Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Bill James:  The Strongest Franchises

There is a difference between a strong team and a strong franchise.  There are weak organizations that produce World Championship teams.  From a distance this is easy to see.  The Florida Marlins somehow produced World Championship teams in 1997 and 2003.  The Diamondbacks won in 2001, and the Kansas City Royals in 2015.  None of these are strong organizations, or were strong organizations at the time of those championship.

        When the Championships are more near at hand, this may be more difficult to accept.  In a minute, I am going to tell you that the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays are two of the weakest franchises in baseball.  You are free to accept this conclusion or reject it.  The point is, I have an analytical approach to the issue, and I have run the analysis, and this is what I concluded.  If you can come up with a stronger method, that would be wonderful; it’s not like I have years of research invested in this.  I was just interested in a couple of issues, and this is what I came up with.  I’ll start with the conclusions, and as I explain the conclusions, I’ll gradually explain the methodology.

Bill re-did the rankings this week:

 
1 New York Yankees 647
2 Los Angeles Dodgers 633
3 St. Louis Cardinals 562
4 Boston Red Sox 550
5 San Francisco Giants 523
6 Atlanta Braves 504
7 Houston Astros 481
8 Los Angeles Angels 468
9 Chicago Cubs 461
10 Philadelphia Phillies 452
11 Cincinnati Reds 446
12 Cleveland Indians 446
13 New York Mets 442
14 Oakland Athletics 438
15 Toronto Blue Jays 437
16 Milwaukee Brewers 430
17 Detroit Tigers 429
18 Texas Rangers 428
19 Chicago White Sox 428
20 Baltimore Orioles 421
21 Minnesota Twins 420
22 Colorado Rockies 419
23 Seattle Mariners 410
24 Arizona Diamondbacks 404
25 Tampa Bay Rays 400
26 San Diego Padres 400
27 Washington Nationals 396
28 Pittsburgh Pirates 390
29 Kansas City Royals 383
30 Miami Marlins 358

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 26, 2021 at 11:38 AM | 40 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Adam Starblind Posted: October 26, 2021 at 01:08 PM (#6049143)
You are free to accept this conclusion or reject it. The point is, I have an analytical approach to the issue, and I have run the analysis, and this is what I concluded. If you can come up with a stronger method, that would be wonderful; it’s not like I have years of research invested in this.


WTF is wrong with this guy?
   2. The Duke Posted: October 26, 2021 at 01:21 PM (#6049146)
Los Angeles Angels?
   3. Mayor Blomberg Posted: October 26, 2021 at 01:23 PM (#6049148)
A lot of people attend games in the early years, but they’re not actually FANS of the team. It takes 40 years to build a fan base—at least, maybe 50 to 60.


So we can be confident now that the Mets have a fan base, although only fairly recently? The Orioles in the early 80s lacked a fan base? Seriously?
   4. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: October 26, 2021 at 01:26 PM (#6049149)
He could have used the power-speed formula, but plugging in last five year's winning ptg and last 5 years attendance.
   5. birdlives is one crazy ninja Posted: October 26, 2021 at 02:37 PM (#6049164)
You are free to accept this conclusion or reject it. The point is, I have an analytical approach to the issue, and I have run the analysis, and this is what I concluded. If you can come up with a stronger method, that would be wonderful; it’s not like I have years of research invested in this.


This is certainly odd goal posting. The point of entry in assessing the analysis shouldn't be whether I, or anyone else, can come up with a stronger methodology. It's certainly a "nice to have" but that goal has nothing to do with pointing potential flaws in the existing methodology which highlights potential biases in the ranking system.
   6. Karl from NY Posted: October 26, 2021 at 02:53 PM (#6049168)
I think he's saying, the methodology is just for fun, if you're trying to attack it, you're missing the point of the exercise altogether.

He started from the conclusion he wanted, and whipped together a methodology to give that conclusion while being curious as to what else might emerge from it. As long as he's being intellectually honest about that, there's no problem here.
   7. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: October 26, 2021 at 05:41 PM (#6049201)
They just signed Hunter Dozier to a contract that will pay him $9.25 million in 2024. It is inexplicable. He’s not a major league player; he should have been released. But that’s the Royals for you.


Holy schnikies, I had no idea Dozier was this bad: a -2.6 WAR in 2021. It's not easy being that bad: ol' Hunter's 2021 is the 21st worst of all time. But he was a first-round draft pick, so there ya go.

(Sm)all-star team of lowest-ever season WARs:

1B - Chris Davis (BAL, 2018) -3.3
2B - Jiggs Parrott (CHC, 1894) -2.8
3B - Jerry Royster (ATL, 1977) -4.0 [worst ever]
SS - Jim Levey (SLB, 1933) -4.0
LF - Jim Lillie (KCN, 1886) -3.9
CF - Nate McLouth (ATL, 2010) -2.7
RF - George Wright (TEX, 1985) -3.7
C - Kurt "What on earth is that" Manwaring (COL, 1997) -2.5
DH - Adam Dunn (CHW, 2011) -2.9
PH - Willie McGee (STL, 1999) -2.8
UT - Hunter Dozier (KCR, 2021) -2.6

A team like this, with average pitching, would...induce the manager to blow his brains out by mid-July or so.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: October 26, 2021 at 06:09 PM (#6049203)
I think he's saying, the methodology is just for fun, if you're trying to attack it, you're missing the point of the exercise altogether.

I don't get that reading at all ... what you describe is not an "analytical approach to the issue." What James is probably going for here is "quick and dirty" = I spent a couple hours thinking about this, I think what I came up with is a decent ballpark estimate, if somebody wants to do a proper analysis then feel free. Except that the elder James doesn't ever seem to have that opinion of his own work anymore.
   9. McCoy Posted: October 26, 2021 at 06:23 PM (#6049204)
This seems like classic Bill James. He comes up with something quick and dirty, doesn't really take it seriously, and let's you know it's not serious. . . But people still yell at him.
   10. Zach Posted: October 26, 2021 at 06:51 PM (#6049206)
They just signed Hunter Dozier to a contract that will pay him $9.25 million in 2024. It is inexplicable. He’s not a major league player; he should have been released. But that’s the Royals for you.

The problem with the Dozier extension is that he's just not the kind of guy you need to lock up.

His best season was 2019, when he hit .279/.348/.522. That's a good season! But it's a 27 year old in the process of moving away from third base. And, let's be frank here. It's a replaceable season. It's Folgers crystals -- you can swap the whole thing for a cheap replacement and never notice the difference.

If you want Hunter Dozier to play on your team, you offer him a one year contract. If he doesn't take it, you offer the same contract to the next guy on the list.
   11. JJ1986 Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:04 PM (#6049210)
The Angels seem ridiculously high.
   12. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:22 PM (#6049212)
The Angels seem ridiculously high.
Srsly. I'd put the Twins over the Angels.
   13. Perry Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:23 PM (#6049213)
The Angels seem ridiculously high.


Surprised me too, as did a few others. But it's all based on winning and attendance, with some downward adjustments for being an expansion team and for relocating. The Angels are seen as underperformers, and they are, but over their history they have won their share of games and they draw really big crowds. All they need is some better management and they're a sleeping giant.
   14. Hombre Brotani Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:26 PM (#6049214)
HOW WILL THE ANGELS BE RANKED TOO HIGH TODAY?!
They have sustained their media appeal by signing the most visible free agents in more seasons than not—Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon, Josh Hamilton...
The signings that James points to as positives have been the biggest albatrosses around the franchise's neck this past decade. The team is stable because they live in a massive media market, their owner is wealthy beyond belief, and they have the Anaheim City Council in their back pocket. Everything else is second-rate.
   15. BDC Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:56 PM (#6049218)
But it's all based on winning and attendance, with some downward adjustments for being an expansion team and for relocating

Exactly. And with so much emphasis on raw attendance totals, one expects the list to mostly correlate with metro population, which indeed it does. I guess the interesting rankings are the smaller markets that place relatively high (St. Louis, Cincinnati), and the larger ones that place relatively low (Detroit, DFW). Though St. Louis was relatively a very big market till the 1980s.

The Angels do unusually well for being the "second team" in a huge market, better than Mets, A's, White Sox. OTOH half the clubs, including those three, are bunched between 468 (Angels) and 419 (Rockies); and it being an ad hoc metric, I'm not really sure if there's a huge difference between 468 and 419.

Anyway it might be interesting to consider attendance adjusted for market size. Also sounds harder :)
   16. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:57 PM (#6049219)
The problem with Mr. James' analysis is it did not include local media contracts/ratings, etc.

For example, from what I understand the Tampa Bay Rays actually get relatively good TV ratings. People are interested, they just don't necessarily go to the games. I believe the Royals presence in the Kansas City media is also very good. The Padres have the San Diego sports landscape completely to themselves, excepting Chargers fans who haven't severed ties yet. The Mariners have a good media presence in Seattle, where they benefit from the Supersonics jumping ship. The Blue Jays (at least for now) have all of Canada.

The A's on the other hand, in addition to their well-documented attendance problems, haven't been able to sustain a stable relationship with a radio station for just about their entire history. Sports radio in the Bay Area is dominated by the Giants, 49ers, and Warriors, with the A's getting barely a mention - heck the Raiders get talked about more than the A's. The A's TV ratings aren't so hot, either. Of course, with the RSN's imploding and radio a foreign concept to younger generations, that may not matter - except that "A's Access" hasn't been a huge hit either.

The Angels from what I gather still have a large presence in the Los Angeles media market, which is enormous, and thanks partly to the long presence of the Dodgers is still somewhat of a "baseball town".
   17. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 26, 2021 at 07:58 PM (#6049220)
I didn't read beyond the first few paragraphs, so I apologize if he got to this later on, but what's the point of this? Is a "strong" franchise supposed to win more over the long term, or is it just a completely meaningless, subjective thing that Bill James thought would be fun? Nothing wrong with that, but he presents it as an "analytical approach to an issue" without actually defining the issue.
   18. Zach Posted: October 26, 2021 at 08:02 PM (#6049221)
Meaningless and subjective, with maybe some historical insight.
   19. Zach Posted: October 26, 2021 at 08:17 PM (#6049228)
The A's on the other hand, in addition to their well-documented attendance problems, haven't been able to sustain a stable relationship with a radio station for just about their entire history.

The A's somehow manage to be the middle child in a two child family. Close to San Francisco without actually being in San Francisco, close to Silicon Valley without actually being any more convenient to get to from the Valley, a hardcore fanbase in an area where the newcomers have all the money.

They really need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from the Giants. It just boggles the mind that they can't manage a stable radio and TV presence.
   20. The Yankee Clapper Posted: October 26, 2021 at 08:20 PM (#6049230)
23 Seattle Mariners 410
Not #6?
   21. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: October 26, 2021 at 08:40 PM (#6049231)
They really need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from the Giants.


One of the frustrating things going to the A's games in the post-Moneyball era was the A's hitters and pitchers seemed to take forever between pitches. One of the games I attended in person last year a particular batter/pitcher confrontation took I think 15 minutes (including a mound visit halfway through and a player conference right before as it was a pinch hitter), and there were sure a few foul balls, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Giants in recent years, because their players (except for Brandon Belt) tended to be free-swingers, were a bit easier to watch it always felt like. I know it's a bit of a broken record, but I often wondered, well what if the A's acknowledged the "elephant in the room" (catch the sly "Stomper" reference, the A's elephant mascot) and instructed their players, both pitchers and hitters, to "move the game along" as much as possible. It could be a marketing tactic! They could even try shaming the other team, try to enforce the pitch clock, actually show the pitch clock in a BIG WAY and make a big deal if it expires, flashing lights, horn, whatever, and THEN market that to the fans - "Come see baseball the way it's meant to be played - quickly" or something like that. Couldn't hurt their attendance any more than it already is.

Come on Beane and Forst - go for it! you read this blog, right?
   22. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 26, 2021 at 09:42 PM (#6049250)
My apologies to our A's fans, but they really should never have left Kansas City. KC is a small market but has supported the Royals really well through both good times and lean times. From 1973 to 1975, the expansion Royals outdrew the defending World Champion A's all three seasons.
   23. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: October 26, 2021 at 10:08 PM (#6049259)
actually show the pitch clock in a BIG WAY and make a big deal if it expires


They could put the "Catfish Hunter" or maybe the "Vida Blue" pitch clock up and set it to 10 seconds! And encourage fans to boo if it's exceeded! Whistles! Flashing lights! Kinda a "Crazy Crab" vibe out there.

Now THAT would be a home-field advantage.
   24. The Honorable Ardo Posted: October 26, 2021 at 10:17 PM (#6049263)
James's rankings look, to me, like "Which teams have the greatest structural advantages, holding constant the relative skill of their front offices/coaching staffs in player acquisition and development?" The Rays are noteworthy because they continually put out a good on-field product despite their disadvantages.

Tenure also has a lot to do with developing a multi-generational fanbase. The only "Original 16" team lower than 20th is the Pirates, who occupy a small market and have played poorly for most of the past quarter-century. The only "Expansion 14" teams in the top ten are the Astros (at the top of their success cycle) and Angels (L.A. market, the two best players in baseball).
   25. cardsfanboy Posted: October 26, 2021 at 10:20 PM (#6049264)
edit: ehh, forget about it.
   26. Tony S Posted: October 27, 2021 at 09:00 AM (#6049341)
The Orioles in the early 80s lacked a fan base? Seriously?


He's a little off when it comes to the timeline -- the O's great leap forward in attendance happened in 1979 -- but before that, the Orioles weren't all that different than today's Rays, with outstanding teams and godawful crowds. Their turn-of-the-seventies teams were some of the greatest ever, and they still had trouble selling out playoff games. You can argue that they were *worse* than the Rays -- unlike Tampa, they had strong, identifiable stars (Brooks, Frank, Palmer, Cuellar, McNally) and a reasonably accessible stadium. It's actually remarkable that they didn't move from Baltimore -- this wasn't seriously discussed until the Edward Bennett Williams era, when the team actually WAS packing the seats.
   27. Rally Posted: October 27, 2021 at 10:14 AM (#6049354)
That’s about the time when Baltimore had some young adults who had been Oriole fans for their whole lives.
   28. villageidiom Posted: October 27, 2021 at 10:48 AM (#6049356)
I know it's a bit of a broken record, but I often wondered, well what if the A's acknowledged the "elephant in the room" (catch the sly "Stomper" reference, the A's elephant mascot) and instructed their players, both pitchers and hitters, to "move the game along" as much as possible. It could be a marketing tactic! They could even try shaming the other team, try to enforce the pitch clock, actually show the pitch clock in a BIG WAY and make a big deal if it expires, flashing lights, horn, whatever, and THEN market that to the fans - "Come see baseball the way it's meant to be played - quickly" or something like that.
There are a lot of decent arguments about the tech for robot-called strike zones not really being good enough right now to make it work, but I like the concept that after the pitch clock expires the robot strike zone should steadily shrink.
   29. McCoy Posted: October 27, 2021 at 11:14 AM (#6049361)
To me his metric looks like a quick way to sim up how well and how long a team has played.
   30. The Mighty Quintana Posted: October 27, 2021 at 11:25 AM (#6049364)
Well, this isn't wholly different from the Forbes valuation rankings, though the Cubbies would move up and the A's move down.
   31. BDC Posted: October 27, 2021 at 11:32 AM (#6049365)
The problem with Mr. James' analysis is it did not include local media contracts/ratings, etc

Yes: along those lines, the Cardinals also stand out for their long-ago dominance of a very wide radio market. Later on, the Braves and Cubs were innovative in using TV to reach national audiences – all three reflecting a kind of franchise strength that one can't see from records and in-person attendance.

Those factors seem to be evening out in the 21st century, but they are important historically.
   32. Mayor Blomberg Posted: October 27, 2021 at 02:37 PM (#6049392)
Thanks, Tony. I got to DC in fall 77 and was surrounded by birds fans, even if one still clung to his Senators jacket and had a license plate that read NATS FAN.
   33. Karl from NY Posted: October 27, 2021 at 03:20 PM (#6049399)
Is a "strong" franchise supposed to win more over the long term, or is it just a completely meaningless, subjective thing that Bill James thought would be fun?

Interesting question - is there any predictive value to this methodology?

Seems easy to test: run the franchise-strength numbers up through a certain year, and see if the following 1 or 5 or 10 or 20 years show a repeatable performance. Although of course there will be a correlation and common cause with payroll, so I'm not sure how to tease that out.
   34. Ron J Posted: October 27, 2021 at 03:30 PM (#6049402)
#33 I did a number of studies on this issue quite some time ago.

No idea if it's still true but I found found the market most responsive to a winning team was .... Minnesota.
   35. The Mighty Quintana Posted: October 27, 2021 at 04:44 PM (#6049413)
Just anecdotally, Minnesota makes sense. Also, Cleveland and Seattle also seem to fit that bill.
   36. Tony S Posted: October 27, 2021 at 06:07 PM (#6049431)
I would think, too, that one of the markers of a strong franchise is an ability to keep its home-grown stars in the family -- the Braves retained Freeman, the Astros re-upped Altuve. (Correa is the next test.) The Nats, meanwhile, let Harper and Rendon walk away without much of a fight.
   37. Walt Davis Posted: October 27, 2021 at 06:36 PM (#6049437)
Like #17, I'm not sure what the question is. As noted, it's not much different than the Forbes list. It seems essentially a ranking of "which franchises are least likely to move/require a bailout." Of course interesting that the McCourts and the Trib went bankrupt (not because of their baseball holdings) but maybe that's an indicator of "franchise strength" that even with financially-strapped, arguably incompetent ownership, the teams had no trouble staying afloat and even enjoying great success on the field once the strapped ownership was out of the way.

Anyway, in that sense, sure the Angels are in pretty great shape and probably have been since the early-mid 70s (however long after being a new team it takes to prove the market will sustain a team).

But I still don't know what the time frame is here ... is this "based on the last 10 years, here's the current rankings"? Or are we pointlessly looking at entire histories? Wouldn't it be best to break each team up into different eras? The Wrigley post-war Cubs were a terrible franchise; the Trib Cubs were a strong franchise; the Ricketts Cubs will be an even stronger franchise if the TV/stream revenue works out. (The post-Theo Ricketts Cubs might be worse as an actual baseball team than the Trib Cubs usually were.) I don't mean by that example that team eras need to be defined by ownership but it's an obvious place to start -- in many ways, new ownership = new franchise. Add in some break points for major social events (depression, war, TV, cable, streaming, covid) and maybe league/team events (Ruth, expansion, ballparks, extended periods of team success/failure) and you've probably covered most of whatever it is we're trying to measure here.
   38. Mayor Blomberg Posted: October 27, 2021 at 06:41 PM (#6049439)
Tony, I just checked 1966; they had the league's 3d-best average attendance. of their 60s/70s WS teams, only twice (final two games of 79) did they not have over 50K in the seats.

In 65 they were 6th of 10, in 64 4th of 10, so not Rays-level futility ... not until recently.
   39. cardsfanboy Posted: October 27, 2021 at 06:42 PM (#6049440)
I would think, too, that one of the markers of a strong franchise is an ability to keep its home-grown stars in the family -- the Braves retained Freeman, the Astros re-upped Altuve. (Correa is the next test.) The Nats, meanwhile, let Harper and Rendon walk away without much of a fight.


Agree, the thing is that Bill is just doing a quick and dirty thing to see what the results are. If he actually cares about this, he'll make adjustments over time, but if not, it's not a big deal.

Personally I would look at attendance, tv ratings, (and other things such as media influence range) record, competitive seasons, lost seasons(years that they weren't competitive at all in the slightest), lost stretches(where they aren't competitive for multiple seasons) record in various formats (seasonal, outstanding seasons, standings, post season performance etc) payroll ranking etc. But I would be looking to measure a different thing that what I think Bill was going for, even if they could both share a similar headline "The strongest franchise" (and I would weigh nearer seasons heavier than older seasons or more accurately more recent era than older era, an era being defined as a 5 or so year stretch)
   40. Voodoo Posted: October 27, 2021 at 11:09 PM (#6049509)
The Wrigley post-war Cubs were a terrible franchise; the Trib Cubs were a strong franchise; the Ricketts Cubs will be an even stronger franchise .... (The post-Theo Ricketts Cubs might be worse as an actual baseball team than the Trib Cubs usually were.)

Were they a strong franchise, though? If the post-Theo Ricketts era is as bad as the Trib Cubs "usually" were, we are in for a rough haul.

Granted the Trib Cubs were a good franchise in terms of attendance, national appeal, branding, etc. But on the field and in the front office?

They caught lightning-in-a-bottle with the '84 run, but that fell apart and they were very bad for several years. All of a sudden got good again for a season, '89, but couldn't build on it at all. The 90s were terrible. They were notionally relevant (still playing meaningful baseball in September) only once - 1995, randomly - until Sosa went off on his short, yet massive peak and all that could buy them was one WC and zero playoff wins. They seemed to be willing to invest more in the 2000s - probably because they correctly realized some winning would goose the sale price - and I guess all things told it was a decent decade, three division titles, three other years where they contending into September. But all told, the Trib Co presided over - at best - a mediocre franchise for three decades.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Dynasty League Baseball

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Martin Hemner
for his generous support.

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogNBA 2021-2022 Season Thread
(1302 - 11:24am, Dec 08)
Last: Der-K's tired of these fruits from poisoned trees

NewsblogESPN's Tim Kurkjian is 2022 winner of BBWAA Career Excellence Award
(7 - 11:23am, Dec 08)
Last: pikepredator

NewsblogMinnie, Gil, Buck among 6 elected to Hall
(133 - 11:19am, Dec 08)
Last: Moeball

NewsblogOn MLB-owned media, the players now barely exist. What’s behind that decision?
(18 - 11:15am, Dec 08)
Last: greenback used to say live and let live

NewsblogMcCaffery: Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard passed Hall of Fame eye test
(108 - 11:07am, Dec 08)
Last: SoSH U at work

NewsblogFlushing University: Reality Sets In
(8 - 10:39am, Dec 08)
Last: SoSH U at work

NewsblogMLB, union stopped blood testing for HGH due to pandemic
(41 - 10:39am, Dec 08)
Last: RJ in TO

NewsblogWhat Does Endeavor, Silver Lake’s Push Into Baseball Mean For the Minors?
(17 - 10:33am, Dec 08)
Last: RoyalsRetro (AG#1F)

NewsblogAthletics manager search: Mark Kotsay, Joe Espada, Will Venable among A's candidates, per report
(5 - 4:57am, Dec 08)
Last: Doug Jones threw harder than me

NewsblogOT Soccer Thread - Domestic Cups, Congested Fixture Lists and Winter Breaks
(65 - 11:08pm, Dec 07)
Last: AuntBea odeurs de parfum de distance sociale

NewsblogRed Sox, Astros Interested In Trevor Story
(7 - 8:39pm, Dec 07)
Last: Walt Davis

Hall of MeritGil Hodges
(77 - 8:36pm, Dec 07)
Last: Howie Menckel

NewsblogMajor League Baseball is headed for a lockout. Is Ted Cruz the only one who can stop it?
(12 - 5:10pm, Dec 07)
Last: Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc

NewsblogJose Marmolejos Signs With Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
(2 - 3:55pm, Dec 07)
Last: What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face?

Sox TherapyLocked Out and Semi-Loaded
(20 - 3:19pm, Dec 07)
Last: Darren

Page rendered in 0.3147 seconds
48 querie(s) executed