like the A's, owned by Connie Mack, who did not have any other source of income), they will find themselves in positions where they have to sell players just in order to keep the owner's operating revenue from the team high enough each year. This used to be a big deal. Going back to my childhood, the Cardinals, in 1953, were owned by Fred Saigh. Saigh was in terrible legal and money trouble, and the team was, essentially, his last source of money. So, he sold it to Gussie Busch for a lot of cash. This had a trickle-down effect. Bill Veeck had bought the St. Louis Browns, a team often in money trouble, because he thought he could push Saigh out of town. But, when Gussie Busch bought the team, Veeck realized that he could not compete with the Busch fortune, and sold the team to interests in Baltimore. He would not have sold except that Saigh found a REALLY rich buyer. Veeck, of course, owned MLB teams as an owner, not an investor. He needed the yearly profits to come his way.

Nowadays, I don't know of a single owner who is really, personally dependent on his MLB team's operating profit. That is the largest change in the history of MLB ownership that I know of.

I suspect that, when a team "tanks", what is really going on is that the owner realizes that this team might make the playoffs as it is, but will not likely win a pennant or a WS. The owner calls for a tank, not because he wants to make the playoffs in a future year, but because he want to do what the Cubs did - finally WIN a World Series. MLB owners (possibly less so for the teams owned by corporations) have egos, and want to WIN, not "make the playoffs."

The main reason for focusing on getting into the playoffs is that a lot of the team's income comes from the postseason games. That's why the players struck in 1994, and why the teams tried a lockout in the spring of 1995. The players in August of 1994 had received most of their money for the year. The owners had not. So the players struck while the facts favored them. Then the owners locked the players out in the spring, costing them a month's pay while hurting the team's revenue not much.

Again, I'm not trying to make any point except that there are economic factors in MLB that are more complicated and complex than they usually seem.
4:47 AM Sep 7th
 
BobGill
About that quote from Connie Mack: I believe he said that late in the 1948 season, when his team had been involved in a great four-team pennant race but fell off the pace in September and actually finished fourth. So he may well have said "fourth" because that's where the A's were at the time he said it.
7:44 AM Sep 6th
 
LoradoTaftWright
I am fairly sure that Mr. Mack meant "not first" rather than "fourth - not first or second or third, but FOURTH."

5:26 PM Sep 5th
 
hotstatrat
OBS2.0: "Correct me if I'm wrong, or concur if I'm right, but more players and more WAR were traded at the July deadline than in the history of baseball.

It is an escalating tactic..."

I have some doubts about both of those premises. It would be interesting to see how true they are.

Off hand, I would agree that there has been a long slow escalation of teams deciding they were in it or out of it and plan their rosters accordingly - both at the start of a season and in July, so I'd bet on the latter to a slight degree.

And, I suggest we have Bill James partly to blame or take credit for that gradual more thorough implementation of that tactic. I recall his making fun of teams back in the 1980s that did not plan their rosters so realistically.​
4:40 PM Sep 5th
 
mikejenkins
"It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth"

I'm willing to accept that Mack said that, but it is a weird thing for him to say, given that he had so little experience finishing fourth. Baseball Reference lists him as the A's manager for exactly 50 years; there were 8 teams for those years so if it were random he would be expected to finish in each position 6 or 7 times with a small distribution around that. Instead he finished last 17 times, first 9 times and second 7 times. He finished fourth three times, a surprising result if he was attempting to finish fourth as part of a profit maximizing strategy.
3:50 PM Sep 5th
 
Marc Schneider
OBS2.0

How dare you complain. You dare to make an argument that Bill didn't like? You must be silenced. :)
12:05 PM Sep 5th
 
OBS2.0
re: my concern over taking mid year dumps and knocking over thecseason pennant races, Bill directed at me:

"For Christ’s sake, stop pretending that is some sort of a crisis; you make yourself look like a jackass. What’s the solution here? The solution is, STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT IT. Stop acting like it is some terrible problem. Stop pretending it is somehow a new thing, as if there was some golden era in the past when there were no terrible teams.""

Well as I said below, this year was the biggest mid year dump in baseball history, breaking records consecutively set in the last five years. Correct me if I'm wrong, or concur if I'm right, but more players and more WAR were traded at the July deadline than in the history of baseball.

It is an escalating tactic, Bill. I don't think I'm the jackass in the conversation, but thanks for the warning. To the extent I'm COMPLAINING, it is as an unbiased fan, not someone with skin in the game, or the business, to defend.

Taken to the future, how long before the specter of minor league ball comes in, where the year's "championships" are decided by front office whims, not the play on the field, and fans attention wanders as a result? Do I buy a Sandy Alderson jersey for my kid?


8:21 AM Sep 5th
 
OBS2.0
The other question here is whether this is an escalating practice, taking a mid-year dump. Well, since the current July deadline was established in 1986 this July saw the most players traded AND the most year to data WAR traded..

This article lays out the numbers, with some charts on the history:

https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2021/8/2/22605246/trade-deadline-busiest-ever

So will season ticketholders eventually become sick of pennant races meaning rosters are reshuffle, with strangers coming in and familiar stars leaving?

I propose an experiment! Let's set up test markets around the country and do just that with scaled down baseball teams, and see if fan interest in playoffs and W/L records disappears over a few decades

Oh. We did. As a minor league season ticketholder for almost 20 years, I can tell you, anyone around us talking about playoffs or championships was viewed as a drooling idiot. The playoffs are lose their credibility if your roster in September is unrecognizable from April.
7:09 AM Sep 5th
 
LoradoTaftWright
"The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1922 that baseball was a sport, not a business. But Connie Mack always saw it as a business first. Like any business, it had to show profit to keep going. 'It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth,' he once confided. 'A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year, and you don’t have to give the players raises when they don’t win.'"

from https://baseballlibrary.com/connie-mack/
10:16 PM Sep 4th
 
DefenseHawk
Meant, of course, to say adding Fingers to the Boston bullpen...

And Finley's financial pressures were added by inking Blue to a contract extension he thought was surely going to be paid by the Yankees.

The sale price was $1.5 million and the three-year contact extension was $515,000, thus costing the Yankees $2 million (or so it should have).
1:42 PM Sep 4th
 
DefenseHawk
mikeclaw wrote:
"Direct at OBS2.0 -
An example of teams dumping like the Nationals did this summer? Are you familiar with a gentleman named Connie Mack? One of the greatest managers ever, and he owned his team (the Philadelphia A's). There were different moments in his career when, as owner, he couldn't afford to field a competitive team, so he dumped his talent. That's the most obvious example. Charlie Finley did it with his championship A's team as well."

There are examples of teams dumping talent in order to re-build, but the Connie Mack and Charlie Finley ones you cited are really BAD ones because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding them.

First of all, Mack's teams were not broken up all at once in mid-season. The first time was after his 1914 AL pennant. Revenues were already threatened by the war that broke out in Europe, with the feeling the U.S. would soon be involved. The Federal League had been formed in 1914 and the Athletics lost starting pitchers, Eddie Plank and Chief Bender to the rival league for the 1915 season. Mack didn't receive anything for them. Second baseman Eddie Collins was sold to the White Sox, principally to stop him from jumping to the Feds. Third baseman Home Run Baker was sold to the Yankees in 1916 after he sat out the 1915 over a contract dispute (he had a three-year contract with Philadelphia).

There were just two mid-season transactions of starting players by the Athletics during the 1915 season. Shortstop Jack Barry asked to be traded to Boston and was sold to the Red Sox on July 2, with the Athletics already sitting in last place at 22-42, a full 22 games behind the White Sox. Rightfielder Eddie Murphy was sold to the White Sox on July 15th.

The second time Mack broke up a championship team was when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, which was especially hard on the city of Philadelphia and with the Athletics having the highest payroll in the league. The break-up of this team was more gradual, over several seasons. But, again, there was no massive mid-season dumping of players like the Cubs and Nats did this year.

As for Charlie Finley, that's got to be the WORST example. Being a Red Sox fan, I remember this well.

Finley actually tried to get something in return for his ballplayers but was stopped by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. If you look you can actually find photos of left fielder Joe Rudi and fireman Rollie Fingers in Boston Red Sox uniforms in 1976, but Kuhn stopped them from playing for the Sox immediately after the trade (thus denying Boston a chance to catch the Yankees in the pennant race; Boston was six games back at the trade deadline on June 15) and ordered them returned to Oakland.

Finley had intended to put the million dollars each he got for them and the two million for ace Vida Blue the Yankees were paying (after the Red Sox' GM Dick O'Connell shrewdly got the Tigers to bid for Blue just to make the Yankees pay more) to re-stock his club in 1977.

Blue's addition to the Yankees already strong rotation wouldn't have made much of a difference for Billy Martin's squad. The Yankees already had Catfish Hunter, Ed Figueroa and Dock Ellis, with Ken Holzman and Doyle Alexander having just been acquired with the Orioles at the deadline.

But adding Fingers to the Boston rotation? The Red Sox lost 19 games by a run or in extra-innings after June 15th. And Rudi would have provided another offensive weapon in the lineup. Instead, Boston faded out of the race in July.

Finley intended to use the money he would have received to offer contracts for the remaining players he was about to lose to free agency and/or to bid for other players that were going to hit that first free-agent market. Instead, not only did he lose Rudi and Fingers for nothing, but also third baseman Sal Bando, shortstop Bert Campaneris, right fielder Claudell Washington, outfielder/first baseman Don Baylor and catcher Gene Tenace.

Even as far back as in 1954 when Finley was trying to buy the Athletics from the Mack family, the baseball establishment had it in for Finley. Baltimore Orioles chairman Joe Iglehart was charged with the task of checking him out. He reported back to his fellow owners that “under no conditions should this person be allowed into our league.”

But the untimely death of Kansas City Athletics owner (and Yankee Stadium owner) Arnold Johnson left the American League in a pickle as Finley's offer was the best for the Johnson Estate.

Finley has been called a lot of other things besides cheap. But it was the "Lords of Baseball" who ran him out of the game, much like they did to Bill Veeck. This wasn't a matter of an owner not being able to compete. This was a matter of an owner NOT BEING ALLOWED to compete.
1:37 PM Sep 4th
 
OBS2.0
Re-reading Bill's article, after thrashing around, he does say this:

"This much of it is true: that there are some teams that make little effort to win right now because they know that they can’t, so they only do the things that will help them to win sometime in the future."

Forget everything after because. The problem is teams making little effort to win right now, and that decision spurs a mid-season distribution of top talent.

1. and simple logic, the interested teams will be good teams, contenders.

2. and the teams able to take on eight figure salary obligations will be the higher payroll/market teams.

So the rich and strong get stronger, and the weak get weaker.

In the middle of the year, knocking over the chessboard.

The system needs to be fixed. This can not be the only way to win a championship.​
12:42 PM Sep 4th
 
OBS2.0
@lorado. Class action suits for fielding a lousy MLB product have happened on occasion:

https://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/24/sports/baseball-padres-fans-settle-lawsuit.html
5:14 AM Sep 4th
 
OBS2.0
Absolutely we agree, and you pointed some other things that support my concerns.

And, to all -- I'm trying to be patient here. I really am.
5:08 AM Sep 4th
 
Marc Schneider
OBS2.0,

I don't think we really disagree. I agree that a lower seed can make a run; it happens all the time.

My point was that games count even if you aren't going to make the playoffs. Acting as if winning games now doesn't matter is a problem to me. The Nationals needed to restock the farm system and get younger, but I think they could have still left enough to be a reasonably competitive team and they didn't do that.
7:39 PM Sep 3rd
 
LoradoTaftWright
"the people that get screwed, or the other people, are season ticket holders"

Class Action Suit!
5:02 PM Sep 3rd
 
OBS2.0
@ Marc. Yeahhhh, but hockey is a joke.

I see your point about the historical difficulty in big Ws jumps, but the two most prominent tankers of late, the Cubs and the Stros, had jumps of 23 and 27 wins year to year in their ascension. So maybe that has changed.

I think that the perception that a lower seed can't make a hot run to the WS has been disproven a bit. A hot hand and some injuries in the competition can lead to a run. But only if you are in the tourney.

Lastly, the people that get screwed, or the other people, are season ticket holders, who bought a year without expecting to eat the last 35 games. I had Giants football tix for years. You can't give away tix when a team is 2-8. The happens a few years in a row, hard to sell those 5 figure packages.​
4:44 PM Sep 3rd
 
DanaKing
Maybe I’m misunderstanding doncoffin’s definition of “team gross revenues.” He shows the Dodgers bringing in $185 million in 2019. Their TV deal alone averages out to over $300 million a year. What am I missing?
3:19 PM Sep 3rd
 
Marc Schneider
OBS2.0,

Yes, I see your point about teams being able to revamp in the middle of the season. But the problem is even worse in hockey, where the trade deadline is later in the season. The Nats did that in the past as well, bringing in relief pitchers (Sean Doolittle, for example, in the middle of the season). And, yes, it does bother me that teams can essentially revamp their roster in the middle of the season.

It seems to me that one issue is that, with the expansion of the playoffs, teams see the only payoff as being able to at least make the playoffs. If you can't, the season is essentially over. And, so they (and I think fans as well) don't care about how many games the team wins. This wasn't true before playoffs because teams, even if they weren't in the pennant race, would try to finish in the "first division" (the players, especially had an incentive because they got money for finishing in the first division).

From a fan's standpoint, at least, I think there is a value in winning 75 rather than 65 games even if you don't make the playoffs. I'm ok, as I've said, with making moves that will strengthen the team in the long run even if it means sacrificing some wins now. But there needs to be some limit, imo. I don't think the Nats or Cubs front offices want to lose, but they are putting basically no value in winning games this year. I think this is an affront to fans who have, after all, paid money to watch a major league team. But I also think, as I believe Bill James has noted, that it's easier to build a contender from a higher base of wins; ie, it's easier to go from 75 to 90 than from 65 to 90. The Nats are at 55 wins now and I think they will struggle to get to 65. I'm ok with them not contending, but I'm not ok with the notion that the only reason to bother watching is to see these young players learn how to play major league baseball.
2:43 PM Sep 3rd
 
pkkennedy
Gotta give a shout-out to the other small market team that’s been competitive most of the last 13 years, and never more so than this year—the BREWERS!
1:35 PM Sep 3rd
 
RoelTorres
I guess I will voice my minority opinion that I like it when the teams I root for take a big picture view of the organization and make trades that sacrifice limited current value for future long-term value. I am a big believer in delayed gratification. I have rooted for my teams for decades and decades and whatever short-term sacrifices that are made now seem like a small price to pay for my future enjoyment. If my team is not going to win the World Series, and we are not going to be able to re-sign our free agents, I am happy to get value in return. I guess I don't over-value the single current season just because we are living in it. That seems like some form of Recency Bias to me. I look forward to the future seasons that will play out and appreciate a front office who can demonstrate foresight, planning, and vision over immediate returns. My team doesn't need to win every game, and it doesn't need to win every year. As long as there is a good, legitimate reason for making a trade and the front office is working in the best interests of the team, then I am comfortable with it. Getting outraged and depressed over it seems counterproductive. If you are rooting for a team, don't you want it to be good next year? Or five years from now? Or ten years? It's not always fun to jump ship, but it makes sense if you can leave a boat that's leaky and sinking for a better vessel that will cruise successfully for years.


12:02 PM Sep 3rd
 
OBS2.0
Ok,

Time-Shift-Resources As Now Known




(acronym: TANK)​
9:45 AM Sep 3rd
 
jwilt
- Standard deviation goes down as n increases. It would be very odd if the NFL and NBA didn't have a wider spread in winning percentages compared to MLB.
- Joe Sheehan is a Yankee fan, so interpret his comment through that lens.
- Peter Angelos has made many stupid decisions. But it is very clear that the current team hasn't cared about today's wins since 2018. They may not care next year. Adley Rutschman, the #1 prospect in baseball, has spent his age 23 season OPSing .900 in the minors while the Orioles play replacement-level catchers in Baltimore.
- Baseball has a huge problem with teams that act rationally in their own short-term self interest, but in ways that hurt the long term game. They tank (sorry "time shift resources"), and teams lose half their paying fans in a few years. They focus on strategies like TTO hitters and endless strings of anonymous pitchers throwing 97 mph. The games are so long and start so late at least in part to appease advertisers, but the next generation of fans has never made it to the 7th inning because they have to go to bed.
8:02 AM Sep 3rd
 
OBS2.0
@Marc. Totally agree that a problem comes when there isn't a viable team left. At the very least, if the deadline is June 15th, the schedule at least has a chance to spread games against the ghost teams around evenly.

But a problem also hits when a contender gets the insane boost that the Dodgers did. And it is a shot at the heart of competitive balance. 2021 All Stars Scherzer and Turner combined for 47 million in salary. I didn't see cash going along with it, and no contracts went back. So I'm guessing the Dodgers took on the remainder of those....what....20 mil? How many teams can do that?

As for the Nats....yeah, they a few games out.....but behind the Mets :-). Right now at 538, 87 wins is forecast to win the East.
11:13 PM Sep 2nd
 
Marc Schneider
To be fair, I don't think that Nationals had a realistic chance of making the playoffs. They had been hot in June and got within a couple of games of first place, but they were already fading by the time they made the deals. They had too many holes; starting pitching, third base, CF. I didn't really disagree with the Scherzer and Turner trades because they got back high-quality prospects to a very weak farm system. My issue was actually the lesser trades they made, especially in the bullpen that has really made them unable to hold any leads. They could have held on to some of these guys (e.g. Daniel Hudson) and at least been respectable the rest of the year. I don't know the quality of the guys they got in return. So, to me, the issue is not whether you should trade guys when you are likely out of contention anyway, but whether you trade so many that you are no longer a viable team at all. Did they really have to sell off everyone? Obviously, they weren't going to be as good a team once they sold off Scherzer and Turner but they could have been better than they are now. So, to me, this is the question; is there a responsibility to field a team that can win a reasonable number of games even if they don't make the playoffs. Right now, this is a very hard team to watch. And to say, well, some of us like baseball even if the team doesn't win, that's fine, but it is not cheap to go to a game to watch what, realistically, is a very bad team. No doubt they players are trying their hardest to win, but today, the Nats blew a 6-0 lead to the Phillies. I just think there needs to be some balance between building for the future and retaining a team that has a reasonable chance of winning games today.
10:32 PM Sep 2nd
 
OBS2.0
Right, look at the current standings. The Cubs still have a. 440 clip, and they are 23 games out of first and 11 games out of the WC with six teams in front. The Cubs were around five hundred and threw in their cards. Or traded them, rather.v

The Rockies have a .459 clip and are 23.5 out of first and 12 games out of the last wild card with five teams in front.

The best teams in MLB history lose 3 out of 10 games, the best record right now is .632. The NFL regularly has teams over .800.

Put this another way. After 16 MLB games, the winning percentages are wildly spread.
6:52 PM Sep 2nd
 
3for3
Adding to OBS's case agains MLB having the most competitive balance.

Football has only 16 (now 17) games. The NBA is structurally very different; one player can be worth about 20 games (WAG), or 1/4 of the season games. The best baseball players are only worth about 10 games, or 1/16.
6:31 PM Sep 2nd
 
OBS2.0
Defining competitive balance by spread in winning percentage for a 16 game season versus a 162 game season is pretty silly.

As to payroll.....I think we all would agree that the Yankees have the comfortable lead on payroll for the last 2+ decades? In the last 26 years (since 1995) they have made the playoffs 21 times.

I would guess, wildly, that is more playoff visits than the bottom 5? 8? 10? teams in payroll spending combined.

But.....this is not my focus, and I will grab that conch shell since I am quoted disparagingly above. My issue is unfettered roster dumping at July 31. It makes the entire spirit of a season long tournament a joke.

And, hey, those wily MBA analysts who want to build a team for three years from now, never mind that it might shatter the integrity of the current year? Well, watch for that karma, because maybe once you have your dream team together in four years, you'll get jobbed at the deadline as well.

Because World Series are nice, but it is all about Executive of the Year, init?
5:11 PM Sep 2nd
 
doncoffin
Also this, also from Sheehan:

Truthfully, though, I think the answer is even simpler. Tautological, really. Having a payroll cap, in the minds of most sports fans, means you have competitive balance, full stop. Never mind that in the three major U.S. leagues, the presence of a payroll cap is inversely correlated with the league’s level of competitive balance. The leagues and the team owners, with oceans of help from co-opted media terrible at this stuff, have convinced fans that agreeing to only spend so much on payrolls, to only try this much, has created competitive balance.
"Payroll caps do one thing: Limit competition for the available talent. The relationship between having a payroll cap and having competitive balance is nonexistent."

4:47 PM Sep 2nd
 
doncoffin
I intended to include this part of Sheehan's discussion:
"Contrary to the populi’s vox, baseball has the best competitive balance of the three major sports. It’s not particularly close. The idea that baseball has bad competitive balance is something that Bud Selig lied into the air supply 25 years ago, and has been regurgitated ever since as fact. I used to say, and it still holds up, “‘competitive balance’ is code for ‘the players make too much money’.” "
4:42 PM Sep 2nd
 
doncoffin
And, by the way, this, from Joe Sheehan:

"MLB has the most in-season competitive balance as measured by the spread in winning percentages. There’s no difference in the three leagues as measured by teams making the playoffs, even though the other two leagues allow a higher number and percentage of teams into their playoffs. More baseball teams have won championships than NBA or NFL teams, and MLB is tied with the NFL for the number of teams that got to play in the final round -- again, despite having the highest threshold for getting into the playoffs."

(He does not include the NHL. Just baseball, basketball, and football. Nu pucks.)

This might be a data point against the notion of "tanking," rampant or otherwise.
4:40 PM Sep 2nd
 
doncoffin
The $280 that I mis-typed for the Yankees should be $208 .
4:30 PM Sep 2nd
 
doncoffin
Well, I decided to see what I could find about team gross revenues for the 2019 season. With the caveat that these numbers are estimates compiled by Forbes (here: https://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/), not authenticated or audited...the spread is from the NYY's $208 million to the Marlins' $96 million.

---------------------------- Operating
Team------------------------Revenue (Millions)
New York Yankees-----------$280
New York Mets---------------$197
Los Angeles Dodgers--------$185
Chicago Cubs----------------$163
Boston Red Sox--------------$152
San Francisco Giants--------$151
Los Angeles Angels----------$141
Philadelphia Phillies---------$140
Atlanta Braves---------------$132
Seattle Mariners-------------$129
Houston Astros--------------$126
Chicago White Sox-----------$124
Washington Nationals-------$119
Arizona Diamondbacks-------$118
Cleveland Indians------------$117
Toronto Blue Jays-----------$116
Pittsburgh Pirates-----------$116
Baltimore Orioles-----------$115
San Diego Padres-----------$114
Cincinnati Reds------------$114
Tampa Bay Ray-------------$112
Texas Rangers--------------$111
Minnesota Twins------------$111
Detroit Tigers---------------$111
St Louis Cardinals----------$109
Colorado Rockies-----------$109
Kansas City Royals----------$109
Milwaukee Brewers---------$104
Oakland Athletics-----------$104
Miami Marlins----------------$96

The mean is 137 million.
The standard deviation is $31 million.

There's also numbers for "operating income", which are all negative. I'm an economist, not an accountant, but if that's revenue minus expenditures...well, I do not believe it. Also, the Forbes data show the Yankees with $108 million in income, which I do not believe; I more or less arbitrarily changed that to $208 million.

The revenue spread, if accurate, is somewhat larger than I expected. I sort of expected that the lowest revenue team would be at about 60% to 70% of the Yankees. The Marlins' management must be truly incompetent to take in that little.

This source (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1120216/broadcasting-rights-mlb-by-sector/) says total MLN media revenue in 2019 was $1.5 BILLION, or an average of $50 million per team.



4:27 PM Sep 2nd
 
hotstatrat
Responding to OBS2.0

Every contender is free to make the deals they can. Who says it is unfair? Trades have always been a fun part of baseball for me. Sometimes they backfire. Sometimes they don't. It's no guarantee anc certainly not a case of deciding the championship as you maintain - especially not with 10 teams making the play-offs each year.

Perhaps, moving the trade deadline back to June 15 is more to your taste, I can see that. I just don't see it as such a big problem as you do. It certainly doesn't call for penalizing teams that think they are out of contention and wish to gear up for another year instead. In fact, it HELPS teams that believe they are out of contention to have a better chance in another year. Isn't that a good thing?
4:15 PM Sep 2nd
 
OBS2.0
It should be noted that prior to 1985, the trade deadline was June 15, and had been for 60 years. Yes, waiver trades were made, and there was a kerfuffle about the interleague rules for awhile, but July 31 is very different than June 15. Plus, it is only in the free agent era that titanic salaries were a huge factor. For two or three years in a row, the Mets dumped vets at the deadline, Jay Bruse types. They didn't get future players back. Sure, they got some bodies as loincloth for the trade, but they were doing it to unload the remaining 6 or 8 million of that year's salary.

I think people are not seeing the forest for the trees. Clear your minds. It is simply illogical to declare a 2021 Division champ when halfway through the game the cards can be reshuffled, and if the whim of the schedule favors you, and you are overweighted with the new AAAA teams being fielded, bam you're in. Or if you are trading buddies, you get two All Stars from the Nats. Your competitors awake to a Pearl Harbor.

What this has slowly become akin to is if in a game of poker, one guy decides to toss in his hand, but he gives his cards to another player for future considerations.

You can write 10,000 words bending yourself into a pretzel excusing it, but it goes to the basic purity of competition. A championship shouldn't be decided by wheeling and dealing by green eyeshades and MBAs in suits, not 100 games into a season.
2:59 PM Sep 2nd
 
3for3
I’m in agreement with OBS. I get when Connie Mack or Finely can’t afford to keep a competitive team. We are mostly old enough to remember when he tried to do that mid season, and Bowie Kuhn stopped it.​
2:51 PM Sep 2nd
 
MWeddell
hotstratrat,

July 31, 1997 was the White Sox "white flag" trade that was controversial at the time because they weren't very far out of the race for a playoff slot. Looking it up, Keith Foulke, Bob Howry and Mike Caruso were among the players the White Sox received back and the White Sox had a 95-win divisional title season in 2000, so at least the dump trade worked out as well as might be expected.
2:19 PM Sep 2nd
 
OBS2.0
@mikec: Sure Connie Mack. Unloaded by various means Lefty Grove, Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender and Jack Coombs.

When? Off season. Every one. Not en masse in the middle of the year to reshape the entire competitive landscape into powerhouses and AAAA teams.
1:51 PM Sep 2nd
 
DanaKing
"There is no team you can point to that, over a period of years, has not tried to win, within their resources."

Pirates fans could reasonably argue with that. In 2015 the Pirates won 98 games to finish second behind the cardinals, who won 100. The Cubs, ion the same division, won 97 to be the second wild card. The Pirates lost the wild card game.

It can safely be argued that was the time to give a push to go over the top. The team has won 280 games in the past three years and had a nice blend of young and older talent. Instead the front office designated 2016 as a "bridge year" (their term), added no one of value while making only token efforts (if that) to resign others who had played valuable roles.

The Pirates do not lose money. Depending on who you believe, they may be among the most profitable teams in baseball. After so many years of this sort of management, it has to be concluded they care more about that than they do about winning.
12:09 PM Sep 2nd
 
hotstatrat
OBS2.0 -

I distinctly remember a White Sox team (in the '90s?) that still had a realistic chance at a pennant, but sold off several of their star veterans in July to do a quick rebuild. I recall being appalled at the time just like you are about the Nationals.

I agree with Bill 95%. That is, it makes perfect sense to do this, if teams don't realisitically have a chance. There are those few cases such as this year's Nats and the ChiSox of a previous decade, where it seems like a real slap in the fans' faces. However I think that Bill is right - in that the teams are generally just tying to increase their chances of winning their division a little ways down the road. It is a baseball decision not intended to piss off their fans. I can't think of any owner who wants to piss off their fans just to save a few bucks. That's not why they are in the game.

11:10 AM Sep 2nd
 
mikeclaw
Direct at OBS2.0 -
An example of teams dumping like the Nationals did this summer? Are you familiar with a gentleman named Connie Mack? One of the greatest managers ever, and he owned his team (the Philadelphia A's). There were different moments in his career when, as owner, he couldn't afford to field a competitive team, so he dumped his talent. That's the most obvious example. Charlie Finley did it with his championship A's team as well.

Point is, this isn't new. It's done a little differently now because the game has changed and the business of the game has changed, but it's not anything new.

Go back and re-read this article. Bill acknowledges that there are front offices that make the call that if the team can't win right now, and if it has assets (players) that have value and that the team is about to lose, the best plan is to cash in those assets and build for next year. So the front office acknowledges that, yes, it is not fielding the best possible team this year in a losing cause, but it is working to build a better team next year and the year after. Meantime, the players on the field are ABSOLUTELY giving their best effort trying to win, because they are trying to establish or secure their role in that future success.

Is it a perfect situation? No. But it's certainly not the "cancer" you describe. Every game you go to, every game you watch on TV, the players on the field - on both teams - are trying their hardest to win. They are giving their best effort. And the teams are doing what they believe is best for their franchise. There are no teams out there where the players, coaches or front office are saying "We'll just suck for several years and make no effort to get better, and we'll see how much money we can make." It's not happening that way.

Some of the most important people in an organization are names we never hear and faces we never see - scouts, player development people, trainers. Some teams, like Tampa and Oakland, do a great job of identifying and developing talent over the long haul. Other teams have much greater resources but don't use them as well. It is always true that the teams with the most money have an advantage over the teams with less money - but it's also true that it matters how you spend that money, whether you spend it wisely or foolishly.
10:41 AM Sep 2nd
 
mradican
I live in Indianapolis, Indiana so I have no major league team whose games I can easily attend. I go to a handful of Indianapolis Indians games a season. Ticket prices keep going up but aren't anywhere near the cost of even a Cubs or Reds comparable seat. I know the Indians don't necessarily care if they win or lose. I can spend $18 on a ticket to see a game under those conditions. It would suck to pay 2 or 3 (or even more) times that much to watch a team that does everything but come out and tell you they don't care if they win or lose. That would indeed be sad.
9:56 AM Sep 2nd
 
OBS2.0
This is the most depressing exchange on this site in my 11 years as a fan.

It can be denied, mocked, excused, bullied against.....but teams quitting their efforts to put their best team forward to win every game is a cancer. Apparently a cancer that metastasized to all the peripheral players, infecting brains and consciences.

And it was not always thus......show me examples of teams dumping like the Nats did, in the example I carefully outlined above, in decades past? The problem is, sure, a team can decide to stop putting their best efforts into fielding the best team for the rest of the year. We get that. MLB has become a Strato board game for the non-athletes anyway, more like a Harvard business school competition.

But those teams have schedules, don't they? Do you think owners aren't gauging that?

Sad.
5:57 AM Sep 2nd
 
LoradoTaftWright
There are people who enjoy going to baseball games. Most of us would prefer to see "our" team win. But if they don't, the evening (or, rarely now, afternoon) is not wasted.

If you're not one of those people (or, more briefly, "us"), why are you even here? Why aren't you in Vegas, following the over/unders?


1:06 AM Sep 2nd
 
Marc Schneider
I agree pretty much completely with what Bill is saying. What confused me is that I recall (or thought I recalled) him denigrating the practice of selling off assets to get better in the future. Because, let's not kid ourselves, when you sell off players, as the Cubs and Nationals did, you are sacrificing this season in the sense that you will win a lot fewer games than you would have. I don't have a problem with this; neither the Cubs or Nats were likely to make the playoffs with their existing rosters so I made sense to sell (and, in the Nats case, their farm system was so weak, they really needed to shore it up). But whether you call it tanking or rebuilding, you are sacrificing potential wins this year for wins in the future. Again, I don't have a problem with this; it's almost necessary periodically unless you are the Yankees or Dodgers. But it makes it hard for fans; yes, the Nats and Cubs have both won World Series recently, and they should get some leeway for that. But that doesn't make losing fun. As a Nats fan, I expect them to go out and bring in players and to be competitive relatively soon. But I'm not paying money (tickets, parking, food) the rest of this year to watch a team that really has little chance of winning most nights. I'm sure the teams understand this; the Nats are basically giving away tickets.
10:06 PM Sep 1st
 
LoradoTaftWright
There's no guarantees in baseball. You don't get your ticket money back if your team blows a ten-run lead, or if a trade turns sour and the team's best player starts showing his age and the closer who saved 40 games last season suddenly can't throw strikes. You don't like the way the team is run, don't go to the games.
5:27 PM Sep 1st
 
3for3
Ok, so it is not tanking. Mid season ‘selling’ of assets, or more aptly, trading current assets for future value. It does distort seasons. It may be in the organization’s best interests. What about the fans?

I was a PHillies season ticket holder when they were bad. I didn’t really care, because I loved going to games. When they got good for a year in 1993, that was fun. More people bought season tickets for the next seasons. Is it fair to someone who bought season tickets, expecting a competitive team only to see all the star players traded away at the 2/3 mark in the season?

It is also bad for the borderline contending teams who don’t have the resources to make these rental trades. It is good for the bad teams to be able to leverage a current star for future prospects, that does create some balance.
4:40 PM Sep 1st
 
LoradoTaftWright
"It would be better for baseball if all teams were in an economic position such that they could compete every season. "

I wouldn't go that far but I'd certainly go as far as " . . . if three or four teams in each division had a reasonable shot at the title every season, and if they weren't always the same 3 or 4 teams."

The thing with organized professional team sports is, your rivals are also your partners.
3:38 PM Sep 1st
 
Rallymonkey5
“ And there is a fourth category, semi-included here, which is teams which lose on purpose today in order to improve their chances of winning in some future year, years from now. But nobody is going to do that, for a simple reason.”

Disagree. That is perfect description of what the Astros did from 2011-13. Sure, Luhnow got fired, but not for the short term losing.

Orioles, run by one of his assistants, are doing the same thing now.

If the Orioles were interested in winning more games in 2021 they had one easy path to do it that wouldn’t have cost a penny: make Adley Rutschman their catcher. He would have only cost a league minimum salary.

That he has spent the whole season in the minors indicates they value position in the 2022 draft over being slightly less terrible in 2021.
3:30 PM Sep 1st
 
bhalbleib
The NFL got it right when they figured out a long time ago that it didn't make sense for the NY Giants and Chicago Bears to have significant stronger yearly revenue streams than the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Sure, there will some difference in the yearly revenue, but it won't be significant. And most of the difference will be generated by either more winning or better marketing (or more likely both, see, e.g. the Dallas Cowboys of the 70s and 90s). Does that mean that there aren't tiers of teams in the NFL? No, but what it does mean is that 1) the tiers are not generated by your location but more by which teams are more smartly run and 2) the teams change over time as to what tier they are in. The 49ers were a Tier 1 team for the 80s and part of the 90s, The Patriots were a Tier 1 team for most of the 21st century. But neither were before and after. As noted, the Cowboys were a Tier one team in the 70s, dropped out in the 80s, were again the 90s and then not so much since.
3:13 PM Sep 1st
 
clayyearsley
I really wish MLB would adopt the local broadcasting revenue sharing proposed here. It’s a simple solution and wouldn’t demotivate individual clubs from maximizing those rights, which is an argument I’ve heard against basically any suggested revenue sharing.
1:45 PM Sep 1st
 
wovenstrap
I don't have the time to do it properly but the Indians are a vivid test case on the notion of not-tanking. They really don't invest monetary resources in the team and 35% of any given starting lineup should be in AA but they're still at .500 in what has been a fairly terrible season by their standards. They frequently trade players who are about to hit free agency for prospects and their success in doing that has been pretty remarkable. Clevelanders have lately been disgusted at the front office "giving up" but the obvious reality is that the Indians have no intention of getting within 10,000 miles of last place if they can possibly avoid it. They are definitely in a payroll box and Indians fans are furious about the unfairness of this but the front office has a theory about their savvy in terms of making personnel decisions being enough to propel them into the playoffs in the near future, and as of now that theory mainly seems quite sound. Most of their roster is scarcely known to baseball fans outside of Cleveland but if I had to guess, do they make the playoffs in 2025, I would bet yes.
1:23 PM Sep 1st
 
 
©2021 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Powered by Sports Info Solutions|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy