Brother Jam

Gregg Allman, the younger brother of Duane, died this week at his Savannah home due to complications from his ongoing liver problems. As Gregg was, in some ways, the second Allman Brother and the second member of that band to pass on this year, this week features two Jams in Gregg’s memory. The first comes from the time he spent in Los Angeles with Duane, before Duane began forming what would be the Allman Brothers Band, in a group called The Hourglass:

(HT: NJT)

The second comes from the ABB’s biggest album, and it’s a song Gregg wrote about his brother’s then-recent death:

When I was in high school, my dad took me to Kalamazoo to hear Gregg with his solo group. We had great seats, and the band played “Whipping Post.”

In 2016, Allman received an honorary doctorate degree from Mercer University, which was presented to him by Jimmy Carter.

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Related
Trucks Jam
Jaimoe Remembers Gregg Allman’s Many TalentsRolling Stone

Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton

jup bubble

When it comes to the 2017 Detroit Tigers, we are in full-on damage-control mode here at ALDLAND, looking high and low for fixes for everything from the bullpen to the infield defense. On an individual basis, though, no player seems to be the recipient of more scorn from those who express Tigers-related opinions on the internet than Justin Upton. The critical refrain, when it comes to the younger Upton brother, is simple: he strikes out too much.

I spent many of the pages of last season’s Tigers diary on Upton. Having watched him during his days as a member of the Atlanta Braves, I knew he was a good and exciting player, but also a streaky player, and I hoped that Detroit fans would be patient enough to see through the streakiness and hold out for the production, they generally weren’t. Some career-low offensive numbers in the middle of the season didn’t help his case, and people (this website’s readers excepted, obviously) mostly missed that, in the final analysis, his full-season production was almost exactly as anticipated: an above-average offensive profile with thirty-one home runs, matching a career high. Also likely to be forgotten is his hot September– thirteen home runs, .292/.382/.750, and 196 wRC+, basically Babe Ruth’s career line– that was the main reason the team was in contention entering the final series of the regular season.

The Tigers didn’t make the playoffs last year, though, and things are looking pretty bad right now, too, which makes it easy to continue to beat the Upton-strikeout drum. And look, he’s currently running a career-high 31.2% strikeout rate (ten percent above league average), which isn’t helping matters.

When it comes to Upton, though, it isn’t as easy as simply focusing on strikeouts. For example, he’s running a walk rate that’s substantially higher than last season’s, meaning that his BB/K ratio is in line with his career ratio. In general, though, this is what he does. Like many power hitters in today’s game, he hits a lot of home runs and he strikes out a lot. Strikeouts are frustrating, but harping on them, in Upton’s case, isn’t productive. As Dave Cameron discussed at FanGraphs today, Giancarlo Stanton has undertaken the sort of change Upton’s critics are demanding, dramatically cutting his K% and upping his contact rate. The result? A very similar, if slightly worse, overall offensive profile. Cameron explains:

To this point, the change hasn’t served to make Stanton better, just different. His 135 wRC+ this year is pretty close to his career 141 mark, as the reduction in strikeouts have also come with a small drop in BABIP and a continuing decline in his walk rate. And the latter is of particular interest, because it shows how differently he’s being pitched these days.

In his 2013/2014 heyday, only 41% of the pitches thrown to Stanton were in the strike zone, about as low a mark as pitchers will go for a hitter who doesn’t instinctively swing at anything out of their hand. This year, pitchers are throwing Stanton strikes 44% of the time, about the same rate they’re challenging Trevor Plouffe and Albert Pujols. Pitchers are coming after Stanton now, perhaps recognizing that maybe he’s not taking the herculean swings that he used to take, and the penalty for throwing him something in the zone isn’t quite what it used to be.

As his contact rate has climbed, Stanton’s doing less damage on contact than he used to be [sic], and perhaps not surprisingly, is now seeing more strikes thrown his way. These are all shifts more than total revolutions, as he’s still a power hitter who does a lot of damage when he hits the ball, but he’s now moved more towards the normal levels of contact and production, rather than being an outlier on both ends.

(emphasis added).

Could Upton stop striking out as much as he does now if he wanted to? Probably. Changes in approach have complex consequences, though, and the result of those consequences might not work a net positive on Upton’s production even if he pushed himself to a career low strikeout rate and career high contact rate like Stanton has. (It essentially is the Ichiro Suzuki home run question asked from the opposite side of the player comp spectrum.)

The broader point, I think, is one that came to me during my look at switch hitters’ approaches to defensive shifts last year: we should engage in player analysis with the initial assumptions that (1) the player is a skilled athlete capable of undertaking multiple approaches to his or her sport, and (2) the player intelligently approaches his sport by selecting the optimal approach, given his or her strengths and weaknesses, designed for performance at the highest possible level. This is a conservative outlook that essentially assumes that the player’s status quo modus operandi represents the player’s optimal modus operandi. Like the Tigers fans who assume they can fix Upton by telling him to strike out less, it’s easy to assume we know better. As more complex investigations often reveal, however, the player had it right all along.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?
A strategic switch to beat the shift?

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now

The subtitle of this post nearly was “Weakness Abounds,” since the Detroit Tigers are in a real rough spot right now, and, until last night (and even including most of last night, really), it seemed like nearly everything that could go wrong for this team was going wrong, but then I thought of a much better and more accurate one that also allowed me to lead with that music video. The Tigers have fallen to a 24-29 record, four games out of the division, and, while all is not lost, it’s becoming quite easy to feel that way. A thing that happens sometimes when you focus on putting out the various fires– like the bullpen, as a ready example– popping up on a team struggling to hold it together is that you can take for granted the team’s presumed consistent strengths, however minor, and forget to keep an eye on them too. With the offense collectively slumping as bad as it has been and the entire pitching staff acting like it was playing for the opposing teams, this was easy to do.

One of those good things the Tigers thought they had on lock was their up-the-middle defense. When your pitchers are giving up a lot of contact, a double play can be a life-saver. Shortstop Jose Iglesias’ bat hasn’t held up this season, but we always knew he was in the lineup for his defense, and it was just last year that we were beginning to discuss Ian Kinsler’s dark-horse Hall-of-Fame candidacy. At least as far as defense was concerned, these were two guys the Tigers didn’t have to worry about.

And yet, when their pitchers most needed bailouts, the defense has faltered. Baseball Prospectus tracks double-play percentage (DP%), defined as the number of times a team converts double-play opportunities into double plays. Obviously this is a coarse measure for evaluating a particular double-play tandem for a number of reasons, including the fact that it operates on a team level, and, in this case, Iglesias and Kinsler didn’t play every single game together. Double plays also commonly involve the other infielders too. Still, the DP% numbers paint a stark picture for the Iglesias-Kinsler era in Detroit.

det dp percent

Iglesias and Kinsler have been the Tigers’ starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively, since 2015. In the first two seasons of the current tandem, 2015 and 2016, the team did a very good job of converting double-play opportunities. As a team, the Tigers were, at very best, average when it came to overall defense during this period, but Iglesias and Kinsler were supposed to be the glue that made the whole fielding operation passable. When it came to completing double plays, they held up their end of the bargain. Something (or somethings) aren’t right so far in 2017, though, and the dramatic dropoff in DP% hardly could come at a worse time for Detroit’s floundering pitching staff.

Tonight’s game is about to start, so I’ll leave things here for now, but this may be a thing– among a great many, to be sure– to keep an eye on as the Tigers turn toward summer and begin to evaluate their team-level strategic direction.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

Frank Deford’s final public words

Almost fifteen years ago, I attended a public lecture by Frank Deford, who applied his winding wit and signature vocal timbre to the athletic matters of the day: drugs, collegiate sports, and, of course, soccer culture, his great nemesis. At that time, in the fall of 2004, I probably was as far as I have been from the person who would later start a sports-focused website, but I knew well Deford’s voice through his NPR essays, which he began delivering in 1980, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet one of the greats in person. Knowing him only from his radio work, Deford’s striking physical presence, upon seeing him for the first time, immediately both impressed and made exact sense; the vocal and corporeal likely never have been more perfectly combined.

His authority in the field was obvious, but it wasn’t until later that I would discover the source of that authority: his print work, including a trove of articles for Sports Illustrated, where he started after graduating from Princeton in 1962, and, arguably even more influentially, his role as editor-in-chief of The National Sports Daily, the forefather to the more recently revered Grantland. Deford also wrote for Vanity Fair and Newsweek, produced novels and screenplays, and contributed to CNN and HBO’s Real Sports.    Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 5/26/2017

aslr - vacation

The sports law roundup is on vacation this week. Here’s a sports law story from the sports law archives.

  • Tennis revenue sharing: During the 1983 U.S. Open, John McEnroe, then the world’s top-ranked player, engaged in verbal sparring with a courtside fan named Christopher Schneider during a preliminary-round match. The latter was no fan of the former, and the former did not appreciate the latter’s expressions of support for the former’s on-court opponent, an unranked player named Trey Waltke. (A brief sidebar on Waltke, who appears to have established himself as something of a provocateur earlier in the year, when, at Wimbledon, he “caused a stir when he donned 1920s era long flannel pants, a white buttoned-down long-sleeved shirt, and a necktie for a belt” during a first-round victory. Prior to that, Waltke had defeated McEnroe in the first round of an April tournament in Las Vegas. Waltke had beaten McEnroe in a tournament in Memphis in 1981, a year in which he also beat Jimmy Connors.) After the match, Schneider, the fan, sued McEnroe seeking $6 million (nearly $15 million in 2017 dollars) and alleging that McEnroe, who cursed at Schneider during the match and flung some rosin dust in his direction, caused him “grevious [sic] physical and mental injuries.” Judge Francis X. Becker of the Nassau County Supreme Court oversaw the case, and the opening to his final order suggests he did not hold a high opinion of McEnroe:

Its disciples consider tennis to be a cosmopolitan game. Played and watched by men and women a cut above the average “jock” and “fan” of other big time sports. The facts giving rise to this action make it eminently clear however that a fair amount of “Roller Derby etiquette” has found its way to center court.

Defendant, John McEnroe, is a professional tennis player. The best player in the world today, he is not noted for his court decorum. . . .

Judge Becker nevertheless ruled in McEnroe’s favor on all counts, issuing a brief and delightfully worded order that is available in full right here.

Sports court remains in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/19/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Basketball mugging: Moses Malone Jr., son of NBA great Moses Malone, sued James Harden, claiming that Harden paid a group of people $20,000 to mug Malone Jr. at a Houston strip club last summer after critical comments by Malone Jr. about Harden’s youth basketball camp angered Harden. Malone Jr. posted a Facebook.com comment about the $250-per-attendee cost of Harden’s camp and then was beaten and robbed at the strip club. One of the men charged in the attack reportedly told Malone Jr. during the attack that Malone Jr. “disrespected James Harden and that he needs to be punished after that.” At this time, police have not established a connection between Harden and the attack.
  • Golf drugs: Vijay Singh won a victory in his lawsuit against the PGA this week when a court ruled that his claim that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Singh could proceed. Singh’s case arises out of a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids performance. The PGA suspended Singh based on his admission before checking with the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited. Singh’s contention is that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.
  • Football painkillers: The judge overseeing the proposed class action brought by former NFL players against the league’s thirty-two teams improper dispensation of painkillers dealt the plaintiffs another serious blow this week by dismissing almost all of the claims remaining in the case, and he does not seem to be impressed by the plaintiffs’ efforts: “perhaps the bloat of inapposite allegations is the product of some advocacy-based agenda rather than any attempt to comply with pleading requirements. For present purposes, however, this order makes clear at the outset that what matters is not whether plaintiffs have drawn attention to widespread misconduct in the NFL but whether each plaintiff has properly pled claims for relief against each individual club and, if so, whether those claims survive summary judgment.” At this time, the only claims that remain in the case are those brought by two individual players against three teams, the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: Amazingly, Baylor’s legal troubles continue to mount. After a former student sued the university earlier this year, alleging she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored; that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program”; and that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes, another former student has sued the school based on similar allegations. The new case, filed by a former volleyball player for the university, is the seventh Title IX lawsuit brought against the school, and it alleges that up to eight Baylor football players drugged and raped the plaintiff in 2012. The complaint explains that the attack was photographed and videotaped and happened in connection with a football hazing program.
  • NBA ticket devaluation: A San Antonio Spurs fan has sued the Golden State Warriors and one of that team’s players, Zaza Pachulia, claiming that Pachulia’s contribution to the injury of Spurs star Kawhi Leonard “devastated the quality of the Spurs’ chances of being competitive,” thereby diminishing the value of the plaintiff’s tickets to future Spurs playoff games. Video of the play in question is available here. It shows Pachulia moving in front of Leonard, who is in the air releasing a shot, and Leonard subsequently landing on Pachulia’s foot, resulting in an exacerbation of Leonard’s ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the first game and all of the second game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Leonard did not participate in practice yesterday, and his status for tomorrow’s game remains undetermined.
  • MLB streaming: Facebook and MLB have reached a live game streaming agreement that grants streaming rights to the social media platform for certain Friday night games. Streams will be free to users in the United States, and it appears that blackout restrictions will not be enforced, meaning fans located in the participating teams’ geographical regions should be able to watch as well. The initial deal includes twenty games, beginning with tonight’s Rockies-Reds matchup. More games may be added later. It is not clear whether this announcement has anything to do with the new lawsuit filed earlier this month by fans seeking to enforce a previous settlement agreement that required MLB to provide more live streams of in-market games by 2017, but it sure seems like it does.
  • Football jokes: An individual who posts jokes on the internet has sued Conan O’Brien, alleging that O’Brien stole a joke from him about Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl MVP award two years ago. Super Bowl MVPs apparently receive pickup trucks as prizes, and Brady, having won multiple such awards and having no use for a truck, has been giving them to a teammate he feels deserves it. Following New England’s last-second victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady gave the truck to Malcolm Butler, who secured the game-winning interception. The essence of the joke was that Brady should’ve given the truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who, many thought, made a very bad play call on that play. I’m not sure what the statute of limitation is on joke-theft claims, but any joke that takes this long to explain probably isn’t worth stealing.  (It also seems kind of obvious, at least in retrospect.) A judge has ruled that the case will go before a jury, which will decide whether O’Brien infringed the individual’s copyright on that joke and two others.

Sports court is in recess.

Injury Was Inevitable for Noah Syndergaard (via New York)

Baseball is incentivizing an activity that is tearing its young pitchers’ arms apart. Believe it or not, this is almost by design.

About 15 years ago, NFL general managers started to realize that running backs, long one of the celebrity skill positions in the sport, were both injury-prone and replaceable; rather than building an offense around a franchise back, they ran their players into the ground and then discarded them. We haven’t yet seen a cultural shift in the status of starting pitchers in baseball, but one might be just around the corner. Because here’s another factoid to keep in mind about those 12 pitchers who throw harder than anyone else in the documented history of the sport: Most of them haven’t made it to a payday in free agency.

Oh, sure, they made a few years’ salary, often at the Major League Baseball minimum, now $535,000 — obviously not too shabby. But in the context of baseball economics it is mere pennies. The best-paid player in baseball, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, earns $35.6 million a year, and some believe Bryce Harper, when he becomes a free agent in 2018, could sign a multi-year contract worth $400 million.

In the world of baseball, as in most sports, young talent is always more valuable to the team than old. This is not just because young players’ skills and athleticism haven’t atrophied yet; it’s because they’re cheap. A player doesn’t reach true free agency until he has spent six years in the majors, and earns only the league minimum until his third season, when he reaches “arbitration,” a process of generating small, graduated raises that is infamously management-friendly. A team — and this is key — also has total control over a player for the first six seasons of his career; if you draft a guy or sign him from another country, you own the rights to his services for his first six full seasons. After that, he can, for the first time, at last test the free market for his skills. Which means that any team — but especially those that can’t afford to compete for big-ticket free agents — has an incentive to get whatever value out of its young players it can in those first six years. No matter the long-term consequences.

The result is a system where ball clubs are encouraged — are essentially commanded — to squeeze every last bit of life out of their young pitchers, until their arms are ruined … conveniently, right around the time they’re due to hit the open market. … Read More

(via New York)

Sports Law Roundup – 5/12/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NFL draft suit: A man has sued two members of the Tennessee Titans, Tajae Sharpe and Sebastian Tretola, claiming that the players beat him “unconscious” after he argued with the players at Tin Roof, a Nashville bar, about a potential reduction in playing time for Sharpe in light of the Titans’ decision to draft Corey Davis, who plays the same position as Sharpe. The man is seeking at least $500,000 in his civil lawsuit, the filing of which supports my theory that nothing good happens at Tin Roof after midnight.
  • Arena football head injuries: This spring, a former Arena Football League player sued the league, claiming he had “direct evidence” of the league’s intentional refusal to pay expenses related to his concussion-related injuries. He also asserted that evidence of his specific targeting by the league for injury existed. The AFL sought summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff was required to pursue his claims under the applicable state workers’ compensation statute, and the player countered that the evidence of intentional misconduct placed his claims outside the workers’ compensation regime. Yesterday, the court granted the AFL’s motion and dismissed the case against the league. Judge Eldon Fallon, one of the country’s most prominent trial judges, determined that, in order to avoid the workers’ compensation statute, the former player needed to demonstrate that playing football was “substantially certain” to cause a concussion and could not do so: “Though this court acknowledges that it is not uncommon for football players to experience brain injury, such injury is not ‘inevitable’ as is required to meet the exception to the” statute. Judge Fallon also rejected as unsubstantiated the plaintiff’s claim that the AFL intentionally refused to pay medical expenses.

Sports court is in recess.

Glad Jam

What can we be other than glad that a being of the sort of Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., has graced the Earth-stage? Hampton was a wise, even shamanistic mentor in the form of an eccentric and sometimes scary trickster who touched, prodded, pushed, and fostered the careers of so many great musicians. (Click that link for some brief, compelling testimonials from familiar folks.) Elsewhere, I’ve described him as the underground patron saint of modern Southern rock ‘n’ roll, but his influence was broader than that. He died this month on the night of his 70th birthday concert, collapsing onstage at the end of the performance at Atlanta’s Fox Theater in what his friends and collaborators initially thought was nothing more than his latest stunt. (Later that night, one said, “We’ve all seen him do this kind of thing so many times—some of us were going to get down on the stage, too.”)

Writing about Hampton– I tried once before today– isn’t the easiest: he said that one would-be biographer “‘tried to write a book about me, but it was insane—filled with space ships and spies and things that made no sense,’ Hampton said, adding later that this was his 165th trip to the Planet Earth, ‘the only planet in the solar system with aluminum.’” Best just to listen, probably. Snuggled between the various, varied, and engaging interview clips, movie clips (both from the one about him and his appearance in Sling Blade), baseball clips, and concert clips, is this this happy one:

I heard Hampton perform just once, on a magical musical night last summer with some of his most vocal prophets, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and, although I had to turn down tickets to what would be his final concert, where he passed on to a preferable dimension, I consider myself fortunate enough to have heard him outside on that summer night, and, so many more times, to have heard his influence conveyed through his pupils, subjects, and sonic neighbors. For all of that I am glad indeed.

Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2

anibal sanchez bench

In the history of Major League Baseball, there’s only been one player with the first name Anibal. Anibal Alejandro Sanchez broke into the majors in 2006 with the Florida Marlins. He, along with Omar Infante, came to Detroit in the middle of the 2012 season in a trade. In 2013, his first full season as a Tiger, Sanchez produced by far the best season of his career (6.1 bWAR, 6.0 fWAR, 5.1 WARP). It’s been all downhill since then, though, and his move to the bullpen in 2016 seemed inevitable if only because he remained signed to a starter-magnitude contract that made totally cutting bait a pill too difficult to swallow. Sanchez didn’t make the transition especially well, however, and things have not improved in 2017. It’s come time for the Tigers to release this former fish.

After an especially bad weekend in Oakland capped a rough start to this season for incumbent closer Francisco Rodriguez, I (along with everyone else in the world) wrote on Monday that manager Brad Ausmus needed to demote K-Rod immediately. Ausmus agreed and did so, promoting Justin Wilson to the closer role, although the first run with the new top-line bullpen arrangement showed Ausmus still has room for improvement there. Dynamic, leverage-oriented bullpen management is pretty difficult to accomplish, though, and Sanchez has become a much clearer and more present danger to the team’s success than any further usage optimization of the capable portion of the relief corps.

Sanchez, as a converted starter who used to be good, would seem to be the optimal long relief guy, but he has foundered in that role, and if it seems like he gives up a home run every time he comes into a game, well, you’re not far off.

Last night in Arizona, Sanchez made his first appearance in over a week and immediately surrendered back-to-back home runs to the first two batters he faced. Although the Tigers’ offense had evaporated in the desert heat that night, those two homers Sanchez allowed felt like the real mortal blow that destroyed any hope for a comeback.

This is who Sanchez is at this point. Among qualified relievers in 2017, only one pitcher is allowing home runs at a higher rate than him (none have allowed more, total, than him), and Sanchez has been used more than everybody in the “top” twenty on that list. This now is an untenable situation, and it probably has been for some time. Continue reading