Candlesticks always make a nice gift
September 11, 2019 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Due to advanced training and analytics, maybe we don't need minor league baseball anymore. Or maybe we do.
posted by Chrysostom (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Who exactly is minor-league baseball for?

Burneko does a good job of covering the "why is minor league baseball?" bases. I am definitely one of the "maybe you just like watching baseball games" crowd, and developed that liking more by attending local minor league games as a kid than by watching major league games on TV.

I would really like minor league players to be paid decently, though. The importance of having affordable local games to grow and maintain interest in the sport doesn't mean the players who enable it should be impoverished. The minor league players who'll never make it to the majors are essentially baseball educators and promoters, just as much as the public relations staff the teams employ. And those people usually get to work in air-conditioned offices.
posted by asperity at 10:02 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


(INRE the post title: yessssss.)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:02 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]


A friend loves to go to the local minor league games. It’s a nice afternoon outside, with hotdogs and beer and a game you barely have to pay attention to, all at a fraction of the price and inconvenience. #lifehack
posted by sjswitzer at 10:06 AM on September 11 [10 favorites]


Crash: You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.
Nuke: Right. Fear and ignorance.

I could quote Bull Durham all day, but I do think the worship of analytics isn't really good for the game. A little more art, a little less science. And more money for minor league players.
posted by mogget at 10:14 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]


I wonder how much of the decrease in minor league attendance can be attributed to employment and people concentrating more in larger cities?
posted by asperity at 10:20 AM on September 11


I wonder how much of the decrease in minor league attendance can be attributed to employment and people concentrating more in larger cities?

It's only down this year after a pretty strong upward trend over the last 20 years. Last year the team in Erie that the 538 article is all worried about set an attendance record. Overall, the minor leagues are in way better shape than they were in the 90s and massively better shape than in the 50s, a decade where 300+ minor league teams folded. No one is thinking about shutting down a minor league team because attendance isn't good enough, they're doing it because they don't want to pay for the players or because they've convinced themselves that they're a useless relic of the past.
posted by Copronymus at 10:36 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Because it's fun, damnit.
posted by Melismata at 10:40 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I can only think that the "eliminate minor league teams" article was written by someone who lives in a major city.

The nearest major league team to me is 300 miles away in another state.
They don't show games on broadcast TV here nor is there a radio affiliate.
They do not sell merchandise in every store.

For us, consolidation would not mean the minor inconvenience of having to go to head up to the city to see a game, it would mean the complete severance of any baseball connection.

Which hey, for me, not a big deal, I've seen plenty of baseball. But for the kids, who are on the verge of becoming lifelong baseball consumers, those cheap afternoons at the minor league park are what drive requests to go see the big league team and pay big league prices.
posted by madajb at 10:42 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


Do We Even Need Major League Baseball?
posted by TheShadowKnows at 10:53 AM on September 11 [17 favorites]


I love watching live ball games much more than radio/tv. I really love watching minor league games for a few reasons - $$, the crowd size, the intimate feeling of the game, the fact that the players are still learning means mistakes and mistakes are exciting! (Please pay the guys though!)
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:54 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


My preferred solution would be institute promotion and relegation, as they do in European soccer leagues. I'm pretty certain the Baltimore Orioles, say, would be much better suited to the Carolina League or similar.

(You'd have to dismantle the farm system and close the massive pay gap between the majors and minors, but otherwise I think it's a solid, pragmatic way forward.)
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:59 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


I would much rather go to a minor league game than a major league game most days. I'm not a committed fan, and the social/experiential aspects of a low-key community-level game are my favorite part of a ball game.

I have very fond memories of going to see the Burlington Lake Monsters on a family vacation about ten years ago, when my parents were still alive, and my brother and SIL spent the whole game quoting Bull Durham, and my sister & I split an elephant ear. It was great.
posted by suelac at 11:00 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I was actually coming here to post this, specifically for this comment, which is actually really depressing and true, and has kind of occasioned a minor existential crisis even though I already knew it. At least the Matrix provided simulated baseball.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:04 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Why do we like minor league baseball? Just take a look at all the awesome team names, such as: the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Florida Fire Frogs, the Hartford Yard Goats, the New Orleans Baby Cakes, and the Tri-City Dust Devils (not to be confused with the Tri-City ValleyCats).

I've taken my kids to minor-league games, and they usually have great promotions and activities: Star Wars Night (with costumed characters), bouncy houses, draft beer (that one's for me), fireworks, T-shirt tosses, trivia contests, the whole deal. And for It's actually more fun than major-league games: we're sitting just three rows up from the third-base line, we can talk to the players after the game, and everyone seems to be having a great time.
posted by fuzzy.little.sock at 11:06 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


This here book The Minors: The Struggles and the Triumph of Baseball's Poor Relation from 1876 to the Present is a good read. Minor league baseball was a significant source of entertainment in the U.S., until the 1950s when televised baseball and then MLB's conquest of the West attracted Americans outside of metro areas on the East Coast and the Midwest away from their local ballparks. The way that MLB crushed the Pacific Coast League in the 1950s instead of embracing it or integrating it is emblematic of the relationship. At the time, the Pacific Coast League had historic, popular teams in all the large West Coast cities that rivaled MLB teams in attendance and notoriety, but the San Francisco Seals, and the Los Angeles Stars, and the rest of the league fell from prominence when the Giants and Dodgers moved in, eventually settling into the "farm team" system of serfdom that prevails.
posted by chrchr at 11:18 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


If you just, y’know, like the actual sport of baseball, and enjoy watching it played well by players who, even if they are not quite MLB-quality, are quite good at playing it?

The level of play in minor league is still pretty high. It's still going to be an entertaining time out, and maybe even more so, when you're not thinking about the drive home and the money flying out of your wallet and they didn't even win, dammit.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:18 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


It's a weird and seemingly purposefully contrarian take to draw attention since many players, including one they quoted, Mitch Haniger, do need years of playing in the minors before they are able to play in the majors. There's a high turnover rate and lot's of injuries that need to be covered every season for every team and just having a bunch of extra guys sitting around for years not playing and just training wouldn't provide anything like the same benefit as having them play.

It was already mentioned above that football and basketball have their own "minor leagues" in college play, and now the NBA has the G League. But baseball is a much longer season needing more players at the ready to step in and it also literally drafts kids from outside the US at age 16 as part of their development structure and those kids need games to play, if one accepts that drafting kids that young or kids from the US straight out of high school is a acceptable practice.

Beyond all of that though lies the issue that advanced analytics are their own major problem for sports like baseball. Not only in the way that analytics favor ownership over players in how they can be used to undercut salaries and work against baseball's creaky seniority based, "Pay your dues" approach to contract negotiation, where players bargain for CBAs as a collective, but then negotiate for salaries individually. That gives veteran players way more say in how contracts are allowed to be set up, while gutting them through the back door by making their services increasingly less needed as analytics improve that better define a player value.

That the ultimate goal of analytics too is to make sports entirely predictable shouldn't go without noting as the very aim of statistical analysis would end sports as a past time if it can reach anything close to that goal.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:25 AM on September 11


My knee-jerk response is "Save minor league ball!"

But then I think that maybe a retreat to more-local product would be better in baseball as it has been in other areas: more authenticity, better access to local customers, more passion. And as evidence, I would point you all toward a recent series about baseball teams from small Minnesota towns. (I mean, small towns, like a few hundred people.)

It started on Fox Sports Midwest this summer, and the final episode (#8) was last night; I watch it online here:
https://www.townballmn.com

Most of the parks are tiny and charming while some are slick (but still quite small): we almost went to a game in Red Wing in June, but we had trouble picking out to the right field from the little league and beer leagues games going on in the same complex. The players speak with great feeling about how their love of the game has kept them playing long after most people give up on sports -- some unto the third generation.

Watch the first episode, at least -- on a big screen if you can.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:41 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I feel like this debate is largely Team Analytics and Team Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet talking past each other, in large part due to Sawchik's glib "what if we just moved fast and broke stuff" framing, and his myopic focus on the Astros as the model for all other teams to follow.

The book Sawchik co-authored, which I haven't yet read but am interested in reading, is focused on the Astros' nearly unprecedented player development success, which makes me think he's just got tunnel vision from doing all that research, and isn't as attuned to what it's like for the clubs who haven't had Houston's phenomenal success at developing talent. And even after all that success, the Astros only dropped two of their nine affiliated clubs at the lowest levels of the minors -- one at the Rookie level, and just one of their two Dominican Summer League teams.

There's also no sign that anyone's following Houston's lead. Teams with more hit-or-miss records of developing younger players are still going to need a place to park their "organizational depth", "Quad A" veteran guys. Having prospects skip AAA is fine for the highly-pedigreed prospects, but analytics can't yet predict where the late-career breakout guys are going to come from, and those guys are still important to team success, particularly for small market clubs (e.g. Kansas City with Whit Merrifield, Toronto with Jose Bautista, etc.) Ultimately, teams aren't going to want to have to rush a not-yet-ready prospect to the bigs to fill a temporary hole, particularly with how valuable those 6 or 7 years of team control are to them.

So yeah, I don't see this becoming a thing.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:43 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Man, the ending of that Deadspin piece packs a punch:
So, back to the above. Who is any of this for? It isn’t for anybody. It’s for itself. It’s just a machine that runs. Like all others, if you pull back far enough, it just makes sand. For now, though, it makes it at least in part by staging baseball games at various levels for people to watch and enjoy, and on the whole that’s better than what’s to come.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:47 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


We went to a Cape Cod Summer League game this summer, and it was charming.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:49 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


If the point of analytics is to win games, then baseball analytics are really, really bad. The very best teams (by winning percentage) in the history of the sport all pre-date the analytics era, usually by a lot (the 1906 Cubs for example). The very best percentage in MLB history would not even be in the top 30 for the NBA, where four of the top 13 have been in the last three years -- which really does speak towards a brand new systems-level change in how basketball works.

If analytics really really worked, the way the Splash Brothers "work," the Astros would win 120-130 games a year. But they don't. Which implies that chance is a much larger factor in baseball than in any other sport, or, in other words, that analytics are not a great predictor of whether or not you have a winning team, or whether a particular player will improve those odds.

In the face of chaos, what does work? Resiliency, balance, depth, the ability to change direction quickly if needed. A deep bench. Stacks of talent that only you can draw on. In short, a strong farm system.

Plus minor league games are cool.
posted by PandaMomentum at 12:02 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


There's a tenor in the discussion here and in the articles about analytics and "The Process" as mechanistic and anti-human. I would like to push back on that, if I may! An emphasis in "The Process" is player development. I.e., putting a lot of effort into helping individual players to be better at playing baseball. To me, this is profoundly humanistic. The alternative is that players are left the struggle with their issues on their own or are left to the whims of minor league coaches. If I were a major league prospect, I would sure prefer to play for the organization that wanted to help me to reach my potential and put cutting edge coaching and training techniques at my disposal.
posted by chrchr at 12:05 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I love minor-league ball— watching imperfect and exciting gameplay, getting a great seat for not a lot of money, not dealing with a massive crowd or traffic, enjoying whimsical team names and mascots, local beer and concessions that support someone's high school or whatever. I enjoy watching majors games, but I get season tickets to the minors.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:41 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


We could replace all spectator sports with AI simulations. It would be much tidier.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:43 PM on September 11


If analytics really really worked, the way the Splash Brothers "work," the Astros would win 120-130 games a year. But they don't. Which implies that chance is a much larger factor in baseball than in any other sport, or, in other words, that analytics are not a great predictor of whether or not you have a winning team, or whether a particular player will improve those odds.

Except analytics aren't employed by just the Astros, which is why there is a chance MLB could have five 100 win teams and five 100 loss teams as more teams seek to maximize their player value by stockpiling or tanking. That the Astros and Yankees have done so well largely because they have such good farm systems can be taken as much as a failure of MLB in addressing the betterment of their worker pool as confirmation of things working well. Guys like Clint Frazier or Kyle Tucker, in a freer market, would have been contributing on a major league roster for at least all this season if not more, but they are tied to a contract system that denies them a chance to shop their talents openly and thus costs them money and any team that could use them the chance to be more competitive.

That there are so many teams tanking also shows that there is a growing consensus on what the best path to success is, which comes from number crunching the risk/reward factor of player value. MLB's "saving grace", in regards to players, is that they don't have the same hard caps on salary that other leagues do, so at least there is some opportunity for more competitive bidding for talent, but that, as we saw going into this season, is constrained by more teams following roughly the same strategies towards evaluation and older player growth curves. That threatens to undermine the salary structure of MLB by holding down veteran contracts while pressuring young players who haven't had a big pay day to take non-advantageous deals that benefit the organization to get something rather than wait out their shot at free agency and accept the risk they might get injured or otherwise lose value.

It's not all that different than if something like a poker game where all the players bet strictly based on the underlying statistical odds of a given hand. There's still chance, but when everyone starts playing the same way, much of the interest in the game is lost as everyone plays the same way. It effects baseball on both the macro and micro scale where the game is being "refined" towards three true outcome Ks, BBs, and HRs results and player use is ever more specialized. To compete in this environment one almost has to adopt the same methods as one's competitors otherwise get left behind. The question is more in how one wants to visualize a different environment than in asserting fixes to the one that currently exists. A more independent minor league system where players can actively shop themselves to any team, for one example, would change things dramatically for potentially good or bad depending on what measures one uses.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:11 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


It's still going to be an entertaining time out, and maybe even more so, when you're not thinking about the drive home and the money flying out of your wallet and they didn't even win, dammit.

I gotta say I care a lot less about whether the Rockies win or lose when I know I'm going to have the same pleasant bicycle ride home either way. (Also, Coors Field has bike parking with an attendant! I don't have to bring my helmet and panniers in to the park! It's great.)

Minor or major, it's better when you don't have to drive to get to the ballpark. Stadiums out in the middle of nowhere are bad.
posted by asperity at 1:51 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


The minor leagues are what keep MLB from using the NCAA as a defacto minor league, they way the NFL and NBA do. Sure, the majors keep tabs on the college talent, but the relationship between the two are far more removed than they are in the other two majors.

And, minor league ball is fun and affordable.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:58 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


My Major League team is in last place; my Minor League team is also in last place. If I go to the Minor League game I can save a lot of money watching my team lose.

I love Minor League baseball. Good food, good seats, easy parking, quality comparable to Major League (see above), and a quick ride home to get to bed. Plus great team names and little local kids getting to do stupid contests on the sidelines.

As for analytics: the poetry of baseball is in the rules, honed over the decades to retain a healthy dose of chance in the game. I love the rules of baseball. I love the infield fly rule.
posted by acrasis at 2:33 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


The tanking seems to be causing an MLB attendance problem as well. This Baseball Prospectus link is registration-walled (though not paywalled) and shows some pretty compelling evidence that there's a link between a team's position in the playoff hunt and the number of people who come out to see them. Who'd'a thunk it?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:39 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


As one of my sisters asked, if there were no minor league teams, what would all the T-Rex dancers do?
posted by skyscraper at 3:07 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Add me to the list of folks who believe in the Church of Baseball. My wife and I even got to see the Durham Bulls play (and win!) this season and we watched a game at the local AAA affiliate.

As an analytical guy I admit I love baseball for all of the crazy stats but also the data science wizardry behind the scenes, but at the end of the day I just love the game.
posted by grimjeer at 4:43 PM on September 11


If the cult of analytics that has enriched and plagued American baseball for generations actually improved the performance of American teams, there would be no need for the World Series to exclude most of the world.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:15 AM on September 12


> If the cult of analytics that has enriched and plagued American baseball for generations actually improved the performance of American teams, there would be no need for the World Series to exclude most of the world.

I'm not sure what the complaint is here. The World Series name is just a name MLB gave to their championship series. The "world" didn't actually get together and decide that MLB's champion team is the best team in the world, so it's not MLB's job or right to "include" or "exclude" teams headquartered in other countries, playing in different professional baseball leagues.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:59 AM on September 12


The World Series certainly does not exclude most of the world. The teams are based in the U.S. and Canada, but the players come from all over the world. MLB players commonly come from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, in addition to the U.S. All of the world’s baseball playing nations are well represented in the World Series.
posted by chrchr at 7:14 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


> The World Series certainly does not exclude most of the world. The teams are based in the U.S. and Canada, but the players come from all over the world. MLB players commonly come from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, in addition to the U.S. All of the world’s baseball playing nations are well represented in the World Series.

I think the complaint was referring to teams from other professional leagues around the world playing against MLB teams... At least I hope it was.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:10 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


The claim I am making is that the reason why MLB teams do not play teams from professionalized leagues outside of North America might be because they would often lose, and in losing so much of cherished North American baseball culture (like the intense focus on analytics) would be made to appear absurd by a meaningful comparison. In that context, the conceit of calling a competition that includes teams from only two countries, in order to permit only one style of and business model for playing the game, a 'World Series' just gets a bit rich.

What would happen if the winner of the World Series were to play against the best teams in leagues around the world? Maybe we don't know because most American fans would prefer not to.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:58 AM on September 13


Baseball isn't a worldwide sport like soccer; there are only a handful of countries with domestic leagues, and they're all inferior to MLB, in no small part because MLB teams skim off the best players from those leagues. This is like saying the Spanish La Liga champion should have to play the champions of each South American domestic league. Why? The best South American players already play in Spain.

There is a World Baseball Classic, akin to the World Cup, and non-American teams often do well. But many of those teams (plus many who didn't medal) were composed of MLB players, with a handful of domestic league players. Notably, very few players cross borders to play in other countries' leagues, with the exception of MLB. Players in less-competitive leagues don't go to other countries' leagues for better opportunities. There are a handful of Americans in Japan, but if you're, say, a Mexican or Venezuelan, you're not going to play in the Dominican league. You'll either play in your domestic league or go to America.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:45 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if you were just talking about short series, like seven games or less, the US would lose sometimes to teams comprised of the best talent, including major leaguers, from each country, if the competition was set up quasi-Olympics style and everyone who would be desired for each team chose to participate, but over a whole season a US team would be the prohibitive favorite to have the best overall record, with maybe a good Dominican Republic squad close or ahead in some seasons. The Japanese league is graded out as roughly AAA quality, which is why guys who didn't make the majors can play there and do well. The parks are much smaller, so the power difference would be huge. A Japanese team of just their best players wouldn't be a push over, but the US does have a major advantage.

I wouldn't even be sure MLB wouldn't welcome more competition as that could help the brand as baseball is slipping in popularity and having a chance to expand their coverage would be a plus in some ways, depending on how one imagines it working out or the circumstances involved. MLB sends teams overseas to play in Japan against some of their teams in the preseason, sent teams to London to play this season and will do so again next year, and have mooted expanding into Mexico and, theoretically, Cuba, should the opportunity present itself as seeming profitable. So I'm not sure they are really worried about about other countries getting or being better as much as they are the sport here in the US losing appeal for its "old fashioned" aesthetic.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:05 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Yeah, c'mon, we're already late on founding the London Kings.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:12 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


there are only a handful of countries with domestic leagues, and they're all inferior to MLB, in no small part because MLB teams skim off the best players from those leagues.

And note that MLB is unusual in accepting international players. The Japanese league -- Nippon Professional Baseball -- imposes a limit of four non-Japanese players per team.

Are American MLB teams better than teams in foreign leagues? It's not a mystery. There's good evidence that MLB teams are a lot better. In addition to the point that kevinbelt makes about the best players coming to play in MLB, we've also seen players who were not quite up to playing in the majors absolutely dominate in Japan, and we've seen dominant Japanese players come to the U.S. and play well, sometimes great, but without the kind of success they had in Japan.

There are often international exhibitions where MLB and NPB players play against one another! Sometimes Japan wins! It's not a big deal!
posted by chrchr at 11:06 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


« Older America is in danger of losing its “measles-free”...   |   SAR dogs at ground zero. Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.