The annual National Cherry Festival resumes this weekend in Traverse City and runs until the start of the 2021 MLB All-Star break begins after the following weekend. Let’s use that time to look at how the Detroit Tigers have been performing over an intraseason period selected solely to make them appear better than they have been if you do something foolish like take then entire season into account.
On May 7, the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins 7-3, dropping their record to 9-24, and leaving them as the only MLB team without a double-digit win total. Miguel Cabrera was running a career-worst .127/.225/.238 line, and the team had just one above-average hitter in Jeimer Candelario (115 wRC+, with his BABIP still hovering around .400).
On May 8, though, the Tigers reversed the scoreboard and beat the Twins 7-3. That started a 25-21 run, a .543 winning percentage that– holding all else constant– would bump Detroit up to third place in the AL Central (or first place in the NL East).* Sure they actually remain locked in a virtual tie for last place in the division, but let’s stick with this May 8 thing a little while longer.
Since May 8, Detroit quadrupled its tally of above-average hitters. Robbie Grossman and Eric Haase (both 107 wRC+) have come on strong and clutch. And Jonathan Schoop and breakout star Akil Baddoo are on fire. Their respective 167 wRC+ and 159 wRC+ marks would make each of them top-ten hitters if extended over the full season to date. (On the other hand, Candelario dropped 100 points of BABIP and flipped his wRC+ from 115 to 85.)
As he so often does, Miguel Cabrera deserves special mention. He’s pulled up his offensive rate numbers a good deal and continues to accumulate historic-level career achievements. He continues to close in on 3,000 hits (2,915), and at 493 homers, he now is tied with Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all-time list.
Thanks in significant part to the historic woes of the Arizona Diamondbacks, owners of an active road losing streak twenty-three games in length, the Colorado Rockies have risen out of last place in the National League West, though their 30-43 record wouldn’t place them in any better position in any other MLB division. Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon has significantly improved his personal situation, however. What in early May looked like the worst season of his career (e.g., 58 OPS+/56 wRC+) now shapes up as merely league average. Maybe DRC+ (then the outlier at 108, now roughly steady at 112) knows something after all, and the fact that Blackmon maintained an on-base streak almost as long as Arizona’s losing streak certainly helped.
Judge [David] Cannon certainly has plenty of latitude to grant a default judgment in Blackmon’s favor here. The easiest part to resolve should be a ruling on the question of a default judgment against Ramsey’s company, which, in Georgia, must be represented by a lawyer. Apparently open questions about the precise nature of the remedy or remedies Blackmon seeks (e.g., Does he just want his car back? Does he want money from Ramsey, and, if so, exactly how much?) may complicate the situation for Blackmon, however, and complications and uncertainties usually are not helpful to a party seeking entry of a default judgment.
Now, in his first edict in this case on the subject of the defendants’ default, Judge Cannon indeed seized upon that easiest portion of the issue before him, but not quite in the manner Blackmon probably wished. Acknowledging that Georgia law requires Ramsey Performance to be represented by an attorney in litigation in that state, the court’s notice nevertheless states that, in consideration of general guidance from the Supreme Court of Georgia favoring generosity in granting extensions of time during pandemic conditions, it will permit Ramsey Performance nearly another month to find a lawyer.
While this is a significant reprieve for Ramsey Performance, the relief may be short-lived. The mere participation of an attorney on the company’s behalf alone will not cure the company’s problems in this case, and that attorney still will be in the difficult position of having to convince Judge Cannon that he should excuse Ramsey Performance’s failures to respond to Blackmon’s complaint and motion for default judgment. To the extent settlement remains on the table, this may push Ramsey, who has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with the notion of having to pay for a lawyer, closer to a deal.
So pump the brakes for now, attentive public, and navigate your browser back here in a few weeks for our continuing exclusive coverage of arguably the summer’s biggest sports law story.
MLB pitchers, it seemed, took note. To many, Gerrit Cole, now the top starter in the New York Yankees rotation, has become the face of elite spin rates, and he was continuing to earn that reputation in 2021. In his first start after June 2, however, his spin rate plunged.
Trevor Bauer, the defending NL Cy Young winner now pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, forced his way into the group of spin-rate leaders last season following years of public comments criticizing pitchers who used foreign substances to increase their spin rates. Like Cole, Bauer saw his spin rate plummet after June 2.
Another leader in this category in recent seasons is Yu Darvish, now a starter for the San Diego Padres. Unlike Cole and Bauer, Darvish appeared unfazed by the June 2 announcement, at least judging by the relative consistency in his spin rates this season.
Since the June 2 announcement and enforcement of minor-league suspensions, MLB yesterday announced that it would apply the ten-game-suspension policy to major leaguers as well, with a progressive-discipline scheme for repeat offenders.
While a variety of factors can affect measured spin rates, it’s difficult to interpret the spin-rate dips from Cole and Bauer in their post-June-2 starts as anything other than an acknowledgement of the use of substances that go beyond providing the sort of control-improving grip that even batters appreciate from a safety standpoint and facilitate extreme spin rates (Spider Tack has become the brand name associated with that latter variety of substance). Cole and Bauer don’t come to this point by the same route, however. Bauer’s well-documented history of criticizing Cole and his former teammates in Houston for what Bauer strongly implied– and later seemed to demonstrate in a live-action experiment– were artificially high spin rates arguably places him in a different category than others in this conversation. On the other hand, perhaps he’s just more media-savvy. Should it make a difference if Bauer publicly changed his game to capitalize on and make a point of highlighting MLB’s underenforcement of foreign-substance rules, while Cole did, well, whatever this is?
here's gerrit cole's response when asked point blank if he has ever used spider tack, one of the sticky substances baseball is looking to crack down on pic.twitter.com/rKFOksIDoW
Nor can we draw any firm conclusions from Darvish’s spin-rate graph. Not only did Darvish’s RPMs not drop after June 2, but they continued to climb. Was he undaunted by the “imminent” threat of enforcement, and, if so, why?
All of this brings us to Casey Mize’s start last night, immediately following MLB’s declaration that it would begin enforcement of its zero-tolerance policy against major-league pitchers. In his short professional career, Mize has not been a high spin guy, nor has he been publicly associated with what he calls the “sticky.” Which is why he was so upset when an umpire forced him to change gloves during the game:
Mize was walking off the mound following the first inning of his start on Tuesday in Kansas City against the Royals, when John Tumpane stopped him for what looked like a friendly conversation.
According to Mize, Tumpane said Mize’s glove was too light-colored.
Mize said the glove, which he’s worn for every one of his big-league starts, was originally charcoal-colored, but may have faded a bit in the sun.
“He said the gray color was too light,” Mize said.
Color judgement aside, Mize was most angry because Tumpane’s order came on the same day that Major League Baseball announced a widespread crackdown on the use of sticky substances that some pitchers have used to help them grip the baseball and increase the spin rate on their pitches.
“I assume everyone thinks that I was using sticky stuff now, which I was not,” Mize said. “So I just thought the timing of it was pretty (expletive), honestly. The umpires need to get on the same page, because I’ve made 12 starts (in 2021) and everybody was fine with (the glove). Or John Tumpane just needs to have some feel and just let me pitch with the glove that the other team did not complain about. (Tumpane) brought it up himself. John’s a good umpire and a very nice guy. But I mean, just have some feel for the situation because I hate that I’m in a position now where I assume everyone thinks I was using sticky when in reality, that was not the situation at all.”
First, for visual illustration, some relevant images of Mize’s mitt:
Without more information, this seems like a questionable decision by the umpire, and, whatever his motivation, the decision did drag Mize into the broader conversation about foreign substances. So what do the spin measurements say about Mize’s pitches? Most obviously, he operates in a much lower band of RPMs than the likes of Cole, Bauer, and Darvish. That alone may be more than enough for many to exonerate him. And while Mize’s average spin rates did decline between his May 28 start and his June 3 start, the magnitude of the change was negligible relative to those Cole and Bauer exhibited. If his data suggest anything, it’s that Mize is telling the truth.
However irked Mize was after being forced into a mid-game glove change, it did not appear to alter his performance. He completed 6.2 innings, threw a season-high 103 pitches, and allowed three runs on the way to a 4-3 Tigers win in Kansas City.
To this point in the season, Mize has been the best of Detroit’s young pitchers, and he trails only Spencer Turnbull in WARP. He’s following up an interesting if inconsistent debut in 2020 with across-the-board improvements in major statistical categories. While veterans attempting to be crafty and the commissioner’s office duke it out over Spider Tack, here’s hoping Mize can avoid that fray and continue to find his footing as a leading member of Detroit’s rotation.
Earlier today, the State of Georgia enacted HB 617, which affirmatively permits college athletes attending schools in that state to receive financial compensation for use of their name, image, or likeness (“NIL”). The new law takes effect on July 1, 2021.
In a nationwide environment in which the NCAA broadly prohibits almost every form of direct financial compensation to so-called “student athletes,” emerging state laws like Georgia’s HB 617– other states joining in this initial wave include Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and New Mexico– offer a commonsense middle ground on compensation that’s short of revenue sharing with school athletic departments and would seem to place schools in those states at a competitive recruiting advantage, at least in the short term.
The NCAA’s initial response to what appears to be a broadside attack on one of the governing body’s longstanding, core tenets was surprising. Jere Morehead, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors “said he would expect the NCAA would allow ‘accommodations,’ to be made for athletes in states with NIL rules.” Morehead also is the president of the University of Georgia, so this may not be the NCAA’s official position on state NIL laws. If the “accommodations” comment reflects in any way the thinking within NCAA leadership, though, it is extremely illuminating.
It’s easy to forget that athletics organizing entities, and especially in light of their popularity and rhetoric the NCAA, NFL, and MLB, do not act and regulate their respective sports with the force of actual law. (In fact, they in some sense operate outside the law thanks to formal and informal antitrust exemptions.) During baseball’s meltdown over Barry Bonds’ superhuman ascension in the early aughts, you could be forgiven if you weren’t sure whether steroids were illegal illegal or merely MLB “illegal.” The NFL also has done an effective job of coopting this officious language into its in-sport vernacular as well (e.g., “illegal touching” having quite different meanings on and off the field). All of these groups have “committees” that issue “rules” and “regulations” just like real government agencies!
For the degree to which these private sports administrative entities control the behavior of their subject players as well as the general public’s perception of the goings-ons in and around their games, it’s sort of amazing that states could just opt out of a major NCAA prohibition and the NCAA’s response is to roll over and take it. Not that passing legislation is easy, but is this all that was needed all along?
If the NCAA’s “accommodations” response proves real, it could carry widespread consequences for the enforceability of other NCAA rules. Suddenly, the implication is that the NCAA will yield wherever its policies conflict with state law. Does this mean an end to the NCAA’s punishment of athletes who use marijuana in states that have authorized its use? What about sports wagering? There of course are other actual legal factors at work with those two examples (the persistent federal marijuana prohibition and common legal provisions restricting wagering by contest participants), and it’s unclear whether an affirmative legalization is a prerequisite (e.g., was Todd Gurley prohibited from being paid for autographed helmets as a matter of Georgia law?) . Still, Morehead’s suggestion that the NCAA will quietly accede in this area implies that there actually may not be much brute behind the bluster out of Indianapolis. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome– if still annoyingly executed– development that should further hasten the loosening of the NCAA’s iron fist over those whose efforts generate millions of dollars in administrative salaries.
The end of the first month of the 2021 MLB season finds the Colorado Rockies stuck in last place in the National League’s Western Division. By OPS+, they’re the worst hitting team in the NL and the second-worst overall, their 85 OPS+ just edging the Detroit Tigers at 81 OPS+. Even though the Rockies were in the playoffs as recently as 2018, their slow start this year already has cost Jeff Bridich his general manager post. Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of the foregoing, Charlie Blackmon, the team’s ostensible star, so far is having the worst season of his career. His .169/.299/.292 line shakes out to 58 OPS+/56 wRC+/108 DRC+.*
That’s exactly what happened. Referring to Ramsey’s unusual filing as “a something,” Blackmon’s motion asked the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia to take a shortcut to the end of the lawsuit. Ramsey’s response either was so deficient that it didn’t amount to an answer at all, the essence of the argument goes, or it was an answer that didn’t deny any of the material allegations in the complaint. Either way, Blackmon contended that the court can rule for him on the question of the defendants’ liability right now. The question of damages– basically, the amount of money the court would order paid to Blackmon– could throw a wrench into Blackmon’s gears, however. Because he hasn’t been able to inspect the vehicle, the motion proposes the appointment of a special master– an investigator who works at the judge’s direction– to provide an assessment of the Pontiac’s condition for the purpose of determining a precise monetary award.
If Ramsey’s response to this motion is better than his response to the complaint, it is so only because he typed it as a partially separate document rather than handwriting his comments on Blackmon’s filing. This response otherwise is worse than the last one. Continuing to represent himself, Ramsey complains that Blackmon refused an out-of-court resolution of the dispute on terms Ramsey dictated. Ramsey also provided in-line responses to some of the arguments in Blackmon’s default motion, though these generally do not help his position, being either admissions of matters pertinent to the question of default (e.g., acknowledgement that he was served with the complaint) or immaterial. He also attached correspondence that again reveals Blackmon’s personal email address (although Blackmon’s own lawyer already let that cat out of the bag) and is neither relevant nor, to the extent it constitutes settlement communications, admissible as evidence.
Next up will be the trial judge’s ruling on the default motion. Judge Cannon certainly has plenty of latitude to grant a default judgment in Blackmon’s favor here. The easiest part to resolve should be a ruling on the question of a default judgment against Ramsey’s company, which, in Georgia, must be represented by a lawyer. Apparently open questions about the precise nature of the remedy or remedies Blackmon seeks (e.g., Does he just want his car back? Does he want money from Ramsey, and, if so, exactly how much?) may complicate the situation for Blackmon, however, and complications and uncertainties usually are not helpful to a party seeking entry of a default judgment.
Those, of course, are matters for Blackmon’s legal team to sweat. Their client likely is more concerned about his sub-.200 batting average and his team’s NL-worst record.
As always, keep your browser dialed to ALDLAND.com, where we remain your (actually; I somehow am not kidding) exclusive source for hot rod baseball litigation.
* All statistics current as of the time I typed them.
It was another bad weekend for MLB officials, whose joint obsessions with speaking publicly about an alleged need to shorten the length of games and threatening their existing fans with rule changes they hate (while forcing official telecast commentators to praise the ill-conceived reforms) came to a sudden and startling head in Atlanta last night.
This catastrophe was not entirely without advance warning, thanks to a Thursday-afternoon prelude in Queens, where replay review affirmed a plainly incorrect, game-ending call at home plate. There, with game tied and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, officials awarded the Mets a walk-off victory when their batter, Michael Conforto, leaned into strike three from Miami Marlins pitcher Anthony Bass (good fish name), taking the ball off his elbow and forcing in the game-winning run. Replay review showed that Conforto not only failed to make any effort to avoid being hit but actually extended his elbow out toward the pitched ball. Even the home telecast crew on SNY acknowledged the rules violation. MLB officials did not, however, asserting that the scope of their review was limited to the simple question of whether the pitch hit Conforto, and the Mets had a win in their home opener.
Three days later, things became unimaginably worse and even less defensible for MLB. In the primetime Sunday night game, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves had dueled to a six-all tie through eight innings. The Braves sent reliever Will Smith out to start the ninth. Smith allowed a leadoff double to Alec Bohm, who advanced to third on Jean Segura‘s groundout. Smith then induced Didi Gregorius to fly out to Marcell Ozuna in left field. Bohm tagged up and headed home. Ozuna’s throw to catcher Travis d’Arnaud looked good enough to end the inning, but the home-plate umpire called Bohm safe.
Instant replay showed anyone with eyes that Bohm was not safe, however. While there may be room for debate as to whether Ozuna’s throw beat Bohm to the plate, the fact that Bohm never actually touched home plate should have negated any other question on the call. Video replay clearly and unequivocally showed that Bohm missed the plate entirely. A lengthy video replay review shockingly resulted in a decision upholding the safe call, however, and angry Braves fans began littering the field with debris, causing further delay.
The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.
The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.
With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.
The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?
Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.
The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.
While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.
For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.
NBA free agent Jamal Crawford confirmed that he still has it. Although he no longer is the active leader in three-pointers attempted (as he was when we last wrote about him in 2018), Crawford– a one-and-done Michigan Wolverine during Michigan State’s championship season– confirmed last night that he continues to be a BlackBerry user.
MLB spring training kicked off this week, and the schedule included a couple of games for the Colorado Rockies, who make their spring camp in Arizona. While outfielder Charlie Blackmon has yet to make his 2021 spring debut for the Rockies, that didn’t stop his legal adversaries from making theirs on the other side of the country.
Yesterday, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia finally heard from Ramsey and his company– sort of. Ramsey, purporting to represent himself and possibly his company, filed a response to Blackmon’s complaint that does not so much answer the allegations, in a conventional sense, as it does continue the long-winded, argumentative emails Ramsey had been sending to Blackmon’s agent before he filed the lawsuit. To the extent they can be distilled, the main points of Ramsey’s countering contentions are that he, personally, is not at fault because all the work was done by his company; there was no fixed schedule for this “spare time” project; the scope of and financial responsibility for work done by third parties remains Blackmon’s obligation; “the vehicle is not a hostage . . . but it will not leave without payment resolution”; a sheriff’s deputy sent to inspect the vehicle at Ramsey’s garage accidentally defrosted Ramsey’s freezer; and Blackmon’s complaint should have included more of Ramsey’s emails.
The unsolicited suggestion that Ramsey and his company should hire a lawyer isn’t merely a strategic one borne out of the thought that judges are unlikely to be swayed upon encountering filings that include both segments typed entirely in capital letters and handwritten annotations on the opposing party’s exhibits. Indeed, while Ramsey has the right to make the choice to represent himself in court, his company, Ramsey Performance, does not.
Indeed, it isn’t clear that Ramsey Performance, as the distinct legal entity that Blackmon named as a separate defendant and to which Ramsey himself pointed for potential liability, filed an answer at all. If it did not, Blackmon’s attorney likely will wait a couple weeks and then move for a default judgment against Ramsey Performance. As for Ramsey’s responsive filing, assuming it qualifies as an answer, it may be ripe for a quick motion for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment to the extent the judge determines that it does not sufficiently deny key allegations in Blackmon’s complaint. Setting aside for a moment the possibly critical technical failings of Ramsey’s answer, it also is possible that the judge orders the parties to mediate a dispute that seemingly could be resolved for less than $20,000.
The only way to find out what will happen next? Keeping it tuned right here to ALDLAND.com, your exclusive source (seriously) for hot rod baseball litigation.
Sports fans have access to more information about teams, players, and coaches than ever before. Most of that information comes from the observation of on-field performance, the tracking, processing, and synthesizing of which is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and what off-field information teams, players, and coaches decide to make public, something they’re doing more often and to a greater degree thanks in part to tools like social media.
And now, thanks to pandemic-induced videoconferencing, we can step inside the world of top-tier amateur athletic recruiting, courtesy of this clip of a Nick Saban player pitch on behalf of the Alabama football program:
While obviously incomplete, there isn’t anything surprising here. Saban runs through the high points of his monumentally successful resume before addressing the counter-pitching refrains of his lesser rivals.
Plenty of the conversations about player recruiting in college athletics involve the subject of improper benefits, something Saban of course doesn’t mention in this clip. (If he had, you’d be hearing about this from someone other than me.) I have not been a Saban fan since his unceremonious departure from Michigan State, but his track record is undeniable. I think it’s plausible that programs like his don’t need to do much off the books to entice top players. Even within the SEC, bottom-feeder Tennessee probably needs to hand out McDonald’s bags full of cash to try to siphon prospects away from the conference elite. When it comes to Alabama, though, players might consider slipping Saban a few bills– or maybe an oatmeal cream pie— to improve their chances at a roster spot.