WTF: Busted

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One swing of the bat. Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster and former catcher Jim Price always said that this team, particularly its harder-hitting versions in the earlier part of this decade, could change its fate with one swing of the bat. While Price’s statement always came from a place of optimism, the line was no less true last night, albeit in a far unhappier context, when Miguel Cabrera swung through a 1-1 breaking ball from Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi in the bottom of the third inning of what eventually would be a 6-4 loss to the Twins and ruptured a tendon in his left biceps. Later that night the news that would become this morning’s headlines arrived: Cabrera was done for the year.

The 2018 season began as a hopeful one for Cabrera. After missing significant time in 2015 and 2017 with leg and back injuries, he reportedly entered the current in good health and physical condition. Early returns on the field backed up that story. His March/April (154 wRC+) was one of his best starts of the last five years. Some trouble surfaced at the end of April, though, when spasms in his left biceps caused him to leave an April 29 game in Baltimore.  A few days later, he made his return in a game in Kansas City but again left early, this time hitting the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

Cabrera, seemingly frustrated, was in no rush to return from the hamstring injury:

Nobody appreciates when you play hurt, so I’m going to take my time and play when I’m good. I play a lot of years hurt here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that. When you are doing bad, they crush you. They crush you. They say you are bad. You should go home. You don’t deserve anything. That you are old. I say “OK. I’m done playing hurt.” When you are going good they say, “Oh, oh, you’re good.” Now I take my time.

That Kansas City game ended up being the only game in which he played in the month of May.

After a twenty-six-game absence, Cabrera returned to action in a home win against the Blue Jays on June 1 and didn’t miss a game this month. He struggled (June: .244/.367/.293, 86 wRC+) in his return, however, exhibiting weak power at the plate. And now he’s done for the season. His 2018, comprised essentially of a good month and a bad half-month, sum to .299/.395/.448, 128 wRC+, 3 HR, 0.8 fWAR/0.4 bWAR/0.5 WARP. In large part due to the time he missed prior to last night’s injury, Cabrera has been the Tigers’ seventh-most-valuable player in 2018, behind Jeimer Candelario, Leonys Martín, Nicholas Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Matt Boyd, and Joe Jimenez.

Now is the time on Sprockets when we provide the obligatory reminder that Cabrera is thirty-five years old and has, beyond 2018, a minimum of five years and $16 a2 million remaining on his contract. While I’ve argued it wasn’t crazy to believe that Cabrera might continue to earn that contract for a few more seasons if you believe that a win currently is worth $10 million, Cabrera already was likely to be shifting to DH on a much more consistent basis in 2019 (following Victor Martinez’s exit), and this injury raises new and serious questions about his ability to contribute going forward.

Comments from doctors and trainers experienced with this type of injury will appear in the coming days and provide a somewhat clearer picture of Cabrera’s possible future with the Tigers. In the meantime, I suggest we might consider the case of former Tiger Cameron Maybin, who, while playing for the San Diego Padres, ruptured a tendon in his left biceps four years ago while making a defensive play during a spring training game. Maybin, who was a month shy of his twenty-seventh birthday at the time and had missed most of the prior season with wrist and knee injuries, chose a rest-and-rehabilitation approach over surgery and was given a two-to-three-month return timetable. Maybin was back in the Padres’ lineup faster than that, though, missing only about a month of the regular season. (Articles about Maybin at the time note that the injury is more common in football and cite the case of John Elway, who also chose the non-surgical route and returned to action after just three weeks off.) Maybin’s somewhat stunted and injury-riddled career makes it difficult to compare his performance before and after the injury. Moreover, the numerous differences between Cabrera and Maybin, including age, body type, and style of play, probably limit the usefulness of the comparison for the purpose of understanding Cabrera’s prognosis. In addition, the fact that Cabrera is choosing surgery suggests that his injury is more severe than Maybin’s, although there aren’t many details available right now.

With Cabrera out, the already probable likelihood that the Tigers try to sell at the trade deadline becomes a certainty. Last night’s loss bumped Detroit out of second place in the AL Central, and one assumes that the team will continue to follow that trajectory in the standings. Keep an eye on some of those players listed above, especially Iglesias and Martín, as trade candidates next month. Expect General Manager Al Avila to field plenty of calls about Michael Fulmer. Look for the new-faces trend to continue. Hope that Cabrera can make a full and productive return in 2019.

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Previously
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

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Was Not Jam

As with the talk radio shows that preceded them, successful podcasts come in two general types: those that draw listeners due to a robust guest list, and those that draw listeners due to the charisma of and chemistry created by the host(s). You tune into the first one because it has Taylor Swift on this week, and you just love Taylor and everything about her. You tune into the second one because you think the host is funny or insightful, and you understand that the format calls for guest interviews but just wish it would get back to the action of the show itself. Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast is the first sort of podcast, and I wish he didn’t have such a good guest list.

Maron is the Larry King of the podcast world. I don’t really mean that as a compliment, although it does attest to a certain accomplishment of volume and recognition of relative status. The comparison arises out of the apparent fact that neither do much preparation prior to interviewing their subjects. Standing alone, it’s at least an academically interesting approach, but, as with many such approaches, it can fall apart under practical application, especially when coupled with proclivity for interrupting the subject. For Maron, the interview organization almost always takes the form of a chronological, biographical framework, and the result often essentially is a guest haltingly reciting his or her Wikipedia page. As a means of introducing a subject to an unfamiliar audience, I suppose one could do worse. The point of podcasts in general, I’d thought, and podcasts like Maron’s, I’d assumed, though, was to do more than that, to go deeper than that. Maybe not. Maybe the point of podcasts is to sell underwear and postage stamps. The point: if you aren’t going to do much prep, let the thing breathe. It’s ok if you don’t quite know what you’re talking about, but it might be better to acknowledge that and let the person who does do the talking.

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Don Was has to be one of the coolest guys around. The Detroit native is an instrumentalist, bandleader, movie director, and Grammy-winning producer whose list of credits nearly is as long as it is prestigious. He also serves as the president of Blue Note Records. Was should make an excellent interview subject. Maron’s handling of him revealed little in the way of beneath-the-surface insights, however; the host seemed more intent on having his guest drop as many famous names as possible than delving into interesting stories.

One very small nugget that managed to leak out from the smothering, Chris-Farley-Show-without-the-laughs treatment, though, was an early musical memory Was recalled with some detail, “a really important thing that happened to me when I was about fourteen.” While waiting in the car for his mother, he heard a Joe Henderson song called “Mode For Joe” and described Henderson’s saxophone solo as “howling with anguish through the horn. He was speaking to me. I was stunned to hear this.” (Maron cuts in, confusing “anguish” with “anger,” and things move on from there.)

Because Was seems like the kind of guy who has musical recommendations up on which you actually ought to follow, this week’s Jam is “Mode For Joe,” a Memorial Day weekend offering to the fallen memory of the potential of an engaging Don Was podcast interview:

WTF: Bos to the Races

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Not many Tigers fans were excited when the team named Ron Gardenhire as its new manager this past offseason, but Gardenhire’s decision to add former Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio to his staff seemed promising. After all, Bosio brought a championship pedigree by virtue of his five-year tenure with Theo Epstein’s Cubs. With Justin Verlander gone from Detroit, the Tigers pitching staff looked especially young and vulnerable. Bosio’s recent track record lent hope to the idea that he could be a secret weapon on the bench and, in particular, help mold an inconsistent rotation into a stronger, more developed group. In spring training, Bosio also showed a willingness to clash publicly with Gardenhire, which suggested an independence and division of developmental responsibility not necessarily out of place on a rebuilding team.

One of Bosio’s announced modifications he wanted his new charges, especially Jordan Zimmermann, to make, was to work faster on the mound. So far, they appear to have taken his advice. Fourteen pitchers have shortened their inter-pitch times by more than two seconds as compared to 2017, and three of them are Tigers starters:

pitcher pace

Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, and Matt Boyd have upped their respective paces substantially this season over last season. I think that alone is a good sign, because it demonstrates both a willingness and ability to make changes in approach designed (or believed, at least) to improve outcomes. That’s the bigger question, though. Zimmermann, Fulmer, and Boyd are working faster, but are they doing better?

To try to answer that question, I propose a DRA-based comparison, which should allow us to see, on a rate basis, whether these three Tigers starters also have been pitching better in 2018 than they did during their slower days in 2017.

delta dra re pace

Of the three, Zimmermann had the smallest pace increase but the largest improvement according to DRA. Boyd, who’s shown the biggest pace increase of any pitcher, also has been better, while Fulmer has been a bit worse.

Without more digging, I don’t know that there are any broad statements to make about the consequences of speeding up on the mound. Importantly, we don’t know how the 2018 versions of these players would perform had they continued to work at their slower paces; the results might be exactly the same. The above does provide some circumstantial evidence that increasing pace can help some players, however, and it also suggests that Bosio was right to target Zimmermann as a guy who could benefit from operating at a faster pace.

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The Tigers don’t have any of the top fifty players of 2018, as ranked by fWAR, on their roster. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario used to be on that list, but he now sits sixty-fifth (1.3 fWAR) after missing time with wrist tendinitis. He could return to the team later this week.

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Previously
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

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

Continuing Education Jam

Before lunch yesterday, I learned two things. The second was that former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, one of the most talented and popular players in MLB history, began his career in San Diego. Smith made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1978 and spent four seasons with them before they traded him to the Cardinals following the strike-shortened 1981 season. (In digging into this news-to-me, I also discovered that the Detroit Tigers were the first team to draft Smith, but he didn’t sign with them after they picked him in the seventh round in 1976. San Diego picked him in the fourth round the following year and he signed.)

The first thing I learned yesterday morning was that Dolly Parton is the author of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.” Parton’s original version is this week’s Jam:

WTF: Welcome Back Kozma

This may be the deepest into the season I have stated my annual Detroit Tigers diary. With the possible exception of Jeimer Candelario, the team just hasn’t been terribly exciting or interesting to this point, “this point” currently being defined as sitting in the middle of a very mediocre AL Central with a 15-20 record. I didn’t not want to do this series this year; after all, if you write about the good times, I think you have to be disciplined enough to write about the bad times. It’s just that there didn’t seem to be a good excuse to get started. In retrospect, it’s obvious I was waiting on the call-up of Pete Kozma to get things rolling.

Kozma signed on with the Tigers in January as a free agent, and he began the season in Toledo. After a rash of injuries, the team brought him up to the majors this week, and he’s making his Tigers debut right now, in a game against the Texas Rangers.

The St. Louis Cardinals originally drafted Kozma out of high school with the eighteenth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he broke into the majors with them in 2011. Outside of 2014 (448 PA in 143 games), the utility infielder didn’t play too much for the Cardinals, who granted him free agency after the 2015 season. The Yankees promptly signed him, but he spent all of 2016 riding the AAA rail for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After playing in just eleven games (ten PA) in the majors for the Yankees in 2017, New York designated him for assignment, and the Rangers claimed him off waivers. Kozma appeared in twenty-eight games for Texas before they too DFA’d him. He cleared waivers and finished the season in AAA Round Rock before becoming a free agent again.

On May 21, 2017, Kozma hit his only home run as a Ranger. The shot came off of Detroit’s Matt Boyd in a 5-2 Texas win at Comerica Park. That would be the last major-league home run for Kozma until today, almost exactly one year later, when he hit one in his first game as a Tiger, coming in a game against the Rangers in Arlington.

As of this writing, the Tigers lead the Rangers 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning. Kozma has reached base in all three of his plate appearances so far.

As a concluding note, the title of this season’s Tigers diary is WTF, which is an acronym for a number of phrases that might describe this particular team. Officially, it stands for When the Tigers broke Free, the title of the song performed in the video above and the notion that the 2018 Tigers have broken from their past trajectory and now are writing the beginning of a new chapter.

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning…
It was dark all around,
There was frost in the ground
When the Tigers broke free

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

2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

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At last, Opening Day is here, and the 2018 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fourth 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. For the second consecutive year, our preview takes on a slightly less formal format. In light of the significant roster turnover the team has experienced, we thought it would be helpful to tell the story of this team by focusing on some of its new faces, together with some updates on the current roles for the familiar guys.

First pitch is at 1:10 todaytomorrow. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

Old English D: A Look Back at Tigers Uniforms (via The Hardball Times)

parts-of-the-dIn late January, the Detroit Tigers announced an alteration to their iconic home uniforms that, depending on your level of uniform awareness, was either a seismic change or a minor detail but unlikely to be anything in between. The Tigers’ Old English “D” is the second-oldest mark in baseball, trailing only the Athletics’ “A,” which can be traced back to 1866. However, for most of their history, the D on the Tigers’ caps has differed, at times slightly, at others quite drastically, from the D on their jerseys. This offseason, the Tigers decided to put an end to that discrepancy by replacing the D on their jerseys with the one on their caps.

The decision was superficially logical (the D’s should match), but disregarded the history of one of major league baseball’s classic uniforms. Not only had the two D’s never really matched (with the possible exception of the 1929 road uniform, though uniform manufacturing was so inconsistent then that even that could be called into question), but the now-discarded Jersey D (as I’ll call it from here on out) pre-dated the first use of the Cap D by 52 years.

By transferring the Cap D to their chests, the Tigers have removed a version of the D that dated back to 1908 in favor of one that has been in continuous use only since 1968. If anything, the discrepancy between the D’s was more representative of the Tigers’ uniform history than any single D could be, with the possible exception of the now-discarded Jersey D. … Read More

(via The Hardball Times)

Addressing the sports consequences of the Disney-Fox deal

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As highlighted in this week’s Sports Law Roundup, Disney and Fox are entering into a doozy of a media deal that involves everything from movies to television shows to streaming platforms to sports programming. This transaction has Star Wars components, Hulu components, and Simpsons components that, rightfully, are making headlines. It would not be surprising, however, if some of the most visible changes for viewers that result from this asset purchase, for which approval by various supervisory entities remains pending, come for consumers of sports media.

In an article out today, Will Leitch sheds some light on how this sale may affect the sports-media landscape:   Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 12/1/2017

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

  • Streaming data: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that ESPN may share an individual’s streaming device identification number and record of videos watched without violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act because that information does not constitute “personally identifiable information” under that act. The First Circuit previously had ruled that such information could be personally identifiable information, especially where combined with geolocation data, but that now is regarded as the minority position.
  • Bird death: A Massachusetts appellate court affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a truck manufacturer and the owner of automotive-related equipment in a wrongful-death case brought by the widow of Mark Fidrych. Fidrych died in 2009 of accidental asphyxiation when his clothing became entangled in the equipment while he was working underneath his truck. The court agreed that the equipment was dangerous and could have been designed in a safer fashion, but, because those designs were not defective and the risk that led to Fidrych’s death “arose out of the addition of other components and the decisions made, and actions taken, by downstream actors, the defendants had no duty to warn of those dangers.”

Sports court is in recess.