Great Moments In Fandom (Part 1, Phillies Fans)

I am here inaugurating a new series where we’ll comment on the worst behavior by baseball fans throughout the country. I’m sure we’ll have occasion to comment on our own behavior from time to time … and we WILL keep score. Perhaps I’ll send a copy of the latest Babe Ruth book to the public library of the city whose fans attract the most comment.

Today’s award (the inaugural award, as I said) goes to the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies who attended last night’s game in Washington, D.C. between the Phils and the Nationals.

I’m fine with fans heading to opposing ballparks to see their favorite team play as the visitors. But it seems that these fans were not in D.C. to support their Fighting Phils. No, it seems that these particular fans had traveled to Nationals Park to boo Jayson Werth. Which is pathetic.

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The Evil Empire Takes On Partners (Baseball’s 2011 Payrolls, Part 2)

Remember how the Yankees got the nickname “Evil Empire”? During the 2002-03 off-season, after the Yankees won a bidding war against the Red Sox for the services of pitcher Jose Contreras, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino told the New York Times that “the evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.” Lucchino thought it was “ludicrous” that the Yankees were willing to operate with a payroll of over $150 million in 2003 – a payroll more than 50% higher than that of the Red Sox.

But the Yankees were not through making news (and noise) with their player payroll. In 2005, the Yankees’ payroll moved over $200 million for the first time. In 2005, the Yankees’ payroll was 69% greater than the second biggest spending team in baseball (again, the Red Sox). Since 2008, the Yankees’ payroll has stayed above $200 million. From the perspective of many baseball analysts, this remains the lead story: “Yankees Payroll Above $200 million; All Other Teams Spend Less.”

But raw numbers can be deceiving; trends are more interesting. For the Yankees, the clear trend is also a simple one. Since 2005, the Yankees have held the line on spending, while the average payroll in baseball has grown 28%. If the Yankees’ payroll had simply increased by the league average from its 2005 level, the team would presently have a payroll above $265 million. That’s enough extra money to have allowed the Yankees to sign Cliff Lee, and Carl Crawford, and Rafael Soriano.

Instead, the Yankees have slightly cut their spending on payroll since 2005, giving the rest of baseball a chance to narrow the payroll gap. To be sure, the gap remains enormous if you compare the Yankees’ payroll to that of teams like the Tampa Bay Rays. But the trend is different if we compare the Yankees to other big-spending teams.

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A Rational Guide to Rotten Starts

Here are six words I never expected to say. Not before my 2010 taxes came due, in any event.

“Don’t count out the Red Sox!”

(Also, don’t count out the Rays. I don’t mean to ignore the Rays in all this … but most of the hand-wringing I’m witnessing concerns the Red Sox.)

I feel compelled to say this, because a lot of folks are looking at the BoSox’s 0-5 start and wondering whether the Sox have dug themselves into a deep hole. Rational Guy Rob Neyer has pointed out that only two teams have ever started a season 0-5 and gone on to make the playoffs: the 1974 Pirates and the 1995 Cincinnati Reds.

That sounds pretty bad, until Neyer goes on to point out that few teams start the season 0-5, period. And that most teams that start the season 0-5 are bad baseball teams that fail to make the playoffs because they are bad baseball teams. Actually, there’s not much about baseball that I can teach to Rob Neyer.

But I might be able to teach a little something to others.

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A Good Way to Make a Living (Baseball’s 2011 Payrolls, Part 1)

Lost in the excitement of baseball’s Opening Day was this year’s announcement of baseball’s Opening Day player payrolls. The definitive 25-man roster payroll calculation is published each year by USA Today (I personally prefer the payroll compiled by Cot’s, but evidently Cot’s has not yet finished its 2011 calculations).

Please cross the jump to see baseball’s 2011 payroll totals, plus some analysis (and a single correction) you won’t find at USA Today.

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The Rational Guide To The First Week In April

Please keep the following in mind as you read pieces here and elsewhere about how the season is going so far.

Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .091. Adrian Beltre is hitting .100. Carl Crawford is hitting .133. Joe Mauer is hitting .143. Prince Fielder is hitting (and slugging) .176. Albert Pujols is hitting .167 and is on pace to ground into 128 double plays. The Rays as a team are hitting .132. Meanwhile, pitchers Brett Myers and Dustin Moseley are both on pace to hit 1.000 (and don’t tell me about small sample sizes; both pitchers have more than one plate appearance).

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Yankees Close To Deal With Kevin Millwood?

It could be that the Yankees feel the need for greater pitching depth … or that they’re just lining up players for this July’s Old Timer’s Game … but a number of sources are reporting that the Yanks are about to pen an “incentive-laden” deal with 36 year old right hander Kevin Millwood.

We can pretty much trot out the same analysis we used when the Yanks signed Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Mark Prior. The deal with Millwood would be low risk to the Yankees. And … well, it’s hard to think of anything else good to say about a pitcher who went 4-16 last season with an ERA over 5. He eats innings? He’ll lull the opposition into a false sense of complacency?

You know what they say. Old pitchers never die. They just sign “incentive-laden” deals with the New York Yankees.

I live in Los Angeles, and Millwood is something like an earthquake emergency kit: you hope the Yanks will never need to use him.

Update: The deal is signed, according to Heyman. Continue reading Yankees Close To Deal With Kevin Millwood?

Headline: Yankees Are Still Rich (WHEW!)

In case you were worried, the Yankees have survived the snowy winter of 2010-11 and the cold shoulder they received from Cliff Lee with their finances intact. According to Forbes, the Yankees franchise is now estimated to be worth about $1.7 billion, up $100 million from last year.

The revised Yankees valuation is contained in a preview of Forbes’ annual Business of Baseball report for 2011. The Forbes’ annual report is the most comprehensive view of baseball’s finances made available to the general public, so people like me eagerly look forward to its release. The Forbes’ numbers are estimates, not always perfect, but proven over the years to be reasonably good on average.

I’ll try to deep-dive into the full Forbes report once it is released. For now, a few tidbits from the Forbes’ preview:

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Why Banuelos Is Not Ready For Prime Time

I cannot remember a Spring Training season that’s been as much fun as this year’s version. It seems like every game, nearly every inning, the Yankees have put a young player on the field that’s enjoyable to watch. When was the last time the Yanks had so many interesting prospects? Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman and Austin Romine, to name four. I’ve also enjoyed the glimpses I’ve seen of Melky Mesa and Adam Warren.

But without a doubt, the biggest buzz at Steinbrenner Field surrounds a 20 year old pitcher from Monterrey, Mexico named Manny Banuelos. Banuelos has not given up a run in 7.2 innings pitched this Spring, allowing 5 hits, walking 4 and striking out 10. Banuelos combines great stuff (four pitches, including a fast ball in the mid-90s and a changeup that made Kevin Youkilis look awfully foolish the other night) with unusual poise for someone his age. No less a figure than the great Mariano Rivera calls Banuelos the best pitching prospect he has ever seen.

(Is it too early to give Banuelos a nickname? Can he be ManBan? Don’t give me your answer right away; think about it.)

Banuelos has pitched so well this spring, there are some who think he should pitch for the Yankees this year. ESPN’s Keith Law seems to think that Banuelos is ready for the major leagues, right now. IIATMS’ own Brien agrees, assuming the Yankees’ coaching staff thinks he’s ready.

But it’s not going to happen. Banuelos may see limited time in the big leagues this year, perhaps a “cup of coffee” visit in September where he’ll get to pitch a few innings. But he’ll do nearly all of his 2011 pitching in the minor leagues. Brian Cashman tells us so, and writers from Rob Neyer to Ken Davidoff to ESPN Insider Kevin Goldstein agree that this is the right thing to do. Banuelos is too inexperienced to pitch in the majors, regardless of his talent.

I’ll add one other thing: Banuelos is too young to risk pitching in the majors. His body is not ready for major league pitching.

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What Baseball Can Learn From The NFL

UPDATE: ESPN reported at 5 p.m. Eastern Time today that the NFL Players Association has filed for decertification. My analysis below anticipated this filing, but was written before this filing became official. The reactions I outlined below — lockout, anti-trust lawsuit — seem sure to follow. Of course there will be further news on this story, but we won’t continue to update this post to keep up with developments.

As I write this, the talks between the National Football League players and owners appear to be breaking down. The NFL generates over $9 billion a year in revenue, had the 19 most watched TV shows last year, just concluded the highest rated Super Bowl in history … yet the NFL’s owners are unable to conclude a labor deal with their players.

The current NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires today. There’s no chance that the parties will be able to hammer out an agreement before the end of the day; the only hope is that the parties will extend the existing CBA for a short time, allowing talks to continue. If no extension is reached, then things will get ugly, and messy. The teams will lock out the players. The NFL players’ association will decertify, or dissolve, or disclaim interest, or something. Then the players will bring an antitrust lawsuit against the league, where the players will demand (among other things) full disclosure of the financial statements of each NFL team. In case you think this suit might sneak under the radar, the lead plaintiffs in the suit will be Drew Brees, Payton Manning and Tom Brady. You might have heard of some of those guys.

The teams will respond by slinging as much mud at the players as they can. Remember, this is the NFL, a league that knows how to sway public opinion. The league will unleash every public relations weapon at its disposal to paint the players as greedy, selfish, and out of touch with the average football fan. Of course, the owners’ effort to smear the players will also denigrate the product that the NFL is normally trying to sell. That can’t be a good thing.

Major League Baseball (MLB) might be forgiven if it reacts to the NFL’s problems with well-disguised glee. Or ill-disguised glee. Baseball is constantly being compared unfavorably to football – baseball is less popular, it doesn’t appeal to the younger fan, inner city kids no longer play the game, baseball can’t compete with football on TV … and of course, baseball lacks football’s competitive balance, because Major League Baseball has never implemented a salary cap. Blah, blah, blah.

But presumably, NFL’s misfortune provides us with something more than an argument against the football chauvinists. There should be lessons we can learn from all this. What’s the principal reaction baseball can take away from the NFL’s current labor woes?

MLB should thank its lucky stars that it doesn’t have a salary cap.

Please cross the jump to watch me eat crow.

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