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.

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Farewell, again, dear Prince

Nearly three years ago, Detroit Tigers fans said goodbye to Prince Fielder, whom the team traded in the 2013 offseason to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. At the time, many were glad to see him leave, though some, including this author, were not. All must agree, however, that when Fielder left Detroit, he became barely a shadow of his former Ironman self. In his two years as a Tiger, he didn’t miss a single game. Excluding his rookie year, in the eight years he spent in Milwaukee and Detroit, he missed a total of thirteen games, playing the full 162 in four of those eight seasons. That’s an impressive accomplishment for any player.

If one wanted to be cold about it, one might note that, 2014, Fielder’s first in Texas, was a year of insult and injury for Prince. Not only did his trade replacement, Kinsler, make the All-Star team on his way to completing the second-best season of his career, but Fielder underwent season-ending neck surgery in late May, appearing in just forty-two games for his new club. He seemed to bounce back in 2015, posting a .305/.378/.463 line in 158 games, but it has been trouble again for Fielder in 2016. Despite his team’s success, Prince arguably was the worst position player of the first half of the season, and things weren’t looking up in the second half. After playing in all but five of the Rangers’ games through July 18, Fielder again went on the disabled list and, after undergoing a second neck surgery, is expected to miss the remainder of this season.

It may not just be the rest of the season he misses, however, as shocking reports emerged this afternoon that Prince’s career may be over:

If true, then, as a number of people have pointed out, Prince will finish with a .283/.382/.506 line, .304 TAv, .377 wOBA, 133 wRC+, 26.8 fWAR / 23.8 bWAR / 30.3 WARP, and 319 home runs, the same number of home runs his father, Cecil, with whom he seems to have reconciled, hit in a career just one season longer than his son’s.

Although serious injuries seemed to dim his wattage following the trade to Texas, I always will remember Prince Fielder as a complete hitter who was one of the happiest baseball players I ever saw. His friendship with Miguel Cabrera was particularly endearing.  What follows are some of my favorite images and clips from Prince’s playing days:   Continue reading

2016 MLB midseason prediction report

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This week marks the halfway point in the 2016 MLB season, which seems like a good time to check in on the preseason predictions I made.

American League

East: Boston

The Red Sox are playing pretty well, and some of their young prospects are rising to stardom, but they trail the “surprise” Orioles by 4.5 games, and are only a game up on third-place Toronto. Still, I don’t think it would surprise anyone if Boston made moves and won this division in the second half, especially with new GM/master dealmaker Dave Dombrowski at the helm.

Central: Detroit

Minnesota aside, the Central is a tight race, but it looked a lot tighter last week, prior to Cleveland’s current rampage. Until then, no team had held a sustainable stay atop the division, though, of the four contenders, Detroit’s time in first was briefest and most tenuous. This obviously was a pick on the emotional side of the ledger for me (though it’s one I share with Dave Cameron), but if the Tigers can’t beat Cleveland– currently 0-9 on the year– this season, it’s difficult to see them claiming the crown in the second half.   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

Football scores

Football has kind of weird scores. Even though it is common to most readers of this blog, a sport where scoring 3 or 7 is common while 2 is rare is kind of weird in the scheme of sports (most other sports are strictly one point at a time other than basketball where 1, 2, 3 are each fairly common).

I was always interested as a kid in figuring out what possible scores can happen in a football game. Certainly multiples of seven are common: 7, 14, 21, 28, etc. along with one or two field goals thrown in for good measure. I wanted to know exactly which scores are possible and which are absolutely forbidden.

Each team’s score is independent of the other: how many points I can score doesn’t depend on how many the other team scores, so we need only look at a single team’s possible scores. For numbers less than seven, zero is clearly possible. Next, a safety gives two and a field goal three. Four, five, and six are made up of combinations of safeties and field goals. Then anything seven or greater can be scored by following simples rules (along with many other possible combinations): keep subtracting seven point touchdowns as long as possible. If the remaining score is zero, you are done. If it is one, switch one of the extra points to a two point conversion. Otherwise, if it is two through six, add safeties and field goals as necessary. For example, if a team had its heart set on scoring 43 points in a game, we would see that six touchdowns takes us to 42, one point short, so five regular touchdowns plus one with a two point conversion gets us there. (For the adventurous reader, this sort of math is known as modular arithmetic.)

This leaves us with any score accessible except for one. This was always a bit disappointing because that is infinitely many possible inaccessible scores. But so it goes.

Except, not. Actually this is not true at all. Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Detroit finds relief, but at what price?

Last night, the Tigers traded two of their top pitching prospects, Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Joakim Soria. My immediate reaction was that Knebel and Thompson were a steep price to pay for Soria (or virtually any single relief pitcher), but two realities likely drove up the price: 1) in general, it’s a sellers’ market, because league-wide parity (some might say mediocrity) at this point in the season means there are more buyers than sellers as we approach the main trade deadline, and 2) everyone knows the Tigers need bullpen help and therefore have Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski a little bit over a barrel when it comes to negotiation leverage. However you weigh the trade pieces here, Detroit had to make a move like this if it wanted to contend this October, and the equities certainly are not as imbalanced as they were in some of the Tigers’ preseason moves.

Soria is a thirty-year-old relief pitcher who was born in Mexico and spent the first five years (2007-2011) of his career in Kansas City. After sitting out all of 2012 while undergoing Tommy John surgery, he joined on with the Texas Rangers in 2013. While a glance at his numbers suggests that he picked up in 2013 where he left off in 2011 (in a hitter-friendly park in Arlington), he has been absolutely excellent so far in 2014.

I’ve had my eye on Soria since he popped up in serious trade rumors in the past week or so, and I haven’t found much to dislike about him. Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max

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Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:

When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.

I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.

The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.

The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.

The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.

Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.     Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading