Tigers make no waves with garden-variety hire

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In a move sure to disappoint many, the Detroit Tigers’ managerial search reportedly is over after less than two weeks, and the team appears to be set to announce former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire as the replacement for Brad Ausmus. From the article announcing the decision:

What separated Gardenhire from the rest of the pack?

Multiple sources told The Athletic’s Katie Strang that Tigers general manager Al Avila entered the process leaning heavily toward a candidate with previous MLB managerial experience. Gardenhire was seen as a seasoned, battle-tested option in this regard.

In his thirteen-season tenure as the Twins’ skipper, he compiled a .507 winning percentage. In twenty-seven playoff games, he posted a .222 winning percentage. All of those playoff wins came in his first three seasons (2002-2004) with the club, and Minnesota missed the playoffs entirely, and by wide margins, in his final four seasons there (2011-2014).

In my opinion, Gardenhire is the worst sort of “old-school” manager who lacks the ability to adapt to the modern game or develop young talent, two things of critical importance to this Tigers team in 2018 and beyond. He’s Jim Leyland without the edge, wit, or soul (which is to say: not Jim Leyland). He’s Dusty Baker without the success. He’s Clint Hurdle without the willingness to learn and adjust. He’s basically Bryan Price’s dad. Which is to say, not good, and vanilla at best.

To this, Tigers fans should say: “no thank you.” That a coaching search that supposedly began with fifty names ended like this reveals a front office more tone-deaf than previous personnel decisions indicated. Research indicates that managers probably have little impact on game outcomes, and if Gardenhire is coming to Detroit merely to serve as an interim stopgap during the rebuilding process, so be it. If that’s the case, though, why not bring in someone younger and cheaper who at least offers the possibility of growing with the players and the club and developing into a long-term solution? Or, why not promote from within, like the Atlanta Braves did with Brian Snitker? The team’s coaching ranks weren’t short on people “with previous MLB managerial experience,” including Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont.

Gardenhire’s not likely to be a detriment to the team, but his hiring feels like a missed opportunity and serves as a reminder that, after the Verlander decade, the Detroit Tigers’ rebuilding process will be a long and difficult one indeed.

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Daily fantasy sports site argues that DFS is illegal in attempt to escape advertising contract

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Draft Ops was a daily fantasy sports (“DFS”) website, like FanDuel and DraftKings, that used to be the “official fantasy partner” of a number of sports teams and media outlets, including the Minnesota Wild. Last spring, the Wild sued Draft Ops, alleging that the site owed the team $1.1 million pursuant to an agreement that allowed Draft Ops to use the Wild’s name and logo in advertising materials.

In a creative, if risky, attempt to avoid its contractual obligations to the Wild, Draft Ops argued that the agreement was void because, it further argued, DFS constituted illegal gambling in Minnesota. After years of litigation and lobbying by DFS operators to expand and protect the legality of their enterprise, it is fairly remarkable to see a DFS site argue that its business is illegal.

On the other hand, if any DFS site was going to turn state’s evidence, it makes sense it’d be one like Draft Ops, which appears to be out of business, filed for bankruptcy last week, and is more concerned about how it’s going to make good on the $1.1 million it allegedly owes the Wild than it is about the ongoing viability of the business model.

Draft Ops hit a roadblock in the Minnesota case last week, though, when the judge allowed the case to proceed, explaining that it was not clear that DFS was illegal under Minnesota law, and that, even if DFS clearly was illegal in the state, there still could be grounds on which the court could enforce the contract, which, the judge noted, was a sponsorship and advertising contract, not a gambling contract.

If this strategy sounds familiar, that’s because it essentially is the same one people who lost money playing DFS tried in lawsuits they filed against the DFS sites themselves last year.

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Related
DraftKings and FanDuel finally announce inevitable merger agreement
Lose money playing DraftKings or FanDuel? File a lawsuit.

Analyzing college football coaches’ favorite musical artists

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ESPN conducted a survey of all 128 Division I college football coaches, asking them to name their favorite musical artist. The full list of responses is here. My cursory analysis is here:   Continue reading

When do baseball teams score runs?

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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

The Lions could have the best rush defense in the NFL…

…ever.

The award for the fewest rushing yards allowed by a team in a regular season goes to the 2000 Ravens* anchored by linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens allowed a paltry 970 yards on the ground to pick up an impressive 12-4 regular season record. Oh, and this same defense went on to win Super Bowl XXXV as well.

The Lions are nearly on track to break this record.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Through 13 games, the Lions have allowed 817 yards on the ground. The three remaining regular season games are against repeat foes; in fact, they are against all of the other teams in the NFC North.

The last time the Lions played the Vikings, Bears, and Packers, Detroit’s defense gave up a meager 69, 13, and 76 yards respectively. If we can expect a repeat performance then the Lions are set for 975 allowed rushing yards on the season – just five more than the NFL-best 2000 Ravens.

Of course, teams change throughout the season. Let’s look at some trends. The Lions do better at home than away: about 25% better than average when home and 25% worse than average when away. This isn’t too surprising. We can also look at how the Lions defense has done lately. In the last three games (Patriots, Bears, Bucs) the Lions have done better than their average, even when accounting for the fact that two of those games were in Detroit. On the other hand, all three of the latest teams rank in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing production this year, coming in 21st, 26th, and 31st, respectively, so perhaps a slight boost in recent statistics shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

On the other side, Minnesota has been doing worse than average rushing the ball lately (7% off their season average in their last three games), Chicago has been doing much worse (in part due to the Lions of course) (47% off their season average in their last three games), and the Packers have been up lately (35% over their season average in their last three games).

Could the Lions do it? Maybe. It looks like they will be about right on track. I would probably estimate a little bit more than 970 yards allowed on the ground.

And who knows, maybe Rodgers takes a knee on the last play of the Lions regular season (hopefully because the Lions are already up by 28) and that takes Detroit to 969 rushing yards allowed.

*Other teams have allowed fewer rushing yards in a season, but since the move to a standard 14 game season in 1961, no team has done better per game than the 2000 Ravens.

The BCS is dead they say: Long live the BCS

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When the BCS died a year ago, I wrote an introduction to the College Football Playoff that, in essence, contended that we were going to miss the BCS:

With the College Football Playoff ©, we will have one thing we asked for and one thing we did not. A semifinal playoff round will precede, and determine the participants in, the national championship game. That is good, and it was a structural shortcoming of the BCS. For some reason, though, the College Football Playoff © scrapped the BCS’s rankings system in favor of a Byzantine (Soviet? Orwellian?) black box: the PolitburoSelection Committee.

Participating in the BCS is like paying your income taxes: there’s a lot of math and fine print involved, you probably can’t quite find all of the information you need to calculate the precisely correct result, and there’s that guy down the block who hollers that the thing’s unconstitutional, but you generally have a pretty good idea of your expected outcome.

On the other hand, the new playoff’s Selection Committee recalls the Supreme Court: members deliberate behind closed doors, apply any criteria of their choosing in reaching decisions, and announce those decisions under their own terms.

On Sunday, the Selection Committee spoke for the last time in its inaugural season to announce the four playoff participants: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Two days later, everyone outside of Texas generally seems to agree that this is the right result.

The only reason the results were or remain controversial has to do with what the Selection Committee did prior to Sunday. Their flipping and flopping of TCU, with seemingly connected treatments of Baylor and Minnesota, was the genesis of the confusion, surprise, and, in Fort Worth and Waco, disappointment, that arrived with the final playoff announcement. On one hand, those confused, surprised, and disappointed feelings were unwarranted: the Committee reached the correct result. On the other hand, however, they were unnecessary and likely would not have arisen absent the lack of transparency that now characterizes the college football ranking process.

If the BCS could speak from the grave, what would it say about the CFP Selection Committee’s final result? The answer, Continue reading

A Statistical Appreciation of the Washington Generals And Harlem Globetrotters (via FiveThirtyEight)

gtRed Klotz, the founder and longtime coach of the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ perpetually feeble opponents, died at age 93 last week (I highly recommend Joe Posnanski’s remembrance). Klotz’s all-time record as a head coach of the Generals and their namesakes was something like six wins and 14,000 losses — they lost 99.96 percent of the time.

How exactly did the Generals lose so consistently? How much of it was their conceding games on purpose, as opposed to simply being really bad at basketball?

Let’s first get a sense for how good the Globetrotters were. … Read More

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Flying Tigers: Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter

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Tigers fans chuckle to themselves whenever they hear announcer Rod Allen proclaim with his special gravitas that Victor Martinez is a “professional hitter.” After watching Victor this season, though, I began to notice that Detroit’s DH seemed to be doing an especially good job not just of putting the ball in play, but of extending his plate appearances, forcing pitchers to display their arsenal for the benefit of Martinez and his teammates. As the chart below shows, few batters are seeing more pitches per plate appearance than Victor this season.

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There are a few things to note about this chart. First and most importantly, because the season remains young, the rankings are subject to great fluctuation on a pitch-by-pitch basis. (Click the image to see the latest data.) A second observation is that the American League, and the AL Central in particular, and the Minnesota Twins in even more particular, find strong representation here. Or at least they did when I grabbed that screenshot. Again, probably too early to read too much into the positioning here.

Wherever he stands with respect to the rest of Major League Baseball, Victor’s seeing more pitches than his fellow Tigers. I like to think that’s a small piece of evidence showing that he’s fully embracing the role of designated hitter.

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Previously
Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max – 4/29
Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28

Preseason BP Nuggets

bpro-oscarAs mentioned, this is my first season reading the Baseball Prospectus annual, and as those around me this spring have noticed, it’s full of numbers. Numbers are okay, but without analysis or interpretation, it can be a bit like reading the backs of a bunch of really comprehensive baseball cards (that also happen to include some sophisticated projections for the season ahead). There’s nothing wrong with numbers, but they don’t tend to make for very exciting reading on a site like this. Instead of asking you to widen your eyes along with me at the number of home runs Chris Davis is projected to hit this year (thirty, down from his Triple-Crown-repeat-spoiling fifty-three in 2013), I’ve tried to extract a few nuggets of information from the weeds of the raw data that will make watching baseball this season just a little bit more enjoyable.      Continue reading