Monday, March 24, 2008

Land of the Rising Sun

It is a great public relations gimmick.

Send at least one of the league's premier teams from the previous season overseas, or to another country on the same continent to help cultivate the game in a country that's already baseball crazy.

It will be the fifth time since 1999 that Major League Baseball will start its season on foreign soil. In 1999 it was the the 1998 pennant winning Padres taking on the Rockies in Monterrey, Mexico. In 2000 the 1999 NL wild-card Mets, winners of 97 games, played the bottom of the NL Central barrel Cubs in Tokyo. Four years later, the capital of Nippon hosted the AL Champion Yankees against the bottom feeding Devil Rays. In 2001 it was the bottom scrubbing Rangers playing a Blue Jays team that missed the AL East title by a mere four and a half games.

This season it's the World Champion Red Sox opening against an Athletics squad that finished only a game out of last place in the AL West and 20 wins behind the Red Sox. Not exactly a marquee match-up.

But this is less about the match-up than about the impact of opening in a different country.

What does it really mean? Is it difficult for the team's involved to recover from the requisite travel? Or is the impact dependent on the team make-up, the manager, and any number of other factors? The numbers are less than telling.

The Yankees in 2004 got off to a horrible start, struggling in April and May, but recovered to win 101 games.

On the other hand are the 1999 Padres, just a season earlier with 98 wins and an appearance in the World Series, dropped to fourth place and 74 wins when starting the season in Mexico. Their opponents, the Rockies dropped from 77 to 72 wins.

In 2000 the Cubs slipped by two games from 67 to 65 wins, while the Mets still qualified for the wild card with 94 wins, down from their 1999 total of 97 after taking their first at-bats of the season in Tokyo. That same year the Rangers and Blue Jays won 71 and 83 games respectively. The following season, kicking off the season in (I know, technically American soil) Puerto Rico, those Rangers and Jays finished 2001 with 73 and 80 games respectively. An increase for the Rangers, but a drop-off for the Jays.

In 2004 the Yankees matched their previous season's win total, while the Rays increased their win total from 63 to 70 after starting it all in Tokyo.

Eight teams, a variety of results. Nothing telling. One team broke even. Two teams increased their win total by an average of 4.5 games, and five teams slipped a combined total of 37 games. Realistically, the Padres skew that number with a 24 game drop-off. Sixty-two-and-a-half percent of the teams experienced a drop in performance reflected in their win-loss record. The average drop, not including the Padres, is 3.25 games per team.

Assuming this is actually indicative of this season's performance, there's a 62.5 percent chance that the Sox will drop to 93 wins from last season's 96-win showing. Last year that would have put the team a game behind the Yankees in the final standings, and given the Red Sox the wild card.

What any statistician will tell you is that eight teams, eight results in over a century's worth of seasons is not a sampling that is indicative of anything.


Suldog said...

It will be extremely odd waking up tomorrow and finding it in the second or third inning on my radio.

Kevin Smith said...

Won't it though?

I'll be watching on ESPN while chowing on breakfast. The only thing that's comparable is when my in-laws used to live just outside of Honolulu and while visiting over Christmas I would watch NFL games over breakfast.

It was, to say the least, odd.