The past year has offered more than its fair share of challenges, and unwrapping a new calendar while casting out the old one isn’t likely to offer the degree of actual page-turning transformative catharsis many colloquially proclaim to expect and for which all hope.
Whatever the nature and trajectory of the new chapter that commences tomorrow, we pause here– unprecedently for this feature, on a Thursday— to acknowledge one last strike this current year struck in the taking of the captain of music’s all-name team and, along with Clarence Clemmons and Bobby Keys, a charter member of the most elite and exclusive cadre of rock and roll saxophonists, Alto Reed, who yesterday lost his battle with colon cancer.
With Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Reed was the author of many essential rock horn licks and, as featured in today’s Jam, perhaps its most singularly memorable sax line. Seger called Reed his band’s ambassador and true rock star. Let this lonely, wintery wail never be far from your ear:
Eddie Van Halen was, until this week, a living legend. Cancer erased the first part of that, but he forever will have a prominent place in the pantheon of popular music, his monumental guitar work an essential element of rock music. While the lineage of his sonic legacy flows into harder rock and metal artists, his own music retained a melodic accessibility that helped maintain his mainstream appeal.
I’m too young to have experienced the phenomenon of Van Halen as it was happening, but I still can remember the time in middle school when I first heard “Right Now” and “Jump,” which, together, are this week’s Jam:
Toots Hibbert, founding father of reggae music, died this week in Jamaica at the age of seventy-seven. Along with his band, the Maytals, his words, voice, and sound are essential pillars of the genre he named, dubbed “reggay” in his spelling. Hibbert’s longevity and creative prowess are remarkable. With longstanding hits to match the caliber of those of fellow legends Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, he continued to create. Notable late-career efforts include 2004’s True Love, a star-studded update to some of the best parts of his catalog, and Got to be Tough, released just two weeks before his passing.
In 1972, the soundtrack to the landmark film, The Harder They Come, with Cliff acting in the starring role, established an enduring, widely distributed touchstone of this music. It includes two Hibbert-penned tracks– “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop”– that Cliff sings along with the Maytals. The following year, Toots & co. released the wonderful Funky Kingston, which, in addition to a series of strong originals, presented two very fun covers: “Louie Louie” and “Country Roads.”
Funky Kingston was maybe the second record I ever bought, and catching a glimpse of its wonderfully colorful cover still instantly transports me to the backyard of the house in which I grew up on a too-rare sunny summer evening in Michigan. To my untrained ears, this group brought a more present, earthier reality with jauntier rhythms than, for example, Marley’s familiar, philosophizing, pontoon-sailboat lilt. In short, Hibbert’s music is authentically irresistible, and it will stand forever as a sonic cornerstone. Do the reggay indeed:
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?
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.
I can’t believe I burned that headline on what’s going to be such a modest batch of information, but I can believe that Spencer Turnbull has found his way to the top of the Detroit Tigers rotation this year. I don’t think any serious baseball fan still thinks about pitcher wins and losses anymore, but Turnbull obviously was much better than his 3-17 “record” in 2019.
The exciting news is that he’s been even better than expected so far in 2020. With a 2.78 ERA/2.85 FIP, he’s the best Detroit pitcher by fWAR (0.7) and bWAR (0.6).
MLive Tigers beat reporter Evan Woodbery noted this morning that Turnbull’s likely to regress as the season proceeds, and he’s right: there are some signs pointing in that direction. Woodbery points to SIERA, an ERA estimator, which sees Turnbull as about two runs worse than his current ERA. To that I would add Turnbull’s .283 batting average on balls in play, which is about fifty points lower than his 2019 BABIP and seems likely to increase. His DRA, 3.56, also pegs him as a little worse than his ERA and FIP suggest, though still clearly the best among the current rotation.
There also are signs these good results might stick, though. Here’s a FanGraphs/RotoGraphs report from yesterday, which highlights Turnbull alongside Trevor Bauer as two pitchers who have produced significantly increased movement on one of their featured pitches. For Turnbull, it’s his slider, which has been his main out pitch:
Last year Turnbull’s main strikeout pitch was his slider which had a 15.3 SwStr%. That isn’t the greatest number to have as your main swing and miss pitch. He already has a really good four-seam fastball so pairing it with a true swing and miss pitch was the key to Turnbull having a better 2020 season. So far this season Turnbull’s slider has a 26.5 SwStr%. It also has a higher O-Swing%, better wOBA against, and better ISO against. But again, small sample size so we have to look deeper to make sure this is indeed legit.
To start, Turnbull increased his sliders RPMs. It has gone from 2,438 RPMs in 2019 to 2,533 RPMs this season thus resulting in more movement. His slider movement went from having an overall movement of 3.3 inches to 3.9. He did this mainly by increasing its horizontal movement. Something he seems to be working on in the past three years. Its movement in inches starting in 2018 went from 2.29 to 3.07 and now to 3.51.
The increases in spin rate and movement on his slider show that Turnbull still is developing, refining, and improving his arsenal, and they constitute evidence that he may be ready to outdo the performance levels his past baselines suggest.
One other thing I’ve been wanting to document this year is the way Turnbull mixes speeds. The graph below plots the velocity of every pitch he threw in his first start of the 2020 regular season. In five complete innings, he only allowed three hits (just ten total balls in play) and recorded eight strikeouts, and it was clear that he had the Cincinnati batters off balance all day. This yo-yo velocity chart is a big part of the reason why.
Of course, Turnbull’s stay atop the Detroit rotation might not last long. Focusing on the positives in that regard, ostensible number one Matthew Boyd could recall the location of home plate at any moment. Even more exciting possibilities are the arrivals this week of highly anticipated pitching prospects Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. Skubal is scheduled to make his first major-league start tonight, followed by Mize’s debut tomorrow night. Could we be witnessing the emergence of a 2013-era rotation in the Motor City? That’s an extremely high bar, but there’s no reason not to permit yourself a little bit of excitement during these rebuilding times.
Sonny Rollins is, by any reasonable estimation, a genius. He is jazz’s greatest living improviser, able to imbue his solos with wry humor, surprise, brilliant logical form and profound emotion. Time and time again, he created something miraculous out of thin air, and he did it until he could do it no longer. The 89-year-old played his last concert in 2012, and in 2014, he stopped playing saxophone altogether, a result of pulmonary fibrosis. That doesn’t mean we’ll never hear music from him again — Resonance Records will release a set of previously unissued performances this fall — but it does mean that Rollins’s colossal record as a musician is a thing of the past. I wanted to know how a musician whose playing was always attuned to the present has forged a new life in the shadow of that stark fact. “‘Happy’ is not the word,” said Rollins, seated on a couch under a large painting of Buddha at his rambling home in Woodstock, N.Y., “but I am the most content I’ve ever been. I have most things figured out.” … Read More
Perhaps the last of the great classic rock drummers, Rush’s Neil Peart died last week after a battle with brain cancer. Peart’s drumming was representative of the band’s overall approach and sound in that it often was complex, extended, highly technical, and loud. In addition to commanding an always-elaborate drum set, Peart also wrote lyrics for the band’s songs. Whenever I hear his name, though, it’s the instrumental YYZ that comes to my mind.