WTF: Busted

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One swing of the bat. Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster and former catcher Jim Price always said that this team, particularly its harder-hitting versions in the earlier part of this decade, could change its fate with one swing of the bat. While Price’s statement always came from a place of optimism, the line was no less true last night, albeit in a far unhappier context, when Miguel Cabrera swung through a 1-1 breaking ball from Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi in the bottom of the third inning of what eventually would be a 6-4 loss to the Twins and ruptured a tendon in his left biceps. Later that night the news that would become this morning’s headlines arrived: Cabrera was done for the year.

The 2018 season began as a hopeful one for Cabrera. After missing significant time in 2015 and 2017 with leg and back injuries, he reportedly entered the current in good health and physical condition. Early returns on the field backed up that story. His March/April (154 wRC+) was one of his best starts of the last five years. Some trouble surfaced at the end of April, though, when spasms in his left biceps caused him to leave an April 29 game in Baltimore.  A few days later, he made his return in a game in Kansas City but again left early, this time hitting the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

Cabrera, seemingly frustrated, was in no rush to return from the hamstring injury:

Nobody appreciates when you play hurt, so I’m going to take my time and play when I’m good. I play a lot of years hurt here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that. When you are doing bad, they crush you. They crush you. They say you are bad. You should go home. You don’t deserve anything. That you are old. I say “OK. I’m done playing hurt.” When you are going good they say, “Oh, oh, you’re good.” Now I take my time.

That Kansas City game ended up being the only game in which he played in the month of May.

After a twenty-six-game absence, Cabrera returned to action in a home win against the Blue Jays on June 1 and didn’t miss a game this month. He struggled (June: .244/.367/.293, 86 wRC+) in his return, however, exhibiting weak power at the plate. And now he’s done for the season. His 2018, comprised essentially of a good month and a bad half-month, sum to .299/.395/.448, 128 wRC+, 3 HR, 0.8 fWAR/0.4 bWAR/0.5 WARP. In large part due to the time he missed prior to last night’s injury, Cabrera has been the Tigers’ seventh-most-valuable player in 2018, behind Jeimer Candelario, Leonys Martín, Nicholas Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Matt Boyd, and Joe Jimenez.

Now is the time on Sprockets when we provide the obligatory reminder that Cabrera is thirty-five years old and has, beyond 2018, a minimum of five years and $16 a2 million remaining on his contract. While I’ve argued it wasn’t crazy to believe that Cabrera might continue to earn that contract for a few more seasons if you believe that a win currently is worth $10 million, Cabrera already was likely to be shifting to DH on a much more consistent basis in 2019 (following Victor Martinez’s exit), and this injury raises new and serious questions about his ability to contribute going forward.

Comments from doctors and trainers experienced with this type of injury will appear in the coming days and provide a somewhat clearer picture of Cabrera’s possible future with the Tigers. In the meantime, I suggest we might consider the case of former Tiger Cameron Maybin, who, while playing for the San Diego Padres, ruptured a tendon in his left biceps four years ago while making a defensive play during a spring training game. Maybin, who was a month shy of his twenty-seventh birthday at the time and had missed most of the prior season with wrist and knee injuries, chose a rest-and-rehabilitation approach over surgery and was given a two-to-three-month return timetable. Maybin was back in the Padres’ lineup faster than that, though, missing only about a month of the regular season. (Articles about Maybin at the time note that the injury is more common in football and cite the case of John Elway, who also chose the non-surgical route and returned to action after just three weeks off.) Maybin’s somewhat stunted and injury-riddled career makes it difficult to compare his performance before and after the injury. Moreover, the numerous differences between Cabrera and Maybin, including age, body type, and style of play, probably limit the usefulness of the comparison for the purpose of understanding Cabrera’s prognosis. In addition, the fact that Cabrera is choosing surgery suggests that his injury is more severe than Maybin’s, although there aren’t many details available right now.

With Cabrera out, the already probable likelihood that the Tigers try to sell at the trade deadline becomes a certainty. Last night’s loss bumped Detroit out of second place in the AL Central, and one assumes that the team will continue to follow that trajectory in the standings. Keep an eye on some of those players listed above, especially Iglesias and Martín, as trade candidates next month. Expect General Manager Al Avila to field plenty of calls about Michael Fulmer. Look for the new-faces trend to continue. Hope that Cabrera can make a full and productive return in 2019.

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Previously
WTF: Bos to the Races – 5/22
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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Is it time to worry about Mike Leach’s allegiances in the event of a Planet-of-the-Apes situation?

leach monkey

I only saw one of the Planet of the Apes movies, and I don’t remember it very well, but I take the basic premise to be that monkeys get their act together and fight humans for control of Earth. It’s not implausible to think that our planet, sick and tired of humans’ environmentally destructive habits, might rise up against us, and monkeys seem as good a candidate as any to lead the charge of nature’s backlash. When that happens, it probably means our time as a species is up, and, assuming we haven’t invested sufficiently in space travel, we’ll need to transition quickly from long-term goals to short-term ones. That means banding together to stave off the simian attack as long as possible. Humans uniting on anything seems like a long-shot these days, but if we can manage that, I like our chances.

Mike Leach, head football coach at Washington State, has me worried though. On June 1, without additional comment, he tweeted a video comprised of a few different clips of monkeys attacking people. When I saw it, I figured he simply was spreading some standard-issue viral web content just like anyone else would. Nothing to worry about. I didn’t even watch the whole video at that time, because I don’t like thinking about monkey attacks.

What’s a little bit concerning, though, is that Coach Leach just retweeted his own tweet of the video, and I watched it all this time. Again, there’s no comment from him with the tweet, but it has me worried, because it makes me think he thinks the activities depicted in the video are funny or good, and that’s a bad sign for humans in a battle of humans against monkeys. Coach Leach is the type of guy we need on our side if we want to win. Granted, the monkeys will be lobbying hard to sign him to their team because he represents their best chance of developing an air attack (besides just jumping out of trees onto our heads), so we need to keep that in mind regardless.

On the other hand, this may be a warning from Coach Leach about the danger of monkey attacks, and that’s how I’m going to choose to interpret it, because he has good judgment and monkey attacks are dangerous. Be safe out there.

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Previously
Mike Leach: Selling Bigfoot, buying aliens
Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars

Was Not Jam

As with the talk radio shows that preceded them, successful podcasts come in two general types: those that draw listeners due to a robust guest list, and those that draw listeners due to the charisma of and chemistry created by the host(s). You tune into the first one because it has Taylor Swift on this week, and you just love Taylor and everything about her. You tune into the second one because you think the host is funny or insightful, and you understand that the format calls for guest interviews but just wish it would get back to the action of the show itself. Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast is the first sort of podcast, and I wish he didn’t have such a good guest list.

Maron is the Larry King of the podcast world. I don’t really mean that as a compliment, although it does attest to a certain accomplishment of volume and recognition of relative status. The comparison arises out of the apparent fact that neither do much preparation prior to interviewing their subjects. Standing alone, it’s at least an academically interesting approach, but, as with many such approaches, it can fall apart under practical application, especially when coupled with proclivity for interrupting the subject. For Maron, the interview organization almost always takes the form of a chronological, biographical framework, and the result often essentially is a guest haltingly reciting his or her Wikipedia page. As a means of introducing a subject to an unfamiliar audience, I suppose one could do worse. The point of podcasts in general, I’d thought, and podcasts like Maron’s, I’d assumed, though, was to do more than that, to go deeper than that. Maybe not. Maybe the point of podcasts is to sell underwear and postage stamps. The point: if you aren’t going to do much prep, let the thing breathe. It’s ok if you don’t quite know what you’re talking about, but it might be better to acknowledge that and let the person who does do the talking.

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Don Was has to be one of the coolest guys around. The Detroit native is an instrumentalist, bandleader, movie director, and Grammy-winning producer whose list of credits nearly is as long as it is prestigious. He also serves as the president of Blue Note Records. Was should make an excellent interview subject. Maron’s handling of him revealed little in the way of beneath-the-surface insights, however; the host seemed more intent on having his guest drop as many famous names as possible than delving into interesting stories.

One very small nugget that managed to leak out from the smothering, Chris-Farley-Show-without-the-laughs treatment, though, was an early musical memory Was recalled with some detail, “a really important thing that happened to me when I was about fourteen.” While waiting in the car for his mother, he heard a Joe Henderson song called “Mode For Joe” and described Henderson’s saxophone solo as “howling with anguish through the horn. He was speaking to me. I was stunned to hear this.” (Maron cuts in, confusing “anguish” with “anger,” and things move on from there.)

Because Was seems like the kind of guy who has musical recommendations up on which you actually ought to follow, this week’s Jam is “Mode For Joe,” a Memorial Day weekend offering to the fallen memory of the potential of an engaging Don Was podcast interview:

WTF: Bos to the Races

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Not many Tigers fans were excited when the team named Ron Gardenhire as its new manager this past offseason, but Gardenhire’s decision to add former Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio to his staff seemed promising. After all, Bosio brought a championship pedigree by virtue of his five-year tenure with Theo Epstein’s Cubs. With Justin Verlander gone from Detroit, the Tigers pitching staff looked especially young and vulnerable. Bosio’s recent track record lent hope to the idea that he could be a secret weapon on the bench and, in particular, help mold an inconsistent rotation into a stronger, more developed group. In spring training, Bosio also showed a willingness to clash publicly with Gardenhire, which suggested an independence and division of developmental responsibility not necessarily out of place on a rebuilding team.

One of Bosio’s announced modifications he wanted his new charges, especially Jordan Zimmermann, to make, was to work faster on the mound. So far, they appear to have taken his advice. Fourteen pitchers have shortened their inter-pitch times by more than two seconds as compared to 2017, and three of them are Tigers starters:

pitcher pace

Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, and Matt Boyd have upped their respective paces substantially this season over last season. I think that alone is a good sign, because it demonstrates both a willingness and ability to make changes in approach designed (or believed, at least) to improve outcomes. That’s the bigger question, though. Zimmermann, Fulmer, and Boyd are working faster, but are they doing better?

To try to answer that question, I propose a DRA-based comparison, which should allow us to see, on a rate basis, whether these three Tigers starters also have been pitching better in 2018 than they did during their slower days in 2017.

delta dra re pace

Of the three, Zimmermann had the smallest pace increase but the largest improvement according to DRA. Boyd, who’s shown the biggest pace increase of any pitcher, also has been better, while Fulmer has been a bit worse.

Without more digging, I don’t know that there are any broad statements to make about the consequences of speeding up on the mound. Importantly, we don’t know how the 2018 versions of these players would perform had they continued to work at their slower paces; the results might be exactly the same. The above does provide some circumstantial evidence that increasing pace can help some players, however, and it also suggests that Bosio was right to target Zimmermann as a guy who could benefit from operating at a faster pace.

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The Tigers don’t have any of the top fifty players of 2018, as ranked by fWAR, on their roster. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario used to be on that list, but he now sits sixty-fifth (1.3 fWAR) after missing time with wrist tendinitis. He could return to the team later this week.

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Previously
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

Continuing Education Jam

Before lunch yesterday, I learned two things. The second was that former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, one of the most talented and popular players in MLB history, began his career in San Diego. Smith made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1978 and spent four seasons with them before they traded him to the Cardinals following the strike-shortened 1981 season. (In digging into this news-to-me, I also discovered that the Detroit Tigers were the first team to draft Smith, but he didn’t sign with them after they picked him in the seventh round in 1976. San Diego picked him in the fourth round the following year and he signed.)

The first thing I learned yesterday morning was that Dolly Parton is the author of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.” Parton’s original version is this week’s Jam:

WTF: Welcome Back Kozma

This may be the deepest into the season I have stated my annual Detroit Tigers diary. With the possible exception of Jeimer Candelario, the team just hasn’t been terribly exciting or interesting to this point, “this point” currently being defined as sitting in the middle of a very mediocre AL Central with a 15-20 record. I didn’t not want to do this series this year; after all, if you write about the good times, I think you have to be disciplined enough to write about the bad times. It’s just that there didn’t seem to be a good excuse to get started. In retrospect, it’s obvious I was waiting on the call-up of Pete Kozma to get things rolling.

Kozma signed on with the Tigers in January as a free agent, and he began the season in Toledo. After a rash of injuries, the team brought him up to the majors this week, and he’s making his Tigers debut right now, in a game against the Texas Rangers.

The St. Louis Cardinals originally drafted Kozma out of high school with the eighteenth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he broke into the majors with them in 2011. Outside of 2014 (448 PA in 143 games), the utility infielder didn’t play too much for the Cardinals, who granted him free agency after the 2015 season. The Yankees promptly signed him, but he spent all of 2016 riding the AAA rail for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After playing in just eleven games (ten PA) in the majors for the Yankees in 2017, New York designated him for assignment, and the Rangers claimed him off waivers. Kozma appeared in twenty-eight games for Texas before they too DFA’d him. He cleared waivers and finished the season in AAA Round Rock before becoming a free agent again.

On May 21, 2017, Kozma hit his only home run as a Ranger. The shot came off of Detroit’s Matt Boyd in a 5-2 Texas win at Comerica Park. That would be the last major-league home run for Kozma until today, almost exactly one year later, when he hit one in his first game as a Tiger, coming in a game against the Rangers in Arlington.

As of this writing, the Tigers lead the Rangers 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning. Kozma has reached base in all three of his plate appearances so far.

As a concluding note, the title of this season’s Tigers diary is WTF, which is an acronym for a number of phrases that might describe this particular team. Officially, it stands for When the Tigers broke Free, the title of the song performed in the video above and the notion that the 2018 Tigers have broken from their past trajectory and now are writing the beginning of a new chapter.

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning…
It was dark all around,
There was frost in the ground
When the Tigers broke free

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Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

It’s time to rethink our stance on Jamal Crawford

crawford griffin

I haven’t thought about Jamal Crawford in about eighteen years, since he was a one-and-done for the University of Michigan during Michigan State’s national championship season in 2000. Since then, he’s played in the NBA for Chicago, New York, Golden State, Atlanta, Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers), and Minnesota, his current team. If I’m reading this correctly, Crawford is the active leader in three-point attempts. This morning, Blake Griffin, Crawford’s former teammate in L.A., revealed that Crawford is a BlackBerry user.

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Salty Jam

I really backed into this one, folks. Last week, chasing down a rumor that sprung from an Instagram meme about Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead (because this is 2018, I guess), I found a rabbit hole of a Dead blog that eventually led me to a historical chart of the band’s live performances of its original songs that plots every performance of each such song along a timeline. If there are two uncontested facts about the Dead, they are that they played for a long time and had a voluminous song catalog. One of the data points caught my eye for three reasons: (1) it indicated that the band played the song only once; (2) that performance came in 1995, the final year of the band’s active life; and (3) its title, “Salt Lake City,” was unfamiliar to me. In fact, besides “Unbroken Chain,” a famously un(der)peformed Dead song, “Salt Lake City” was the last original song the band debuted in concert.

As it turns out, SLC’s origins trace to 1977, when it appeared on Weir’s second solo album, Heaven Help the Fool. Like many Weir songs, John Perry Barlow collaborated on the lyrics, which discuss the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City and read like a more buttoned-up version of the traditional “New Minglewood Blues” that Weir often sang with the Grateful Dead.

gd slc 95

On February 21, 1995, at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center, the band opened with “Salt Lake City,” the first and last time they ever played it live. The twenty-first was the Dead’s last of three straight nights in SLC. While that stretch wasn’t the Dead’s first appearance in the city, it was their first time back since 1981 (opener: “Alabama Getaway”), which was the only other time they played there since the release of Heaven Help the Fool (unless you count September 4, 1983 and August 20, 1987 in Park City). Perhaps the Dead saw it as a bit of a novelty, or an easy nod to a locale infrequently visited. Reviews of the night carry a generally positive tone, though many qualify or limit encouraging notes to the context of a mid-90s era regarded as low in energy, inspiration, and musical quality. Few reviews remark on the appearance of “Salt Lake City,” most preferring to mention the very good cover of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” that emerges out of a second-set “Space,” which both surges due to and is pock-marked by the almost cartoonish synthesizer of Vince Welnick, who was celebrating his forty-fourth birthday that day.

Technically, the Dead had played “Salt Lake City” live once prior, at a soundcheck in Atlanta in 1978. What follows and serves as this week’s Jam is the only acknowledged (and possibly the only recorded) performance, however, from 1995, less than five months before the band’s final concert:

Loyola-Chicago’s groundbreaking title overlooked today (via USA Today)

online-shake-3-13-13-4_3They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans.

They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans. … Read More

(via USA Today)