Friday, September 14, 2007

Farewell To A Dump

I hope you have your hankies ready. Tonight's game against the skydiving Atlanta Braves marks the beginning of the end for the old dump and Svrulga and Loverro (I warned you that I'd have to start reading him) have the opening eulogies.

Loverro's focuses on the attendance and how, even in a bad year, he feels the attendance should be sending up warning flags.
This season's turnstile count, as a reflection of the performance of the owners, could be interpreted in two ways. Either they made serious misjudgments in the marketing of this team — i.e., they tried their hardest to get people to the stadium and failed — or they decided there was little they could do this year and that they would simply wait to pull out the promotional stops until the team moves into the new ballpark.

Either way, it's not good. Trying and failing shows poor marketing skills. Not trying shows poor vision. Perhaps ownership hasn't noticed that you can't walk down a street here without running into someone wearing burgundy and gold.

It will take years to add red to that mix. The Nats can't afford to give up one year, certainly not so soon after the rebirth of baseball in Washington.

I'm actually sick of the 'marketing' boogeyman that anyone (especially on BPG) sites any time there's an attendance problem. It's not that complicated. You've got a lousy team that was expected to be lousy (lousiererer, I s'pose), playing in a dump of a ballpark, getting their brains bashed in 50% of the time in a market that's transient and more inclined to support a winner (ala June '05). Short of winning 90 games -- good luck doing that! -- what else could they have done?

They made the gamble that they could punt this season, and live off the coattails of the new barn next year. It'll work, just as it worked in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and every other cowtown that built a new barn. They're confident that the one or two year jump the new place gives them will allow them to get their feet underneath them, so that they're competitive (read: 85 wins+) and able to draw fans in to see exciting baseball once that honeymoon effect wears off.

You can disagree with the strategy. But to call it a failure? Or a lack of vision? Seems like they've got their vision, and that it's got a pretty good chance of working.

Svrulga's article takes a different tack. It focuses on how little the players will miss the place, especially because of the large dimensions.

In doing so, he makes a common error -- really it's a shortcut -- when trying to quantify RFK's effect on pitchers' prowess. He points out that "Only one stadium over the past three seasons -- San Francisco's AT&T Park -- has yielded fewer homers than RFK, which coughs up an average of 1.63 per game. Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, by contrast, allowed 2.96 homers per game in that same span."

The problem with just summing up like that is that it doesn't adjust for quality of offense or pitching. Although Cinci's park is a homer haven, some of that homer total is because of how crappy their pitching is. Just as how some of RFK's lack of homers is because this is a team that really lacks a true power hitter.

A better -- though more complicated -- method is to compare the rates of these events for individual teams on the home and the road. (Here's the basic formula, if you're interested).

Thankfully, some other nerds do the math for us. And if you look here, you'll see that, for this season, RFK has been the single toughest place to homer, allowing 35% fewer homers than an average park. Now one-year factors are screwy. Even a season's worth of games aren't enough to get a true handle, and changes in wind/weather/El Nino/Global Warming/Thermonuclear War, etc can play a huge role in how a park plays in a given year. So most statheads use three years as a representative sample. If you click through the previous years in that link, you'll see that RFK is usually in the bottom 5, with roughly 25% fewer homers than average.

The story also focuses on next year, and what we should expect out of the new yard. Though Bodes says it's going to be 'fair', Kasten's comment might be telling:
"The truth is, we don't know," Kasten said. "I was there [last month], and the wind was blowing out. What does that mean? How will it blow through the openings? We won't know until we get in there."

Wind and external factors are a huge consideration, but the dimensions certainly seem like a decent hitter's park. The left-center gap, according to the story, is 364. Right-center is 377. It's the deep power alleys that kill power at RFK. And right center is probably 30 feet closer in the new place. It's not going to just let warning track flies leave. Balls that are 20 feet in front of the track could leave the yard in the new place.

I also suspect that RFK's outfield seats have a way of knocking flyballs down. I still remember Troy Glaus' towering fly balls dying in the wind in that opening series in '05, and most of the homers that leave are liners, not towering majestic shots. If the wind patterns are different there, that bodes even worse for the pitchers.

I reiterate: Take my Bacsik, Please!

6 Comments:

  • Looking at the renderings, I'm wondering if the VIP lot is going to be tall enough/close enough to screw the wind patterns affecting fly balls to left, especially near the line.

    By Anonymous Basil, at 9/14/2007 11:05 AM  

  • It's possible. They should have some effect, but it also looks like there's quite a bit of an open courtyard there, too. Plenty of places for the wind to go and break up instead of being a pure jetstream in (for example).

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 9/14/2007 11:08 AM  

  • Someone (Loverro) who only seems to be able to find gainful employment writing for a newspaper that no one reads and that has only been able to survive for as long as it has by the graces of God's representative Sun Myung Moon is hardly the one to be lecturing an organization that has managed to put over 1.7 million fannies in seats (or if not actually having put their fannies in its seats, has at least put its hands into their wallets) over the past six months on the deficiencies of its marketing approach. Just sayin'...

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 9/14/2007 1:29 PM  

  • It is hard to complain about the marketing of the team - they went from the worst organization in professional sports when owned by MLB to something better. The effort is apparent in fits and spurts, as impossible as it is to market this pig of a team in that rathole stadium. Even die-hard baseball fans stay away (I'll only make 10 games this year, after 60 each of the first two years).

    The hope of the new stadium may work, but I expect that the Pittsburgh/Detroit pattern (big attendance spike one year, return to blahs after) unless the team improves significantly.

    Worrying about attendance is silly. It is something to talk about when there's no ooomph about the team.

    By Anonymous A wary fan, at 9/15/2007 11:08 AM  

  • Good point on the "failure" thing Chris...too often, on too many topics people say "This strategy has failed," when what they mean is "I disagree with this approach" And as for marketing, not really a marketing guy, myself, but even I know that part of marketing is having a message to sell...which of these messages for the '07 Nats do you think would have been effective:

    A. Hey, come watch the Nats! We don't stink as bad as everybody thought we'd stink (though we still do smell a little)

    B. Hey, come watch the Nats! You're sure to get nostalgia for our dilapidated old relic of a stadium, remembering back to all the great years you watched baseball in the last three deca...oh, right...

    C. Hey, come watch the Nats! You'll be treated to finest concessions and fan experience baseball has to offer - al dente hotdogs, flat beer, long lines and the surliest service this side of Alice - Kiss our grits, hon!

    I think they banked that they could reduce the fanbase to its absolute hardest core, offer a perk on seats at the new park, slash the payroll, take their lumps and build up from the base. So far, so good.

    Now, if they don't put some serious effort into marketing next year...

    By Anonymous Phil Yur, at 9/15/2007 1:51 PM  

  • About the marketing: I'm from out of town, and I make a habit of visiting stadiums that are in their last year. I've visited Tiger, Milwaukee County, Riverfront, Jack Murphy and Busch. I was going to RFK, but throughout the summer it didn't seem like they were going to do anything to "celebrate" their last game. Now I see that they're going to do a lot. When did you locals hear about this? Because if the Nats would've announced on its website that they were going to have a celebration their last weekend, I would've booked a ticket and hotel months ago. Instead, all I got was the kids were allowed to run the bases or something.

    Again, when did you guys learn about the festivities of the last game?

    By Anonymous Bill, at 9/23/2007 3:20 AM  

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