No Spin Mizer: If the glove doesn’t stick, we must acquit; or, Spin Doctors: Tracking possible reactions to MLB’s announced crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances

On June 2, 2021, MLB’s rumored crackdown on pitcher use of foreign substances took a significant step toward reality. That morning, USA Today published a story describing the enforcement of the policy as “imminent.” The same day, four minor-league pitchers who had been ejected from games during the preceding weekend for using foreign substances received ten-game suspensions.

MLB pitchers, it seemed, took note. To many, Gerrit Cole, now the top starter in the New York Yankees rotation, has become the face of elite spin rates, and he was continuing to earn that reputation in 2021. In his first start after June 2, however, his spin rate plunged.

Trevor Bauer, the defending NL Cy Young winner now pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, forced his way into the group of spin-rate leaders last season following years of public comments criticizing pitchers who used foreign substances to increase their spin rates. Like Cole, Bauer saw his spin rate plummet after June 2.

Another leader in this category in recent seasons is Yu Darvish, now a starter for the San Diego Padres. Unlike Cole and Bauer, Darvish appeared unfazed by the June 2 announcement, at least judging by the relative consistency in his spin rates this season.

Since the June 2 announcement and enforcement of minor-league suspensions, MLB yesterday announced that it would apply the ten-game-suspension policy to major leaguers as well, with a progressive-discipline scheme for repeat offenders.

While a variety of factors can affect measured spin rates, it’s difficult to interpret the spin-rate dips from Cole and Bauer in their post-June-2 starts as anything other than an acknowledgement of the use of substances that go beyond providing the sort of control-improving grip that even batters appreciate from a safety standpoint and facilitate extreme spin rates (Spider Tack has become the brand name associated with that latter variety of substance). Cole and Bauer don’t come to this point by the same route, however. Bauer’s well-documented history of criticizing Cole and his former teammates in Houston for what Bauer strongly implied– and later seemed to demonstrate in a live-action experiment– were artificially high spin rates arguably places him in a different category than others in this conversation. On the other hand, perhaps he’s just more media-savvy. Should it make a difference if Bauer publicly changed his game to capitalize on and make a point of highlighting MLB’s underenforcement of foreign-substance rules, while Cole did, well, whatever this is?

Nor can we draw any firm conclusions from Darvish’s spin-rate graph. Not only did Darvish’s RPMs not drop after June 2, but they continued to climb. Was he undaunted by the “imminent” threat of enforcement, and, if so, why?

All of this brings us to Casey Mize’s start last night, immediately following MLB’s declaration that it would begin enforcement of its zero-tolerance policy against major-league pitchers. In his short professional career, Mize has not been a high spin guy, nor has he been publicly associated with what he calls the “sticky.” Which is why he was so upset when an umpire forced him to change gloves during the game:

Mize was walking off the mound following the first inning of his start on Tuesday in Kansas City against the Royals, when John Tumpane stopped him for what looked like a friendly conversation.

According to Mize, Tumpane said Mize’s glove was too light-colored.

Mize said the glove, which he’s worn for every one of his big-league starts, was originally charcoal-colored, but may have faded a bit in the sun.

“He said the gray color was too light,” Mize said.

Color judgement aside, Mize was most angry because Tumpane’s order came on the same day that Major League Baseball announced a widespread crackdown on the use of sticky substances that some pitchers have used to help them grip the baseball and increase the spin rate on their pitches.

“I assume everyone thinks that I was using sticky stuff now, which I was not,” Mize said. “So I just thought the timing of it was pretty (expletive), honestly. The umpires need to get on the same page, because I’ve made 12 starts (in 2021) and everybody was fine with (the glove). Or John Tumpane just needs to have some feel and just let me pitch with the glove that the other team did not complain about. (Tumpane) brought it up himself. John’s a good umpire and a very nice guy. But I mean, just have some feel for the situation because I hate that I’m in a position now where I assume everyone thinks I was using sticky when in reality, that was not the situation at all.”

First, for visual illustration, some relevant images of Mize’s mitt:

Without more information, this seems like a questionable decision by the umpire, and, whatever his motivation, the decision did drag Mize into the broader conversation about foreign substances. So what do the spin measurements say about Mize’s pitches? Most obviously, he operates in a much lower band of RPMs than the likes of Cole, Bauer, and Darvish. That alone may be more than enough for many to exonerate him. And while Mize’s average spin rates did decline between his May 28 start and his June 3 start, the magnitude of the change was negligible relative to those Cole and Bauer exhibited. If his data suggest anything, it’s that Mize is telling the truth.

However irked Mize was after being forced into a mid-game glove change, it did not appear to alter his performance. He completed 6.2 innings, threw a season-high 103 pitches, and allowed three runs on the way to a 4-3 Tigers win in Kansas City.

To this point in the season, Mize has been the best of Detroit’s young pitchers, and he trails only Spencer Turnbull in WARP. He’s following up an interesting if inconsistent debut in 2020 with across-the-board improvements in major statistical categories. While veterans attempting to be crafty and the commissioner’s office duke it out over Spider Tack, here’s hoping Mize can avoid that fray and continue to find his footing as a leading member of Detroit’s rotation.

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.

Continue reading

LEAKED: ALDLAND’s list of the most boring professional sports teams

Since the sports world ground to a halt this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the actual world, sports fans have been waiting with great anticipation for the return of sports. Now, the return of sports has arrived, but with it has not come, I don’t think, a full delivery on the anticipation with which sports fans had been waiting. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but sport is spectacle, and without the full-scope resumption of the sporting surround, satisfaction escapes us. It’s one thing to watch a telecast of regular-season baseball in an empty chamber. Quite another for playoff hockey, playoff basketball, or even the circumstance of regular-season NFL or college football, or so I would assume; I haven’t mustered the mustard. Especially meaningful team sports, it turns out, really are team events. It’s difficult to summon the scene in solitude.

It’s particularly difficult to do so when the teams involved are boring. I wasn’t going to release this list of the most boring professional sports teams before it was ready, but then the list leaked out, so you might as well view it, in its current state, here, presented in descending order of boringness.  Continue reading

RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?

Now that Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has tipped his hand with respect to his rebuilding strategy, it’s nice to see him following up on his listed priorities of improving every single position on the team. Yesterday, catcher Austin Romine, formerly of the New York Yankees, signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, who have made their former utilityman‘s younger brother the first notable addition of this offseason’s rolling thunder rebuild revue. How does he relate to the guys already on Detroit’s roster?

Obviously, his relationship with Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been great.

After that fight, in which Gary Sanchez revealed his true nature, Romine denied that he escalated the situation, which he probably should hope is the truth. Regardless, Avila may want to consider rehiring the elder Romine sibling as an assistant bench coach, even if the new guy is saying all the right things for now:

Jawing and brawling aside, where does Austin stand in relation to his new backstop colleagues? The assumption is that he will be the starter ahead of Greyson Greiner and Jake Rogers. The following table highlights some 2019 performance numbers those three posted.

Romine, who actually added value to his Yankees team last year, bests the incumbents across the board with the possible exception of age. The reasonable hope for him is that he can continue to hit at something within dirt-kicking distance of average while adding value on defense, which is what he did in 2018. The coming season is likely to be Romine’s first as a starter. He turned thirty-one last month, so his test in 2020 will be to sustain his offense and rebounding on defense while carrying a heavier load and learning a new staff. Seems easy enough.

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Previously
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes

California will allow college athletes to profit from endorsements under bill signed by Newsom (via Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will allow California athletes to earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses, despite warnings from the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. that the measure would upend amateur sports.

Senate Bill 206 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) garnered national attention, with athletes including NBA stars LeBron James and Draymond Green lauding the California effort to give college athletes a share of the windfall they help create for their universities and NCAA. The bill passed the state Legislature unanimously.

Newsom signed the bill on an episode of UNINTERRUPTED’S talk show The Shop with James, WNBA’s Diana Taurasi and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, saying the new law addresses a “major problem for the NCAA.” . . .

The bill would prohibit the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning in 2023. NCAA rules strictly prohibit athletes from profiting in any way from their sports.

While the bill would allow athletes to sign endorsement deals with major companies, it would also open up smaller opportunities that were previously prohibited, such as paid youth coaching positions. SB 206 would still forbid schools from directly paying athletes.

The NCAA sent a letter to Newsom in September while lawmakers were mulling the bill, calling it “unconstitutional” and a “scheme.”

In September, a New York state senator introduced legislation similar to Skinner’s bill with the added provision that college athletic departments share 15% of annual revenue from ticket sales with student athletes. … Read More

(via Los Angeles Times)

MLB’s David vs. Goliath: Will Daniel Descalso outhit Giancarlo Stanton this year? (via ESPN.com)

Here’s a hot-take kind of question: Who was the better hitter in 2018, Giancarlo Stanton or Daniel Descalso?

Stanton, the highest-profile acquisition of the previous offseason, was very good for the Yankees: 38 homers, .852 OPS and a 127 wRC+, meaning he was 27 percent better than the league’s average hitter. He was on a couple of MVP ballots. Descalso, paid $2 million after the Diamondbacks picked up his option in November, was pretty good, too: 13 homers and a .789 OPS, with a 111 wRC+.

So that was easy. Stanton hit better, assuming the point of hitting is to get on base and hit the ball far.

But, of course, it’s not. The point is to score runs, and for scoring runs, some hits are worth more than others. Descalso hit .270/.372/.541 with men on base, while Stanton hit only .236/.315/.429. Descalso drove in 17 percent of the men who were on base when he came up, while Stanton drove in only 14 percent. Of course, Stanton drove himself in 38 times, 25 more times than Descalso did — but now the question is close. By RE24, a stat that also credits a batter with the runners he advances with his hits, it’s a virtual tie. That’s assuming, at least, that the point of hitting is, rather than “get hits,” to create runs.

But it’s not. The point is to win games, and for winning games, some runs are more important than others. We call the hits that drive in those runs “clutch.” In 2018, Daniel Descalso was the fourth-clutchest hitter in the majors, according to FanGraphs’ metric. And Giancarlo Stanton was, using that same measure and that same term, the fifth least-clutch. In high-leverage situations — those situations where the game is most likely to be materially affected — Descalso was far more effective, with a .591 slugging percentage to Stanton’s .462, and a .378 OBP to Stanton’s .313. By win probability added — which measures the hitting team’s chances of winning before a player bats and after he bats, crediting the change to the batter — Descalso was one of the league’s most productive hitters last year:

  • Descalso: 3.10 wins added, 23rd in the majors
  • Stanton: 0.95 wins added, 106th in the majors

So that turns out to be not that easy of a question: Descalso, Daniel Descalso, was apparently quite a bit better than Stanton, and also better than Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. It’s a hot take, but you can actually stand behind it. But now here’s the really hot-take question: Who will be the better hitter in 2019, Giancarlo Stanton or Daniel Descalso? … Read More

(via ESPN.com)

Lions do a trade

The New York Giants (1-6) have seen the writing on the wall and are unloading whatever assets they have in an apparent attempt to reload next year around rookie standout Saquon Barkley.

This morning, New York sent defensive lineman Damon Harrison to Detroit in exchange for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. Harrison, who’s nickname is “Snacks,” sounds like a pretty good run-stopper and should have an immediate positive impact on a defense that really has struggled against the run.

The cost for Harrison seems pretty low, especially considering the Lions still will have one fifth-round pick, having previously acquired an extra one in a trade with San Francisco.

The NFC North is the NFL’s most interesting and competitive division, and every team’s still in the mix for a playoff spot. Adding Harrison should go a long way toward helping Detroit to keep pace as they prepare to enter a critical stretch of their schedule in which they’ll face three divisional opponents in four weeks, including two games against the Chicago Bears in an eleven-day span.

Enes Kanter Contains Multitudes (via The Ringer)

enes3-0Kanter is many things: New York Knicks center, devout Muslim, star of #NBATwitter, and enemy of the Turkish state. For the moment though, he is like anyone else on this beach—just another person in paradise, awed by all that surrounds him. “This is unbelievable,” he says.

As we walk, staring out at the Pacific in a place that feels something like the edge of the world, Kanter begins talking about other faraway places that he has considered home. At 26 years old, Kanter is no longer connected to his country or his parents, who still live there. His continued criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has landed Kanter’s father in jail and made Kanter a target of harassment and social media threats on his life. “I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to go back to Turkey,” says Fetic. “Ever.” He is rootless, building makeshift communities everywhere his life and NBA career takes him.

He finds belonging in unlikely places. A living room in Pennsylvania. A locker room in Oklahoma. The entire state of Kentucky. All have served, at least temporarily, as a refuge, giving Kanter comfort for anywhere between a few hours and a few years before he inevitably goes searching, once again, for someplace else he might call home. … Read More

(via The Ringer)

(HT: ASW)

A narrowly focused update on Zach Britton, new New York Yankee

blern

Last night, the New York Yankees completed what to this point constitutes the second-most significant trade of the month when they sent three prospects to Baltimore in exchange for a few months of closer Zach Britton’s services.

The Orioles drafted Britton out of high school in 2006, and Britton debuted five years later as a full-time starter for Baltimore in 2011. By 2014, he had transitioned to a full-time bullpen role, and my earliest memories of him date to two years after that.

Britton was a key part of the 2016 Baltimore team that finished second in the AL East and made the postseason as a wild card. That was the Orioles’ last playoff appearance, and manager Buck Showalter’s decision not to use Britton as the win-or-go-home contest went into extra innings granted the game an air of infamy.

Prior to that, writer Ben Lindbergh memorably made the case that Britton, a closer who would pitch sixty-seven innings that season, merited serious consideration for the AL MVP award. As recorded contemporaneously in these digital pages, Lindbergh’s argument was based on a modification to the notion of Win Probability Added (WPA):

Earlier today, Ben Lindbergh argued that Baltimore reliever Zach Britton has a claim to the 2016 AL MVP award. To make that case, Lindbergh demonstrated that Britton had done more than any other player to help his team win games that mattered. Lindbergh did this by placing Britton’s performance in the context of the individual games in which Britton pitched– did Britton’s actions help or hurt his team’s chances of winning that game, and to what degree did they do so?– and then placing those games in the context of his team’s position in the playoff hunt. Viewed this way, Britton (excellent contributions to a good team in close contention) is more valuable than, for example, Mike Trout (superlative contributions to a bad team far out of contention). The metric that captures this contextual performance concept is called Championship Probability Added (cWPA), and Britton currently holds a commanding lead atop that leaderboard.

(Emphasis added.)

The road has been a bit rough for Britton since that 2016 season, however, as the trade article linked above summarized:

After consecutive two-win seasons in 2015 and 2016, he has missed time with the following injuries:

  • April 16, 2017 – Hits the disabled list with a strained left forearm and misses a little over two weeks.
  • May 6, 2017 – Almost immediately after return from disabled list, goes back on it with same injury.
  • August 25, 2017 – Injures his left knee and is shut down in September.
  • December 2017 – Hurts his right Achilles in an offseason workout requiring surgery.

The lefty returned to action on June 12 but hasn’t been lights out like he was before 2017, with a 4.43 FIP and 3.45 ERA thus far. He’s been a bit better of late, tossing eight straight scoreless outings, but has still produced just six strikeouts against four walks in that span. Perhaps more encouragingly, his velocity is up over his last few outings, getting closer to the 97 mph sinker he used to throw. If the velocity return is here to stay, better results might follow.

By a clear margin, Britton led all pitchers in WPA in 2016. This year, however, he’s nowhere to be found atop that list. That no team has done as little winning as Baltimore (record: 29-73) likely contributed to that shift. Still, the fact that he has a negative WPA (-0.13) for the first time since he moved into the bullpen seems worth noting in light of the foregoing.

As the block quotation immediately preceding the immediately preceding paragraph indicates, there are a number of red flags that suggest that the version of Britton the Yankees acquired (insert reference about Redcoat POWs) last night may be meaningfully different from the one who presented an intriguingly compelling case for consideration as the most valuable player in the American League in 2016.

As a closing addendum, the current leaders in pitcher cWPA for 2018 are Justin Verlander (.023) and Josh Hader (.020).

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Related
Baltimore Closer Zach Britton Isn’t Just a Surprise Cy Young Contender — He’s the AL MVP

The MLB Hot 100: At the 2018 All-Star Break

There are plenty of ways to win in baseball, and plenty of ways to assemble winning baseball teams. To state the extremely obvious, a team needs productive players in order to win. FanGraphs took a detailed look at the assembly and production of this year’s teams in terms of their players’ wins above replacement, with a particular focus on the Houston Astros’ ability to avoid playing negative-WAR players:

What follows here is a significantly less-detailed look at 2018 team composition and production as of today, the first day of the All-Star break and the artificial halfway point of the season. Teams have not all played the exact same number of games to this point, but the game totals are sufficiently close for a coarse-grained “analysis” like the one I’ve conducted today, which isn’t analysis so much as making a graph for you to view while there isn’t real baseball for you to view.

The idea is that teams that are poorly represented among baseball’s top-100 players, defined here as the top 100 players on the FanGraphs combined WAR leaderboard, probably are poorly represented as among the top performing teams. Too many words already spent on a simple point. To the graph:

2018 mlb top 100 and team wins

The rosters of the Blue Jays, Padres, and White Sox include none of the top-100 players of the 2018 season, and those teams have bad records. The Astros have the most top-100 players, and they have a good record. The Mets have four of the top-100 players– Jacob deGrom, Brandon Nimmo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Noah Syndergaard– but a bad record– just thirty-nine wins– reflective of the fact that what remains is not merely mediocre but bad (check that negative-WAR graph above). Oakland maybe isn’t going to keep winning at a .567 rate in the second half.

I don’t know if this graph tells you anything you don’t know. I don’t know if it tells you much at all beyond the data it contains, which is quite simple. But, if it speaks to you, let me know.

The Home Run Derby is tonight at 8:00 on ESPN. The All-Star Game is tomorrow night at 7:30 on FOX.