Not as in “relief from the burden of Short Relief.” More like, “Short Relief (at last) has provided me with some relief.” I am not a longtime reader of Baseball Prospectus the way people who truly have been reading Baseball Prospectus for a really long time casually sprinkle into digitally transmitted discourse that they are longtime readers of Baseball Prospectus, but I have been reading the site and its books and listening to its podcasts (or one of its former ones, anyway) for a few years and been a subscriber for the balance of that time, and there is no question that the temperament of the site has changed over that period. Since I have been reading it, BP has had three editors in chief: Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and Aaron Gleeman, its current EIC. Miller, who now writes for ESPN, has a special ability to blend the analytical and the fanciful (perhaps “imaginative” is a better word here, though neither are correct), and, by outward appearances, was a judicious editor. Baseball writers everywhere usually write about baseball in serious tones, and Miller was a breath of fresh air in that regard, if a measured one. It’s good to have outlets for some less serious baseball writing too. There used to be a whole place for that, which was called NotGraphs, but it was terminated in late 2014. Thereafter, its postmortal spirit attempted to eke out a living in an even smaller corner of the web, but that campaign fizzled.
Although Miller never misses an opportunity to credit Lindbergh, his former boss and collaborator on two significant projects who now writes for The Ringer, as the best in the business, it’s clear to me that it’s Miller who’s left a large impression on the current version of BP. Whimsy, once reserved for sidebar Hitlist one-liners and a few player comments in the BP Annual (not unusually in the form of a Simpsons reference) everyone raced to find, photograph, and post on social media web platform Twitter.com, now abounds– or, at least, attempts to abound– at BP. This is most visible in the daily Short Relief feature, a sort of refugee camp for NotGraphs alums that typically contains three essays, or maybe poems, or maybe just a picture, that effort and imitate toward the odd and purposefully absurd.
I never read every article every day at BP, but I’ve never read less of BP than I do now (Russell Carleton and Rob Mains are musts), and I very rarely read Short Relief. I’m glad a major baseball site is trying to resurrect NotGraphs, but this take just doesn’t hit me right. It feels very unessential and often forced. A lot of that probably is due to the fact that it’s an everyday feature. It’s really hard to produce original funny, silly, odd, unusual, quirky, or whatever content on a daily deadline. It’s even harder when you’re limited to one subject area. (There’s also the part about the site’s budget crunch and probably a little friction with the idea that BP is contributing resources to Short Relief rather than its core mission, which seems noticeably understaffed at the moment.)
BUT. Today’s Short Relief I did read, and today’s Short Relief I did like. It contains two entries, both by former owners of NG bylines. The first, from David G. Temple, once the managing editor of TechGraphs, is a short story about baseball cards that really hit home for me, as anyone reading ALDLAND’s late-night tweets earlier this week might have guessed. The second, from Short Relief coordinator Patrick Dubuque, provides a short metacommentary on the Short Relief series itself that resonated in light of the above-transcribed feelings about the Short Relief series. I commend both to your screen and eyes.
Baseball is a sport that is susceptible to, and, indeed, has subjected itself to what most regard as extremely fine-grain analysis. For example, in just a few clicks, you can pull up the spin rate of the ball on any pitch thrown in any MLB game last night. Whether we’re examining something, like baseball, for which we have relatively precise analytical tools, or something our ability to probe is more limited, we necessarily operate with certain assumptions practically taken for granted. Gravity. Air. Taxes. The general inflation of the value of U.S. currency over time. The general improvement in human health over time. While we need to monitor these somewhat ambient, environmental facts and trends, it usually doesn’t make sense to address them with great frequency and detail. We all generally know that Al Kaline’s $35,000 rookie signing bonus probably was a lot of money in the 1950s even if it doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s standards, just like we generally know 6’2″, 215 lb. Babe Ruth probably was a lot bigger than his peers, even if he wouldn’t appear out of the physical ordinary today.
On this last point, of course, we’re aware that medical and nutritional advances have resulted in general improvements in human health. Humans today live longer and grow larger than they did in the past, and baseball players are no exception.
That growth hasn’t occurred at a steady rate, however, at least as far as the population of baseball-playing humans is concerned. Here’s a graph from Russell Carleton’s article yesterday at Baseball Prospectus showing the median (50th percentile), 70th percentile, and 90th percentile Body-Mass Index (BMI) of all players who appeared in the majors between 1900-2016:
As Carleton remarks:
We see that in the mid-90s, something (*cough*something*cough*) happened that caused an inflection point in MLB. After most of a century of the same body types, players started getting bigger. Mostly, they got heavier, although players today are also taller than they had been. The median player in MLB right now would be larger (in terms of BMI) than 90 percent of players who played in any year before the 1990s.
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.
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.
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
[I]n other sports, the fans have compromised perfection for the sake of pace, abandoned the same idealized sport that Dryden laments. Instead, the virtue is not in perfection but in performance under duress. As games have sped up, decision-making time decreases, mistakes get made. On an episode of Effectively Wild a while back, Russell A. Carleton came to the same conclusion: that the pressures of a pitch clock could result in less prepared pitching. This in itself isn’t a problem; pitching under pressure, managing one’s mental energies toward the next pitch, would just become another trait, another way that some pitchers would excel. But the actual, visible product would be diminished, no longer an ideal.
These compromises get made all the time. Playoff structure is a good example: leagues have generally expanded playoff spots to increase drama, at the cost of victory being less representative of overall dominance. Player safety often requires some level of restriction over play. The cynicist can predict these conflicts by the resulting effect on league income, in the present or future tense; the cynicist would often be correct.
But when it comes to pace there’s something deeper at play than just speeding up a game (and why reducing ad times, beyond the obvious reason, was never on the table[).] It’s not so much that baseball is slowing down than that we are all speeding up. There are those who enjoy baseball for this very anachronistic feeling—I am among them—but we as a demographic are getting older.
Manfred’s task will not be changing baseball’s pace, which he could do with the click of a gold-plated pen. It will be to manage it, to foresee the unforeseeable consequences that accompany every rule change and evolution in sport. … Read More
(via Baseball Prospectus)
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:
- NBA CBA: Like baseball, the NBA has a new collective-bargaining agreement. Full details are not yet public, but it appears there will be salary cap and luxury tax changes, as well as an increase– from thirteen to fourteen– in the number of guaranteed roster spots for each team. The league also has agreed to shorten the preseason and expand the calendar length of the regular season without increasing the number of regular season games. One aspect that will not change is the manner in which the players and owners divide basketball-related income. The players conceded roughly seven percent (approximately from 57% to 50%) during the last lockout in 2011.
- NFL concussion settlement: Earlier this year, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit brought by former players seeking compensation for ongoing problems related to head injuries suffered during their professional football careers by agreeing to provide a fund to compensate former players for the next sixty-five years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the settlement, but a small subset of the class members– approximately thirty of 22,000– were dissatisfied with the settlement, believing it was underinclusive because it did not provide relief for former players who develop CTE, the disease found in people who suffer from repeated brain trauma that, at this time, is not detectable while the player is alive. Seeking further review of the settlement, these plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Court declined to grant their petition, leaving in place the Third Circuit’s ruling. It is unclear whether these objecting plaintiffs have any further recourse, though they likely are watching the new lawsuit highlighted in this space last month that specifically addresses CTE.
- Student-athlete classification: As discussed here last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Now, those students plan to request en banc review, meaning that they will ask the full panel of Seventh Circuit judges to reconsider the decision. (Federal circuit courts typically hear cases in three-judge panels, even though more than three judges make up each of the federal circuit courts. Aside from an appeal to the Supreme Court, which may not even be accepted, the only way to reverse a circuit court ruling is to ask the full court to do so.) The plaintiffs contend that the amateur aspect of collegiate athletics the ruling noted is not pertinent to an FLSA analysis, and that the Seventh Circuit’s decision “conflicts with decisions in this and other circuits on employee status.”
- Raiders stadium: In an apparent attempt to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to support the building of a new football stadium in Oakland that– unlike the new basketball arena being built for the NBA’s Warriors that will relocate them from Oakland to San Francisco– would be funded, in significant part, with public money. The Board’s vote does not guarantee that the Raiders will stay in Oakland.
- Rams fans: St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles now have requested class-action status. The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of forms of relief, including reimbursement for tickets and concessions. A judge already has ruled that some of the plaintiffs who want the team to continue to honor the licenses by allowing the St. Louis fans to purchase season tickets at the team’s new home in L.A. are entitled to do so.
- NFL broadcasting: The plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit targeting NFL Sunday Ticket, the product of the exclusive agreement between the NFL and DirecTV for the television broadcasting of out-of-market NFL games, won an apparently significant victory when Fox and CBS agreed to produce documents evidencing their own Sunday-Ticket-related agreements with the league and DirecTV in connection with a judge’s discovery order. The NFL contends that the plaintiffs have failed to allege an antitrust violation because the NFL can decide how to broadcast its games, and the Sunday Ticket package represents an addition to viewers’ existing options (i.e., the one or two games available each Sunday afternoon on Fox and CBS, plus the national Thursday/Sunday night/Monday night broadcasts) rather than a restriction.
- Secondary ticket market: The President has signed the BOTS Act, a bill that expands the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the online secondary market for event tickets. The new law seeks to prohibit “ticket bots and other online tools that deliberately circumvent security protocols limiting or restricting online ticket purchases.” Here’s hoping this law will provide a more meaningful benefit to sports fans than the NFL’s practically meaningless agreement to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market.
- Formula One acquisition: Liberty Media, the company that owns the Atlanta Braves, will acquire auto-racing series Formula One for $4.4 billion. According to a reputable source, F1 cars are the fastest in the world among road-course racing cars.
- MLB CBA: I wrote about the new CBA in this space after the league and players union reached their agreement on November 30. Now we have more information about the particularities of the agreement, and this analysis provides a helpful overview. We also learned that the Tampa Bay Rays were the only team to vote against approving the agreement. In a public statement, the Rays’ general managing partner made reference to an “opportunity [that] was missed” to “address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs.”
Sports court is in recess.
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:
- College football defamation: On Thursday, former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO claiming that they defamed him by stating that he had knowledge of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities. In addition, Briles alleges that the officials sought to prevent him from securing another coaching position elsewhere. He also included a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, in total, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $1,000,000. Here is a picture of Briles’ longtime attorney, Ernest H. Cannon, riding a horse at a rodeo.
- Football player suspension challenges: In related stories covered in this space last week, two NFL players represented by the same Ohio law firm launched collateral attacks on the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement targeting alleged procedural deficiencies in the suspension-appeal process after both were suspended for drug violations. The NFL and NFLPA now have taken action in one of those cases by appointing a third arbitrator to hear a rescheduled appeal by Green Bay Packer Mike Pennel. The absence of a third arbitrator is central to the claims Pennel raised in the lawsuit he filed in Ohio federal court. In connection with that suit, Pennel also sought a temporary restraining order, which the responsive actions by the league and union were designed to moot. On Tuesday, Pennel agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for a reduction– from ten games to four– in his suspension, which will allow him to play in the postseason should his Packers secure a playoff berth. (Pennel’s attorneys also represent Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson, who filed similar complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor around the same time Pennel filed his lawsuit.)
- Student-athlete classification: The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss the defendants– the NCAA, Penn, and more than 120 other NCAA member schools– filed, and the appellate court affirmed. The court agreed that dismissal as to the non-Penn defendants was appropriate because of a lack of standing; the plaintiffs had attended only Penn and had no basis to recover wages from any school they didn’t attend. The court also agreed that dismissal was appropriate as to Penn, because the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for relief from Penn. Noting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” and the weight of judicial and regulatory precedent holding that student-athletes are not employees, the court concluded that the FLSA does not apply to student-athletes. While many disagree with this outcome, it is consistent with the original meaning and purpose behind the “student-athlete” designation. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Hamilton cautioned against broad application of the court’s decision, noting that the plaintiffs participated in a non-revenue sport– track and field– for a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, and suggested that he might have voted differently had the plaintiffs been student-athletes on athletic scholarship in a revenue sport.)
- Hockey head injuries: A group of former NHL players suing the league for its alleged failure to warn them of known risks of head trauma now have requested class certification in that case for two classes of former players based on the different measures of relief sought: damages for those already diagnosed with neurological injuries and medical monitoring for others. Attorneys from a number of large law firms, including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, are representing the NHL in this case. Skadden is the anchor tenant in a new commercial real estate development in Manhattan that also will be home to the NHL’s offices when it opens in 2019.
- Minor League Baseball lobbying: MiLB has created a political action committee in order to boost lobbying efforts. The impetus for this move likely is the class-action lawsuit minor-league players filed alleging that their compensation violates federal wage and hour laws and the leagues’ attempt to snuff out that suit by way of congressional action. The proposed Save America’s Pastime Act would create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections. There has been essentially no action on the bill since Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced it in June, leaving plenty of time for MLB to say dumb things about it.
- Soccer ban: The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s request to overturn his six-year ban from all national and international soccer-related activity and fine of 50,000 Swiss francs for his involvement with bribes and kickbacks during his leadership of FIFA.
- Canadian Super Bowl commercials: There is a thing in Congress called the House Northern Border Caucus, and four of its members, representing districts in North Dakota, New York, and Washington, sent a letter asking the Canadian government to reverse its decision to block Canadian advertisers from running commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. Canadian broadcasters used to have an agreement with the NFL that allowed Canadian commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the game, but, in 2015, Canadian regulators changed course in response to viewer demands to see the popular American commercials that run during the game. Canadian broadcasters and advertisers and the NFL, which is losing out on Canadian advertising revenue as a result, all oppose that change. The company that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, Bell Media, also has sued the regulatory body in an attempt to reverse the policy.
- Hockey logo: Things are off to a rough start for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Golden Knights’ registration application, citing a “confusing similar[ity]” to a mark registered by the College of Saint Rose. Arguable visual similarities aside, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Rose, much less a College of Saint Rose, and I certainly didn’t know the school’s mascot is the Golden Knights, and neither did you, which means that, however similar these marks might be, the likelihood of confusion here is very low. This likely is little more than another instance of the USPTO seeking a moment in the sports sun.
- Gambling: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a threat to the United States if the U.S. does not meet a year-end deadline to comply with a 2003 World Trade Organization order ruling that American online sports betting and gambling laws violate international law. If the U.S. does not comply with the WTO order, which also carries an annual noncompliance penalty of $21 million and has accrued to over $250 million, Antigua and Barbuda intends to suspend intellectual property protections for Americans, effectively permitting Antiguans to establish websites hosting royalty-free downloads of American IP (e.g., books, music, movies, television programming, etc.).
- Baseball ambassador: Bobby Valentine, former MLB player and manager of the Mets and Red Sox, reportedly is under consideration by president-elect Donald Trump for the position of ambassador to Japan. Valentine, who currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University, is popular among Japanese baseball fans thanks to two successful stints as manager of a professional baseball team there.
Sports court is in recess.
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.
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.)
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
Unfortunately, the 2016 MLB regular season ended yesterday, making today as good a day as any to evaluate the preseason predictions I made.
When I checked in on these at the halfway mark of the season, they were looking ok enough for me to rationalize all of them. Now, though, we have nothing more than cold, hard reality against which to measure these guesses. The results (excluding predicted individual award winners, whom have yet to be named): Continue reading