Diamond Jam

On the occasion of the announcement of his new television program, a selection from the Norm Macdonald songbook:


Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

fiers mlbn

As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

ALDLAND Archives: Madness: The NCAA Tournament’s structural flaw

Last night, the NCAA released the opening pairings for this year’s men’s basketball tournament. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the NCAA ever shrinking the tournament below the current number of entrants (sixty-eight). It is possible to imagine a better way to incorporate the four teams added above and beyond the traditional sixty-four-team field, however, and, in 2016, I engaged in that exercise in a post now unearthed from the ALDLAND Vault.  -Ed. 


Madness: The NCAA Tournament's structural flaw
MARCH 15, 2016

The organizing principle of a competition arranged in the fashion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that better teams should have easier paths for advancement, the goal being for the best teams to meet as late as possible. Tournament organizers therefore employ a seeding system that awards teams believed to be the strongest with the best seeds (i.e., the lowest numbers) and first pits them against teams believed to be the weakest.This is sensible, logical, and good. Anything can happen once the games begin, of course, but if Michigan State and Kansas, for example, are the best teams in this year’s tournament, the tournament should be designed such that those two teams are most likely to face off in the final, championship round. Generally speaking, this is how the NCAA tournament is organized.

From 1985 until 2000, the tournament’s field held steady at sixty-four total teams. In 2001, it expanded to sixty-five teams, adding a single play-in game to determine which team would be the sixteenth seed to face the number one overall seed. In 2011, the tournament field expanded to sixty-eight teams, its current size, with four play-in games.

Many people dislike the fact that the tournament has expanded beyond a seemingly optimal sixty-four-team field, but all should agree that, however many teams and play-in games are included, the tournament should be organized such that the projected difficulty of each team’s path through the tournament is inversely proportional to its seed position. As currently constructed, however, the tournament deviates from this basic principle.

Read the rest…


The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist. The winners will be announced on Sunday.

The full post is available here.


Old English D: A Look Back at Tigers Uniforms (via The Hardball Times)

parts-of-the-dIn late January, the Detroit Tigers announced an alteration to their iconic home uniforms that, depending on your level of uniform awareness, was either a seismic change or a minor detail but unlikely to be anything in between. The Tigers’ Old English “D” is the second-oldest mark in baseball, trailing only the Athletics’ “A,” which can be traced back to 1866. However, for most of their history, the D on the Tigers’ caps has differed, at times slightly, at others quite drastically, from the D on their jerseys. This offseason, the Tigers decided to put an end to that discrepancy by replacing the D on their jerseys with the one on their caps.

The decision was superficially logical (the D’s should match), but disregarded the history of one of major league baseball’s classic uniforms. Not only had the two D’s never really matched (with the possible exception of the 1929 road uniform, though uniform manufacturing was so inconsistent then that even that could be called into question), but the now-discarded Jersey D (as I’ll call it from here on out) pre-dated the first use of the Cap D by 52 years.

By transferring the Cap D to their chests, the Tigers have removed a version of the D that dated back to 1908 in favor of one that has been in continuous use only since 1968. If anything, the discrepancy between the D’s was more representative of the Tigers’ uniform history than any single D could be, with the possible exception of the now-discarded Jersey D. … Read More

(via The Hardball Times)


Sympathy for Josh Rosen

We’re not really into class politics around here, but, in this day and age, one can’t help but ask: did you really make a good tweet if you didn’t thereafter blog that tweet? I don’t know but I’ll give it a shot, if for no other reason than to create an excuse to post some music on a Wednesday.

josh rosen is rich




Shohei Ohtani boomerangs into spring training

Easily the most anticipated debut of the 2018 MLB season belongs to Shohei Ohtani, the two-way player from Japan who signed with the Angels as an international free agent this offseason. The twenty-three-year-old previously starred as both a starting pitcher and hitter for the Nippon Ham Fighters, a team in Japan’s top professional baseball league. During his five seasons with the Fighters, Ohtani posted a  2.52 ERA and .859 OPS. While his numbers don’t correlate directly to Ohtani’s expected performance with Los Angeles, they do suggest Ohtani could become both a very good pitcher and hitter here, something without recent parallel in the MLB ranks.

The presently ongoing spring training offers American audiences their first good look at Ohtani, who has made one appearance (1.1 IP) on the mound thus far. Can he pitch? Reader, he can pitch:

The Angels surprised many by racing to a second-place finish behind runaway success (and eventual World-Series champion) Houston in 2017, and they promise to be even more interesting in 2018, with a roster that adds Ohtani and a bunch of former Detroit Tigers (Cameron Maybin, Justin Upton, and Ian Kinsler, plus Brad Ausmus as a front-office assistant) to a group that already included Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and compiler Albert Pujols.


What the new Yahoo!!! college basketball report says about Michigan State


Yahoo!, which somehow still staffs a sports department and definitely isn’t a Jeb!-like holdover from the Web 1.9 days, has a new college basketball report out today that is Very Important. I know it’s Very Important because “federal investigation,” “meticulous,” “prominent,” and “underbelly” all appear in the first sentence.

Cutting through the heady haze of college athletics journalism, this is an article based on expense reports from a sports agency called ASM Sports. Those reports apparently document “cash advances, as well as entertainment and travel expenses for high school and college prospects and their families.”

The only document– and please know that the tireless staff of Yahoo! Sports “viewed hundreds of pages of documents,” according to Yahoo! Sports– mentioned that references Michigan State’s men’s basketball program in any respect is an expense reimbursement request Christian Dawkins, a former ASM agent, filed with the agency. One of those requests was dated May 3, 2016: “Redwood Lodge. Lunch w/Miles Bridges Parents [sic]. $70.05.” Another was from the same date: “ATM Withdrawl [sic]: Miles Bridges mom [sic] advance. $400.” The article also states: “According to the documents, Dawkins has dinners listed with plenty of boldface names in the sport – Tom Izzo . . . .” That’s everything on the Spartans.

As one possible starting point, we can acknowledge that the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving money from agents. Whatever the wisdom behind or efficacy of that policy, I’m not sure we even have evidence of a payment to Bridges, the Spartans’ premier player, here.

First, despite that exhaustive (well maybe not quite that exhaustive: “Yahoo[!] did not view all of the documents in the three criminal cases tied to the investigation, but . . . .”) doc review, Yahoo! declined to publish the records referencing Bridges. They published multiple pages of reports mentioning other players but, for some undisclosed reason, decided not to publish those that mention Bridges (or Izzo). That means we have to take the authors’ word that the records they saw but did not include with their article said what they say they do.

Second, assuming those records exist and are as described, I don’t think they actually evidence payments to Bridges himself. A– and perhaps the only– reasonable reading of the two entries are for a lunch with Bridges’ parents and a payment to Bridges’ mother. The negative implication is that Bridges himself did not attend the lunch and did not receive the payment. This distinction is significant in light of the NCAA’s prior case against Cam Newton. There, the NCAA suspended Newton on multiple occasions arising out of allegations that Newton’s father, Cecil, tried to secure a pay-for-play agreement on Newton’s behalf with Mississippi State but ultimately reinstated him based on Auburn’s successful argument that Newton was unaware of his father’s efforts. If Dawkins, in treating Bridges’ parents to lunch and giving Bridges’ mother cash, acted without Bridges’ knowledge, there would appear to be no basis for the NCAA to punish Bridges.

Third, a technical but not legally insignificant point is that these records are, at most, indirect evidence of payments to Bridges’ family. They’re good evidence, but they aren’t direct evidence that the payments actually were made. Even if Dawkins had a receipt of the ATM withdrawal, for example, we don’t have direct evidence that he provided that cash to Bridges’ mother.

Finally on the direct issues, the passing reference to Tom Izzo obviously is meaningless, but it’s good for SEO. There is no indication or allegation that any MSU official had any knowledge of or involvement with these payments. Continue reading


2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated

baseball time

With the MLB and MLBPA finding it difficult to engage in substantive, productive conversations with each other, Commissioner Rob Manfred was poised to enact rule changes unilaterally in an effort to advance his ill-defined pace-of-play goals.

In his three years in office, Manfred already has made changes in this area, including a reduction in the time of the between-inning breaks and an informal request for hitters to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. More fundamentally, one year ago, he made what I still believe to be “the most significant change to the sport since 1879” when he eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, an alleged pace-of-play reform he later conceded was merely “symbolic.”

Rumored to be chief among those new, unilateral rule changes for 2018 was the institution of a pitch clock, which the upper levels of the minor leagues have been using since 2015. While a less-fundamental change to the game than the intentional-walk rule, in my estimation, a pitch clock in the majors likely would have drawn a louder critical outcry from fans.

Thankfully, we’ve learned today, a pitch clock will not be a part of the game in 2018. Instead, Manfred has made what I think are very good choices, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

In case those tweets are hard to read or disappear, that’s a cap on mound visits per nine innings at six (with limited exceptions for extra innings and other defined situations in the umpire’s discretion) and a reduction in inning breaks during the regular season to 2:05 (with scaled expansions for postseason games).

By further (although it’s unclear by how much) reducing the between-inning commercial breaks and limiting mound visits, Manfred tracked two important reform guidelines: a) avoid changes in the on-field game and b) keep the focus on the players. There’s plenty of time in a baseball game for pitcher coaching and coordinating, and I have no problem putting more pressure on pitchers (who, collectively, now are enjoying probably their greatest advantage relative to hitters in the game’s history) to work out struggles on their own.

More than anything, though, I’m glad that baseball, at least at the top level, remains an area of life not dictated by a clock, a space where anything is possible so long as you’re alive.


Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour


Bag it Jam

After Phish released its St. Louis ’93 box set, which chronicles two separate concerts four months apart in that city’s American Theater, I had the idea that I would write a two-part review of the release. In the first part, I would explain how the recording of the April 13 performance fit nicely between the raw, excitable energy exhibited on the At the Roxy box set, which captured three nights at the former Roxy Theater in Atlanta in 1992, and their breakout in 1994 (most widely distributed in the form of the two-disc release entitled A Live One).

That’s about as far as I got, because I came up with the idea after listening to the April concert, but I hopefully anticipated that, after listening to the August 16 performance, I’d be able to note something about the band’s noticeable growth over a short but very dynamic period in the group’s history.

As those of you who read this website with due care already know, I wrote neither of those reviews. That happened (or didn’t) in not-insignificant part because I don’t think the second night demonstrated the sort of growth, coalescence, or development I had believed it might. Top to bottom, the first night clearly is better, in my opinion, and I have returned to it more often than the second.

It wasn’t a mistake to include the August performance, though. The theme of the set wouldn’t make much sense, or really even exist at all, without it, of course, and if the plan simply was to release one night from 1993, maybe there were better options even than the April date in St. Louis. I don’t know. More than mere marketing logic, however, the August concert belongs because of its peaks. For example, the second set Mike’s Groove opener is solid, and the “Rocky Top” encore finisher is fun.

The real highlight, though, and what I suspect was a major factor in the decision to do this release at all, is the first-set “Reba.” Listen for yourself, and have a sublime weekend.