Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

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The Phillies have given up, finally

Back in February, before the 2015 MLB season started, I wrote that the projected-to-be-terrible Philadelphia Phillies should just give up and put themselves out to pasture. They did not immediately heed my advice. Nearly four months later, the team found itself with a 22-44 record, the worst in all of baseball. Cue the terminal sequence: Continue reading

When do baseball teams score runs?

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One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

The Lions could have the best rush defense in the NFL…

…ever.

The award for the fewest rushing yards allowed by a team in a regular season goes to the 2000 Ravens* anchored by linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens allowed a paltry 970 yards on the ground to pick up an impressive 12-4 regular season record. Oh, and this same defense went on to win Super Bowl XXXV as well.

The Lions are nearly on track to break this record.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Through 13 games, the Lions have allowed 817 yards on the ground. The three remaining regular season games are against repeat foes; in fact, they are against all of the other teams in the NFC North.

The last time the Lions played the Vikings, Bears, and Packers, Detroit’s defense gave up a meager 69, 13, and 76 yards respectively. If we can expect a repeat performance then the Lions are set for 975 allowed rushing yards on the season – just five more than the NFL-best 2000 Ravens.

Of course, teams change throughout the season. Let’s look at some trends. The Lions do better at home than away: about 25% better than average when home and 25% worse than average when away. This isn’t too surprising. We can also look at how the Lions defense has done lately. In the last three games (Patriots, Bears, Bucs) the Lions have done better than their average, even when accounting for the fact that two of those games were in Detroit. On the other hand, all three of the latest teams rank in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing production this year, coming in 21st, 26th, and 31st, respectively, so perhaps a slight boost in recent statistics shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

On the other side, Minnesota has been doing worse than average rushing the ball lately (7% off their season average in their last three games), Chicago has been doing much worse (in part due to the Lions of course) (47% off their season average in their last three games), and the Packers have been up lately (35% over their season average in their last three games).

Could the Lions do it? Maybe. It looks like they will be about right on track. I would probably estimate a little bit more than 970 yards allowed on the ground.

And who knows, maybe Rodgers takes a knee on the last play of the Lions regular season (hopefully because the Lions are already up by 28) and that takes Detroit to 969 rushing yards allowed.

*Other teams have allowed fewer rushing yards in a season, but since the move to a standard 14 game season in 1961, no team has done better per game than the 2000 Ravens.

ALDLAND Podcast

There hasn’t been much going on in sports lately but that does not mean that ALDLAND doesn’t have things to talk about. We talk peeing on graves, we talk invading countries to take their sports stars, as well as more normal sports topics like soccer and baseball. It’s all here in the ALDLAND podcast.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Ray Rice’s suspension in context

In news today that was mostly (but not totally) condemned as tone-deaf and inappropriate, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games, but no preseason games, practices, or training camp activities, and docked his pay for a third game, for beating his then-fiancee, Janay, until she was unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino this February. That the NFL has a serious domestic abuse problem became frighteningly clear at Rice’s post-beating press conference (which I unfortunately had to highlight here). Today’s mild sanction did nothing to change that nauseating narrative.

Deadspin put together a list of “other notable NFL suspensions,” which offers some context for Rice’s two-game sanction. If you want to read the list, with all of the details and circumstances, it’s available here. I’ve attempted to distill the list to the basics below.    Continue reading

A Narrative That Doesn’t Feel Good (via Sports On Earth)

ray_rice_v0hi4q40_wk2hhulmWhy would she marry him?

It’s the natural question that arises after watching the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of Jenay Rice from the elevator where he knocked her out. Then his fiancée — the video was taken in mid-February before their wedding later that month — on Friday she stood by him as his wife for a stomach-flipping press conference. The disgust starts with the monstrous obliviousness of Ray Rice’s stating, “Failure is not getting knocked down, but not getting up,” and ends with Jenay Rice sharing the blame for his unconscionable crime. That so many wonder how this situation could end with Rice easily avoiding jail time and marrying the woman he battered betrays the willful ignorance of a society that enables him.

Violence is how abusers keep their victims from escaping. Wondering why Jenay Rice would stay requires a focused ignorance of a world in which roughly one third of murders against women are committed by an intimate partner. In this world, the threat of death, expressed or implied, can keep anyone captive.

Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL have seemingly normalized domestic violence as a learning experience for the abuser. Apparently, the crime isn’t the crime itself, but failing to offer a mawkish homily on how the crime made you a better person. The future of domestic violence in sports is here now. … Read More

(via Sports On Earth)

San Jose wants to overturn baseball’s antitrust exemption (via Volokh Conspiracy)

federalleagueBetween 1913 and 1915, there was a third baseball league, the Federal League, competing with the two established organized leagues we already know, the National League and the American League. Players’ salaries skyrocketed, and the NL and AL ended up breaking up the FL by buying up some clubs and inducing others to leave the League. The sole remaining FL team, from Baltimore, sued the organized leagues and the National Commission, arguing that their action in breaking up the FL violated antitrust law.

In Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v.  National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1922), the Supreme Court said it didn’t violate antitrust law. Justice Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, said this didn’t fall within antitrust law because it wasn’t interstate commerce (and the presence of interstate commerce is expressly made necessary by the text of the Sherman Antitrust Act). Of course, this is contrary to many decades of later jurisprudence: there’s no way the Supreme Court would have decided this way if the case came up today.

But the Supreme Court reaffirmed its 1922 decision in a short 7-2 per curiam in Toolson v. New York Yankees (1953), saying if baseball’s exemption was wrong, Congress should fix it.

In Flood v. Kuhn (1972), the Supreme Court reaffirmed Federal Baseball again.

Now San Jose wants to challenge the antitrust exemption again. San Jose claims that Major League Baseball has undermined the Oakland As’ desire to move to San Jose. Of course San Jose lost in district court, but the case is being fast-tracked to the Ninth Circuit, which . . . could hear it by May. . . . Interestingly, one of the possible grounds that the Ninth Circuit could use would be to read the baseball exemption narrowly, as limited to labor issues like the reserve clause — which is how the previous cases arose — and not applicable to issues here like restraints on relocation of teams. … Read More

(via Volokh Conspiracy)

Upton Abbey: Episode 7 – Dessert Seized

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There will be extra baseball in Atlanta this year. The Braves clinched the NL East title over the weekend, ensuring themselves a postseason berth. With a few days left in the regular season, their potential playoff opponents include the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates(!), and Dodgers.

The good news: Jason Heyward is back in the lineup sooner than expected– thirty days after a New York Met fastball broke his jaw. In the last twenty-two games Heyward played before the injury, Atlanta was 18-4. They were 13-13 in the twenty-six games without him. Heyward may not be fully healed, but the team needs him back in the lineup, and bringing him back for these last few regular season games was the only way they could allow him to get back into playing mode before the playoffs begin.

Heyward_Braves_baseballThe odd news: As part of its remodeling effort, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began offering a live, online feature for Braves games called Gametracker. It’s similar to ESPN’s online Gamecast product. Gametracker is a nice way to keep track of Braves games, but it seems odd that, as of last week, it would think relief pitcher Luis Ayala plays for the Orioles. First, Gametracker only tracks Braves games. Second, while Ayala did appear in two games for Baltimore this season, he’s appeared in thirty-five for the Braves, the team he joined in April of this year.

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Finally, third baseman Chris Johnson has been having a nice year at the plate. Way nicer than anyone expected or really can explain, in fact. One concern entering the playoffs is that, with the offense sputtering and his awareness of his potentially fluky success and the increased importance of that success to the team’s success, Johnson will start to overthink his plate appearances and squelch his offensive proficiency.

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Previously
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper