Saving Detroit: Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila

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Shortly before tonight’s game against the Royals in Kansas City, the Detroit Tigers traded right fielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for three infield prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King.

As he has in every season since he joined the Tigers and reconstructed his swing, Martinez has been among the best hitters in baseball in 2017. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he would be the fifth best hitter in baseball by wRC+ (162) to this point in the current season. He doesn’t yet have enough plate appearances to qualify, though, because he again missed time due to injury this year, and his defensive contributions continue to oscillate between positive and negative. He’s also a rental, with free agency and a significant payday headed his direction this offseason.

That last part is the reason the Tigers had to trade Martinez this month. In the combined absence of an ability to resign him on the open market and of a currently competitive team, they had to cash out whatever value they could now. Still, most Detroit fans are reacting to this trade with extreme disappointment, and national observers are calling the Tigers’ return for Martinez “very light.”

Yes, Martinez likely is going to crush left-handed pitching in the NL West and see his power numbers soar even higher in the thin desert air, but he’s still a rental with an inky injury report. Tigers fans understandably came to love Martinez, but their apparent hopes that his always inevitable trade would return a prospect haul the likes of which the White Sox just secured from their crosstown rival in exchange for Jose Quintana are not reasonable. Since 2014, Martinez has been worth 9.2 WARP and Quintana has been worth 12.7 WARP. (Simply for context, Miguel Cabrera contributed 14.5 WARP over that period.) The new Cubs pitcher also is over a year younger than Martinez and has team-friendly years remaining on his contract. It makes sense that trading Quintana would net the White Sox a package including one of the sport’s overall top prospects. Ten weeks of Martinez simply pales in comparison.

The Tigers’ trade has generated plenty of criticism of the team’s first-year general manager, Al Avila. I am not a prospect scout, but, from the perspective of the team’s fan base, I think much of this criticism is, at a minimum, premature. Avila has many years of experience as an assistant general manager under Dave Dombrowski and is well-regarded as a talent evaluator. He is entitled to the same benefit of the doubt fans accorded Dombrowski, whose transactions were regarded with assumed confidence and assessed together, rather than individually.

Still, it is difficult not to at least be a little bit disappointed right now, when the clear weight of the initial assessments of this trade do not cast Detroit’s position in a favorable light.

For Detroit, the 2006-2016 run is over and the proverbial window is closed. The next two weeks are of critical importance to this team’s future. Maybe they stumbled out of the gate with tonight’s trade, but there are more moves to be made. Keep an eye on Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and even Justin Verlander. Painful as it feels, this, for better and worse, is how a new age of Detroit baseball begins.

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Previously
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?
Man vs. Machine

Swansongs, Vol. 3

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It has been exactly ten months since an occasion has arisen to file a new entry in this series on Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. Thankfully, last night’s win in an unusual game on the road against the Nationals provided an opportunity to revisit the former Vanderbilt star and top overall pick in the MLB draft.

With the Braves leading the Nationals 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Swanson, positioned on the first-base side of second as part of an infield shift in place against Nationals batter Matt Wieters, snagged a late one-hopper behind him that caused him to go to the ground. Swanson nevertheless was able to flip the ball to the covering third baseman, who went on to complete the inning-ending double play. Full video is available here.

Back in September, when I last wrote about Swanson here, it would’ve been difficult to believe that it wouldn’t be until nearly the All Star break before I would write about him again. Now, the All Star game comes as something of a sore subject in this context. My sure bet for 2017 NL rookie of the year, Swanson wasn’t even among the top five ASG vote-getters at his position.

If you, brave soul, have watched any Atlanta baseball games this year, though this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. In 145 plate appearances last season, Swanson was roughly average at the plate (107 wRC+; but cf. .303 TAv ). This was the source of excitement about Swanson. Everyone knew his glove would play at short, and the evidence of an average-to-slightly-above-average bat suggested great promise for his future. It’s far too soon to abandon hope in that promise, of course; after all, Swanson’s only twenty-three years old. For the time being, though, Swanson appears to have left that bat of his back in 2016. So far this season, he’s been a decidedly below-average performer at the plate (62 wRC+, .234 TAv). By the FanGraphs’ metric, no other shortstop has been worse than Swanson on offense through the same number of plate appearances. While part of that is due to a very rough start, his performance since then hasn’t exactly been a consistent upward climb.

Since Swanson’s defense continues to be solid, the question remains whether he’ll be able to find his batting legs again in the second half of this season. The good– if tentatively so– news is that he at least appears to be trying to correct course. One of the unusual things about Swanson’s approach through the first quarter of the 2017 season was a large dropoff in his swing rates. Just as suddenly as he stopped swinging, perhaps due to a lack of confidence after poor results, though, he– sometime around the end of May and the beginning of June– began swinging again, and generally doing so more than ever.

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(There is a way to present this that’s even more visually dramatic, but I’m learning that some readers may prefer the telling of a story with one graph rather than three or nine.)

There’s a lot of noise in the rest of Swanson’s offensive data, and the improved results haven’t yet surfaced, but there’s evidence that Swanson– along with new Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer– is tinkering. Publicly, the entire coaching staff has been nothing but supportive of Swanson throughout his struggles, speaking both to his efforts at improvement and his confidence, the latter undoubtedly aided by the team’s refusal to send Swanson down to the minors.

Swanson’s going to have to do more than just swing the bat if he wants to get back to helping his team on offense as well as defense, of course. Fortunately, there is some indirect evidence that Swanson is on the right track. As Swanson began increasing his swing rates a month ago, opposing pitchers– whose behavioral changes sometimes are the best indicators of a batter’s changing level of success– started decreasing the number of pitches they threw him in the strike zone, often an indication that they view the batter as a more dangerous hitter.

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On the other hand, it could be less a sign of respect for Swanson’s bat and more a simple recognition that Swanson’s swinging more at everything these days. Without the results, it’s hard to tell. Even though it isn’t likely to conclude with a rookie of the year trophy, tThe story of the second half of Swanson’s 2017 is going to be an interesting one.

 

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Previously
Swansongs, Vol. 2
Swansongs, Vol. 1

Sports Law Roundup – 7/7/2017

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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.

After a break for the holiday weekend, here are the top sports-related legal stories:

  • NASCAR tune up: NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and members of his family have sued concert promoter and hospitality entities after the Wallace family says employees of Live Nation’s lawn care contractor brutally attacked them in the VIP parking lot outside a Rascal Flatts concert in Charlotte.
  • Minor League baseball wages: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has rejected claims by players in one of the minor league baseball player lawsuits proceeding as a direct challenge to MLB’s longstanding antitrust exemption. The court explained that it was bound by Supreme Court precedent to uphold the exemption, and that the players’ allegations– centering around an assertion that MLB and its teams colluded to suppress minor league player wages– involve “precisely the type of activity that falls within the antitrust exemption for the business of baseball.” This arguably was not the worst result for minor league baseball players in recent days, however.
  • Umpire discrimination: Angel Hernandez, a longtime MLB umpire who is of Cuban descent, has sued the league on claims arising out of general allegations of racial discrimination against minority umpires in promotions to crew chief status and in World Series assignments, as well as specific allegations of Hernandez’s personal targeting by Joe Torre, who began working as MLB’s umpire supervisor in 2011. On the latter issue, Hernandez claims to trace a negative change in his reviews beginning in 2011 to friction between him and Torre that originated a decade prior, when Torre was the manager of the New York Yankees.
  • Athlete financial adviser: In April, a former financial adviser to former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with allegations that the adviser tricked Duncan into guaranteeing a $6 million loan to a sportswear company the adviser controlled. Last week, a judge sentenced the adviser to four years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $7.5 million, the total amount of Duncan’s investment in the adviser’s company.
  • Penn State football coach: Not content to stay out of the legal news, Penn State has sued Bob Shoop, a former Nittany Lion football defensive coordinator now filling the same role for the University of Tennessee, alleging that he breached his employment contract with PSU when he left for the UT gig during the term of the contract. That contract included a provision that, if Shoop left early to take anything other than a head coaching position, he would owe Penn State fifty percent of his base salary. In the lawsuit, PSU is seeking $891,856 in damages. The move to Knoxville is a return to Tennessee and the SEC for Shoop, who was James Franklin’s defensive coordinator  at Vanderbilt from 2011 until he joined Franklin’s dead-of-night departure from Nashville to State College in 2014.
  • Gambling: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a case involving the State of New Jersey’s challenge to a 1992 federal ban on expansions to sports betting outside of the states– Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware– where it was legal at the time.
  • Fox Sports 1 executive: Fox Sports has terminated Jamie Horowitz, a top television executive responsible for the “embrace debate” brand of sports programming first at ESPN and now at FS1, because he is the subject of a sexual harassment investigation at the latter network. Horowitz had been the president of Fox Sports’ national networks since May 2015 and was responsible for bringing Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, and Colin Cowherd to the FS1 airwaves. Most recently, Horowitz was responsible for substantial layoffs in Fox Sports’ digital group and an elimination of all written content at FoxSports.com.
  • NBA arena security: A former manager of security operations at Philips Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks, has sued ATL Hawks LLC, the company that owns the Hawks and the arena, alleging that he lost his job because he complained after white concert performers Axl Rose and Brian Wilson were allowed to bypass metal detectors a week after similar requests from black performers Drake and Future were denied.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 6/23/2017

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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:

  • Football trademark: As predicted (not by me) back in 2015, the Supreme Court heard and now has ruled on a trademark case involving a band called The Slants that has a direct effect on the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registrations were revoked under the same policy applied to The Slants. That policy sought to ban registration of trademarks that were disparaging or offensive, but a unanimous (8-0) Court held that the ban violated the First Amendment. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito explained.
  • NFL fan access: A Green Bay Packers fan has sued the Chicago Bears because the Bears won’t allow him on the sidelines before games at Soldier Field while he’s wearing Packers attire. The fan is a Bears season-ticket holder who built up enough “points” to receive an award in the form of a pregame warmup sideline experience. Despite his entitlement to that experience under the terms of the Bears season ticket program, the Bears refused to allow him to participate while wearing Packers clothing.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The inevitable merger between DraftKings and FanDuel announced last November has hit a probably inevitable regulatory hurdle. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the merger, which, the FTC says, would create a single company that controls ninety percent of the daily fantasy sports market. On Tuesday, a judge granted the FTC a temporary restraining order that halts the merger for now.
  • Golf drugs: The PGA has asked a judge to reconsider her May ruling that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Vijay Singh in connection with a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids golf performance. The PGA’s arguments in support of reconsideration involve evidentiary matters pertaining to witness testimony regarding the financial consequences of Singh’s suspension and the judge’s understanding of whether the PGA reviewed materials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited, and Singh argued that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.

Sports court is in recess.

Brother Jam

Gregg Allman, the younger brother of Duane, died this week at his Savannah home due to complications from his ongoing liver problems. As Gregg was, in some ways, the second Allman Brother and the second member of that band to pass on this year, this week features two Jams in Gregg’s memory. The first comes from the time he spent in Los Angeles with Duane, before Duane began forming what would be the Allman Brothers Band, in a group called The Hourglass:

(HT: NJT)

The second comes from the ABB’s biggest album, and it’s a song Gregg wrote about his brother’s then-recent death:

When I was in high school, my dad took me to Kalamazoo to hear Gregg with his solo group. We had great seats, and the band played “Whipping Post.”

In 2016, Allman received an honorary doctorate degree from Mercer University, which was presented to him by Jimmy Carter.

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Related
Trucks Jam
Jaimoe Remembers Gregg Allman’s Many TalentsRolling Stone

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now

The subtitle of this post nearly was “Weakness Abounds,” since the Detroit Tigers are in a real rough spot right now, and, until last night (and even including most of last night, really), it seemed like nearly everything that could go wrong for this team was going wrong, but then I thought of a much better and more accurate one that also allowed me to lead with that music video. The Tigers have fallen to a 24-29 record, four games out of the division, and, while all is not lost, it’s becoming quite easy to feel that way. A thing that happens sometimes when you focus on putting out the various fires– like the bullpen, as a ready example– popping up on a team struggling to hold it together is that you can take for granted the team’s presumed consistent strengths, however minor, and forget to keep an eye on them too. With the offense collectively slumping as bad as it has been and the entire pitching staff acting like it was playing for the opposing teams, this was easy to do.

One of those good things the Tigers thought they had on lock was their up-the-middle defense. When your pitchers are giving up a lot of contact, a double play can be a life-saver. Shortstop Jose Iglesias’ bat hasn’t held up this season, but we always knew he was in the lineup for his defense, and it was just last year that we were beginning to discuss Ian Kinsler’s dark-horse Hall-of-Fame candidacy. At least as far as defense was concerned, these were two guys the Tigers didn’t have to worry about.

And yet, when their pitchers most needed bailouts, the defense has faltered. Baseball Prospectus tracks double-play percentage (DP%), defined as the number of times a team converts double-play opportunities into double plays. Obviously this is a coarse measure for evaluating a particular double-play tandem for a number of reasons, including the fact that it operates on a team level, and, in this case, Iglesias and Kinsler didn’t play every single game together. Double plays also commonly involve the other infielders too. Still, the DP% numbers paint a stark picture for the Iglesias-Kinsler era in Detroit.

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Iglesias and Kinsler have been the Tigers’ starting shortstop and second baseman, respectively, since 2015. In the first two seasons of the current tandem, 2015 and 2016, the team did a very good job of converting double-play opportunities. As a team, the Tigers were, at very best, average when it came to overall defense during this period, but Iglesias and Kinsler were supposed to be the glue that made the whole fielding operation passable. When it came to completing double plays, they held up their end of the bargain. Something (or somethings) aren’t right so far in 2017, though, and the dramatic dropoff in DP% hardly could come at a worse time for Detroit’s floundering pitching staff.

Tonight’s game is about to start, so I’ll leave things here for now, but this may be a thing– among a great many, to be sure– to keep an eye on as the Tigers turn toward summer and begin to evaluate their team-level strategic direction.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

Glad Jam

What can we be other than glad that a being of the sort of Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., has graced the Earth-stage? Hampton was a wise, even shamanistic mentor in the form of an eccentric and sometimes scary trickster who touched, prodded, pushed, and fostered the careers of so many great musicians. (Click that link for some brief, compelling testimonials from familiar folks.) Elsewhere, I’ve described him as the underground patron saint of modern Southern rock ‘n’ roll, but his influence was broader than that. He died this month on the night of his 70th birthday concert, collapsing onstage at the end of the performance at Atlanta’s Fox Theater in what his friends and collaborators initially thought was nothing more than his latest stunt. (Later that night, one said, “We’ve all seen him do this kind of thing so many times—some of us were going to get down on the stage, too.”)

Writing about Hampton– I tried once before today– isn’t the easiest: he said that one would-be biographer “‘tried to write a book about me, but it was insane—filled with space ships and spies and things that made no sense,’ Hampton said, adding later that this was his 165th trip to the Planet Earth, ‘the only planet in the solar system with aluminum.’” Best just to listen, probably. Snuggled between the various, varied, and engaging interview clips, movie clips (both from the one about him and his appearance in Sling Blade), baseball clips, and concert clips, is this this happy one:

I heard Hampton perform just once, on a magical musical night last summer with some of his most vocal prophets, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and, although I had to turn down tickets to what would be his final concert, where he passed on to a preferable dimension, I consider myself fortunate enough to have heard him outside on that summer night, and, so many more times, to have heard his influence conveyed through his pupils, subjects, and sonic neighbors. For all of that I am glad indeed.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/5/2017

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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:

  • NBA profiling: In 2015, Mike Scott, then a member of the Atlanta Hawks, and his brother were pulled over and subsequently arrested after a search of their rented vehicle turned up marijuana, ecstasy, and $1,684 in cash.  The deputy sheriff who made the stop later was found to have been racially profiling drivers as part of a forfeiture scheme and placed on administrative leave. Records provided by the Scotts’ attorneys show that the deputy sheriff “pulled over more than 1,400 vehicles in 2015 and 2016 but issued only eight traffic citations. He also arrested 47 people, at least 44 of whom were minorities.” As a result of the profiling, the judge overseeing the Scotts’ drug case this week threw out the key evidence against the defendants.
  • Baseball broadcast settlement: In early 2016, MLB settled a fan antitrust lawsuit targeting the league’s television blackouts and other components of its broadcast system. While the blackouts survived, the fans did win reduced-price single-team subscription options for MLB.tv (I am a subscriber, to varying degrees of satisfaction), as well as a price reduction for the full MLB.tv package. The agreement also included a component that would allow MLB to raise prices in the future in exchange for providing more live streams of in-market games by 2017. That component now is at issue in a new motion filed by the fan group demanding that the court enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. The fans allege that MLB raised prices without the required corresponding in-market streaming increase. They concede that the league may have agreements in place with local television providers to provide the in-market streams, but, the fans argue, “the obvious purpose of the settlement was not that ‘agreements’ of some kind be reached, but that the actual games be available.” The fans also argue that, contrary to what they were promised, MLB has failed to make the “follow your team” game broadcasts available when the selected team is playing the team based in the fan’s local broadcast market.
  • Cheerleader wages: The Milwaukee Bucks and Lauren Herington, a former cheerleader for the team who alleged that the team violated federal and state labor laws by underpaying her and her fellow cheerleaders, have reached a $250,000 settlement of Herington’s proposed class action lawsuit that provides for the settlement funds to be divided as follows: $10,000 for Herington; $115,000 for Herington’s attorneys; and unspecified shares of the remaining $125,000 to Herington and other would-be class members who opt into the settlement based on their hours worked during the three-year period (2012-15) at issue. While not insubstantial, the Journal Sentinel notes that Milwaukee’s $250,000 settlement amount is less than what other teams– for example, the Oakland Raiders ($1.24 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($825,000), and Cincinnati Bengals ($255,000)– have paid to resolve similar lawsuits. Upon learning that Herington was wavering on whether to agree to the settlement, her lawyer, who wanted her to accept the deal, reportedly was overheard telling her that “it’s a Bucks dancer’s choice my friend, better take my advice.”
  • Minor League baseball wages: As predicted two months ago, the court overseeing  the minor-league baseball players lawsuit against MLB for higher wages and overtime pay will permit the parties to appeal its recent ruling certifying the case for class-action treatment. In doing so, the court also decided to stay the case pending resolution of the class-certification issues by the appellate court.

Sports court is in recess.

First I Look at the Jam

It’s fair to say that every band that made it big played in a bar at some point on its way up. It’s equally fair to say that the J. Geils Band was the best bar band to make it big. Last month, guitarist J. Geils died at the age of seventy-one. Along with singer/hype-man Peter Wolf (the face of Facebook), Magic Dick on harmonica, and some other guys with less interesting names, they brought high-energy, Boston-barroom-soaked rock and roll to the national stage. The best snapshot of their sound came on Live: Full House, an album recorded in Detroit in 1972. The band’s later success on the pop charts, with hits like “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” provided a surprising– and, one assumes, more lucrative– second act for the group, but, minus a few reunion efforts, it would be their last. Geils himself had a muted solo career, making two blues albums with Magic Dick and in the mid-1990s and some jazz recordings a decade later.