ATR: Ask the Reports Answers Your Baseball Questions: Dempster Leaving Texas, MLB Attendance is Misleading, Trout vs. Harper, James McDonald Health, and Braves Won’t Go Away

Sunday August 5th, 2012

Jonathan Hacohen:  Posted every Weekend: Your top baseball questions from the past week are answered. E-mail all questions to, message us on Twitter, post on our Facebook Wall and leave comments on our website! There are many ways to reach us and we will get to your questions from all social media outlets!

Jonathan Hacohen: I seemingly talk about the Oakland A’s every day…and for good reason. This is a team on fire! Back in early July I prepared a feature titled:  The Future of the Oakland A’s:  The Mustache Gang Meets The Bash Brothers – Revealing Billy Beane’s Master Plan.  Since that article ran, the A’s have been unstoppable. How good have the A’s been in the 2nd half? Since the start of the year, most experts (myself included) left the team for dead. The squad was seen to be in another rebuilding year and with no chance whatsoever against the powerful Rangers and Angels. But despite the doom and gloom in Oakland, I ran the feature in July to show that there was hope. There was a future. Little did I know, that 2-3 years from now would arrive today. 

Take a look at the current standing. Oakland sits in 2nd place in the A.L. West, 5.5 games out of first. Nobody saw that coming. It’s August for darn sake! The A’s have a 58-49 record and if the playoffs started today, they would hold a Wild Card spot. 32-24 at home, while only 26-25 on the road. Clearly the A’s like playing at home. Yet they are near the bottom in MLB home attendance. Despite the unbelievable baseball they are playing, A’s fans are refusing to fill their stadium. It’s a darn shame, because if winning baseball won’t draw fans…nothing will. Yes, the team needs a new stadium. But without hometown support, that stadium will come in San Jose or another location. It will be interesting to see come September and October as to whether the A’s can boost attendance.  I sure hope so.

How are the A’s winning you ask? Nearly everyone will say pitching. Yes, the A’s have quite the staff. The A’s have received strong pitching from the likes of Bartolo Colon, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Brandon McCarthy (when healthy) and company. In the 9th inning, Ryan Cook has been lights-out. Proving once again that an unknown entity can be turned into a closer, Billy Beane has found another gem. Cook has 11 saves, 2.49 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. The A’s pitching has been solid, no doubt. Yes, the staff takes advantage of its pitching friendly home park. But regardless of location, the team is winning games. In large numbers and late in ballgames. That is the sign of a championship caliber squad.

But as much as the pitching gets the credit, I look to the hitting for the true reason for the team’s success. My article on the future of the A’s, pointed to the fact that Billy Beane is building the team around young and talented hitters. Those are hitters just happened to have come through early. Yoenis Cespedes is the glue that holds the squad together. The A’s record with him in the lineup is incredible. Josh Reddick. Johnny Gomes. Chris Carter. Brandon Inge. Don’t think that the A’s are going to go out and just win 1-0 games every time. This team has the hitting to back up its staff. Overall: The A’s do not look like they are going away any time soon. As long as they stay moderately healthy, this team remains a real threat to the make the playoffs in 2012.

For our Batting Stance Guy featured video of the week, we continue the A’s theme with Gar’s tribute to the Oakland A’s greatest batting stances. Canseco, McGwire, Rickey, Hendu…they are all here. Are you a fan of the A’s? Or just love to see great imitations of classic stances? This video is for you:

Now let’s get to your top questions of the week:

Q:  Seems attendance is once again up this year for this game we love. With the extra wild card (in each league), could we see record (attendance) numbers in ’12?  Old Man Mack

JH: Starting off this week’s ATR with our most regular contributor, Old Man Mack. Great question as always OMM.  Taking a look at the numbers, it is interesting to find the state of MLB attendance. Baseball reference has a great feature to compare attendance year-to-year. Comparing 2012 to 2011 MLB attendance, the numbers on the surface are looking good. Compared to this time last year, overall attendance is up. Overall, 2,329,960 fans have attended ballparks compared to last year, an average of 1,452 fans. Considering 48,199,038 fans attended games at this point last year, compared to 50,528,998 this year, the actual increase is miniscule. 17 teams have seen home attendance increases, while 13 have actually seen decreases. The biggest risers? Miami is up by 570,462 (new park). Detroit is up by 389,174, Texas 362,341 and Washington has spiked by 357,197). The teams with the biggest declines? Houston is down by 248,976 (rebuilding and moving to the A.L. West next season). Minnesota is down by 237,409 (team in decline and novelty of new stadium wore off quickly). Colorado is down by 113,190. What surprises me is that the Yankees and Angels have shown declining home attendance figures well, at 70,000+ less fans in 2012 compared to 2011. So winning ballgames does not always translate into behinds in the seats.

The A’s and Rays get a lot of flack for being near the bottom of MLB attendance figures every year. While this is still in true in 2012, their home attendances are both up in 2012. The A’s have seen 109,472 more fans this year at home, while the Rays have seen an increase of 39,749. While an increase can be a positive sign, considering the type of baseball they are playing, I fully expect fans to support certain teams more. The Angels should see a spike in attendance, not decrease. The A’s should be playing before packed house, not have minimal increases. So MLB attendance is overall up, but straight total figures don’t always tell the story. Nearly half the teams are in a decline this year and that is not a good thing. I will point to the Rays, A’s and Indians first and foremost that need an immediate attendance boost. Their overall numbers are far too low and need to see a spike. I know that it is a long season, but if fans want Major League Baseball in their cities, they need to support it. I see a lot more growth potential in future MLB attendance.

The extra Wild Card games will certainly help attendance. We will see more teams playing relevant baseball in September, which will help fall attendance figures. From a competitive standpoint, it should help. But then the A’s are playing competitive baseball right now- why isn’t their attendance higher? To me, the Wild Cards are a band-aid solution on a bigger problem. High ticket prices. Availability of baseball games on television and the internet. Other sporting events and things to do. Baseball is competing against many factors to get people into baseball stadiums. As fans find other things to do and ticket prices continue to rise, the average fan continues to be alienated from attending MLB games regularly. I would love to see every team playing before 30,000+ fans every night. Major League Baseball needs to find a way to make that happen and finding better long-term approaches, including more affordable seats. Otherwise, in the next few years you will see 20+ teams with declining attendance figures. I hope that I am wrong on that front, but that is the vision that I see.

Q:  Do you see Dempster staying long-term with the Rangers?  Lonnie

JH: Mr. Lonnie! One of our most devoted Reds fans on Twitter, with a Rangers question! Very interesting. To answer your question Lonnie, heck no. I cannot see Dempster staying in Texas. Period. This marriage is what I call a relationship of convenience. The Rangers needed a top starter for a playoff run and Dempster wanted a shot at a ring. The Rangers did not want to give up any of their top prospects at the deadline, so Dempster represented an inexpensive mercenary. A hired gun. While Dempster enjoyed an unbelievable season in Chicago, the Lone Star State may not be so kind to him. He already had one rough outing and more may yet come. Despite the presence of Mike Maddux and Nolan Ryan, playing in Arlington in August has a way of making the ball jump like crazy. The Rangers may be advised to pay Dempster on the road as much as possible. The heat in Texas can be unbearable and playing games with a score in double digits on many nights as a way of tiring pitchers in a hurry.

Dempster will be 36-years of age next May. He will likely command a contract in the 3-years, $45 million range. The Rangers have many young pitchers that they count on for next year, as well as other free agents to consider. Dempster at this stage of his career is better off returning to the National League. No DH and les potent offenses can mean better pitching numbers on the back of his baseball cards. Plus, word is that he has been California dreaming for some time and wants to pitch for the Dodgers. He may have to settle for San Diego. But either way, I don’t see a fit for either player or team beyond this year. 

Q:  When will James McDonald get on the TJ list?? He throws like 65% curves.  Baseball Talk

JH: The Tommy John list is growing by every week. I think you have been noticing. We keep on MLB reports a TJ Surgery Tracker, noting all of the TJ surgeries that have taken place in 2012 and the past. We are closing in on close to 40 TJs since March of this year. That is almost 2 per week. The most recent additions to the list? Scott Atchison is apparently close to having one, Neftali Feliz, Eric Surkamp and Colby Lewis. Now James McDonald is not a name that I have seen thrown around before. McDonald will be 28 this year and entering his prime. He has been a big core of the Pirates rotation this year, with a 10-4 record, 3.42 ERA and 1.185 WHIP. There have been no indications of elbow issues and that the team should be concerned. I think your question falls into more broad categories. Will the average pitcher have at least one TJ surgery in their life? And are curveball pitchers more susceptible?

Based on the last few seasons, it does seem that many pitchers are falling under the knife in large numbers. There are many possible injuries aside from Tommy John surgery, including shoulder issues. But TJ is getting a great deal of attention given the sheer number of players (mainly pitchers undergo the procedure). While there are starters who have it, there is a big percentage of relievers. That might bode well for McDonald. I don’t have the numbers on how many of the pitchers rely heavily on curveballs, but it does seem sliders have a large effect to some degree. So to answer your question, the law of probability says we could very well see James McDonald on the TJ list one day, but at likely the same rate as any other MLB pitcher. Unless we break down specific circumstances (like poor mechanics, conditioning, overuse, throwing curveballs at a young age etc.), we wouldn’t know if McDonald is more likely to have TJ as compared to any other MLB pitcher. If we knew all of his circumstances, we could better make a better educated guess. But otherwise, as a MLB pitcher in this day and age, he is at risk. Despite pitch counts, innings limits, 5-man rotations and specialized bullpens, pitchers are dropping like flies. At numbers like we have never seen before. But without the full background of facts, James McDonald is at the same risk as any other pitcher. 

This is why I am insisting that Major League Baseball needs to put a task force together. Include top doctors like Dr. Jobe, Dr. Yocum and Dr. Andrews. Include general managers, managers, and players that have undergone the procedure. Strength and conditioning coaches. Pitching coaches. Catchers. Lets get a group together that understands baseball, injuries and pitchers. Let’s discuss why so many players (mainly pitchers) are undergoing Tommy John surgery. Look at the pitches that they all throw and the percentages. Discuss mechanics, conditioning and use. Let’s work to fix the problem, rather than mask it with more surgeries. I would rather prevent than repair. There are too many red flags. Before more players go under the knife, let’s start working towards a solution immediately. I want to see the James McDonald’s of this world healthy and thriving. I want to see McDonald pitch for another decade, not have 1-2 TJ surgeries. 

Q:  The Braves are hanging around. This could kill the Nats.  Michael

JH: You bring up a strong point Michael. For all the talk of the Nationals dominance, the Braves are only 3 games back in the N.L. East. The Mets at 11.5 games back are essentially out of it. But the Nationals are nowhere near from being safe. If this continues, can you imagine shutting down Strasburg and ending up not making the playoffs? Nats fans would scream about that one for years. The Braves have done enough to stay competitive and look to be contenders in Chipper Jones‘ final season. The Braves are 8-2 in their last 10, while the Nats are 6-4. Much like the Dbacks in the N.L. West, the Braves are certainly a legitimate threat. While the Braves currently hold down a Wild Card spot, they still have a great deal of competition from the Pirates, Cards, Dodgers and Dbacks. Meaning that if the Braves take the N.L. East, the Nats are in serious danger of not making the playoffs all together. While there are 2 Wild Card spots in each league, there will be a minimum of 4-5 teams come late September that should be contenders.

Plus even if the Nationals get a Wild Card spot in such a scenario, all they are guaranteed is a 1-game sudden death playoff. Where anything can happen. The best thing is to secure the N.L. East and to advance to at least the opening round of playoffs. But that won’t happen as long as the Braves continue to surge and possible overtake Washington by season’s end. Translation? You are right. Washington is not out of the woods and will need to do all they can to make the playoffs. Now as far as shutting down Strasburg soon, let the controversy continue. My personal thoughts? They cannot and will not shut him down. When you are this close to contending, you cannot limit your team in that manner. Watch his innings and pitch counts. Get Stephen Strasburg more rest between now and October. But don’t shut him down. He deserves better. His team deserves better. And the Nats fans deserve better.

Q: Another question for ya. What do you think is the potential for Mike Trout? Who would you rather have Bryce or Mike?  Robert

JH: Oh man. Robert. The toughest question for last. This is a question that has been thrown around since Harper was drafted in the 2010 draft (Trout was drafted in 2009). Last season the debate picked up steam and this year, the issue has exploded. Both are entrenched MLB players and superstars on their respective teams at young ages. So where do I begin on this topic? Let’s start with Mike Trout. Before he playing his first MLB game, he was being called “the next Mickey Mantle.”  While this was seen as an unfair comparison at the time, the label appears to be bang on. Trout had 123 at-bats last season, just under the cut-off for ROY consideration. In his first near-full season, Mike Trout has been unbelievable. A baseball machine. He leads the A.L. with a .349 average and 86 runs scored and 33 steals. Did I mention that he has only been caught 3 times? He has a 185 OPS+. Trout’s 1.013 OPS is incredible (.411 OBP and .602 SLG). With 19 home runs, the soon to be 21-year-old Trout (birthday on Tuesday), is not only an A.L. ROY shoo-in…but the likely MVP. Mickey Mantle- eat your heart out.

Checking out on the Mick, he also had a strong start to his career. But not as great as Trout. While it is difficult to compare eras, Trout is not exactly playing in a prime situation. We are in the era of specialized bullpens. Trout plays in a pitcher’s park. The Mick played in Yankee stadium, a far better hitter’s park with starters who tended to pitch near complete games every time out. Both players have strong lineup support, but the Mick’s teams are considered stronger. But however you slice or dice it, Trout actually looks to have the stronger start to his career. In 1952, at the age of 21, Mantle played his 2nd season (first full year). In 142 games, the Mick hit 23 home runs, scored 94 runs, stole 4 bases, hit .311 with a .924 OPS. The Mick was an All-Star that year and finished 3rd in MVP voting. While the Mick’s OPS led the A.L. that year, Trout’s numbers are again far superior. The Mick’s career high in steals was 21 in 1959. Trout may break 50. Imagine again that Trout may reach 30/30 as a rookie. Not to mention that he also plays gold glove D. Trout is bigger and may end up being better than the Mick. Time will tell on that one, but at this point the sky is the limit for Trout.

Considering that Trout may win the MVP this season, I can’t even begin to fathom his potential. The first 50/50 player in history? Power, patience, speed (and accuracy), strong defense…there is literally nothing that Trout cannot do on a baseball field. He is the best player in baseball right now by a country mile and it’s not even close. Considering that most player don’t fully develop until the age of 27, Trout is already playing like he is in his prime. Does that mean he will be even better in the next 6 years? Likely and that is a scary thought. Trout is playing at a level of a “one in a lifetime” type player. That makes his numbers almost impossible to project. He is that good and in my mind, the next three years will tell the story. Will he stay at the same or a higher level? Will he bat leadoff, second or third? We are looking at a perennial All-Star, batting champion, stolen base king and MVP. For a former 25th overall pick, the Angels can pat themselves on the back any time that they wish.

So where does this leave Bryce? A 1st overall pick from the 2010 draft, Bryce Harper was the next one. The next big thing. The Sidney Crosby of baseball. Even as late as May of this year, I would have taken Bryce over Trout. Turning 20 in October, Bryce is doing incredible things for a teen. .257 average, .754 OPS, 13 steals (only caught 4 times), 10 home runs and 57 runs scored. We are scratching the surface of what Bryce Harper can do. Keep in mind that this season is his first exposure to the bigs. Trout got the call last year. Bryce Harper is a “can’t-miss” prospect who is well on his way to being a star. A former converted catcher, he is seen as being a strong defensive player who could potentially win a gold glove one day. A five-tool player, just like Mike Trout, Bryce can do it all.

Your question was: who would I rather have? Sitting here in August, I don’t know how you don’t say Trout. While Harper has immense potential and has the look of a future MVP, Trout has the potential and the production and is a current MVP candidate. It has only been one year, but Trout is doing it while Bryce might do it. Here is my measure: if the Nats called the Angels and offered Bryce straight up for Trout, they would be disconnected in 2 seconds. But if the Angels called the Nats and offered Trout for Bryce, the Nats would surely need to think about it for a long time. My gut is that they would say yes. There is the answer for me.

I am not a fan of Mike Trout as a long-term leadoff hitter. I would like to see him evolve into a #3 hitter. But considering his ability to get on base, score runs and steal bases at a high success rate, I can’t see how the Angels can move him in the lineup. Trout has proven to be an igniter, the spark the Angels needed to contend. Are we seeing the next Rickey Henderson? Perhaps. But with more power, better defense and less steals. Whether he is the next Rickey or Mick, Mike Trout has set the bar very high. Bryce Harper may be flashier, with his outgoing personality, eye-black and 1st overall pick status. But let’s throw out draft positions. Let’s throw out minor league numbers. Who has done it at the show? Trout. When Bryce Harper starts leading the league in several categories, then we can revisit the topic. Until then, Mike Trout holds the title in my book. For all those critics that said it was unfair to call him the next Mick, those screams have certainly quieted down. Get ready for a Trout explosion. Baseball is ready to crown its next King.

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Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

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