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.

Advertisements

Saving Detroit: Even the umpires just wanna go home

Not a good showing for the Tigers tonight in Kansas City, where they backed starter Michael Fulmer with three errors, spotting the Royals a 4-0 lead after one inning, and an 8-0 lead after the third. Although Detroit managed to halve that lead with productive (if inefficient) sides of the fifth and sixth inning, the relief corps had their collective finger blown out of the hole in the dike, giving way to a 16-4 loss. By the time the ninth inning mercifully rolled around, there was zero chance of a Tigers win; indeed, it had been that way– literally– since the middle of the eighth inning, and functionally at least since the bottom of the sixth inning.

chart

This makes it hard to blame the home plate umpire, Mark Ripperger, for wanting to end things early. On the fourth pitch to Jim Adduci, who was batting for Detroit with two outs in the top of the ninth, that’s exactly what Ripperger did:

numlocation-php-pitchsel641838gamegid_2017_07_20_detmlb_kcamlb_1batterx87inningsyyyyyyyyysp_type1s_type3leaguemlbpnfzlpocache1

Ripperger put everyone out of their shared misery with that called fourth strike on a pitch that was comfortably out of the zone. As a historical, practical matter, it’s true that the strike zone for left-handed batters tends to expand on the batter’s outside edge, but the call that ended the game looks like an outlier even when placed in context with the other calls Ripperger made during plate appearances by left-handed hitters tonight:

fastmap-php-pitchselallgamegid_2017_07_20_detmlb_kcamlb_1sp_type2s_type7cache1

Here’s how it looked on MLB.com’s rendering:

adduci ripperger

Finally, here’s a very chunky GIF made with freeware I’ll never use again, which shows things in the light most favorable to Ripperger:

adduci

Not egregious, probably, but erroneous, and seemingly out of character for Ripperger, at least tonight. With the game outcome already chiseled in stone, the officiating crew probably just wanted to go home, and they probably weren’t alone in that desire. Soon, one imagines, it will be time to say goodnight to this season.

______________________________________________

Previously
Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Saving Detroit: Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Saving Detroit: Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

Sports Law Roundup – 3/24/2017

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:

  • Penn State child abuse: The criminal trial of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier began this week. Earlier this year, a court ruled that three former PSU administrators would face criminal charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. Last week, two of the three defendants– former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley– pleaded guilty to one count each of endangering the welfare of children, leaving Spanier as the sole defendant, facing charges of child endangerment and conspiracy. Spanier has maintained his innocence ever since 2012, when he was charged, but prosecutors presented testimony from Schultz and Curley they hope will undermine that position. The prosecution concluded its case on Wednesday, and, after the defense rested on Thursday morning without calling any witnesses, the case went to the jury that afternoon. The jury deliberated for nearly seven hours yesterday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Those deliberations remain ongoing as of the publication time of this post.
  • Minor League Baseball wages: Earlier this month, a California trial judge handed a significant victory to minor-league baseball players suing MLB for higher wages and overtime pay when he granted their request for class certification. The defendants (which also include the Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, and San Francisco Giants) now have requested permission to immediately appeal that ruling. Because trial judges’ decisions on class certification usually, as a practical matter, are outcome-determinative, parties opposing those rulings have a large incentive to appeal them right away. Recent statistical research suggests that there is a relatively good chance the court will allow an immediate appeal of the sort the defendants in this case have requested.

Sports court is in recess.

2016 Detroit Tigers still in search of man out standing in (left) field

After a disappointing 2015 season, which included some odd maneuvering at the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers entered the offseason with a significant to-do list. They’ve already made acquisitions designed to address needs in the bullpen and starting pitching rotation, but, with three months until opening day, the team still has one major hole to fill.   Continue reading

Johnny Cueto vs. Daniel Murphy: World Series, Game 2

Last night, Johnny Cueto returned to the confident, successful form the Kansas City Royals expected when they traded for him earlier this season, allowing just one run and two hits (both soft singles by Lucas Duda) in the course of completing a 122-pitch complete game victory.

Early on, home-plate umpire Mark Carlson seemed to be calling a fairly large strike zone, which appeared to tighten as the game progressed. No Mets hitter looked to be more frustrated by Carlson’s calls than the suddenly homer-starved Daniel Murphy, who struck out twice and walked twice, failing to register a hit (or put the ball in play) for the first time this postseason.

What follows is a quick look at each of Murphy’s four plate appearances last night, with the goal of determining whether he or Cueto received any benefit from Carlson’s as-called strike zone.   Continue reading

Window Shopping: Step Back From the Window, or, Thank You Very Much, Mr. Rebooto

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was an especially active period for the Detroit Tigers franchise, which made big moves both with player and front-office personnel.

Detroit traded three of the best players on its 2015 roster in the days and minutes prior to the trade deadline. The team’s biggest move, and arguably the biggest of one of the most active trade-deadline periods ever, was their decision to trade number-one starter David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also sent closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, and, in the final moments before the deadline, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.

The basic logic behind each of these moves is that, even prior to these trades, each of these players was, for all practical purposes, not going to be a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2016. That’s because each is in the final year of his current contract, meaning that each becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The Tigers would have no special ability to keep Price, Cespedes, or Soria in Detroit after the end of the 2015 season, and, given their individual successes, each is likely to fetch contract offers on the free market too rich even for Mike Ilitch’s blood. Rather than keep Price, Cespedes, and Soria for August and September on a team that’s unlikely to even make the playoffs, only to watch them walk away in the winter, the Tigers, with an eye on the post-2015 future, decided to cash in some of the value of these assets by trading them now. In doing so, Detroit converted these three expiring assets into six prospects, including five pitchers and one infielder.

Baseball analysts widely praised these transactions as beneficial to the Tigers, who, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced were “rebooting,” selling with the goal of remaining competitive in the near term, rather than undergoing a full rebuilding. The top return for Detroit was Daniel Norris, a now-former Blue Jay who lives in a van and shaves his beard with an ax. They also received Matt Boyd from Toronto, a younger starter who, in his recent Tigers’ debut, beat Johnny Cueto and the Royals.

Of course, the only real question for Detroit was not whom to trade but whether to trade. As July 31 approached, that question divided fans and, it later would be revealed, members of the team’s front office and ownership. As for the former group, most fans recognized the Tigers’ slim playoff odds and supported selling, although a minority that included this writer held out hope that the team could make one more postseason push before initiating a rebuild. Ultimately, Dombrowski’s “rebooting” seemed to satisfy both camps: Detroit would get close-to-ready prospects in exchange for their expiring assets. No long rebuilding process– a full surrender– was in store, just a quick retooling.

Two additional notes in the context of these trades: 1) one week before the trade deadline, Toronto, the biggest buyers, and Detroit, the biggest sellers, sat four and five games out of the last American League wild card position, respectively, and 2) while it isn’t at all likely that Price, Soria, or Cespedes will return to Detroit in the offseason, the effect of an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract is that the Tigers actually increased whatever chance they have of resigning Cespedes by trading him.

_________________________________________

As the Tigers and their fans were settling into life without Price, Soria, and Cespedes, and enjoying their first trial run with Norris, who had a strong start on Sunday in Baltimore, unbeknownst to them, even more action was afoot behind the scenes.    Continue reading

Preseason BP Nuggets

Dewey_BP

Real baseball finally gets underway today. (The NL Central doesn’t count.) Like last year, I read the Baseball Prospectus annual (now just 476 pages!) so you don’t have to. Rather than roll around in the sea of numbers, the following are some little nuggets of information that, at the very least and probably the very most, might help you get excited for the 2015 baseball season.

  • Albert Pujols: Everyone knows Pujols is a mechanized slugger who is and has been aging for some time, beginning in especially noticeable and expensive fashion when he left St. Louis for Southern California in 2012. The authors criticize Pujols for “earning $23 million for 2.9 WARP worth of work,” yet the Angels’ overpayment isn’t really that bad. A win usually is valued between $6 million and $8 million, and while an amount north of $7 million is on the high end, the Angels probably are just fine paying Pujols less than $8 million per win.

  • Ian Kinsler: The Tigers’ return for Prince Fielder, Kinsler made Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski look good last season. One thing Kinsler didn’t do last season though was take a free trip to first base. His walk rate fell off precipitously from his career levels, something the Tigers would like to see return for a guy who’s likely to bat high in the order and is a decent runner and base stealer once he’s aboard.
  • Max Stassi: “He must be the only guy in the game ever to earn his first major-league RBI by taking a fastball to the face.”
  • Kansas City Royals: The American League’s representative in the 2014 World Series had a remarkably mediocre regular season last year. Their ranks in various team measures: RS/G (14th), RA/G (12th), True Average (25th), FIP (16th), Defensive Efficiency Rating (12th). And yet there they were in October, one baserunning decision away from a world championship.
  • Ruben Tejada: PECOTA is in love with the Mets shortstop. BP’s projection machine sees Tejada hitting twenty-five home runs this season (he hit eight in the past three seasons combined) with a True Average of .306 (up from the decidedly average .261 last year), and other gains of similar magnitude across his offensive stats. It also sees him aging eleven years this offsesaon and moving from short in New York to first base in Los Angeles. Something must be wrong here.
  • Pitch framing: The middle child of the famous catching family finds himself a free agent, which is a little bit surprising given the new and widespread focus on catcher value, particularly in the area of pitch framing, where all of the Molinas shine. Here’s José’s player comment: “In 1947, private investigator Eddie Valiant was declared a hero for his work in the murder case of Marvin Acme and R. R. Maroon. With help from his girlfriend Dolores, Baby Herman and Maroon Cartoon Studio star Jessica Rabbit, Valiant discovered that Judge Doom killed Acme and Maroon in an attempt to take over Toontown. Unfortunately, Valiant’s investigation came before the time of detectives Mike Fast and max Marchi. The case was re-opened in 2011 when it was determined that Jose Molina was indeed the one who framed Roger Rabbit.”
  • Chris Archer: We may have found the Detroit Tigers Dugout Librarian‘s favorite non-Tiger in Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer: “The Dalai Lama of the diamond, Archer is cool as a cucumber off the field, engaging in philosophical debates and juggling book club memberships. Between the chalk, however, he is a firey competitor, chucking hardballs in the upper 90s with a sharp slider.”

Finally, to satisfy all of your team projection needs, here’s the best prediction piece out there, courtesy of the hard-working crew at Banished to the Pen. Leave your opening day thoughts in the comments below.

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

Although it is less regular than you might be used to, the ALDLAND Podcast has not decreased in quality at all. This episode is no exception, as topics of conversation run from usage of Ebola to drive traffic at ALDLAND to the NFL to the Kansas City Royals. With that kind of coverage, you should listen to this podcast at least two or three times and tell every single one of your friends to do the same.

 _______________________________

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

Flying Tigers: The State of Baseball in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers, once unequivocal favorites to run away with the AL Central, today find themselves clinging to a wild-card spot. And today is a good day. A if-the-season-ended-today-the-Tigers-would-make-the-playoffsish day. Not all days are those days these days.

Even with a 7-3 record over the last ten games (you’re glad I didn’t write this post ten games ago), Detroit has a losing record so far in the second half of the season (23-24, -4 run differential). While the offense, unaddressed before the trade deadlines, continues to be a problem, injuries to Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Joakim Soria effectively negated any defensive gains resulting from the team’s only two late-season trades.

The group of “rational Tigers fans” beat back even the slightest hint of worry with blanket appeals to the greatness of the historically great members of this Tigers team. “Don’t read too deeply into the struggles you’re seeing because this team has MIGUEL CABRERA, who can’t possibly lose” or whatever. It’s important to vent, though. And to be honest (and, you know, rational). Cabrera can barely walk right now. Yes, he’s leading the sport in doubles this season, but that’s because his power has evaporated (i.e., he’ll probably finish the year with half as many homers as he hit last year and, at very best, the third-worst HR season of his career). His injuries mean that Victor Martinez has to spend more time playing first base. At age thirty five, Victor’s having a breakout power year, but he has no knees, which makes it tough for him to defend first. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler’s bats have cooled off after hot starts. None of the various replacement-level players filling time at short can hit, and there’s a noticeable problem with catching the ball to tag out base stealers.

How do things look with a month, twenty-four games, to go? Continue reading