A Trip Through The Standings

Memorial Day is the point in the baseball season where I start to pay attention to the standings. We’re about 1/3rd of the way through the season and you can start to draw some conclusions. Let’s take a walk through the six divisions.

AL East-
If you expected the Yankees to lead the division by three games and be on pace for 100 wins at this point of the season, you are way ahead of me. I still don’t buy the starting pitching and I don’t see how Castro or Hicks will hit like this the rest of the way, but I just hope the rest of the season is as fun as the first part. I can’t ask for anything more.

Boston is right about where I thought it would be while Toronto is scuffling much more than I thought possible. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays can climb back into the race.

AL Central-
I think the biggest surprise in baseball has to be the Twins. 26-20 and in first, wow. I don’t think it will last much longer as Cleveland is right there, but it would be fun to see Minnesota in contention the rest of the way.

AL West-
I picked Houston as the best team in the AL in my preview post and they have been so far. Amazingly, they have a 10-1/2 game lead in the division and are on pace to win 111 games. They will cool off, but this could be a pretty fun summer in Houston as I don’t see which team in the West could even mount a threat to them at this point.

One other note, Oakland may be the worst defensive team I have seen. They kicked the ball all over Yankee Stadium this past weekend. Yuck.

NL East-
Washington is what I thought it was while the Mets are probably the biggest disappointment in baseball. Can they rebound from a 21-27 start? Signs don’t look promising, but plenty of baseball left.

NL Central-
The second biggest surprise in baseball is the Brewers leading the Central at this point. Thames has been the star, but how about Travis Shaw? The bigger question is when do the Cubs shake off their post-championship hangover and start playing up to their ability?

NL West-
Colorado is another surprise, but the Dodgers are right there and should wrest away the division. Next to the Mets, the implosion of the Giants has to be the biggest disappointment so far.

Some other thoughts
Billy Hamilton is on pace to steal 92 bases. That would be the most in baseball since 1988 when Rickey Henderson stole 93.

Six players are on pace for 50-plus homers so far. There have not been multiple 50-homer guys since 2007.

Four players are on pace for 250-plus strikeouts. The single season “record” is 223 by Mark Reynolds in 2009

Conspiracy Theories

David Ortiz has come up with a doozy. According to Ortiz, the Yankees were behind the New York Times report that named him as one of the players who failed the 2003 PED test. According to Ortiz, this was because “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston.” This is breathtakingly stupid in a number of ways.

1- How did the Yankees leak the information? How could they have gotten it if no other club had it?

2- The New York Times owned a piece of the Red Sox when they published that. I don’t think they were interested in helping the Yankees.

3- The Mitchell Report was written by a director of the Red Sox and commissioned by an owner of the Brewers. If you want a conspiracy theory, maybe that’s why not a single Red Sox or Brewer was named in it?

Ortiz still hasn’t admitted to it or come up with the reason he failed the test, like he said he would years ago.

He is however probably right that the leak came from New York. After all, MLB’s offices are right on Park Avenue in midtown.

A Good Reminder

The Yankees hot start has been exciting to watch, but it has also opened up a dangerous possibility. Would the team look to add players at this year’s deadline in order to win a championship now? If the Yankees are still playing like this in two months, the pressure to do so will be enormous.

So I hope Brian Cashman has archived this series on his DVR. Houston looks very good, and boy can they hit, shredding three Yankee starters, including two who would be part of the playoff roatation.

That’s what I take away from the series, the Yankees don’t have the pitching to compete with the best teams. And with 3/5ths of the rotation already likely to be on the open market after the season, they need to stay away from the lure of short-term rentals to get it. This is a process that won’t be completed in 2017, but patience is always very, very hard for this team. Hopefully, this weekend shows them to just keep their heads down and work with what they have.

The ESPN Factor

Last week ESPN laid off about 100 people. The list included big names like Jason Stark, and people behind the scenes who are not recognizable to the general public. It was a strong signal that the sports landscape is about to change.

ESPN made billions at the sports gravy train. As DVR’s proliferated, ESPN benefitted because they controlled one of the last “DVR-proof” properties- live sports- and they charged advertisers and subscribers massive amounts for it. They also fought very hard to keep those properties, inking enormous rights deals with all the major leagues, except the NHL, and creating things like the Longhorn Network, a channel exclusively devoted to the University of Texas. But then a funny thing happened, technology went beyond the DVR to online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Suddenly, people started wondering why they had cable when they could just watch all their shows online and they started canceling it. This was a double whammy for ESPN as they get paid by the cable companies based on their subscribers, and they get paid by the advertisers based on their ratings. Fewer viewers hits both of those revenue streams and that is why 100 people lost their jobs last week. But this is just the start of something that will transform sports.

MLB and the other leagues are going to have to negotiate new TV deals in the future and they are going to have a harder time finding networks willing to shell out money for them. Cable companies, under increasing consumer pressure to lower costs, are going to aggressively question why they are shelling out big bucks for channels that relatively few people actually watch. (It’s true, there are a lot more sports haters than sports fans out there) This means that leagues are going to see a pretty significant loss in revenue from TV. And while things like MLB.com can certainly make some of that up, it’s worth remembering that MLB receives about $1.5-billion a year in TV rights right now. That’s 15-million subscribers at $100 a pop, or a higher number of subscribers than average viewers of the 2015 World Series, so don’t count on it.

This will have a profound affect on team revenues, but also on team valuations which are essentially multiples of those revenues. Payrolls should decrease and ticket prices will probably have to as well, as ticket sales and concessions become a bigger part of the revenue that teams earn. All of that could be a good result for the average fan. But, owners are not going to like this one bit. And owners who spent billions, only to see the revenues they based those investments on dry up, are going to agressively look to replace those revenues and that means new stadiums and expansion. I would expect that as the TV revenues shrink, owners will look to the taxpayer to give them better ballparks and new owners to give them fat expansion fees. So we could end up with a lot more teams in a lot of terrible locations, all to keep owners happy.

Teams would be smart to be very, very cautious throwing money around in the next few years because the future doesn’t look as bright as it once did.

Dial it Down

Aaron Judge may be the best story in baseball right now. He has amazing power and he is showing it prolifically, but unfortunately people are getting stupid with their comparisoions and need to stop.

Judge isn’t Jeter or, and I can’t believe I have to say this, Mantle. Jeter was 22 when he broke in and Mantle was 19. Judge is 25. He could still improve, but 3,000 hits or 500 homers are very, very, unlikely so let’s set the expectations a bit lower.

Judge looks like he could be a very good player for the next decade and the best Yankee rightfielder since Dave Winfield. That would make him “better” than Paul O’Neill, which should be more than enough for Yankee fans. The immortal Yankees are safe, everyone else is in play. Let’s just enjoy it.