The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, January 30, 2006

 

JAWS and the Supercilious Writer

Thanks to the great amount of feedback my recent JAWS series on the Hall of Fame ballot and its subsequent follow-up chat generated, I received enough good questions from Baseball Prospectus readers to make a mailbag piece worthwhile. Topics include the cases for Tim Raines, John Olerud, and Pete Rose, the relative merits of Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, the already-elected relievers (including this year's inductee, Bruce Sutter), and the eminently worthy Goose Gossage, and Yankee overrepresentation in the Hall. Here's the part about Raines:
Great job covering the Hall of Fame this year, as always. I was curious to know what Tim Raines' JAWS score is. In my opinion, he's a Hall of Famer, but I know that his candidacy is borderline and that in many ways he doesn't stack up. Regardless, a leadoff hitter with a career .385 OBP, who stole 808 bases at an 85% clip, while maintaining an OPS of .810 over more than 10,000 plate appearances at least deserves some consideration. If you have it, can you tell me his JAWS score? Also, what do you think of his chances of making it to the Hall?

--Jake Berlin
Gotta love the Rock! Friend of BP Alex Belth probably calls me twice a year to ask whether I think Tim Raines could make it, chirping, "I wish he was on this ballot, man!" On some level, I share Alex's excitement, and if ever there were a candidate I'd want to launch a preemptive campaign to enshrine, it's Raines, who in his Expo days was an unforgettable, electrifying ballplayer, the kind whose obvious joy at playing the game made you savor it--and him--all the more.

Raines' JAWS numbers (121.6 career WARP/67.7 peak/94.7 JAWS) are far enough beyond the average Hall left fielder (105.2/59.7/82.4) that there shouldn't be any doubt about whether he's a Hall of Famer, and I think it's fair to say that I don't know a single stathead who doesn't endorse him as Hallworthy. His combination of speed and ability to get on base made him the best leadoff hitter in the game this side of Rickey Henderson. Even into his latter days, he was a valuable roleplayer for a couple of champion Yankees teams.

That said, I get the sense that Raines will be pushing the rock uphill when he reaches eligibility in 2008, mainly because he's often measured in direct comparison to his contemporary, Henderson. He can't match Henderson's unassailable resume--didn't reach 3,000 hits, doesn't hold the all-time record for steals or runs, never spoke of himself in the third person. As good as his JAWS is, it can't hold a candle to Rickey's 165.2/70.4/117.8, which ranks 22nd all time. That's an unfair standard to measure anybody against, but it's something Raines will have to contend with. He may end up in a boat similar to Bert Blyleven, another blindingly obvious candidate whose merits the BBWAA has thus far failed to appreciate. I think he'll get in eventually (it certainly doesn't hurt to see him as the first-base coach of the World Champion White Sox) but it may take him a good while, perhaps when a larger handful of writers who were raised on the work of Bill James (a huge fan of Raines) and more comfortable with sabermetrics gain their voting eligibility.
Check it out.

• • •

Also at BP today is an article from economist Andrew Zimbalist, who didn't take too kindly to the tone of my blog entry about Neil deMause's dispute with the figures Zimbalist cited in last weekend's New York Times Op-Ed. Through an intermediary, Zimbalist sent me the following late Wednesday night:
[Name of said intermediary deleted]: please send this comment to the guy who wrote that supercilious piece on me.

Neil's math is wrong. My 75% estimate is accurate. And his comment about the state parking investment is strange. So what if they do an RFP and have a private company manage it. That does not mean that the state will not get back its investment.
Supercilious? My vocabulary training kicked in, as did my biology background. I grasped for a Latin handhold: "many cilia" -- maybe an especially speedy centerfielder? Chone Figgins came to mind. Close, but I was way off. "Behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others," said my desktop dictionary, offering "arrogant, haughty, conceited, disdainful, overbearing, pompous, condescending..." and another dozen unflattering adjectives. The Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College had sicced 12-letter word on me (no, no that one), one that I needed a dictionary to decipher, yet I was the arrogant one.

Zimbalist and I traded a couple more snarky emails, none of which flatter either of us. I'm pretty sure he set a modern-day record (I'm not sure how that compares to pre-1900) by using "supercilious" in three straight exchanges. In one he also allowed that he might write a follow-up piece for BP, an approach I encouraged as much more constructive than having me mediate an email pissing contest.

Before the aforementioned piece ran, Zimbalist and deMause both appeared on this weekend's edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. Math doesn't always play well on the radio, so in trying to get at the root of the reason the two writers' figures disagreed, I transcribed some of it:
Neil deMause: This article wasn't particularly to respond to him, it was in the works before Professor Zimbalist came out with his piece on Sunday. But given the fact that he was using the sort of up-front "who's paying the cost?" numbers for the Yankees deal -- he said that the public was going to put up about 21 percent, I think, of the cost. That's just what they're spending in terms of up-front costs, and he didn't include these rent breaks, property tax breaks, some of the other side subsidies. I have it as about -- if you look at the Yankees versus public breakdown -- it's about 58 percent public, 42 percent Yankees. If you include all the others -- private garage developers and again, Major League Baseball is kicking in some -- it winds up being 36 percent public and 30 percent Yankees or something like that. The public is putting in more than the Yankees for this stadium that's being sold as an entirely Yankees-funded project.
DeMause had offered a more clear breakdown of the money via a comment in my last blog entry, something I'm virtually certain Zimbalist hadn't seen at the time he was interviewed:
Along those lines, I should clarify what I meant when I said that the new Yankees stadium would be "58 percent public, 42 percent private." I was only referring there to the split between the taxpayers and the Yankees - the ballclub being the private partner with the city in the stadium deal. If you count the third parties who are also involved, both shares go down proportionately: more like 36% public, 26% Yankees, 25% other MLB teams, and 13% parking garage developers. (Though the parking garage developers and the Yankees, unlike the public and the rest of MLB, will have a chance to recoup their investment via new revenues.)

Probably a better way of putting it would have been: The public will be paying for 47% of the stadium and 30% of the associated parking garages, while George Steinbrenner will be putting up just 40% of the stadium costs, and getting the garages built for free.
Back to the radio, DeMause continued his portion of the interview:
The cost is that this is money that could be spent elsewhere by the city. It's red ink on the city's ledger and taxpayers wind up putting it out. Is it worth spending 200 or 300 million dollars of public money to move Yankee Stadium across the street into what's currently a public park. People in the Bronx neighborhoods are not very happy about that. If it's a bad project, it's certainly a worse project if it loses 200 million dollars, 300 million dollars in the process.
Zimbalist starts his portion of the interview by taking a thinly-veiled jab at deMause's credentials before coming around to the matter at hand:
Andrew Zimbalist: I'm not sure it's a dispute between economists, it's a dispute between an economist and a journalist, first of all. But my side of the story is that the Yankees are proposing to build a stadium for $800 million and they've made a deal with the city and the state whereby the city and state will put up $210 million for infrastructural related purposes. Some of those are to accommodate the stadium and some of them are directly beneficial to the neighborhood and some of those expenses from the public sector will in fact be paid back, for instance the parking garage that will cost the state $70 million. It is fully anticipated that that money will come back to the state in parking fees or through an RFP they do with a private company.

But even if you ignore the fact that there's $210 million the public is putting out and that some of that $210 [million] might come back, and if you also look at some implicit subsidies that there are embedded in the deal, that the Yankees are putting up 75 percent of the overall cost of the plan. Whereas in a perfect world this deal might be struck in a different way, in the world of major league sports in the United States for the team to put up 75 percent of the total cost of a stadium is a very large percentage. So my Op-Ed simply observed that, said that this is a fair deal as these deals generally go. Prior to the Yankees deal, assuming that it's consummated, no team has put up more than $300 million to build a stadium for itself. So not only is the Yankee percentage way higher than average, the average is about 30 percent private and 70 percent public... Not only that, but the deal is also one where the Yankess are going to spend, in an absolute sense, more than two times what anybody else has ever spent on their own stadium. So again, I'm not saying this is the perfect deal but I am saying that this is a fair deal, and Neil deMause wrote a response in part... at the end of the article on the Mets deal he said that my number was wrong and that the real number was 58 percent was going to be private and 42 percent was going to be public [wrong, it's 58 percent public, 42 percent private, as host Will Carroll corrected]. So he was saying that my numbers were off by 10 or 20 percentage points.

Neil makes a number of errors in what he does... What's going on here? The largest thing that's going on is that Neil makes an adjustment for what he calls the revenue-sharing subsidy from Major League Baseball. That revenue-sharing subsidy is correct and I believe he gets it from my own work, judging by the calculation that he made. It's correct that baseball [I believe Zimbalist meant to say Yankees here] will receive a stadium-building subsidy that's embedded in the revenue-sharing system. However the Yankees will actually end up paying more revenue-sharing as a result of this, because although they get a subsidy to help them build the stadium, their revenues will grow by enough so that their extra tax in the revenue-sharing system will be larger than the subsidy. So Neil ignores that.

But even more important than that, you can't call this public money. This is not a cost to New York State or New York City. If it's a cost to anybody, it's a cost to the other major league teams. So it's private money and there's no disputing that it's private money. That's the biggest adjustment that Neil makes to my numbers.
In today's piece, Zimbalist takes a magnifying glass to deMause's figures, analyzing them item by item:
  $800 million   -- cost of stadium
- $312 million -- savings from MLB's revenue sharing system
- $103 million -- present value of future rent payments
- $15 million -- present rent
- $44 million -- present value of property tax exemption

= $326 million
...Consider the first deduction. Under MLB's revenue sharing system, the contribution made by each team is based upon its net local revenues. To arrive at net local revenues a team is allowed to subtract stadium expenses. If the team owns the stadium, it is permitted to amortize its investment in the stadium over ten years. If it does not own the stadium, there is some dispute whether the investment should be amortized over ten years or over the period of the lease (40 years), where the investment is treated as a form of prepaid rent. In all likelihood, the Yankees lease will be considered an operating, not a capital, lease, and the team will amortize its investment over 40 years. DeMause's estimate assumes the Yankees will use a 10-year amortization period.

DeMause then takes my estimate from May the Best Team Win of the marginal tax rate faced by the Yankees under MLB's revenue sharing system, approximately 39 percent. That is, for every extra dollar of local revenue earned by the team, it gives up approximately 39 cents to the central fund. Hence, if the Yanks amortize an $800 million investment over 10 years, then each year for 10 years the team will be able to deduct $80 million from its local revenue. This $80 million annual deduction will then save the team ($80 million) X (.39) = $31.2 million a year in revenue sharing contributions.

DeMause then takes this $31.2 million per year and multiplies it by 10, to arrive at the $312 million savings for the team. What's wrong here? First, MLB might require the Yankees to base their deduction on the post-tax-break $756 million, not the $800 million. Second, the Yankees will probably amortize their investment over 40 years, lowering the annual deduction from $80 million to $20 million. Third, while the new stadium will allow the Yankees a revenue sharing deduction, it will also engender a substantial increase in earned revenues so that, at the end of the day, the Yanks' revenue sharing contributions will actually increase as a result of the new stadium.
And so it goes. The professor crunches his numbers right there in the piece, laying his cards on the table to show where he believes deMause has erred. There's at least one spot where I believe he's misinterpreted deMause (the $15 million in "present rent," if I understand correctly, comes from a report that Bloomberg has offered a rebate on the current rent -- roughly $5 million a year based on this New York Times report which says that the Yankees paid $26.43 million in rent from 2000-2004 -- until the stadium opens.

But on the whole, Zimbalist has offered a more solid showing than he did last week. Rather than delve into these numbers unaided, I'm now going to await deMause's turn at bat. He's got a BP mailbag piece on various stadium issues slated to run on Tuesday, and plans a direct response to Zimbalist's piece in the near future. Bring your popcorn.

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