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

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Sports Law Roundup – 4/7/2017

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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.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

    • MLB defamation: A judge will allow a defamation lawsuit brought by Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and former Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Ryan Howard against Al Jazeera and two of its employees to proceed. The Ryans’ case relates to a documentary that aired on the television network in 2015 that included claims that they were among a group of players who purchased performance-enhancing drugs from an anti-aging clinic. In partially denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, the judge explained that the argument that Al Jazeera and its employees simply were reporting the statement of an employee at the clinic “is unpersuasive, because a reasonable viewer could certainly have understood the documentary as a whole to be an endorsement of Sly’s claims.” The ruling was not a total victory for Howard and Zimmerman, however, as the judge did dismiss claims related to a related news article about the documentary, as well as all claims against one of the Al Jazeera employees, an undercover investigator. Since the airing of the documentary, the clinic employee has recanted his statements.
    • Athlete financial adviser: 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. He could spend as many as twenty years in prison and owe a fine of as much as $250,000, plus restitution to Duncan. Duncan filed a separate civil lawsuit against the advisor, which was stayed pending the resolution of the criminal action.
    • NFL streaming: The NFL and Amazon have reached a one-year agreement, reportedly valued at $50 million, that grants Amazon the exclusive streaming rights for ten of the NFL’s Thursday night games in 2017. Last year, the NFL partnered with Twitter on a streaming deal for the Thursday games reportedly worth $10 million.
    • NFL fax machine: A court has preliminarily approved a settlement in a case involving a claim that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers violated federal law by faxing unsolicited advertisements for game tickets to local businesses in 2009 and 2010. Final settlement payout numbers are not yet available, but, in the meantime, we can ask: did the faxes work?
      bucs home attendance

Sports court is in recess.

Dusty Baker, John Lee Hooker, and the Fillmore District (via Ephus)

Excerpt from Kiss the Sky: My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever by Dusty Baker:

When I met John Lee Hooker that took it to another level for me. John Lee was born in Mississippi. His daddy was a sharecropper and a Baptist preacher. He played down-home Delta blues and no one did it better, as you know if you’ve heard his versions of “Crawling King Snake” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” He moved around a lot in his life, but spent a lot of time in California, especially as he got older. He was here so much that later in 1997 he opened John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. But John Lee and I go back farther than that. I played for the Dodgers for eight seasons starting in 1976, and John Lee was a Dodger fan. He had a house in Long Beach and would come to games. I signed a Dodger uniform for him – and I found out later he had that framed and on the wall of one of his houses in the Bay Area.

John Lee would sometimes come see me at Candlestick when I was manager of the Giants. He was a real baseball fan. At home he’d have three TV sets on at a time, each tuned to baseball, and he would pay close attention. He’d been a catcher way back when and always loved to talk baseball with me. He came to a game as my guest in September 1995 and had himself so much fun, talking to the players in the clubhouse, wearing a fedora hat made of felt with diamond and gold pins shaped like musical notes. He watched the game from a broadcast booth up in the press box, then came down afterward and we talked in my office for hours. My dad was there, and my youngest brother, Millard, from my dad’s second marriage, who picked up a love of the blues from my dad, too. Deion Sanders played for the Giants that season and he was there in my office to hang with John Lee, too. Asked who his favorite Giants player was, John Lee said, “Royce Clayton.” And why was that? “Because he’s cool.” Royce was cool. He had that right.

The next August John Lee invited me to a big birthday party he was having. He was turning seventy-nine year old, but you’d never know it from talking to him. He was having himself so much fun all the time, he might as well have been a teenager. That was John Lee. He was still performing regularly, too. I went to that birthday party and met all kinds of people, including Elvin Bishop, whose guitar work I’d first seen at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He’d actually seen John Lee’s “Baker” Dodgers uniform and asked about me and John Lee said he’d introduce us.

Elvin was my kind of guy. He’s lived up in Marin County for years, and was actually born in California, but grew up in Iowa and Oklahoma and earned a National Merit Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago and study physics starting in 1960. He met Paul Butterfield a few years later and started playing guitar in his blues band. Elvin formed his own group before long and had a hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (he didn’t sing on that one, though). Elvin has played with everyone you can think of. He played with Muddy Waters. He played with Lightnin’ Hopkins. He and I could have talked music all night, or baseball, but instead we started talking fishing, which we’re both serious about. After that we became fishing buddies.

(via Ephus)

Baker’s Washington Nationals are in a decisive NLDS game five tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context

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I’m going to continue to link to this baseball-season countdown clock in the introductions to my baseball-related posts this month because it’s an easy way to ease into the subject matter while framing the content that follows as timely, topical, and fresh (regardless of its actual timeliness, topicality, or freshness).

The Detroit Tigers added a number of new players this past offseason in attempts to replace departures from and fix preexisting holes in each portion– offense, starting pitching, relief pitching– of their roster. Having already discussed the offense here, my focus here is on the new addition likely to have the largest effect on the pitching staff: former Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.

As demonstrated last week in his spring training interview on MLB Network, Zimmermann has the personality of a post-Lions Silverdome hotdog, but the Tigers didn’t sign him to a five-year contract so he would challenge Miguel Cabrera in the joke-telling department. All the team is asking Zimmermann to do is replace David Price’s position in the starting rotation, which, sure, Jordan, you can borrow this book of limericks.

Zimmermann is unlikely to be mistaken for Price, but a recent comparison with another Vandy alum, Sonny Gray, can serve as an entry point to the new Tiger’s recent performance. Continue reading

2016 Detroit Tigers still in search of man out standing in (left) field

After a disappointing 2015 season, which included some odd maneuvering at the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers entered the offseason with a significant to-do list. They’ve already made acquisitions designed to address needs in the bullpen and starting pitching rotation, but, with three months until opening day, the team still has one major hole to fill.   Continue reading

When do baseball teams score runs?

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One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

Max Scherzer scouting report (backup catcher ed.)

My first post over at Banished to the Pen, a new baseball blog, takes a very serious look at a rumor of debatable seriousness: that the Texas Rangers considered adding Max Scherzer as a backup catcher before he signed as a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals.

The full post is available here.

Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington


Overnight, the long-anticipated news of this baseball offseason finally broke: The Washington Nationals won the Max Scherzer sweepstakes by signing the former Detroit Tiger to a seven-year, $210 million contract.

Scherzer made news last March when, heading into his final season before becoming a free agent, he turned down the Tigers’ six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the team. That failed (from the team’s perspective) dance fouled up a variety of personnel matters for Detroit. They had already traded Prince Fielder and much, but not all, of his contract to Texas and starter Doug Fister to Washington for figuratively literally nothing all probably in an attempt to clear the books for Scherzer’s new contract. When Scherzer balked at the offer, the team responded by giving Miguel Cabrera all the money. Last season got off to a rough start, and, at least from a business perspective, Scherzer was at the center of it.

Max probably was my favorite amongst a very likable group of guys playing for the Tigers over this last stretch of seasons. His relief appearance against Oakland in the 2013 playoffs always will be among my most favorite half-innings of baseball.   Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

There hasn’t been much going on in sports lately but that does not mean that ALDLAND doesn’t have things to talk about. We talk peeing on graves, we talk invading countries to take their sports stars, as well as more normal sports topics like soccer and baseball. It’s all here in the ALDLAND podcast.

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