Swansongs, Vol. 1

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In 1973, Yes released Yessongs, an early greatest-hits/sampler album AMG describes as follows:

In many ways, the extravagance of this package equates the profligacy of the prog rock combo themselves. After all, how else but on a triple-LP collection could one hope to re-create (and/or contain) an adequate sampling of Yes’ live presentation?

In 2016, presumably, you now find yourself reading an early greatest-hits/sampler post regarding Atlanta Braves rookie and former Vanderbilt Commodore Dansby Swanson, which is a triple-video collection of defensive highlights, all accumulated in last night’s win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that, in 2015, drafted Swanson with the top overall draft pick.

We don’t own the rights to this footage, obviously, but MLBAM was kind enough to package all three plays into one highlight video, which you can watch by clicking here. For an extra bonus, Swanson recorded his first major-league stolen base last night. Statcast’s breakdown video is available here.

Didn’t enjoy these videos? Think “Swansongs” is a dumb name that, if anything, should describe the end of a career and not the beginning? Don’t care. Sorry not sorry.

2016 NFL Preview: Tempering expectations for the Detroit Lions

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The notion that anyone would have an expectation regarding the anticipated performance of the Detroit Lions so high it required public tempering is facially preposterous, especially considering that this is a team that made major coaching and administrative changes in the middle of last season and, going forward, will be without its generational talent, who opted for an early retirement over even one more game with this team.

Yet this is the time of every calendar year when Lions fans’ memories wane to their very shortest. Who’s Calvin Johnson? What’s coaching and management stability? We’ve got Jim Bob Cooter and Zombie Anquan Boldin!

I want the Lions to win every game, and I know that, each Sunday (/Monday/Thursday/Saturday sometimes/Tuesday maybe?), no team will look better on the gridiron than the Silver and Honolulu Blue Crew.

As recklessly optimistic as Lions fans may be at this time of year– which may be the happiest, relatively speaking, since they haven’t yet lost a regular season game– however, there are a few Coors Light Cold Hard Facts with which they need to reckon.   Continue reading

Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

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Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current issues in the sport.   Continue reading

The Dansby Swanson Era has arrived in Atlanta

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On June 8, 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks used the first overall draft pick to select Vanderbilt University shortstop and 2014 College World Series Most Outstanding Player Dansby Swanson. One of three Commodores selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft, Swanson spent little time in the Arizona organization before the Diamondbacks sent him, along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair, to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller in the consensus worst (for Arizona) trade of the offseason and one of the most lopsided in recent memory.

For his part, Swanson was happy with the trade. A Marietta native, he considered his move a homecoming. After appearing in 105 minor-league games this year, the Braves called him up to the big club, and he made his MLB debut last night in a home game against the Twins.

Just three years older than Turner Field, Swanson’s first MLB appearance came in the soon-to-be-demolished park where he watched baseball games as a child. When he came to the plate in the second inning for his first big-league plate appearance, wearing a batting helmet reminiscent of Jason Heyward’s (Swanson was hit in the face with a pitch in his first onfield practice with the Diamondbacks), the rookie received a warm ovation from the home crowd. Continue reading

Site update

After five years, and upon the considered suggestion of a longtime reader and our unofficial Web 2.0 consultant, we now are simply ALDLAND.com. Please adjust your bookmarks and browsing habits accordingly. Or don’t. ALDLAND.wordpress.com still redirects here as well.

Thank you for reading.

Have the Atlanta Braves discovered the secret of the ooze?

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Only three teams– the Rockies, Tigers, and Phillies– declined to participate in the transaction frenzy that concluded on August 1’s non-waiver trade deadline, which means that, yes, even the lowly Braves were in on the action.

One of the clearest messages the trade-deadline market communicated was that contending teams (or teams that fancied themselves contenders, anyway) were willing to pay a premium for relief pitching. Atlanta did send pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to Texas in exchange for Travis Demeritte, an infield prospect who starred across from Dansby Swanson at this year’s Futures Game, on July 27. They skipped the more obvious opportunity to sell high on the momentarily resurgent Jim Johnson, however, especially considering the fact that he’s a free agent after this season.

Instead, in the words of Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, the Braves “exchange[d] toxic assets” with the Padres by trading infielder Hector Olivera for Matt Kemp.

It’s been tough to find people who think this was a good trade for the Braves. Kemp was good, once, five years ago, when he provided 8.3 fWAR in 161 games for the 2011 Dodgers. Since then, he’s been worth 4.8 fWAR total from 2012 through August 2, when he made his Braves debut at Turner Field:

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Kemp’s still being paid like he’s an eight-win, MVP-caliber player, but he’s playing like a half-win, DL-caliber player. He can’t run. As he demonstrated for the crowd in his Atlanta debut, he can’t defend. His bat, his only potential weapon at this point, is less consistent than that of Justin Upton, the last consequential left fielder to wear a Braves uniform. Still, when Kemp received a standing ovation from the home fans (who, to my eyes, were outnumbered by a surprisingly large cadre of Pirates fans) when he came to the plate for the first time in the bottom of the first, it so confused the Pittsburgh players that Jace Peterson, who was on first after walking to start the inning, easily stole second. So maybe there is some hidden value there.

But really, what’s the Braves’ plan with this move? Continue reading

[UPDATED] Catching Fire: Mike Drop

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UPDATE: Approximately seven minutes after we published this post, the Tigers took our advice and traded Aviles to the Atlanta Braves.

It’s reassuring to know that General Manager Al Avila has joined Brad Ausmus as an ALDLAND reader. If you would like to peer inside the mind of the Tigers GM, the original post remains below.

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The clock is ticking louder than ever on the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 season, and, just at the very moment the team needs to be putting its best foot forward in an effort to win crucial games that will determine whether they make the playoffs, they are running out some of the worst lineups they’ve used all season.

Injuries are largely to blame for this untimely suboptimal roster utilization, as Detroit currently is without Cameron Maybin, Nick Castellanos, Jordan Zimmermann, Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene, and (sigh) Mike Pelfrey. In addition, Miguel Cabrera left last night’s game with what appeared to be a left shoulder injury, and his status is uncertain. Manager Brad Ausmus, facing this many significant losses, obviously is handcuffed– he has little choice but to lean, undoubtedly more heavily than he would prefer, on his reserves, backups, and alternates.

Modern MLB roster construction, with its emphasis on relief-pitching specialization, leaves little room for backup position players. The Tigers, like most American League teams, essentially have three: a backup catcher, and two other “utility” fielders, who can play a variety of positions whenever a regular starter needs a break, or as a defensive replacement late in games.

For Detroit, those two guys are Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles, and they aren’t very good. Back in June, when Iglesias was struggling, I wondered whether Romine, who appeared to be a very solid stand-in at short when given the opportunity, should take over the job? Nope. Back in March, before the season even started, I was worried about the scouting report on Aviles, which was starkly negative:

Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense[, and] his inability to reach base (.279 OBP from 2013-15) makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities.

Harsh and, so far, accurate. Unsurprisingly, when both Aviles and Romine are in the starting lineup, Detroit almost always loses.   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Checking in on Justin Upton

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Everyone knows Justin Upton has had a tough go of things during his first season in Detroit, and it’s reasonable to expect that there would be an adjustment period associated with his move to the American League– new pitchers, new parks– after spending his first nine seasons in the National League.

When we last checked in on Upton, in late June, things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction:

Especially exciting for Detroit was that two of [the Tigers’ home runs in a win against the Mariners] came off the bat of Justin Upton, who finally appears to be heating up for his new team after suffering one of the worst offensive stretches of his career.

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Upton has not continued in that direction, however; in fact, I seem to have caught him precisely at his peak. Here’s an updated version that same graph from the June post, above:

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That earlier snapshot of Upton’s offensive production was through June 20, the date highlighted on this graph. Since then, Upton’s offense is declining again, and this graph (for reasons unknown to me) doesn’t even include the team’s two most-recent games, in which he went 0-7, striking out four times and grounding into two double plays.

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At the moment, this season is the only full one of Upton’s career in which he has performed as a below-average batter, and, as the above all indicate, he’s been particularly bad of late. (Like, 6-wRC+-for-the-month-of-August bad.)

After the Mariners (coincidentally, the same team against which Upton appeared to break out back in June) completed a frustrating series sweep of the Tigers in Seattle early this morning, critics corralled their critical criticisms in Upton’s direction. Detroit hitting coach Wally Joyner came to Upton’s defense, however:

He’s a good player. He wasn’t sitting on the corner when they gave him the contract. He’s earned it. There’s a reason for that. Remember it. Nothing’s changed. He’s just a little bit unlucky right now.

He’s not OK with it and I’m glad he’s not OK with it. He’s working hard and he’ll be fine. He’s unlucky. He’s not playing like [crap].

Is Joyner right? Has Upton, of late, merely been unlucky?   Continue reading

Farewell, again, dear Prince

Nearly three years ago, Detroit Tigers fans said goodbye to Prince Fielder, whom the team traded in the 2013 offseason to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. At the time, many were glad to see him leave, though some, including this author, were not. All must agree, however, that when Fielder left Detroit, he became barely a shadow of his former Ironman self. In his two years as a Tiger, he didn’t miss a single game. Excluding his rookie year, in the eight years he spent in Milwaukee and Detroit, he missed a total of thirteen games, playing the full 162 in four of those eight seasons. That’s an impressive accomplishment for any player.

If one wanted to be cold about it, one might note that, 2014, Fielder’s first in Texas, was a year of insult and injury for Prince. Not only did his trade replacement, Kinsler, make the All-Star team on his way to completing the second-best season of his career, but Fielder underwent season-ending neck surgery in late May, appearing in just forty-two games for his new club. He seemed to bounce back in 2015, posting a .305/.378/.463 line in 158 games, but it has been trouble again for Fielder in 2016. Despite his team’s success, Prince arguably was the worst position player of the first half of the season, and things weren’t looking up in the second half. After playing in all but five of the Rangers’ games through July 18, Fielder again went on the disabled list and, after undergoing a second neck surgery, is expected to miss the remainder of this season.

It may not just be the rest of the season he misses, however, as shocking reports emerged this afternoon that Prince’s career may be over:

If true, then, as a number of people have pointed out, Prince will finish with a .283/.382/.506 line, .304 TAv, .377 wOBA, 133 wRC+, 26.8 fWAR / 23.8 bWAR / 30.3 WARP, and 319 home runs, the same number of home runs his father, Cecil, with whom he seems to have reconciled, hit in a career just one season longer than his son’s.

Although serious injuries seemed to dim his wattage following the trade to Texas, I always will remember Prince Fielder as a complete hitter who was one of the happiest baseball players I ever saw. His friendship with Miguel Cabrera was particularly endearing.  What follows are some of my favorite images and clips from Prince’s playing days:   Continue reading

ESPN: Child Actually a Man

ESPN reports: “Manute Bol’s son Bol Bol is truly a man among boys on the basketball court.” And it’s true. Just look at the video. In it, we see the younger Bol among boys on a basketball court. Bol, the man, is at least a foot taller than even the tallest of the boys among whom he is on the basketball court, and, in terms of playing basketball, mature human Bol is superior to his infantile competition in every observable way. Further confirming the ESPN report are the facts that Bol is married with children, has a mortgage and a 401k, has completed a vision quest, goes to bed early, drives a sensible car, wears suits to church, hired a CPA to do his taxes and monitor his credit score, tells lame jokes, has a union job, may go to Home Depot, if there’s time, and (actually sadly) no longer lives with his father. Bol truly is a man among boys on the basketball court.

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Previously
No, ESPN, this very much could be someone’s granddaddy’s top five