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Friday, September 06, 2019

Tanking teams are killing attendance

Attendance is down again this year and has steadily declined for the past five years. There are several reasons for that, but Arthur’s analysis of attendance against the backdrop of a given team’s probability of making the playoffs — while controlling for weather — shows that 35% of the attendance drop is attributable to a much greater percentage of games involving teams with no playoff shot whatsoever.

And there are way more of those teams: according to Arthur, the fraction of teams out of contention — which he defines as having a less than 5% chance of making the playoffs at the time of a given game — has increased by almost 40% from 2014 to 2018.

And it’s getting worse in 2019. As I mentioned this morning there are at least three and very possibly four teams in the AL that are going to lose 100 games or more and one team in the NL, the Marlins, that will do the same. On a given night, if those teams aren’t playing one another, a full third of the games feature a team making no effort to try to compete over the course of the year. Do you really wanna pay money to go see that?

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 12:52 PM | 42 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: tanking

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   1. TomH Posted: September 06, 2019 at 01:03 PM (#5877148)
Say hello to many , many other eras of baseball where it was worse than today. We were fortunate to have many teams in contention in some years. But that isn't the standard by which to measure everything. Let's fire every coach who isn't Bill Belichek, right?
   2. SoSH U at work Posted: September 06, 2019 at 01:32 PM (#5877165)
has increased by almost 40% from 2014 to 2018.


That sounds like 2014 and 2014 were probably outlier years in terms of win distribution, rather than some actual trend. Regardless of how many teams are trying/not trying, the number of wins to spread around league-wide is fixed. And three teams tanking is often going to lead to more overall teams in contention when August rolls around.



   3. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 01:33 PM (#5877166)

Are they all tanking or are they just bad? Before last season the MLBPA accused Tampa Bay and Oakland of tanking...
   4. RJ in TO Posted: September 06, 2019 at 01:45 PM (#5877170)
Are they all tanking or are they just bad?


Why not both? In the AL, the Jays, Tigers, Royals, and Orioles all stank last year, all started the season with no intent of competing this year, and all spent minimally on the free agent market, focusing on long shots and dumpster dives, with no real expectation of notably improving this year. They're bad, because they're tanking, and they're tanking because they're bad.

The Mariners, while not stinking last year, spent most of the offseason and beginning of the regular season seeing if they could unload salary, with no serious attempts to even try to compete. I'd also dump them under the tanking category.

In the NL, it's only really the Marlins that are blatantly tanking.
   5. donlock Posted: September 06, 2019 at 02:03 PM (#5877179)
"team making no effort to try to compete over the course of the year." Really.

How does a team, particularly a small or mid-market team improve over the course of the year? They can't afford prime free agents, even if that was a good idea for the teams.Were the budgets so inclined, top free agents seem to want to go to top teams, rather than the bottom feeders. Machado being an exception.

KC, the Os, Tigers and Marlins are coached and worked with by pros. They are often very competitive, but not usually against the top teams. They provide an interesting game when not over-matched. The teams are developing talent from their minor leagues and off the waiver wire.In the Orioles case, they have a top pitcher in John Means, good hitters in Santander, Alberto, Nunez, Villar and Mancini, who are among the league's top hitters.

There is no obvious way to make huge jumps in performance. Calling them tanking seems silly. There is no advantage in finishing last in MLB, no top draft pick on a white horse. If a team picked a great prospect, he is probably 3-4 years way. The Orioles were in the playoffs 3-4 years ago.

The only valid argument might be that the fans do not fill the ballparks to see a team that is rebuilding. True, but historically that is often the case. Do we want the Yankees and Dodgers to steamroll over the rest of the teams? Fan support their teams. Is the other half of the issue too few really good teams who play well and can buy top players when they need them? Do we want more of this? Houston, NY and LA win a lot of their games off the bottom feeders - that is how they lose 100 games.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 02:07 PM (#5877181)
There is no obvious way to make huge jumps in performance. Calling them tanking seems silly. There is no advantage in finishing last in MLB, no top draft pick on a white horse.

Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa disagree.
   7. Brian Posted: September 06, 2019 at 02:07 PM (#5877182)
Is Toronto really tanking? They've worked in most of a new infield, a new catcher, lots of new pitchers, given time to a few young OFs, that doesn't seem like tanking as much as rebuilding. Why waste money and playing time on free agents?
   8. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 02:08 PM (#5877183)

Why not both? In the AL, the Jays, Tigers, Royals, and Orioles all stank last year, all started the season with no intent of competing this year, and all spent minimally on the free agent market, focusing on long shots and dumpster dives, with no real expectation of notably improving this year. They're bad, because they're tanking, and they're tanking because they're bad.

The Mariners, while not stinking last year, spent most of the offseason and beginning of the regular season seeing if they could unload salary, with no serious attempts to even try to compete. I'd also dump them under the tanking category.

In the NL, it's only really the Marlins that are blatantly tanking.


The White Sox are still tanking, although they at least made overtures to try to sign FA last winter. I think the Jays may not have been tanking, but they pretty clearly weren't looking to contend, instead signing cheap stop gaps.

I actually think the Rangers and Giants were trying to halfway tank, and kinda surprised themselves by being decent?
   9. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 06, 2019 at 02:14 PM (#5877185)
Attendance is down again this year and has steadily declined for the past five years.
That’s measuring from a pretty high plateau. MLB attendance is still much higher than it was for previous eras, including the Golden Age, when tickets were so cheap but no one went to the games. With all the new stadiums, teams are making more money even with slightly fewer people in the seats. Broadcast, cable & streaming options have people watching more baseball than ever, which is reflected in MLB revenues. Tanking isn’t helping, but it’s not killing the game.
   10. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: September 06, 2019 at 03:10 PM (#5877203)
The Orioles most obvious way to get a huge jump in performance would be to release Chris Davis. Until they release him, they are tanking.
   11. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: September 06, 2019 at 03:25 PM (#5877207)
'Tanking' is really a horribly inaccurate way to put this. If you're 'tanking' you're losing on purpose. No team short of the 1919 White Sox has ever done that. Some teams have realized that their expected outcome is better if they move their resources down the road a bit. That's not tanking. And it's smart. It was conventional wisdom in Sabermetric circles for ages (BPro pushed it hard in the early days).

Articles like this are premised on the idea that lower attendance (or whatever other signal of the Death Of Baseball they choose to focus on) is a problem. Now presumably the teams that are rebuilding are the ones suffering the most from this, and they obviously think it's a good idea. That is, the ones paying the cost think that it's not a problem. Perhaps in the background is some anxiety that baseball is losing it's place as a central cultural touchstone in America (or something like that), but that ship sailed ages ago. It isn't that, it hasn't been for decades, and there's no reason to think that any recent strategic trends have anything to do with it.

(It's also not clear that baseball not being a cultural touchstone is even a problem at all, no matter what the cause happens to be.)
   12. Fancy Crazy Town Banana Pants Handle Posted: September 06, 2019 at 03:35 PM (#5877211)
'Tanking' is really a horribly inaccurate way to put this. If you're 'tanking' you're losing on purpose. No team short of the 1919 White Sox has ever done that.

No, that isn't tanking, that is throwing games.

Tanking teams are teams that intentionally put a worse team on the field, than they reasonably could. Usually by trading current assets, for future assets, and prioritising youth development over playing their best players, keeping prospects that are ready in the minors, in order to not start their arb clocks, and not running a payroll at the level that they could reasonably afford.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 03:37 PM (#5877213)
No, that isn't tanking, that is throwing games.

Tanking teams are teams that intentionally put a worse team on the field, than they reasonably could. Usually by trading current assets, for future assets, and prioritising youth development over playing their best players, keeping prospects that are ready in the minors, in order to not start their arb clocks, and not running a payroll at the level that they could reasonably afford.


100% correct. The latter two are the big problems.
   14. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: September 06, 2019 at 03:44 PM (#5877216)
That’s measuring from a pretty high plateau. MLB attendance is still much higher than it was for previous eras

What's interesting is that, before the last few seasons, attendance declines in the last 40 years have either occurred during a recession (2009, 2002), strike (1995), or both (1980-81). Attendance still hasn't recovered since the Great Recession. It treaded water until 2017, and has since dropped about 5%.

I was going to suggest that the two Florida teams have really dragged down the average this year. I mean the Marlins are under 10,000 a game! The answer is the Florida teams do drag down the average, by about 1K/game. But in spot checking a couple of other seasons, 2000 and 2005, you get almost the same bump by taking out MIA and TBR.

I suspect that the pre-recession peak of around 32K/game is the ceiling in the era of smaller and pricier ballparks. It helped that most of the big market teams were drawing very well back then. The Mets, Phillies, and Angels are down considerably since, and Detroit has cratered.
   15. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:02 PM (#5877223)

Now presumably the teams that are rebuilding are the ones suffering the most from this, and they obviously think it's a good idea. That is, the ones paying the cost think that it's not a problem.


People who don't vaccinate their kinds don't think that's a problem, but it's a huge problem.
   16. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:06 PM (#5877224)
'Tanking' is really a horribly inaccurate way to put this. If you're 'tanking' you're losing on purpose. No team short of the 1919 White Sox has ever done that. Some teams have realized that their expected outcome is better if they move their resources down the road a bit. That's not tanking. And it's smart. It was conventional wisdom in Sabermetric circles for ages (BPro pushed it hard in the early days).
Sssh. You're not supposed to correct people when they're trying to reframe the discussion using deliberately loaded terms to support their own agenda (as the posts immediately following yours demonstrate). See also, "celebrating."
   17. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:22 PM (#5877231)
That is, the ones paying the cost think that it's not a problem.

Do they pay the cost? They aren't really, since they are being subsidized by other teams. Some Yankee fans have mentioned it.
   18. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:25 PM (#5877234)
There are always bad teams. Always have been,always will be. A lot of bad teams are not tanking, they are just bad at what they do.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:36 PM (#5877238)
There are always bad teams. Always have been,always will be. A lot of bad teams are not tanking, they are just bad at what they do.

The difference being that prior to the explosion of central revenue and revenue sharing in the 1990s, when teams sucked, they paid pretty much the full economic cost. Today they can actually see their profits go up.
   20. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:47 PM (#5877243)
Yes they can, I’m not sure why I should care about that. The Red Sox and Yankees and Dodgers could all spend a lot more than they do but they choose not too. Every team in baseball is printing money.

The Royals were just sold for a billion ####### dollars.

And I’ll add I’m not sure why we think teams were paying the full economic cost. I’m not sure if the 54-108 Oakland A’s of 1979 or the 62-100 Boston Red Sox of 1965 or many many many other teams were exactly throwing money around. The cheapness of owners is not a new thing (see: Athletics, 1915).
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 04:55 PM (#5877249)
Yes they can, I’m not sure why I should care about that.

Because it skews the league when you have a bunch of awful teams.
   22. . Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:00 PM (#5877250)
Winning percentages of the worst teams are way worse in football -- both college and pro (*) -- and no one claims that it impacts football attendance. This is just yet another effort to deflect from the actual problems baseball has.

(*) The worst record in baseball history is the pro football equivalent of 4-12. Pro football routinely has teams at that level and worse. Just in 2018, the NFL had four 1962 Mets. (Actually three 1962 Mets and one team with a winning percentage below anything seen in MLB history.)
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:05 PM (#5877253)
Winning percentages of the worst teams are way worse in football -- both college and pro (*)

Poor analogy. The vast majority of NFL tickets are season tickets held by the same people for decades. College football tickets are alumni with similar season ticket packages, and students, who are going to show up and get ####-faced anyway.

Neither is remotely comparable to baseball where teams get 50-75% of their attendance from non-season tickets.
   24. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:07 PM (#5877255)
Yes they can, I’m not sure why I should care about that.
You don't want ten teams in your league with Jeffrey Loria mentalities, merely in the game to milk their city for a decade, waiting for their franchise valuations to get high enough to cash in for a billion-dollar windfall while the team sucks and fans abandon the sport.

We should all care about that.
   25. Walt Davis Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:21 PM (#5877257)
You're not supposed to correct people when they're trying to reframe the discussion using deliberately loaded terms to support their own agenda (as the posts immediately following yours demonstrate).

Utter nonsense. The distinction is crystal clear as those posts showed.

The PLAYERS are not throwing games but the front offices are KNOWINGNLY AND INTENTIONALLY putting out teams that are worse. Front offices are intentionally keeping ML-ready players in the minors. Team owners are obviously knowingly pocketing profits. (And the notion that these resources are being moved down the road has no basis in reality.)

There are 5 teams under 400, one under 300. Last year there were 5, one under 300.

In 2017 there were two and they were both at 395. In 2016 there was one. In 2015 there were two (worst 389). In 2014 there was one.

Since the 90s expansion, 2018 was the first time 5 teams finished under 400 and we're repeating it. The worst stretch was probably 2001-3 with 3/4/3 teams doing it. There were 5 back in 1977 but two of those were the expansion teams ... and even that was followed by just 2 the next year.

And there have been just 3 teams since 1962 that finished below 300, including these two over the last two years. The 2003 Tigers responded to that embarrassment by signing Pudge, Rondell White, Urbina, some other major-leaguers (some mistakes) and trading for Carlos Guillen to at least get themsleves over 70 wins (and 79 pythag wins). (And in modern tanking fashion, they grabbed Verlander in the 2004 draft.)

You want to pretend nothing has changed ... that this is some 'natural' state of things rather than by design?
   26. . Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:31 PM (#5877260)
Poor analogy. The vast majority of NFL tickets are season tickets held by the same people for decades. College football tickets are alumni with similar season ticket packages, and students, who are going to show up and get ####-faced anyway.


Yes, they get season tickets and hold them for decades knowing and not caring that they're going to routinely see Metsy and sub-Metsy teams. They don't say, "Oh, there are always 5 or six teams that are as bad or worse than the 1962 Mets, I'm not going to go anymore."

That proves my point.
   27. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 06, 2019 at 05:34 PM (#5877261)
the front offices are KNOWINGNLY AND INTENTIONALLY putting out teams that are worse. Front offices are intentionally keeping ML-ready players in the minors. Team owners are obviously knowingly pocketing profits. (And the notion that these resources are being moved down the road has no basis in reality.)
I completely agree that something has changed, namely that revenue is increasingly less tied to performance/attendance. I agree that that is potentially a dangerous thing. But let's wait to see if any team (other than the Marlins) intentionally (sorry, KNOWINGLY AND INTENTIONALLY) fields crappy, cheap teams year in and year out with no hope for the future. For now, I'm still willing to bet that these "tanking" teams are genuinely trying to rebuild to be competitive in future years, i.e. moving resources down the road.

Your accusations of "tanking" may turn out to be right, 5-10 years down the road. But throwing around that term now is just loading the conversation.
   28. Rennie's Tenet Posted: September 06, 2019 at 11:25 PM (#5877341)
I think the Pirates may be in a mode where they're not indifferent to how many lose, but they're not building to anything, either. I think they're aiming around .500, 2018's 83 wins was fine, but even contending for a wild card would require everything to go right.
   29. Mr Dashwood Posted: September 07, 2019 at 11:10 AM (#5877364)
I really think people are being too harsh towards the Marlins. I have said this repeatedly over the years, and I think I'll say it again.

Loria wanted to win on the cheap, by snagging a wild card spot. The Marlins actually have a distinct success cycle of up and down since he bought the franchise, but he never quite was able to get the team back into a wild card spot after 2003. Had Jose Fernandez not decided to get into that boat, it is possible the Marlins would have got back to the playoffs. (I will return to Loria in a moment, because he made one really stupid mistake.)

Jeter took over a problem. He had too much invested in that great outfield, but the pitching staff wasn't good enough. So far I think he is doing a reasonable job following the once-upon-a-time Sabermetically approved 'Success Cycle Playbook. (By contrast, the Avila-led Tigers have done a rotten job, although some of that is circumstance.)

Now, everybody says that 'Oh, Dombrowski built up that 2003 team and Loria doesn't deserve any credit.' Well, I invite you to examine the payroll and signings of Dombrowski during the last two years of John Henry's ownership, overpaying for Preston Wilson's one good season and re-signing Charles Johnson after he hit the snot out of the ball while playing in Camden Yards. It was Loria-Beinfest who shrewdly cleared the wasteful contracts off the books, and brought in some useful role players (including Pudge Rodriguez), before riding their luck to a Series' win.

Loria's one stupid action also had the benefit of helping Dombrowski's reputation. Loria-Beinfest traded away Miguel Cabrera. Loria loved his great ballplayers -- Vlad and Jose Fernandez. I think if he had broken the bank for Cabrera, or even just not traded him, the question becomes whether the Marlins could have done even better in 2008 and 2009. They were six games off the Wild Card in 2008 and five off in 2009.

Who knows? But it is fun to speculate what might have happened to Loria's reputation if he had brought another Wild Card before getting the new ballpark.
   30. Jeff Frances the Mute Posted: September 07, 2019 at 12:07 PM (#5877373)
Jeter took over a problem. He had too much invested in that great outfield, but the pitching staff wasn't good enough. So far I think he is doing a reasonable job following the once-upon-a-time Sabermetically approved 'Success Cycle Playbook. (By contrast, the Avila-led Tigers have done a rotten job, although some of that is circumstance.)

Frankly, Jeter doesn’t get enough scorn. The ownership group is so leveraged that they couldn’t afford to run at even a small loss in the short term to rebuild some trust with the community. The Stanton deal could be defensible as rebuilding, but the Yelich and Ozuna trades were pure tanking.
   31. The Duke Posted: September 07, 2019 at 12:43 PM (#5877377)
The Stanton deal made sense economically. The ozuna deal made sense baseball-wise. Ozuna only had two years left and he was hurt - that trade is the definition of rebuilding. Trading yelich who had years of control left and, even before his breakout was a very good player, was really stupid. He should have been their Freddie freeman.



   32. The Duke Posted: September 07, 2019 at 12:45 PM (#5877379)
#12 hits it right on the nose.
   33. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 07, 2019 at 12:58 PM (#5877381)
Trading yelich who had years of control left and, even before his breakout was a very good player, was really stupid.
If the Marlins were wrong on Yelich, can’t the same be said of the 28 teams that didn’t outbid the Brewers for him?
   34. Brian C Posted: September 07, 2019 at 01:18 PM (#5877386)
If the Marlins were wrong on Yelich, can’t the same be said of the 28 teams that didn’t outbid the Brewers for him?

Sure, but if anything this logic makes the Marlins even more stupider.
   35. spycake Posted: September 07, 2019 at 03:56 PM (#5877412)
Not that I think attendance levels are a particular problem, but how much of a factor is the lack of new stadiums? From 1989-2012, there was an average of one new one every year, but only the Braves since then. A lot of "new ballpark shine" has worn off in recent years.
   36. Howie Menckel Posted: September 07, 2019 at 04:21 PM (#5877414)
Marlins fans have never experienced the pain of losing a postseason series - nor of losing a wild card play-in game.
   37. donlock Posted: September 07, 2019 at 06:11 PM (#5877428)
The Astros lost 100 games three years in a row 2011-13 The fourth year they were 70-92 in 4th place. Coreea was drafted in 2012 and played regularly in 2015. They lost their pick in 2014 and received a compensatory pick (Bregman) in 2015. Their other top picks were not major parts of their success. So the Astros story is a mixed message. They had 6 losing seasons in a row from 2009 through 2014, including the three 100 loss seasons. They did pick up two all star players in Corea and Bregman in the draft.

Is that a model for other teams? Should the current Orioles follow the example set by MIke Elias, from his days with the Astros and allow themselves to lose 100 games three seasons in a row in order to get a few future future all stars? Does it take years? Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Cleveland regrouped without the truly awful seasons. I'm not sure that even Elias would say we should do the same thing in 2019 as his group did 7 years ago. The Astros success came in the mediocre AL West, not the talent loaded AL EAst (NY, Boston and Tampa). Is that a factor?

The home run is king in the current game. Pitching is at a premium. All the teams shift for defense. Is it the same game we play now that we did in the early 2010s? How do we rebuild a bad team?
   38. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 07, 2019 at 07:04 PM (#5877436)
So the Astros story is a mixed message. They had 6 losing seasons in a row from 2009 through 2014, including the three 100 loss seasons. They did pick up two all star players in Corea and Bregman in the draft.

That doesn't seem like a mixed message. They got one of the best 10 players in baseball, and another guy who's probably in the top-30. They made out like bandits.
   39. Buck Coats Posted: September 08, 2019 at 05:10 PM (#5877598)
Did they? They drew over 3 million fans in 2004, 2006, and 2007. 2.5 million in 2009. They've been under 2.5 million every year since then until last year, and haven't hit 3 million again yet (and won't this year)
   40. . Posted: September 09, 2019 at 07:07 AM (#5877655)
Did they? They drew over 3 million fans in 2004, 2006, and 2007. 2.5 million in 2009. They've been under 2.5 million every year since then until last year, and haven't hit 3 million again yet (and won't this year)


That's because baseball is less popular than from 2004-07.
   41. Lassus Posted: September 09, 2019 at 09:43 AM (#5877686)
The vast majority of NFL tickets are season tickets held by the same people for decades.

I don't follow much football, but 'vast majority' here seems like an oversell.
   42. base ball chick Posted: September 09, 2019 at 11:03 AM (#5877734)
. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 07, 2019 at 07:04 PM (#5877436)

So the Astros story is a mixed message. They had 6 losing seasons in a row from 2009 through 2014, including the three 100 loss seasons. They did pick up two all star players in Corea and Bregman in the draft.

That doesn't seem like a mixed message. They got one of the best 10 players in baseball, and another guy who's probably in the top-30. They made out like bandits


- sigh

you don't win with just 2 great hitters or 2 great pitchers. cmon, you know this. they ALSO got lucky with ed wade's springer, keuchel and altuve - they COULD have stayed lucky with JD martinez, but nooooooooo

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