Can predict baseball? Guesses for the 2017 MLB season

FanGraphs released its staff (extremely broadly defined, as you’ll realize very soon) predictions for the 2017 MLB season, to which I contributed, today. This includes aggregated predictions for each division and wild card position, as well as MVP, Cy Young, and ROY winners. In a decision not my own, the post also breaks out each individual’s predictions arranged alphabetically by first name, making my guesses dangerously easy to spot (though very slightly less dangerously easy to spot than last year).

If you want to see what the baseball future could but likely will not be, click here, and then come back here and add your own predictions in a comment below.

Red Wings playoff-appearance streak ends after 25 years

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A 4-1 loss to Carolina last night mathematically eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from playoff contention, meaning that this spring will be the first since 1990 that the team has not played in a postseason game. There is everything and nothing to say about this fact, which signals the end, after twenty-five years, of what was the longest-active postseason-appearance streak in professional sports. Continue reading

Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

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Rob Manfred has served as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball for the past two years. A series of aggressive rule proposals, followed by few actual changes, has characterized his tenure thus far. His primary focus has been on increasing the pace of gameplay (or, alternatively, reducing the temporal length of games, although, as many recognize, those aren’t exactly the same thing). To this point, reforms in that regard have been advisory– asking batters to keep at least one foot in the batters’ box between pitches– or nearly invisible– limiting the time between half innings– even as threats of more substantial changes– a pitch clock, for example, which has been installed in lower leagues– loom.

Last month, Manfred finally stepped out with his first substantial rule change at the major-league level, and it wasn’t one– a pitch clock, starting a runner on second base in extra innings, or strike-zone modification– most expected (or, in the case of the former two, feared). Instead, he made an even deeper change to the game’s infrastructure by eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk, to be replaced with a simple signal from the dugout.

Baseball is not a game of summary proceedings, and there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Manfred’s rule change is the most significant change to the sport since 1879, when the rule requiring teams to play the bottom of the ninth inning even when the home team was leading after the top of the night was removed. That change was an obvious one; this one, less so.

Though the opportunities were rare, both offensive (e.g., Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton) and defensive (e.g., Dennis Martinez and John Hudek, both being caught by Tony Pena) players could take advantage of atypically executed intentional walks. Small things, sure, but undoubtedly exciting things.

The underlying goal of Manfred’s pace-of-play reforms, one assumes, is to make baseball more exciting, or, at least, make it seem more exciting. It’s possible that the rule change trades these small IBB-gone-wrong moments for bigger gains in excitement elsewhere, but that seems unlikely in this case, because elimination of the traditional intentional walk won’t do much either to speed up or shorten games. Cursory research by the Wall Street Journal indicates that this change will trim, on average, 14.3 seconds off each game.

In the weeks since the rule-change announcement, an increasing number of defenses– both quantitative and qualitative— of the IBB status quo have cropped up. Even for those whose aesthetic preferences align with Manfred’s expressed desire for a faster or shorter game, it’s tough to ignore the numbers that belie the minimal impact of this new rule in those regards.

What should be frustrating for everyone who likes baseball is that Manfred is aware of these countervailing realities and made the change anyway. From an interview published yesterday:

How about doing away with the four-pitch intentional walk?

RM: That’s a symbolic change. It’s not going to alter anyone’s perception of the pace of the game overall. But you know what? If you can change it and people say, “They’re being responsive to our [desires],” that’s a good thing, even if it’s a little good thing.

In essence, “The change won’t be effective, but people will be glad we made a change.”

It’s difficult to know whether fans should be insulted or merely disappointed with Manfred. It also is unclear who should be pleased by this rule change and subsequent explanation. What is clear is that Manfred will not shy away from making fundamental changes to the game in pursuit of a poorly defined goal. That means that we should expect that his past proposals, including a pitch clock and a ban on defensive shifts, absolutely are on the table going forward. As for changes that actually might help draw a younger audience to the sport, like removing local broadcast blackouts on streaming devices or decreasing the cost of attending games? Don’t hold your breath.

(HT: Alex Hume)

Sports Law Roundup – 3/24/2017

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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:

  • Penn State child abuse: The criminal trial of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier began this week. Earlier this year, a court ruled that three former PSU administrators would face criminal charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. Last week, two of the three defendants– former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley– pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, leaving Spanier as the sole defendant, facing charges of child endangerment and conspiracy. Spanier has maintained his innocence ever since 2012, when he was charged, but prosecutors presented testimony from Schultz and Curley they hope will undermine that position. The prosecution concluded its case on Wednesday, and, after the defense rested on Thursday morning without calling any witnesses, the case went to the jury that afternoon. The jury deliberated for nearly seven hours yesterday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Those deliberations remain ongoing as of the publication time of this post.
  • Minor League Baseball wages: Earlier this month, a California trial judge handed a significant victory to minor-league baseball players suing MLB for higher wages and overtime pay when he granted their request for class certification. The defendants (which also include the Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, and San Francisco Giants) now have requested permission to immediately appeal that ruling. Because trial judges’ decisions on class certification usually, as a practical matter, are outcome-determinative, parties opposing those rulings have a large incentive to appeal them right away. Recent statistical research suggests that there is a relatively good chance the court will allow an immediate appeal of the sort the defendants in this case have requested.

Sports court is in recess.

2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

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MLB opening day is almost here, and the Detroit Tigers are going to play some baseball. For the third consecutive season, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site. Shifting away from the more formal structure we’ve used in the past, this year’s preview is a by-the-numbers countdown to opening day. The 2017 season promises to be one of the most wide-open seasons for Detroit in recent memory. This preview is as good a way as I’ve found to get yourself geared up to enjoy it, and I guarantee it’s the only one to incorporate never-before-published original photography by this author of the final game of the Tigers’ 2016 season.

The full post is available here.

All Wings Must Pass: As an era comes to an end in Detroit, there’s stories to share (via Sports Illustrated)

Want a beer?

Go ahead. Al just fired up the grill. O.K., technically it’s a reconfigured old nacho stand, not a grill. And officially Al Sobotka is the building operations manager, not a cook. But nobody here cares about that stuff. Al fills it with charcoal and holds a cookout in the arena a few times a year. Yes, cookouts inside an NHL arena. But the Joe is not just any arena, you see. It’s a … well … the right word is probably …

Dump? 

Hey, now. Be nice. Sure, it is kind of a dump. The concourses are too narrow. The restrooms are too few and therefore too crowded. The whole place looks as if it was built after somebody cut the budget in half. Who builds a riverfront arena with no windows? But it has the best sight lines in the NHL and all sorts of accidental character. You’ll be amazed at how many people will miss this place when it closes this spring. Grandmothers will get misty. Grown men will cry into their beer.

Speaking of beer….

Oh, right. Grab one from the stack, right there by the Zamboni. The delivery trucks leave it there because there is no place else to put it. There is only one loading dock, and it’s not sealed off like in those new sporting palaces. That’s why, whether you show up for a morning skate or an evening playoff game, the first thing that hits you is the unmistakable stench of beer. It never goes away. Joe Louis Arena always smells as if it hosted a party that lasted way longer than anybody had expected … which, in a way, it has.

The Detroit Red Wings have made the NHL playoffs every season since 1990–91. The streak, the third longest in pro sports history, has survived four league work stoppages, five presidential administrations, radical NHL rules changes, the influx of European talent and the advent of a salary cap. When it started, Gary Bettman worked for the NBA, where people were wondering if -Michael Jordan would ever win a champion-ship. Peyton Manning was a high school freshman. You could walk into Sears and buy a black-and-white TV, then watch news reports about the Soviet Union, which still existed.

This tastes like chicken sausage.

Well, that’s because it is chicken sausage. Al stopped grilling Italian sausages when NHL players got nutrition-savvy. Anyway, dig in. We’ve got stories to share. … Read More

(via Sports Illustrated)

Sports Law Roundup – 3/17/2017

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:

  • Baseball human trafficking: The federal criminal trial that began last month in Miami in a case in which an agent and trainer were indicted for their alleged roles in a smuggling network designed to move baseball prospects from Cuba into the MLB system, has concluded with a jury verdict finding the agent and trainer guilty of charges including alien smuggling and conspiracy. The agent, Bartolo Hernandez, faces between three and fifteen years in prison, while the trainer, Julio Estrada, faces between five and thirty-five years. The government also is seeking $15.75 million prosecutors say the defendants earned through their illegal acts. Sentencing is set for July 11. Defense counsel has indicated an intent to appeal.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this year, a court ruled that three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. Earlier this month, the judge overseeing the case denied the defendants’ request for an immediate appeal of the ruling that they, in fact, must face trial later this month. Now, two of the three defendants– former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley– have pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, a misdemeanor for which the maximum sentence in Pennsylvania is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The third defendant, former PSU president Graham Spanier, maintains his innocence. Reports indicate that the Schultz and Curley pleas were entered in connection with a deal with prosecutors, but the judge reportedly “emphasized . . . that he was not bound to honor any [plea] agreement.” Jury selection for the trial remains scheduled to begin on Monday.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 3/10/2017

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:

  • NCAA transfer rules: A federal trial judge has dismissed a claim by a former Northern Illinois punter, who alleged that the NCAA rule forcing transferring students to sit out of their sport for their first year at their new school violates antitrust laws. That judge rejected an identical claim by a former Weber State football player last fall. Meanwhile, a similar suit filed by a former Northwestern basketball player remains pending in a different court.
  • Minor League Baseball wages: In a significant victory for minor-league baseball players who are suing MLB for higher wages and overtime pay, a judge has granted the plaintiffs’ request for class certification, though on a narrower scope than initially requested. Part of the revision in the class definition included a removal of the players’ claims for compensation for offseason training. The certified class covers all players who played in California League, instructional league, or spring training (included extended spring training) games since February 7, 2011, and who had not previously signed a Major-League contract. In addition to fighting these claims in court, MLB has been pursuing a legislative fix. Late last year, MiLB (MLB’s minor-league component) formed a political action committee that appeared targeted at defeating the players’ lawsuit by supporting the Save America’s Pastime Act, a bill designed to create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections.
  • Arena football labor arbitration: The Arena Football League Players Union has sued the AFL because, the union alleges, the league is improperly holding up a player-grievance dispute. By failing to make a required payment to a labor arbitrator, the union claims, the AFL is preventing the arbitrator from releasing his decision and resolving the grievance. The AFLPU complaint also states that the league has not paid other grievance awards and declined to provide financial information explaining why it has been refusing to make payments owed. Meanwhile, the AFL is embroiled in a separate lawsuit in which a former player has alleged that he has “direct evidence” of the league’s intentional refusal to pay expenses related to the former player’s concussion-related injuries. The former player also has asserted that evidence of his specific targeting by the league for injury exists. The AFL is seeking summary judgment in that case, arguing that the former player must pursue his claims under the applicable state workers’ compensation statute, but the player contends that the evidence of intentional misconduct places his claims outside the workers’ compensation regime.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 3/3/2017

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:

  • Football head injuries: Two former Purdue football players have sued the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, seeking class-action treatment for their claims that those defendants failed to disclose information about head-trauma risks and provide the university with concussion-management policies. Both named plaintiffs allege that they currently suffer from depression, memory loss, and headaches as a result of concussions experienced while playing football in college.
  • Professional athlete Ponzi scheme: Last year, a banker pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with a Ponzi scheme she ran with former NFL player Will Allen designed to defraud investors with a plan to make loans to professional athletes seeking offseason financing when they weren’t receiving payments from their team salaries. On Wednesday, a court sentenced the banker and Allen each to six years in prison for their roles in the criminal scheme.
  • Baseball DUI: A South Korean court has sentenced Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang to eight months in prison after the player admitted guilt on a DUI charge. The prison sentence is Kang’s first, despite two prior DUI arrests in his native country. It’s possible Kang serves no prison time, though, because the court conditionally suspended the sentence for two years, and he’ll avoid a lockup if he complies with the court’s terms.
  • Rams fans: Last year, St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles requested class-action status for their case. Having consolidated various of these cases, the judge now has ordered the parties to mediation.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this year, a court ruled that three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. Last month, the three defendants asked for an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, which remains scheduled for next month. Now, the court has denied those appeal petitions, clearing the way for the trial to begin as scheduled on March 20. (Last week, the judge granted the prosecutor’s request to add a conspiracy charge to the list of criminal counts pending against the defendants.)

Sports court is in recess.

Sphaera Veritas: An investigation

If there are two constants in this world they are that 1) Bill Simmons’ The Ringer website, roughly a year after its launch, is a remarkably unessential destination on the sports web and 2) ball don’t lie. Now, however, there’s reason to question both of those constants.

In just the sort of article that site ought to be running, The Ringer today puts to the test Rasheed Wallace’s presumptive– and heretofore unquestioned– universal edict that ball, in fact, don’t lie, and asks some hard questions.