News & Notes: Shifts, Pirela, Prospects, YES Network

No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)
No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)

Time to “empty out the notebook,” so to speak. I have a whole bunch of miscellaneous links lying around that are worth passing along but aren’t necessarily worth their own individual post. So, here are some Yankees-related notes from around the web.

New commissioner will look to ban infield shifts

On Saturday, Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner officially ended and new commish Rob Manfred came into power. Manfred told Jerry Crasnick that youth outreach, pace of play, and improving labor relations are among the first items on his agenda. He also said he is open to banning infield shifts (video link). Here’s what he said about getting rid of infield shifts:

“I would be aggressive about using the (pitch clock) over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along,” said Manfred to ESPN. “I think the second set of changes I would look at is related, and that related to injected additional offense into the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.

“Look, we have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” added Manfred. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say ‘is this what we want to happen in the game.'”

Jeff Passan ran Manfred’s quote by “two sabermetrically inclined GMs” and both agreed with dumping shifts because “the game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want,” and there’s concern within the industry that baseball isn’t delivering. (That makes me wonder how many lefty pull hitters those GMs have on their rosters!)

I understand why many people want them gone but I am not a fan of eliminating shifts, personally. It’s basically a ban on creativity and that is bad regardless of industry. The MLB-wide batting average on balls in play has not changed at all over the last two decades even as shifts became popular, and I think teams with better information — or maybe I should say more willing to use that information to try something outside the box — should be allowed to use it.

If MLB wants to improve offense — and I am 100% all for that — I think they should start with fixing the strike zone and not having it depend on who’s catching and who the umpire is. Forcing relievers to face at least two batters and thus eliminating matchup specialists could be another idea. Telling players where to stand on the field is not something the commissioner’s office should control. Let teams position defenders where the hitter is likely to hit it. What’s wrong with that?

Pirela okay after taking pitch to hand in winter ball

During a recent winter ball postseason game in Venezuela, utility man Jose Pirela took a pitch off his right hand and had to exit the game. He went for x-rays after the soreness lingered and they showed no fracture, reports Chad Jennings. “He’s all good to go,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler. Pirela was shut down from winter ball play as a precaution but has already resumed working out.

Pirela, 25, hit .296/.394/.515 with 11 doubles, four triples, six homers, 26 walks, and 30 strikeouts in 47 winter ball games. He’ll come to Spring Training on the outside of the big league roster looking in — I still don’t expect the Yankees to cut Brendan Ryan, extra shortstops are useful — but with a chance to put himself in position to be the first position player called up. Pirela’s done nothing but hit these last few years and his versatility is a plus as well.

Kiley McDaniel’s massive farm system breakdown

Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel is in the middle of a series looking at each organization’s farm system from top to bottom. He covered the Yankees earlier this week and the write-up is massive, nearly 10,000 words. It runs 68 (!) players deep and McDaniel said it “may be the deepest system in the game.” Needless to say, the write-up comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Best of all, McDaniel also posted a ton of video at FG’s YouTube channel. He has clips of all the usual suspects there (OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, C Gary Sanchez, etc.) and also some hard-to-find video of several of New York’s recent international signings, like OF Leonardo Molina, OF Jonathan Amundaray, and OF Juan DeLeon. (3B Dermis Garcia is embedded above.) Some of the videos span multiple years, so you can see how the players have changed over time. It’s a goldmine. Check it out.

YES ratings up 10% in 2014

For the 11th time in the last 12 years, the YES Network was the most-watched regional sports network in the country in 2014. Ratings were up 10% overall and 16% during primetime, the network announced. YES averaged 58,000 households during primetime in New York last season — game broadcasts averaged 223,000 households — blowing MSG (41,000) and SNY (30,000) out of the water. Pre- and post-game rated were up 25% and 23%, respectively.

Obviously some of that improvement is due to Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour, but not all of it. I’m sure Masahiro Tanaka‘s arrival boosted ratings a ton as well. Same with Carlos Beltran, who is more or less the most popular active player from Puerto Rico. Either way, lots of people were watching the Yankees last season. Lots more than 2013, that’s for sure.

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Jeter’s home finale the most watched game in YES history

Derek Jeter‘s final home game last night was the most watched game broadcast in the history of the YES Network, the network announced. The game averaged 1.25 million viewers in New York and peaked at 1.99 million viewers from 10:15-10:30pm ET. That works out to an average 10.84 Nielsen rating and a peak 16.55 Nielsen rating. The previous record was held by the second game of the 2005 season (1.21 million viewers). Can’t say I’m surprised. Jeter is one hell of a draw.

What Went Wrong: Attendance and Ratings

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with two big signs fans are losing interest in the Yankees.

Where is everyone? (The Big Lead)
Where is everyone? (The Big Lead)

For the first time in five years and only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees missed the postseason in 2013. They didn’t just miss the postseason, they missed the postseason because so many of their best players either got hurt or underperformed. I’m not talking about minor injuries either — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira combined for 76 games (44 by A-Rod) while Curtis Granderson missed over 100 himself. CC Sabathia had the worst season of his career and Andy Pettitte battled injury and ineffectiveness for a long stretch of time. The only star-caliber constants were Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera.

As a result, fan interest was the lowest it’s been in years. Certainly the lowest since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. I don’t think the Yankees do a very good job of cultivating fans with caravan events and stuff like that — get to the Stadium early and Chris Stewart might shake your hand at the gate! — and their in-game entertainment at the ballpark is older than half the roster. The Subway Race is still pretty cool but the YMCA and the Match Game and Cotton-Eyed Joey are all outdated. Dammit do I hate Cotton-Eyed Joey. The giveaways* are pretty lame as well.

* Special shout out to the Yankees for the awful Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Day experience as well. Yes I’m still bitter.

When the Yankees aren’t winning, it’s not all that fun to go to Yankee Stadium. It’s too expensive and the non-baseball stuff isn’t worth it. When the Yankees aren’t winning and half their star players are hurt or playing poorly, they’re barely worth your time. That lack of fan interest showed this season in more ways than one.

Attendance

Attendance across baseball was down slightly this season, an average of 333 fans per game*. That’s 1.08%. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw their average attendance drop 3,245 fans per game from 2012 to 2013, or 7.4%. It would have dropped even more if not for the Mariano Rivera retirement tour boost in September — three of their four highest attended non-Opening Day games were in late September. Attendance has dropped 5,429 fans per game since the first season of the new Stadium back in 2009, or 11.8%. Obviously the team’s attendance has trended downward quite a bit the last three years, especially relative to the league average. I don’t think you needed the above graph to see that.

* Attendance data courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Ratings
Unfortunately, information on network ratings is hard to find, or at least I don’t know where to look. According to Joel Sherman, the YES Network saw ratings fall a whopping 33% this past season. Neil Best said it was roughly 39% back in late-May, so Sherman’s number passes the sniff test. The network’s highest rated game of the season was Alex Rodriguez’s return and I’m sure there was a boost for the Rivera/Pettitte retirement tour in September as well. The exact percentage of the decline really isn’t important. We know there was a significant decline in ratings in 2013 and that’s all that matters. If the numbers reported by Sherman and Best are true, that’s staggering.

* * *

So, clearly attendance and ratings were a problem this year, and they are one representation of fan interest. If people aren’t interested in the team, they won’t watch and they sure as hell won’t spend a boatload of money to attend a game. Thankfully I’m not the one who has the figure out the solution to this problem, that’s on the Yankees. The declining attendance and ratings is the result of many, many things I’m sure. Ticket prices and the economy, fan apathy, lack of star players in 2013, ownership talking about slashing payroll at every opportunity,  a team that isn’t all that exciting on the field … all of that and more is playing a part here. It’s a problem and, based on all the talk this winter, the club seems to think adding several big name players will be the way to fix it. Maybe it’ll work. They have to hope it will.

No Surprise: A-Rod’s return nets season-high ratings for YES Network

Via Sweeny Murti: Alex Rodriguez‘s return to the Yankees last night netted the YES Network its best ratings of the season. They averaged 393k total viewers for the game and topped out at 756k from 8:30-8:45pm ET, right around when Alex came to the plate for the first time. In terms of Neilsen ratings, YES was at 4.34 for the game compared to a season average of 2.52, which is down almost 40% from last year (4.17) and 50% from 2009 (4.72).

Obviously ticket sales and television ratings are way down this year, that’s no secret, but A-Rod‘s return will definitely help on the business side of things as well as on the field. He’s a car wreck and people can’t look away — most watch because they hate him and some watch because they actually like him. The important thing is people watch. Brian Cashman recently called the A-Rod trade his best not only because he was awesome on the field, but also because he helped increase ticket sales and cable subscribers. The Yankees seem to truly hate A-Rod and want him gone as soon as possible, but I’m guessing they’ll have no trouble taking in all that extra revenue while waiting for his appeal.

Two thumbs up for YES Network’s new camera angle

When the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, one thing that really disappointed me was the traditional offset camera angle. A number of clubs had started using a directly behind the pitcher camera angle that, in addition to make balls and strikes easier to see, really brought a pitcher’s stuff to life. We got to see fastballs moving in ways we had never before seen on television, breaking balls were breaking both side-to-side and up-and-down, changeups fading away from hitters of the opposite hand … it’s great. The directly behind the pitcher angle gets two thumbs way up from me.

The YES Network used a traditional offset angle over the last few years — check out the gallery above and you’ll see the angle changing slightly from 2009-2012 — but this year they have it pretty close to centered behind the pitcher with the rubber and home plate nearly in line. It’s not a perfect behind the plate view like the Braves, Red Sox, Twins, or Cardinals have, but it’s far better than the traditional offset look. It allows us to see Mariano Rivera‘s cutter hook around the plate for a backdoor strike three better than ever before, for example.

So, while not much has gone right for the Yankees early this season, at least we’ve got a cool new center field camera that makes the strike zone and a pitch’s movement easier to see than ever before. I don’t think YES can raise the camera any higher to get a true in-line look — I guess they would have to put the camera on top of the concession stand in center field? — so this is probably the best we’ll get. It’s much better than the offset look in my opinion and I’m glad we got it, even if it came later rather than sooner.

More on News Corp. and the YES Network

Early last week, an agreement was reached allowing News Corp. to purchase 49% — potentially as much as 80% down the road — of the YES Network from investors like Goldman Sachs and Providence Equity. The deal is expected to be finalized by the end of the calendar year. Here’s some more on the transaction, courtesy of Richard Sandomir

  • The Yankees will retain control of all Yankees-related content on the network. The announcers will continue to be biased — “We tell our people if you want to be bipartisan and fair, don’t work for YES,” said team president Randy Levine to Sandomir — and long-running features like Yankeeography and Yankees Classics aren’t going anywhere.
  • FOX, which is owned by News Corp., will bring some programming to the network however. It doesn’t sound like a SportsCenter-esque, nightly sports news show is in the cards though.
  • The Yankees will receive $420M from News Corp. to keep the team on YES through 2042. They’re getting half of that now and the other half in three years. Just think, they’re trimming payroll in less than 16 months.
  • Just as we heard the other day, Sandomir says the Steinbrenners are unlikely to sell the team in the wake of the agreement. The team continues to make a fortune and, perhaps more importantly, the family would get slapped with a massive tax bill should they sell.