Check my math

FIFA, the highest governing body of the game called association football (AKA soccer), is apparently full of crooks. As a thing, soccer is barely on the periphery of my perception because, hello, American, but I know two things about it. One, FIFA is well-known to be full of crooks. And two, it’s “the world’s most popular sport.” According to the Wikipedia, it’s played (played!) by 250 million people worldwide. Crazy.

What struck me about the story linked to above were the financial numbers. FIFA is the world body for soccer. I know just enough to be dangerous here (for example, there’s other big football organizations like the British Premier League), but this most popular sport in the world is surprisingly inefficient as a business when compared to other sports like baseball and American football. 

According the Times story, FIFA reported $5.7 billion in revenue from 2011 to 2014. Business Insider reported the Brazil World Cup in 2014 made up 85% of that, or $4.8 billion. Those numbers more or less agree. So in non-World Cup years, FIFA had, on average, $900 million in revenue annually. The BBC says the Premier League generated $4.6 billion over the 2013-14 season. There’s a crazy number of association football leagues in the world and I don’t have the time to add up all their revenues, though I did find that the United States Soccer Federation raked in a cool $65 million (no “b”) in 2013.

In 2014, Major League Baseball’s revenue was about $9 billion. The National Football League sees about $9.5 billion. And that’s just in the United States (plus Toronto). 

So yeah, world’s most popular sport by far, but the main U.S. sports (I didn’t even look at basketball) generate way, way more revenue per fan. If soccer ever gets a foothold in the U.S., it could easily eclipse the Premier League’s revenues (which, I assume, are the highest of all football leagues). But how many sports can one population of people care about and which of the “big three” in the U.S. (not even counting something like NASCAR) can a game that routinely ends in a tie and doesn’t have logical gaps into which commercials can be fitted knock off?

A few more things, re: Best team in baseball

In rereading my earlier post, I realize the late 1800’s were only clear as to “the best team in baseball” if we limit ourselves to thinking about the league that eventually begat Major League Baseball. Of course, other leagues came and went (the Player’s League, for example) and there was an entire other class of very fine ball players not considered playing over in the Negro League. If we expand our scope to those other groups, then perhaps there has never been a good way to determine the best team.

Additionally, the “World Series” can only ever have in it teams from the US and (one) from Canada. Baseball is played seriously all over the Americas and Asia but those teams aren’t invited to play, so again, “best team” must be limited to “best MLB team.”

With regard to how we can fix this “the Postseason play doesn’t establish the best team” thing (if fixing it is necessary and I’m not sure it is) would be to make the MLB Postseason smaller. That’s never going to happen. But, if we want to just imagine for a minute, what if a simple W-L record wasn’t what determined the divisional leaders. What if some kind of Sabermetricish stat was employed that weighted each win based on the the relative strength of the team it was made against (this stat may already exist but I’m too lazy to Google it). So a win against the Nationals would be worth one but a win against the Rockies would be worth .8 or something. Those scores would need to adjusted constantly because teams play better and worse as the season progresses. The ’13 Dodgers prior to Yasiel Puig joining the team were destined to third or fourth place in the NL West but became white-hot and eventually won the division handily. Beating a late-June Dodgers wouldn’t be as big of a deal as beating an early-August Dodgers. Similarly, different pitchers can make a team harder or easier to beat.

So, there’s lots of factors. But let’s just say that was what determined the top teams and who went on to the Postseason. And let’s similarly suggest only the two best teams in each league played for their pennant. One Divisional Championship Series and one World Series. Just like in the Fifties.

Finally, since we’re really living in a fantasy world, I’d suggest each postseason series be nine games long. Short series are not good determinants in baseball as to who the better team is. One game? Preposterous. Three games? Nope. Five is the minimum, but even then one player’s bad day can sink an entire series and, if the goal of playing the series to find the actual best team, you need to control for that.

Of course, nothing like this will happen. Ever. And that’s fine. It’ll just mean the MLB Postseason remains more like an invitational series that follows the real season.

Best vs. the rest

I got into a debate on social media the other day as to whether or not being in the World Series meant the teams facing off were the best teams in baseball. I think that are not, clearly, and not just because my team didn’t make it past the NLDS.

Back in the olden days, there was the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs (aka, The National League). At the end of the season (except for a few years of experimentation and the four years the American Association was in existence), the team at the top of the standings at the end of the year was known to be the best team. I’d say those years, starting in 1871 and ending in the early 1900’s when the American League came into existence, were the only ones where the question could be answered with simplicity and authority. After that, it becomes progressively murkier.

In 1903, the first World Series was held between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the team that would become the Boston Red Sox. The series went to Boston. From about then to 1969, you could still reasonably argue that the winner of the World Series was the best team in baseball since the two teams that played were simply the ones at the top of the standings at the end of their seasons and, since they played in different leagues, they hadn’t faced each other all year. But in ’69 came divisions and the Divisional Series. The two best teams in each division at the end of the season played for the Pennant and the right to represent the league in the World Series.

Here’s where it starts to get less clear. It is possible the best teams in each league weren’t the ones to win each division. The two best could easily be in one division while the winner of the other division could actually be worse than the second best team in the other. This was all made even more complicated in 1994 when the leagues, laden with expansion teams that probably shouldn’t have been added in the first place, split into three divisions and the dreaded Wild Card was created.

The Wild Card was the team with the best non-division winning record. On paper, that might make things fairer since that non-winning record could still be better than the other two division winners. But in 2012 the waters were further muddied with the addition of second wild card team in each league who had to play a single game (a single game!) against the other Wild Card team to see who got the right to play in the rest of the postseason. A play-in game, not a play-off game.

How this has played out in 2014 is as follows. The Kansas City Royals could not maintain a lead in the American League Central division over the Detroit Tigers but, since they beat the Oakland Athletics in their single play-in game, they’ve been able to play well enough to make it to the World Series. Similarly, the San Francisco Giants had but could not maintain their hold on the National League West division but, since they beat the Pirates in their play-in game, were given the opportunity to make their way to the World Series.

In the Royals case, their record against the Tigers was 5-13. The Tigers totally owned them all year long. In the case of the Giants, their record against their divisional champion Los Angeles Dodgers wasn’t quite so lopsided at 9-10, but they only managed to beat the Dodgers twice in nine attempts after the All-Star break. Neither the Giants nor the Royals faced these apparently better, more dominant teams in the playoffs because both of them fell in the first round to the Cardinals and the Orioles respectively. Further complicating this picture is the relatively recent addition of Interleague Play to the MLB season. The Royals played the Dodgers three time and lost twice.

My position isn’t that either of these Wild Card teams don’t deserve to be in the World Series. They got there according to the rules and the winner will rightfully be crowned the World Champion. But neither of these teams were able to actually win when they had to to take their divisions over the long, hard slough of the regular season. Both (especially the Royals) were dominated by divisional rivals that neither had to face in the payoffs. They are good teams, but how anyone can say that just because they made it to the World Series makes them the best is genuinely beyond me.

The best teams in baseball are those with the best W-L records at the end of 162-game season. This season, that would mean the Los Angeles Angels with the best overall record of any MLB team in the AL and the Washington Nationals over in the NL. The MLB Postseason, with all it’s twists and turns and obfuscating play-in games, isn’t what it used to be with regard to determining the best team. It’s like another little season where only the top teams play that lasts a month at the end of the regular season.

Just because the Giants or Royals can win the most games against four teams in twenty games doesn’t make up for the fact that they couldn’t win the most against thirty over 162. Again, they do deserve to be in the World Series. They just don’t deserve to call themselves the best teams in the game just because they got there.

Moneyball

dodger_logoAlas, my hopes for the Dodgers in the postseason have come to naught. Honestly, as a Dodger fan from way back, I really shouldn’t be very surprised. There’s a reason the team’s fans call them bums. So many years of disappointment.

Except, this team isn’t like any other team in the history of the franchise. That’s because the 2014 Dodgers were the most expensive assemblage of baseball talent to ever take the field. Nearly $240 million a year worth. And the funny thing is, that’s not even close to everything they can afford to spend.

Last year, the team entered into a deal with Time Warner Cable valued at between $7–8 billion over 25 years. By far the richest TV deal in the MLB. That works out to between $280 million and $320 million a year. Figuring that the team has lots of other sources of revenue (such as merchandising and an MLB-leading 3.8 million clicks of the turnstiles in 2014) and you can imagine they could spend quite a bit more than $240 million a year and still turn a tidy profit.

Rival fans want it both way when it comes to the fat Dodgers payroll. One the one hand, derision at spending all that money but not making it out of the divisional series against what, on paper, looked like an inferior opponent. On the other hand, had they won it all, they would have been accused of buying the title al a the Yankees. How can both these things be true? How can a team spending more than $100 million a year less beat them in four games if money was all that mattered? How can the Giants, at about $80 million a year less, advance over their Western Division champions? Either the money is an unfair advantage or it’s a wasteful excess. It can’t be both.

In spending all that money, the Dodgers aren’t doing anything against the rules. It’s not even immoral. It’s what they should do. They have the resources to field the best team in the world and they should. It’s the American Way. They’re in the business of selling entertainment, after all. The more exciting and rewarding, the better. What else should they do with all that money? Why would they limit themselves to some arbitrary cap on payroll? The group that owns the team now says they want nothing less than a World Series title. Not only because that would be the most Dodger fans could hope for but also because it would be very good for the bottom line.

When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, they ceded the potential title of “America’s team” to those they left behind in the East. As TV became ever more important and national networks rose up to air a seemingly uninterrupted stream of Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and Cubs games (ESPN, TBS, and WGN respectively), those places between the big baseball cities gravitated to the new national baseball brands if for no other reason than the timezones are stacked against a West Coast team (says the guy who stays up way too late watching 9:10 starts). That’s why the majority of fans in places like rural New Mexico and Montana prefer the Yankees and the Red Sox are the favorite team in southwestern Wyoming. This is also why the Yankees and Red Sox logos have become global brands.

The Dodgers aim to put their brand in the same light. They’re starting with a healthy following in Asia and South America already, but if they want to be anywhere near as powerful from a brand perspective as the Yankees, they need to start winning. Winning big.

So, as a life-long fan, I am disappointed in this year’s outcome. But I’m also optimistic because I know this team is on the right trajectory and I know the current owners have deep pockets and lofty goals. Assuming they can target their spending on quality talent that will perform when needed and continue to invest in a robust farm system, it’s only a matter of time. That World Series title it out there. And, I suspect, when it lands, it will be the first of many.

All-Star ruminations

rainbow believer

Why the hell does this game determine World Series home-field advantage? It’s a joke of a game and it’s not played to win (even when it “counts”). I will look past the fact that Clayton Kershaw didn’t start for the National League because maybe, if you squint your eyes and cock your head and take a half-dozen shots and wear a red uniform, you could make an argument that he’s not the most dominant pitcher in the MLB right this specific moment, but to pull him after a single inning of 1-2-3 work if you’re trying to win is crazy. Same for Greinke. Really good and and even better inning than Kersh’s and only up there for three outs. Insanity.

I don’t have a problem with the fans picking the team. I don’t have a problem with every team getting representation. Because, even so, that leaves you with a couple of pretty awesome f’n baseball teams. More than enough to have a hell of a game. IF YOU’RE TRYING TO WIN. Which, of course, they aren’t. Clearly.

Home-field advantage should go to the team with the best record in the regular season, just as it is during the playoffs. Either that or the team with the best playoff record. Something based on actual accomplishment rather than making sure as many guys as possible get to be seen by their hometown fans on the TV.

Regarding the Home Run Derby, I think they should stop messing with the number of outs each guy gets and restrict them to 20 pitches. You could have twice the number of guys participate and it would last just as long and it would be more exciting. Knowing that each pitch really mattered would add drama to each thrown. Also, just have it be the HR leaders from each league. No picking. No politics. Should Yasiel Puig have been there? No, probably not. He hasn’t hit a homer since May. How about the top ten from each league, twenty pitches a piece? Sounds pretty fun to me. Probably more fun than how we do it now.

Asshole tax

Bigot and friend

NBC News:

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will be banned for life and fined $2.5 million for racist comments, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday.

Totally get the “banned for life” thing. There was nothing else they could do, really. But the $2.5 million fine?

Free speech doesn’t mean speech without consequences. One consequence of people finding out you’re a bigoted idiot is they won’t want to hang out with you. I.E., Banned for life. But can you fine a guy for being an asshole? That I’m not so sure about.