Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Sports

Fixing 3 Things In Sports

Monday morning quarterbacks, coaches, players, and fans are nothing, if not opinionated when it comes to sports. We can all typically agree on the things that need to be fixed. But, the solutions people bring to the table rarely satisfy all the audiences.

As a fan and parent of two kids involved in youth sports, I’ve observed a LOT over the years. There are things that drive me crazy; for example, the offsides rule in soccer and hockey. But, not everything that drives me crazy is worth fixing. Sometimes, it is what it is.

My dad was a big believer in the idea that it’s easy to point out that something’s broken, but if you do that, you have a responsibility to offer solutions. I’ve always tried to live up to that philosophy. In this post, I’m going to focus on 3 very specific problems that exist and offer up some solutions.

Video Assistant Review, aka VAR

The English Premier League makes it clear, that “VAR is constantly monitoring the match. VAR is used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.” The idea of VAR was great. Referees can’t see everything and be everywhere all the time. Making the correct calls ensures more accurate outcomes. However, the implementation of VAR has universally been panned. Fans hate it. Pundits hate it. Players hate it. In fairness, a major reason people hate VAR has less to do with VAR and more to do with the actual rules being enforced by VAR. For example, the handball law. But, the other major reason is that so much of VAR comes down to interpretation. I can’t change the laws of soccer, but I do have some suggestions for improving the execution of VAR.

VAR rules out goal based on armpit.
  1. Acknowledge it needs to be improved. Swallow the pride.
  2. All goals are reviewed. Each manager is given 2 additional challenges/calls for a review. Maybe it’s an offside call, a foul, or the ball going out of bounds. Basically, stop trying to legislate everything.
  3. Make the VAR review a 3 member panel of refs and former players. Consensus must be reached to overturn the original call. If 2 out of 3 can’t agree, it’s not “clear and obvious.”

That’s it. As the kids say, that’s the tweet.

Youth Sports

The elite young athlete: strategies to ensure physical and emotional health

I have seen, up close, the horrible underbelly of youth sports. I’ve written previously, in a now-deleted post, about the racism I experienced while growing up in Vernon, NJ. Some of it was overt. Some of it lived in the shadows. For example, when it came time to pick the Little League All-Star team, magically most, if not all the kids of coaches were picked. Some were selected at the expense of more deserving players. In particular, my dad received a call from another team’s coach apologizing that his kid was selected ahead of me. He shared what took place in the manager’s/coach’s meeting and said it wasn’t right. But, I’ve also seen it as both of my kids have played in a number of youth sports programs.

There’s a lot you could fix in youth sports. For example, stop charging to attend basketball games. Just build the “revenue” into the season price in the same way that soccer does. But, I want to focus on the hero worship that comes from how programs operate. Programs are designed to drive success, not develop players. Development is a byproduct, for the most part. Even at young ages, athletic programs are looking to retain the best players in hopes they’ll drive their High School programs to success. So here’s what happens:

  1. Talented kids are identified early on.
  2. Their parents are asked to be on boards and to coach.
  3. Conflicts of interest arise, but are swept under the rug. Programs take care of their own and from what I’ve observed the complaints originate from parents of kids who are less talented, and thus less valuable.

Parents of kids shouldn’t be allowed to coach their children’s teams, oversee the programs their kids play in, or hold positions on boards that drive talent selection and development decisions. At a minimum, any concerns parents would have about shady practices, favoritism/nepotism, and ethics go away.

Let me offer a real example situation that wouldn’t have happened if my recommendations were in place. Two parents made a complaint about a coach being a bit too handsy with the players. To an untrained eye, the physical interactions might be seen as typical coaching. One of the parents was a victim of sexual assault and saw it as something more. A formal investigation, as recorded through the minutes, never took place. The coach’s child was a very good player, was being allowed to play up, and they didn’t want to create friction. They were told to bring their concerns to the police if they were that concerned. With everything we know about the sexual assault of athletes by trainers, coaches, and staff, the only logical conclusion was that this program was protecting the coach of a talented player.

If most well-run, ethical companies prohibit family from managing family and influencing the hiring of family members, shouldn’t youth sports?

NBA Scoring

3-Point Shooting Growth

I confess, I basically stopped watching basketball 2 years ago for a variety of reasons. We had season tickets for our local team, the Minnesota Timberwolves; even though I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. I tried. Really, I did. But, the over-emphasis on no defense and jacking up 3-pointers simply doesn’t appeal to me. The James Harden approach to basketball is not my cup of tea. I am not the only person who has this opinion.

Most opinion pieces focus on the 3-point line. They either want to change the shape or make it further away from the basket. Others have recommended the NBA adopt an MTV Rock N Jock style basketball court where certain areas, beyond the 3-point line, are worth more than 3 points. I’m not going to touch the 3-point line. I’m not advocating for more lines or ways to score more than 3 points.

My solution is much simpler. I want to bring back the pre-mid-1990s hand check rule. The hand check rule allowed defenders to place one or two hands on an offensive player to “check” their movement. The rule was significantly modified after MJ’s first retirement and then went away completely after the 2003/2004 season. Here’s how I’d like to bring it back:

  1. You can only use one hand.
  2. The hand check can only be used between the half-court line and the 3-point line.
  3. The hand-check can only be executed on the ball handler.

If you adopted my 3-point plan, no pun intended, here’s what’s likely to happen.

  1. We’ll see more offensive balance. You can still move quickly from the inbound to the half-court line.
  2. The mid-range game comes back into play.
  3. We’ll see a resurgence of post-up play.
  4. There will be new offensive creativity requiring more movement and off-the-ball play to free up the best shooters.
  5. A new era of defensive creativity will be born, evolving us from the binary choices of zone and man-to-man.

I do think you’ll also see better youth development. Walk in to a gym these days and you’ll see kids chucking shots from deep, with horrible form. Bad habits are being created early.

The net-net should be a more balanced, enjoyable, and fun game.

There you go, problem, with solutions, as my dad would have approved of!

The Last Dance Has Been Epic

The Last Dance - Michael Jordan

In a zero sports world, sports junkies like me are looking for anything that resembles professional sports. I’ve watched and rewatched classic Manchester City matches, Michael Johnson win the 200M and the 400M in the 1996 Summer Olympics, and I might have watched far too many montages of Tiger Woods winning on Sundays. But, none of them have had my attention like the “Last Dance” documentary. It is one of the rare shows that I’m watching live. It is must-see TV. And, the second-screen experience on Twitter is maybe even better.

Last night, episodes 7 and 8 ran back-to-back. I don’t know how episodes 9 and 10 top them. Specifically, episode 7 may be the single best chapter of a documentary that I’ve ever seen. Yes, even better than Tiger King’s riveting episodes. The end of episode 7 had me with all the feels:

Watching it, I felt a certain connection to the underlying points Michael was making in episode 7:

  1. He would never ask of others what he wasn’t willing to or already doing. That’s leadership 101. The best leaders I’ve worked with are just as willing to do the work of person right out of school as the person…right out of school.
  2. It’s hard to maintain a high level of motivation; so much so, that you sometimes need to invent reasons to be motivated.
  3. The only thing more enjoyable than winning is the enjoyment that comes from watching someone who doubted you lose.

Taking those three points into consideration, on the drive in this morning, I thought about my favorite athletes. All of them pass this litmus test.

Steve Prefontaine: He ran and won on a freshly stitched foot!

Carli Lloyd: In her own words, “But for me, that moment was the moment. I had spent my whole life blaming other people. I had spent my whole life saying, “poor me.” But once I got to that place in 2012, that was the turning point in my career. I started including visualizing in my preparation for the first time ever in my career, and I started to believe in myself more and more. I was just insanely focused.”

Tiger Woods: Was it more enjoyable to win The Masters or have Phil lose after talking all that smack?

We love winners, generally. Seriously. Don’t take my word for it, take General George S. Patton’s. He said it better than I could, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war.”

But, it’s not just that you win, that matters. What we really love and admire are winners who embody the personality, spirit, and mindset of the best winners. I don’t think this is limited to sports. Our love affair with sports is often because sports emulate life and life emulates sport. It’s a circle. They’re connected.

It’s Been A While

Getty

Wow! Is it May already? It’s been nearly 3 months without an update/post. It’s certainly not for lack of things going on and thoughts worth sharing. But, this ‘digital detox‘ has a way of making you think less and less about the internet and more about just enjoying the moment. I’ll have a full update in June about how the digital detox is going, but at a high-level, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. The first few weeks were more challenging. Habits are hard to break. But, by February, I had little interest in social media and I was so much happier without it. Social media had become a dumpster fire of negativity, political views, and social justice warrior-esque reasons to complain. Without all of that in my life, every day, I’m genuinely more energetic, happier and relaxed. I also feel like a bit of a trendsetter. If Facebook is creating this commercial, I’m sure I’m not the only person who decided to get back to a more analog life.

Changing the page, in June, I’ll have my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions. But, at first glance, things are looking good. That new crystal ball I purchased on Amazon must be legit.

Some other odds and ends:

  1. I saw Avengers Infinity War, helping to make it a box office success. Although, I’m in the minority when it comes to not being enamored with the film. Too many characters, too many questions, too many plot holes and the ending wasn’t my cup of tea.
  2. Also saw, finally, Blade Runner 2049. While it performed poorly at the box office, by every metric it was critically acclaimed. I second all the people who gave it a high rating. Stellar performances across the board, beautiful (albeit at times, dark) scenery and a plot with so much subtext you need time at the end to really think about what it all meant.
  3. Nichole started a new role at Riley Hayes and also decided she wants to run her first 5K. I’ve been training her since January. That’s always a dicey proposition, but I’m happy to say, the training is paying off and she hasn’t wanted to strangle me (as far as I can tell).
  4. Despite being hit with mountains upon mountains of snow this winter, I resisted the temptation of purchasing a snowblower. I actually find shoveling to be therapeutic. I put in the earbuds, listen to a podcast and get to work.
  5. Had a gift card to the Verizon store. Used it on a pair of Apple AirPods. I’m not a fan. Good sound quality, not great. They fall out to easy for me to consider using while working out, biking, etc. I will say, however, the pairing with Apple devices is as seamless as it gets, the battery life is very good and the packaging is genius. Having the case also be a charge was incredibly wise.
  6. I joined the Instant Pot revolution. No pun intended, but while they’re much better than the old school pressure cookers, they’re not fully baked. That said, when it works well, it makes a world of difference in flavor and meat tenderness. For the record, I ordered the Instant Pot Ultra.
  7. John and Cora wrapped up Winter basketball with mixed results. This was their first year playing in Woodbury. To say that the same small town politics I grew up in the 80s and 90s are still alive, would be an understatement. I actually had a player’s mom come up to me after a game to lecture me about John. He’s a 3rd grader. He had to try out for the 4th-grade team he’s playing on. The mom of a 4th grader on his team was none too happy that John was playing up and taking minutes away from her son. She said, clearly, “He doesn’t belong here. He should be playing with his own kind.” Stunning to say the least.
  8. The kids are headed to the FC Barcelona USA soccer camp this Summer, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m excited for them to learn from a different class of instructors and to train against talent from all over the country. I’m also incredibly thankful that UnitedHealth Group has such a progressive philosophy for remote working. I’ll be working out of our Atlanta office that week. Without that type of flexibility, it would have been very difficult for John and Cora to attend.
  9. Two years ago I decided to get into soccer and in doing so, I picked Manchester City as my club. Wow, that was a smart choice. After a meh first year where we came away with no trophies, this year we set the world on fire. We broke records left and right while dominating the Premier League. On top of that we won the English League cup. We were a questionable red card away from most likely going on to win the FA Cup. And, we made it to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League tournament. The kids and I had our first early morning pub viewing experience when we watched City best Manchester United at Brit’s Pub. I’ll always remember John yelling at a United supporter, “You spent $100M on that? On that?”, after a total whiff by Romelu Lukaku. What a year/season. Soccer truly is global and it’s helped me connect with team members at work and random strangers. As global as it is, it’s also incredibly local. This celebration campaign by Manchester City shows that well.
  10. Took the family to Vernon, NJ to celebrate my niece’s 1st birthday. Ahead of the party, we took a tour of Vernon and I showed the kids my old school, the fields I played baseball on and the courts where I learned to ball. John being John, found a ball and then proceeded to shoot and shoot and shoot.

The first 4 months of the year flew by. The list above only scratches the surface. But, I guess when you’re not busy trying to stream your whole life, you have a lot more time to enjoy life.

Make The Experience Distinct And Memorable

John and Cheryl with Jimmy Butler.

I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. I should be a Knicks fan, given I grew up in New York. But, it was hard not to root for MJ as a kid. I grew up with MJ and MJ lead me to the Bulls. Even when the Bulls were bad, I backed them, like a true fan should.

Fast-forward many years later and I moved to Chicago. The Bulls were horrible. They were coached by Tim Floyd, who had no business coaching a professional NBA. As bad as the product was, I still rooted, I still cheered and I stayed loyal to the Bulls.

I lived in Chicago, 3 different times. I went to so many Bulls games. I watched Bulls teams that were good, bad and on the cusp of greatness. Not once did I ever consider becoming a season ticket holder. I loved my Bulls, but the combination of cost, location and product never lined up. If you’re going to become a season ticket holder in the NBA, you really need to gear up for 41 games. Despite my love for the Bulls, I didn’t see myself making that commitment.

This past Summer, we moved to Minnesota. Over many a margarita to celebrate the house we had just found, Nichole and I agreed, we should get Minnesota Timberwolves tickets. Wait, “what”, you’re saying. I know, I know. Let me explain.

  1. There’s a big-time Bulls connection. On the Wolves roster, you have Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks. Oh, and they’re coached by Thibs. Even if it was to root for Jimmy, a classic Bulls player, it seemed worth it.
  2. The product, so to speak, looked great. They have a young core of homegrown players, in a newly renovated stadium and with new uniforms.
  3. The location is great. Getting in and out of the Target Center is a breeze.
  4. The kids would love it. I tried to get them to be Bulls fans, but given they’re growing up in the Twin Cities, it makes sense they’d root for the Wolves.
  5. The price was palatable.

So, we got 3 seats. I’ve never been a season ticket holder for any sport or team. Thus, in fairness, I have nothing to compare my experience against. However, I’ve been to a lot of games across all the major sports leagues. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a team so committed to its fans. They’ve made a clear commitment to creating a distinct and memorable fan experience. There are the little things, like how they pick season ticket holder’s child to bring the ball to center to court and how they pick 2 season ticket holder children to be honorary captains who get to meet the captains for both teams. Season ticket holders also get to access the arena, up to an hour earlier than the general public. This allows you to see the players shoot around. Very cool.

Then, you have bigger things, like hosting a season ticket holder Christmas event where there was a fan lead Q&A with 3 players and the ability to take a Christmas photo with Crunch. I can tell you, my kids STILL talk about it. There are also adult events like a private tour of Surly Brewery, complete with food and free beer. I’d, of course, be remiss if I didn’t also mention that season ticket holders get a discount on merchandise. That leads to both kids owning shirts and jerseys, not to mention Christmas gifts.

I could wax on and on about all the things that the Minnesota Timberwolves organization does to make sure little moments and big moments are distinct and memorable. It’s that total fan experience that makes you want to go watch the team play instead of heading out to dinner, going to a movie or some other activity. Make no mistake, people vote with their wallets. We’re voting 41 times to spend an evening with the Wolves and that’s just the games. With all the season ticket holder events they also have, I’d say, we’ll spend 20% of the year (as measured in days) with the Wolves. That’s a serious commitment. But, when you have a business focused on creating distinct and memorable experiences like this moment, earlier in the week, when John got to meet Jimmy Butler, it’s money well spent.

European Futbol Is Better Than American Football

Aguero Man Ups Against David Luiz

European Futbol is better than American Football. That’s something I never thought I’d write, think, say or feel. But, it’s true.

I’ve never been a soccer guy. I grew up playing baseball and basketball. While the soccer team was practicing, I was busy running cross country. In trying to watch or follow soccer games, I found them to be boring snooze-fests. Hockey, for all of its lack of actual scoring at least had men beating each other up. There was “action.”

As a dad though, I’ve been watching both Cora and John play soccer. They started out in the kickers program and have quickly moved into “U” play. Cora, in particular, has really taken a shine to soccer and it to her. She’s very talented and certainly better at 9 than I ever was, at any age. I marvel at her skills, her work ethic and love for this sport.

Each year, I pick 3 new things to do or learn. In 2016, one of those 3, was to pick a soccer team, follow that team and root for that team, in hopes I would become more inspired and knowledgeable. I figured, at worst, I would be able to understand the game better, which would help me appreciate what Cora was doing on the field.

Never did I expect to become, not only, smitten with soccer, but to see it as superior to watching American Football. Before I get to the rationale behind such a proclamation, let me explain how I got here.

Two of my very good friends are die-hard soccer fans. They support Chelsea and Liverpool. Several work colleagues are also fans of teams in the English Premier League. Specifically, I work with or have had the opportunity to work with fans of Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal. All of that made choosing the Premier League over other soccer leagues, quite easy.

So we have a league! But, we need a team. By default, any teams my friends and co-workers were supporting, were off the table. Half the fun in picking a team is the shit-talking and to pick a team someone else was already following would make that time-honored tradition more challenging.

Thus, I turned to the internet. I googled, “which Premier League team should I follow?” This lead to several quizzes. I took somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen quizzes to help narrow the field and hopefully lead to an obvious choice. The sum of these quizzes lead to a clear choice: Manchester City. In fairness, I would say, Arsenal routinely bubbled up as a choice that fit my answers.

After sharing the quizzes with several people, along with my answers, they understood how I arrived at Manchester City.

  1. They don’t have a storied history
  2. In soccer, money matters, and they have a war chest
  3. They’re routinely in contention for the championship

But, they also rock the UNC Tarheel color of powder/baby blue. It was like fate.

So, Manchester City it was. I had a league and I had a team, but I knew nothing. So began my training, so to speak…courtesy of my 2 friends. For the first game of the Premier League season, I found myself at a bar around 6:30 AM, with my friend. We drank beer, ate breakfast, I asked questions, he answered, I asked more questions, he answered more, we drank more beer. 2 hours later, the game was over. We won. I was hooked.

Let me explain why I now believe soccer/European Football is better than American Football/NFL.

  1. There are NO commercials in soccer. None. Zero. They play 45 minutes of uninterrupted sport. They break for 15 minutes. They come back for 45 minutes. Think about that. No freaking commercials.
  2. Because of #1, the games never last more than 2 hours. An NFL game would last 2 hours (very unlikely), it could be 3 hours…it could be more. You never know.
  3. There’s constant unpredictable action. The keyword being, “unpredictable.” If it’s 3rd and 12 from your own 15, what do you think your team is going to do? I can tell you. A safe hand-off, a screen pass, or a designed roll out. What will the defense do? Easy! They will most likely back off, play safe, and ensure a punt will happen. It’s 100% predictable. Yes, things can happen, but for the most part, the game is scripted.
  4. Now, let’s talk about action. In an NFL game, where does the action come from? On the offensive side, you could argue it’s only with 4 players. The QB, the RB, the WR and the TE. That’s it. Defensively? The MLB, DE, and CB. Realistically, on any given play, at most 6 players are involved in the action, so to speak. In soccer, sure, your Strikers do the bulk of the scoring, but every single person is involved in passing the ball, tackling, attempting an interception, playing for the counter-attack and so on. In the same way that West Coast basketball can be high energy with every player involved (think a Phoenix vs Golden State game), soccer is that, all the time.
  5. Because we live in the United States and for me, more specifically, I live in the Central Time zone, the games are on at 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM or 8:30 AM. Occasionally, they’ll be on at 10:00 AM. Games are generally played on Saturday or Sunday. What does this mean? Well, go back to #1. It means that by 8:30 AM, most game days, the game is over and the WHOLE day is still in front of me. Think back to college and your early morning tail-gating experiences for BIG games. That’s soccer, every weekend. You’re having a beer at 7:00 AM. You’re eating sausage, eggs, and potatoes. You’re talking trash. You’re in your shirt or jersey and everyone knows what team you’re rooting for.
  6. This brings me to the people. I have watched Bulls games, Braves games, Rangers game and Giants games at bars. They’re fine. They’re fun. Perhaps the best bar experience was watching the Cubs World Series games at Chicago bars. The energy was there. But, it should be, it’s a World Series game. In all those experiences, I never made random temporary friends or felt a connection to other people at the bar. When you show up at a bar for your Premier League game, you instantly know who your friends are. They’re wearing the same colors as you. They welcome you in. They share in your anguish and if they’re fans of the other team they will, in fact, talk trash to you. The people make it fun. They make it worth getting up early for.
  7. Whereas the NFL last 22 weeks or so, with 16 games, 1 bye and of course the playoffs, your soccer team plays year round. The Premier League is 38 matches, with roughly a 1-match a week pace. But, they also play in other tournaments. Your roller coaster lasts nearly an entire year. You’re pulled in for nearly 52 weeks. You care for 365 days.

Now, the above, while all true, does not mean soccer is perfect. In fact, I have several gripes or things that still drive me mad.

  1. Too many games end in ties. I’m a big believer of wins and losses. The NBA and MLB have this right. Hockey and the NFL, do not. Every game should end up penalty kicks, if needed, to determine a winner, just like it happens in major tournaments.
  2. Your team’s jersey or kit as they refer to it (along with the shorts) changes every year. Literally, every year. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, sometimes it’s a major one. I could see how this is incredibly frustrating for fans. At the same time, this brings in boku revenue to the clubs, which help ensure NO commercials. So, yeah, I get it, but I don’t love it.
  3. Related to #2, this is sorta funny; they don’t have baseball caps. Think about it for a second. Whether you follow the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or a college team, the fitted cap is an iconic way to show who you support. They don’t do baseball caps. They do scarves. Scarves? WTF?
  4. You could argue that the concept of “Any Given Sunday” is a good thing…or a bad thing. If you have Durant, Curry, and Klay and you’re playing the Sixers, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100. If you’re the Cowboys with Zeke, Bryant, and Dez, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100 when you play the Browns. But, even when you have Suarez, Neymar and MESSI you can lose to Tottenham (aka a team who is very solid, makes the playoffs, but never wins the championship) 50% of the time Maddening.
  5. There are so many strange rules. The most puzzling is that a soccer field need not be the same length and width. You can play a team in January and play on a field that’s 100 meters x 70 meters, then play a team in February with a field that’s 110 meters x 64 meters. Could you imagine playing on a smaller field in Dallas and a bigger field in New England? Huh?

So that’s what I got. I’m sold. I can’t believe it took me this long to get invested. Something people have asked me is why I got into it? It’s a good question. I know I covered a portion of this in the intro, regarding my daughter and her interest and proficiency. But, there is another reason. In the same way, I took a wine class and golf lessons so that I could be more involved in professional settings outside the office, soccer delivers on the same need. If you find yourself in any city across the world, at a conference of business meeting and think you have nothing in common with anyone in the room, I assure you will, if you follow soccer. Bring up a recent game between your team and another or Mess vs. Ronaldo and instantly you’ll have a connection.

While it’s not the sport of kings it is a worldly sport with universal appeal.

Earning Your Keep

John talking with his coach

This weekend, John’s traveling team played in a basketball tournament in Lakeville, MN. On Championship Sunday, John didn’t play a single minute and I could not have been more proud of him, his team and his coach.

John’s in 2nd grade and playing “up” with the 4th grade team. The kids are bigger, faster and more experienced. At this level, you have to earn your playing time. You are not guaranteed time on the court. There are no participation medals. Well, there are, but that’s just how the tournaments are run, not representative of his team.

I applaud his coach for explaining up front at the beginning of the season, that you need to work hard in practice, but working hard doesn’t mean you get to play and it certainly doesn’t mean you win. Rather than pout or complain about a lack of playing time, John clapped, rooted and supported his team. He stayed engaged, watching, observing, learning.

It’s such a nice change of pace from the “everyone plays” approach that seems to be becoming more mainstream. There are no handouts in life (well, there are, and there are too many, but you get my point) and learning now, that you have to earn opportunity and then when given that opportunity you must take advantage of it, is surely something that will benefit him in the long run.

Alex Rodriguez vs. Alfonso Soriano

Quick disclaimer: I think Alex Rodriguez is overrated, over paid, doesn’t show up in the clutch, and is a whiner.  Ok with that out of the way, many people consider A-Rod (silly nickname) the best baseball player in the league, a sure-fire hall-of-famer, and destined to rewrite the record books.  Back in 2003, the New York Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez.  I thought the move was silly and didn’t make sense.  Soriano made less and offered similar production.  Not to mention, the Yankees already had Derek Jeter at shortstop.  Well the Yankees didn’t call me up for my opinion and as such they’ve been “stuck” with A-Rod for the last 5 seasons.  During those 5 seasons the Yankees haven’t won a World Series, but the Boston Red Sox have won 2.  Just saying.

Ok, well I’m a data driven guy.  I love data.  With Soriano and the Chicago Cubs seemingly headed to the World Series (wouldn’t it be great if they won) it got me thinking about Soriano and Rodriguez.  I pulled the stats and I was flabbergasted. For the purposes of streamlining this comparison, we’re going to look at the following statistical categories: Salary, Games, Hits, Runs, Stolen Bases, RBI, Home Runs, Batting Average, OPS, and World Series titles.  Check this out:

  • Salary: A-Rod $120,389,252 (AVG of $24,077,850) vs. Soriano $46,900,000 (AVG of $9,380,000)
  • Games: A-Rod 743 vs. Soriano 681
  • Hits: A-Rod 845 vs. Soriano 799
  • Runs: A-Rod 578 vs. Soriano 461
  • Stolen Bases: A-Rod 104 vs. Soriano 125
  • RBI: A-Rod 592 vs. Soriano 423
  • Home Runs: A-Rod 201 vs. Soriano 166
  • Batting AVG: A-Rod .304 vs. Soriano .284
  • OPS: A-Rod .975 vs. Sorano .867
  • World Series Titles: A-Rod 0 vs. Soriano 0
A few things stand out to me:
  1. A-Rod made nearly 3X as much as Soriano did from 2004 – 2008
  2. A-Rod has played in 62 more games
  3. On the whole A-Rod’s raw stats are better than Soriano’s with the exception of stolen bases
  4. Neither player has produced a title

So on the surface, A-Rod seems like the better performer.  If your course correct for the games played differential, the numbers get within +/- 10% of each other.  For example Soriano averages 1 home run every 4.10 games.  If you scale out the home runs for Soriano to the same 743 games A-Rod has played you’d end up with 181 home runs.  Fascinating.

The real question though should be, “Is Alex Rodriguez worth 156.69% more (that’s the salary differential) then Soriano?”  If we assume the goal for the Yankees, as it is every year, is a World Series, then no.  But, let’s be serious, no one wins the World Series every year.  So let’s find a way to normalize the player’s value.  Thank god for win shares.  During the time period we are evaluating, Soriano had 98 win shares, while A-Rod had 151 win shares.

According to the win shares formula, A-Rod produced 53 more win shares. Based on the formula, 53 win shares, means A-Rod generated 17.67 more wins over those 5 seasons.  As a percentage he was 153% better than Soriano.  This is where the surprise came in.  Even though the raw numbers don’t seem to indicate A-Rod was worth 156.69% more money, his win shares seem to indicate he is.

For what it’s worth, I’d argue the Yankees would have been better off keeping Soriano and filling the third base hole with someone else.  But, that’s just me 🙂