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:


The full post is available here.


Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading

August Bodies: Cabrera, Upton, and the Ex-Presidents

August is the only month in the American calendar without a holiday, which leaves us free to craft ad hoc celebrations of events taking place in the moment.

For baseball fans, this is the time of year when the action really starts to heat up. There are a deceptively large number of games remaining in the season, but it’s the beginning of crunch time for teams looking to secure their positioning for the postseason.

The Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves are two of the best teams in baseball this year, and they happen to be two of the teams followed closely on this site. Each also has a star hitter who has ramped up his performance this month.

I’ve already noted that Miguel Cabrera is following up his 2012 season– in which he won both the MVP and Triple Crown– with an even better 2013. This month, it is widely becoming clear we are witnessing a special season from the Detroit third baseman, who is becoming something of a living Babe Ruth-Kirk Gibson combination. Due to injuries, Cabrera basically is playing on one leg, making it difficult to do things like run the bases. His response has been to hit a lot of home runs so he doesn’t have to run the bases. He has sixteen hits in eleven games in August, and six of them were homers. Here are his numbers through last night, broken out by month:

As more and more turn their eyes to the Motor City to gaze upon this remarkable production, the number of articles testifying to Cabrera’s greatness to which I could link here are many. Consider this one from yesterday, though, which nicely combines text and visuals describing Cabrera’s recent exploits.

While Cabrera’s August is allowing us to marvel at his ability to persistently perform in historic fashion, Justin Upton is offering up a late-summer burst that shows him rising to the great levels expected of him when he joined the Braves in the offseason.

After a ridiculous start to the season, which included five home runs in his first five games, the younger Upton cooled off. He hit a total of twelve HRs in April, but he only hit four in all of May, June, and July. He’s already hit six through thirteen games this month, though, and his .380 batting average is the highest monthly mark he’s posted all year by almost one hundred percentage points. Here are his numbers through last night, broken out by month:

juptonstatsFinally, we come to the (mostly) ex-presidents. The United States Senate often is referred to as an “august body.” The president of the Senate is the vice president of the United States, and the president of the vice president is the president of the United States, and so here we have scouting reports on the pitching prospects of all of the United States presidents since William Howard Taft. Enjoy.

Bay of Cigs: A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger

Buster Olney reports:

Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers have reached agreement on a new contract that could exceed $202 million, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Verlander’s deal, which would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the game, is for seven years and worth $180 million, sources said. A vesting option for an eighth year could push the deal to $202 million.

Verlander, who would have been eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 season, had recently said he wouldn’t discuss a new contract if a deal didn’t get done by the end of spring training.

Verlander celebrated with a baby tiger (above). Additional details are not known.

In other pitching news, the team sent relief prospect Bruce Rondon back to the minors and announced they’ll begin the season with a “closer-by-committee” approach. The seven-member committee reportedly does not include Rick Porcello, who was listed as part of Detroit’s starting rotation. As mentioned last time, I was a bit concerned that management might give him the relief job, but since then, Jonah Keri assuaged my fears about that prospect,

and yesterday’s announcement makes it look like that possibility will not come to pass. Still, it would be nice to have one go-to guy who is reliable, even if he isn’t quite the unicorn on a waterslide that was 2011 Jose Valverde. Look to people far more qualified than I to say whether GM Dave Dombrowski, a personnel master of the first order, can bring in someone capable of holding down the job. For now, though, I think Dombrowski has earned a weekend off after locking up Verlander for the meaningful future.


Bay of Cigs: The Departed – 3/14

The DET Offensive: You forgot about J(ustin Verlander)

As the 2012 MLB season winds down– the Tigers are up three over Chicago with three games to go, all against the Royals– the national focus on Motown thankfully has shifted away from a record that has to be considered a disappointment even if the team makes the playoffs and onto the achievements of Miguel Cabrera, who is well within reach of winning the first Triple Crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and whether those achievements make him a more worthy MVP than Mike Trout.

While it’s interesting to note that Cabrera is doing all of this while having his “worst offensive season in three years,” it’s more interesting that no one is talking about Justin Verlander as a serious Cy Young candidate despite his having a nearly identical season to the one he had last year, when he ran away with the Cy Young and took home the MVP as well. Joe Posnanski elaborates:

Justin Verlander is, in so many ways, every bit as good as he was last year. He’s striking out the same number of batters, walking just a tick more, and allowing fewer home runs than he did last year. He has given up a few more hits. But he leads the league in strikeouts and innings pitched like last year and you can add in most complete games.

It is true that last year he led the league in ERA and he’s second now to David Price … but he again leads the league in ERA+, which takes into account the ballpark where they pitch. Verlander pitches in Detroit, which has evolved into a pretty good hitters park. Price pitches in Tampa Bay, a hitter’s dungeon.

The point is that Verlander is basically the same guy he was last year. Only, last year he went 24-5. This year he’s 16-8. And that seems to make all the difference. Last year, he won the Cy Young unanimously and became the first starter to win the MVP since 1986. This year — at least from what I can tell — people hardly seem to be talking about him as a Cy Young candidate. I hear a lot of David Price and Chris Sale and Jered Weaver, and these are all worthy candidates. But, once again, I think Verlander has been the best pitcher in the American League.

It gets, once more, to the issue of sports narratives. Last year, Verlander was superman. He went into the playoffs last year as this force of nature … and the record will show that in the playoffs (an odd playoffs, admittedly, because of rain) he posted a 5.31 ERA and did not throw a single quality start. But the narrative was so powerful that people STILL kept going on and on about how gutsy Verlander was, how extraordinary, how Koufax-like, how he was almost single-handedly keeping the Tigers alive.

This year, the narrative has gone the other way, the narrative has been that Verlander has been, you know, eh, good but not the mega-monster he was last year. The narrative has turned instead into how now Miguel Cabrera is superman carrying the Tigers. Narratives are fun, but they aren’t necessarily true. Verlander really is just about as amazing as he was last year.

Jonah Keri succinctly concurs: “Justin Verlander has posted numbers in 2012 virtually identical to those of 2011, yet he’s somehow considered just one of several candidates for Cy Young and a no-chance-in-hell guy for MVP, after winning both awards last year.”


Finally, looking as far ahead as I’ll allow myself, the Free Press reports that Max Scherzer sounds like he’ll be ready to go for the playoffs, or even this week if necessary.


Get perspective – 9/12
Everybody knows this is nowhere – 8/31

Now it’s just offensive – 8/29
Explode! – 7/23
Halfway at the Half-way – 7/9

Play – 6/26
Call the Experts! 
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
 – 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9

Middle Relief: The Legend of Vlad in Winter (via Grantland)

From the first time the baseball world got a look at Vlad, it was clear we were dealing with a very different kind of subject. Read Dan Le Batard’s Guerrero profile from 10 years ago and you begin to understand why. There are the usual stories of future sports stars growing up in poverty … and then there’s Vlad, who drank from puddles as a child and had to share two beds with six other family members after a hurricane blew the roof off the Guerreros’ shack. There are the usual disconnects between English-speaking reporters and Spanish-speaking players … and then there’s Vlad, who’s so shy about his lack of education and a fear he’ll be perceived as unintelligent that he rarely talks to anyone outside his immediate circle.

And yes, he approached the game differently from anyone else, including sizing up opposing pitchers by facing them on his PlayStation. One of the oldest axioms in sports is to practice the way you play. No problem for Vlad. He swung at everything on PlayStation, too.

People tell stories about Vlad the way they might about Roy Hobbs, if he were real. I once saw Vlad make a diving catch over an alligator in right-center. Oh yeah? I once saw him hit a ball that landed in Moose Jaw. Pfft! You weren’t there when he threw a guy out at home while lying in a sleeping bag in the right-field bleachers while his mom read him ghost stories.

Thing is, everything short of gators and Moose Jaw and sleeping bags actually happened. … Read More

(via Grantland)

The DET Offensive: Call the Experts!

I’ve gone from highlighting the good to trying to pinpoint the bad in this space for the Detroit Tigers’ promising season that, so far, has not gone according to plan. I’ve tried to get answers from the experts, particularly ESPN/Grantland’s kindly baseball insiders Buster Olney and the more interactive (with me) Jonah Keri. Both Olney and Keri were high on the Tigers before the season started, and the latter finally took to the task of assessing the current state of Motor City’s baseball team. His evaluation, excerpted:

What’s going wrong with the Tigers?

One of the biggest culprits for Detroit’s struggles has been the most predictable one: lousy team defense. Only the Mets have been worse defensively this season. . . . [A] roster full of no-glove options was rendered worse defensively when Jim Leyland curiously decided to play noted butchers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder every day as corner infielders. Cabrera hasn’t been quite as atrocious as you might have expected after converting back to third base following years away from the position, then taking a ground ball to the face early on (on a very sharply-hit ball, it should be noted). But both no-glove sluggers have still been bad enough, with the Tigers getting a collective sub-.600 OPS from its designated hitters thanks to Delmon Young’s lousy year and some curious choices to start at DH the rest of the time.

Oh, just that, huh?

[T]here were plenty more reasons to fear regression for the Tigers, despite the 95 wins+Fielder=Profit(?) formula. Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta hit out of their minds last year, and were prime bets to pull back in 2012. Valverde going unblemished all year long in save opportunities wasn’t going to happen again even if the Tigers moved to the Sally League. Even the seemingly loaded 2011 Tigers weren’t necessarily 95-win quality by at least one metric: Their runs scored and runs allowed totals suggested an 89-win club.

I see. I suppose that about covers it though, right?

The biggest surprise, though, has been Detroit’s shaky offense. The Tigers rank just ninth in the American League in runs scored, trailing Texas, every AL East team, and two clubs in their own division. There’s been plenty of suck to go around. Fielder’s hitting a very pedestrian (for him) .286/.349/.458. After an impressive outburst last postseason that suggested he might finally turn the corner, Delmon Young’s been a replacement-level player, hitting just .248/.302/.358. Peralta’s also slugging a Rey Sanchez-esque .358. Brennan Boesch has a .287 OBP. Avila’s hitting .225 with a .309 OBP. Tigers second basemen are collectively hitting about as well as a Deadball Era pitcher with gout, one good eye, and a candy cane for a bat.

Oof. Build me back up, Jonah. Any light at the end of the tunnel?

Some of this can’t help but turn in the Tigers’ favor. There’s a good chance they don’t have another series all year with as many squandered opportunities as they had against the Indians (3-for-29 with runners in scoring position). They’ll face very few other pitchers as dominant against right-handed hitters as Masterson is and was Thursday; righties went just 1-for-12 against Masterson for the day. And they likely won’t lose many more games in which Verlander goes eight innings, allows just seven baserunners, and ends his day by striking out the side with a 98-mph fastball, a 101-mph fastball, and a preposterous 83-mph looping curve.

Okay, so maybe things aren’t so bad after all. I’m feeling better already.

But there are still reasons to worry. The Tigers’ best hitter this year, Austin Jackson, just hit the disabled list. They lack major league-ready impact prospects at their weakest positions. And perhaps most of all, they’re chasing a pretty good team [in the Indians].

Alright. I didn’t need that. Thought we were in the clear there. Leave me with some perspective. This is a great team, right? They’ve had strong halves of seasons before. Everything’s going to be fine?

Detroit stood six games back of Cleveland through 44 games last season too, before demolishing the league in the second half and cruising to the division title. The question is, does this year’s Tigers team match up with last year’s squad? And, will the Indians fall apart for the second year in a row? A quick and healthy return for Jackson and returns to normal levels for Cabrera and Fielder could lead a Tigers resurgence, and the Indians’ iffy starting rotation could pull Cleveland back toward the pack. Another 95-win season and a runaway AL Central title, though? That bet’s all but off the board.


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