Tonight’s World Series watch party is cancelled

The Boston Red Sox had the nerve to win the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night before I was ready to be done watching baseball for the year. I didn’t necessarily want to keep watching these two teams play each other, since Boston seemed to hold a fairly convincing edge over L.A., but that pairing was the only option here at the end.

The primary purpose of this post is to record in this digital log book the above image of an advertisement for a watch party for game one of the 1907 World Series (excuse me, World’s Championship) between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. I like the idea that, long before teams were inviting fans into their otherwise-empty arenas to watch road championship games together, fans were gathering to watch an intern tack scribbled game updates on a “giant bulletin board” outside the newspaper office. There being no television at that time, and radio broadcasts of games still being more than a decade away, this proto-ESPN Gamecast offering was your best option if you didn’t want to wait until the next day to find out what happened. Thankfully, October 8, 1907, was a fairly warm and dry day in Detroit (high 68, low 41, no recorded precipitation), but one imagines this was no guarantee.

Speaking of a lack of guarantees, there was no guarantee that Steve Pearce even was going to play in the World Series, much less be named its most valuable player. He started the season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, joining the Red Sox by way of a June 28 trade. He wasn’t a regular starter for Boston, and the thirty-five-year-old likely would not even have had the opportunity for significant postseason playing time but for an injury to Mitch Moreland.

My in-progress model generally supports the decision to name Pearce the MVP. In the postseason, only Yasiel Puig did more to contribute to his team’s championship chances than Pearce, and those two clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. (A nod here to Josh Hader, whose amazing performance as the tip of Milwaukee manager Craig Counsel’s aggressive bullpen spear kept him at or near the top of the cWPA leaderboard even after the Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in the NLCS.)

And here begins the MLB offseason. This week, watch for Clayton Kershaw’s Wednesday deadline to decide whether to opt out of the last two years of his contract (in which the Dodgers would owe him roughly $35 million per year), as well as Saturday’s deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents, a crop of players that includes Pearce, as well as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Miller, Andrew McCutchen, Craig Kimbrel, Yasmani Grandal, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Allen, Jose Iglesias, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, and many others.

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Farewell, again, dear Prince

Nearly three years ago, Detroit Tigers fans said goodbye to Prince Fielder, whom the team traded in the 2013 offseason to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. At the time, many were glad to see him leave, though some, including this author, were not. All must agree, however, that when Fielder left Detroit, he became barely a shadow of his former Ironman self. In his two years as a Tiger, he didn’t miss a single game. Excluding his rookie year, in the eight years he spent in Milwaukee and Detroit, he missed a total of thirteen games, playing the full 162 in four of those eight seasons. That’s an impressive accomplishment for any player.

If one wanted to be cold about it, one might note that, 2014, Fielder’s first in Texas, was a year of insult and injury for Prince. Not only did his trade replacement, Kinsler, make the All-Star team on his way to completing the second-best season of his career, but Fielder underwent season-ending neck surgery in late May, appearing in just forty-two games for his new club. He seemed to bounce back in 2015, posting a .305/.378/.463 line in 158 games, but it has been trouble again for Fielder in 2016. Despite his team’s success, Prince arguably was the worst position player of the first half of the season, and things weren’t looking up in the second half. After playing in all but five of the Rangers’ games through July 18, Fielder again went on the disabled list and, after undergoing a second neck surgery, is expected to miss the remainder of this season.

It may not just be the rest of the season he misses, however, as shocking reports emerged this afternoon that Prince’s career may be over:

If true, then, as a number of people have pointed out, Prince will finish with a .283/.382/.506 line, .304 TAv, .377 wOBA, 133 wRC+, 26.8 fWAR / 23.8 bWAR / 30.3 WARP, and 319 home runs, the same number of home runs his father, Cecil, with whom he seems to have reconciled, hit in a career just one season longer than his son’s.

Although serious injuries seemed to dim his wattage following the trade to Texas, I always will remember Prince Fielder as a complete hitter who was one of the happiest baseball players I ever saw. His friendship with Miguel Cabrera was particularly endearing.  What follows are some of my favorite images and clips from Prince’s playing days:   Continue reading

One thing that is not among the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Brewers relieved General Manager Doug Melvin of his general managing duties. Today, Dave Cameron, writing for JABO, detailed “Three Failures That Doomed” Doug Melvin. (To save you a click: poor drafting, trading Zack Greinke for peanuts, and retaining a bunch of bad players.) One thing that is not one of the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin is the simple fact that he looks like Kurt Vonnegut If Kurt Vonnegut Had Been Born And Lived His Life In Wisconsin.

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(Here note for the sake of completeness that Dave Cameron also is not one of the Three Failures That Doomed Doug Melvin.)

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Previously
Phil Jackson is Ron Burgandy?
Visualizing NFL Politics (Mike Smith is John McCain?)

Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

Ryan Braun’s Kansas City Jam

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A week ago, Baseball Prospectus’ daily podcast celebrated its 500th episode by holding a “baseball draft” in which a few writers drafted their favorite things about baseball. Grant Brisbee’s first-round draft pick was “the other Ryan Braun,” a focal point of his interest in baseball players with the same name as each other. As it turns out, just before that Ryan Braun synthetically rose to prominence, a young-ish reliever named Ryan Braun pitched for the Kansas City Royals for two seasons.

On Monday, I started a free trial of satellite radio. I’m still deciding if I’ll stick with it, partly because I tend to think the stations can be too narrow in scope, but for now I really am enjoying their bluegrass station and the fact that I can listen to the Detroit Tigers Radio Network game broadcasts outside of the conventional listening area. One of the first songs I heard was by someone named Lou Reid, and I heard it again last night. (So much for the liberating medium of satellite radio!) We’re big Lou Reed fans here, so the conceit of this post birthed itself pretty quickly. Today’s Jam is the only video version of that Lou Reid song I could find, and if you’re wondering about the audio quality, yes, this is an amateur taping of a CD release party, which was held in the parking lot of a North Carolina Wal-Mart.

If I can, I’ll just add a quick happy birthday note to ALDLAND. It’s been a fun three years. Thanks for stopping by.

The Many (okay, two) faces of Ryan Braun

Yesterday, Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewer who won the 2011 NL MVP and 2007 NL Rookie of the Year awards, agreed to a sixty-five game suspension from Major League Baseball for his violation of MLB’s drug policy and released the following statement:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.

Braun failed a drug test back in October 2011, but he was successful in overturning a fifty-game suspension on appeal by identifying a procedural deficiency in the testing process. During the pendency of that appeal, Braun stated:

This is all B.S. I am completely innocent.

Following its resolution in his favor in February 2012, Braun held a press conference where he issued a long statement, excerpted here:


[T]this is without a doubt the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life, and it’s made it that much more challenging that I’ve had to deal with it publicly. But I truly view this challenge as an opportunity, just as I’ve viewed every other challenge in my life – as an opportunity. I’ve tried to respect this process, even though the confidentiality of the process was breached early on. I’ve tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life.

If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, “I did it.” By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point.

I’ve always stood up for what is right. Today is about everybody who’s been wrongly accused, and everybody who’s ever had to stand up for what is actually right. Today isn’t about me, it isn’t just about one player – it’s about all players. It’s about all current players, all future players and everybody who plays the game of baseball.

Ultimately, as I sit here today, the system worked because I am innocent, and I was able to prove my innocence. After today I look forward to returning my focus to the game of baseball, being able to get back with my teammates, allowing my life to return to some sense of normalcy and focusing on helping our team get back to the post-season.

Braun closed the brief question-and-answer period with this statement:

I guess the simple truth is I’m innocent. I’ve maintained my innocence from Day 1, and ultimately I was proven to be innocent.

Instant replay, wildcard expansion, and Bud Selig’s incentives

This month, Major League Baseball announced that it would be expanding its playoff field, starting with the upcoming season, by adding a second wild card team in each league. While Twitter-age baseball analysts roundly lamented the slow speed with which this announcement came, it looks like a lightning strike when compared to another still-waiting reform, instant replay, that has been “under advisement” for years.

I have written at length elsewhere about the importance of examining incentives to understand the real rationale behind a situation with apparently conflicting internal logic. Over at The Classical, Matthew Callan suggests that such an analysis will prove illuminating in the case of MLB reforms:

Bud Selig is arguably the most transformative figure in the history of Major League Baseball. Under his watch, we’ve seen more changes to the way the game is played and consumed than at any other time in the sport’s history.

Twenty years ago, adding a play-in game at the end of the regular season would have sent the game’s gatekeepers into fits of great weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the Bud Selig era, we hear nary a peep.

It’s telling that whenever he discusses the matter, Selig always makes sure to note how much the teams request it. “Clubs really want it,” he said back in January. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year.”

When Selig says “clubs,” he means the owners thereof, all of whom stand to benefit from a play-in game and the additional revenue attended thereto. Selig has never shed his owner’s mentality, and every change under his watch as commissioner . . . has been allowed for the primary purpose of lining owners’ pocketbooks.

This isn’t to fault Selig, necessarily—if he didn’t grow the game’s revenues, he’d be a bad commissioner. However, it does explain the one change he remains reluctant to make: instant replay. The new wild card will become a reality mere months after the subject was first broached; in contrast, four years after being instituted on a trial basis, instant replay remains limited exclusively to home run reviews. Which are, as any baseball fan knows, sacred unto actual magic.

That the man who has dramatically altered baseball in countless ways suddenly becomes a traditionalist whenever instant replay is mentioned is hard to explain through anything but his owner’s mentality. His other innovations have the immediate, tangible benefit of increased revenue, but instant replay has none. In fact, it would cost the league money to equip every stadium with extra cameras and review booths and training the umpires to use them.

The lesson? Don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for instant replay review of MLB’s decision to move the Expos to Washington, D.C. instead of contracting the Milwaukee Brewers.

C-3P-No: Chris Paul, David Stern, the fourth wall, and McCulloch v. Maryland

In a matter of hours last night, the following events occurred, in sequence, beginning around 8:00 Eastern:

  1. The Hornets, Rockets, and Lakers agree to a trade that would send Chris Paul (aka CP3) to Los Angeles, Lamar Odom, Louis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Goran Dragic to New Orleans, and Pau Gasol to Houston. Or something like that.
  2. The NBA and the re-formed players’ association finalize the new collective bargaining agreement, officially ending the lockout.
  3. David Stern, on behalf of the league, nullified the trade for “basketball reasons.”

In trying to understand what happened here, citing “basketball reasons” is pretty unhelpful. I suppose it’s preferable to “bocce ball reasons,” but still. Stern ostensibly was acting on behalf of small-market owners, including Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert, who objected to the deal. What he won’t tell you in this conversation, but everyone else knows, is that the league owns the Hornets. Keep reading…