One-Paragraph Preview: 2018 NLDS – Dodgers-Braves

ozzie

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves begin their best-of-five National League Divisional Series tonight at Chavez Ravine. There are dozens of articles on reputable baseball websites previewing this series, all of which will leave you with the impression that the Dodgers are the superior team and probably but not definitely will prevail in this round. I write separately for the sole purpose of highlighting a conflict in the literature. Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, PECOTA, gives Los Angeles a solid (57%/43%) advantage. Interestingly, a postseason-prediction formula sabermetric forefather Bill James originally developed in 1972 that Rob Mains recently updated likes the Braves in this round. My own view is that it’s difficult to find an exploitable weakness in any phase of the Dodgers’ game, but I can’t count the Braves out in a competitive developmental environment that, more and more, seems to run on Coughlin Time. First pitch is set for 8:37 pm on MLB Network.

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Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

baseball notes

Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current offseason issues in the sport.

On the hot stove‘s slow burn:

An underappreciated element of the utter sameness that permeates baseball today is the number of executives who came through the commissioner’s office at Major League Baseball either as an intern or early in their careers. Jobs there aren’t just pipelines to teams. They are breeding grounds for the proliferation of commissioner Rob Manfred’s doctrine, honed during two decades as the sport’s chief labor negotiator.

How does it work? Consider the case of Tommy Hunter, the relief pitcher, who late last winter was holding out for a major league contract. On the same day, according to two sources, at least two teams called Hunter offering the exact same deal – an occurrence that in the past might have screamed of collusion. In this case, the sources said, it was likelier a reflection of how teams value players so similarly.

It’s not just the algorithms with minuscule differences that spit out the same numbers. It’s a recognition of how to manipulate the new collective-bargaining agreement. “Clubs are maneuvering to take advantage of the significant salary depressors in the CBA,” one agent said. An example: One large-revenue team telling agents that his team is wary of getting anywhere close to the luxury-tax threshold, lest it be penalized for exceeding it.

“Of course that’s what we’re saying,” the GM said. “We’d be stupid not to.”

On Julio Teheran and what happens when player-value metrics tell different stories:

At Baseball-Reference, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017. He allowed heaps more runs than he had in 2016. It’s more complicated than that — a ton of work has gone into the calibration — but at a basic level this is what we’re talking about. By bWAR, based on runs allowed adjusted for things like ballpark and the quality of his defense, Teheran was worth 1.6 wins in 2017, close to league average.
. . .
At FanGraphs, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017, worse even than he was at Baseball-Reference. His strikeout rate went down, his walk rate went up, and he allowed way more home runs. It’s more complicated than that, but at a basic level it’s not much more complicated than that. By fWAR, which is based on a stat (FIP) calculated with those three factors alone, Teheran was worth 1.1 wins. He pitched considerably worse than a league-average starter.
. . .
But now it gets complicated, because at Baseball Prospectus Teheran’s WARP was 3.8, identical to his 3.8 WARP in 2016. He ranked 24th in baseball, ahead of Alex Wood, James Paxton and Robbie Ray. We’ve found a story that says Teheran was actually good.
. . .
Which takes us to a third level of storytelling, observing not just what happened or what should have happened but what should have should have happened.

In WARP’s telling, Teheran walked more batters than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have walked fewer than he did. He allowed far more home runs than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have allowed fewer. Specifically, given his pitch types and pitch locations, he should have beat batters who actually beat him.
. . .
There are those who complain there are multiple WAR models telling us different things about players. Stats are supposed to resolve uncertainty, we figure, not exacerbate it. But these are complicated questions. The worst thing a stat could do it mislead us about how simple baseball is, or about how much we know. It’s not simple. We don’t know all that much.

On the weekend’s big throwback trade between the Dodgers and Braves:

With five players involved, [Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, and Charlie Culberson,] this is a big trade for two teams to make. But then, if we’re going to be realistic, this isn’t about the players at all. This is a swap of money, or, more accurately, this is a swap of debt. There is short-term debt, and there is shorter-term debt.
. . .
Gonzalez is already a free agent. The Braves designated him for assignment so fast that it was part of the initial press release. Kemp is unlikely to play a game for the Dodgers, since they’re already looking to flip him, if not drop him outright. Kazmir didn’t pitch in the majors this past season. McCarthy did, but he threw just 92.2 innings. Culberson batted all of 15 times before making the playoff roster because Corey Seager was hurt. All of these players combined for a 2017 WAR of +0.7. It was all thanks to McCarthy, and his 16 adequate starts.
. . .
[H]ere’s how this works. Gonzalez’s 2018 salary belongs to the Braves now. Then his contract is up. The same is true for McCarthy, and the same is true for Kazmir. Culberson does come with some years of team control. The Dodgers are also sending the Braves $4.5 million. And Kemp’s 2018 salary now belongs to the Dodgers. So does Kemp’s 2019 salary. In each year, he’s due $21.5 million.
. . .
[T]his exchange is more or less cash-neutral. That is, neither the Braves nor the Dodgers are taking on the greater obligation. But the Dodgers are spreading it over the next two years, reducing their 2018 payroll figure. The Braves will face the greater short-term burden, and then, come 2019, there will be sweet, sweet freedom. The Braves ditch a future obligation, giving them more financial flexibility a year from now. The Dodgers assume a future obligation, but they, too, will get more financial flexibility a year from now, and beyond, because they likely won’t have to pay the most severe competitive-balance taxes. All they’re worried about is getting the overage penalties to reset. . . . Next offseason, Bryce Harper, for example, is expected to be a free agent. Manny Machado is expected to be a free agent. All sorts of good players are expected to be free agents, and, significantly, Clayton Kershaw could opt out. The Dodgers are presumably planning to spend big, so resetting the overage penalties now could and should eventually save them eight figures. All it requires is one year of dipping down.

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Previously
Baseball Notes: Baseball’s growth spurt, visualized
Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray
Baseball Notes: Save Tonight
Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup
Baseball Notes: The In-Game Half Lives of Professional Pitchers
Baseball Notes: Rule Interpretation Unintentionally Shifts Power to Outfielders?
Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
Baseball Notes: The Crux of the Statistical Biscuit
Baseball Notes: Looking Out for Number One
Baseball Notes: Preview

Sports Law Roundup – 1/13/2017

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:

  • College football head injuries: A group of former Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and TCU football players has sued the NCAA and Big XII conference, alleging that those entities breached contractual obligations to warn players of and take adequate steps to prevent head injuries. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status, and their lawyer has said that he expects to file similar lawsuits on behalf of more players this year.
  • Olympic surveillance: Two years ago, the former mayor of Salt Lake City and six SLC residents filed a proposed class action against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Michael Hayden, the FBI, and the NSA, alleging that the federal government improperly spied upon people attending the 2002 Winter Olympics. Now, a judge has denied the NSA’s motion to dismiss the case and will allow it to proceed.
  • Gymnast abuse: In more Olympic news, eighteen women sued USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area. Their complaint alleges that an affiliated doctor molested and sexually assaulted the plaintiffs, some of whom were as young as nine years old when the alleged attacks occurred, and that the defendants failed to act appropriately upon their knowledge of this doctor’s actions. This is the third civil action involving this doctor, and criminal complaints also have been filed. The FBI reportedly recovered child pornography from the doctor’s electronic devices and is in possession of video evidence of the doctor perpetrating sexual assaults.
  • Baseball land shark attack: The judge overseeing a dispute between the Miami Marlins and a fan who alleges she suffered a serious neck injury in 2013 when a shark mascot, following an on-field race with other mascots, leaned into the stands and pretended to bite her head has ordered the parties to participate in mediation in advance of the case’s June trial date.
  • Concert dodgers: A concert promoter sued the Los Angeles Dodgers and Guggenheim Partners, the entity that owns the team, because, the promoter alleges, they failed to pay him a share of the proceeds from concerts by Paul McCartney and AC/DC hosted at Dodger Stadium for his work in securing those performances. The promoter says he’s owed $2 million, while a leaked draft response from the defendants reportedly tells him to “forget about the check, we’ll get hell to pay.”
  • Sports gambling legalization: Legislators in South Carolina and New York separately proposed amendments to their state constitutions that would legalize sports betting. The South Carolina proposal would allow all forms of gambling, while the New York one would be limited to allowing sports gambling at racetracks and casinos.
  • Preemptive free agency: Last week, we highlighted an article suggesting that a California employment law could allow certain athletes playing for teams in that state to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts and become free agents. High-profile baseball agent Scott Boras subsequently weighed in on the subject and counseled against the idea largely because the transactional costs of attempting the move (i.e., years of litigation) likely would outweigh– and, due to time delay, probably completely negate– any potential benefit to the player.
  • CTE: This also is not a legal news story, exactly, but this space has highlighted a number of sports-related head-injury lawsuits in the past, which makes sharing this compelling and well-told story of a young person’s struggles with CTE appropriate. If you only click through to one link in this post, make it this one.

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball’s faithless electors

My latest post for Banished to the Pen considers the Tampa Bay Rays, the faithless electors of the vote on the 2016 MLB collective bargaining agreement, and it includes this picture:

drays

The full post is available here.

Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

When do baseball teams score runs?

baseballline

One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

There hasn’t been much going on in sports lately but that does not mean that ALDLAND doesn’t have things to talk about. We talk peeing on graves, we talk invading countries to take their sports stars, as well as more normal sports topics like soccer and baseball. It’s all here in the ALDLAND podcast.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

Soccer is on the mind of your favorite cohosts as the Champions League Final and World Cup get closer. Jurgen Klinsman’s omission of Landon Donovan from the US World Cup roster is a hot button issue, and ALDLAND can’t miss the chance to weigh in on it. So come for the soccer, and stay for the discussion of Miguel Olivo biting off part of Dodgers’ prospect Alex Guerrero’s ear.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Kershaw in Context

ESPN Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw have agreed on a seven-year, $215 million deal, sources with knowledge of the situation said.

Kershaw has an out clause after five years.

It is the richest deal for a pitcher in Major League Baseball history, eclipsing the seven-year, $180 million contract Detroit gave Justin Verlander last winter, and his average annual salary of $30.7 million is the highest ever for any baseball player.

The 25-year-old Kershaw has won two of the last three National League Cy Young Awards, as well as a Roberto Clemente award for his charitable work.

One of the things I’ve noticed is most eye-opening to casual sports fans is the size of athletes’ contracts, especially when presented in a more understandable context than “$D over Y years.” In continuing service to this site’s prime audience, the casual sports fan, here are two graphics that place Kershaw’s record-setting contract in context:

Now imagine being the person writing the checks for Kershaw and his teammates.