MLB’s Instant Replay Review is Neither Instant nor Review: Discuss

OT - Coffee Talk

It was another bad weekend for MLB officials, whose joint obsessions with speaking publicly about an alleged need to shorten the length of games and threatening their existing fans with rule changes they hate (while forcing official telecast commentators to praise the ill-conceived reforms) came to a sudden and startling head in Atlanta last night.

This catastrophe was not entirely without advance warning, thanks to a Thursday-afternoon prelude in Queens, where replay review affirmed a plainly incorrect, game-ending call at home plate. There, with game tied and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, officials awarded the Mets a walk-off victory when their batter, Michael Conforto, leaned into strike three from Miami Marlins pitcher Anthony Bass (good fish name), taking the ball off his elbow and forcing in the game-winning run. Replay review showed that Conforto not only failed to make any effort to avoid being hit but actually extended his elbow out toward the pitched ball. Even the home telecast crew on SNY acknowledged the rules violation. MLB officials did not, however, asserting that the scope of their review was limited to the simple question of whether the pitch hit Conforto, and the Mets had a win in their home opener.

Three days later, things became unimaginably worse and even less defensible for MLB. In the primetime Sunday night game, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves had dueled to a six-all tie through eight innings. The Braves sent reliever Will Smith out to start the ninth. Smith allowed a leadoff double to Alec Bohm, who advanced to third on Jean Segura‘s groundout. Smith then induced Didi Gregorius to fly out to Marcell Ozuna in left field. Bohm tagged up and headed home. Ozuna’s throw to catcher Travis d’Arnaud looked good enough to end the inning, but the home-plate umpire called Bohm safe.

Instant replay showed anyone with eyes that Bohm was not safe, however. While there may be room for debate as to whether Ozuna’s throw beat Bohm to the plate, the fact that Bohm never actually touched home plate should have negated any other question on the call. Video replay clearly and unequivocally showed that Bohm missed the plate entirely. A lengthy video replay review shockingly resulted in a decision upholding the safe call, however, and angry Braves fans began littering the field with debris, causing further delay.

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Detroit Tigers 2021 Season Preview

The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.

The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.

With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.

The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?

Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.

The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.

While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.

For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.

A reminder that it’s spring training for automotive shop workers too: The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

MLB spring training kicked off this week, and the schedule included a couple of games for the Colorado Rockies, who make their spring camp in Arizona. While outfielder Charlie Blackmon has yet to make his 2021 spring debut for the Rockies, that didn’t stop his legal adversaries from making theirs on the other side of the country.

In the story too hot for any other sports website to handle, Blackmon is suing a Georgia man– Michael Ramsey– and his company– Ramsey Performance– who, Blackmon alleges, took his money to restore a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am but didn’t finish the work and now refuses to return either Blackmon’s car or his money.

Yesterday, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia finally heard from Ramsey and his company– sort of. Ramsey, purporting to represent himself and possibly his company, filed a response to Blackmon’s complaint that does not so much answer the allegations, in a conventional sense, as it does continue the long-winded, argumentative emails Ramsey had been sending to Blackmon’s agent before he filed the lawsuit. To the extent they can be distilled, the main points of Ramsey’s countering contentions are that he, personally, is not at fault because all the work was done by his company; there was no fixed schedule for this “spare time” project; the scope of and financial responsibility for work done by third parties remains Blackmon’s obligation; “the vehicle is not a hostage . . . but it will not leave without payment resolution”; a sheriff’s deputy sent to inspect the vehicle at Ramsey’s garage accidentally defrosted Ramsey’s freezer; and Blackmon’s complaint should have included more of Ramsey’s emails.

The unsolicited suggestion that Ramsey and his company should hire a lawyer isn’t merely a strategic one borne out of the thought that judges are unlikely to be swayed upon encountering filings that include both segments typed entirely in capital letters and handwritten annotations on the opposing party’s exhibits. Indeed, while Ramsey has the right to make the choice to represent himself in court, his company, Ramsey Performance, does not.

Indeed, it isn’t clear that Ramsey Performance, as the distinct legal entity that Blackmon named as a separate defendant and to which Ramsey himself pointed for potential liability, filed an answer at all. If it did not, Blackmon’s attorney likely will wait a couple weeks and then move for a default judgment against Ramsey Performance. As for Ramsey’s responsive filing, assuming it qualifies as an answer, it may be ripe for a quick motion for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment to the extent the judge determines that it does not sufficiently deny key allegations in Blackmon’s complaint. Setting aside for a moment the possibly critical technical failings of Ramsey’s answer, it also is possible that the judge orders the parties to mediate a dispute that seemingly could be resolved for less than $20,000.

The only way to find out what will happen next? Keeping it tuned right here to ALDLAND.com, your exclusive source (seriously) for hot rod baseball litigation.

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Previously
The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

1979 Trans Am- bought it new in April of 1979. It is an unrestored 400/4spd  car with a little… | Pontiac firebird trans am, Pontiac firebird, 1979  pontiac trans am

From MLB hot stove season to MLB hot rod season, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia brings us the tale of Colorado Rockies outfielder and four-time All-Star Charlie Blackmon‘s classic sports car. While the Sports Law Roundup is on hiatus, we’ll tackle this one in as much detail as the public record permits, because what else are we going to do during Pandemic Pro Bowl Weekend?

According to a complaint his legal team filed on Monday, Blackmon hired Michael Ramsey and Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Performance, to restore a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am in early 2015. Since then, Blackmon has paid Ramsey more than $50,000 and has nothing to show for it, and now he wants it back. Ramsey may have done some work on the project, but it is not complete. The allegations and written communications attached to Blackmon’s filing suggest that Ramsey even has refused to allow Blackmon to view the vehicle, much less take possession of it.

The filing includes written correspondence, mostly between Ramsey and Anna Domenech, one of Blackmon’s representatives at his sports agency, ACES. Domenech stepped in to try to retrieve her client’s vehicle. Her documented efforts over the course of most of 2020 proved unsuccessful, but they paint a picture of Ramsey as someone with other priorities and not particularly eager for real engagement with Blackmon’s people. Ramsey’s rare, often lengthy responses refer to his obligations to a software company undergoing post-merger downsizing, a matter he characterized as “my job which actually supports my family.” The emails also suggest that the restoration project became more expensive than Ramsey anticipated and required him to advance money for overruns that he wants to recover, at least in part, before surrendering the car to Blackmon.

Ramsey eventually offered a completion date of May 23, 2020. After he missed his own deadline, Blackmon hired a Georgia lawyer with experience representing sports and entertainment clients in the state to secure the vehicle’s return. In September, when Ramsey responded to the lawyer’s demand, the lawyer forwarded the response to Domenech, simply noting, “[a]t least he is alive.” Domenech replied to agree, further pointing out that the work still wasn’t done and writing, of Ramsey, “[i]f there is someone that can’t be trusted its [sic] him and he has proven that time and time again.”

Blackmon hired another Georgia lawyer who, in December, again demanded possession of the car. Ramsey responded by insisting that he be paid additional money before surrendering the vehicle:

I am more than happy to setup [sic] a review/inspection of the car, settle on what is owed based on that review, and ONLY THEN return the car to Charlie once we are both able to close this. It can only happen in that order and in that way, I will not release the car and settle later . . . . Anything owed on either side are [sic] agreed to and handled before the car leaves as once the car leaves everything is closed.

Blackmon then sought the assistance of the Cherokee County Sheriff to retrieve the car. When that effort was unsuccessful, Blackmon finally filed suit this past week against Ramsey and his company. He’s asking the court to order Ramsey to return the car or pay Blackmon the value of the car plus all materials and services for which Blackmon paid. Blackmon also is asking the court to force Ramsey to pay Blackmon’s legal expenses incurred in the case.

Ramsey has not yet filed an answer to the complaint, and his response isn’t due until at least late February.

There has been no detectable media coverage of this case, and Blackmon presumably wants it to stay that way. Nevertheless, his lawyers’ decision to leave unredacted certain personal identifying information, including Blackmon’s email address and the addresses of two of his current or former residences (one of which looks like it might be incorrect), is a footnote of minor interest pertaining to the representation of a famous client.

Born in Texas, Blackmon attended high school and colleges in Georgia before signing with Colorado as a second-round pick in 2008. Now, he’s entering what might be his final season with the Rockies (he has player options in 2022 and 2023) and looking to rebound from a slight dip, by his standards, in his eleventh year in the majors.

2020 Campaign Promises: Did MLB pitchers fail to back up their bluster in Houston?

During this time of evaluating early returns on campaign promises (no, not those ones), retrospective data on the 2020 MLB season allows an assessment of whether opposing pitchers actually delivered on their commitments to punish Houston Astros batters for their revealed roles in an on-field cheating program perpetuated in prior seasons.

To be fair, I don’t think any pitchers actually promised, publicly, to plunk a Houston hitter, but the notion propagated readily and rapidly throughout the broader baseball discourse during the offseason. Video clips of Houston HBPs spread swiftly and to great general approval. Intentionality of individual encounters unknown and therefore aside, was this really happening, though?

The hit-by-pitch rate across all teams hit a historic high in 2020. Evidence of a spike in beaned batters in Houston? Not so. (A missed opportunity for a beaned, battered burrito? Absolutely.) Even though 2020 saw a record one hit hitter for every eighty-one plate appearances, pitchers only hit Houston batters once every ninety-seven plate appearances, well below average for this past season. In 2018 and 2019, pitchers hit Astros batters at almost exactly average rates relative to all other teams, indicating that what happened was the exact opposite of what many people expected to happen: Astros players were hit less frequently than they had been in past seasons and less frequently than most other teams’ players in 2020.

There’s no doubt that civic upheaval due to a global pandemic and policing tragedies contributed to dramatically differ the demeanor with which players and fans approached sports in the spring of this year. It would be little surprise if the zeal of those plotting revenge against the Astros diminished substantially as the season shortened and attentions diverted to more pressing matters.

Before those realities unavoidably presented themselves, though, the teams played relatively unencumbered spring training schedules. That would have been opposing pitchers’ first chances to leave their marks on this conversation, and perhaps their best ones, given the general insignificance of the outcomes of these games.

What do the spring numbers say? Across all games and teams, a batter was hit once every seventy-eight plate appearances, an even higher rate than the high water mark of the regular season. And this time, Houston was near the top, with a hit batsman once every sixty-five plate appearances. Of course, that only adds up to twelve total HBPs, but the relative rate supports the suggestion that opposing pitchers in fact took their best first chances to submit a statement on the record with signal clear and significant consequence low. Whether that would have satiated the opposition or exhibition attitudes would have sustained through the regular season absent the significant intervention of external circumstances is impossible to say.

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Related
Six Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the 2020 Season – Baseball Prospectus

MLB’s proto-gambling app is a managerial pace-of-play simulator

If you’ve been following the 2020 MLB playoffs, you likely have seen or heard advertisements for the MLB Rally app, through which fans may access a free-to-play contest with the possibility of monetary prizes. Contests are organized around individual MLB games and run before and during a game. Before first pitch, participants might be asked to predict the game’s winner, whether a particular player will hit a home run, or which of a selected group of players will have the most total bases. During the game, participants may make predictions about the outcome of each plate appearance. The options for each prediction opportunity have different potential values, and a correct prediction adds the associated number of points to the participant’s total points for the game. At the end of the game, a handful of participants who accumulated the most points during that game win cash prizes.

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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.

RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team

The Detroit Tigers have the reputation of being a team late to baseball’s new analytical revolution, but they quietly have been making front-office hires (no, Brad Ausmus did not count) purportedly to try to catch up in that area, and there’s evidence that it’s happening. For example, two weeks ago, something occurredfor what I believe to be the first time in Tigers history, when manager Ron Gardenhire cited input from the analyitics department– excuse me, “analytic department”– as the reason for a decision he’d made:

If you’re excited — or angry — about seeing Jeimer Candelario in the lead-off spot Wednesday night, then feel to credit — or blame — the Detroit Tigers analytics department.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said the recent spate of roster changes prompted a consultation with the club’s analytics and research department in an effort to find an ideal batting order.

“We did some research and the analytic department put all the data in there to try to see what gives up our best opportunities,” Gardenhire said. “(Candelario’s) name came up first as lead-off.”

Just the one analytic so far, but it’s a start. Now that we know the Tigers have sabermetric analysts and those analysts convey strategic input to the coaching staff, it’s fair to inquire into the quality of that input. As it turned out with respect to the above example, Candelario only hit leadoff for two games, and while he performed well (four hits, including a double and home run, and two strikeouts in eight plate appearances), it did not seem to be a part of Gardenhire’s long-term plan. Very likely coincidentally, the team lost both of those games, and Gardenhire moved Candelario back to fifth, where he’s hit for most of the season, for the next game, a win. As Lindbergh and Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has To Work reminds, it’s one thing to develop sabermetrically informed strategies and another to implement them with coaches and players. (And, as beat writer Evan Woodbery pointed out in the article quoting Gardenhire, Detroit didn’t have many good options for the leadoff position anyway.)

More recently, Tigers observers and fans have cited with excitement a data point on defensive shifts an FSD producer pointed out over the weekend as more good evidence in this area, even suggesting that the team was becoming a leader (first place!) in the realm of new analytics-based strategy:

The irony of the timing of this was that it came as lead Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton was in the process of dismantling the notion of the shift as a useful defensive strategy.  Continue reading

RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize

The week of August 16 was as exciting a stretch of days as fans of the Detroit Tigers have had in a couple years. After sleepwalking through an aimless rebuilding process with lows as low as those of Houston’s famous tank job but without the Astros’ supercharged turnaround to competitive status, concern was growing that the organization might be starting to feel a little too comfortable in the increasingly populated sub-mediocre wilderness. Yet, to fans’ surprise and pleasure, General Manager Al Avila treated everyone to a one-two-three punch of debuts, allowing everyone an up-close look of the future of Detroit baseball. On Monday, Isaac Paredes, whom the Tigers received from the Chicago Cubs along with Jeimer Candelario in the trade for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson, started at third base following Candelario’s move to first after the injury to C.J. Cron. On Tuesday, left-handed pitcher Tarik Skubal, the Tigers’ ninth-round pick out of Seattle University in the 2018 draft, got the start. And on Wednesday, right-handed pitcher Casey Mize, the first overall pick in that same 2018 draft, had his turn.  Continue reading

Wowy do baseball players ever miss their fans

Fox says it will fill empty baseball stadiums with virtual ...

Everyone knows that MLB is playing the 2020 season without fans in the seats because of the way our country has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s made for a strange, uncomfortable atmosphere in and around the game, which was to be expected.

Not to be expected, at least by this writer, was that the absence of warm bodies in the bleachers might affect on-field performances. While I enjoy cheering at games as much as the next person, it’s been some time since I’ve been under any delusion that noises I and my fellow spectators might produce from our in-house spectating positions influence the game itself in all but the highest of leverage scenarios. Despite players’ lip service to their teams’ respective “greatest fans in the world” issued upon a local reporter’s commanding prompt, we all recognize that they wouldn’t really miss us if we were gone, right? Maybe in the playoffs, but certainly not on a mundane, mid-season Monday night.

Maybe I’ve been too cynical. As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noticed, home-team win percentage in 2020 is just .505, which would be the lowest-ever rate for a full season.

What’s different this year? A lot, obviously. Petriello’s article mentions travel as one variable, and teams certainly are doing less travel this year as a result of schedule modifications designed to keep teams playing games against geographically proximate opponents. But that’s the only obvious out-of-stadium factor that might affect home-road splits this season. And that leaves us with the fan factor.

This unfortunately unusual season has presented itself as a natural experiment. By comparing the difference between the magnitude of ordinary home-field advantage and 2020 home-field advantage, we can begin to quantify fan contribution to team winning.

Since 1998, when MLB expanded to thirty clubs, home teams have a .536 win percentage. Using that mark as a baseline suggests that home fans contribute about 0.031 points of winning percentage, a rate corresponding to about five games over the course of an ordinary 162-game season (and a bit under two games in a sixty-game season).

Does the presence of a team’s fans really contribute an average of five wins a year? That seems like a lot, and there of course are other factors at work, but it looks like there might be something here. If nothing else, the next time someone criticizes you for describing the accomplishments of your favorite team using first person plural pronouns, you can send them a copy of this post.