Sunday, November 2, 2014

2 comments MLB Might As Well Fold Since Derek Jeter Has Retired

Baseball is a more regional sport now. I think this development as a direct retort to the "Baseball is dying" articles that can be read nearly everywhere is important to understand. There is never a lack of articles explaining how baseball is in trouble now that X or Y has happened. If it wasn't attendance at games that is killing the sport, now Sean Gregory of "Time" says baseball has a Derek Jeter problem. Who is going to replace Jeter as the recognizable face of baseball? If it hasn't happened by now, clearly it will never happen. Gregory cites Q score as the reason behind his concerns, but he fails to explain what the Q score of certain baseball players were when Jeter broke into the majors in 1995. Were there writers in 1995 wondering who would replace the soon-to-be-retiring stars of MLB? I wouldn't be surprised. The end of Jeter's career isn't the end of baseball and baseball players being recognizable to the general public. It may take a couple of years, but a new very recognizable star usually emerges.

The New York Yankees have a Derek Jeter problem. Sure, the endless pomp surrounding Jeter’s retirement has kept a lot of people watching a team that won’t make the playoffs. 

But the Yankees will face a problem no other MLB team has ever faced before. How do they replace a retiring Hall of Fame player? Since no other Hall of Famer has ever retired, it's up to the Yankees to figure out how they will go about replacing Jeter. Perhaps a robot could replace him or maybe they will just leave the shortstop position and #2 spot in the batting order empty as a tribute to Jeter?

But during his long goodbye, Jeter simply hasn’t produced. Entering Wednesday’s game, Jeter was hitting .255 – a full 55 points below his career average. His .615 on-base percentage (OPS) is the second-lowest of his career, ahead of only his .542 clip during last year’s injury induced abbreviated 17-game campaign.

And that's part of the problem, how do the Yankees replace a retiring legend who was one of the worst hitters in the majors this year? Sure, it seems like nearly any shortstop they sign could replace Jeter's production at the plate, but who will replace Jeter's Q score? Maybe MLB can convince LeBron to come play baseball for a few years. Hey, Jordan tried it.

Jeter has hit a home run in 0.6% of his plate appearances; excluding his brief call-up in 1995, when he did not hit a home run in his 51 plate appearances, Jeter’s prior low was a 1.3% home run percentage in 1997.

While I understand what this stat means, that Jeter hasn't hit home runs, it's an odd stat to use for Derek Jeter. Hitting home runs was never really Jeter's specialty. He only hit 20-plus home runs in a season only three times and the last time he did that was a decade ago. It's just a weird stat to use in order to show The Jeter's decline.

So in this category, it has been his weakest year, by two. He has drawn a walk in 5.6% of his plate appearances, another career low.

Now this is relevant to Jeter's production at the plate, but not so much when it comes to how baseball has a Q score problem now that Jeter has retired.

According to the analytics, he’s below-average at his position.

But production and ability aside, who will replace Jeter as being the super-popular baseball player? If no player has revealed himself at this point, then it will obviously never happen.

In the public’s imagination, Jeter — who will play his last home game as a Yankee on Thursday night — is one of the greatest clutch hitters of all-time. But on Tuesday night, with the Yankees barely hanging on to the mathematical miracle they would have needed to make the post-season, Mighty Jeter struck out, with the tying run was on first, to end the game.

This may be the first time in sportswriting history that someone has taken efforts to prove that Derek Jeter is NOT clutch, but it's still anecdotal evidence. Jeter ended his Yankee Stadium career with a walk-off and drove in a run in his last at-bat. I wouldn't go as far as to call him clutch, but he seemed to know when he needed to come through for the Yankees. I don't know if that is clutch or just having a really good sense for the situation.

The Derek Jeter problem extends to all of baseball. Despite his shaky last-season performance, Jeter is still the most familiar, marketable, beloved player in the game. And right now, the sport has no one to replace him.

Fair enough. Who is to say this wasn't an issue when Derek Jeter broke into the majors in 1995? Cal Ripken was retiring, the game had just come back from a strike where the World Series was canceled, and four of the six divisions were decided by 7 or more games (and some divisions decided by 20+ games). There is always a reason to panic when it comes to a discussion of how baseball is dying or in trouble.

Joe Talnagi, 21, was asked what he was going to do during all this pre-game down time. “Probably cry,” said Talnagi, a college student from New Jersey. “Number 2” patches graced bottles of wine resting on the locker room chairs of all his Yankee teammates, the Yankee uniforms, and the flags atop the stadium.

BREAKING NEWS: Yankees fans will miss Derek Jeter.

Obviously this will lead to a nationwide crisis where MLB as a whole will miss Derek Jeter, and because no one is around to replace him, the entire league will be forced to disband. Tim Keown will be pleased all the foreigners playing baseball in the United States will stop fighting Americans and go home.

Jeter’s former teammate Jorge Posada showed up, and called Jeter the greatest Yankee of all-time. Michael Jordan was the surprise guest, and said Jeter is an “idol to me.”

What will baseball do now that Michael Jordan's idol is retired? The NBA fell apart after Michael Jordan retired. Some of you may not remember the NBA, but it was a professional basketball league where basketball players could go after playing basketball in college. The commissioner was David Stern, but the league disbanded after Michael Jordan retired and no stars with sufficiently high Q scores could be found.

According to Q Scores Company, among active athletes recognized by more than half the U.S. population, Jeter owns the second-highest “Q score” – a general favorability rating – trailing only Peyton Manning.

Jeter has also played professional sports for 20 years, so I'm sure that plays into his favorable Q score. At some point another baseball player will come along and have a Q score that rivals Jeter's Q score. Even if there isn't, it doesn't mean baseball has a "problem." It means baseball doesn't have an instantly recognizable face like Derek Jeter. Athletes with Jeter's marketability don't come around all that often and I'm sure there were the same questions about baseball's "face" when other less popular players have retired in the past.

The bad news: no other baseball player ranks in the top 15. 

I wish Sean Gregory had provided a link to these Q scores. I would be interested to see what other sports had players in the top 15. If baseball has two guys (like Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper) at #17 and #19, then who is to say it isn't a player like that to replace Jeter? Two guys who are young and have the opportunity to greatly increase this score as they progress through their career? It's not like Derek Jeter was #2 in the Q score rankings coming into the majors. It took time for him to get there, so it's entirely possible another MLB player or two could move up the rankings in the next few years. All is not lost. There is no need to panic or say there is an issue.

“Baseball players aren’t even on the national radar for the general population,” says Henry Schafer, an executive vice president at Q Scores. “They’re just not out there like players from other sports.”

There is a baseball player at #2 by the way. So baseball players can be, and have been, on the national radar. I'm guessing since no link was provided (which is annoying, don't cite a study and then not provide a link to your readers) and the cut-off is randomly at the top 15, then there is probably a baseball player or two in spots #16-20 on the list. It's just a guess, but baseball players aren't on the national radar, that's fine. It doesn't mean the sport has an issue now that Jeter has retired. There is an assumption of a sport's health resulting from seeing widely recognized names on a Q score list. I am not sure this is entirely true, especially if baseball is becoming an increasingly more regional sport.

Baseball has become a more regionalized game, a series of thriving fiefdoms with little national cultural connection.

Right, which means a nationally recognized face is less important to the sport because as long as fans from a region or thriving fiefdom recognizes the players then revenue will be generated and attendance will not decrease. Since baseball is regional, perhaps a nationally known face isn't the end-all for the sport's popularity.

Thanks to lucrative local television deals, stable attendance, and smart digital investments by Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the game’s overall revenues have grown. The sport is in fine economic health. But fans are getting older. The game is getting slower and slower, which hurts its appeal among younger viewers. Rarely is a regular season game appointment television. There’s just too much competition.

Rarely is anything even appointment television anymore. Even the most popular television shows are DVR'd and ratings have decreased for the most popular television programs on television compared to the most popular shows from 20-30 years ago. The game of baseball is slow, but the loss of Jeter with his high Q score isn't the determinant as a final nail in the coffin of baseball.

A quarter century ago, NBC offered a “Game of the Week” on Saturdays. Now, the network offers Premier League soccer, a hipper product, on its cable channels. European soccer over baseball once seemed like a ridiculous proposition. Not anymore.

FOX still carries Saturday night baseball. NBC doesn't carry the sport of baseball anymore because they don't have the rights to the sport. If they had the rights, perhaps they would show a "Game of the Week" like they used to. This is pretty disingenuous for Sean Gregory to act like FOX doesn't carry baseball games like NBC used to.

How did Jeter, who played 20 seasons in New York, won five World Series rings and has 3,461 hits–sixth-best of all time–break through? 

He was around for a long time, won several World Series, played in a large market and stayed out of trouble. Doing that for 20 years will get you recognized by the general public.

“Being able to accomplish all that, for that long a period of time, in a major market is highly unusual,” says Schafer. “The Yankees are both loved and hated across the country, but what’s surprising is he rises above it. He’s a likeable individual, and he’s respected.”

Right, he's an outlier and not necessarily the example of the type of player MLB needs to thrive as a sport. Jeter's ability to have such a high Q score is unusual, which means MLB doesn't have a "problem" now that he has retired. Baseball just doesn't have their most recognizable figure. Other recognizable players might eventually step up, but it won't happen overnight. Somehow the sport will survive.

For 20 years, no personal scandal has interrupted the Jeter narrative: he’s a winner, a leader, a guy who plays the game “the right way.”

(chokes to death on hyperbole)

During the Jeter ceremony, if any fans played a “right way” drinking game during the dozens of between-inning personalized messages that former teammates, opponents, New York sports legends like Joe Namath and random big names like Kenny Chesney and Matt Lauer delivered on the video board, they were sloshed before the seventh-inning stretch.

No more Jeter drinking games, no dedications from fanboy whore Kenny Chesney, so how will baseball survive without Jeter in the future? Probably the same way baseball didn't have a problem and survived after other popular players have retired in the past. Other baseball players eventually become more popular over time and their Q score increased, allowing the entire sport of baseball to be saved from immediate destruction.

“He’s pretty much the face of baseball,” says Schafer. “There’s going to be a big void. It’s going to be like when the NBA was trying to find the next Michael Jordan.

And the NBA found the next Michael Jordan. They eventually found several Michael Jordans when he retired for good in 2003. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James filled the void. It didn't happen overnight, because to rise into the public conscience doesn't happen quickly, but it did eventually happen. So the example of Jeter being the face of baseball and comparing it to the NBA trying to find the next Michael Jordan is a favorable comparison for the future of baseball.

I'm not sure either Sean Gregory or Henry Schafer realizes amid all of the teeth-gnashing and worrying about baseball's future that the NBA has made out just fine after losing Michael Jordan to retirement. The increasingly regional sport of baseball will be fine as well. A new "face of baseball" will emerge at some point. It's not like these things happen overnight. Jeter wasn't considered the "face of baseball" for the majority of his career I wouldn't think.

Baseball is going to have a very tough time finding the next Derek Jeter.”

Considering you just said that what Jeter was able to accomplish is "highly unusual" then I would say, yes, baseball is going to have a hard time finding the next Derek Jeter. The assumption is that baseball can't thrive without the next Derek Jeter and I think that's a fallacy. It's like saying Hollywood has an "Avengers problem" because they will have a hard time replacing the revenue that one specific movie brought in. It assumes other less successful movies can't make studios money and break off into other franchises.

This may be a bad comparison, but I hope you get my point. If what Jeter accomplished is so unusual, then there should be no expectation of finding the next Derek Jeter. 

On Schafer’s list, there is one other active baseball player that more than half of the general population recognizes.

Marco Scutaro?

It’s A-Rod.

(Cue ominous music)

A-Rod has been around for many years and he is a great example of how being recognized by the general public isn't always a good thing. So conceivably in a few years another baseball player could step forward and be recognized as the face of the sport. It's not like an official "face of baseball" is required for the sport to find success. I imagine Sean Gregory is simply asking the same questions other writers have asked when the most popular/recognized player in that sport retired. Just like the NBA did find a few other Michael Jordan-like players who became recognizable, I imagine baseball will find a new, perhaps lesser, Derek Jeter in time as well.

The whole "Who is the face of baseball" question seems like the panicky type of column that gets written without a whole lot of thought going into it beforehand. You know, as if a sport that is becoming more and more regional requires a "face of baseball" for that sport to remain successful in the future.  


Snarf said...

"Fair enough. Who is to say this wasn't an issue when Derek Jeter broke into the majors in 1995? Cal Ripken was retiring, the game had just come back from a strike where the World Series was canceled, and four of the six divisions were decided by 7 or more games (and some divisions decided by 20+ games). There is always a reason to panic when it comes to a discussion of how baseball is dying or in trouble."

Your overall point still stands, but Cal Ripken played through 2001. Game 2131 was in 1995.

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, I phrased it poorly. I meant Ripken would be retiring in a few years. Bad phrasing.