Continuing Education Jam

Before lunch yesterday, I learned two things. The second was that former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, one of the most talented and popular players in MLB history, began his career in San Diego. Smith made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1978 and spent four seasons with them before they traded him to the Cardinals following the strike-shortened 1981 season. (In digging into this news-to-me, I also discovered that the Detroit Tigers were the first team to draft Smith, but he didn’t sign with them after they picked him in the seventh round in 1976. San Diego picked him in the fourth round the following year and he signed.)

The first thing I learned yesterday morning was that Dolly Parton is the author of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.” Parton’s original version is this week’s Jam:

Advertisements

WTF: Welcome Back Kozma

This may be the deepest into the season I have stated my annual Detroit Tigers diary. With the possible exception of Jeimer Candelario, the team just hasn’t been terribly exciting or interesting to this point, “this point” currently being defined as sitting in the middle of a very mediocre AL Central with a 15-20 record. I didn’t not want to do this series this year; after all, if you write about the good times, I think you have to be disciplined enough to write about the bad times. It’s just that there didn’t seem to be a good excuse to get started. In retrospect, it’s obvious I was waiting on the call-up of Pete Kozma to get things rolling.

Kozma signed on with the Tigers in January as a free agent, and he began the season in Toledo. After a rash of injuries, the team brought him up to the majors this week, and he’s making his Tigers debut right now, in a game against the Texas Rangers.

The St. Louis Cardinals originally drafted Kozma out of high school with the eighteenth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he broke into the majors with them in 2011. Outside of 2014 (448 PA in 143 games), the utility infielder didn’t play too much for the Cardinals, who granted him free agency after the 2015 season. The Yankees promptly signed him, but he spent all of 2016 riding the AAA rail for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After playing in just eleven games (ten PA) in the majors for the Yankees in 2017, New York designated him for assignment, and the Rangers claimed him off waivers. Kozma appeared in twenty-eight games for Texas before they too DFA’d him. He cleared waivers and finished the season in AAA Round Rock before becoming a free agent again.

On May 21, 2017, Kozma hit his only home run as a Ranger. The shot came off of Detroit’s Matt Boyd in a 5-2 Texas win at Comerica Park. That would be the last major-league home run for Kozma until today, almost exactly one year later, when he hit one in his first game as a Tiger, coming in a game against the Rangers in Arlington.

As of this writing, the Tigers lead the Rangers 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning. Kozma has reached base in all three of his plate appearances so far.

As a concluding note, the title of this season’s Tigers diary is WTF, which is an acronym for a number of phrases that might describe this particular team. Officially, it stands for When the Tigers broke Free, the title of the song performed in the video above and the notion that the 2018 Tigers have broken from their past trajectory and now are writing the beginning of a new chapter.

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning…
It was dark all around,
There was frost in the ground
When the Tigers broke free

______________________________________________

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

detroit-tigers

At last, Opening Day is here, and the 2018 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fourth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site. For the second consecutive year, our preview takes on a slightly less formal format. In light of the significant roster turnover the team has experienced, we thought it would be helpful to tell the story of this team by focusing on some of its new faces, together with some updates on the current roles for the familiar guys.

First pitch is at 1:10 todaytomorrow. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Can predict baseball? Guesses for the 2018 MLB season

FanGraphs released its staff (likely irresponsibly broadly defined, as you’ll realize very soon) predictions for the 2018 MLB season, to which I contributed, today. This includes aggregated predictions for each division and wild card position, as well as MVP, Cy Young, and ROY winners. In a decision not my own, the post also breaks out each individual’s predictions arranged alphabetically by first name, making my guesses dangerously easy to spot.

If you want to see what the baseball future could but likely will not be, click here, and then come back here and add your own predictions in a comment below.

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

fiers mlbn

As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist. The winners will be announced on Sunday.

The full post is available here.

Old English D: A Look Back at Tigers Uniforms (via The Hardball Times)

parts-of-the-dIn late January, the Detroit Tigers announced an alteration to their iconic home uniforms that, depending on your level of uniform awareness, was either a seismic change or a minor detail but unlikely to be anything in between. The Tigers’ Old English “D” is the second-oldest mark in baseball, trailing only the Athletics’ “A,” which can be traced back to 1866. However, for most of their history, the D on the Tigers’ caps has differed, at times slightly, at others quite drastically, from the D on their jerseys. This offseason, the Tigers decided to put an end to that discrepancy by replacing the D on their jerseys with the one on their caps.

The decision was superficially logical (the D’s should match), but disregarded the history of one of major league baseball’s classic uniforms. Not only had the two D’s never really matched (with the possible exception of the 1929 road uniform, though uniform manufacturing was so inconsistent then that even that could be called into question), but the now-discarded Jersey D (as I’ll call it from here on out) pre-dated the first use of the Cap D by 52 years.

By transferring the Cap D to their chests, the Tigers have removed a version of the D that dated back to 1908 in favor of one that has been in continuous use only since 1968. If anything, the discrepancy between the D’s was more representative of the Tigers’ uniform history than any single D could be, with the possible exception of the now-discarded Jersey D. … Read More

(via The Hardball Times)

Shohei Ohtani boomerangs into spring training

Easily the most anticipated debut of the 2018 MLB season belongs to Shohei Ohtani, the two-way player from Japan who signed with the Angels as an international free agent this offseason. The twenty-three-year-old previously starred as both a starting pitcher and hitter for the Nippon Ham Fighters, a team in Japan’s top professional baseball league. During his five seasons with the Fighters, Ohtani posted a  2.52 ERA and .859 OPS. While his numbers don’t correlate directly to Ohtani’s expected performance with Los Angeles, they do suggest Ohtani could become both a very good pitcher and hitter here, something without recent parallel in the MLB ranks.

The presently ongoing spring training offers American audiences their first good look at Ohtani, who has made one appearance (1.1 IP) on the mound thus far. Can he pitch? Reader, he can pitch:

The Angels surprised many by racing to a second-place finish behind runaway success (and eventual World-Series champion) Houston in 2017, and they promise to be even more interesting in 2018, with a roster that adds Ohtani and a bunch of former Detroit Tigers (Cameron Maybin, Justin Upton, and Ian Kinsler, plus Brad Ausmus as a front-office assistant) to a group that already included Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and compiler Albert Pujols.

2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated

baseball time

With the MLB and MLBPA finding it difficult to engage in substantive, productive conversations with each other, Commissioner Rob Manfred was poised to enact rule changes unilaterally in an effort to advance his ill-defined pace-of-play goals.

In his three years in office, Manfred already has made changes in this area, including a reduction in the time of the between-inning breaks and an informal request for hitters to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. More fundamentally, one year ago, he made what I still believe to be “the most significant change to the sport since 1879” when he eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, an alleged pace-of-play reform he later conceded was merely “symbolic.”

Rumored to be chief among those new, unilateral rule changes for 2018 was the institution of a pitch clock, which the upper levels of the minor leagues have been using since 2015. While a less-fundamental change to the game than the intentional-walk rule, in my estimation, a pitch clock in the majors likely would have drawn a louder critical outcry from fans.

Thankfully, we’ve learned today, a pitch clock will not be a part of the game in 2018. Instead, Manfred has made what I think are very good choices, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

In case those tweets are hard to read or disappear, that’s a cap on mound visits per nine innings at six (with limited exceptions for extra innings and other defined situations in the umpire’s discretion) and a reduction in inning breaks during the regular season to 2:05 (with scaled expansions for postseason games).

By further (although it’s unclear by how much) reducing the between-inning commercial breaks and limiting mound visits, Manfred tracked two important reform guidelines: a) avoid changes in the on-field game and b) keep the focus on the players. There’s plenty of time in a baseball game for pitcher coaching and coordinating, and I have no problem putting more pressure on pitchers (who, collectively, now are enjoying probably their greatest advantage relative to hitters in the game’s history) to work out struggles on their own.

More than anything, though, I’m glad that baseball, at least at the top level, remains an area of life not dictated by a clock, a space where anything is possible so long as you’re alive.

_____________________________________________________________

Related
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour