Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is More Less?

After making the foolish promise to up the output from a blogging perspective, the Defensive Specialist has been pacing back and forth in front of the Deep in the Hole super computer desperately trying to come up with decent ideas to waffle on about. Mired in the dead of winter is not helping the creative juices flow and the Defensive Specialist fights a daily battle against the urge to comfort eat. Fortunately Tuesday saw a breakthrough with the genius idea to talk about the 2011/2012 schedule!

Before you click off the page in disgust, remember the Defensive Specialist also committed to shorter posts (in order to avoid repetitive strain injury after a lengthy lay off). So even if it’s a crappy topic, you’ll only have to endure 500-750 words on the matter as opposed to the usual 1500-2000. That’s a win win right?

The biggest change from last season is the addition of 6 more games, increasing from 40 games (20 home / 20 away) to 46 (23 home / 23 away). Regular readers of this fine, upstanding site will know that the Defensive Specialist has long championed the idea of playing more games. For those disinclined to read through the archives to find these well-written gems and in order to pad the word count, let your old pal quickly rehash the topic.

If Major League Baseball wants to run an offseason league that’s taken seriously by its franchises then it has to offer more games. The reason? MLB teams who want their prospects to play offseason baseball are looking for 3 things: 1) quality competition, 2) quality standard of living and environment and 3) volume. We all know that you get better at baseball by playing it a lot (hence the 162 game MLB schedule). Teams want to get games into their prospects against solid competition. The more games they play (particularly offensive players who don’t need to rest their arms as pitchers do), the greater the benefit. There is a huge advantage to Australian professional players as well as they now have a legitimate offseason league to continue their development in. Think back a couple of years when an Australian kid’s offseason program included club ball and a week long Claxton Shield tournament. Now compare that to a 46 game season with games running 5 days a week!

So this new schedule is a good thing right?

Yes and no.

Obviously from a players perspective it’s a great thing. As outlined above, playing every day is only going to ratchet up the development time and skills of all players involved. It’s going to expose Australian youngsters to good baseball and allow our professional players to hone their talents. From an imports perspective, they get to continue their growth in Australia during summer while drinking better beer.

So what’s the downside you ask? Well there are a couple of issues the Defensive Specialist sees: 
  • Firstly, playing more games actually impacts the ability of both non-professionals and professionals to hold down regular jobs. We all know that minor leaguers are not paid any sort of princely sum and require off-season work to survive. We also had a decent level of non-professionals / amateurs taking part in the league last year who work first and play baseball second. With games now taking place on Wednesdays, players are effectively only able to work 2 days per week (when on the road). There aren’t many gigs around that A) support working 2 days per week and B) pay enough. What we’re likely to see is the number of mature non-professionals / amateurs decline and an increase in younger players (bankrolled by mum and dad!) and non-professional imports (sponsored by local clubs).
  • The effect of extended series on crowd support. When contacted by the Sydney Blue Sox to continue membership, one of the selling points to re-up was the addition of games. “Instead of 4 games per series, you get 5!!” went the spiel. That looks good on paper until you consider the thought of attending 5 games a week from Wednesday to Sunday. In fact attending that many games in a week would lead to divorce papers, which wouldn’t look so good. Obviously most people wont be attending all 5 games in a series unless they have a child or loved one playing so the effect on crowd numbers will be interesting to study. Will more games allow fans greater accessibility and options or lead to apathy? You know what they say -increasing supply decreases demand.
  • From a revenue perspective, franchises will be expected to give fans and supporters a great show no matter the day of the week.  You’d expect numbers to suffer on Wednesday and Thursday nights which means that the bottom line may hurt as teams aren’t pulling $$$ from concessions, alcohol, parking and the gate. Teams can’t afford to cut back on the bells and whistles on Wednesday and Thursday because they cant afford to give fans a reason (other than the night of the week) to not show up.
Another interesting scheduling curiosity to note is the ABL continuing with the New Years Eve / Day scheduling. The Defensive Specialist can think of nothing better than bringing in a new year watching baseball. Unfortunately not all family and friends may agree. Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne are the teams scheduled to host the games over the New Year period, which is also interesting. A case can definitely be made for Adelaide who have a rapid fan base that are likely to turn out in droves (plus there’s bugger all else to do in Adelaide anyway). Both Melbourne and Brisbane had sketchy attendance numbers last season so when you couple that fact with a tough date are they asking for trouble (or did they have a huge offseason membership drive that influenced the scheduling?)? Surely teams with stronger attendance figures  (Canberra and Perth) would have been better choices to host on these dates as they have a better chance to at least pull a crowd.

The Defensive Specialist has blown out his target of 500-750 words and is starting to cramp up. At the end of the day, more baseball games is a good thing for the players involved and for the perception of the league. It’s the hard to measure things that bare watching as the season progresses.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

102 Days

102 Days....

That’s how long your old pal has been off the interweb much to the chagrin of the loyal readership. That’s more time off than someone on long service leave! There’s a plethora of conspiracy theories as to why the Defensive Specialist has been absent floating around so this is probably the best forum to debunk a number of them:

No – the Defensive Specialist was not leading Seal Team 6 in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

No – the Defensive Specialist was not busy creating the wedding gown for Kate Middleton.

No – the Defensive Specialist was not working with the Australian Prime Minister to draft the new carbon tax.

In all honesty, the Defensive Specialist was side tracked by a 10-month-old baby who decided that she flat out did not enjoy sleeping. Long time readers probably just regurgitated their morning lattes hearing the news that one of the games sharpest minds was waylaid by an infant. In response to your snort, the Defensive Specialist offers this statement:

“There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as torture”

Anyway with the sleep issues now in the past, the Defensive Specialist thought it was time to ease himself back into the drivers seat and start pumping out some content. Today, lets take a look at a couple of Aussies in the big leagues.

Back when the Defensive Specialist used to write more, you may remember a post outlining how tough Hughes plight was going to be playing the role of utility man. Inconsistent at bats makes keeping ones swing fine-tuned pretty tough to do. Fortunately Hughes managed to pick up some regular playing time before being demoted back to AAA. The stint in the minors lasted briefly and Hughes was back in the show playing predominantly at first base but also filling in around the infield. The thing that really stood out in the early days of Hughes season was his steadfast desire to get on the fastball ASAP (and who can blame him, it beats the hell out of flailing against hellacious breaking stuff). The downside to this approach is that you don’t really give yourself much of a chance to walk resulting in a paltry on base percentage. While Hughes is not being confused with Rickey Henderson of late (second all time base on balls), the number of pitches he is seeing each at bat is increasing which means he’s either developing more of a discerning eye or his manager has gone all junior baseball on him and told him not to swing until he has a strike!

Spence was the second person from the 2010 MLB draft called to the big leagues, which is pretty damn impressive when you consider the feat. Making things more interesting is that he doesn’t fit the mould of a “quick to the big leagues” reliever. Instead of a polished power arm, Spence comes at hitters from numerous arm angles with an array of breaking balls and a reliance on touch, feel and command. In 12 appearances Spence has allowed a solitary run (a big fly to Andre Either of the Dodgers) while punching out 7. It seems he’ll play the role of LOOGY (lefty one out guy) meaning that he’ll take on the opposition’s big lefty bats late in the game. The Defensive Specialist is intrigued to see if Spence can survive as a reliever without power stuff at the big league level.

Before the Defensive Specialist develops RSI from all this typing, it’s important to make you aware of an outstanding show featuring the San Francisco Giants currently playing in the US. Called “The Franchise” it chronicles the Giants trials and tribulations during the 2011 season. So far the Defensive Specialist has only been able to find the show on YouTube. Check it out: