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Barbarians at the Gate: The Effect of Starting Pitching Matchups on Attendance

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I usually don't touch the topic of attendance. DRB's own Steve Slowinski does as good a job breaking down attendance as anyone I've seen. However, a discussion occurred during the winter meeting threads regarding the impact a premium starter like Roy Halladay would have on attendance in the Tampa Bay market. Did the starting pitcher on any given day have a a dramatic impact on attendance? This will not be overly scientific. However, I believe this data shows that variables such as day/night game, tchotchkes, free concerts, and weekend games all have a far greater impact on attendance than the home team starting pitcher in this market.

The one variable I did adjust for was the visiting team. I compared each individual start to the average Trop attendance per the visiting team in 2009. My hope is that the advantage of concerts, weekend games and night games would somewhat balance out over the season. For example, if games against the visiting Yankees at the Trop average 30,000, and David Price's home start vs the Yanks drew 28,000, a deficit of 2,000 would be recorded. Onto the data:

Starts

Deficit/Surplus

Avg Deficit/Surplus Per Start

David Price

12

14,083

1,173.6

Matt Garza

17

18,617

1,095.1

Scott Kazmir

11

9,116

828.7

James Shields

18

-10,958

-608.8

Jeff Niemann

12

-12,455

-1,037.9

Wade Davis

4

-4,679

-1,169.8

Andy Sonnanstine

7

-13,730

-1,961.4

 

Poor Wade Davis.  He had no chance as his starts were compared against averages that included games from before the Rays fell out of contention. Similarly, Kazmir did not have to make late season starts after the Rays were eliminated. Its a little surprising James Shields ran a deficit as he has been the Rays' best pitcher for some time now. Regardless, the worst-to-first attendance against the mean ran a net of about 3,000 additional fans, or less than 10% stadium capacity. If the Rays were to add a premium starter, its safe to say it would be for far better reasons than aspiring for an increased gate. The economics of paying for Halladay simply don't approach the added salary cost.

Just for laughs, among other things, I decided to look at how attendance varied based upon "popularity" of the opposing pitcher. The most neutral definition I could muster was "all-star." While it does not mean much in terms of true talent, those are the names the mainstream fans are most likely to recognize and desire to see. 24 of 81 home games in 2009 featured an opposing starting pitcher who has made at least one all-star team in his career. Again, this does not take into account things like concert nights and day games, but the hope is over those 24 games it will balance out fairly evenly. I compared each opposing starter's attendance drawn to the average his team drew at the Trop in 2009. Below are the results

 

All-Star Aggregate

607,980

Team Average Aggregate

604,733

Attendance Increase/Gm

135.29

 

I was slightly surprised to see such little effect. After all, you have many chances to see your own ace each season, but a Zack Greinke comes along once a year at best. The data shows a good indication that the novelty of an ace pitcher will not alone bring in considerably higher gates. The true attendance barometer will be total team record. A first place Sonnanstine start versus Ryan Rowland-Smith should be expected to outdraw a 3rd place Shields - Felix Hernandez battle, all other things equal.