Tonehenge Jam

Still processing this sad news, which broke last night. More to come, but, for now, a sampling of his music:

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Can CC Ride into Cooperstown?

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia had a big night last night, giving his team a much-needed six-inning shutout start and a chance to even the series against the  Houston Astros in the ALCS. With Sabathia, at age thirty-seven, in the final year of his current contract, Sabathia’s performance made some wonder about his Hall-of-Fame credentials, a subject I attempt to parse in only slightly greater detail in my latest post for Banished to the Pen.

The full post is available here.

Learning to Jam

Screenshot-2017-10-3 Traveling Wilburys - End Of The Line - YouTube.png

Another empty rocking chair in the Wilbury household this week, sadly, as Charlie T. rode the late train out of town to join Lefty and Nelson at the end of the line.

Tom Petty was a hitmaker on the volume scale of Motown’s song factories, and the “was” in this sentence is doing a lot of grim work, because, in contrast to some other mourned celebrity passings, Petty, at sixty-six, remained an active and strong performer. We saw him in concert just this spring, my first time, and he was just as good and strong as I hoped. There’s a real loss here.

A 2009 Wall Street Journal article published in conjunction with the release of Petty’s career-retrospective Live Anthology memorably made the case that Petty’s slightly lower situation in the proverbial Rock Pantheon was due, in my reading, to the irony that his songs were too popular. It’s funny because it’s true, but it says more about the fans than the artist. We hold Springsteen, to borrow the foil from that WSJ piece, in higher regard because he had fewer hits? I don’t know why, or if that’s how it really works, but at some point it misses the mark to parse the greats like this.

It also misses the mark on Petty, who always seemed to belie his deep catalogue of radio-friendly tunes with his ability to wink at that great big world of entertainment with a sly smile worn by one who could take or leave the trappings of celebrity that pop stardom can offer. As he told the Journal in ’09, “We were never really Boy Scouts, you know. My vision of a rock and roll band wasn’t one that cuddled up to politicians, or went down the red carpet. That kind of thing you see so much of today. I felt like once that stuff starts happening your audience doesn’t know whether to trust you or not.” That article continues:

Mr. Petty set himself apart in other ways. While Dylan and the Stones have licensed their music to advertisers, Mr. Petty says, what for? “We don’t really need the dough that bad.” The singer has sought keep his concert tickets affordable. And unlike, say, Mr. Costello, who has collaborated with string quartets, Mr. Petty says he’s satisfied with being a workaday auteur: “To write a good song is enough. That was the loftiest ambition I had: to write a song that would endure.”

Or you could just take a look at his perfect initial interaction opposite Kevin Costner in 1997’s The Postman. Or his appearance as the Mad Hatter, forever my envisage of that character, in his own music video:

While we’re here, let’s do a few more:

When your favorite group plays poorly in the wrong venue

When the Tap’s fans wanted to express their displeasure with the debut of Spinal Tap Mark II and “Jazz Odyssey” at Themeland, there’s only one way to do it:

spinal tap thumbs down

The same goes for Rays fans expressing their displeasure with a losing performance against the New York Yankees in a game relocated to Citi Field (the home of the New York Mets) due to Hurricane Irma:

Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

nfl flag

The NFL’s back, and oh man is it boring. Last night’s Chiefs-Patriots game, the first of the 2017 regular season, should have been exciting. Kansas City hung close with the defending champions in Foxboro until they pulled away later in the fourth quarter. What should have been a compelling contest instead dragged. The third quarter alone took nearly an hour. Even if the NFL has eliminated the touchdown-commercial-PAT-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence, the penalty flags literally are getting out of hand too often.

The last five minutes of the third quarter was comprised of fifteen plays from scrimmage. Officials threw flags on seven of them.

KC NE 09072017 3Q

If it seems to you like penalty flags are on the rise, you aren’t wrong. From the NFL Penalty Tracker, a website I just found:

nfl penalty flag data 9-8-17

The 2017 data comes from one game, of course, but the referees were significantly more active last night as compared to an average game last season.

Another interesting point in that penalty-flag data is the jump in total flags beginning in 2014. It isn’t immediately obvious to me why that happened (here‘s a list of rule changes heading into that season), so I’ll just quote from my Super Bowl XLVII preview post:

Call it the Efficient Breach Bowl. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle defense is so successful against the pass, in part, because they just don’t care about being penalized for pass interference. They know that officials won’t call PI on every single play (and the number of penalties called in the playoffs is significantly lower than during the regular season), so they take their lumps with a few flags over the course of a game, disrupting receiver routes all the while. In a follow-up article in advance of the Super Bowl, the Journal suggests that Denver may look to combat Seattle’s aggressive secondary through so-called “pick plays,” in which receivers run routes designed to shed defenders by drawing them into collisions with another player. Though subject to recent controversy following a play in the AFC Championship game that resulted in a game-ending injury for New England corner Aqib Talib, picks or “rub routes” are not necessarily against the rules. As The MMQB’s Greg Bedard explained, the key question is whether the offensive player initiated the contact or whether the contact was incidental: “within one yard of the line of scrimmage, anything goes . . . but beyond that one-yard buffer it is illegal for an offensive player to initiate contact with a defender.”

The Seahawks won that Super Bowl (if you can name the MVP of that game without looking, I’ll send you some ALDLAND merchandise), so it isn’t unreasonable to speculate that other teams would mimic their aggressive defensive approach beginning in the next season, thereby triggering more penalty flags leaguewide, but I haven’t looked at an offensive/defensive breakdown of those numbers in the table above.

For years, people have been predicting that football would end as a result of its potential for dangerous, lasting injury, including brain injury, but we need to consider the possibility that a different and more immediate market force– boredom– might trigger its decline even sooner.

Saving Detroit: Upton There

Today is the last day MLB teams can trade players the receiving team would like to use in the postseason. In what I am regarding as a surprise move, the Tigers have sent another outfielder to the Angels, who now are acquiring Justin Upton in exchange for Grayson Long. (Last fall, Detroit sent Cameron Maybin to Anaheim, and, probably not coincidentally, Maybin now is on his way to Houston.) Neil Weinberg has the early report on Long:

The Tigers got 23-year-old Grayson Long, a starter currently having a strong year in AA. He only threw 65 innings across three levels last year due to injury, but he does have the appearance of an innings eater if you buy into the archetype scouting. Based on the public scouting views and one source I spoke with this afternoon, Long’s fastball is solid in the low 90s but his secondary stuff is a bit questionable with opinions ranging from fringe to flashes of above average. He has a change and slider but it’s not clear they will play at the major league level to the point at which he could be a successful starter. That might lead him to a bullpen role, but he has pitched well so far in the minors and I’m a big believer in letting a player keep going until the performance tells you to stop. There’s definitely potential for something really exciting but even the floor seems perfectly fine given the cost.

Upton’s contract had a player opt-out provision effective as of the end of this season. I’ve expressed skepticism about the idea that Upton would exercise that option. Weinberg, on the other hand, called the “odds that Upton opts out . . . quite high.”

It appears the Tigers came to the same conclusion, because the only way this trade makes sense is if Detroit was treating Upton as if he was on an expiring contract just like J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila and needed to get something for him now before he leaves in the offseason.

After watching Upton play here in Atlanta with his older brother as members of the Braves, I have been tracking his time– a bad dip with a fierce, late recovery in 2016, followed by a very solid 2017– in Detroit on this site with some care, and I will watch how the market responds to what I now agree will be his likely free agency this offseason. While he may not get a raise, he’s likely to wind up with a team with greater playoff odds than those of the Tigers or Angels, who, against many of those same odds, remain in the American League wild card hunt. Most of all, I’m happy to see Upton have such a strong rebound. Detroit’s fans didn’t deserve him anyway.

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Previously
A bad time for a bad season – 8/29
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
– 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
– 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
– 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Catching Fire: It Don’t Come Easy
Catching Fire: Checking in on Justin Upton
Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs
Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity

ALDLAND’s full Justin Upton archive

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.

______________________________________________

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

swansonsit

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.

swansonswing 7-6-17

(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.

swansonzone 7-6-17

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.

 

_________________________________________________________________

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.