Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)

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The NFL landscape is littered with protests, protests of protests, protests of protests of protests, protests over the absence of protests, and coaches thinking everyone’s mistyping “pro sets.” The league needed a shot in the arm this week, and they got from a reliable source: referees, who continue to penalize players at historic* levels:

nfl penalty flag data 9-21-17

Players may be kneeling at the sight of the American flag, but it’s time we all stood up in recognition of that yellow flag, which, slowly but surely, is claiming its rightful place of honor in our country’s favorite television series.

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season.

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Previously
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)
Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

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Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp

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Last night, I provided my instant reaction to the trade that sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for three modest infield prospects. In that post, I considered what many are calling a “very light” return for the slugging outfielder in the context of another star-for-prospects trade made just days ago between the two Chicago teams involving starting pitcher Jose Quintana and suggested that a lesser return for Martinez was appropriate in light of his contract status (expiring), age, injury history, and inconsistent defense. I further suggested that, with multiple transactions still to be made over the next two weeks, it is too early for a referendum on Detroit’s general manager, Al Avila.

Avila is a first-year GM, but he worked alongside previous Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for many years and is an experienced and well-regarded talent evaluator, so the job isn’t exactly new to him. Yet, in some Tigers fan circles right now, Avila is being pilloried as an unqualified, incapable rookie, while Dombrowski has never been remembered more fondly.

As I wrote last night, even if this trade becomes a blemish on Avila’s resume (the more thorough analyses of the prospects involved in the trade out this morning paint a more detailed picture but don’t really contradict the experts’ immediate reactions), it’s much too soon to declare him unfit for his current position. In addition to the Quintana trade discussed last night, though, there is another trade we can look to as a rough comparison between Avila and Dombrowski: the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes trade.

With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approach, on July 31, 2015 Dombrowski traded Cespedes to the New York Mets for two pitching prospects: Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer. That trade, along with two previous ones that sent David Price to Toronto (for lefty pitching prospects Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt) and Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh (for JaCoby Jones), surprised some Tigers fans, who were not necessarily soothed when Dombrowski described what looked to some like a sudden selloff as a mere “rebooting.” Not insignificantly, these trades immediately cost Dombrowski his job.

In isolation, the Cespedes trade– from Detroit’s standpoint– looks fairly similar to yesterday’s Martinez trade. Both players were on expiring contracts and thus guaranteed only to be rentals for the receiving teams (and an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract actually made it less likely that the Mets would be able to sign him as a free agent, though Cespedes waived that provision and did remain in Queens). In the first half of 2015 (the split most readily available to me as a rough approximation of a snapshot at the trade deadline), Cespedes had a 121 wRC+ (45th among qualified hitters) and contributed 3.3 fWAR in 366 plate appearances. In the first half of 2017, Martinez posted a 156 wRC+ (would have been eighth among qualified hitters had he played enough to qualify) and contributed 1.4 fWAR in 215 plate appearances.

Cespedes memorably caught fire at the plate upon moving to New York, but he had been a lesser hitter than Martinez was over the same stretch– both in terms of a direct comparison and relative to his in-season peers– in 2017. Without a more detailed and complex analysis of the different trade markets in the different seasons, it’s difficult to say more about the two players’ relative value in this space.

The return for Cespedes– Cessa and Fulmer– was more lauded both at the time and now, in retrospect, than the return for Martinez. Fulmer immediately was highlighted as a significant prospect, and he turned in a full-season performance the following season that earned him rookie-of-the-year honors and some Cy Young votes, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. (Cessa never played for the Tigers, who shipped him to the Yankees that offseason as part of a package that returned Justin Wilson, the team’s current closer and valuable trade chip.)

We don’t have two years of hindsight from which to assess the future development of Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King, but, from my review of the assessments of these players by experienced prospect writers, it’s hard to see a Fulmer-caliber player among them. It remains too early to render significant judgments about Avila’s capabilities as a front-office leader, and Lugo, Alcantara, and King may have been the best available return for Martinez on the current market. To the extent Dombrowski’s 2015 Cespedes trade is an adequate comp for Avila’s 2017 Martinez trade, though, it’s not one that– in isolation– reflects especially well on Avila.   Continue reading

Saving Detroit: Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila

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Shortly before tonight’s game against the Royals in Kansas City, the Detroit Tigers traded right fielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for three infield prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King.

As he has in every season since he joined the Tigers and reconstructed his swing, Martinez has been among the best hitters in baseball in 2017. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he would be the fifth best hitter in baseball by wRC+ (162) to this point in the current season. He doesn’t yet have enough plate appearances to qualify, though, because he again missed time due to injury this year, and his defensive contributions continue to oscillate between positive and negative. He’s also a rental, with free agency and a significant payday headed his direction this offseason.

That last part is the reason the Tigers had to trade Martinez this month. In the combined absence of an ability to resign him on the open market and of a currently competitive team, they had to cash out whatever value they could now. Still, most Detroit fans are reacting to this trade with extreme disappointment, and national observers are calling the Tigers’ return for Martinez “very light.”

Yes, Martinez likely is going to crush left-handed pitching in the NL West and see his power numbers soar even higher in the thin desert air, but he’s still a rental with an inky injury report. Tigers fans understandably came to love Martinez, but their apparent hopes that his always inevitable trade would return a prospect haul the likes of which the White Sox just secured from their crosstown rival in exchange for Jose Quintana are not reasonable. Since 2014, Martinez has been worth 9.2 WARP and Quintana has been worth 12.7 WARP. (Simply for context, Miguel Cabrera contributed 14.5 WARP over that period.) The new Cubs pitcher also is over a year younger than Martinez and has team-friendly years remaining on his contract. It makes sense that trading Quintana would net the White Sox a package including one of the sport’s overall top prospects. Ten weeks of Martinez simply pales in comparison.

The Tigers’ trade has generated plenty of criticism of the team’s first-year general manager, Al Avila. I am not a prospect scout, but, from the perspective of the team’s fan base, I think much of this criticism is, at a minimum, premature. Avila has many years of experience as an assistant general manager under Dave Dombrowski and is well-regarded as a talent evaluator. He is entitled to the same benefit of the doubt fans accorded Dombrowski, whose transactions were regarded with assumed confidence and assessed together, rather than individually.

Still, it is difficult not to at least be a little bit disappointed right now, when the clear weight of the initial assessments of this trade do not cast Detroit’s position in a favorable light.

For Detroit, the 2006-2016 run is over and the proverbial window is closed. The next two weeks are of critical importance to this team’s future. Maybe they stumbled out of the gate with tonight’s trade, but there are more moves to be made. Keep an eye on Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and even Justin Verlander. Painful as it feels, this, for better and worse, is how a new age of Detroit baseball begins.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Michael Fulmer has righted the ship – 6/27
Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

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

Related
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?
Man vs. Machine

Sports Law Roundup – 1/6/2017

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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 first week of 2017:

  • Baseball stadium funding: The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeking the right to “explor[e] other stadium options,” have sued the Maricopa County Stadium District after the District refused to authorize funding for the $185 million needed for capital repairs and improvements to Chase Field, which opened in 1998, according to an assessment completed by the District.The team has expressed willingness to cover all of the District’s expenses, but the District apparently must give its permission to proceed and thus far has declined to do so.
  • Student-athlete classification: In a case we have been monitoring in this space (here and here), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied the request of a group of former Penn student-athletes for full-court (en banc) review of that court’s earlier rejection of their claim that they were employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The denial of the request for further review leaves in place the court’s decision handed down last month. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: A DFS website argued that daily fantasy sports actually are illegal gambling in an attempt to avoid a $1.1 million lawsuit based on an advertising and sponsorship contract with the Minnesota Wild. I wrote more about this case here earlier this week. Meanwhile, a Maryland law authorizing the lawful, regulated conduct of DFS contests in that state, which is regarded as less restrictive than similar measures in other states, went into effect on Monday; a Florida legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would declare DFS legal in that state; and FanDuel earned another win in a patent-infringement suit brought by two gambling technology companies in Nevada.
  • Preemptive free agency:  Nathaniel Grow has an interesting article on FanGraphs that illuminates a California employment law that could apply to allow even union employees like professional athletes to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts after seven years of employment. This poses a potentially tantalizing, if legally unproven, opportunity for someone like Mike Trout, a generational talent not yet in his prime who likely could fetch an even more historically large contract were he to hit the open market now, at age twenty-five, rather than after the 2020 season, which is when his current contract ends.

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray

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There are a few things we know with reasonable certainty about Robbie Ray. He was born on October 1, 1991 just south of Nashville in Brentwood, Tennessee. In 2010, the Washington Nationals drafted him in the twelfth round of the amateur draft. The Nationals traded him, along with two other players, to the Detroit Tigers in 2013 in exchange for Doug Fister. A year later, the Tigers traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade that netted the Tigers Shane Green and the New York Yankees Didi Gregorius. So far, Ray has seen major-league action as a starting pitcher with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. He showed promise in his first three appearances (two starts and an inning of relief), for Detroit. He showed less promise in his remaining six appearances– four starts and two relief innings– for that team. Things have ticked back up for Ray since his arrival in the desert, however.

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Most baseball fans likely have some familiarity with the player-valuation concept of wins above replacement player, usually labeled WAR. What many fans may not realize, however, is that there actually are three different versions of the WAR statistic. The goal of each version is the same: to determine a comprehensive valuation of an individual baseball player. Each takes slightly different paths to reach that comprehensive valuation, but they typically reach similar conclusions about a given player, such that it’s common to see or hear a player’s WAR cited without specific reference to the particular version utilized.

For example, the three versions– Baseball-Reference’s WAR (“rWAR”), FanGraphs’ WAR (“fWAR”), and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP (“WARP”)– all agree that Mike Trout had a great 2016. He finished the season with 10.6 rWAR, 9.4 fWAR, and 8.7 WARP, good for first, first, and second by each metric, respectively. For another example, they also agree about Trout’s former MVP nemesis, Miguel Cabrera: 4.9 rWAR, 4.9 fWAR, 3.9 WARP. (In my anecdotal experience, WARP tends to run a little lower than rWAR and fWAR for all players.)

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While the WAR varietals typically and generally concur, that isn’t always the case. Pitchers can be particularly susceptible to this variance, because the measurement of pitching performance is one of the areas in which the three metrics are most different. Continue reading

Final 2016 MLB prediction report

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Now that the individual awards are out, we can put a wrap on my preseason MLB predictions. I’ve already recapped the team-standing predictions and results here, and what follows is a look at how well I predicted the individual player awards announced this week:

American League

MVP: Mike Trout

Correct. Trout’s win was not the result of a unanimous vote, but it was a clear win. He was the favorite for the award at the beginning of the season, and, despite playing on a bad team (a factor that seems to matter to some), Trout is a generational player, and maybe more, who a not-small group of people believe should have won this award every year of his career. By the leading WAR metrics, this wasn’t even Trout’s best season (although it’s a close call by rWAR), but he was better than everybody else. Good call, BBWAA.

Cy Young: Chris Sale

Incorrect. Sale finished fourth, and Rick Porcello won the award. Let’s not talk any more about this one.

Rookie of the Year: A.J. Reed

Incorrect. This one was my biggest gamble of the entire predicting process. While the NL ROY choice was obvious even before the season started, the AL seemed to me to be wide open, so I chose a little-discussed player who seemed to be in a position to make a big impact for a good team that seemed ready to explode. Even last year, the Astros had a lineup stocked with young talent, and it appeared that they might be a bit ahead of schedule on their massive rebuilding plan. Preseason, their only real gap in the lineup looked like it was at first base, and Reed was a power-hitting first baseman waiting in the wings. Unfortunately for my prediction, which obviously is what matters most here, the Astros weren’t ahead of schedule, and Reed did not propel them to the postseason in a blaze of hitting glory. Instead, Houston’s pitching regressed, and Reed played just forty-five games of sub-replacement-level baseball. Next year could be a very different story, though, as Houston– which added Brian McCann and Josh Reddick yesterday– looks to be making a very strong push for 2017. Right on schedule.

The actual winner, Michael Fulmer, was a great choice. I wrote more about his win here.

National League

MVP: Paul Goldschmidt   Continue reading

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.

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

Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances

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By now, everyone knows The Narrative governing all things Detroit Tigers baseball: the team needs to Win Now because they have lots of money locked up in a few long-term player contracts, and, as those players age, the team’s Window Is Closing. And it’s true: the team has some expensive contracts on the books. Here’s a rough visual, created from the data available on Baseball-Reference:

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(Click here for an expanded view.) Besides noticing that I have not recently viewed Anibal Sanchez’s player page, you can see that a number of today’s already-very-familiar Detroit baseball faces are likely to remain as such for a number of additional seasons, and at significant cost to the team. This is known and obvious. That this aggregated fact has real and, on balance, probably adverse consequences for the team’s future– the ability to re-sign J.D. Martinez comes to mind– also is, if less precisely quantifiable, known and obvious.   Continue reading

2016 NHL All-Star Game recap

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The 2016 NHL All-Star weekend is in the books, and there were plenty of highlights from Nashville:

Continue reading