ESPN reassigns football broadcaster to protect him from memes

In what has to be the dumbest sports story ever, ESPN has reassigned college football broadcaster Robert Lee, who was supposed to work Virginia’s September 2 season-opener against William & Mary, “for safety reasons.” Was ESPN concerned that Lee, who shares a first and last name– but, one assumes, little else– with the Confederate general, would be subject to physical danger while broadcasting in Charlottesville, recently the site of a deadly racial demonstration? No. This decision is all about protecting Lee from danger of a different sort. From an ESPN statement: “This wasn’t about offending anyone. It was about the reasonable possibility that because of his name he would be subjected to memes and jokes and who knows what else.”

Indeed, who does know what else? After this, I really can’t imagine there’s anything left.

Saving Detroit: Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons

Following an injury-curtailed 2016, 2017 has been anything but the bounceback for which Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann hoped. Little is trending in the right direction or going well for him in the second year of his five-year contract with the Tigers.

According to a recent report, the neck injury that caused Zimmermann to miss time in 2016 is continuing to cause mechanical problems for the pitcher in 2017. One of the consequences is a decreased ability to locate his pitches, and, while he apparently believes the needed adjustments are too significant for an in-season fix, during his most recent start, it sounds like he’d had enough:

He resorted to a quick fix Friday night, so rudimentary it seems almost silly. He wasn’t hitting his spots against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ imposing lineup — he couldn’t get the ball in to lefties, or away against righties — so he tried something he has never done before. In the fifth inning, he moved from the third-base side of the rubber, where he has pitched his entire career, to the first-base side of the rubber.

After giving up six runs over the first four innings, he figured had to try something, anything. He moved a mere five or six inches,

“Basically, I’m on the third base side and I’m missing middle. So if I move over to the middle of the rubber, I’m moving myself over five or six inches, it’s allowing me to get inside for lefties and away to righties,” Zimmermann explained.

It felt strange, but there was some marginal improvement.

Zimmermann said when he threw a fastball in, up and in, it stayed more true. It didn’t run back at all. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth inning with three curveballs.

“It feels like I almost had to throw it in our dugout to get to the other side of the plate,” Zimmermann said. “But it went where I wanted it to, so that was the good thing.”

The difference in release points was enough to show up on these Brooks Baseball plots, which show Zimmermann’s 2017 release points excluding his last start followed by the two distinct release points he used in Friday’s game:

zimmermann

I’m highlighting this not because I think it’s any sort of meaningful solution– Zimmermann thinks it helped, and it’s hard to find sufficiently granular data to evaluate in-game strategic shifts like this (his overall zone rate on Friday night actually was slightly lower than his full-season average)– but because it shows how desperate Zimmerman is for any measure of improvement, even a false one. He undoubtedly will work on this in the offseason, but, for now, he’s just like any ordinary person who doesn’t have the time or resources for a proper adjustment and looks for something easy to keep the game going. I recognized the move immediately because it’s what I do when I play tennis. Among many faults in my game is an inability to control the depth of my serves, which usually land well deep of the service box. Some lessons with a professional probably could help identify and correct the problem in my service motion. I have so few opportunities to play, though, that I want to spend them with family and friends, not in a training session with a stranger. That’s why, if I bomb the first serve deep, I just take a couple steps backward and try it again.

Of course, Zimmermann’s more than an amateur who’s given up on his dreamshallucinations of making it as a competitive tennis player, so it will be interesting to see what real changes and adjustments we see from him in 2018, as well as how he positions himself on the mound in his remaining starts this season.

Minutiae, trivia, and the undead rumors of a Justin Verlander trade: welcome to the last six weeks of the Detroit Tigers’ 2017 season.

______________________________________________

Previously
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
– 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
– 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context

Sports Law Roundup – 8/18/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here is a top sports-related legal story from the past week:

  • Golf suit suit: On Monday, Augusta National Golf Club filed suit against an online auction memorabilia company in an attempt to halt sales of three of the club’s famous green jackets. According to the club, the jackets, which it issues to club members and winners of the Masters tournament, remain club property and may not leave the premises, with only one exception: the Masters winner may take his jacket off club grounds during the first year following presentment. The site claims to have for sale the 1966 Masters champion jacket issued to Byron Nelson, as well as member jackets belonging to John R. Butler, Jr. and George King. This list of club members USA Today published in 2002 names Butler and identifies him as a resident of Texas affiliated with J.R. Butler and Co., which appears to be an oil and gas consulting company. King’s name does not appear on the 2002 list, and reports on this lawsuit indicate that he was a member of the club only “briefly.” The auction site describes King as “an early Augusta National member from Wisconsin, never returned to Augusta National after” World War II. The auction company claims to have previously sold three other Masters champion jackets, including one belonging to the tournament’s first champion, Horton Smith, for almost $700,000 in 2013. There is no indication that the club sued the auction company in connection with any of its prior sales. Yesterday, a judge granted the club’s motion for a preliminary injunction halting the auction of the jackets, which the club alleges constituted stolen property.

Sports court is in recess.

Saving Detroit: Tigers Notes, 8/8/17

detroit tigers notes

While trades– including a trade of Justin Verlander– technically remain a possibility at this point in the year, it looks like the Detroit Tigers will content themselves with playing out the final two months of this season with their current crew and an eye toward the future. For this site, that probably means that the pages of this season’s Tigers diary will be a little emptier than they might be if the team were more aggressive in the trade market or competing for a playoff berth. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting items to track, though. Here are a few:

    • Justin Upton: As highlighted here last week, Upton’s been trimming his bugaboo strikeout rate, but he’s continuing to strike out in bad situations. Since that post, he’s appeared in six games and added four two-out strikeouts to his total, pushing him into a tie for eleventh on the MLB-wide list (minimum 100 two-out plate appearances) in 2017. With 3.6 fWAR, Upton continues to be the team’s best position player by a comfortable margin, as well as its best overall player. In that post last week, I speculated that Upton is unlikely to opt out of his contract this offseason due, in part, to a weak market for corner outfielders with his profile. Over at The Athletic’s new Detroit vertical, Neil Weinberg is more optimistic about Upton’s open-market prospects, calling the “odds that Upton opts out . . . quite high.”
    • Miguel Cabrera: I’ve been working up a full post on Cabrera’s tough season, which has a good chance to be the worst of his career. (For a forward-looking analysis, my career comparison between Cabrera and Albert Pujols is here.) Besides the obvious drop in production, one thing that jumps out is his batting average on balls in play, which, at .296, is below .300 for the first time ever (career .345 BABIP). Last month, Weinberg did the logical thing and dove into Cabrera’s swing profile and batted-ball data tabulated by StatCast. The problem, from our perspective, is that there isn’t a ton there. Cabrera continues to rank high (currently number one, minimum 200 at bats, by a large margin) on the xwOBA-wOBA chart, an indication that he’s making good contact despite poor results. From watching games this season, it seems like Cabrera turns away from inside (but not that inside) pitches more often than in years past, which makes me wonder if he simply isn’t seeing pitches as well. (Weinberg noticed that he’s swinging less often than usual at inside pitches.)
      When observing the decline of a great player, it can be fun to take a break from the dissection to remember his youth, which the remarkable achievements of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper gave us occasion to do today:

Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 8/4/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NBA fan assault: After declining a plea offer in June, Charles Oakley, a former member of the New York Knicks who was arrested and charged with assault after an argument with Knicks owner James Dolan during a game at Madison Square Garden, accepted a similar offer today. While Oakley’s earlier decision appeared designed to force Dolan to provide public testimony at a trial, Oakley, through his lawyer, now says that he “will be pursuing all civil remedies against Mr. Dolan based on this incident.” Pursuant to the terms of today’s agreement, prosecutors will drop the criminal charges against Oakley if Oakley stays out of MSG for one year and otherwise avoids criminal trouble for six months.
  • ESPN parody: The parody sports website NOTSportsCenter.com, which appears to exist today mostly as a Twitter account, defeated a challenge by ESPN that sought the transfer of the NOTSportsCenter.com web domain to ESPN because, ESPN complained, the parody website was confusingly similar to ESPN’s registered “SportsCenter” trademark and operated in bad faith. The arbitration panel found that the owner of the NOTSportsCenter.com domain, Will Applebee, was not using the domain in bad faith, was not attempting to disrupt ESPN’s business, and does not keep people from visiting ESPN’s website. Finally, the arbitrators noted that ESPN’s “delay in taking action against [Applebee] nullifies its arguments,” finding the Worldwide Leader’s decision to wait six years to challenge the domain registration to be a material piece of evidence. Attorneys from Greenberg Traurig, an international law firm with more than two dozen offices around the world, represented ESPN. Applebee represented himself.
  • Daily fantasy sports: On Wednesday, Delaware and Maine became the latest states to legalize daily fantasy sports. The Maine law prohibits DFS contests based on collegiate athletics. Legislative action in other states suggests that Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California could be next in line, while Massachusetts appears to be moving in the other direction.

Sports court is in recess.

Sonny Gray and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (via Ken Arneson)

After the A’s traded Sonny Gray on Monday, I saw a lot of people declaring that the A’s are just doing the same old thing for the same old cheapskate reasons blah blah blah. That’s an easy thing to think if you’re just looking at the surface of things, but if you dig deeper and study it, you find it’s a bit more complex than that. … Read More

(via Ken Arneson)

Saving Detroit: Decoding the Upton Myth

“The Upton Myth” has nothing to do with the delayed Upton-Verlander nuptials and everything to do with Verlander’s teammate of no known relation to his fiancee, Justin. To hear fans tell it, the Detroit Tigers left fielder’s two-year tenure in Detroit has not been a happy one. Many of them want Upton to opt out of his $22.125 million annual contract after the current season but believe he’s been too bad since becoming a Tiger to make that a realistic possibility.

The critical Upton narrative is confounding for the reasons many external narratives about people confound: it originates in an established truth that’s treated as a surprise and subsequently serves to obscure the truth moving forward. For Upton, the established truth was that he struck out at a high rate. When he arrived in the Motor City, some seemed surprised that he continued to strike out at a high rate, pegged him as an overpaid failure, and haven’t looked back.

First impressions are powerful and sticky, so when Upton had a very poor start to his first season in Detroit last year, many gave up on him, ignoring signs that the outfielder– who was adjusting to the American League after nine years on the senior circuit– had returned to form by August but was hamstrung by bad luck. Then there was that validating September explosion– Upton hit thirteen home runs, slashed .292/.382/.750, and posted a 196 wRC+, basically Babe Ruth’s career line, nearly propelling the fading Tigers to the postseason all by himself– that somehow was forgotten amidst the sudden excitement of a playoff push and a disappointing finish in Atlanta. The thought that, with Upton, the Tigers didn’t get what they wanted in 2016 seems a bit off. There was an extended bad stretch, to be sure, but Upton’s always been a streaky, high strikeout, high home run guy, and that’s who he was in 2016, tying a career-best mark by finishing with thirty-one homers.

The current season, already an unequivocal, strong bounceback from last year’s harsh dip, has seen Upton achieve a quiet consistency that has him on track for what could be the second or third-best season of his eleven-year career.

Still, the Upton Myth persists. Nevermind that his 26.2% strikeout rate (current MLB average strikeout rate: 21.6%) remains in line with career norms and recently dipped as low as it has in years:

jup k rate 8-2-17

Nevermind that, by fWAR, he’s clearly been the team’s best player this season (table only showing offensive players, but Verlander (3.3 fWAR) and Michael Fulmer (2.1 fWAR) also trail):

tigers fwar 8-2-17

Tigers fans still blow their tops whenever Upton strikes out, though (and even considering that reducing his strikeout percentage– something he probably could do if he chose– likely wouldn’t alter Upton’s overall production profile). Why does the anti-Upton rhetoric remain?

There’s a kernel of truth at the heart of the Upton Myth, as it turns out. Even though his strikeout rate isn’t extreme and he’s been the team’s biggest positive contributor this season, fans still have reason to get down on Upton not because of the overall frequency of his strikeouts, but because of their in-game timing. Upton leads the team in inning-ending strikeouts, those deflating, rally killing, #TTBDNS-inducing strikeouts that have a way of sticking in observers’ minds. Among the 200 MLB hitters with at least 100 two-out plate appearances in 2017, Upton is tied for eighteenth in total strikeouts in that situation, and a majority of the guys in front of him on that list have higher strikeout rates, often significantly so. Whether it’s his position in the batting order or some other unfortunate sequencing circumstance, Upton’s strikeout propensity seems even worse because of when those strikeouts occur.     Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 7/28/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Soccer fan libel: As first reported by your humble compiler, Deadspin, now part of the Gizmodo Media Group, which is the company Univision purchased in its acquisition of the remnants of the Gawker Media Group following Hulk Hogan’s successful libel lawsuit against that company, is facing another libel action. This time, it’s the much less famous Kevin Cheek, who has sued the website after it ran an article about fans engaging in homophobic chants at the first Atlanta United game that he says included a photograph of him taken at a different game. One potential problem for Cheek: the allegedly offending article contains a single picture, which shows the entire stadium, making it impossible to identify the face of any individual fan. It’s possible– maybe probable, in light of the existence of this lawsuit– that the article originally included a different photograph. If it did, though, it escaped the watchful eye of the Internet Archive, which first captured an image of the article five days after publication. It also is possible that the complaint actually is referring to one of the photographs following the article that are associated with one of the “Recommended Stories,” other Deadspin articles about the MLS. In that cached version of the identified article, two of the three photographs in the Recommended Stories section depict Atlanta United fans. If one of those pictures is the one that includes Cheek, it is unclear why his complaint doesn’t instead identify that article.
  • NASCAR trademark: A trademark dispute between one of NASCAR’s most prominent families will continue following an appellate court ruling that an earlier decision dismissing claims brought by Teresa Earnhardt, widow of Dale Earnhardt, against Kerry Earnhardt, Dale’s oldest son, was deficient. Kerry, whose mother was Latane Brown, Dale’s first wife, is a former driver who made his debut on NASCAR’s top circuit (then known as the Winston Cup) at Michigan in 2000, where the field also included his father and half brother, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. After his retirement from NASCAR in 2007, Kerry and his wife partnered with a custom home design company and subsequently sought to trademark “Earnhardt Collection” for use in that industry. Teresa, who owns Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and other “Earnhardt”-related marks, opposed her stepson’s registration bid. The matter now returns to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for further adjudication.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 7/21/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Tennis match fixing: The Tennis Integrity Unit, an organization dedicated to investigating cheating in tennis, is investigating cheating in tennis. More specifically, the TIU is investigating four matches– three at Wimbledon and one at the French Open– for potential match fixing. Suspicious betting patterns triggered the investigation into these matches, for which additional information is not yet available to the public. While allegations of match fixing in major tournament matches are rare, tennis is particularly susceptible, given that it is an individual sport, and that most matches involve low-earning players and are not tracked by the general public. Three years ago, FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik wrote an illuminating feature on the data-driven rise in tennis gambling, later cautioning that betting patterns alone were not conclusive evidence of match fixing.
  • Hou-Hugh Feud: One week after Houston Nutt sued his former employer, Ole Miss, for breach of his severance agreement for disparaging statements by school officials, including head football coach Hugh Freeze, Freeze has resigned. Athletic Director Ross Bjork, whose statements also appear in Nutt’s complaint, referred to Freeze’s unacceptable “pattern of personal misconduct” in connection with Freeze’s resignation and said that the school would have fired Freeze, who will receive no buyout on his $5 million annual contract, had Freeze not resigned. While the litany of alleged NCAA violations have been public for some time, the catalyst for Freeze’s sudden departure just a week after he represented Ole Miss at SEC Media Days appears to be new evidence that, on one occasion, Freeze used his university-issued cellphone to contact a Detroit-based escort. Freeze’s call records are under scrutiny as a result of the Nutt complaint, which cites those records in detail but contained no mention of the escort call. (And a note to those who see an opening for Lane Kiffin to return to the SEC in a head-coaching role, Paul doesn’t see it happening for Kiffin in Oxford, so you can bet it won’t.)
  • Simpson paroled: After serving nine years in prison for his role in a Las Vegas robbery, O.J. Simpson received a unanimous grant of parole from the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners and could be out of prison as early as October. This week’s parole decision hardly could have come at a more perfect time: Norm Macdonald Live returns to the digital airwaves for a new season on Tuesday.

Sports court is in recess.

Saving Detroit: Even the umpires just wanna go home

Not a good showing for the Tigers tonight in Kansas City, where they backed starter Michael Fulmer with three errors, spotting the Royals a 4-0 lead after one inning, and an 8-0 lead after the third. Although Detroit managed to halve that lead with productive (if inefficient) sides of the fifth and sixth inning, the relief corps had their collective finger blown out of the hole in the dike, giving way to a 16-4 loss. By the time the ninth inning mercifully rolled around, there was zero chance of a Tigers win; indeed, it had been that way– literally– since the middle of the eighth inning, and functionally at least since the bottom of the sixth inning.

chart

This makes it hard to blame the home plate umpire, Mark Ripperger, for wanting to end things early. On the fourth pitch to Jim Adduci, who was batting for Detroit with two outs in the top of the ninth, that’s exactly what Ripperger did:

numlocation-php-pitchsel641838gamegid_2017_07_20_detmlb_kcamlb_1batterx87inningsyyyyyyyyysp_type1s_type3leaguemlbpnfzlpocache1

Ripperger put everyone out of their shared misery with that called fourth strike on a pitch that was comfortably out of the zone. As a historical, practical matter, it’s true that the strike zone for left-handed batters tends to expand on the batter’s outside edge, but the call that ended the game looks like an outlier even when placed in context with the other calls Ripperger made during plate appearances by left-handed hitters tonight:

fastmap-php-pitchselallgamegid_2017_07_20_detmlb_kcamlb_1sp_type2s_type7cache1

Here’s how it looked on MLB.com’s rendering:

adduci ripperger

Finally, here’s a very chunky GIF made with freeware I’ll never use again, which shows things in the light most favorable to Ripperger:

adduci

Not egregious, probably, but erroneous, and seemingly out of character for Ripperger, at least tonight. With the game outcome already chiseled in stone, the officiating crew probably just wanted to go home, and they probably weren’t alone in that desire. Soon, one imagines, it will be time to say goodnight to this season.

______________________________________________

Previously
Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Saving Detroit: Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Saving Detroit: Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?