It appears I hold an unpopular baseball opinion

pujols 2000 rbi

It isn’t just your imagination, Detroit Tigers fans. It doesn’t seem to matter whether either team is having a good year or a bad year: the Angels always destroy the Tigers. Since 2009, no American League team has a better winning percentage against the Tigers than the Angels.* Even by those dismal standards, Thursday’s game was a noteworthy one:

 

Albert Pujols’ home run on Thursday, a solo shot off Ryan Carpenter in the sixth inning, carried significance beyond that fun fact, of course, in that it represented both Pujols’ two-thousandth RBI and a reminder that you earn an RBI when you bat in yourself. Whatever you think of the import of RBIs, you have to admit it’s impressive that Pujols now is one of only five players ever, and three since 1920, to accumulate that many of them. It’s a testament, however circumstantial, to a long and successful career.

The home-run ball in question landed in the seats beyond left field and was nabbed by a twenty-something guy who had just arrived at the park for the day game with his friends and, I initially thought from the replay editing, immediately traded the ball for a Little Caesar’s Hot’n’Ready and a Two Hearted. An in-game interview on the telecast soon revealed that my initial thought was incorrect: he still had the ball and, in fact, planned to keep it. He has a relative who is a big fan of the Cardinals, Pujols’ prior team, and he was thinking about giving it to him. As news spread about the benchmark RBI, the story of the man who had the ball in question– and, more specifically, the fact that he had expressed an initial intention to retain that ball– got swept up along with it. Reports indicated that the man had turned down an offer to meet with Pujols, presumably for the purpose of exchanging the ball for other memorabilia. The Tigers’ public-relations team even instigated itself into the conversation in a strange and seemingly unsolicited fashion. The man subsequently reported that team officials treated him poorly. Two themes appeared to prevail in the public response: 1) the man should have taken the meeting with Pujols to exchange the ball for other items and 2) his refusal to do so would have financial consequences for him.   Continue reading

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NFL Draft Jam

Yesterday, the NFL held round one of its 2019 draft on Lower Broadway in Nashville, which, predictably, meant the night’s biggest news involved a bachelorette party and a Taylor Swift song premiere.

Realistically, though, when you look back on this night a few years from now, all you’re going to remember is whether the leadership of your favorite pro football team found its generational franchise player of the future or continued to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, only this time the Lions are unduly obsessed with tight ends instead of wide receivers. If you’re at the point where the thought of NFL roster construction makes you sick to your stomach, or maybe you’re seeing visions of Lombardi trophies, or maybe you’re somewhere in between and just thankful you were smart enough to plan your pre-wedding bar crawl for literally any time and place other than last night (a Thursday, I’ll just pause to note here) in Nashville and therefore did not appear on a now-viral piece of local news footage that may or may not send a tremble through the foundations of your anticipated marriage, this week’s Jam is for you:

And, if you just want T-Swift’s new video, I get that. Find it here.

2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

Image result for ron gardenhire motorcycle

At last, #OpeningDay is here, and the 2019 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fifth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site, which has overhauled in a neat and tidy way the manner in which it presents its team season previews.

First pitch is at 3:37 pm today in Toronto. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era

miguel cabrera 2003

I have been monitoring the effects of Baseball Prospectus’ recent modifications to its wins-above-replacement metric, WARP, on Miguel Cabrera’s career valuation numbers, and, on the whole, the results for Cabrera have been positive.

On Monday, former Baseball Prospectus editor in chief Ben Lindbergh discussed the ways in which WAR metrics always are in some state of flux as they incorporate newly available information and adapt to significant changes in game strategy and play:

In a sense, it’s unsettling that WAR is always in motion. Batting average may not be an accurate indicator of overall (or even offensive) value, but barring an overturned ruling by an official scorer or an unearthed error in archaic records, it always stays the same. Ted Williams will always have hit .406 in 1941, but his FanGraphs WAR for that season was 11.9 in 2011, and today it’s 11.0. That’s one reason why WAR values may never achieve the emotional resonance of evocative stats such as .406, 56, or 755, or even milestones like 3,000 hits or 500 homers.

WAR reminds us that objective truth tends to be slippery. And the metric is likely to get more unstable before it someday settles down. None of the big three versions of WAR(P) currently incorporates Statcast data. Thus far, MLBAM has drawn on that data to quantify aspects of player production without generating one unified number, but Tango describes it as “inevitable” that “eventually they will get rolled into one Statcast WAR metric.” He acknowledges that WAR’s amorphousness may make some fans more hesitant to trust it. Even so, he says, “Our focus should be on representing the truth as best we can estimate it. And it’s the truth that will attract the people.”

Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman has responded to criticism of WAR’s mutability—not to mention its multiple implementations—by comparing it to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), another complex statistic that also changes retroactively and comes in more than one form. WAR works the way all science does: Discoveries are scrutinized, assumptions are examined, errors are rooted out, and breakthrough by breakthrough, we learn.

The focus of Lindbergh’s article was on the ways in which teams are straying from the traditional sequencing of starting and relief pitchers– frequently referred to as “the opener” strategy– are affecting WAR calculations, particularly Baseball-References bWAR.

An obstacle I encountered in analyzing changes in Cabrera’s WARP is that BP doesn’t keep a public record of statistical changes. By contrast, as Lindbergh helpfully noted, B-R does keep a public bWAR index, which effectively permits the tracking of changes to individual players’ seasonal bWAR totals on a daily basis since March 29, 2013.

In light of my prior documentation of the recent set of changes to Cabrera’s career seasonal WARP totals, I decided to take a quick and very rough look at how Cabrera’s seasonal bWAR totals had changed over the last six years. What I found was that, at least through 2012 (covering the first ten years of his career, which was all that was included in the March 29, 2013 data set), the difference was negligible. Some years’ bWAR numbers had increased a bit, some had decreased a bit, and some didn’t change; in total, the aggregate difference was -0.13 bWAR over those ten seasons. Doing a similar thing for the next six seasons by using the bWAR value from the first available date on the calendar year immediately following the completed season yielded a similar mix of results, with an aggregate difference of +0.38 bWAR. Combined, the total change is an increase of 0.25 bWAR, basically a negligible amount. Coincidentally, “negligible” also describes the value over replacement blog post (VORBP) of what you’ve just read.

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Previously
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update
Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era

Last month, I wrote about the substantial change in the way Baseball Prospectus is measuring hitter value and the significance of that change to Miguel Cabrera’s statistical legacy. Yesterday morning, BP announced “updates” to its hitter-value metric, DRC+. The description of the updates is pretty technical, and I commend you to the linked article if you want to get into the nuts and bolts, to the extent BP exposes them to the public. The short story seems to be that the original version of DRC+ undervalued two types of players: 1) those who play many of their games in “extreme ballparks” (Coors Field is the only one I’ve seen mentioned in the early DRC+ critiques and the update article, but I assume others are included) and 2) “extreme”-output hitters who do one thing really well (the examples I’ve seen discussed usually include singles hitters like Tony Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki).

For Cabrera, the update credited him with even more productive value, adding almost two wins to his career total. The following chart, which I’ve adapted from the one I created for the BttP article, compares Cabrera’s career and season-by-season win totals under three different WARP regimes: a) TAv-based WARP; b) the original DRC+-based WARP; and c) the updated DRC+-based WARP.

cabrera warp drc update

(Notes: TAv-based WARP isn’t available for 2018, which affects the WARP totals in the bottom row. Orange highlighting signals seasons in which TAv and original DRC+ disagree about whether Cabrera’s offense was above or below average. Updated DRC+ was consistent with original DRC+ in that respect.)

Looking first at the table’s seventh column, the DRC+ update added to Cabrera’s totals, not infrequently by double digits, in every season save two minor decreases in 2007 and 2014. Looking next to the table’s final column, though, there isn’t really a consistent correlation between either the direction or magnitude of the update’s DRC+ adjustments and WARP; indeed, in 2008 and 2012, the update resulted in increases in Cabrera’s DRC+ but decreases in WARP. As the totals in the bottom row indicate, however, overall, the DRC+ update boosted Cabrera’s career WARP total by 1.8 wins. Not bad.

Here I will add the same caveat I included in my previous article on this subject, which is that I don’t have a deep enough understanding of DRC+, a proprietary metric, to explain with any further detail why this happened. (I also will note that, because BP does not archive its statistical reports from prior metric regimes, the foregoing is reliant on data previously captured by Archive.org’s Wayback Machine and me.)

What outsiders like us can say is that the Deserved-Runs-Created era has been good to Cabrera, from validating his MVP wins over Mike Trout to restoring all of his season-by-season WARP numbers into the black to, following yesterday’s update, increasing his career WARP total. None of this is likely to stir any concern on the parts of Al Avila or Chris Ilitch that Cabrera suddenly is on track to challenge for MVP votes in 2023 such that his $30 million option for his age-forty-one season in 2024 will vest, but the growing– even if by very small amounts– recognition of Cabrera’s past achievements is nice to see.

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Previously
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update
Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update

A recent update to the way Baseball Prospectus evaluates offensive production already has resulted in the retroactive revision of one of baseball’s biggest conversations in favor of Miguel Cabrera. Could there be other aspects of Cabrera’s track record that shine more brightly after this update? Yes there could, I explain in my latest post at Banished to the Pen, which looks at Cabrera’s standing among the game’s all-time elite.

The full post is available here.

2018 Rapid Review

The year 2018 was a year. Here are some of our favorite things from the year that was 2018.

  • Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup, at home, in their second year of existence.
  • America’s women’s hockey team beating Canada to win gold at the winter Olympics.
  • Phish summer tour. My first time seeing them three nights in a row. That they never repeated a song during that stretch was notable but not terribly surprising. What was remarkable and never received the treatment at this site that it deserved was the overall quality of the performances, especially on Friday, August 3 but really consistently throughout the weekend, where a wide array of songs from across their thirty-five-year catalogue provided launching pads for fresh, collaborative jams time after time. It feels like the band has reached a new level.
  • Hamilton College’s Francis Baker, the American hockey goalie who stood up to Hitler. This was your most-read story posted on this site in 2018.
  • Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan. This, from Sports Illustrated, was my first foray into the true-crime podcast genre. The gist: what we were told was an open-and-shut case probably has a lot more to it than what the investigating police department allowed to meet the public eye. Story had some additional resonance for me because I had been living in Nashville at the time.
  • Maryland-Baltimore County beating Virginia to become the first-ever sixteen seed to beat a one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
  • Justify‘s dominant Triple Crown achievement.
  • Baseball Hall of Fame adding Alan Trammell. Still no Cooperstown spot for teammate Lou Whitaker, though.
  • The Supreme Court clearing the way for states to authorize sports wagering.
  • J.R. Smith delivering the most memorable moment of LeBron James’ final series with Cleveland.
  • Shohei Ohtani making his major-league debut.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence.
  • Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in football again. The Commodores have won five of the last seven games in this series. (If you’d lost track of him, Derek Dooley’s currently working as the quarterbacks coach at Missouri.)
  • Baseball Prospectus revised its flagship bating metric and now concedes that Miguel Cabrera, not Mike Trout, deserved the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP awards.
  • Tiger Woods winning the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake.
  • In personal news, I published my first article at Baseball Prospectus, which took a look at whether MLB teams were colluding to depress player wages.
  • In memoriam:

Thank you for your readership this year. Look for more great content here in 2019.

Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

MLB: All Star GameIt was about as clear as these things get, and the writers got it wrong. In fact, they got it wrong twice. That was the consensus, in our sabermetric corner of the internet, when Miguel Cabrera stole consecutive MVP awards from Mike Trout in 2012 and 2013.

Cabrera was a lumbering first baseman, shoved across the diamond only because the Tigers decided to force-fit Prince Fielder onto their plodding roster. He was a great hitter, but he added no value beyond that hitting. Trout, at the tender ages of 20 and 21, lit up the field in ways Cabrera couldn’t. He robbed home runs in center field, stole bases both often and efficiently, was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, and according to the best information we had at the time, he was also Cabrera’s equal (or very nearly so, or perhaps even his superior) at the plate.

Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs each had Trout about 3.0 WAR better than Cabrera in 2012, and about 1.5 WAR better than him in 2013. We had the gap slightly smaller in 2012, but slightly larger in 2013. When such a clear gap between the best player and the field exists, it’s rare that the award goes to the “wrong” one. In this case, though, more or less everyone with a stat-savvy bone in their body espoused the belief that it had happened.

We were, all of us, deceived. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

Lions do another trade

Last week, Detroit Lions General Manager Bob Quinn sent waves of excitement through the team’s fan base when he completed a trade with the collapsing New York Giants for Damon Harrison, a strong run blocker who seemed like a perfect fit to bolster the Lions’ struggling defense at a moment when the team seemed poised to make moves in the competitive NFC North after early season wins over New England and Green Bay.

Now, though, following a disappointing and uninspired defeat at home against the Seahawks that dropped Detroit below .500, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Quinn & co. are punting on 2018. That’s because they just traded Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round draft pick.

Sure, Tate’s contract is up at the end of this season and he’s (barely) in his thirties, but he consistently has been one of the Lions’ top players since coming to Detroit in 2014, regularly performing as top a yards-after-catch receiver who, after Matthew Stafford, probably has been the most essential part of the Lions offense.

giphy

This is especially disappointing because of the apparent opportunity this season offered to Detroit. The Seattle game on Sunday was bad, but they still sit only a game out of first place, with the divisional competition appearing far less invincible than they appeared at the season’s start. Green Bay looks bad and already lost to Detroit. Chicago is a much weaker team without new acquisition Khalil Mack, who’s battling a leg injury, and the Vikings haven’t yet lived up to the hype they earned coming off last season’s appearance in the NFC Championship game.

In assessing the trade value of a draft pick, it’s important to account for how well the team receiving the pick does in drafting. Here, I think it’s too early to tell.

In the immediate aftermath, it’s difficult to reconcile the Harrison and Tate moves, but at least there’s some comfort in the familiarity of this team giving up on a season, and the transparency should help lower fans’ stress levels as they can turn their attention to other, less-frustrating diversions this fall.

2fn212

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Previously
Lions do a trade

Lions do a trade

The New York Giants (1-6) have seen the writing on the wall and are unloading whatever assets they have in an apparent attempt to reload next year around rookie standout Saquon Barkley.

This morning, New York sent defensive lineman Damon Harrison to Detroit in exchange for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. Harrison, who’s nickname is “Snacks,” sounds like a pretty good run-stopper and should have an immediate positive impact on a defense that really has struggled against the run.

The cost for Harrison seems pretty low, especially considering the Lions still will have one fifth-round pick, having previously acquired an extra one in a trade with San Francisco.

The NFC North is the NFL’s most interesting and competitive division, and every team’s still in the mix for a playoff spot. Adding Harrison should go a long way toward helping Detroit to keep pace as they prepare to enter a critical stretch of their schedule in which they’ll face three divisional opponents in four weeks, including two games against the Chicago Bears in an eleven-day span.