Saving Detroit: Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons

Following an injury-curtailed 2016, 2017 has been anything but the bounceback for which Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann hoped. Little is trending in the right direction or going well for him in the second year of his five-year contract with the Tigers.

According to a recent report, the neck injury that caused Zimmermann to miss time in 2016 is continuing to cause mechanical problems for the pitcher in 2017. One of the consequences is a decreased ability to locate his pitches, and, while he apparently believes the needed adjustments are too significant for an in-season fix, during his most recent start, it sounds like he’d had enough:

He resorted to a quick fix Friday night, so rudimentary it seems almost silly. He wasn’t hitting his spots against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ imposing lineup — he couldn’t get the ball in to lefties, or away against righties — so he tried something he has never done before. In the fifth inning, he moved from the third-base side of the rubber, where he has pitched his entire career, to the first-base side of the rubber.

After giving up six runs over the first four innings, he figured had to try something, anything. He moved a mere five or six inches,

“Basically, I’m on the third base side and I’m missing middle. So if I move over to the middle of the rubber, I’m moving myself over five or six inches, it’s allowing me to get inside for lefties and away to righties,” Zimmermann explained.

It felt strange, but there was some marginal improvement.

Zimmermann said when he threw a fastball in, up and in, it stayed more true. It didn’t run back at all. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth inning with three curveballs.

“It feels like I almost had to throw it in our dugout to get to the other side of the plate,” Zimmermann said. “But it went where I wanted it to, so that was the good thing.”

The difference in release points was enough to show up on these Brooks Baseball plots, which show Zimmermann’s 2017 release points excluding his last start followed by the two distinct release points he used in Friday’s game:

zimmermann

I’m highlighting this not because I think it’s any sort of meaningful solution– Zimmermann thinks it helped, and it’s hard to find sufficiently granular data to evaluate in-game strategic shifts like this (his overall zone rate on Friday night actually was slightly lower than his full-season average)– but because it shows how desperate Zimmerman is for any measure of improvement, even a false one. He undoubtedly will work on this in the offseason, but, for now, he’s just like any ordinary person who doesn’t have the time or resources for a proper adjustment and looks for something easy to keep the game going. I recognized the move immediately because it’s what I do when I play tennis. Among many faults in my game is an inability to control the depth of my serves, which usually land well deep of the service box. Some lessons with a professional probably could help identify and correct the problem in my service motion. I have so few opportunities to play, though, that I want to spend them with family and friends, not in a training session with a stranger. That’s why, if I bomb the first serve deep, I just take a couple steps backward and try it again.

Of course, Zimmermann’s more than an amateur who’s given up on his dreamshallucinations of making it as a competitive tennis player, so it will be interesting to see what real changes and adjustments we see from him in 2018, as well as how he positions himself on the mound in his remaining starts this season.

Minutiae, trivia, and the undead rumors of a Justin Verlander trade: welcome to the last six weeks of the Detroit Tigers’ 2017 season.

______________________________________________

Previously
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
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context

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Sports Law Roundup – 7/21/2017

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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:

  • Tennis match fixing: The Tennis Integrity Unit, an organization dedicated to investigating cheating in tennis, is investigating cheating in tennis. More specifically, the TIU is investigating four matches– three at Wimbledon and one at the French Open– for potential match fixing. Suspicious betting patterns triggered the investigation into these matches, for which additional information is not yet available to the public. While allegations of match fixing in major tournament matches are rare, tennis is particularly susceptible, given that it is an individual sport, and that most matches involve low-earning players and are not tracked by the general public. Three years ago, FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik wrote an illuminating feature on the data-driven rise in tennis gambling, later cautioning that betting patterns alone were not conclusive evidence of match fixing.
  • Hou-Hugh Feud: One week after Houston Nutt sued his former employer, Ole Miss, for breach of his severance agreement for disparaging statements by school officials, including head football coach Hugh Freeze, Freeze has resigned. Athletic Director Ross Bjork, whose statements also appear in Nutt’s complaint, referred to Freeze’s unacceptable “pattern of personal misconduct” in connection with Freeze’s resignation and said that the school would have fired Freeze, who will receive no buyout on his $5 million annual contract, had Freeze not resigned. While the litany of alleged NCAA violations have been public for some time, the catalyst for Freeze’s sudden departure just a week after he represented Ole Miss at SEC Media Days appears to be new evidence that, on one occasion, Freeze used his university-issued cellphone to contact a Detroit-based escort. Freeze’s call records are under scrutiny as a result of the Nutt complaint, which cites those records in detail but contained no mention of the escort call. (And a note to those who see an opening for Lane Kiffin to return to the SEC in a head-coaching role, Paul doesn’t see it happening for Kiffin in Oxford, so you can bet it won’t.)
  • Simpson paroled: After serving nine years in prison for his role in a Las Vegas robbery, O.J. Simpson received a unanimous grant of parole from the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners and could be out of prison as early as October. This week’s parole decision hardly could have come at a more perfect time: Norm Macdonald Live returns to the digital airwaves for a new season on Tuesday.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/26/2017

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The sports law roundup is on vacation this week. Here’s a sports law story from the sports law archives.

  • Tennis revenue sharing: During the 1983 U.S. Open, John McEnroe, then the world’s top-ranked player, engaged in verbal sparring with a courtside fan named Christopher Schneider during a preliminary-round match. The latter was no fan of the former, and the former did not appreciate the latter’s expressions of support for the former’s on-court opponent, an unranked player named Trey Waltke. (A brief sidebar on Waltke, who appears to have established himself as something of a provocateur earlier in the year, when, at Wimbledon, he “caused a stir when he donned 1920s era long flannel pants, a white buttoned-down long-sleeved shirt, and a necktie for a belt” during a first-round victory. Prior to that, Waltke had defeated McEnroe in the first round of an April tournament in Las Vegas. Waltke had beaten McEnroe in a tournament in Memphis in 1981, a year in which he also beat Jimmy Connors.) After the match, Schneider, the fan, sued McEnroe seeking $6 million (nearly $15 million in 2017 dollars) and alleging that McEnroe, who cursed at Schneider during the match and flung some rosin dust in his direction, caused him “grevious [sic] physical and mental injuries.” Judge Francis X. Becker of the Nassau County Supreme Court oversaw the case, and the opening to his final order suggests he did not hold a high opinion of McEnroe:

Its disciples consider tennis to be a cosmopolitan game. Played and watched by men and women a cut above the average “jock” and “fan” of other big time sports. The facts giving rise to this action make it eminently clear however that a fair amount of “Roller Derby etiquette” has found its way to center court.

Defendant, John McEnroe, is a professional tennis player. The best player in the world today, he is not noted for his court decorum. . . .

Judge Becker nevertheless ruled in McEnroe’s favor on all counts, issuing a brief and delightfully worded order that is available in full right here.

Sports court remains in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 2/17/2017

aslr

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:

  • Baseball human trafficking: The federal criminal trial began this week in Miami in a case in which an agent and trainer were indicted for their alleged roles in a smuggling network designed to move baseball prospects from Cuba into the MLB system.
  • Boxing non-fight fight: Boxer Alexander Povetkin sued fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder after the latter withdrew from the pair’s scheduled fight last May following the former’s positive test for meldonium, the same banned substance for which Maria Sharapova was banned from tennis competition. This week, a jury returned a verdict in Wilder’s favor, but Povetkin’s attorney wants to keep fighting, alleging that Wilder’s lawyer engaged in “gross and extensive misconduct” during the litigation and implying that he would seek a mistrial.
  • NFL turf: In what the Houston Texans are calling “a case of first impression,” former NFL linebacker Demeco Ryans is suing the team for damages arising out of an alleged career-ending, noncontact Achilles tendon injury Ryans says he suffered when he landed on a seam in the turf while playing in a game against the Texans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryans is seeking $10 million, but the Texans say the court should dismiss the case because the NFL collective bargaining agreement preempts his claims. Ryans is hoping to avoid CBA preemption by relying on a prior case involving Reggie Bush, in which Bush injured himself after running out of bounds and slipping on a concrete surface surrounding the field during a game in St. Louis. In Bush’s case, the court ruled that the CBA did not apply, since the injury happened outside the field of play. Ryans’ lawsuit, the Texans highlight, deals with the in-bounds playing surface itself, which, the team argues, is a critical distinction that renders the Bush case inapplicable.
  • Lance Armstrong fraud: A False Claims Act lawsuit against Lance Armstrong will proceed after a judge’s ruling on various motions this week. The case involves allegations that Armstrong, while lying about his doping practices, received millions of dollars from the federal government in connection with his cycling team’s sponsorship by the U.S. Postal Service. Although the government’s case can go forward, Armstrong’s side will be able to argue in mitigation that the government’s benefit from the sponsorship reduces the amount of financial harm it actually suffered.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: Last week, we mentioned a settlement agreement under which the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by alleged athletic scholarship caps. Now, one of the plaintiffs, former USC linebacker Lamar Dawson, has objected to the settlement, which requires court approval before it’s finalized. Dawson’s concern is that the settlement includes a release of certain labor law claims that were not litigated in that particular case and which he is pursuing separately in a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the NCAA.
  • NBA fan app: A court partially dismissed a fan’s lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors, ruling that, although the fan had alleged facts sufficient to show that she had suffered an actual injury as a result of the team’s smartphone app’s alleged secret recording and capturing of her private communications, she had not stated a claim for relief under the federal Wiretap Act because she had not shown how the team intercepted and used her communications. The judge is allowing the fan the opportunity to amend her complaint.
  • Tennis commentator: After ESPN fired him in connection with an on-air remark about Venus Williams during this year’s Australian Open broadcast, Doug Adler, who worked for the network for nearly a decade, has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that he was dismissed for saying something he never said. While some heard Adler use the word “gorilla” in reference to Williams, he maintains that he used the word “guerrilla” in describing her approach during the match he was broadcasting. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can render your own judgment after viewing the clip here.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this month, a court ruled that three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. The trial is supposed to begin next month, but the three defendants are attempting an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, arguing that a two-year statute of limitations bars the charges, and that Pennsylvania’s child-endangerment laws don’t apply to officials in their positions. In other news, Sandusky’s son, Jeff, has himself been charged with sexually abusing a child.

Sports court is in recess.

Fatwas, Feminism, and Forehands: The Life of Indian Tennis Superstar Sania Mirza (via Vice Sports)

fatwas-feminism-and-forehands-the-life-of-indian-tennis-superstar-sania-mirza-body-image-1421329478Sania Mirza had offended Islam. Such was the judgement of a group of Muslim clerics. It was September of 2005, and Mirza, then 18 years old and the No. 34-ranked tennis player in the world, was on her way to Kolkata, India to play in the Sunfeast Open.

Then came the fatwa. It would be Mirza’s first brush with radical Islam, but not her last.

Issued by Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, a leading cleric with the little-known Sunni Ulema Board, the religious order demanded that Mirza, a practicing Muslim, stop wearing “indecent” clothes to play tennis.

Instead of standard-issue t-shirts and skirts, the board ruled, she should wear long tunics and headscarves, like a group of female Iranian badminton players. Or else.

“She will be stopped from playing if she doesn’t adhere to it,” Siddiqullah Chowdhry, a cleric with a Kolkata-based Muslim group Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, told Reuters. The threat was vague, but still alarming. … Read More

(via Vice Sports)

Tennis Time

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Most jr.-tennis coaches are basically technicians, hands-on practical straight-ahead problem-solving statistical-data wonks, with maybe added knacks for short-haul psychology and motivational speaking. The point about not crunching serious stats is that Schtitt . . . knew real tennis was really about not the blend of statistical order and expansive potential that the game’s technicians revered, but in fact the opposite — not-order, limit, the places where things broke down, fragmented into beauty. That real tennis was no more reducible to delimited factors or probability curves than chess or boxing, the two games of which it’s a hybrid. In short, Schtitt and [Incandenza] found themselves totally simpatico on tennis’s exemption from stats-tracking regression. Were he now still among the living, Dr. Incandenza would now describe tennis in the paradoxical terms of what’s now called “Extra-Linear Dynamics.” And Schtitt, whose knowledge of formal math is probably about equivalent to that of a Taiwanese kindergartner, nevertheless seemed to know what Hopman and van der Meer and Bollettieri seemed not to know: that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. Seemed perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth — each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n^2 possible responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest 81-82 (Back Bay Books, Nov. 2006) (1996).

In tennis, the better player doesn’t always win. Sometimes, she loses in straight sets.

Imagine if basketball, football or hockey games were decided by which team outscored the other in the most periods. Get outscored by 20 points in the first quarter, and it’s no problem, you just have to eke out the last three by a point each to take the game.

That’s sort of how tennis works. Win more sets than your opponent, and you win the match — even if your opponent played better throughout. These anomalous results happen rarely, but more often on grass, the surface of play at Wimbledon, which started this week.

Wacky outcomes like [Rajeev] Ram’s pair of lottery matches happen more often at Wimbledon than at the other Grand Slams. Since 1991, 8.8 percent of completed Wimbledon men’s matches have been lottery matches, won by the player who was less successful at protecting his serve than his opponent. At the other three Grand Slam tournaments, that proportion ranged between 6.4 percent and 6.6 percent, according to data provided by Jeff Sackmann of Tennis Abstract.

The sport’s time-tested scoring system has many virtues, even if total fairness isn’t one of them. Its symmetry makes players alternate the deuce and advantage sides, switch sides of the net, rotate serving and returning. It guarantees that a player trailing by a big margin gets all the time it takes to stage a comeback, provided she performs well enough to earn that time. It keeps matches that are lopsided short, and lets close matches take all the time they need.

Carl Bialik, “An Oddity of Tennis Scoring Makes Its Annual Appearance at Wimbledon,” FiveThirtyEight.com (June 25, 2014, 7:31 a.m.).

Part of the reason baseball is so susceptible to statistical analysis is that the season is long enough for players’ and teams’ statistical averages to settle out and meaningfully describe their performance. Another reason is that the game itself is comprised of isolated interactions. No other sport is so susceptible, but the reasons appear to be different in each case. Basketball may be next up, held back only by our (diminishing, thanks to technology) inability to track and store data. Hockey statistics are thought to be less meaningful because the season isn’t long enough for the random bounces of the puck to settle out from the averages.

To my poorly informed knowledge, advanced statistical analysis has made few inroads into tennis. Part of the reason for this may be that tennis’ scoring structure, alluded to in the second passage above, does not as easily allow for the clean, direct reflection of averaged rates of good things or bad things in individual (and therefore aggregated) match outcomes. On the other hand, maybe looking to a statistical rationale for an explanation of statistics’ inability to aid in the understanding of tennis is futile. Or at least I think that’s what the first passage means.    Continue reading