Two kinds of Braves reunions

MCCANN

The Atlanta Braves made MLB offseason headlines yesterday with two short-term free-agent acquisitions that find the team taking calculated chances on former stars.

First, with Kurt Suzuki leaving in free agency, the Braves sought out a familiar face in Brian McCann to serve as a veteran backup to presumptive starting catcher Tyler Flowers. McCann made his major-league debut with the Braves in 2005 and quickly and consistently achieved success, earning all-star honors in all but one of his eight full-time seasons in Atlanta and tacking on silver-slugger recognition five times and down-ballot MVP votes once. As one would expect, McCann did this by being one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in baseball over that stretch. The following table notes his yearly offensive (by wRC+) and defensive (by FRAA) rankings among fellow catchers from 2006-2013.

mccann braves ranks

A pretty nice run indeed. McCann’s departure after the 2013 season, which marked Atlanta’s last appearance in the postseason before this year’s surprise early return, marked the beginning of the Braves’ dismantling of their last promising, young, cheap core. (Remember when Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Alex Wood all played for the same team?)

Now Atlanta has another promising, young, cheap core to which McCann returns to provide his brand of veteran leadership. His bat settled down to “decidedly average” status during his five years away (three in the Bronx, then two in Houston), still nice for a catcher, though his 82 wRC+ in 2018 marked a low point in his career, and his 216 plate appearances were his fewest of any season save his ’05 debut, a reflection of his new, backup status. McCann also hasn’t been an above-average defender since 2016. At one year and $2 million, though, the Braves probably aren’t too worried about those trends and instead are banking as much on McCann’s perceived intangible contributions as they are on those that register more explicitly in modern stat books.

Baseball Prospectus sees good things on the horizon for McCann as a backup in his return to Atlanta, and FanGraphs also is optimistic, though it reminds us about the two months McCann missed last season as a result of a knee injury. For the team and the player it seems that this signing came down to a mutual desire for a homecoming:

Here’s hoping it’s a happy return.

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The bigger news from yesterday was Atlanta’s Josh Donaldson signing. It too was a one-year agreement, though for about ten times as much money ($23 million, to be exact), and a reunion of sorts, though not with the Braves per se but their general manager, Alex Anthopolous, who previously brought Donaldson to the Blue Jays. As they are with McCann, the Braves are banking on a rebound by Donaldson, who fell apart last year, just three seasons removed from an MVP-winning campaign. Predicated on that perennial proviso, “if healthy,” BP likes the gamble:

Donaldson offers a much more dynamic risk profile, but a simpler one. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason not to expect him to rake. Even when he played last year, his power was seriously sapped (a still-impressive .203 ISO represented a major step back from the .274 he averaged in his first three seasons with the Jays), and that presents a real risk that simple projection systems will underrate. However, if the Braves believe that decrease in pop stemmed from the compromised state of Donaldson’s lower half, and if he’s going to be healthy going into 2019, then he could easily bounce back in that department.

He’s no longer a plus with the glove or on the bases, and he’s not going to be the MVP again. There’s tons of room, though, between his decidedly average 2018 and his peak performance, which is why BP ranked him as the no. 3 free agent available this offseason. If healthy, he fits nicely into the middle of the Atlanta batting order.

The Braves still have more money to spend on 2019 payroll, and they already look to be in excellent shape to contend in what again should be a competitive division. (It is as I foretold.)

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Going Down So Many Roads Feeling a Little Bit Better Jam

Thanks to things like the Internet Archive and YouTube, the music of the Grateful Dead is widely and freely available online. While the band made about a dozen studio albums together during a roughly twenty-year period of active recording, they obviously are best-known for their live performances over thirty years of touring with the core ensemble and, including various partial lineups, over fifty total years.

A quick search suggests that, the second-most-viewed Grateful Dead YouTube video of a single live song (2.5 million views) is July 9, 1995’s “So Many Roads.” The popularity of this video is readily understandable. The night is recognized as the band’s final concert, and Jerry Garcia would be dead exactly a month later. The song itself appears in the middle of the second set and features a vocal performance from a weak, haggard Garcia that nevertheless translates as pleading, desperate, retrospective, resigned, and soulful over an undeniably emotional twelve minutes. It’s just extremely real. The hindsight of knowing makes it dangerously easy to project external narratives on a captured and preserved moment of the past, but one hardly can avoid the feeling that Garcia is in this moment conscious of his impending departure (cf. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” The Wind (2003) (live in studio)), particularly given the dark, desolate, windswept (probably just a stage fan on a hot Chicago night but still) nature of the visual shot of the video.

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“So Many Roads” was a 90s Dead product, debuting on February 22, 1992 in Oakland and appearing regularly in setlists thereafter. Garcia considered the song (auto)biographical:

It’s [lyricist Robert] Hunter writing me from my point of view, you know what I mean? We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I know. The song is full of references to things that have to do with me . . . .

Hunter is the only guy that could do that. He can write my point of view better than I can think it, you know what I mean? So that’s the kind of relationship we have. And he frequently writes tunes from my point of view that are autobiographical. They’re actually biographical I guess. He’s the one writing them, but even so they express my point of view – and more than that they express the emotional content of my soul in a certain way that only a long-term and intimate relationship with a guy as brilliant as Hunter coughs up . . . . I can sing that song, feel totally comfortable with it.

Although the band performed “So Many Roads” fifty-four times between February 1992 and July 1995, until this week, the only version I could recall hearing was the one from that final night. I don’t think that fact is terribly surprising; as a general matter, mid-90s Dead tapes aren’t exactly in high demand.

On Tuesday, though, I heard a new-to-me version of “So Many Roads,” this one from the Boston Garden on October 1, 1994, and the relative differences are striking. It’s brighter, stronger (even if Garcia’s physical frailties remain noticeable), upbeat, energized, and about half as long as the final version. It also is this week’s Jam:

As the foregoing indicates, I am not an expert in this narrow channel; however, if you only ever hear one performance of this song, it needs to be the July 9, 1995 offering. If you hear two, though, then October 1, 1994 makes for a good and uplifting pairing.

#space Jam

My favorite recent PFT Commenter conspiracy theory is that Space Jam 2, which is set to star LeBron James but remains in preproduction, actually is a vehicle to allow James, newly a member of the strikingly mediocre Los Angeles Lakers, to recruit top players with salaries in excess of the league’s caps by paying them to be a part of Space Jam 2, a movie that might never actually get made. If about-to-be-free-agent Kevin Durant signs a cheap contract with the Lakers this offseason, we’ll know the foregoing is true.

Another thing that’s true is that my friend Grant Zubritsky is a musician who just released two new tracks this week that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack for Space Jam 2. (Take a moment to remember the strength of the soundtrack to the original movie.) In light of all of that and the fact that I don’t know if these Spotify embeds are going to work, here for this week’s Jams are both of his new numbers:

Surprise: One Fox News segment reminds me of another Fox News segment

We don’t really do politics around here, and mention of any of the major cable news channels tends to operate as mere verbal code for divisive political partisanship. Some of you reading this probably hate Fox News. I propose that even those of you who fall into that group would have to admit that there are producers working at that channel who have a sense of humor. Or maybe it’s just me, the person who always thought The Colbert Report wasn’t as funny as its parodied target, The O’Reilly Factor.

If you’re still with me, enjoy this segment from last night’s The Ingraham Angle, “Millennial Vaper Faces Off With Doctor“:

The segment instantly reminded me of one that aired on Fox News Live twelve years ago:

Laura Ingraham closed out last night’s vaping debate by saying, “We’re going to check in with Tommy Smokes in about six years and see how he’s doing.” If you have the same questions about Lydia and Craig from the streaking segment, which aired in 2006, I’m happy to report that one’s a published author and the other is a surgeon.

Satellite of Jam

Yesterday marked the forty-sixth anniversary of the release of Lou Reed’s second solo album, Transformer. Showing the influence of producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the album contained many of Reed’s biggest songs, including “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Perfect Day,” and today’s Jam, which comes from a live performance of “Satellite of Love” in Copenhagen the following year:

Atlanta Braves move their games to a location outside Atlanta accessible only by car, then have the nerve to sue entrepreneurial car company for bringing people to those games

braves suit

That may not be exactly what’s going on in this lawsuit the Atlanta Braves filed in federal court yesterday, which, in reality, probably is little more than a routine filing intended to protect intellectual property rights, but moving your stadium to the middle of an interstate highway interchange that’s outside the city limits and then suing a taxi driver who’s only trying to help fans get there– I’m assuming only the best intentions on the part of Hector Tirado– is almost as bad a public-relations move as telling fans they should just ride their bikes to the game.

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Previously
“Atlanta” Braves seek millions more from Cobb County
Ted Turner on the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb County

2017 Atlanta Braves Season Preview
Braves finally strike a positive note in move to new stadium
The political costs of a new baseball stadium
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Lions do another trade

Last week, Detroit Lions General Manager Bob Quinn sent waves of excitement through the team’s fan base when he completed a trade with the collapsing New York Giants for Damon Harrison, a strong run blocker who seemed like a perfect fit to bolster the Lions’ struggling defense at a moment when the team seemed poised to make moves in the competitive NFC North after early season wins over New England and Green Bay.

Now, though, following a disappointing and uninspired defeat at home against the Seahawks that dropped Detroit below .500, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Quinn & co. are punting on 2018. That’s because they just traded Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round draft pick.

Sure, Tate’s contract is up at the end of this season and he’s (barely) in his thirties, but he consistently has been one of the Lions’ top players since coming to Detroit in 2014, regularly performing as top a yards-after-catch receiver who, after Matthew Stafford, probably has been the most essential part of the Lions offense.

giphy

This is especially disappointing because of the apparent opportunity this season offered to Detroit. The Seattle game on Sunday was bad, but they still sit only a game out of first place, with the divisional competition appearing far less invincible than they appeared at the season’s start. Green Bay looks bad and already lost to Detroit. Chicago is a much weaker team without new acquisition Khalil Mack, who’s battling a leg injury, and the Vikings haven’t yet lived up to the hype they earned coming off last season’s appearance in the NFC Championship game.

In assessing the trade value of a draft pick, it’s important to account for how well the team receiving the pick does in drafting. Here, I think it’s too early to tell.

In the immediate aftermath, it’s difficult to reconcile the Harrison and Tate moves, but at least there’s some comfort in the familiarity of this team giving up on a season, and the transparency should help lower fans’ stress levels as they can turn their attention to other, less-frustrating diversions this fall.

2fn212

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Previously
Lions do a trade

Tonight’s World Series watch party is cancelled

The Boston Red Sox had the nerve to win the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night before I was ready to be done watching baseball for the year. I didn’t necessarily want to keep watching these two teams play each other, since Boston seemed to hold a fairly convincing edge over L.A., but that pairing was the only option here at the end.

The primary purpose of this post is to record in this digital log book the above image of an advertisement for a watch party for game one of the 1907 World Series (excuse me, World’s Championship) between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. I like the idea that, long before teams were inviting fans into their otherwise-empty arenas to watch road championship games together, fans were gathering to watch an intern tack scribbled game updates on a “giant bulletin board” outside the newspaper office. There being no television at that time, and radio broadcasts of games still being more than a decade away, this proto-ESPN Gamecast offering was your best option if you didn’t want to wait until the next day to find out what happened. Thankfully, October 8, 1907, was a fairly warm and dry day in Detroit (high 68, low 41, no recorded precipitation), but one imagines this was no guarantee.

Speaking of a lack of guarantees, there was no guarantee that Steve Pearce even was going to play in the World Series, much less be named its most valuable player. He started the season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, joining the Red Sox by way of a June 28 trade. He wasn’t a regular starter for Boston, and the thirty-five-year-old likely would not even have had the opportunity for significant postseason playing time but for an injury to Mitch Moreland.

My in-progress model generally supports the decision to name Pearce the MVP. In the postseason, only Yasiel Puig did more to contribute to his team’s championship chances than Pearce, and those two clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. (A nod here to Josh Hader, whose amazing performance as the tip of Milwaukee manager Craig Counsel’s aggressive bullpen spear kept him at or near the top of the cWPA leaderboard even after the Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in the NLCS.)

And here begins the MLB offseason. This week, watch for Clayton Kershaw’s Wednesday deadline to decide whether to opt out of the last two years of his contract (in which the Dodgers would owe him roughly $35 million per year), as well as Saturday’s deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents, a crop of players that includes Pearce, as well as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Miller, Andrew McCutchen, Craig Kimbrel, Yasmani Grandal, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Allen, Jose Iglesias, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, and many others.

Lions do a trade

The New York Giants (1-6) have seen the writing on the wall and are unloading whatever assets they have in an apparent attempt to reload next year around rookie standout Saquon Barkley.

This morning, New York sent defensive lineman Damon Harrison to Detroit in exchange for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. Harrison, who’s nickname is “Snacks,” sounds like a pretty good run-stopper and should have an immediate positive impact on a defense that really has struggled against the run.

The cost for Harrison seems pretty low, especially considering the Lions still will have one fifth-round pick, having previously acquired an extra one in a trade with San Francisco.

The NFC North is the NFL’s most interesting and competitive division, and every team’s still in the mix for a playoff spot. Adding Harrison should go a long way toward helping Detroit to keep pace as they prepare to enter a critical stretch of their schedule in which they’ll face three divisional opponents in four weeks, including two games against the Chicago Bears in an eleven-day span.

Bringing Concussions Out of the Darkness (via NYT)

merlin_144102582_8adbab97-d108-4fab-ae7d-a385a8fff340-superjumboDuring my two decades behind the wheel as a full-time Nascar driver, I suffered more than a dozen concussions. For a long time, I managed to keep most of them a secret, but then my symptoms got too severe to keep up the charade and I was forced to get help. My battle with head injuries has given me a wealth of firsthand knowledge of the causes, symptoms, types of and treatments for concussions.

Racers get every injury you can think of, from broken legs to cracked collarbones. But it was concussions, not fractures, that forced me to retire as a full-time Nascar driver in 2017. Twice I was pushed out of the driver’s seat because of concussion-related symptoms, missing two major races in 2012 and an entire half-season in 2016.

When concussions do occur, it’s important to remember that brain injuries can be treated and healed like any other athletic injury — but only if the proper steps are taken, the right doctors are reached and the prescribed treatment is followed through to the end.

That treatment is not easy. I’d never been a gym guy, but I learned how to become one. My rehabilitation in 2016 was the hardest I have ever worked. I wasn’t told to sit in a dark room, the stereotypical treatment for concussion. That’s not how it works anymore. Instead, I was pushed mentally and physically through fine motor skill tuning, exhausting computer-based eye tests, and a lot of old-fashioned cardio. After months of work I could feel my brain, eyes, ears and body communicating properly again.

I also felt my life returning. The constant, dull feeling of fear lifted. I was smiling again. … Read More

(via NYT)