WTF: Bad Company?

american-league

Today’s article at The Hardball Times sets in print what most baseball fans already have intuited: the American League’s Central Division stinks. The article doesn’t provide much insight or analysis, but, for those who chronicle such things, its thesis statement is worth recording:

As of June 25, FanGraphs’ projected standings show the Central teams will wind up, in total, losing 88 games more than they win, with only Cleveland, as the worst of the six division winners, over .500. Since Major League Baseball split itself six ways in 1994, no division has had a worse season by that measure.

Alas, it’s nothing new. Blame it on small markets, blame it on these teams’ inability to attract the very best free agents, blame it on unwise or tightfisted ownership; heck, blame it on Midwest weather. There’s a history of this. Thirteen times in the 24 years we’re looking at, the AL Central or its National League middle-of-the-continent cousin has been the worst division in baseball. This looks like 14.

There’s more to this story, as with any other, but how much more depends upon your tolerance for a detailed observation of mediocrity. For a short-term example, I could point out that those same FanGraphs projected standings see every team in the division except Detroit playing significantly better, though still not great, over the remainder of this season. Another way of looking at that is to say that, while no one predicted greatness out of this division in 2018, the group has performed below its modest expectations to this point.

A long-term example is that, despite its collective woes, the AL Central has done a decent job of representing itself in the sport’s highest stage. Since 1995, there have been twenty-three World Series matchups. In theory, that means that forty-six different teams could have reached the playoffs’ championship round. The distribution of World-Series contenders has not been nearly so even, however. Twenty-one different teams have accounted for all forty-six World-Series openings over that span:

distribution of world series participants by team 95-17

Here’s how things look if we break down the American League’s representatives by division:

distribution of world series participants by AL division 95-17

Despite this era of AL East (really, Yankees) preeminence, the Central has managed to hold its own by representing the American League in thirty-five-percent of the World Series during that time, with four of its five teams carrying the load. To some extent, this speaks to the randomness of MLB’s playoff results, but it also isn’t exactly the picture of a division perpetually in dumpster. If nothing else, regular championship runs are a balm for the the equally regular dark days checking the summer standings.

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While we’re here visualizing some data and thinking about some 2018 projections, have a look at Nicholas Castellanos. The good news for Nick is that, according to FanGraphs, he’s already produced more value for the Tigers this season than he did all of last season. The bad news is that his offensive contributions, which are the sole driver of that production value, are trending in the wrong direction. Entering yesterday’s game, his monthly splits for 2018 looked like this:

  • March/April: 122 wRC+
  • May: 163 wRC+
  • June: 89 wRC+

(Recall that, for wRC+, 100 is average.) After going 2-5 with a double and a home run yesterday afternoon, Castellanos is back above 100 (102 wRC+) for June, but that still is a substantial tumble from his hot start. A quick glance at his other splits suggest that same-side pitching and the shift have been bugaboos for Castellanos this season, and it looks like teams are using defensive shifts on Castellanos more than ever.

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Previously
WTF: Busted – 6/13
WTF: Bos to the Races – 5/22
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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Sports Law Roundup – 12/22/2017

aslr - xmas

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

  • Gymnast abuse: Earlier this month, a judge declared that a doctor with ties to USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area, who was facing multiple civil and criminal accusations of improper sexual conduct in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of young female athletes was “a danger to children” and sentenced him to sixty years in prison. Now, one of his most prominent victims, U.S. gold-medalists McKayla Maroney, has sued USA Gymnastics, which, she alleges, tried to stop her from publicly accusing the doctor of abuse. According to Maroney’s complaint, the situation arises out of a prior $1.25 million settlement agreement Maroney reached with USA Gymnastics that contained mutual non-disclosure provisions. Maroney’s current attorney says that while Maroney willingly agreed to that settlement, she did so at a time when she was suffering from emotional trauma and needed the money for “lifesaving psychological treatment and care.” USA Gymnastics says that the parties included the confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement at the insistence of Maroney’s then-attorney, Gloria Allred. Maroney’s complaint also names Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the doctor as defendants. The doctor still is awaiting sentencing on ten state-law counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • Baseball injury: Dustin Fowler, currently an outfielder for the Oakland A’s, filed a negligence action against the Chicago White Sox and Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates Guaranteed Rate Field, because of an injury he suffered when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he ran into an unpadded electrical box in the right-field foul territory of Guaranteed Rate Field during a game last summer. Fowler damaged his knee in the collision, causing his rookie season to end before his first plate appearance, and he ultimately required surgery. Fowler claims that the defendants should have done more to secure the box or protect players from running into it.
  • Sleeve suit: A tattoo artist, whose clients include LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Danny Green, is suing the makers of the NBA2K17 video game because, he says, the game’s graphics are so realistic and detailed they include replications of his work, over which he claims copyrights, and he alleges he is entitled to compensation for their use in the game. It’s unclear whether the artist (somewhat confusingly named James Hayden) has sought to protect these rights in other circumstances, such as game broadcasts or television commercials, featuring his clients. This isn’t the first lawsuit against the makers of the NBA2K series of games, however. A different owner of copyrights on NBA player tattoos sued over prior editions of the game and lost because it had not registered those copyrights with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It isn’t clear whether Hayden has registered his trademarks.
  • Super Bowl ticket shortage: A federal appeals court will allow a proposed class action to proceed against the NFL based on allegations that the league’s ticket lottery program for Super Bowl XLVIII, which was played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, only released a fraction of the available tickets to the public. The legal basis of the suit is a New Jersey consumer protection statute that requires the public sale of at least 95% of the tickets for events hosted in the state. The named plaintiff’s claim relies in significant part on an expert economic opinion that the plaintiff paid more for tickets he bought on the secondary market than he would have had the league not withheld more than five percent of the game tickets from the primary public market in violation of the New Jersey law. The federal court now has certified the question of whether the state law applies to the NFL’s actions to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
  • Hockey island: The State of New York’s economic development agency, Empire State Development, has selected a $1 billion bid by a joint venture directed in part by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to develop an entertainment complex that will be the new home of the New York Islanders. The move is significant in that the site, which is part of the Belmont Park racetrack property, is located on Long Island, the place the team called home for all but the last three years, when the franchise left Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (which, as a geological matter, is part of Long Island but whatever).
  • Music City soccer: On Wednesday, MLS announced that it would award an expansion franchise to Nashville, where the new team is expected to play in a new arena to be built at the city’s fairgrounds. The day before, a local judge had dismissed a lawsuit by opponents of the stadium’s construction because she concluded the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the project and determined that the stadium would not impair existing fairground activities, including the state fair.
  • RICO soccer: On Friday in a New York federal court, a jury convicted the former leaders of the Brazilian and Paraguayan soccer associations on racketeering conspiracy charges related to millions of dollars in bribes received in exchange for marketing rights. The jury is continuing to deliberate over similar charges against the former head of the Peruvian soccer association. The maximum sentence for each charge is twenty years in prison.
  • Thursdays are for the lawsuits: On Thursday, Barstool Sports served the NFL with a notice to cease and desist the marketing and sale of a line of apparel the website contends were “made with the intent to trade off of the goodwill associated with” a Barstool-owned trademark, “Saturdays are for the Boys.” (Interestingly, Barstool did not create “Saturdays are for the Boys,” though it did popularize, market, and register as a trademark the phrase one of its writers overheard at a bar.) The allegedly offending products are shirts the NFL is selling with the phrase “Sundays are for” followed by one of its team names or nicknames. The one shown in the cease-and-desist letter is the Dallas t-shirt, which reads “Sundays are for the Boys.” The NFL had pulled that shirt from its online store prior to the sending of the letter, but the others remain available.

Sports court is in recess.

Recalling Mike Pelfrey’s contract on this, the day of John Jaso’s retirement

The Davy Jones of Major League Baseball, John Jaso, says he plans to retire from the sport and live on his sailboat. As the Deadspin writeup notes, Jaso earned roughly $16.6 million in his nine-year career, during which he spent time with the Pirates, Rays, Mariners, and A’s. Not bad for a catcher-turned-first-baseman/corner-outfielder who amassed 6.1 career WARP.

Of course, it’s also roughly the same amount of money– $16 million– the Detroit Tigers agreed to pay Mike Pelfrey for two seasons of work. Pelfrey now has twelve MLB seasons under his belt and -2.5 career WARP to show for it. His -2.2 WARP in 2016, the first year under his contract with the Tigers, represented the worst season of his career after his rookie year. (Pelfrey rebounded to -0.1 WARP this year for the White Sox, who picked up just $540,000 of the $8 million remaining on his contract when they signed him the first week of the season.)

These are the facts, and, viewed together, they don’t reflect particularly well– though certainly in varying degrees of not-well– on anyone involved with the possible exception of the White Sox, who paid essentially the league-minimum salary for 120 innings of slightly below-replacement level starting and relief pitching. Jaso’s probably holding off on his official retirement announcement until he has an opportunity to meet with Al Avila.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

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.

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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

The Ghosts of ’94

s-l300My first article for The Hardball Times takes the time machine back to the strike-shortened 1994 MLB season, where we find much historically significant activity in progress. Would Tony Gwynn have hit .400? Would the Montreal Expos finally win that elusive World Series championship? Could Gene Lamont predict baseball? Marshaling something approaching my best efforts, I make attempts of varying degrees of rigor to answer those questions, undoubtedly raising many more in the hopefully mildly entertaining process.

The full post is available here.

Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

The only surprising part of Will Ferrell’s tour de baseball

will ferrell baseball chopper

Everybody had a good time with Will Ferrell’s Major League Baseball debut last week, and that’s no surprise. Will Ferrell is funny and good at making people laugh, and, it’s always seemed with him, the bigger the stage, the bigger the laughs. Ferrell started Thursday as an undrafted amateur free agent signee of the Oakland Athletics, and he finished the day as a San Diego Padre. In between, he appeared in games as a member of eight other teams and played every position, including designated hitter (pictured above). He even has his own Baseball-Reference page!

All of this feels like it belongs within Ferrell’s entertaining wheelhouse. Close examination of his B-R page reveals a little surprise, however:

wfb-rWho knew Cincinnati held Norm’s rights to begin with? Maybe it has something to do with the Marge Schott joke he made on Weekend Update nineteen years ago, forever “preserved” on this broken NBC.com video? Baseball, like Norm, proves to be a continually unfolding mystery of the most enjoyable variety.

Big Leagued: Durham Bulls comeback fails, fall to Charlotte 6-5

IMG00547-20140816-1931Nobody hit the bull and won a steak, but there was plenty of offense, and not quite enough defense, in Durham on Saturday night, where the Bulls (AAA-Tampa Bay) lost to the Charlotte Knights (AAA-White Sox) 6-5.

There was a decent helping of recent, and probably future, MLB-level talent on display too. The Bulls’ starting lineup featured David-Price-trade-acquisition Nick Franklin, rehabbing 2013 AL rookie of the year Wil Meyers, and former Detroit Tiger and Atlanta Brave Wilson Betemit. The Knights sent out former Tigers outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo.

IMG00546-20140816-1930

The game was so tight through the first five innings that when Charlotte finally plated the first run of the night with two out in the top of the sixth, the Knights’ 1-0 lead felt insurmountable. They built it to 3-0 in the top of the seventh, seemingly sucking the energy out of the home crowd.    Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Trader Jose(s)

With the non-waiver trade deadline set for 4:00 pm today, the Tigers got in on the action earlier this week by adding two major-league-ready players who should address the team’s short-term needs as they prepare for a postseason run.

On Monday, Detroit acquired bullpen help in the form of Houston closer Jose Veras. Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Run distribution, science(!), and the liklihood of a Detroit comeback

We’re a dozen games into the season and the Tigers, with a few hiccups, are off to a respectable 7-5 start. Despite the day/Pacific time starts and my living outside the Tigers Radio Network, I’ve been able to keep decent track of these first few series and, while mindful of small sample size they represent, I was beginning to notice something concerning.

Continue reading