Detroit Tigers 2021 Season Preview

The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.

The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.

With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.

The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?

Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.

The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.

While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.

For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.

2020 Campaign Promises: Did MLB pitchers fail to back up their bluster in Houston?

During this time of evaluating early returns on campaign promises (no, not those ones), retrospective data on the 2020 MLB season allows an assessment of whether opposing pitchers actually delivered on their commitments to punish Houston Astros batters for their revealed roles in an on-field cheating program perpetuated in prior seasons.

To be fair, I don’t think any pitchers actually promised, publicly, to plunk a Houston hitter, but the notion propagated readily and rapidly throughout the broader baseball discourse during the offseason. Video clips of Houston HBPs spread swiftly and to great general approval. Intentionality of individual encounters unknown and therefore aside, was this really happening, though?

The hit-by-pitch rate across all teams hit a historic high in 2020. Evidence of a spike in beaned batters in Houston? Not so. (A missed opportunity for a beaned, battered burrito? Absolutely.) Even though 2020 saw a record one hit hitter for every eighty-one plate appearances, pitchers only hit Houston batters once every ninety-seven plate appearances, well below average for this past season. In 2018 and 2019, pitchers hit Astros batters at almost exactly average rates relative to all other teams, indicating that what happened was the exact opposite of what many people expected to happen: Astros players were hit less frequently than they had been in past seasons and less frequently than most other teams’ players in 2020.

There’s no doubt that civic upheaval due to a global pandemic and policing tragedies contributed to dramatically differ the demeanor with which players and fans approached sports in the spring of this year. It would be little surprise if the zeal of those plotting revenge against the Astros diminished substantially as the season shortened and attentions diverted to more pressing matters.

Before those realities unavoidably presented themselves, though, the teams played relatively unencumbered spring training schedules. That would have been opposing pitchers’ first chances to leave their marks on this conversation, and perhaps their best ones, given the general insignificance of the outcomes of these games.

What do the spring numbers say? Across all games and teams, a batter was hit once every seventy-eight plate appearances, an even higher rate than the high water mark of the regular season. And this time, Houston was near the top, with a hit batsman once every sixty-five plate appearances. Of course, that only adds up to twelve total HBPs, but the relative rate supports the suggestion that opposing pitchers in fact took their best first chances to submit a statement on the record with signal clear and significant consequence low. Whether that would have satiated the opposition or exhibition attitudes would have sustained through the regular season absent the significant intervention of external circumstances is impossible to say.

_____________________________________________________

Related
Six Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the 2020 Season – Baseball Prospectus

The week in baseball: 5/29/20

From the Increasingly Nocturnal Department:

  • I haven’t found it productive to follow each new return-to-play proposal for the 2020 MLB season in any detail, but public comments this week, especially from players including Max Scherzer and Trevor Bauer, point to the very real possibility that the entire season will be lost due to the inability of the owners and players union to reach final agreement on compensation arrangements for the year in a timely fashion. Although the calendar has not yet turned to June, keep in mind that any start date will need to allow a few weeks of lead time for pitchers to stretch out, undoubtedly among other logistical considerations. The viability of opening the season on or around July 4 therefore depends on what the sides can accomplish over the next couple of days. Of all the things Rob Manfred has screwed up in his brief tenure as MLB commissioner, the complete absence of baseball in America should other professional sports leagues find a workable way to resume action would be one of the most memorable.
  • Meanwhile, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season effectively ended this week following the announcement that teams are expected to begin releasing large numbers of players shortly. Some big-league veterans, including  Shin-Soo Choo and David Price, have responded by personally paying all of the monthly stipends of all of the minor-league players in their respective teams’ farm systems.
  • The CPBL and KBO seasons are rolling on, though a recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in South Korea has delayed the expected return of fans to KBO stadiums. ESPN is continuing live telecasts of KBO games, often with replays on ESPN2 later in the afternoon.
  • The KBO appears to have earned itself a celebrity fan in Adam Eget, trusty sidekick of Norm Macdonald and manager of the world-famous Comedy Store, who said as much on a recent episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast. He and Rogan also discussed cults and Charles Manson, so listen at your own risk.
  • Japan’s professional baseball league, NPB, announced it will begin an abridged season on June 19. The prevalent view among those who follow foreign baseball leagues is that the NPB is the league that comes closest to MLB in terms of talent and competition levels.
  • Facing the prospect of the complete absence of MLB games this year, I’ve begun posting daily baseball landmarks that occurred on that day on ALDLAND’s twitter account. Some from the past week in baseball history, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:
    • 1904 – Dan McGann steals 5 bases in a game, a feat not matched until 1974 (Davey Lopes) or bested until 1991 (Otis Nixon, 6)
    • 1922 – Supreme Court rules baseball not subject to antitrust laws, interstate commerce regulations
    • 1925 – Ty Cobb becomes 1st major leaguer with 1,000 career extra-base hits
    • 1946 – 1st night game at Yankee Stadium
    • 1951 – Willie Mays gets his first hit, a home run off Warren Spahn
    • 1952 – Hank Aaron, then of the Indianapolis Clowns, signs with the Boston Braves
    • 1959 – Harvey Haddix pitches 12 perfect innings before an error in the 13th (“there has been never been anything like it” = more from Tim Kurkjian here)
    • 1968 – NL announces expansion to Montreal, San Diego
    • 1969 – Aaron becomes the 3rd major leaguer with 500 HR + 500 2B
    • 1976 – Pitcher Joe Niekro, batting against his brother, Phil, hit his only career home run
    • 1990 – Rickey Henderson breaks Cobb’s AL stolen-base record
    • 2004 – Mariano Rivera earns his 300th save
    • 2006 – Barry Bonds hits 715th home run
    • 2008 – Pedro Martinez, making a Single-A rehab start for the St. Lucie Mets, faces off against then-recent top pick David Price, then of the Vero Beach Devil Rays. (Price and the Rays win 2-0.) Price would make his major-league debut that September and his World-Series debut the following month.
    • 2010 – Roy Halladay pitches perfect game (ESPN is airing a program on Halladay’s career and too-short life tonight at 7:00 pm)
  • Whatever happens with baseball this year, Jersey City brewery Departed Soles wants to make sure we don’t forget what happened in the recent past, and therefore has released its newest beer, Trash Can Banger, a session IPA with a can styled after the Houston Astros’ classic 1970s uniforms. For now, the beer only is available in New Jersey.
  • Did the Astros cheat? They did. Did their cheating help? Running counter both to fan intuition and the public statements on the subject by professional pitchers, the latest look at that question, like some others before it, concludes that it didn’t make much of a difference. This analysis also set out to test Commissioner Manfred’s assertion that the Astros didn’t cheat in 2019 but was unable to reach a conclusion on that question.

WTF: Which Tigers may move in deadline deals?

The upcoming non-waiver trade deadline, July 31, doesn’t generate the same level of excitement in Detroit Tigers fans it did a few years ago, when the team was in contention and Dave Dombrowski had free reign over Mike Ilitch’s wallet. Now operating as (at least would-be) sellers in the current trade market, the Tigers don’t have any obvious candidates to ship out, which further limits the already diminished excitement that typically surrounds this time of the baseball year.

Some commentators think that’s a sentiment that’s spreading across the sport:

[T]he trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.

The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.

Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.
. . .
What this means is the game doesn’t need July 31st to spur action and decisions between buying and selling status. More and more, the contenders and sellers know their status earlier in the season and sometimes even before the season. Moreover, in a game loaded with rebuilding clubs, non-contenders are perhaps more incentivized to beat the market. There is incentive for activity to begin — if it is to begin — earlier. That makes for a less dramatic deadline.

It may be worth pausing here to ask why this is happening. I don’t think it’s better information that now is providing teams with knowledge of their relative positions earlier in the season. While the new analytical approach may lead teams that do trade at the deadline to act more conservatively and uniformly and avoid badly imbalanced trades, it doesn’t make sense that that would inform teams’ earlier knowledge of their contention positions. The cause should be something new, and I suspect that cause is intentional tanking. Teams used to “find themselves out of contention” by early July; now, they begin the year that way, purposely designed to fail. This is part of the method that helped the Cubs and Astros win championships, so it’s hard to be too upset about it right now. Like other copycat strategies, though, this one soon should begin generating diminishing returns, which is why I’m glad the Tigers have chosen a more traditional rebuilding model.

To the question at hand: which current Tigers might be trade targets this month?   Continue reading

Dispatch from the launch pad

After the Detroit Tigers delivered a lesson in sequencing last night, producing their first in-game lead and first win since trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton last week (indeed, since JV’s last start for Detroit), Verlander made his first major-league appearance in a non-Tigers uniform when he took the mound for the Astros in Seattle.

Many criticized Houston for declining to make any trades at the non-waiver trade deadline in July. Many more now are praising them for trading for Verlander and are hailing the Astros, once again, as the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. (Current playoff odds: 100% (BP); 100% (FG); >99% (538, which has them as favored to win each of their remaining games).)

The idea that Houston would be in the hunt this year is not a terribly surprising one. They were in the playoffs in 2015, missed the postseason in 2016 despite winning eighty-four games, and responded this year by opening up a massive lead in their division they’ve never relinquished.

Three years ago, though, when Sports Illustrated declared them the (eventual) winner of the 2017 Word Series, things were different. They won just seventy games that year, fifty-one the year before, and fifty-five in 2012, their first season under highly regarded General Manager Jeff Luhnow. That 2015 playoff berth was the team’s first since 2005, when they represented the National League in a losing World Series effort against the White Sox.

I remember the day I saw that SI cover, probably the magazine’s most memorable in some years. At that time, I didn’t think the prediction was outlandish, having been clued into the significance of the Luhnow hire two years prior and aware of the widely noted Chicago Cubs’ contemporary rebuild under Theo Epstein.

What I also didn’t think at that time, though, was that the Astros’ championship plan might include the acquisition of a veteran star from the team I follow. From Houston’s perspective, the trade makes perfect sense; somehow, though, I never considered I’d be watching them make their run with a player as familiar as Verlander.

verlander astros

I’m still scratching my head too.

With a 13.5-game lead in the AL West in September, Houston is an obvious lock for the playoffs, as those odds cited above indicate. Naturally, their odds to win the World Series also are strong (15.5% (BP); 21.5% (FG); 15% (538)): they’re the favorite according to FanGraphs, while BP and FiveThirtyEight place the Dodgers and Indians slightly higher. To my knowledge, none of these projection systems really account for the addition of Verlander, however (though, as some have pointed out, both the Astros and Verlander have struggled against Cleveland in recent meetings).

Whatever Verlander’s statistical impact on his new team’s championship chances, I know he’ll be a compelling watch in the postseason, even if it looks like he’s wearing a Halloween costume.

Saving Detroit: It’s over

In a deal that went down to the final moments of Thursday night’s waiver/postseason trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers have traded franchise starting pitcher Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros in exchange for three prospects. Early reports indicate that the Astros will be taking on a substantial portion– but not the entirety– of Verlander’s remaining contract.

Verlander has spent the entirety of his thirteen-year major-league career with the Tigers, who chose him with the second overall pick out of Old Dominion in the 2004 amateur draft. In 2006, Verlander’s first full season in the big leagues, he earned American League rookie of the year honors as the team advanced to the World Series just three years after losing 119 games in 2003. That season kicked off the latest golden era for this historic franchise (“the Verlander Era,” I think we now can safely call it), a run that realistically ended in 2016; practically ended with the death of former owner Mike Ilitch in February of this year; and officially ended tonight. Verlander was a six-time All Star with the Tigers, winning both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 (and he was robbed of the former award last year) and winning memorable postseason duels with the Yankees and A’s, among others.

Verlander has been the consistent face, leader, and spokesman of this Tigers team, and he was the author of many of its greatest hits. (Speaking of hits, Verlander earned his first major-league RBI last night in Colorado during what proved to be his final appearance in a Detroit uniform.) With respect to Miguel Cabrera, who came to Detroit in 2008 after winning a championship with the Florida Marlins, no player has been more closely associated with this team over the past decade-plus than Verlander.

That 2006 season also marked my return as a fan to baseball and the Tigers, so it’s as difficult as can be for me to envision Verlander playing for another team, even if he’ll still be in orange and, undoubtedly, dominating in the postseason. I will be watching, though, thankful for everything he did to help the team I for whatever reason care about and hopeful that he finds what he wants in Houston.

We now awake to a very new morning on Woodward Avenue and hope that the Tigers’ management and ownership pursue the rebuilding process with the same tenacity and persistent demand for excellence Verlander modeled for everyone in his days wearing the old English D.

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Previously
Upton There – 8/31
A bad time for a bad season – 8/29
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
 – 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
 – 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

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

Related

ALDLAND’s full Justin Verlander archive

Sports Law Roundup – 2/3/2017

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.

After a week off to attend a fancy law conference, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week or so:

  • Baylor sexual assault: The scope of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University continues to expand. Last week, a former Baylor student sued the university because, she alleged, she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored. The plaintiff also alleged 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.” She further claims that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. The complaint makes out claims under Title IX and common-law negligence theories. One significant hurdle for the plaintiff is that both types of claims are subject to two-year statutes of limitations. Since her alleged rape occurred in 2013, the university is likely to seek a dismissal on that basis.
  • College football defamation: In more Baylor football news, former head coach Art Briles now has dropped the defamation lawsuit he filed just two months ago against three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO for their statements that Briles was aware of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities, among other claims. As of this writing, no one has made an official comment on Briles’ behalf explaining the dismissal, but it appears to be connected to documents some of the same defendants in the Briles case filed in a new defamation case brought this week by former Baylor football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw. Those documents supposedly demonstrate Briles’ awareness of and attempts to cover up his players’ wrongdoing. If you’re the TMZ type, you can read more about the contents of the alleged Briles communications here.
  • Wrestling ban: Iran has announced that it will not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month. The ban comes as a form of retaliation for President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
  • Football head injuries: A state court judge in New York denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the son of deceased player Arthur DeCarlo Sr., who, his son alleges, died as a result of CTE he contracted from head injuries sustained while playing football. This is the only CTE case against the NFL that is outside of the federal multidistrict settlement based in a Pennsylvania federal court. Addressing a statute-of-limitations issue, the New York judge likened the case to asbestos claims by describing CTE as a latent condition, the manifestation of which is not discoverable until the completion of a posthumous autopsy. Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of former college football players filed suit against helmet manufacturer Riddell seeking class-action status and alleging that Riddell made false claims about its helmet’s ability to protect against concussions. This is the fifth active concussion-related lawsuit pending against Riddell.
  • Cheerleader wages: A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a complaint against the NFL and the twenty-six NFL teams that have cheerleaders, alleging that they conspired to suppress cheerleader wages (which are between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, according to the complaint) below market value. The unnamed plaintiff is seeking to represent a class of all NFL cheerleaders employed in the past four years.
  • Child abuse: 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. PSU’s former president, senior vice president, and athletic director were successful in quashing charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, but their trials on the remaining charge will go forward next month.
  • Student-athlete rights: The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued an official memorandum stating that football players at Division I FBS schools “are employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], with the rights and protections of that act.” The precise legal consequences of this memorandum are unclear, at least to this writer, but the practical consequences likely will include an increase in unionization attempts and unfair labor practice filings among student-athletes at the covered schools. The memorandum already has generated critical comments from some members of Congress who believe it would have “devastating consequences for students and academic institutions[,] puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and . . . has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”
  • Baseball hacking: As punishment for their hacking of the Houston Astros’ database, MLB fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and forced them to forfeit two 2017 draft picks (the fifty-sixth and seventy-fifth overall picks) to the Astros. In addition, the league banned the currently jailed St. Louis employee who hacked the Houston system multiple times from future MLB employment. Most commentators and team officials regard the sanction as a light one.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The European island nation of Malta has granted daily fantasy sports website DraftKings a license to operate in that country, and that license may allow the site to operate in other European jurisdictions that recognize the Maltese license as well.
  • Live game streaming: MSG has entered into an agreement with the NHL to broadcast the four New York and New Jersey hockey teams (Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils) on the network’s live streaming service, MSG GO, which is available for free to MSG subscribers. Meanwhile, another New-York-area network, SNY, will begin streaming Mets games on its own website and the NBC Sports app. (NBC previously reached a streaming agreement with MLB Advanced Media for in-market access to Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Athletics, and Giants games starting this year.)

Sports court is in recess.

Final 2016 MLB prediction report

giphy

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

Yes, the Cardinals hack was a federal crime (via The Volokh Conspiracy)

According to press reports, front-office personnel of the St. Louis Cardinals used a guessed password to gain access to a private database of player information held by the Houston Astros. Over at ESPN, legal analyst Lester Munson makes the startling claim that this may not be a crime . . . . This is just wrong. … Read More

(via The Volokh Conspiracy)