RKB: The Candy Man Can, But for How Long?

How in the world is Jeimer Candelario the Detroit Tigers’ best hitter in 2020? Like so much this year, it isn’t a reality anyone would have predicted a year ago, but the hard facts are undeniable: Candelario leads all qualified Tigers batters in AVG/OBP/SLG (.313/.371/.519), wOBA (.379), and wRC+ (140). Candelario is a career 93 wRC+ hitter, and he posted a 72 wRC+ last season. How did he swing from thirty points below average at the plate in 2019 to forty points above average in 2020?

To be sure, this is not a J.D. Martinez fly-ball revolution situation. In fact, last week, FanGraphs highlighted Candelario as a batter with one of the largest year-over-year decreases in fly-ball rate. What he is doing, though, is making better, harder contact than he has in the past, with significant increases in barrel and hard-hit rates. Changes like that are very encouraging, even if he’s bucking trends and finding success on the ground instead of through the air.

There is one other hitting category in which Candelario leads the Tigers this season: batting average on balls in play. He’s currently running an insane .407 BABIP, making it a near-certainty that his offensive production rates drop off before too long. Even if real changes in his approach mean he can establish an expected BABIP higher than his current career level (.297), a .407 BABIP simply is not going to last no matter who Candelario is or has become. Since 1998, the highest single-season BABIP is Yoan Moncada’s .406 in 2019, one of only three total times during that span that anyone finished a season with a BABIP above .400. Perhaps that’s why Baseball Prospectus sees Candelario as a merely average hitter in 2020 (101 DRC+), rather than someone actually hitting like Mike Piazza, Larry Walker, Jason Giambi, or David Ortiz (all career 140 wRC+ batters). The highest career BABIP among that group of sluggers? Walker’s .332.

To this point in this short, strange season, Candelario’s production has been real. He really hit those forty-one hits, nine doubles, three triples, and four home runs, and he really drove in nineteen runs for the Tigers and drew eleven walks. No one is trying to take any of that away from him, and detected improvements in the quality of the contact he’s making with the bat provide a reasonable basis to believe he will continue to hit better than he has in prior seasons. A reasonable basis to believe he will not continue to hit quite as well as he has thus far in 2020 going forward also exists, however.

Thinking back to the end of the 2019 season, the idea of Candelario making a jump just to “merely average hitter” in 2020 would have felt like a major achievement. Even at a more modest outlook, that as his new floor would go a long way toward making Candelario a lasting part of Detroit’s rebuilt roster.

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Previously
RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team – 9/3
RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize – 8/30
RKB: 2020 is the Season: Turn, Turn, Turnbull – 8/18
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

The Big O and the Merry Prankster

Oscar Robertson is an NBA champion, MVP, and twelve-time All-Star, and he was the first NBA player to average a triple-double over the course of a season. In college, he averaged 33.8 points per game for the Cincinnati Bearcats, and he left school as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.

The 1957-58 season was Robertson’s sophomore year at Cincinnati and the first in which he saw playing time for the Bearcats. Robertson immediately made his presence felt, to the tune of 35.1 points and 15.2 rebounds in 38.8 minutes per game, helping Cincinnati to a 25-3 record and a Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Meanwhile, up the road in Oxford, Miami University was on a run of its own. Behind future NBA player Wayne Embry, the RedHawks finished a respectable 18-9, but notably went 12-0 in MAC play, the last team to accomplish that feat and only the second-ever team to complete an undefeated conference schedule (the 1949-50 Cincinnati team was 10-0 in the MAC before leaving the conference). One of Miami’s reserves was Ken Babbs. Listed at 6’3″, the Mentor, Ohio native contributed eleven points and four rebounds in the ten games in which he appeared for the RedHawks that season.

On January 30, 1958, the RedHawks traveled to Cincinnati for a matchup with Robertson’s heavily favored Bearcats. A box score is not readily available, but Babbs recounted his memories of the game in a live interview streamed last night. According to him, Miami coach Richard Shrider, who was in his first season with the RedHawks, thought his team had no chance against Cincinnati and told his players as much, which rubbed the competitor in Babbs the wrong way. Miami planned a box-and-one defense against the Bearcats, with Babbs drawing the assignment of the “one” to mark Robertson. Determined to put up a fight, he said he planned to guard Roberston aggressively, “like stink on shit.” Then laughing, Babbs confessed: “I fouled out in two minutes.” Cincinnati won by twenty.

Both teams reached the NCAA tournament that spring. With their first-round win over Pitt, Miami became the first MAC team to win a tournament game. The Bearcats did not win any tournament games that year, but they made deep runs in Robertson’s two remaining seasons there, finishing third overall both times.

Robertson, of course, went on to professional basketball fame. Babbs, meanwhile, found fame of a different sort. That fall, after graduating from Miami, he pursued graduate studies in creative writing at Stanford. There, he befriended fellow student Ken Kesey, with whom Babbs and others soon would form the Merry Pranksters, whose culturally influential escapades with sound, film, and LSD were in part memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s memorable book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and would help propel the career of the Grateful Dead.

You can watch Babbs discuss his 1958 on-court encounter with Robertson and a later, off-court reunion here. A film of a Grateful Dead benefit concert supporting a Kesey-family creamery the Pranksters helped produce is available for a limited time below.

Friend of the Jam

Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes.
Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis.
Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion.
Shall we go, you and I while we can

through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

Last week, Robert Hunter– longtime Jerry Garcia collaborator, Grateful Dead lyricist, and early MKUltra test subject– flashed permanently to the linguistic plane in which, one assumes, terrestrial linguistics and DMT have no further use. He was seventy-eight and previously had written the lyrics for basically every Dead song not written by John Perry Barlow, which is to say the majority of them. Like Barlow, who was dispatched last year, Hunter embraced the nascent internet, through which one still may locate many of his uploaded journals that, unsurprisingly, reveal an active and introspective mind.

In the time since his passing, many writers have made reference to “Black Peter,” a song obviously about death, even as one recognized that the song bore meaning as a communication to or about Hunter’s partner, Garcia.

For purposes of this post, I suggest instead we turn to the band’s great suite, “Terrapin Station,” for words more self-referential:

Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

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Previously
Ashes Jam

I Will Take You Jam

Twenty-nine years ago this week, the Grateful Dead performed “I Will Take You Home,” a Brent Mydland song written with Bob Weir friend and collaborator John Perry Barlow, for the last time in a concert at what then was known as Foxboro Stadium outside of Boston. Mydland, the band’s third full-time keyboardist and the longest-tenured in that role, would be dead less than two weeks later following a narcotic overdose at his California home. Mydland was a passionate performer, and his songs seemed to take a more raw, confrontational approach to emotional subjects like spousal separation and parent-child relationships than the often more opaque offerings of his bandmates. “I Will Take You Home” is a song about a father trying to protect and encourage his daughter, and its final performance is this week’s Jam (with bonus Jerry-in-shorts footage):

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.

Going Down So Many Roads Feeling a Little Bit Better Jam

Thanks to things like the Internet Archive and YouTube, the music of the Grateful Dead is widely and freely available online. While the band made about a dozen studio albums together during a roughly twenty-year period of active recording, they obviously are best-known for their live performances over thirty years of touring with the core ensemble and, including various partial lineups, over fifty total years.

A quick search suggests that, the second-most-viewed Grateful Dead YouTube video of a single live song (2.5 million views) is July 9, 1995’s “So Many Roads.” The popularity of this video is readily understandable. The night is recognized as the band’s final concert, and Jerry Garcia would be dead exactly a month later. The song itself appears in the middle of the second set and features a vocal performance from a weak, haggard Garcia that nevertheless translates as pleading, desperate, retrospective, resigned, and soulful over an undeniably emotional twelve minutes. It’s just extremely real. The hindsight of knowing makes it dangerously easy to project external narratives on a captured and preserved moment of the past, but one hardly can avoid the feeling that Garcia is in this moment conscious of his impending departure (cf. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” The Wind (2003) (live in studio)), particularly given the dark, desolate, windswept (probably just a stage fan on a hot Chicago night but still) nature of the visual shot of the video.

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“So Many Roads” was a 90s Dead product, debuting on February 22, 1992 in Oakland and appearing regularly in setlists thereafter. Garcia considered the song (auto)biographical:

It’s [lyricist Robert] Hunter writing me from my point of view, you know what I mean? We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I know. The song is full of references to things that have to do with me . . . .

Hunter is the only guy that could do that. He can write my point of view better than I can think it, you know what I mean? So that’s the kind of relationship we have. And he frequently writes tunes from my point of view that are autobiographical. They’re actually biographical I guess. He’s the one writing them, but even so they express my point of view – and more than that they express the emotional content of my soul in a certain way that only a long-term and intimate relationship with a guy as brilliant as Hunter coughs up . . . . I can sing that song, feel totally comfortable with it.

Although the band performed “So Many Roads” fifty-four times between February 1992 and July 1995, until this week, the only version I could recall hearing was the one from that final night. I don’t think that fact is terribly surprising; as a general matter, mid-90s Dead tapes aren’t exactly in high demand.

On Tuesday, though, I heard a new-to-me version of “So Many Roads,” this one from the Boston Garden on October 1, 1994, and the relative differences are striking. It’s brighter, stronger (even if Garcia’s physical frailties remain noticeable), upbeat, energized, and about half as long as the final version. It also is this week’s Jam:

As the foregoing indicates, I am not an expert in this narrow channel; however, if you only ever hear one performance of this song, it needs to be the July 9, 1995 offering. If you hear two, though, then October 1, 1994 makes for a good and uplifting pairing.

Salty Jam

I really backed into this one, folks. Last week, chasing down a rumor that sprung from an Instagram meme about Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead (because this is 2018, I guess), I found a rabbit hole of a Dead blog that eventually led me to a historical chart of the band’s live performances of its original songs that plots every performance of each such song along a timeline. If there are two uncontested facts about the Dead, they are that they played for a long time and had a voluminous song catalog. One of the data points caught my eye for three reasons: (1) it indicated that the band played the song only once; (2) that performance came in 1995, the final year of the band’s active life; and (3) its title, “Salt Lake City,” was unfamiliar to me. In fact, besides “Unbroken Chain,” a famously un(der)peformed Dead song, “Salt Lake City” was the last original song the band debuted in concert.

As it turns out, SLC’s origins trace to 1977, when it appeared on Weir’s second solo album, Heaven Help the Fool. Like many Weir songs, John Perry Barlow collaborated on the lyrics, which discuss the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City and read like a more buttoned-up version of the traditional “New Minglewood Blues” that Weir often sang with the Grateful Dead.

gd slc 95

On February 21, 1995, at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center, the band opened with “Salt Lake City,” the first and last time they ever played it live. The twenty-first was the Dead’s last of three straight nights in SLC. While that stretch wasn’t the Dead’s first appearance in the city, it was their first time back since 1981 (opener: “Alabama Getaway”), which was the only other time they played there since the release of Heaven Help the Fool (unless you count September 4, 1983 and August 20, 1987 in Park City). Perhaps the Dead saw it as a bit of a novelty, or an easy nod to a locale infrequently visited. Reviews of the night carry a generally positive tone, though many qualify or limit encouraging notes to the context of a mid-90s era regarded as low in energy, inspiration, and musical quality. Few reviews remark on the appearance of “Salt Lake City,” most preferring to mention the very good cover of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” that emerges out of a second-set “Space,” which both surges due to and is pock-marked by the almost cartoonish synthesizer of Vince Welnick, who was celebrating his forty-fourth birthday that day.

Technically, the Dead had played “Salt Lake City” live once prior, at a soundcheck in Atlanta in 1978. What follows and serves as this week’s Jam is the only acknowledged (and possibly the only recorded) performance, however, from 1995, less than five months before the band’s final concert:

Ashes Jam

John Perry Barlow, an advocate for an internet free of government regulation and longtime Bob Weir friend and songwriting collaborator died this week. I don’t know for sure where Barlow is right now, but if he’s on his way to Hell in a bucket, I at least am reasonably confident he enjoyed the ride thus far.

Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

nfl flag

The NFL’s back, and oh man is it boring. Last night’s Chiefs-Patriots game, the first of the 2017 regular season, should have been exciting. Kansas City hung close with the defending champions in Foxboro until they pulled away later in the fourth quarter. What should have been a compelling contest instead dragged. The third quarter alone took nearly an hour. Even if the NFL has eliminated the touchdown-commercial-PAT-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence, the penalty flags literally are getting out of hand too often.

The last five minutes of the third quarter was comprised of fifteen plays from scrimmage. Officials threw flags on seven of them.

KC NE 09072017 3Q

If it seems to you like penalty flags are on the rise, you aren’t wrong. From the NFL Penalty Tracker, a website I just found:

nfl penalty flag data 9-8-17

The 2017 data comes from one game, of course, but the referees were significantly more active last night as compared to an average game last season.

Another interesting point in that penalty-flag data is the jump in total flags beginning in 2014. It isn’t immediately obvious to me why that happened (here‘s a list of rule changes heading into that season), so I’ll just quote from my Super Bowl XLVII preview post:

Call it the Efficient Breach Bowl. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle defense is so successful against the pass, in part, because they just don’t care about being penalized for pass interference. They know that officials won’t call PI on every single play (and the number of penalties called in the playoffs is significantly lower than during the regular season), so they take their lumps with a few flags over the course of a game, disrupting receiver routes all the while. In a follow-up article in advance of the Super Bowl, the Journal suggests that Denver may look to combat Seattle’s aggressive secondary through so-called “pick plays,” in which receivers run routes designed to shed defenders by drawing them into collisions with another player. Though subject to recent controversy following a play in the AFC Championship game that resulted in a game-ending injury for New England corner Aqib Talib, picks or “rub routes” are not necessarily against the rules. As The MMQB’s Greg Bedard explained, the key question is whether the offensive player initiated the contact or whether the contact was incidental: “within one yard of the line of scrimmage, anything goes . . . but beyond that one-yard buffer it is illegal for an offensive player to initiate contact with a defender.”

The Seahawks won that Super Bowl (if you can name the MVP of that game without looking, I’ll send you some ALDLAND merchandise), so it isn’t unreasonable to speculate that other teams would mimic their aggressive defensive approach beginning in the next season, thereby triggering more penalty flags leaguewide, but I haven’t looked at an offensive/defensive breakdown of those numbers in the table above.

For years, people have been predicting that football would end as a result of its potential for dangerous, lasting injury, including brain injury, but we need to consider the possibility that a different and more immediate market force– boredom– might trigger its decline even sooner.