Chris Uggen's Blog: who's booed? defining failure

Saturday, July 22, 2006

who's booed? defining failure

walking through campus yesterday, i noticed a sign at the legendary 400 bar promoting rondell white nights. during said events, one may purchase budweiser longnecks at a price keyed to mr. white's batting average. until recently, this meant one could pick up a bottle of bud for less than two dollars, as mr. white was hitting only .182 on june 30. early in the season, a bottle could be had for 91 cents.

rondell white was the minnesota twins' top free-agent signing this year. the reasonably accomplished veteran is being paid $3.25 million to serve as the team's designated hitter. the beer promotion remains a good deal, i suppose, but it will now cost you $2.33 because mr. white has become a hitting machine this july. he struggled mightily, but twins fans have cheered him all year and offered a standing ovation after his two home runs this wednesday. he ranked it as his biggest baseball thrill after 14 years in the majors:

"It ranks No. 1," White said of how much this game meant to him. "With all the things I've been going through this year and how I've been struggling, it felt really good to come out and help the team and swing the bat well." "It felt great, man," White said. "I've been struggling all season and those fans have been behind me."

yet the affectionate teasing continues. a talk-radio caller came up with this gem: rondell white hit for the cycle: he flew out, grounded out, popped out, and struck out. such love for underperforming veterans isn't that unusual in minnesota. a generation ago, twins catcher tim laudner was affectionately known as "buck-ninety" because he only hit .191 during the strange and wonderful 1987 world series run. we loved timmy loads and identified with his work ethic and frustration.

i couldn't help compare the local affection for mr. white with alex rodriguez's experience in the bronx this year. yankees fans have booed a-rod mercilessly all season. so why is a-rod booed and rondell cheered?

1. performance? nope. here are a few performance indicators for the record:

alex rodriguez: 349 at bats, 21 homers, 71 rbi, .284 batting average, .386 obp, 9 stolen bases

rondell white: 204 at bats, 3 homers, 25 rbi, .221 batting average, .250 obp, 1 stolen base

2. salary? maybe. mr. rodriguez earns $25 million per year to mr. white's $3.25 million. on the other hand, one could argue that mr. white's salary represents a sizable chunk of the twins' meager payroll and the bulk of their discretionary free-agent spending. while the yankees can afford to carry an overpriced underperformer, the twins have little margin for error.

3. player expectations? maybe. at 30, mr. rodriguez is already a sure hall-of-famer and one of the greatest players in the history of the game. mr. white has had a solid but unspectacular career, never driving in more than 82 runs in a season. nevertheless, the gap between 2006 performance and career average is far greater for mr. white than for mr. rodriguez. for example, he is 65 points below his career batting average, relative to a 22 point shortfall for mr. rodriguez.

4. team expectations? maybe. yankees fans and management expect to field a winner, but the twins were also predicted to finish at or near the top of the division.

5. local culture? maybe. twins fans may be less passionate than yankees fans and minnesotans are likely to criticize one another in a passive-aggressive way (hence, rondell white night rather than a cascade of boos). on the other hand, minnesota football fans seem to boo anyone and everyone, so i wouldn't completely attribute mr. white's warm reception to our lake wobegon civic culture.

6. media? mr. white is generally portrayed as a nice guy ("one of us") in the local press. i haven't tracked mr. rodriguez's coverage in nyc, but it is likely less friendly.

so, anything else? if you were estimating a logistic regression model predicting which players were booed, which variables would be most predictive?


At 11:03 AM, Blogger jeremy said...

I would give causal pride of place to #3/#4 and then to #2 as a cause of #3. Yankees can understand affection for underachievers, as long as the idea is that they are not playing for the Yankees.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous ryan said...

Uggen… you left out defensive measures under ‘performance’. Kind of surprising, since a recent blog expressed joy at Tor's defensive prowess at first base (right on, big man!). As a former first basemen that could field much better than hit (only 1 career long ball), I appreciated the shout-out for the nifty scoop and the long stretch at 1B. Back to A-Rod's booing in NY… I would control for the number of errors in your equation, particularly those in clutch situations. He's been pretty error prone this year, and the local buzz is that A-Rod is a liability a third base right now. Just a thought (note: I have no data on White’s defense).

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you got to let go of the twins...go vikes! alex

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

In the majors, defense is worth nothing, at least in terms of getting paid. Its much, much harder to find someone who can hit major league pitching as opposed to someone who can field major league hitting.

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isolate "clutch" moments - A-Rod has decent stats this year, but he seems to choke in high-pressure situations where the team needs him the most.

At 11:35 PM, Anonymous chris said...

all good ideas. i think clutch performances (and the errors in clutch situations) could be important in determining booability (remember billy buckner?).

some sabermetrician has probably examined this already, but i'd love to do a serious study of whether "clutch" performers and streaks/slumps really exist. it seems like a pretty straight-ahead analysis of dispersion would do the trick. my suspicion is that it would be tougher than one might think to find evidence of consistently good clutch performers in the data. that's just a hunch, though.

you know when minnesota fans boo players most lustily? when they do well here, leave to get paid, then return as the opposition. chuck knoblauch, starbury, joel pryzbilla, etc. come to mind immediately. mild-mannered minnesotans show they can boo like philadelphians in such cases.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

I think that #5 also suggests an interesting line of inquiry into differential fan expectations between Minnesota sports teams. Why do the Twins seem to get the benefit of the doubt, even when mediocre or miserable, yet the Vikings get booed on even the slightest misstep? To be honest, I tune in to Vikings games fully expecting to get my boo on before the kickoff hits the receiving player's hands. Is it because of factors like historical team success/failure track records? Is it because Vikings players get paid more and deliver less? All my life (I confess I was born somewhere in the midst of the 70's four attempts at Super Bowl success), it seems that the Vikings have been nothing but non-stop disappointment, but the Twins have had some big time success (1987 and 1991 especially). So, what's the deal?

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Buckner is, no shit, one of the fan favorites in Boston.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I'm gonna need some empirical verification on anonymous' post.

I'm hung up on the "salary" argument. The Yankees fans I know (few and far in between in Cincinnati, but fiercely loyal nonetheless) seem deliciously gleeful at how much they *can* and *do* spend on players. I don't know, however, if they view money as being wasted, or at least give it considerable thought. If they have the money to spend, they spend it. Now, I don't know my pro ball players' salaries well, but I'd garner that A-Rod is one of the top-paid guys there.

Which is, I suppose, another thought entirely. Top tier ball players (among other atheletes) resemble corporate CEOs (or the attitudes I hear about them, anyway): the actual dollar amount of their contract is less important than it's value relative to other players in the league. It's not $25 million to A-Rod, it's either "X million higher than _______," or "not enough" in the event that someone dare get a larger contract than he.


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