Quick observations on the occasion of the latest Cole Hamels trade

When the Phillies traded Cole Hamels to the Rangers in 2015, it felt like a big deal. Texas was in the playoff hunt, and Hamels went 7-1 in twelve starts for them down the stretch. The return for Hamels (plus Jake Diekman) was voluminous in that it was comprised of six players. If you squint or are a dedicated Phillies or Rangers fan you might recognize a couple of those names.

Last night, the Rangers, decidedly not a contender just three years later, chose to ship Hamels up to the Cubs. The teams have not officially confirmed the deal, but reports indicate that the return includes minor-league pitcher Rollie Lacy, a second pitcher who is “not a prospect,” [UPDATE: Eddie Butler, a pitcher who’s split time between the majors and Triple-A for the past four or so seasons; cash considerations also provided] and a player to be named (even) later.

What are the Cubs getting in the oft-heralded Hamels? In short, a starting pitcher in decline. Hamels had an excellent run with Philadelphia, but he’s been something a little less than excellent since. His 2017 (4.20 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 5.47 DRA) was his worst MLB season to that point (0.2 WARP), and he’s been even worse in 2018 (4.72 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 6.26 DRA, -0.2 WARP).

As news of the Hamels trade was breaking last night, some people contended that things would be better for Hamels in Chicago because Wrigley Field’s friendly confines are friendlier to pitchers than the Rangers’ home in Globe Life Park. There’s not nothing to that idea: offense played up in Arlington more than anywhere else in 2018. Wrigley hasn’t exactly been a run suppressor, though, as it too favors hitters. Hamels may see some comparative venue-based benefit as he moves north, but it likely will be negligible over a couple months.  (One possible estimation of the magnitude of the difference is the difference between his FIP (5.20 on FanGraphs) and xFIP (4.18) in light of the slightly wider spread between Globe Life and Wrigley looking just at home runs, though Wrigley still is playing hitter-friendly in that regard.) And, of course, metrics like DRA and WARP (which, for pitchers, is based on DRA) already account for park factors.

Another thing I noticed last night as news of this transaction began to leak out was that Hamels is allowing a 23.2% line-drive rate, almost 4.5% over last season and a career high. That isn’t something that is park-specific, nor is it something for which Hamels really can share responsibility with his teammates. Hitters are squaring him up this year.

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WTF: Bad Company?

american-league

Today’s article at The Hardball Times sets in print what most baseball fans already have intuited: the American League’s Central Division stinks. The article doesn’t provide much insight or analysis, but, for those who chronicle such things, its thesis statement is worth recording:

As of June 25, FanGraphs’ projected standings show the Central teams will wind up, in total, losing 88 games more than they win, with only Cleveland, as the worst of the six division winners, over .500. Since Major League Baseball split itself six ways in 1994, no division has had a worse season by that measure.

Alas, it’s nothing new. Blame it on small markets, blame it on these teams’ inability to attract the very best free agents, blame it on unwise or tightfisted ownership; heck, blame it on Midwest weather. There’s a history of this. Thirteen times in the 24 years we’re looking at, the AL Central or its National League middle-of-the-continent cousin has been the worst division in baseball. This looks like 14.

There’s more to this story, as with any other, but how much more depends upon your tolerance for a detailed observation of mediocrity. For a short-term example, I could point out that those same FanGraphs projected standings see every team in the division except Detroit playing significantly better, though still not great, over the remainder of this season. Another way of looking at that is to say that, while no one predicted greatness out of this division in 2018, the group has performed below its modest expectations to this point.

A long-term example is that, despite its collective woes, the AL Central has done a decent job of representing itself in the sport’s highest stage. Since 1995, there have been twenty-three World Series matchups. In theory, that means that forty-six different teams could have reached the playoffs’ championship round. The distribution of World-Series contenders has not been nearly so even, however. Twenty-one different teams have accounted for all forty-six World-Series openings over that span:

distribution of world series participants by team 95-17

Here’s how things look if we break down the American League’s representatives by division:

distribution of world series participants by AL division 95-17

Despite this era of AL East (really, Yankees) preeminence, the Central has managed to hold its own by representing the American League in thirty-five-percent of the World Series during that time, with four of its five teams carrying the load. To some extent, this speaks to the randomness of MLB’s playoff results, but it also isn’t exactly the picture of a division perpetually in dumpster. If nothing else, regular championship runs are a balm for the the equally regular dark days checking the summer standings.

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While we’re here visualizing some data and thinking about some 2018 projections, have a look at Nicholas Castellanos. The good news for Nick is that, according to FanGraphs, he’s already produced more value for the Tigers this season than he did all of last season. The bad news is that his offensive contributions, which are the sole driver of that production value, are trending in the wrong direction. Entering yesterday’s game, his monthly splits for 2018 looked like this:

  • March/April: 122 wRC+
  • May: 163 wRC+
  • June: 89 wRC+

(Recall that, for wRC+, 100 is average.) After going 2-5 with a double and a home run yesterday afternoon, Castellanos is back above 100 (102 wRC+) for June, but that still is a substantial tumble from his hot start. A quick glance at his other splits suggest that same-side pitching and the shift have been bugaboos for Castellanos this season, and it looks like teams are using defensive shifts on Castellanos more than ever.

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Previously
WTF: Busted – 6/13
WTF: Bos to the Races – 5/22
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

Loyola-Chicago’s groundbreaking title overlooked today (via USA Today)

online-shake-3-13-13-4_3They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans.

They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans. … Read More

(via USA Today)

Sports Law Roundup – 12/22/2017

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Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Gymnast abuse: Earlier this month, a judge declared that a doctor with ties to USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area, who was facing multiple civil and criminal accusations of improper sexual conduct in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of young female athletes was “a danger to children” and sentenced him to sixty years in prison. Now, one of his most prominent victims, U.S. gold-medalists McKayla Maroney, has sued USA Gymnastics, which, she alleges, tried to stop her from publicly accusing the doctor of abuse. According to Maroney’s complaint, the situation arises out of a prior $1.25 million settlement agreement Maroney reached with USA Gymnastics that contained mutual non-disclosure provisions. Maroney’s current attorney says that while Maroney willingly agreed to that settlement, she did so at a time when she was suffering from emotional trauma and needed the money for “lifesaving psychological treatment and care.” USA Gymnastics says that the parties included the confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement at the insistence of Maroney’s then-attorney, Gloria Allred. Maroney’s complaint also names Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the doctor as defendants. The doctor still is awaiting sentencing on ten state-law counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • Baseball injury: Dustin Fowler, currently an outfielder for the Oakland A’s, filed a negligence action against the Chicago White Sox and Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates Guaranteed Rate Field, because of an injury he suffered when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he ran into an unpadded electrical box in the right-field foul territory of Guaranteed Rate Field during a game last summer. Fowler damaged his knee in the collision, causing his rookie season to end before his first plate appearance, and he ultimately required surgery. Fowler claims that the defendants should have done more to secure the box or protect players from running into it.
  • Sleeve suit: A tattoo artist, whose clients include LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Danny Green, is suing the makers of the NBA2K17 video game because, he says, the game’s graphics are so realistic and detailed they include replications of his work, over which he claims copyrights, and he alleges he is entitled to compensation for their use in the game. It’s unclear whether the artist (somewhat confusingly named James Hayden) has sought to protect these rights in other circumstances, such as game broadcasts or television commercials, featuring his clients. This isn’t the first lawsuit against the makers of the NBA2K series of games, however. A different owner of copyrights on NBA player tattoos sued over prior editions of the game and lost because it had not registered those copyrights with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It isn’t clear whether Hayden has registered his trademarks.
  • Super Bowl ticket shortage: A federal appeals court will allow a proposed class action to proceed against the NFL based on allegations that the league’s ticket lottery program for Super Bowl XLVIII, which was played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, only released a fraction of the available tickets to the public. The legal basis of the suit is a New Jersey consumer protection statute that requires the public sale of at least 95% of the tickets for events hosted in the state. The named plaintiff’s claim relies in significant part on an expert economic opinion that the plaintiff paid more for tickets he bought on the secondary market than he would have had the league not withheld more than five percent of the game tickets from the primary public market in violation of the New Jersey law. The federal court now has certified the question of whether the state law applies to the NFL’s actions to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
  • Hockey island: The State of New York’s economic development agency, Empire State Development, has selected a $1 billion bid by a joint venture directed in part by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to develop an entertainment complex that will be the new home of the New York Islanders. The move is significant in that the site, which is part of the Belmont Park racetrack property, is located on Long Island, the place the team called home for all but the last three years, when the franchise left Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (which, as a geological matter, is part of Long Island but whatever).
  • Music City soccer: On Wednesday, MLS announced that it would award an expansion franchise to Nashville, where the new team is expected to play in a new arena to be built at the city’s fairgrounds. The day before, a local judge had dismissed a lawsuit by opponents of the stadium’s construction because she concluded the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the project and determined that the stadium would not impair existing fairground activities, including the state fair.
  • RICO soccer: On Friday in a New York federal court, a jury convicted the former leaders of the Brazilian and Paraguayan soccer associations on racketeering conspiracy charges related to millions of dollars in bribes received in exchange for marketing rights. The jury is continuing to deliberate over similar charges against the former head of the Peruvian soccer association. The maximum sentence for each charge is twenty years in prison.
  • Thursdays are for the lawsuits: On Thursday, Barstool Sports served the NFL with a notice to cease and desist the marketing and sale of a line of apparel the website contends were “made with the intent to trade off of the goodwill associated with” a Barstool-owned trademark, “Saturdays are for the Boys.” (Interestingly, Barstool did not create “Saturdays are for the Boys,” though it did popularize, market, and register as a trademark the phrase one of its writers overheard at a bar.) The allegedly offending products are shirts the NFL is selling with the phrase “Sundays are for” followed by one of its team names or nicknames. The one shown in the cease-and-desist letter is the Dallas t-shirt, which reads “Sundays are for the Boys.” The NFL had pulled that shirt from its online store prior to the sending of the letter, but the others remain available.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 10/20/2017

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.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Penn State child abuse: A court has denied the request of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University assistant football coach who sexually abused children, for a new trial. Sandusky contends his conviction on those charges was wrongful due to the claimed inadequacy of his legal representation at trial and the prosecutor’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory information.
  • NFL hiring collusion: Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a labor grievance with the NFL alleging that the league’s member teams are colluding to keep him out of a job because of his leading role in player protests during the National Anthem. Kaepernick identifies President Donald Trump as a significant actor whose public statements condemning protesting players motivated the owners’ decision. Kaepernick faces an uphill legal climb, though, because circumstantial evidence– the observable fact that no team has hired him despite his track record and apparent needs at his position– is insufficient to prove collusion. Under the collective bargaining agreement, “no club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit” a team from negotiating or contracting with a free-agent player. To make his case, Kaepernick will need to demonstrate that the owners, together and not independently, made an affirmative decision not to employ him, or that the NFL itself directed or encouraged teams to take that position. Depending upon how this matter evolves, however, the stakes for the league and union could be high, as, under certain circumstances, proof of collusion could terminate the CBA.
  • Wrigleyville: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied a request for rehearing filed by owners of Wrigley Field-area owners of rooftop restaurants and bars who claimed the Chicago Cubs violated an agreement to prevent the obstruction of field views from the neighboring rooftop establishments when the team included a new, large, outfield video board in its updates to Wrigley Field. The court offered no explanation for its decision to reject the petition for a rehearing of its prior judgment that the agreement itself and MLB’s antitrust exemption barred the neighbors’ claims.
  • North Carolina academics: After spending more than six years investigating the University of North Carolina for academic fraud, the NCAA issued a final ruling subjecting the school to minimal sanctions that do not affect any of UNC’s athletic programs, a decision that, according to Mark Titus, “should come as no surprise.”

Sports court is in recess.

Recalling Mike Pelfrey’s contract on this, the day of John Jaso’s retirement

The Davy Jones of Major League Baseball, John Jaso, says he plans to retire from the sport and live on his sailboat. As the Deadspin writeup notes, Jaso earned roughly $16.6 million in his nine-year career, during which he spent time with the Pirates, Rays, Mariners, and A’s. Not bad for a catcher-turned-first-baseman/corner-outfielder who amassed 6.1 career WARP.

Of course, it’s also roughly the same amount of money– $16 million– the Detroit Tigers agreed to pay Mike Pelfrey for two seasons of work. Pelfrey now has twelve MLB seasons under his belt and -2.5 career WARP to show for it. His -2.2 WARP in 2016, the first year under his contract with the Tigers, represented the worst season of his career after his rookie year. (Pelfrey rebounded to -0.1 WARP this year for the White Sox, who picked up just $540,000 of the $8 million remaining on his contract when they signed him the first week of the season.)

These are the facts, and, viewed together, they don’t reflect particularly well– though certainly in varying degrees of not-well– on anyone involved with the possible exception of the White Sox, who paid essentially the league-minimum salary for 120 innings of slightly below-replacement level starting and relief pitching. Jaso’s probably holding off on his official retirement announcement until he has an opportunity to meet with Al Avila.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

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 – 6/23/2017

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.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Football trademark: As predicted (not by me) back in 2015, the Supreme Court heard and now has ruled on a trademark case involving a band called The Slants that has a direct effect on the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registrations were revoked under the same policy applied to The Slants. That policy sought to ban registration of trademarks that were disparaging or offensive, but a unanimous (8-0) Court held that the ban violated the First Amendment. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito explained.
  • NFL fan access: A Green Bay Packers fan has sued the Chicago Bears because the Bears won’t allow him on the sidelines before games at Soldier Field while he’s wearing Packers attire. The fan is a Bears season-ticket holder who built up enough “points” to receive an award in the form of a pregame warmup sideline experience. Despite his entitlement to that experience under the terms of the Bears season ticket program, the Bears refused to allow him to participate while wearing Packers clothing.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The inevitable merger between DraftKings and FanDuel announced last November has hit a probably inevitable regulatory hurdle. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the merger, which, the FTC says, would create a single company that controls ninety percent of the daily fantasy sports market. On Tuesday, a judge granted the FTC a temporary restraining order that halts the merger for now.
  • Golf drugs: The PGA has asked a judge to reconsider her May ruling that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Vijay Singh in connection with a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids golf performance. The PGA’s arguments in support of reconsideration involve evidentiary matters pertaining to witness testimony regarding the financial consequences of Singh’s suspension and the judge’s understanding of whether the PGA reviewed materials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited, and Singh argued that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.

Sports court is in recess.

Babe Ruth, Atlanta, and the Longest Home Run Ever Hit

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The Atlanta Braves debut at their new home, SunTrust Park, tomorrow night. Today, my latest article for The Hardball Times is a look back at baseball in Atlanta in 1928, when there was a ballpark out front of what’s now Ponce City Market, and Babe Ruth hit the longest home run ever.

The full article is available here.