The Mariners and the Sounders

DMZ · December 2, 2008 at 7:30 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I’ve been thinking about this coming season and the new team in town.

First:

I may be one of their ideal target fans: I find some of my favorite qualities in baseball in soccer (really), in particular the unbroken action unfolding, along with some of what I like when I watch football. I can see how I’d be recruited into watching the first season. And it may be a product of where I work, but I know more people there who are soccer fans than follow the M’s actively any more. And the place goes nuts for the World Cup. I personally know more people who have put down money for Sounders tickets than I do remaining Mariners season ticket holders. All anecdotal, of course — and yet it was strange when I realized that.

Still, I’m not sure concern about possible M’s impact are justified. How much business could an expansion soccer team really be expected to pull off the Mariners, anyway? The M’s have drawn well when the Seahawks have drawn well, they did well before the NBA decided to stab the town in the back repeatedly.

But the Sounders season runs April through October. Their draft is in January, when the M’s new rebuild will be in full swing and I may have cranked up the USSM Labs server to start doing sims with Diamond Mind again. They have a broadcast deal in place to televise the games on KING or KONG. They’re entering the market at a time when the Mariners have been sucking, and sucking in a not-at-all-entertaining way, for years, with that season of false hope thrown in for extra soul-crushing measure.

And admittedly this will be anecdotal and probably say more about where I spend my days and who my friends are, but I know more soccer fans at work than baseball fans, and I know more people who have no interest in baseball who put season ticket deposits down for the Sounders than I know current season ticket holders for the Mariners. So Expedia’s soccer mad, and the M’s fans I know probably run towards the dissenting, but it was still shocking to realize that.

But LA only draws 26,000 a game and they’re huge in MLS terms. That didn’t hurt the Angels or Dodgers any. The MLS average is about 16,000. The lowest, Kansas City, was under 11k. Florida, the worst draw in the 30-team MLB, drew better than the average MLS franchise as they try to expand into lucrative, hospitable markets one at a time.

The M’s drew 28,761 a game last year to see a wretched team I’d only have sent people to one or two games out of five, and I’ll watch any baseball I come across. While they might see another decline, especially if they clearly shift into rebuild-for-the-future mode (and there’s some segment of the fan base that sincerely bought the yearly song-and-dance and purchased tickets based on that), it’ll be hard for them to drop below two million as long as Seattle has nice summer days for people to head out to Safeco Field and enjoy. And right now, as interested as I am to see how the Sounders fare, there’s no way I’d miss a Felix home start over a Sounders game.

But this is the Sounders’ opportunity: if the M’s don’t win next year after these miserable seasons, maybe novelty can compete for mind share, get coverage on the sports pages, and start to build something. Maybe some portion of the disaffected season ticket holders move over and like it. And then they’re competing in the same season for seat and box revenue, for media money, and eating into the M’s base. This may be the best chance a soccer team has: a unique opportunity to open new as a major sport franchise has left town and the one playing next door in the same season sees its fanbase erode over five years. We’ll see if they capitalize on the opportunity, but this is going to be an interesting year in Seattle sports.

Also, if Beane decides to go into soccer, I’m going to be absolutely fascinated to see what happens.

Comments

54 Responses to “The Mariners and the Sounders”

  1. Mike Snow on December 2nd, 2008 7:52 am

    It should be interesting to compare schedules and see how many head-to-head home dates there are. Also, based on their expansion picks, the Sounders seem to be picking up where the Mariners left off in terms of acquiring players scheduled to do suspension time (Matt Lawton, anyone?).

  2. eternal on December 2nd, 2008 7:56 am

    My understanding is that the Sounders have already sold over 30k season tickets (and maybe closer to 40k), which is great news. I would’ve bought season tickets myself if I was going to be in Seattle next year, but because I won’t be there for another two years, I’ll have to wait to buy them until then… I don’t think it’ll take much away from the M’s, but we’ll see. I have nothing to base that on.

  3. pumpkinhead on December 2nd, 2008 8:10 am

    I’m friggin excited, and I’m crossing my fingers Portland will get a team in 2011, but I’d still drive the 4 hours on a semi-regular basis to see the Sounders.

    If you think about it, the sounders would only play once or twice a week, so they can’t really take THAT much market share from the Mariners. Mariners play 6 days a week, so there’s plenty of opportunity to see them attempt to win =)

    Me personally, I’d ideally go up for a weekend, watch one mariners game, and then watch a sounders game.

  4. pdb on December 2nd, 2008 8:12 am

    Beane’s already involved in soccer – he consults with Tottenham. It’s a fairly recent development though, so it hasn’t really borne fruit yet, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll work with any US teams.

  5. pumpkinhead on December 2nd, 2008 8:26 am

    Haha, well I hope he can do some good for them… they need it.

  6. tres_arboles on December 2nd, 2008 8:43 am

    I’m a soccer fan, albeit without season tickets. I’ll still swing in to catch several games at Qwest next season.

    At the same time, my interest in the Sounders won’t dim my interest in the Mainers or in attending games at Safeco. However, that interest could be diminished in proportion to the number of things Chuck Armstrong does or says that piss me off.

    In general, I’m a Seattle booster and regional economics aside, I don’t see these as competing spectating outlets. Seattle benefits by having both and benefits more when they’re each successful.

  7. Mike Snow on December 2nd, 2008 8:44 am

    it remains to be seen whether he’ll work with any US teams

    Actually, he already has an office with the Earthquakes in San Jose, since it’s the same ownership group he’s connected with in Oakland. The rumor mill has it that he might move over there full-time eventually, leaving the A’s to Forst, which would be why the latter didn’t interview for the GM job here.

  8. diderot on December 2nd, 2008 9:11 am

    Soccer is now second in my sports heart, albeit a distant second behind baseball. I’ll be attending many Sounder and Mariners games this summer, ideally on a back-to-back, across the street basis.
    However, I don’t think the Mariners need to worry about soccer competition cutting into their business near term. Their fan base is solid.
    The real competitor in this economic climate for any sport is stay-home-and-watch-on-TV.

  9. DMZ on December 2nd, 2008 10:23 am

    No fan base is ever entirely solid — the M’s didn’t always draw, and as much as we can talk about why that’s changed, it’s not impossible that they might not draw again, even in Safeco Field.

    Moreover, the vast majority of fans are swayable. Baseball is part of their entertainment budget, and if the bowling alley down the street starts offering $1/hour lanes, or the movies were cheap and worth attending, they’d go do that.

    So you’re right, the larger issue will be the economic climate, because entertainment budgets get slashed, but I also see the potential for larger movements.

  10. FH on December 2nd, 2008 10:26 am

    Perhaps the emphasis is different at work. I think the mentality with the Mariners is that they’re more like an uncle you have fun with, and visit, but don’t pay attention to all the time. The Sounders are the new kids, and genuinely something to be excited about, but will it last? The Mariners and Seahawks have managed to worm their way into our collective psyche (and more often than not, make us weep). The Sounders haven’t, yet.

    That said, I’ll follow the Sounders as much as the Mariners. However, I’ll still always be more of a baseball fan.

    Also, I found out when my brother returned from overseas, he’s a Chelsea fan. The punk.

  11. diderot on December 2nd, 2008 11:00 am

    No fan base is ever entirely solid

    Certainly not entirely. But I think the Mariners have two things going for them.
    First, they’re a baseball team. That counts for far more than most sports fans understand. We have been inundated for so long with the idea that baseball has relinquished its mantle (pun intended) as ‘America’s sport’, that many believe it.
    In reality, if you look at the number of tickets sold to baseball games (MLB, minors, or combined) they dwarf what football or basketball can match. Last time I checked MLB was #1, college football #2, and minor league baseball #3.
    The same thing goes for the cumulative number of people watching on TV. Football fans answer, ‘yeah, well that’s because baseball plays every day of the week’. Exactly. Have the Seahawks play six times a week for six months and see how those ratings work out.
    Secondly, the ‘fan friendly’ nature of the Mariners stewardship, so ridiculed, should help them stand up even in the face of bad economics and almost-as-bad baseball. They’ve become ‘a place to go’ for families…at least for those families who can afford the freight.
    But back to the soccer issue: the longer term danger for all sports is the huge number of kids playing soccer today. I’d like to see the comparison to Little League, Pop Warner football, etc. These soccer players will steadily turn into fans and help people like the Sounders for the next generation.

  12. msb on December 2nd, 2008 11:11 am

    Also, if Beane decides to go into soccer, I’m going to be absolutely fascinated to see what happens.

    I assume you mean more than he already is

  13. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 11:31 am

    Beane’s already involved in soccer – he consults with Tottenham.

    I wonder if that’s still true. The article you link to mentions his close relationship with Comolli, but Comolli was fired with Juande Ramos, and their entire approach was tossed out with the hire of ‘arry Redknapp.

    I’ve been following Tottenham for a quarter-century, and honestly I can’t think what Beane or the sabermetric approach could possibly do for soccer. The problem is, there aren’t any statistics. Oh, they’ve tried to Americanize the game with a bunch of bogus numbers, but they mean less than the usual ESPN baseball numbers; there really are NO STATISTICS.

    Goals doesn’t tell you squat about defenders or creative midfielders; there are loads of goal opportunists who are less valuable than goal-setters-up — though goal opportunism is a great skill in itself (Ruud Van Nistelroy, Peter Crouch). Minutes played? It doesn’t mean anything.

    Baseball is a game of one-on-one: pitcher, batter. Ball-fielder. And everything that happens on a baseball field can be explicitly measured: ball/strike, fair/foul, safe/out, single/double/triple/homer. NOTHING that happens on a soccer pitch can be measured.

    In fact, you can argue from Spurs’ results this year that the analytical approach of Ramos and Comolli (and Beane) was a total disaster, as they fell deep into the relegation zone, only recovering when ‘arry’s traditional English approach produced a nice run of wins. They’re still not completely safe, sitting in 16th, only clear of the drop on goal difference, but that’s better than they were two months ago. Spurs’ disastrous season — resembling the 2008 Mariners in its high-dollar collapse, not the A’s — is a pretty terrible mark on Beane’s soccer resume.

    As for Sounders, I’m pretty damn excited, and I have the t-shirt (though not the tickets yet; I’m dithering there). If the M’s suck, Sounders will take away from them; if they win, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. Just win, baby.

  14. DMZ on December 2nd, 2008 11:33 am

    NOTHING that happens on a soccer pitch can be measured.

    Oh ho ho. That’s clearly not true. And many of the same things would have been said about football or basketball not that long ago.

  15. smb on December 2nd, 2008 11:52 am

    I love to count and compare the number of flops vs flops that induce a whistle.

    I bought two season tickets…can’t wait to start watching a pro franchise in my own hometown and in a world class stadium. Go Sounders!!! Also, for every terrible thing I have to say about Howard Schultz, I have a correspondingly warm and fuzzy feeling about Paul Allen.

  16. Graham on December 2nd, 2008 12:12 pm

    As much as I’m happy that Seattle is getting a soccer team, I’d much rather watch people play who are good (well, ish. Certainly better than MLS players) at their chosen sport.

  17. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 12:27 pm

    Oh ho ho. That’s clearly not true.

    Educate me.

    I honestly can’t think of anything. And every soccer statistic I’ve ever encountered has been meaningless bullshit comparable to “hot streak” or “he’s due” in baseball.

    Shots? Shots on target? Passes completed? Touches? Corners and free kicks? None of those mean diddly, at least expressed numerically. The best cross in the world is worthless if there isn’t a teammate on the end of it, and results in nothing most of the time if there is. Fancy dribbling gets you nowhere more often as not (I loved the highlight FSC chose for their segment last night on C. Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or — not one of his goals, but a ridiculous cross-over dribble that ended in the ball being taken away from him).

    If anyone’s keeping track of “defenders beaten” or “passes intercepted” I’m not aware of it; and even if they are I don’t think it ultimately matters to the scoreline, or can be adjusted against random chance.

    Goals are so difficult to come by, and everyone who watches the game has seen hundreds of thousands of brilliant chances that just missed out, for any of a hundred factors. And the players who miss these chances are the same players who are celebrated for making others.

    I just don’t see how soccer actions can be statistically related to goals. Hockey-style +/- is worthless in soccer. Prove me wrong. Who’s doing it?

  18. sass on December 2nd, 2008 12:28 pm

    I’ve never been able to get into soccer, possibly because I don’t understand it, and also because it is completely boring to me. I watch playoff hockey, which is similar in scoring (only a few “points” a game), but that is fast-paced, and people run into each other. I was forever soured on soccer when I watched two Europeans play an early round of the World cup, and after they made it a 1-1 tie they just kicked the ball back and forth because neither could afford a loss and didn’t want to risk it. That was wrong on so many levels.

  19. Mike Snow on December 2nd, 2008 12:42 pm

    Oh ho ho. That’s clearly not true.

    Educate me.

    I honestly can’t think of anything. And every soccer statistic I’ve ever encountered has been meaningless

    Derek’s comment was in response to the claim that nothing can be measured, which is just silly. Now, if you’ve got concerns about the quality or feasibility of soccer stats, that’s understandable. They’re probably at the level that defensive stats in baseball were twenty years ago.

    I’d be interested to see efforts much like improved defensive analysis in baseball, by dividing the pitch up into much smaller chunks and charting actions accordingly. The variability of player positioning and interaction makes this more complex in soccer, but I think it’s hardly insuperable.

  20. DaveValleDrinkNight on December 2nd, 2008 12:50 pm

    The Sounders already have what the M’s don’t, an effective and involved Front Office.
    Keller and Ljundberg were fantastic pick-ups and they also picked up some good young talent in the expansion draft.

    BTW, talk all the crap you want about talent level in the MLS, but Keller and Ljundberg are world class players.

    Ljundberg was a star for Arsenal before signing with us, and he’s in the prime of his career.

  21. BoiseMoose on December 2nd, 2008 12:56 pm

    Don’t really care about soccer or MLS, but I REALLY dig the Xbox 360 green jerseys for some reason. I will be buying one as soon as they become available.

    My Seattle-based cousin is a huge soccer fan, and has already dropped a deposit on season tickets… eating into his Mariners budget. Usually sees a few games every season. I don’t think he plans on going this year.

    Not sure if I see the Sounders eating the M’s base per-se, just casual baseball fans interested in seeing a new, possibly more competitive product. Those fans maybe go to the ball park once or twice a year anyways.

  22. msb on December 2nd, 2008 1:03 pm

    The Sounders already have what the M’s don’t, an effective and involved Front Office.

    I thought we didn’t want an involved Front Office.

  23. marc w on December 2nd, 2008 1:04 pm

    Steve T -

    Nice to see a fellow Tottenham fan around here.
    “Educate me.”
    I cannot, sadly, though the proprietary systems that many UK teams use (and which the Sounders just paid for) probably produce some useful data on everything from positioning to passes/turnovers. Can it be better? Yes, probably, but if they can do this in Hockey (and Tom Tango was hired by the Canadiens, if I’m not mistaken), then they can do it in soccer.

    The person to ask is probably Voros McCracken who, fresh off of his BABIP insights, now writes about soccer instead.

    Full disclosure: I’m a Sounders season ticket holder, and I’m really excited for next year. It won’t affect my baseball-watching at all, and I’ll always be an M’s fan (or really, M’s/Rainiers fan). But I can’t afford baseball season tickets, and even the smaller plans at Safeco are… a little pricey. This (along with proximity) is why I go to so many Rainiers games instead.

    DaveValleDrinkNight, if you want to counter Graham’s point about quality in the MLS, it might help to spell Ljungberg’s name correctly, and it’s probably best not to point to two players who were cut from their European clubs. Sure, I think there may be extenuating circumstances there, and I think they’re both quality players, but it’s a bit like saying that the Mexican league is really world class because hey, look how well Jose Offerman’s doing down there.

  24. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 1:14 pm

    Keller is a has-been, almost 40, and was never all that great to begin with. Ljundberg was a great player before he got hurt; now, he’s a huge risk — there’s a good chance he’ll barely play for us. If there’s ANYTHING sabermetrics can teach soccer, it’s not to put too much faith in old players. So far from being “in the prime of his career”, he’s 31 (extremely old for a soccer player), and retired from international play, and bounced out of the Premiership. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a star at the level of the MLS, but he’s more of a name-brand attention-getter than a real way forward. Young players are where it’s at in the long run.

    Mike Snow, I’d be excited to see a tracking system that could monitor the movement of 22 players on the pitch, but I’m still having trouble seeing how that would give answers. Unlike baseball defenders, there isn’t any right place to be, and the whole point of the game is the cat-and-mouse of being where you’re NOT expected to be. But every successful move depends not just on the pass that arrives there but on two or three or four moves before that. I’m just not seeing it.

    I could see how a team could use advanced tracking to improve their offside trap, say, or conversely timing their onside sprint, or even developing new angles on formation play, but again: that’s not statistics.

    Sass: one similarity between baseball and soccer is the sense of frustration, and the tension of boredom. I can understand that that sort of a match is boring to you, but you have to look at it in the context of the competition. It’s not just one game. That isn’t a very American characteristic, though. But the most boring moments are often preludes to the most exciting, and also much boredom stems from not knowing. Basketball bores me to tears, and even the most boring sport of all time — curling — can be fascinating and exciting once you understand how it works.

  25. Gregor on December 2nd, 2008 1:33 pm

    I was forever soured on soccer when I watched two Europeans play an early round of the World cup, and after they made it a 1-1 tie they just kicked the ball back and forth

    You are probably thinking about Germany and Austria at the 1982 WC in Spain (Germany actually won 1-0 which was the result that let both of them advance to the next round). That was probably the worst match ever, at least in international competition. I can’t blame you for hating soccer because of it, but fortunately this kind of thing never happened before or since.

  26. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 1:33 pm

    Marc W, thank you for pointing me to Voros McCracken’s soccer writings, which in turn led me to bigsoccer.com, which looks valuable. I hope I can find half-intelligent (at least) Spurs commentary there; one sad thing about following the Prem is that the average English soccer blog makes KJR Mariner callers sound like Bill James; it rarely rises above “yr a ****ing wanker, ya ****”.

  27. marc w on December 2nd, 2008 1:59 pm

    I agree with that, Steve.
    I don’t know if it’s because the game is so different or just because I now associate blogs so much with baseball, but I find I never really think to go find a Spurs blog. Perhaps it’s finding some terrible ones early on, or perhaps it’s just that *really* bringing a different perspective on the game requires access to a world of data that basically no one has access to. TV cameras don’t show the whole field – just like in American Football. And even more than football, so much of the commentary focuses on the goals themselves, and not in the build-up (with some exceptions). This is how you get the phenomenon of strikers getting famous for scoring a ton of goals from penalty kicks (on penalties they themselves didn’t earn); I call this the Andy Johnson postulate. It is only possible in data-poor environments.

  28. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 2:05 pm

    I look at White Hot Lines, for dish and rumors, not analysis. I’m currently reading through some interesting discussion on bigsoccer.com, most of which is running up against the roadblocks to understanding that I mentioned, and others besides.

    I have absolutely no doubt that retrograde old-school thinking and failure to analyze talent properly is hurting teams — what Spurs fan can look at this year’s team and not? — but I don’t see how it can be helped statistically. Too many variables, too free-flowing, too many areas closed off from numeric analysis. The best defender might hardly even touch the ball all game — how do you measure that?

  29. diderot on December 2nd, 2008 2:07 pm

    I’m surprised there is so much soccer knowledge/ardor on this site. Are soccer fans and baseball fans aligned on some intellectual or cosmic level?

  30. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 2:24 pm

    Well, realize that almost 1300 people have voted in the poll so far. That’s a lot of readers. 17 of them have commented; that’s not very many.

    Also, as baseball fans, we are somewhat marooned; what the Mariners have been doing for the past few years barely qualifies as “baseball”. Gotta find something to worry about, right?

  31. Zero Gravitas on December 2nd, 2008 2:56 pm

    There may be segments of the M’s market that are highly susceptible to switching to the Sounders next year. I think I’m a case in point. Love the M’s and baseball and pretty much ignore soccer unless it’s the World Cup, or European Championships, both of which I find absolutely thrilling to watch.
    Anyway the segment of M’s fandom I represent is ‘fan with young children’. My kids are 2 and 4, and don’t have the patience to sit through much baseball even on TV. But when soccer’s on it holds their attention pretty well due to the constant action. I’ve put serious thought into taking them to games next year in Qwest field, because it looks like it might be a great family experience. If I do this, it will almost certainly come at the expense of attending M’s games.
    On the other hand, since I’m usually busy with the kids I don’t go to more than a handful of games a year. So maybe I’m not a valuable or important market segment for the M’s. But what if my kids start liking soccer more than baseball as a result?

  32. Breadbaker on December 2nd, 2008 3:47 pm

    I remember reading some of the testimony in the Sonics case last summer about how the additional luxury suites in Safeco and Qwest impacted the Sonics marketing efforts at the Key. Given the disappearance of two big corporate headquarters here in the past year (Safeco and WaMu), plus the general economic climate, I’d imagine that the Mariners are already hurting in suite sales and similar high-end sales, and having a “new kid on the block” can’t help. It isn’t so much “soccer versus baseball” as it is “what’s the best bang for the sports buck”.

    If the M’s were winning, this wouldn’t matter anywhere near as much, but given the uncertainties regarding the franchise, this is unfortunate timing for the M’s. Unless the Sounders fall flat on their faces.

  33. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 4:06 pm

    The teams keep their luxury-box sales pretty close to the vest, but it does seem that the major clubs just poach each other’s boxholders. When the Key was rebuilt, the Sonics stole from the Hawks and the Mariners; then the Mariners built Safeco, and stole from the Sonics and the Hawks; then Qwest was built, and they stole from the Mariners and Sonics. That’s why the Sonics wanted us to build them a new facility – to steal them back (and why the Huskies want to rebuild their stadium).

    One gets the impression that luxury box sales are much more important to teams than total attendance, but hard numbers are impossible to come by. But there certainly are not enough corporate buyers to go around, especially now.

    Now the Sounders come, but in a shared facility — but the newest luxury boxes available in town.

    The impression I get is that the top concern for luxury-box buyers is newness and fanciness, not the quality of the team. I could be wrong. The Sounders are unlikely to be a top team right away, but Qwest Field, and the novelty factor are likely to be important. I’d like to know how luxury boxes vs. regular seats really matters to the teams. Also, the vast chasm between TV revenues of football and baseball versus soccer may make the Sounders more dependent on butts in regular seats than the big boys, in which case fan excitement is a bigger deal.

    It can’t be too many years before M’s management starts complaining about the lack of state-of-the-art amenities at Safeco, and demanding that the city upgrade at taxpayers’ expense. That’s what sports teams do!

  34. slipereypete on December 2nd, 2008 4:15 pm
  35. marc w on December 2nd, 2008 4:31 pm

    Yep, that’s the one I was thinking of, Pete. Couldn’t remember the name!

    There’s also something called Match Analysis, which looks like it’s got the remaining MLS clubs as customers.

  36. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 5:25 pm

    That looks just like I was envisioning — player position tracking. Exciting stuff. But not statistics.

    I can’t read all of the reports on the website, but the stats pages I can see are the same old BS — passes completed, number of touches, and so forth. I respectfully submit that those numbers do not give any valuable information about players. A completed pass to the wrong player is not a positive. These metrics simply do not describe the process that leads to goals or good attempts.

    My understanding is that teams are buying these packages for the tracking and video analysis, and have no real interest in the stats that come with them. Scout7 is obviously useful to keep track of the thousands of players potentially available for transfers. What I’m looking for, though, is evidence that (a) clubs use these statistical numbers, beyond minutes and goals, in their discussions of who should play, and/or (b) that they SHOULD.

    Of course, there’s likely no such thing as a metric X that tells you how good a player is; but there may be metrics that tell you how he plays — is he aggressive, is he fast, a precision long-baller or a tricky dribbler, comfortable on the wing, likes heading crosses, etc. I’m not seeing a connection between these numbers and an objective and quantifiable understanding of how a player would fit into a club; what I see instead is old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants “analysis” that’s straight out of the Casey Stengel era in terms of “sabermetrics”.

    The problem is that you can’t define what leads up to a goal. The exact same set of actions, runs, passes, and shot can be duplicated a hundred times, and a goal will result only five times — and there are many more factors than just the quality of the players performing them. Pulled-off defenders, bounce and spin, a keeper putting his foot one way or the other — so many variables!

    As a subjective viewer, I can easily tell that many, many non-goals involve significantly more impressive play than many other goals. Many touches or short dribbles or moves are jawdroppingly complex even if nothing results, while more than a few goals or other successful actions are purely opportunistic and not that impressive at all. And I’ve seen a ton of great play that never even touches the ball — a good defender can take players out of the game miles from the ball.

    What it comes down to is, a list of some statistical category or other at which one can point to and say “this is meaningful; this answers a question”. Otherwise it’s just ESPN commentator fodder.

  37. DMZ on December 2nd, 2008 5:31 pm

    Casey Stengel was a fine baseball mind.

    Also, I think I could start to build up some saber-friendly quantifications if someone wanted to give me time, money, and/or a staff.

    That might be a whole other blog though.

  38. bedir on December 2nd, 2008 5:57 pm

    Shots to goals only had a .43 correlation

    I was trying to compare SoG to Goals, and that had a mid.60s IIRC.

    Goals Scored has a decent correlation to points, but a great correlation to Goal differential.

    These things can be quantified, the biggest problem is that NO league has the depth of data necessary in a publically available format.

    I would have to build that data game by game in order to use a with/without style format to judge a players’s shot prevention and team attempts just to start.

    Beane has started his project for Wolfe, and supposedly Huckerby was one of their first signings from that work.

    I would love to see what Scout7 has, because they are talking about dozens of leagues with 10s of thousands of players.

    But just because the statistical quantifications are hard doesn’t mean that the analysis has to be based on emotions rather than reality. MLS analysis of player impact is incredibly shoddy right now, most of it centered on how the player made someone feel who “watched” the game.

  39. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 5:57 pm

    Casey Stengel was a fine baseball mind.

    I never said he wasn’t. But in baseball, unlike soccer, there are today advanced statistical tools that enable just about anyone to run rings around a team operating along Stengel’s lines. I don’t think Stengel was hip to FIP or BABIP.

  40. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 6:11 pm

    Whose data are you using, bedir? What’s a “shot”? You’ll get different answers depending on whom you ask. I recently was poking around and found DRASTICALLY different numbers for “time of possession” for the same game on different websites — sometimes they can’t even agree which team had more of it. The numbers that people are using today are the equivalent of “errors” in baseball, and about as useful.

    If the revolution does come, I don’t think it’ll come from the top down, with even a smart guy like Beane (or Huckabay) getting a commission to “figure this stuff out and report back to us”. That’s not how it worked in baseball. Guys like James, Thorn and Palmer, not to mention pioneers like Earnshaw Cook, labored in obscurity and scorn for decades before people started to pay attention to what they were saying, quite recently.

  41. bedir on December 2nd, 2008 6:19 pm

    Steve, I’m using “shot” as defined by MLS.

    I can run the same numbers for non-domestic leagues, but I would rather figure out what wins for the league that Seattle participates in, rather than a league 3,000 miles away.

    That’s Darren Huckerby, who was the newcomer of the year while only playing in about 40% of the season and nearly carrying the Quakes to the playoffs.

    11v11 is working on it in the English system, and people are starting here, but I fail to realize what ridiculing them will help do.

    And while you praise good activities that don’t score, what’s the point of the game?
    Aren’t you just doing what announcers for baseball do when they say that a player had a good AB but struck out?

    Finishing matters.

  42. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 6:30 pm

    Brilliant play that doesn’t result in a goal for reasons unrelated to its brilliance is to be emulated if possible, because next time or the time after it will. Ganky moves that result in a goal because a defender slipped or the ball rebounded perfectly are not going to work next time.

    How can you numerically distinguish between good shots and bad ones? Most of the former fail, even more of the latter — but some of them do go in.

    I’m not ridiculing anybody, and certainly not you. But even basic terms like “shot” have problematic meaning — they aren’t determined by rules, but by judgement. Every MLS game has balls that would be determined to be shots by some observers and not by others. People argue about it all the time.

    I’ve seen lots of good at-bats that resulted in a strikeout, too. One with fifteen foul balls meets that description.

  43. bedir on December 2nd, 2008 6:39 pm

    I think the first question looking backwards is “What player most contributed to his team winning/losing the match?” (OPS)

    Looking forward its “What team is most likely to win the upcoming match?” (tOPS)

    These are different than the more advanced questions that will come later like “What moves increase a chance for a player to be effective?” (contact%, BB%)

    As I said, the data isn’t free, I would love to play with something that gave me consistent data concerning team possession, player on ball %, touches, passes, etc. At this time, I will have to deal with the best data available though. Soccer statistics are likely where baseball statistics were when someone decided to come up with batting average.

    And sorry for the way too quick to callout offense with the ridiculous “ridicule” line.

  44. knightrunner17 on December 2nd, 2008 8:09 pm

    Overall I think it speaks to the growth of soccer and the ultimate globalization of the ‘worlds’ game that an innocuous post has become a decently debated discussion. I dig the XBOX jerseys as well, should match my Deion Branch WR gloves. Having Ljundberg and Keller isn’t out of the ordinary, especially for an expansion team. The history of the MLS as a league is rife with players on the tailend of their careers who bring their names to the team in order to draw in some hardcore international fans. It’s still in its infancy being barely over 10 years old, but the expansion is promising. Go Sounders.

  45. Steve T on December 2nd, 2008 8:50 pm

    I agree completely.

    And bedir, you’re going to have to do a lot worse than that if you want to offend me! It’s all in the conversation.

    Sadly, for most of this season in the Prem there has been a foolproof way to tell who the better players are: look for the ones playing against Tottenham. My Liverpool-supporting spouse has become insufferable lately. Go Sounders!

  46. Pat Dillon on December 2nd, 2008 9:03 pm

    FWIW – The Vern Fonk corporate office is about ten blocks away from Everett Memorial Stadium. They turned the AquaSox down for a corporate sponsorship opportunity, but mentioned they are considering “the soccer team.” *Sigh*

  47. Mike Snow on December 2nd, 2008 9:41 pm

    But even basic terms like “shot” have problematic meaning — they aren’t determined by rules, but by judgement.

    You can certainly create rules or guidelines for them. Though of course, ultimately human variability remains, as is the case with any observation-based system. It applies to the advanced zone-oriented defensive metrics, and even to ball/strike calls for that matter (at least until umpires are replaced with Questec robots).

    Standardization is possible, enough to make such a system at least reasonably reliable. And if the inputs can be defined, it should also be possible to analyze data based around the outputs. Even if you only get as far as finding different probabilities of a still-uncertain outcome, it’s about the same place as batted-ball distributions.

  48. zzyzx on December 3rd, 2008 4:27 am

    As a subjective viewer, I can easily tell that many, many non-goals involve significantly more impressive play than many other goals. Many touches or short dribbles or moves are jawdroppingly complex even if nothing results, while more than a few goals or other successful actions are purely opportunistic and not that impressive at all.

    Isn’t that true of baseball too though? Many times I’ve seen hitters hit line drives that go straight to a defender and are caught but I’ve also seen tons of little bloops that somehow drop in and score a couple runs.

    I’m a weird soccer fan in that I love the game but I absolutely hate “soccer culture.” It’s the same songs and the same insults with an overlay of rather annoying sexism and homophobia. I used to love going to Sounders games when they played at Memorial Stadium and no one really took it all that seriously. For some reason the coach of the SF Bay Seals and I had a rivalry that lasted the entire season which led to me being given a Bay Seals hat by their players who hated their coach. That was fun.

    Now though it seems like things are going to dissolve into the same old macho posturing. It seems like the diehard soccer fans care more about how many fans stand up during a game than how their team is doing and that “atmosphere” is the most important dynamic in getting people to attend a game. Maybe I’m weird, but when I’m at a sporting event, my attention wants to be drawn to the team, not what the crowd is doing.

  49. msb on December 3rd, 2008 8:30 am

    I’m not sure I’d want Vern Fonk as my team sponsor.

    cool. Sandy Koufax pitching on mlb.com this morning in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series.

  50. fdeezle on December 3rd, 2008 10:51 am

    [has its own thread now]

  51. msb on December 3rd, 2008 11:03 am

    Dave thought he’d be a cheap platoon player two years ago ….

  52. Jason Maxwell on December 3rd, 2008 8:28 pm

    BTW the reason KC only had 11K in attendance is that they are playing in a 11K seat minor-league baseball stadium while their own stadium is being built. San Jose is in a similar situation. You’re best example for low attendance would be Dallas’ 13K.

  53. bunk_medal on December 4th, 2008 10:58 am

    “In fact, you can argue from Spurs’ results this year that the analytical approach of Ramos and Comolli (and Beane) was a total disaster, as they fell deep into the relegation zone, only recovering when ‘arry’s traditional English approach produced a nice run of wins”

    I wouldn’t agree with this to be honest. Beane may have had a relationship with Comolli, but if you look at the players Spurs actually acquired under his guidance many of them violated Beane’s philosophy. Under Comolli the primary characteristic of Spurs’ transfer activity was a willingness to sign highly overvalued players with huge reputations for huge transfer fees – Bent, Bale, Hutton, etc. He certainly didn’t identify many players with undervalued skillsets.

  54. bunk_medal on December 4th, 2008 11:07 am

    Now though it seems like things are going to dissolve into the same old macho posturing. It seems like the diehard soccer fans care more about how many fans stand up during a game than how their team is doing and that “atmosphere” is the most important dynamic in getting people to attend a game.

    The thing about soccer in Europe is that its appeal isn’t limited to a particular class, it attracts people from all levels of society. You do get this macho posturing (and indeed the occasional homophobic/racist elements depending on where you go) but there are just as many liberal minded fans, or people who are interested in analysing the game. It’s a cross section of society and it so happens that the most visible sections of a crowd are also the least desirable.

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