Ejection Overruled: Evaluating MLB’s attempt to eliminate in-game dissent

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Following up on its poorly received press release in support of federal legislation designed to exempt minor league players from minimum-wage regulations, MLB has issued an edict to managers stating that manager arguments with umpires during games constitutes “highly inappropriate conduct” that “is detrimental to the game and must stop immediately. . . . Although disagreements over ball and strike calls are natural, the prevalence of manager ejections simply cannot continue. This conduct not only delays the game, but it also has the propensity to undermine the integrity of the umpires on the field.” MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, who circulated the memorandum in question, added that the behavior in question constitutes “an express violation of the Replay Regulations, which state that ‘on-field personnel in the dugout may not discuss any issue with individuals in their video review room using the dugout phone other than whether to challenge a play subject to video replay review.'”

This pronounced proscription (or, at least, curtailing) of in-game arguments between managers and umpires invokes a number of related baseball issues including the i) length of games; ii) pace of games; and iii) scope and nature of instant replay review, to include potential review of ball/strike calls.   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying

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The Detroit Tigers were winning last night, but then they lost. This is not a new narrative for this team, for which unrecoverable, late-inning blown leads are a recurring symptom of an unstable bullpen that’s as much a part of this era’s Detroit baseball identity as Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

Incidentally, it was Verlander who started last night’s game, the first of a road series against the Blue Jays. He did well to hold Toronto to two runs, but he had to exit in the sixth inning, having thrown 103 pitches. At that point, the Tigers led 3-2. They extended the lead to 4-2 in the next inning, thanks to an Ian Kinsler RBI GDIP.

When Shane Greene allowed a run in the bottom of the seventh, Justin Wilson relieved him, getting two key outs and preserving what then was a 4-3 Detroit lead.

After newish Toronto reliever Jason Grilli made disappointingly light work of the meat of the Tigers lineup, Wilson came back out to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Allowing two quick hits that gave the Blue Jays men on first and third with nobody out, Wilson suddenly found himself in an extremely tight position. He did very well to strike out the always-dangerous Edwin Encarnacion for the first out of the inning, and a well-handled grounder by Cabrera allowed James McCann to employ a nice bit of pickle strategy to nab the runner on third, who had attempted to score, for the second out.

Two outs, but still, two on base. Make that three on base, after Wilson walked the next batter on five pitches. “Time for a new pitcher,” one person in our residence said. The other agreed, as did Brad Ausmus, who pulled Wilson for…Alex Wilson. That Wilson promptly allowed a two-RBI single, providing the Jays a 5-4 lead they would not surrender.

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Some immediately wondered why Ausmus turned to Alex Wilson in what, as illustrated above, was the highest leverage moment of the game (7.88 LI), rather than Francisco Rodriguez, who is the team’s nominal closer. K-Rod was very well-rested and has been performing very well in recent weeks. To all but the most rigid of old-school managers, this seemed like a fairly obvious move. Ausmus addressed the subject in his post-game media conference:   Continue reading

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.

Catching Fire: Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game

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Last night, MLB announced the rosters for the 2016 All-Star Game. Not included: Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler. All Kinsler has done since coming to Detroit in the Prince Fielder trade is quietly build what some have called a Hall-of-Fame career.

The last time I wrote about Kinsler, I noticed that, after his rookie season (2006), he had made the All-Star Game in each even-year season and been left out each odd-year season. Basically, Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of All-Star Games. While Kinsler’s omission from the AL’s initial ASG roster places that streak of sorts at risk, hope for its continuation remains in the form of the “Final Vote,” in which fans now may vote for one of five candidates in each league for the final roster spot on that league’s roster.

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That means that anyone reading this, along with the many, many people who are not reading this, can make Kinsler an all star by voting online here or texting “A1” to 89269 on your variable-intelligence mobile telephone. It’s pretty easy, minimally invasive, and needs to be done, if at all, before 4:00 pm on Friday.   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

This Jam is Over Jam

Americans awoke this morning to news that the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union is over, which makes today not unlike Wednesday, when Americans awoke to news that Iggy and The Stooges were “over.” Guitarist James Williamson explained: “Basically, everybody’s dead except for Iggy and I, so it would be sort of ludicrous to try to tour as Iggy And The Stooges.” There’s some logic there, which rarely is the case when it comes to Iggy Pop, who continues to tour the world with his solo band: the Asheton brothers and Dave Alexander, the founding members of The Stooges, indeed have been dead for at least a few years. In fact, many casual fans may have been surprised to learn that The Stooges still were a thing in 2016.

Steve Miller (not that one) has an oral history of the Detroit rock scene beginning in the 1960s, when Iggy and The Stooges were coming up along with other Ann Arbor/Flint/Detroit acts such as Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder, the MC5, and many, many others who never made it out, chronicled, in the early 70s, by noted critic Lester Bangs and Creem magazine. Miller’s book paints a fairly dark, violent, angry, and desperate picture of the music scene in Southeast Michigan, including the blend of hard rock and punk that developed there. Iggy’s picture adorns the cover of that book.

Interestingly, Pop also developed a working partnership with David Bowie, who undoubtedly was drawn to and encouraged elements of Pop’s stage performances. Decades later, a new generation would discover the music of both when an Iggy and The Stooges song, “Search and Destroy,” would appear on the Bowie-heavy soundtrack to the Wes Anderson movie The Life Aquatic. Among his most popular songs, “Lust for Life,” a solo effort, is the most upbeat, but for this space, “Search and Destroy,” from The Stooges’ 1973 Raw Power album, is the selection:

Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs

If not winning, the Detroit Tigers certainly have been doing a lot of home-run hitting over the last week or so, and, after some extra-inning disappointments during that stretch, they finally put it all together last night for an overtime win last night in a home series opener against the Seattle Mariners. That game featured three Tigers homers, each of which gave the team the lead. Especially exciting for Detroit was that two of them came off the bat of Justin Upton, who finally appears to be heating up for his new team after suffering one of the worst offensive stretches of his career.

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Upton’s first of the night was a dead-center bomb in the seventh that gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead, and his second, which clinched the game in walk-off fashion in the twelfth, landed beyond the bullpen in left. There likely is no one happier about this apparent return to power than Upton himself, and, especially with J.D. Martinez out with an elbow injury, it couldn’t be more timely for the team.

Upton’s homers last night inspired celebration, but Miguel Cabrera’s, which gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the first inning, inspired awe. I’ve never seen a Comerica Park home run hit where Cabrera hit his last night. No one has.

Have a look:   Continue reading