Thursday, July 14, 2016

The 2016 All Star Game Had The Lowest Ratings In It's History

Ok, I know I've been blogging about the All Star Game a lot over the past week, and I promise this will be the last one. Since there are no regular games being played this week, there really isn't much to talk about anyway.

So it came out today that Tuesday's All Star Game was viewed by 8.707 million people, which is the lowest viewership in the history of the event. For comparison's sake, the All Star Game was watched by 10.9 million people. As you can imagine, those are not good numbers, and we have to wonder how the game lost 2.2 millions viewers over the course of 12 months.

It gets worse when you look at the demographics for the viewers of the game. As I wrote about last month, baseball has a strong fan base among older people, but is competing with other sports like football and basketball for younger fans. However, the demographics for Tueday's game were not exactly encouraging in that department:

12-17 age group: 294K viewers 
18-34 age group: 1.2 million viewers 
35-49 age group: 1.5 million viewers 
50+ age group 5.2 million viewers 

With all do respect to my older friends, it is not a good thing for almost 60% of the game's viewership to be in the 50+ demographic. The MLB is trying to appeal to younger people who will be a source of money in the future. However, the MLB will not have access to this money if it does not captivate the fandom of the younger generation. 

Attracting a younger fanbase is of the utmost priority for Major League Baseball, and it is easy to look at the ratings for the All Star Game and say that the sky is falling for the game of baseball. However, I don't think that the All Star Game should be a barometer for baseball's popularity.

As I've said multiple times (like here and here), the All Star Game is riddled with problems. It no longer is the special event that it used to be. As a result, the All Star Game is just not a popular event anymore. Because of this, it should not be used to show that baseball cannot have strong ratings. Take me for example. As you can probably tell, I'm the biggest baseball fan in the world, yet I did not watch the All Star Game on Tuesday (I instead opted to go out to dinner). I watch just about every Met game, but really could not be interested in watching the game.

I suspect there are many people just like me: huge fans who watch all of their team's games, but not the All Star Game. I would qualify as a younger fan, which is very valuable to the MLB. I suspect there are many fans just like who did not watch the game, which is why I don't think the All Star Game is an accurate way to judge baseball's attraction of younger fans. The problems of the All Star Game are separate from the problems of baseball attracting younger fans. 

As bad as the ratings for the game look, it should be noted that the MLB All Star Game is still the most popular all star game in America. The NBA All Star Game only had 7.6 million viewers this year, while the NFL Pro Bowl only drew 5.0 million people. 

I think this shows that all star games in general just aren't that popular. Sports are fun to watch because they supply adrenaline, competition, and intensity. These are things that exhibitions like All star games do not supply. There is no doubt that the MLB All Star Game's ratings were disappointing, but this is because the quality of the Game is disappointing, not the sport itself. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We're All in Agreement: The All Star Game's Rules Are Stupid

Just last week, I wrote about the MLB All Star Game has become a shadow of its former self. I mentioned that in an effort to boost the excitement for the game, the MLB has had the All Star Game decide who gets home field advantage in the World Series since 2003. So for example, the American League beat the National League in the All Star Game, which led to the Kansas City Royals getting home field advantage in the World Series (The Royals beat the Mets in 5 games). 

Just about everybody thinks that this is a bad idea, yet tonight's All Star Game will be the 14th that decides home-field advantage in the World Series. Go on any sports website/blog and I promise you that you will find multiple articles stating how ridiculous this rule is. 

For example, Nate from Barstool Sports wrote an article today about how Jose Fernandez said publicly that if he faces David Ortiz tonight, he will intentionally throw Ortiz three fastballs right down the middle so that Ortiz can hit a home run in his final All Star Game (Ortiz is retiring after this season).

Nate (we don't know his last name) hits the nail on the head by saying:
 "it should be a fun game, the players treat it like a fun game, but they keep claiming 'it matters'. It doesn’t matter if the players in the game openly say it doesn’t matter to them".

Nate writes for Barstool Sport, which is a blog designed to supply non-politcally correct commentary on relevant sports and pop culture topics. The blog is not for everybody, as it is intended to replicate the people would converse at a sports bar (thus the name "Barstool"). The articles almost always include curse words, and is often intentionally vulgar.

It also uses a large large amount of satire and hyperbole, which makes it easy to be misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the site.

The blog is great because it offers a refreshing change to the way sports articles are typically written. For example, go on ESPN and Fox Sports and you will be able to find articles criticizing the poor set-up of the All Star Game, but you will not find an article that calls it "without a doubt the dumbest, most illogical, most irresponsible, most nonsensical, most idiotic rule in all of sports" like you will on Barstool.

The blogs are usually designed to be comedic, but they usually are very accurate as well. The blog on Jose Fernandez and the All Star Game is impossible to disagree with, as it references the absurdity of a pitcher saying that he will deliberately allow a batter to hit a home run off him in a game that is supposed to "count".

The Marlins are currently tied for a Wild Card spot in the National League. That means that if the season ended today, the Marlins would be in the playoffs. They have just as good a shot as anyone to make the World Series. As a player on the Marlins, you would think that Jose Fernandez would care that the game decides home field advantage in the World Series, which could end up being very important to his team.

However, Fernandez clearly does not care about the outcome of the game, which proves that the whole idea of All Star Game meaning something is a failure. Even with this rule, players still do not take the game seriously, and its hard to blame them. If the players don't care about the outcome of the All Star Game, why should we?

Apparently I'm An Official Wikipedia Editor

A few weeks ago, I took it upon myself to edit the Wikipedia entry about Ichiro Suzuki. I read Wikipedia articles every day. yet had never taken the opportunity to edit one, even though I often feel that there can be some improvements.

At the time, Ichiro had just hit his 4,257th professional hit, which technically means that he had more hits than Pete Rose (albeit in separate leagues). This became a pretty big story in sports media for a few days, but I discovered that the controversy over Rose and Ichiro was not mentioned in the Wikipedia article. I decided that this was important enough to be included in the article, and added the information myself.

Apparently, those who read/edit Wikipedia agree with me, as the changes I made to the article are still there today. I made the changes 3 weeks ago, so I think they've lasted long enough to where I can be confident that they will not be removed.

Ichiro Suzuki is an international star, so I would imagine that his page gets quite a bit of traffic every day. With that being said, its pretty cool to think that thousands of people have read the words that I added to the article. I will not hesitate to make additions/edits to Wikipedia articles in the future, as I now know that I am competent at it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Checking in on Conforto

About a month ago, I wrote about how the Mets would be wise to send down their struggling young star, Michael Conforto, to the minor leagues. Apparently, the Mets are an avid reader of my blog, as they optioned Conforto to AAA Las Vegas on June 25.

Before being sent down, Conforto was in the midst of an unbelievably bad slump, hitting just .130 from May 1 to June 25. This was a far cry from the superstar potential that he flashed in late 2015 and in April of 2016.

Since being sent down, Conforto has appeared in 13 games for the Las Vegas 51s. In 57 at bats, he is hitting .340/.411/.431 with 3 home runs. These are certainly good numbers, but they must be looked at with the caveat that Las Vegas is a very friendly hitting environment that tends to produce inflated offensive numbers. Players that put up huge numbers in Las Vegas don't necessarily succeed when they get up to the major leagues. Look no further than Ty Kelly this year. Kelly has hit an absurd .359 in Las Vegas this year. However, when he got called up to the Mets, he hit only .148.

With the Mets offense continuing to struggle, there are already calls to bring Conforto back to the major leagues. However, I think that would be a disastrous move by the Mets. Despite his struggles this year, Conforto is still a major part of the team's future, and the team must be patient with him. Conforto needs more than 57 in the minor leagues to fix the problems that popped up in May and June.

The goal here is for Conforto to be called up to the majors permanently. As much as the team needs his help in the short term, they need to make absolutely sure that the issues that were plaguing him this year never pop up again. In Conforto's defense, he seems to have have corrected these issues in AAA so far.

The biggest problem with Conforto this year was that he seemed to completely abandon the plate discipline that made him so successful early in his career. For example, during his brutal slump this year, Conforto struck out 48 times while walking only 13 times. He's been doing much better in this department so far in Las Vegas, walking 6 times as opposed to only 13 strikeouts.

Another major problem this year was that Conforto was pulling everything he was seeing during his slump. This resulted in teams playing defensive shifts on him on the right side of the field, making it nearly impossible for him to get a hit. As a left-handed hitter, Conforto would find much more success if he spread the ball around the field, especially if he could hit balls to left field consistently. This would allow defenses to play him more honestly, which would hopefully result in more hits. Conforto has shown the ability to do this in the past, and apparently has been doing so in Las Vegas.

According to Las Vegas manager Wally Backman, Conforto has been using the whole field with consistency recently. He referenced a home run that Conforto hit on Saturday that went to the opposite field. Here is a video of the home run:

This is a very good sign, as opposite field power is what made Conforto such a valuable commodity in the first place.

While it is clear that Conforto is doing everything he needs to do in Las Vegas, the fact of the matter is that 2 weeks in the minor leagues is not enough time to earn a promotion back to the major leagues. It is easy to forget how bad Conforto looked for the Mets this year, and I don't think the issues that plagued him can be fixed in 2 weeks.

Conforto needs more time in the minors to make sure that his next call to the major leagues will be his last call to the major leagues. Conforto's future is still as bright as it was 3 months ago, but the Mets cannot afford to call him up before he's ready and shatter his confidence again. 

Despite the fact that fans and the media are already talking about promoting him, I don't the promotion of Conforto should even be considered until August 1.By then, he will have about 6 weeks in the minor leagues and hopefully would have completed the necessary adjustments to make him a successful major leaguer again, Although the Mets need more offense right now, it is more important to make sure that Michael Conforto is completely fixed. This is not a time for half measures. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Where the All-Star Game Went Wrong

Last night, the MLB announced the rosters for the 2016 All-Star Game. Strangely enough, they held their "selection show" at 7 PM ET, when most games on the east coast were getting under way. Not the best marketing, in my opinion.

Anyway, the All-Star Game rosters were announced with little fanfare. Sure, there will be some debate over the validity over Addison Russell's selection or Kyle Seager's snub, but that fact of the matter is that the All-Star Game is no longer the much-watch event that it used to be. Take someone like me for example. I am probably the biggest baseball fan around, I watch probably 150 out of 162 Met games a year, yet I don't know if I will watch the MLB All Star Game. I'll probably end up putting it on, but that fact that it is not a must-watch for a die-hard baseball fan speaks to how far the All-Star Game has fallen.

The All Star Game used to mean something. It used to be must-watch television for any baseball fan. However, recent changes to the game have made it as redundant as the NFL Pro-Bowl. The first problem is that the starting lineups are voted exclusively by fans. This has been a problem in recent years, as fan bases have stuffed the ballot boxes to put in undeserving players that play on their team. This year, for example, 5 out of the 8 starters in the National League are on the Chicago Cubs, including the entire infield. Though you could argue that Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, and to a lesser extent Dexter Fowler deserve to start the All Star Game, there is no way that Addison Russell should be allowed anywhere near that game, yet here he is starting. At best, Russell might be the 8th best shortstop in the National League, yet here is starting because the entire city of Chicago voted for him

Players like Russell starting the game is bad for the MLB, who are trying to capture the casual fan. The casual fan wants to see the best players in this game, like Corey Seager, not mediocre (at best) players like Addison Russell.

A bigger problem for the All Star Game is interleague play. Obviosuly, there are two leagues in Major League Baseball, the American League and the National League. Before 1997, these two leagues would only play each other in the World Series. As a result of this, the best players from each league almost never got to play each other. This made an exhibition like the All Star Game a very exciting event, as you got to see the rare occurrence of superstar players from separate leagues on the same field.

If you were a baseball fan in the 1960s, you would probably say that the best player in baseball was Micky Mantle, while the best pitcher in baseball was Bob Gibson. The issue here was that Gibson played in the National League while Mantle played in the American League. So apart from the 1964 World Series, the only opportunity to see these two legends face each other was during the All Star Game, which made it appointment television.

Things are different now, interleague play has been going on since 1997, which takes away the rarity of National League teams playing American League teams. Whats worse, is that since 2013 interleague play has expanded. Now, a team will play 20 interleague games a season against an entire division. So teams in the NL East for example, which each play 20 games against teams from the AL Central.

This expansion of interleague play greatly diminishes the uniqueness that used to make the All Star Game great. Just as Mantle and Gibson were the best players in the 1960s, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are widely considered to be the greatest players of today's game. However, if Trout and Kershaw were to face each other in the All Star Game next week (this won't happen because Kershaw is injured), it will not be the least bit special or unique because they have already faced each other 12 times in the regular season.

The fact of the matter is that all-star games in all professional sports tend to be pretty boring, and for the most part have become more for the advertisers than for the fans (its officially the MLB All Star Game, presented by MasterCard). The NFL Pro Bowl has become unwatchable, and the NBA All Star Game isn't much better. So its hard to get too upset for the MLB All Star Game becoming boring and redundant. However, unlike in other sports, the MLB All Star Game has a history of being unique, as for most of the game's existence most of the players were on the field together for the first time.

Unlike the other sport's all-star games, though, the MLB version actually means something. Inexplicably, the league that wins the All Star game has gotten home-field advantage in the World Series since 2003. This makes a an exhibition game that fans and players do not take seriously worth quite a bit. I could write a whole other blog about wrong with this setup, but I'll leave it at the fact that an exhibition game should count for exactly nothing, not home-field advantage in the World Series.

Do I encourage everyone to watch the All Star Game on Tuesday? Yes I do. If you're not familiar with a lot of the game's biggest stars, its a great way to see them in action. However, if you watch your own team's games even at a casual level, you will probably see all these players anyway without watching the All Star Game. It wasn't always that way.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Who Should Start for the National League in the All-Star Game?

Tonight, the rosters for the 2016 MLB All-Star Game will be unveiled. The game will be played on July 12th, and before then the managers of each league will have to announce who the starting pitcher will be. For American League manager Ned Yost, the choice is widely expected to be Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, who has easily been the best pitcher in the American League this year. 

For National League manager Terry Collins, the decision is much more difficult than it appeared to be last week. The National League is home to the greatest pitcher of his generation: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball for years now and was well on his way to starting the All Star Game (again) this year before landing on the disable list last week with a herniated disk. Now, there is no clear-cut front runner for the honor of starting the All-Star Game. 

As I wrote last week, ERA is not the best stat to judge a pitcher, but the baseball hierarchy hasn't really caught onto that yet. So here are the ERA leaders of the National League. 

Based on the ERA rankings of the league, along with a few other factors, I think there are 5 realistic candidates to start the All-Star Game:

  1. Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has to be considered the front-runner at this point. Excluding Kershaw, he leads the National League in strikeouts and has the lowest ERA. He is also 2nd among non-Kershaw pitchers in innings pitched.
  2. Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is widely considered to be the second-best pitcher in the National League, which is a sentiment that I do not agree with. He has the ERA and the strikeouts, but he has pitched 5.1 innings or less in 5 of his last 8 starts. That is not how an elite pitcher is supposed to perform. His reputation earns him a chance, but he is not deserving.
  3. Noah Syndergaard. The young 23 year-old has taken the league by storm in his 1st full season in the major leagues. While his numbers are slightly inferior to Bumgarner's and Arrieta's, he has a few factors working in his favor. For one, he has the sex appeal that would likely lead to higher television ratings. Also signisifxant is the fact that his manager, Terry Collins, is the one making the decision. Nepotism might benefit him here.
  4. Johnny Cueto. Cueto is tied for the league lead in wins and also leads the league in innings pitched. However, it would be tough to justify giving him the nod over his teammate, Bumgarner.
  5. Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz is the dark-horse here. He is having a fine season, but his numbers are obviously inferior to the guys listed above. However, Pomeranz pitches for the San Diego Padres, who happen to be hosting the All Star Game this year. It would not be unprecedented for the starting pitcher to be chosen due to the game being played in his home ballpark. As recently as 2013, Matt Harvey was chosen to start the game when it was played at Citi Field, despite the fact that he did not have the best numbers. 
In terms of numbers, the choice is clearly Bumgarner. However, I would not be surprised at all to see Syndergaard chosen by his own manager, especially when you include the fact that he would likely boost ratings. Personally, I'm rooting for Pomeranz, who has had an unremarkable career before breaking out this year. 

Ryan Braun Gets Called Out For Batting Out of Order

The Milwaukee Brewers are not a good baseball team. They are currently 36-46, and a whopping 16 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. The team does not have a lot of talent, which explains why they haven't made the playoffs since 2011. Yesterday, we saw yet another reason why the Brewers have never even made it to a World Series in their 47 year history. In yesterday's game against the Washington Nationals, Ryan Braun was called out for batting out of order. Yes, you read that correctly: A Major League Baseball team was guilty of a mistake that would be embarrassing for a tee-ball team. If you're interested, here's a video of the play in question:

As you probably know, a baseball lineup is set before the game starts by the team's manager. A copy of that lineup is presented to the home plate umpire and to the opposing team's manager to avoid any confusion. Now, it should come as no surprise that the batting order MUST be followed as it is listed/ Apparently, the Brewers missed that memo yesterday.

Here is the official lineup that Brewer's manager Craig Counsell issued yesterday:
As you can see, Ryan Braun is listed as batting 4th, how he wound up batting 3rd yesterday is beyond my comprehension. Batting in the correct order is something so simple that it is not even something that should even be thought about. For the Brewers though, even something that simple proved to be difficult. This reflects negatively on Counsell, the manager, for not being aware of the situation. Its also a bad look for Braun (who is a really bad human being), for not being able to understand the very simple concept of the number 4 coming after the number 3. Most of all though, it reflects poorly on the Milwaukee Brewers organization, who are pushing 50 years now without even sniffing the World Series. Winning teams do no make these types of mistakes.