Friday, December 23, 2011

In 2012, baseball will be relevant in D.C.

Gio Gonzalez
Yesterday, the Washington Nationals traded for Oakland A's pitcher, Gio Gonzalez (see stats here)giving up prospects A.J. Cole, Tom Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock. Most experts believe that the A's got the better part of the deal, but CLBT says that the Nationals didn't really have a choice in pulling the trigger. After finishing under .500 and last in the division five of their seven seasons since arriving to play ball in D.C. in 2005, the Nationals put together a very respectable almost-winning season in 2011 with an 80-81 record, good for 3rd in the division.  Not bad for a team picked by many to remain living in their perennial NL East finished basement. What went lost in an insane final two weeks of the MLB 2011 season was that the Nationals went 8-2 in their last 10 games leaving fans with reason to, up in 2012.

With the development of a solid group of young players, a few key free agent acquisitions the last 2 years, and the Gonzalez trade yesterday, the Nationals' brass are announcing to MLB they are ready to turn the corner. They just need their fans to believe it enough to fill the seats. Nationals Park opened its doors in 2008 in not-so-grand fashion ranking 13th among 16 NL teams in average attendance and it hasn't been much better since, as seen below:

Year     Attendance    Per Game     NL Rank        Payroll
2007       1,943,812        23,998            14/16       $36,947,500 (RFK Stadium)
2008      2,320,400      29,005            13/16       $54,961,000 (Nats Park)
2009       1,817,226        22,435            13/16       $59,928,000
2010       1,828,066        22,569            14/16       $61,400,000
2011       1,940,478        24,256            14/16       $63,442,928          

Based upon the above, when you do the math in D.C. for 2008:

Avg. Ticket $25.00 x attendance = $58,010,000 or a whopping $3,049,000 in the black.

Let's hope 2012 will be better 
(note: I know that the financials aren't that simple, but for the sake of easy math...) You could imagine the deficit between 2009-2011. I don't know how I find this stuff, but it shows that in 2008 the Nationals sold one of the highest average premium tickets in all of MLB @ $125.00 per stub to see a team--led by the semi-dangerous Cristian Guzman--post a home record of 34-46. Only the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers boasted a higher price for their luxury seats. To put this into perspective, up the road in Philadelphia, the Phillies just put the finishing touches on their first World Series Chamionship since 1980 with an average premium ticket price of $54.76. The huge drop-off in attendance seen in 2009 (-503,174) was probably the fans way of saying, "get over yourselves!". As you can see, it's taken the Nationals 3 seasons to climb to within even 375,000 fans of their high-mark set when the stadium opened in 2008.

Phillies Phans at Nationals Park
Speaking of the Phillies, their fan base has had about as much to do with any increase in attendance over the past few years as the Nationals fans did. Using Stub-Hub to the best of their ability to see a game in a be-YOO-tiful ballpark about 2 to 2.5 hours away, Phillies fans have made the trip to D.C. boosting attendance to record numbers for Nationals Park--or what has now been jokingly referred to as "Citizens Bank Park South". After removing two weeknight games in April on Tues-12th & Weds-13th (where only a 2-game  total of 30,327 people entered the park), the remaining seven Phillies games played in D.C. in 2011 drew an average of 32,775 fans. This includes a weekend series in August which drew Fri-37,841, Sat-44,685, and Sun-41,727 fans. It should be mentioned that series saw the Nationals take 2 of 3, sending the Philly Phaithful home on Sunday in dramatic walk-off, drive-home fashion. One step further: remove those seven games vs. the Phillies, and the 2011 Nationals season attendance average of 24,256 reduces to 22,813. FYI, Nationals Park capacity is listed as 41,506.

Michael Morse
So what could be in store for the Nationals 2012 and more importantly, what's going to inspire their fans to spin the turnstiles in greater numbers? You have to believe that Jayson Werth will rebound (or even improve marginally) from an abysmal 2011 and Ryan Zimmerman will return close to his usual productivity after an injury-shortened 101 game season. These 2 players should hold the key to any success they may enjoy around upstart 1B/OF Michael Morse, who posted career highs across the board in 2011--and it wasn't even close, he was miles above his previous numbers. Morse was basically an extra piece during his first five seasons in MLB, perhaps the Mariners had trouble seeing any potential in him whatsoever as they traded him to D.C. in 2009 halfway through the season. His breakout 2011 boasted a slash line of .303/.360./.550/.910 en route to 31 HR and 95 RBI while playing 85 games at 1B and 55 in LF. In 2012, Morse will once again spend significant time in LF while spelling first baseman Adam LaRoche, who returns from season-sending surgery in 2011. Only time will tell if the Nationals have enough money left in their wallets to try and entice Prince Fielder to make our Nation's Capitol his new home. This is just speculation on my part, but the Nationals ownership and management have made fairly aggressive moves over the past 2 off-seasons. You have to suspect they at least will try to call or have called Fielder's agent, Scott Boras.

The above players, along with an emerging SS in Ian Desmond, a solid young catcher in Wilson Ramos, possible playing time for uber-talented wunderkind Bryce Harper, and a starting pitching staff of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Chien Ming Wang, and John Lannan, could very well help the Nationals post their first +.500 season of their seven previous spent in D.C. It's about as close to "the-time-is-now" as it can get and I'd certainly hope Nats fans come out to "support the team" along the way. Baseball will certainly be relevant and competitive in Washington in 2012.

Washington Nationals Projected 2012 Lineup

Ian DesmondSS565769460.2570.3030.372
Jayson WerthOF5358722620.2470.3480.428
Ryan Zimmerman3B5308621820.2890.3650.472
Adam LaRoche1B4055915590.2440.3270.415
Michael MorseOF5258131910.2840.3460.530
Danny Espinosa2B5657423730.2350.3260.425
Wilson RamosC3504614480.2630.3330.449
Roger BernadinaOF280337320.2610.321


  1. Good article, love my Nats.

  2. Thanks, I appreciate that. Looks like the Fielder rumor is gathering serious steam.

  3. excellent write up with solid info backing it all. dig it

    As for the Nats, they should once again come in 3rd in the division behind the Phillies and the Braves respectively but they are going to be more of a nusense and they should finish above 500 for sure. I don't see an 85 win season out of reach.

  4. Agreed, anonymous. The extra playoff spot is there for the taking, it'd be nice to see DC in the mix