Random Thoughts on a Saturday Night

Posted on September 29, 2007 by

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Here is a blog post that kind of got away from me.  It’s Saturday night and I had a few thoughts about what to write about. Rather than choose, though, I decided to just cram all my ideas into one column.  So the following will start with a conversation I had with Darren Rovell on Thursday, move on to two recent columns from Rovell (about Roger Clemens and the latest Knicks scandal), and then move on to two unrelated items from the last issue of ESPN the Magazine (looking at inconsistent quarterbacks and an alarming quote from Dwight Howard).  Yes, that’s quite a bit for one column.  So let’s get started.

Talking with Darren Rovell

Darren Rovell of CNBC contacted me on Thursday morning to discuss the economic value of Roger Clemens.  His primary question – was Roger Clemens worth the many millions the Yankees paid him this year – took up only part of our conversation (I will get to my answer in a moment). 

With that question out of the way we started chatting about other stuff.  Among the topics we talked about was the status of this blog.  Specifically, Rovell asked me how this blog was working out.  I told him that we seem to have built up an audience at The Wages of Wins Journal, but I am not sure the blog is doing anything for book sales.  Rovell noted that in his experience with his Gatorade blog, web traffic and book sales were not linked. In fact, that’s why he says he stopped doing the Gatorade blog (if you look, he has not made an entry since April). 

So if blogs don’t sell books, why do this?  I think there are two compelling reasons that work for me, but probably don’t work for Rovell.

First, the blog gives me an excuse to look at questions that are never going to be examined in an academic article.  I am paid to write academic articles, so when I write papers for journals, or present papers at a conference (or write a book), that’s really something I should do given my interest in cashing a check from Cal-State Bakersfield each month.  Of course, I am tenured, so I could stop writing all together and still get my check. That wouldn’t be ethical (although unfortunately plenty of professors take this route) but I could stop writing.  But I really like writing journal articles (and stuff for conferences and books) so doing my job is not really a burden. 

Still, there is other stuff I want to write about that just will never make it in a journal article.  I started looking at basketball stats back in graduate school. And ever since I started I have investigated issues like why this team got better or that team got worse.  Without this blog, though, I had no legitimate reason to waste my time on such issues.  Consequently, one good reason to write for The Wages of Wins Journal is it gives me a legitimate reason to waste my time.

Beyond that issue, is my interest in being a “better” writer.  I have written plenty of journal articles, book chapters, and a book. But I still think my writing could be much better.  So I also think of this blog as my way of practicing my ability to write for a general audience.  Of course, what does that make you, the reader of this blog? Hmmmm… let’s not go there.

One should note that none of these excuses really work for Rovell.  He already is a professional writer, so he doesn’t need the practice (he already is good at this). Plus, he already writes most days for a general audience (see his Sports Biz with Rovell Rovell blog for examples of this).  Hence, given the nature of Rovell’s job, it’s understandable that the Gatorade blog is not being updated.    

The Roger Clemens Question

Okay, enough pondering why The Wages of Wins Journal exists (does it seem I ask that question every few months?).

On to the question: Is Clemens worth it?  Rovell compared what Clemens did this year to the productivity of a typical rookie.  He then concluded that without Clemens, or with the theoretical rookie, the Yankees might have missed the playoffs.  And since the playoffs generate a great deal of money, maybe Clemens was worth the many millions the Yankees paid him this season.

Okay, I am going to have to quibble with this answer.  Let’s say the playoffs are worth $30 million (I made up that number, by the way).  Rovell is saying that without Clemens the Yankees miss the playoffs, therefore Clemens is worth all the revenue the Yankees make in the playoffs.  But Clemens is not the only reason the Yankees make the playoffs. In fact, looking at this team, he is not even one of the top reasons this team makes the playoffs.  To give Clemens full credit for doing something the team did seems incorrect.  After all, without Alex Rodriguez this team probably can’t make the playoffs either. And what about Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui or…. you see the list goes on and on.

I would much prefer we look at how many wins Clemens produced (not his won-loss record), look at the revenue generated by each win, and then use this information to calculate his value.  If this exceeds $20 million (and it won’t) maybe Clemens is worth it.

Rovell on the Knicks

Okay, more from Rovell and this I will not quibble with. Last Tuesday Rovell looked at the impact the Isiah Thomas trial is likely to have on season ticket sales for the Knicks.  His post is fairly short, so here it is in its entirety:

No matter what happens with the New York Knicks sexual harassment trial, the fans won’t turn away. All the crisis PR people who keep going on television and talking to the newspapers, whining that the Knicks “brand” is getting damaged, should challenge themselves to come up with a number of people they think will not renew their season tickets solely because of this.

I’ll give them a clue. The answer is less than 25 total seats will be vacated at Madison Square Garden. Yet how many people have given up on the Knicks because they aren’t the winners they once were? Hundreds of tickets have turned over throughout the last couple years.

You see, despite all the front page headlines, all we have is the some bad language, perhaps an inappropriate moment and consensual sex between guard Stephon Marbury and a Knicks intern.

As Shaun Powell of Newsday correctly points out, whether the Knicks win or lose this case will have more to do with whether they wrongly terminated Anucha Browne Sanders and less to do with whether there was harassment involved.

So I ask all those who say this is very bad for the Knicks to tell me when throughout sports history have fans ever revolted or canceled their season tickets because of someone in the front office was wrongly fired.

What pundits should have learned from this scandalous summer in sports is that ticket sales are going to be related to a team’s on field or on the court performance.

If the Falcons went 12-4, it would be Michael Vick who? With all the steroids talk baseball still set an all-time attendance record for the fourth year in a row. And if the Knicks somehow win 50 this year, MSG will be selling out again. Regardless of how they dealt with Browne Sanders.

Readers of The Wages of Wins should recognize this argument.  Attendance in sports is driven by winning.  You win the fans come.  You win with scandals the fans come.  You lose, while being a perfect angel, the fans stay home.  That’s the nature of demand in professional sports.  So Rovell knocked this story out of the park. 

From ESPN the Magazine…

As promised, this post is a collection of random thoughts.  Next up we have an item from the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine (October 8).

Doug Drinen – of Pro-Football-Reference.com and JC Bradbury’s former colleague at the University of the South (Drinen is still there, Bradbury is at Kennesaw State) – wrote an article looking at what happens to starting NFL quarterbacks the game after a horrible outing.  After reviewing the past five years of box score data Drinen discovered the following: “… out-0f-tune quarterbacks are nearly as likely to perform up to their normal standard as in-tune quarterbacks. Hey, it’s a volatile position.” All those who play fantasy football – specifically all those who use past performance to predict the future – should heed Drinen’s result.  Quarterbacks are consistently inconsistent.  So don’t get too down on bad performances or to up when they play well. 

More from ESPN the Magazine

Also in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine is an alarming quote from Dwight Howard. In a brief story detailing Howard’s work this summer on his shooting ability he states: “My goal is to be consistent from 15 feet. After that, I plan to extend to the three point line.”

Why is this alarming?  Let’s consider the career of Sam Perkins. During the first nine seasons of his career he averaged less than one three point attempt per 48 minutes played.  He also posted an above average Win Score per-minute (Perkins had a mark of 0.245 while an average power forward or center is around 0.220).  Over his last eight seasons, he averaged 6.72 three point attempts per 48 minutes and his per-minute Win Score dropped to 0.193.  One reason for this decline in productivity is a drop in offensive rebounds.  Before Perkins found his range, he averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per 48 minutes.  After his shooting practice paid off, his offensive rebounds per 48 minutes fell to 2.01.  It seems all that time spotting up on the three-point line took away from his ability to capture missed shots from his teammates.

Okay, I should note that there are a few problems with this story.  Perkins also became a less able defensive rebounder (dropped from 7.64 to 5.95).  Hence, the real issue could be that Perkins just got old. He was 32 when he first started launching all those bombs.  So maybe standing on the three point line was all his old legs could handle at that point.  

Despite this point, I am sticking to my story.  Howard is an above average rebounder on the offensive glass (and defensive glass as well).  Wandering out to the three point line is going to impose a cost on his team.  And that cost needs to be considered before Howard falls in love with launching bombs.

By the way, if this were a journal article I would go collect a bunch of data on big men shooting threes to see if the Perkins story is typical or not.  But this is the beauty of a blog. I don’t have to do that.  I can just end this post right here. 

– DJ  

Posted in: Sports Econ