Poking Holes in a Ranking of Ballparks by Beer

Eno Sarris, August 13, 2014

The Washington Post ranked all the major league ballparks by craft beer. The methodology sounds okay, but the results... not so much. We haven't finished our Ballpark Beer Reviews -- we could use your help -- but we've done enough that we can perhaps see where the Post went wrong. Because it just can't be this way. 

Perhaps the most annoying part of the piece -- which has some great visuals -- is that the ranking list is not represented in one place in an easy to read format. So I've copy and pasted thirty times for your benefit. So, according to beer lists that were submitted by the teams early in the season, here are the rankings according to the Post. 

  Overall Locality Quality Uniqueness
Seattle 1 1 4 1
Cincinnati 2 8 1 2
Cleveland 3 5 1 4
Pittsburgh 4 3 5 9
Baltimore 5 10 6 3
Detroit 6 5 6 9
Los Angeles NL 7 2 20 9
San Diego 8 15 3 23
Minnesota 9 10 12 6
Chicago AL 10 15 11 4
Philadelpha 11 12 9 12
Milwaukee 12 8 17 6
Washington 13 21 8 8
Colorado 14 5 14 15
New York NL 15 12 10 15
Los Angeles AL 16 3 20 15
San Francisco 17 15 12 12
Oakland 18 12 14 20
Texas 19 15 14 15
St. Louis 20 15 17 20
Kansas City 21 21 20 24
Boston 22 20 23 20
Miami 23 25 17 24
Tampa 24 21 26 15
Toronto 25 21 29 12
Houston 26 25 26 27
Chicago NL 27 27 23 27
Atlanta 27 27 23 27
Arizona 29 27 26 24
New York AL 30 30 29 27

Despite the results, the methodology seems sound. Check their writeup: 

Our rankings determine the overall status of beer available in each MLB stadium by considering three factors. Quality is determined by the number of beers ranked “very good” or better, according to BeerAdvocate.com. Locality is how many breweries represented are based in the same state as the team. Uniqueness is the number of breweries available only at one MLB stadium. Each of these rankings is given equal weight. The beer lists were submitted by MLB teams or their concessionaires during the first three months of this season; many teams slightly alter their offerings as the season goes on.

But there are still a couple problem childs. Most notably, San Diego and San Francisco, our first- and second-highest ranked beer ballparks, are considered middle-of-the-road or merely above-average by these rankings. And Los Angeles didn't get a good review from me in 2012 and hasn't really improved since, according to BeerGraphs readers. 

What's going on here? 

For one, I admire the Post for being so dogmatic about their approach. We could do something to learn from them once we compile our rankings. Our ranks do have three important facets -- top beers, excellent stands, and average price -- but we should make sure to have an even stronger methodology when we rank the parks as the Post has done. 

As you can see from our choices in information, perhaps we value different things in our rankings. The Post went with uniqueness, which is nice. But why San Diego's Ballast Point beer garden, plus a Green Flash beer garden, plus a rotating firkin/bottle stand behind home plate, didn't rate higher in this regard is a question.

As they say in the caveats, they can't account for changes like a human being might be able to. So AT&T's Public House, with its oft-changing beer list? And Petco's bottle list behind home plate? They get short shrift. 

Another thing you'll notice is that these lists are determined by the lists sent to the publication from the teams. So the Public House in San Francisco, which is attached to the ballpark, and allows beers to leave to the park, but is not run by the team? It probably doesn't count. If you read the Dodgers ballpark beer review linked above, you'll notice that this is an important facet. Does the Ballast Point beer garden, run by Ballast Point, submit beer lists to the food service that runs the ballpark, who probably was the provider of the beer list to The Post? I'd guess not. 

Perhaps we've discovered why a few important ballparks got poor reviews according to these rankings. We should also wonder if Quality, Uniqueness, and Locality are the best facets to base a ballpark review upon. We've settled upon something more like Availability, Quality, and Price. 

I submit to you that number one should be Quality. Craft beer drinkers are used to high prices, but mostly they'd like the best beer they can get. Those things go hand in hand. Sort the list above by quality, and San Diego is third, San Francisco is 13th, and Los Angeles is 20th. That's more like it, though still short a Public House or so.

If you're at one park, do you care so much how unique the beer is at that park compared to the park you're not at currently? Perhaps not. You do care how *good* the beer is, but if I could get Stone Enjoy By on tap at every park, I'd love it. 

Locality is interesting, much more interesting than how many uniques a place has. And really it's double-weighting the same concept to have both. Perhaps we can introduce Locality as a part of Ballpark Beer Reviews going forward. But how San Diego ended up 15th on that measure, when San Diego beers -- from AleSmith to Green Flash to Ballast Point to Coronado to Stone to St. Archer to Mission -- are all over that ballpark... that's a mystery. 

I haven't been to all 30 ballparks. BeerGraphs hasn't been to all 30 ballparks. We need to get on that. 

But I did just have Alpine's Nelson on tap at AT&T Park. This Alpine Nelson

It might just be the best beer on tap at any ballpark this season. That alone probably should push AT&T park above 17th. And is at least enough to include the human element in order to determine which lists change often (look for the chalkboard, says the stat nerd).