Sunday, June 18, 2017

30/30 - My MLB Stadium Tour

On Friday, April 28th, 2017, I joined an exclusive club that I have been pursuing for 16 baseball seasons – I have now visited all 30 active Major League Baseball stadiums and 3 more that either no longer exist or host a team – Yankee Stadium, Turner Field and Olympic Stadium. If you know me, you know that baseball defines who I am. I travel for work about 100 days every year and from March to October, I am acutely aware of what the closest team is and if they are playing a home game that night. I could care less who is playing or even who wins most of the time, I am happiest in a baseball stadium.

I love baseball because it is one way I can relate with people. If I happened to meet someone from Denver, I could go on and on that Coors Field is in my top-5 ballparks and how much I love the variety of craft beer at the ballpark and going out on Blake Street after the game. Let the conversation begin. This journey has allowed me to learn how incredible and diverse our country is and while football currently dominates the conversation, baseball is the foundational game that built American sports as we know them today. It’s hard for me to find someone that doesn’t have a good memory of being at a baseball game. I also think that baseball is unique in that it is the only major sport where you can actually have a conversation and enjoy the company of friends or loved ones during the game. It’s relaxing. It involves strategy. Almost all of the stories that I am going to share involve people special in my life.

I quit playing baseball when I was a kid. At age nine and attending baseball summer camp, I was put on the mound to pitch for the first time in my life and I threw 12 balls, the 12th hit one of my future teammates in the head. We both cried when I hit him with my 24MPH heater. I walked off the field that day and I did not return to the field for six years. I actually was fascinated with NASCAR for most of my youth and ignored baseball entirely.

I have to give my dad all of the credit for helping develop my passion in baseball. When I decided to quit playing baseball, it bothered him. In an era where they gave trophies only to the champions, he had a room full of them for baseball, soccer and basketball and his son wanted to watch NASCAR and eat Cheetos and Ice Cream. It wasn’t easy for him to let me quit baseball, but rather than watch me hate baseball, he let me quit and pursue soccer, basketball, NASCAR and ice cream. He also re-introduced me to the game when the time was right.

In August of 1998, my Uncle Paul and cousin Eric invited my dad and I to a Red Sox game which I agreed to attend with no expectations. I have to credit all three of them, the way that they were talking about the Red Sox had me intrigued. Driving the 90 minutes to the Riverside train station to then take the train to Kenmore Square and walk the few blocks to Yawkey Way, I remember the rest of the group talking about the game and if Mo Vaughn was going to stay at the end of the season and how good Nomar Garciaparra was going to be. I wasn’t bought in on baseball, but I was excited to visit Boston for the first time in my life.

I doubt that they strategically planned it this way, but we entered the seating area from the first base side – the side that faces the green monster. I will NEVER forget walking up the steps and seeing the giant wall some 400 feet in front of me for the first time. It was so impressive – you will never see anything so green – literally everywhere you look was the same shade of green. If it weren’t for the warning track, it would be near impossible to tell where the wall starts and the grass ends.

There was a buzz around the ballpark. Thousands of people were there just to watch batting practice for a team that was looking like the playoffs were a possibility. In the first inning, Otis Nixon hit a home run that the umpires overturned and called back – the crowd went nuts. Shortly thereafter, Twins manager Tom Kelly got kicked out of the game which turned up the volume in the ballpark just that much more. At that point in my life, it was the loudest noise I had ever heard and it gave me the chills. In the bottom half of the 1st, Mo Vaughn kept his home run in fair territory without dispute and that gave me my first ever home run. It didn’t mean much to anyone then, but now looking back at it, David Ortiz was a rookie for the Minnesota Twins that day, playing in his third ever game at the house that he renovated in the 2000s. 44 year-old Dennis Eckersley pitched the 9th inning in his final season in the major leagues, so I did get a look at two players that I deem hall of famers. By the end of the night, I owned a Red Sox hat and was hooked. I watched every game that I could and listened to Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano when I couldn’t. It went on like this for years, making the occasional return trip to Fenway Park once or twice a year.

In 2001, the summer before I started high school, my Dad took me on a road trip to Montreal to watch the Expos. This was my first baseball road trip, first sip of beer (Molson), first time out of the country, first time hearing French – in other words, lots of great memories. The first game we went to was a Wednesday night versus the Devil Rays. The two worst teams in baseball at that time drew maybe 2,000 fans total. It was like nothing I have ever seen – a stadium built for the Olympics that was empty. Dad stood at the right field foul pole and I could hear him yelling while standing at the left field foul pole – this was in the 2nd inning, that’s just how empty the park was. I had to buy an Expos hat and may have been one of the few fans actually wearing Expos gear in the stadium so during the 3rd inning, we were featured on the jumbotron. They zoomed right in on us and were speaking French – neither of us had any idea what was being said, but we were waving and having a good time with it, totally oblivious as to what was going on. Two employees came over and informed us that we were the fans of the game and that our seats were upgraded. We walked behind them all the way to the first row behind home plate. I didn’t know it that day, but that would be the first of many road trips that we would go on to see baseball games.

It was around this time, I started to ask my dad to play catch in the yard again. He hit me grounders. Threw me batting practice. I began playing again in High School and he attended literally every single game, sometimes driving a couple of hours to watch me weakly hit the ball to the opposite field and many failed attempts at scooping baseballs at first base for the JV team slowly growing to a useful knuckleball hitting specialist varsity player by the time I was a senior in High School. I often wonder what would have happened had I not quit baseball as a kid, but instead I decided that it would become my career.

By 2008 with Olympic Stadium closed, my ballpark count was five active – Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Tropicana Field, PNC Park and Citizens Bank Park. I moved to Atlanta to work the summer with the Braves. It was amazing. I lived in Atlanta for two plus months working 20-30 hours a week and whenever I could, I would walk down to Turner Field to watch the Braves play. That summer, I got to see John Smoltz get his 4,000th strikeout; Chipper Jones hit his 400th home run and bat over .400 well into the summer months. The team wasn’t playoff bound, but I did get to experience the tail end of the mystique of the franchise that won so many games during the 1990s and early 2000s. I made a strong enough impression with my work that I was invited to return for the 2009 season as a marketing trainee and spend the season with the team. 2009 became a cornerstone year for my development – I began friendships with co-workers that will last for the rest of my life. #Trainees09 remains one of the best things to happen to me as many of our group still gets together for social events and milestone moments in each other’s lives.

The ballpark count grew by one in 2009, adding Nationals Park into the collection – but I attended 60-70 games at Turner Field and it became a second home. One of my favorite memories from that year – Home Depot debuted their Tool Race that spring and I quickly became a frequent runner in the race. It was a Sunday night game in July that we were on ESPN. I was pretty fired up that night and knew that we had the opportunity to catch some national exposure should we do something interesting. I honestly forget what we did to the drill that night because I remember treating that race like it was for a gold medal. When they started us, I put my blinders on and moved my 10 foot hammer costume as fast as I could and did not stop until I crossed the finish line first. On an endorphin high, I turned towards the cameras above home plate and gave my best celebration move – the fighting pose the Predator makes before he takes on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Later that night, me inside the hammer costume was the last thing shown before SportsCenter began. So yes, I was on SportsCenter as a championship athlete.

2009 gave me great friendships, many memories like my tool race story, but it cemented my decision to pursue a career in sports. I had never felt such happiness in my life – it was a frequent occurrence that I got butterflies in my stomach over being so excited over something. Call it youthful exuberance with occasional immaturity and it was the start of a career. Unfortunately, I learned the harsh reality that working for professional sports teams is often based on opportunity and timing. Unfortunately, there were no full-time opportunities for me with the Braves and after 11 life-changing months, I was unemployed, enrolled in graduate school and searching for new opportunities.

I never would have thought about working for a sports marketing agency, but it just so happened that an opportunity became available with Headway Marketing to help build a growing platform – Chevy Youth Baseball. This program paired local Chevrolet dealerships with the youth baseball or softball organization in their town. The culminating event being a youth clinic where kids learned from professional coaches and occasionally current or past players. These clinics allowed for my baseball road trip portfolio to grow like crazy. During my tenure working with Headway and Chevy, I managed to visit many major and minor league stadiums mostly across the mid-west while learning and growing into who I wanted to become as an adult.

It was actually this job that allowed me to meet my wife. July 31st, 2011, better known to me at the time as the MLB Trade Deadline, I was in Houston, TX for one of the youth baseball clinics with the Astros. It was a typical day of hard work in the sun watching kids live out their dreams of playing on a MLB field, but our group decided that it would be a good idea to go out for dinner, drinks and dancing. I found myself at a dance bar on Washington Avenue doing my usual dance by myself, but have a great time. I saw her – tall, friendly eyes, great smile – and I slowly danced my way in her direction, clearing my way through the crowd a few people at a time, occasionally (no…frequently) checking over my shoulder to make sure she was still there. As I arrived over to where she and her friends were dancing, the music unexpectedly changed from top-40 to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believing.” It just so happens that I know every word to that song and I let the entire room know my excitement. She turned around at the same time that I did, and we started to dance. A few songs later, we visited the bar and I told her that I never buy girls drinks, but I’ll make an exception and she chose Vegas Bombs - $15 well spent as the moths flew out of my wallet. We danced some more and at the end of the night, we exchanged phone numbers and that could have been it. After a short night of sleep and another youth baseball clinic with the Astros, I reached out to her while walking around in the Minute Maid Park outfield and she was free Sunday afternoon. I had a late flight back to Atlanta and a few hours to kill so she came to visit me at the Houston Hobby Airport. We talked for a couple hours and got to know each other outside of TSA. It was maybe 3 weeks after that and I was back in Houston, meeting siblings and getting to know each other better. Now, almost 6 years later – I have baseball to thank for bringing us together and starting me on the most enjoyable journey of my life.

Over the course of these past 6 years, I took a new job with IMG LIVE in 2013 that put me on the road roughly 30% of my year. It has been a challenge to maintain my relationships, but it sure has been tremendous for placing my footprints across the United States. Without IMG LIVE, I most certainly would never have accomplished my stadium tour in as short of time as I have. Every city that I have been I am acutely aware of what is the closest MLB or MiLB team is and if I can make a game. One of my favorite things about these trips has been going to games with friends across the country. Since 2011, I have been to 28 of the MLB stadiums – that to me is the most impressive feat – only excluding the Blue Jays (2007) and Nationals (2009). My work has allowed for me to enjoy my passion, making me a very lucky person.

So as I look back on my MLB stadium passport, now full of stamps, I am not stopping – whenever I am in a city, I will make a point to visit the local baseball team because it is what makes me happy. It brings back all of these wonderful memories of great friends and adventures and it is going to bring in a whole wave in the future. While baseball will never love me back, it has helped define who I am and brought me close to nearly everyone that I love. If you’re wondering why my social media accounts all include “baseball” – there is your reason and if you have read this far, I hope to be sitting in the seat next to you at a game someday in the future.

Thank you, Dad, for encouraging my passion many years ago.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September 25th, 2016

Sports are the last great live spectacle. Going to see a concert or a play has its place, there are no other events that we can watch with unknown outcomes, that is the beauty of sports. We watch because there are new storylines every single night and we can find common ground with complete strangers over our favorite teams and players. I also think that sports serve as a diversion to many. Sports are an escape from the real world issues that trouble us – money, career, weight, injury or grief.

Occasionally our issues enter the sports world in a very relatable way. Today – September 25th, 2016 – was an unbelievable day and one that needs to be written about. In the same day, Major League Baseball began to mourn the loss of budding Miami Marlins star, 24 year old, Jose Fernandez and golf legend Arnold Palmer passed away at age 87. Those headlines may be what most people remember about this day, I think that it is important to identify the beauty that sports provided on this day as well.

Tributes to Jose Fernandez were at each and every MLB stadium today. The Tampa Bay Rays cancelled their ceremony to honor the career of David Ortiz at the request of Ortiz himself in order to pay respect to his close friend with a moment of silence. In the video, Ortiz sheds several tears during the 90 second homage to Fernandez. Later in the game, Ortiz hit the game winning double in the 10th inning to give Boston their 11th consecutive win and tie the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League with a week of baseball left to play.

Across the country, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Vin Scully a dramatic victory for his final call. Former first-round draft pick and present journeyman infielder, Charlie Culberson, hit his first home run in the Major Leagues since 2014 to give the Dodgers a walk-off victory in the 10th inning and clinch their fourth consecutive division title. After the game Scully briefly addressed the crowd (video) and then the Dodgers played a rendition of Scully singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” that caused grown men and women to cry showing the reciprocated love between Scully and Dodger fans.

Flipping over to golf, the thrilling victory of Rory McElroy defeating Ryan Moore after playing four sudden death playoff holes in one of the most dramatic finishes to a tournament in recent memory. McElroy won both the tournament and also the FedEx Cup, an afternoon round that netted McElroy $11,500,000. While it was a big payday for Rory McElroy, the 54-hole leader, Dustin Johnson ended up shooting the highest score of any golfer on course this day and ultimately lost the FedEx Cup due to McElroy’s victory. This outcome resulted in Johnson’s payday being reduced by $7M. Johnson’s collapse paired with the intestinal fortitude shown by McElroy on the playoff holes reminded America of how compelling golf can be in an era where the sport is searching for its defining talent.

I decided to write this today because I am reminded of the talented friend that passed away far too early. I am thinking about the friends and family members who gave back to many during their lifetime and left the world a better place. It’s an emotional day for me and I am sure many others too. Consider how emotion and/or desire fueled today’s top sports storylines and be reminded of why sports are so important to American culture at a time where we can't seem to agree about much.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Legend of Big Papi

I have been compelled to get back to writing to discuss the 500 Home Run club’s newest member, David Ortiz. The other day while listening to a popular talk radio show discuss his candidacy for the MLB Hall of Fame, there were some arguments on both sides of the issue. To me, there is no question that David Ortiz belongs in Cooperstown. His history of postseason heroics and overall offensive numbers put him in company with the already enshrined. More importantly, he is one of a shrinking number of athletes who is embraceable public figure and has given back and grown the game. If I were to have been able to weigh in on this radio show, these would have been my case for David Ortiz.

One of two arguments against David Ortiz relates to steroids. In 2003 when performance enhancing drug use was widely used throughout baseball (and all sports), David Ortiz and many other baseball players participated in a test for Major League Baseball where no penalties for a positive test were levied. In 2009, partial results of the test leaked and Ortiz tested positive during this baseline test. To this day, Ortiz has not received clarification as to what the test results were as the report is sealed. In a written essay that Ortiz published in the spring of 2015, he cited that since the alleged failed test in 2003, he had been tested in excess of 80 times without a single failed test.

This argument is confusing and seems based on partial truths rather than concrete fact as the information in 2009 was first reported by the New York Times but fragmented that could be considered irresponsible journalism as the full details of the report remains unknown even today. Adam LaRoche (among others) has received an exemption from the rules surrounding steroids and takes medication to help him fight attention deficit disorder – an ingredient of LaRoche’s medication is a banned substance. One of many unusual circumstances that could have caused this failed test. It wasn’t until 2005 that Major League Baseball appeared before congress and the national awareness was raised.

Ortiz has not ever been suspended for steroids. Ortiz has now hit 412 of his 501 home runs starting in 2004 – present. The New York Times leaked information without knowing all of the facts. Major League Baseball will never share the actual truths behind his 2003 test. Move on from this issue.

The Designated Hitter
The second argument against Ortiz is that the nature of the Designated Hitter rule in the American League causes him to be a less active part of the game as compared to a player who is also responsible for playing defense. This argument is old and overplayed – it is part of the rules of the American League. Whether or not you personally like the Designated Hitter role in baseball is the same as asking someone their preference between chocolate and vanilla. Purists prefer the National League and new age baseball fans prefer offense.

Additionally, the precedent has recently been changed amongst voters in the Hall of Fame. Specialists such as closers are now entering the Hall of Fame for their contribution to get the last out of a game. Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor both spent substantial time as designated hitters and they are both enshrined. David Ortiz was the best player at his position for more than a decade with the hardware to prove it – 6 Silver Slugger awards, top-5 MVP voting for 5 consecutive years and 9 All-Star selections. Forget this argument, it is part of the game.

Clutch Hitting
Now to the fun side of the argument – why Ortiz belongs in the Hall of Fame. Consider the following statistics:
-        .455 career batting average in the World Series. This is the 5th highest of any player with 25 or more plate appearances – Ortiz has 59 plate appearances and players 1-4 do not exceed 31
-        .688 batting average in 2013 World Series is the second highest of all time, again his 25 plate appearances dwarf the 15 appearances by leader Billy Hatcher who was 12-15 in the 1990 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds.
-        17 career playoff home runs rank 7th all time.
-        Teams he played for are 3-0 in the World Series.

I ask myself this, without David Ortiz, are Red Sox fans still being tormented by a team without a World Series since 1918? More than likely. 2007 was a special team that was incredibly deep with talent and could have had a chance. When I think about 2004 or 2013, there is no way that the Charles River would have been lined with Sox fans celebrating a championship in early November without David Ortiz. In 2004, the greatest sports comeback of all time was lit by Ortiz’s heroics in Game 4 and Game 5. In 2013, let me reiterate that Ortiz hit .688 in 25 World Series at-bats. In both circumstances, Ortiz won the series MVP.

Fun with Numbers
As Ortiz continues to add to his resume, his 501 home runs, 578 doubles and 1,630 RBI’s land him in the elite category. He will finish his career in the top-25 in each of those categories. There is no argument that his power figures make him as one of the most prolific power hitters in the history of the game. He also has more base hits (2290) than four other members of the 500 Home Run Club - Willie McCovey (2211), Mike Schmidt (2234), Harmon Killebrew (2086) and Mark McGwire (1626). He will pass Jim Thome (2328) and Eddie Matthews (2315) very shortly and could very easily eclipse Mickey Mantle (2415), Sammy Sosa (2408), Frank Thomas (2468).

The Man

David Ortiz has been active in the Boston community through the years. He has appeared in many commercials for Major League Baseball and for a lengthy period of time has been a face of the sport. He has a foundation (David Ortiz Children’s Fund) dedicated to giving back to children in both Boston and the Dominican Republic. His energy and excitement about baseball has illuminated Boston and Major League Baseball now for 13 seasons – remember his ski goggles and big smile in the 2013 World Series? Once he does decide to hang up his cleats, he will be remembered not only for his big hits, but for building the game and providing it with a larger than life figure.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Solving the Braves Offensive Problems

First, I hope to keep a promise to myself and return to writing post-MBA about business, baseball and a few personal pieces. It has been a while, but I plan to wipe the dust off by writing about the Braves offensive struggles and some ideas how to improve during the season.

I moved to Atlanta in 2008 to work for the Braves in a season where Chipper Jones was hitting over .400 well into the summer in what was one of the most impressive offensive seasons I have ever been able to closely watch. Since, Atlanta has lacked a dominant offensive player, which is their first problem and one that likely will not have a solution unless Freddie Freeman take the last step this season from one of the best first-basemen in the league to one of the best players in all of baseball. In order to do that, his power numbers will need to climb to 30+ and his ability to come up with a clutch hit needs to continue to be strong. When he signed the long term contract this past off-season my first thought is that there is a good chance that he has a run at an MVP season during the contract though it may be a few years away. As is, he is a top-30 offensive player, the Braves need him to jump to top-10 to really require opposing managers to make hard decisions when playing the Braves. Justin Upton also has potential to make a big jump, but he has had that potential for several years and he continues to be a streaky offensive player, so it seems unlikely. It is even less likely to make a splash in the trade market. Teams with top offensive talent in an era of baseball dominated by pitching are not going to trade that talent. Giancarlo Stanton would be amazing, but it is not realistic to imagine Miami trading him without requiring MLB ready talent plus a haul of top prospects - not worth it for the Braves who do not have many blue chips to barter with. So developing a cornerstone of the offense is going to likely have to come from within with Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton being the most likely to fill that role.

The amount of offensive dead weight on the team is tremendous and it is time to trim some of it down. In 2013, the Braves made it to the playoffs with two starting offensive players with a batting average under .200. That was the first time that had ever happened in the history of Major League Baseball. It is not realistic to imagine that can be sustainable. They were a playoff team last year because they had the best bullpen in Major League Baseball and a very strong starting rotation. The decision to bench Dan Uggla is long overdue. A player who has hit .233, .220 and .179 in three seasons as a starting second baseman. His saving grace the last two seasons has been above average power for a second baseman and a decent on base percentage. Through the first fourth of the season, he has not showed much power or the ability to work a walk. I credit Fredi Gonzalez for making the decision to start playing Tyler Pastornicky and Ramiro Pena more often. While neither possess the ability to hit for power, they are bigger threats to make more consistent contact. Uggla is due $13M next season and is pro rated at the same amount for this season, it is advisable to cut ties with him because low-contact players have little to no value as players coming off the bench. Prospect Tommy La Stella is knocking on the door at AAA Gwinnett and has showed contact ability. The sad thing for the Braves is that it is not just Uggla. BJ Upton had a season in 2007 that earned him a huge contract where he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He hit .273 in 2008 and has not eclipsed .246 since. After hitting .184 last season he is again around .200 this season and still has a contract that will pay him nearly $50M over the course of the next three seasons. It's a shame for Atlanta, but the Braves are simply stuck with BJ Upton and have to try to make it work at least for the next two seasons.

What the team really is sorely missing is a Moneyball player who can hit for contact and get on base to put pressure on opposing pitchers. This pressure would give Freeman and Justin Upton the opportunity to become the top-tier player that their talent lends to. In looking at the possible trade landscape, here are some options that seem to be possible:

1. The St. Louis Cardinals have Oscar Tavares in AAA Memphis. Tavares is MLB ready right now and they are likely to bring him up soon. MLB Trade Rumors recently stated that there is a chance that when Tavares is promoted, Matt Adams or Allen Craig could be traded. Adams would not make sense in Atlanta, but Craig sure would. 29 years old and posting a career .297/.349/.828, this would be an incredible addition to the #2 spot in the lineup. He is not having a great start to this season however, so it could be a buy low opportunity. That said, I would still expect Craig to return top level talent for the Cardinals (think Alex Wood or David Hale type). It also would mean that Jason Heyward would become the starting centerfielder and BJ Upton would become a very expensive utility player. There are problems with this scenario, but it does make the Braves immediately and significantly better offensively.

2. The Chicago Cubs have Emilio Bonifacio now who is making a career on contact hitting, speed and defensive versatility. He has also played on 6 different teams since 2007. He lacks star power, but Atlanta has a history of making players like him succeed (remember Omar Infante?). He could very easily help the Braves all over the diamond and play any position in the field except for catcher or first-base. He can get on base and his speed is disrupting to opposing pitchers. Best of all, he would not be overly expensive also in a trade.

3. Jose Altuve has become one of the lone bright spots for the Houston Astros the last few seasons during their rebuilding mode. Like Bonifacio, he too possesses speed, contact hitting ability and strong defense. He also has some gap power, but will never be a big threat to hit home runs. Can work walks, but it is not necessarily a strength of his. The Astros have been dealing with a PR nightmare in the wake of their new ownership, trading one of their best players for anything less than someone that is MLB ready would be a bad decision. Personally, I'd like to see Tommy La Stella before Altuve - La Stella seems to have a higher ceiling than Altuve, who appears to have reached his ceiling.

The team has the pitching to contend for a World Series, but history will continue to repeat itself without more consistent contact hitting coming on offense.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Current Salary Efficiency in the MLB

In recent years, WAR (Wins Above Replacement, read more HERE) has become one of the most discussed statistics in player evaluation. With the release of Moneyball last November and another amazing success story of the Oakland A’s (and the lowest payroll in the MLB, $49 Million) winning the AL West on the final day of the season statistical analysis could not be more in vogue.

In order to earn a playoff berth this year, the A’s had to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Albert Pujols was easily a top-5 player and the main contributor to the team that just had won the World Series. Deservedly so with this status, he signed a mega contract that will pay him $240 Million dollars over 10 years. The Angels, as can any team that spends a substantial amount of money on one player can argue that by adding a star caliber talent, it will ultimately make the whole team better and provide an opportunity to win a World Series. The question raised is how much is that argument worth? In a time where people and professional sports teams alike are looking for creative ways to save money, perhaps a new way to plan for success in baseball is to answer that question better and buy free agent players accordingly.

Taking two statistics, annual salary and WAR, we can easily determine a value that a player earns for their team by comparing it to the league average. In 2012, Albert Pujols earned $12 Million and his WAR was 4.6 (career low). Teammate Mike Trout, who as a rookie MVP candidate, posted a 10.7 WAR while earning the MLB minimum salary of $480,000 is on the opposite end of the spectrum as truly being the most valuable player (not the award, but rather the cheapest player). Under this logic, Trout 58 times more valuable to the Angels than Pujols. Think about this with your company’s sales team. If there are two sales people that are equally as talented and successful with earning revenue, yet the salary for person one is 24 times higher than person two. Whatever manager allowed for that to happen would be fired and this happens in baseball everywhere and gets amplified by front-loaded contracts. In 2021 when Albert Pujols is 40 years old and in the final year of his contract, he is set to earn $30 Million dollars.

Taking another player that sets precedence to Pujols is Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is in the decline of what has been a remarkable career. When he signed his contract with the New York Yankees prior to the 2003 season, General Manager's had to answer the same question that they did with Pujols last offseason. Remarkable talent that if acquired would make the whole team better, but probably not for the duration of the contract. Playoff appearances have continued to mount for the Yankees since including another World Series win in 2009. However, what the Yankees currently face is exactly the problem for paying prime players big dollars over long term contracts. As their decline steepens, their value to the franchise becomes negative and can cripple a team for those years from lack of payroll flexibility. Rodriguez made $29 Million in 2012 and had a WAR of 2.0 – this makes Trout worth 323 times Rodriguez.

Under this theory, a team that limits the number of players on their roster with negative contributions to payroll will experience the greatest amount of flexibility and have the best opportunity to improve their team in an offseason by making the right additions (again, at the right price). If all key decision makers across the sport were to agree, it would mean for a decided end to mega contracts. Unfortunately, in an environment where payroll inequity exists, this explanation offers further rationalization as to why some teams are unable to sign Albert Pujols. All teams should be aware of the risk and reward.

The innovative way of solving this issue would be to treat players like a sales team by incentivizing them with substantial incentives for good play – for instance $200,000 per home run; $10,000 per hit; $20,000 per stolen base; 20,000 per RBI. This could create a true reward system based on performance because Mike Trout is the one that deserved $30 Million this season, not Alex Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the MLB Players Association would never allow because it takes away from the guaranteed high salaries to players like Pujols and Rodriguez. What can be done is teams that are committed to payroll efficiency should take a closer look at WAR versus salary and stay away from albatross contracts.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Baseball Roadtrip: Denver, Colorado

It has been a while since my last blog entry, since the last time I wrote, I have crossed off many new baseball stadiums and am down to the last few to see before making trips back to see repeat teams with new stadiums. What got me thinking about writing again was this weekend's trip to Denver, Colorado. This experience was so incredible that it needed to be written about. Over the course of three days, I saw Coors Field, crossed off a new state to visit (Wyoming), visited three of over one hundred local breweries and spent a day in one of the most amazing and unique tourism spots that I have ever seen - Rocky Mountain National Park. While planning various trips to MLB stadiums across the country, Denver was never high on my list. Turns out, Denver may end up near the top because of the other activities that I was able to experience while in the area.

Amazingly, I learned that Coors Field, built in 1995, is the third oldest stadium  of all National League teams. Only the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers play in older stadiums. Fitting in with the retro fit parks that Baltimore pioneered with Camden Yards, this was a very intimate stadium, despite it's huge capacity. My favorite thing about a ballpark is an open concourse so that if you need to get up, you can still feel part of the game. The lower level of seating had this and I was able to do a lap around the stadium without missing much. From a service perspective, there wasn't much unusual offered for food that made Coors Field stand out, however as you might expect, they did offer many different beers that I had never seen before, including two that were brewed inside the stadium. Colorado, known for their micro breweries, was well represented inside the stadium. Not often would I notice customer service, but the Rockies overwhelmed me with their vendors. When I got up to purchase a beer, I was impressed with the service by JoAnne in section 135. When I returned, she remembered my name and when I complimented her for being extremely good at her job, she came outside of her booth to give me a hug to thank me. This was definitely a unique person, but all vendors I interacted with were smiling and making me feel special.

Something else that really stands out about Coors Field that made it unique is the firs growing in centerfield. Fans are not able to get close to the trees or the fountains that erupt after a home run hit by a Rockies player, but they add to the natural feel that the entire state gives.

Fans at Coors Field were very cordial to me, even though I was wearing an out of town jersey. I grew up expecting the opposite in Boston or New York, so this was worth mentioning. The fans were very much into the game and made a good bit of noise. The stadium is open in left-field, so sound does escape. It is not as loud as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington or Fenway Park, but it does have loud engaged fans. After the game was over, the Lower Downtown area is alive. Unlike most stadiums I have visited, the bar and nightlife scene is within one block of the stadium. It was a simple walk across to the street to be able to enjoy another micro brew alongside hundreds of other Rockies fans. Cab rides back to the hotel were cheap and beat having to pay as much as $30 to park.

Overall, this stadium deserved more credit from me. I underestimated the city and the entire state of Colorado, it is an incredible place and not all that expensive to pull off a weekend trip. If I learned anything from this trip, it would be to take advantage of Rocky Mountain National Park! Located about 2 hours away from downtown Denver, this was the highlight of the trip even though it was only for about 90 minutes. There, I saw the top of the Rocky Mountains, took photos of the snow capped peaks, and was able to do some brief  hiking. With more time, there would have been so much more to experience. The views of the mountains are lifetime memories and very much different from the Appalachian Mountains and their rolling hills. The sound was even different. For a few minutes of silence after some of the other tourists disappeared, a sound almost like ocean waves crashing into the sand became apparent. This was the wind whipping across the peaks and into the valley's and back up again. On the way out of the park, the best panoramic view becomes apparent and then it is back towards civilization with the majority of the mountains on the way back to Denver not as impressive as what was just witnessed, albeit hard to live up to. Other places I saw were Fort Collins and Cheyenne, WY. Fort Collins is the home to Colorado State University and is a great little college town. New Belgium Brewery is located about 10 minutes away from the campus and has an awesome tasting room. The place was packed at 1:30 in the afternoon and the Home Plate Stout was fantastic. They have coaster postcards that they will mail for you, which I participated in. Cheyenne, WY served its purpose of being another state checked off my list. There is not much to the state capital of Wyoming, but the people there too seemed to share the same sense of pride in their teams. The two places I stopped saw people wearing Rockies and Broncos gear and posters in the door with the local High School football team's schedule or the schedule for nearby University of Wyoming.

Definitely do not sell Colorado short. Plan on having many other activities available on a trip besides baseball. The stadium gets an 8/10; the trip gets a 9/10.

Next up: Oakland (5/12) and St. Louis (6/10)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs

I sit here on Wednesday night, in the wake of Major League Baseball's second ever post-season no hitter and I just know that it is just beginning. When I look at the teams that made it this season, there is one juggernaut (Philadelphia) and seven others that are hungry for playoff success. Here is what I am thinking about each team starting the playoffs:

Philadelphia (97-65): The Phillies had a dominant September. They have an American League offense, the big three and their closer is back and pitching lights out. When I see this team, it is going to take a lot of heart to uproot the team that has played in each of the last two World Series. They are deep in pitching, deep in hitting and have a serviceable bench. They are going to have to get in their own way to get knocked out before the World Series, if they do that -- is it poor defense? is it Lidge reverting to his erratic self because of Manuel's overuse? I know what it won't be -- this team is cool and collected, they have been there each of the last three years and have the experience of the big games.

Tampa Bay (96-66): When I look at the Rays, I see the best record in the American League, yet I am not afraid. They have speed, they have range, they are young, they have been there and they are very well managed. What they do not have is a minimal fan base and players that have discussed this issue publicly in the past couple weeks. That seed of doubt has been planted in my mind that every time they are home with a crowd that leaves early or doesn't sell out, they are thinking about it. It's a distraction and distractions are a bad sign for any playoff team. Tampa is incredibly talented and will be led by solid young pitching. Their offensive leader, Evan Longoria, claims to be at 80%, another cause for concern. While Longoria at 80% is better than most everyone else at that position, he needs to be at 100% to lead an offense that does not have many well rounded hitters.

New York (95-67): Pitching is a serious cause for concern for the Yankees. CC Sabathia is about all they have that is consistent from the starting rotation. Phil Hughes has slowed down considerably, Andy Pettite is fragile and AJ Burnett is gone. The Yankees have a very solid back end of the bullpen with Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera, but they only have one left-handed relief pitcher, Boone Logan. That doesn't allow Girardi to mix and match much. If they have to face the Phillies in the World Series, good luck. They have to get through Mauer first. I do not like the Yankees chances because all it takes is Sabathia to lose one game and the odds of them losing will be far greater.

Minnesota (94-68): Justin Morneau is done for the season, oh well, Jim Thome makes this team deep enough to pull a 500+ home run guy into a significant spot in the lineup. The Twins seem to have what it takes to dethrone the Yankees in the LDS this year. The image of Carl Pavano beating the Yankees continues to run through my head and he will have his chance in Game 2. Delmon Young has had a coming out party in 2010, finally tapping into some of that potential everyone has talked about with him. In the bullpen, they are at their usual great status, even without Joe Nathan. If they have a lead, I don't see them losing it with the way they can mix and match. Ron Gardenhire is also a fantastic manager of a bullpen. Another factor, they are playing outdoor baseball in Minnesota in October, that has got to play in their favor against Tampa Bay or Texas.

San Francisco (92-70): The Giants almost tried to give away their comeback on the Padres, but they do it on pitching. Their rotation in September was incredible, starters having and ERA under 2.00. Their fault will continue to be infield defense and poor hitting. If the Giants get past the Braves, they will be a very good match up with the Phillies as they are probably the best team to go toe to toe with the Philadelphia pitching staff, advantage if it is Cincinnati. In the year of the pitcher, this postseason will be an exclamation point to that and with the best rotation (1-5) in the postseason, they have a shot at taking down the Phillies.

Cincinnati (91-71): How do you come back from being no-hit in the first postseason game for your organization in over a decade? It is going to be difficult, but they have the leading candidate for NL MVP on their team as well as a strong offense that could steal a game or two from the Phillies. Of the four teams in the NL, this starting rotation is the weakest. They have a solid bullpen, led by Francisco Cordero and how effective is Aroldis Chapman going to be against Ryan Howard and Chase Utley throwing 100MPH+ as a lefty? The Reds were comeback kings early in the season, so while it looked bleak today against Halladay, they aren't done.

Atlanta (91-71): The Braves did their best to try and giveaway the enormous cushion they had built up as being the best team in the NL through mid-September, they did limp their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and they are here because they can pitch. This may very well be the best bullpen of all playoff teams with specialists and two guys at the end that have the ability to go 1-2-3 against just about anyone. Billy Wagner in the final season of his career and Craig Kimbrel in the first of his are a two headed monster that is key to Atlanta success. As September moved along, it became more and more apparent that Kimbrel was poised to play a huge role for this team in October, pitching in the 8th inning and occasionally 9th inning. There is no doubt that Billy Wagner is the closer, but Kimbrel is the right-handed solution to the 8th inning. In the starting rotation, Derek Lowe was the NL pitcher of the month in September and has the playoff experience, Tim Hudson is a top-5 Cy Young candidate and the NL Comeback Player of the Year and Tommy Hanson pitched great the second half of the season bringing his ERA down to 3.33. These three guys are going to match up with anyone and keep the Braves close. Whether this team sinks or swims will be because of someone on offense. At this point it is anyone that gets hot has the capability to carry this team. In May it was Troy Glaus; June, Brian McCann; August, Jason Heyward. Now who will step up? Steady defense will be key, over the past month the Braves defense killed them in close games. The Phillies took 5-6 from the Braves in September, the Braves made errors in each of those games (10 in total). Solid defense will carry this team.

Texas (90-72): I do not know why, but I feel very strongly about the Texas Rangers. This team has not been in the playoffs in more than a decade, but with Nolan Ryan at the helm, they really embody what Ryan was all about: grit, smart, hart-working. They are solid offensively while Josh Hamilton is still hurting, they have a healthy Nelson Cruz, who may have been a MVP candidate too, had he been healthy all season. I love this team also because of Cliff Lee. They have the best ace in the American League and he sure has looked good lately. The Rangers have some speed in Andrus, experience in Guerrero and will match offenses with anyone. If the Rangers win it, it will be likely be because of Lee and their very deep offense, they would effectively confirm and deny the year of the pitcher at the same time, which may be the perfect combination for this postseason.

For me, this postseason is going to be special, my first every experience of attending playoff baseball games. For baseball, this promises to be a very entertaining month.