Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two?

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The 2016 MLB season is about a month old, which means that this year’s Detroit Tigers series is off to a bit of a late start. The series title is a reference both to this post, which will examine the Tigers’ catcher options, and to what the team needs to do this season in order to earn a playoff spot in a beefed-up American League Central.   Continue reading

The fight in Claressa Shields (via ESPNW)

During the 2012 London Olympics, Claressa Shields stood in the ring, stone-faced and focused. Her opponent was tough, but was not nearly as tough as the obstacles Shields beat to get to this very moment. With every jab, every uppercut, every blow, Shields thought about why she needed to be triumphant. She needed to win for herself and her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Most importantly, she needed to win for her family.

It was a tall order for the then-17-year-old, but just as she was in the challenges before, Shields was tenacious in her quest for victory. The first American woman to win Olympic gold in boxing is a title anyone would be proud of, but the lack of attention — as well as endorsements — she received upon her return was disheartening. Unbowed, Shields remained hungry. With her insatiable appetite and support from friends and family, the 21-year-old will return to the ring at the 2016 Rio Olympics hoping to become the first female boxer to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. From 2012 to 2016, photographer and filmmaker Zackary Canepari documented Shields’ Olympic journey. Here is how her story unfolded. … Read More

(via ESPNW)

Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances

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By now, everyone knows The Narrative governing all things Detroit Tigers baseball: the team needs to Win Now because they have lots of money locked up in a few long-term player contracts, and, as those players age, the team’s Window Is Closing. And it’s true: the team has some expensive contracts on the books. Here’s a rough visual, created from the data available on Baseball-Reference:

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(Click here for an expanded view.) Besides noticing that I have not recently viewed Anibal Sanchez’s player page, you can see that a number of today’s already-very-familiar Detroit baseball faces are likely to remain as such for a number of additional seasons, and at significant cost to the team. This is known and obvious. That this aggregated fact has real and, on balance, probably adverse consequences for the team’s future– the ability to re-sign J.D. Martinez comes to mind– also is, if less precisely quantifiable, known and obvious.   Continue reading

An Open Market Solution to Salary Arbitration (via The Hardball Times)

The arbitration process is intended to mimic the market value of players, but it falls short in several ways. Precedents based on outdated player evaluation methods mean that arbitration values can vary significantly from market values. The comparables-based system that relies heavily on past salaries has difficulty adjusting to economic changes, as well as adjusting for multi-year contracts and extensions to arrive at an equivalent valuation for a one-year contract.

The system has proven unable to keep up with rising revenues and market values, and the amount arbitration-eligible players receive relative to comparable free agents has been decreasing over the past couple decades.

An open-market system based on the restricted free agent model used in other sports addresses these issues, and can be modified to fit the peculiarities of MLB’s arbitration system if so desired. This might seem like a radical change to bring to a system so entrenched in the game, but MLB has used a similar open-market solution to address the problem with free agent compensation in the past. … Read More

(via The Hardball Times)

Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies

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The defensive shift– repositioning infielders from their conventional locations in response to a particular batter’s hitting tendencies– may be the most significant development in baseball defense since pitchers started actually trying to miss bats with their pitches. The basic idea is that defenses can take advantage of certain hitters who are known to possess extreme tendencies in terms of batted ball direction by loading up their infield defense in line with that batter’s tendencies.

David Ortiz is a decent example of a batter with a definite tendency to hit the ball in a particular direction. Here is a spray chart showing where he hit every ball during the 2012-2014 seasons:

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Ortiz is a top-tier power hitter, so it isn’t surprising that he’s peppered the entire field. Focusing on his ground balls, though, reveals a pretty strong tendency to hit grounders to the right side of the infield. Opposing teams noticed and began to counter Ortiz defensively by shifting against him.

Probably the most common way to arrange a defensive shift is to move the second baseman into shallow right field, move the shortstop to the first-base side of second base, and shade the third baseman heavily toward second base. Teams also employ less and more extreme variations of this basic shift. Because a fielder needs to remain close to first base, teams almost exclusively shift to overload the right side of the infield. This, in turn, means that teams almost always shift, if at all, against left-handed hitters, who, as a population, generally hit the ball to the right. Ortiz is a lefty, and his spray chart evidences the expected pattern.

No player faced a full defensive shift more than Ortiz in 2015, when opposing defenses shifted on more than sixty-three-percent of his plate appearances. The most effective antidote for the shift is a bunt to the exposed third-base side, but Ortiz, now at forty years old and at least 6’3″ and 230 pounds, has not been the bunting sort of late or, really, ever. He’s a big, left-handed power hitter in the last year of his career, and, as concerns the defensive shift, he’s just going to have to take his lumps.

A little further down that list of 2015’s most-shifted appears Victor Martinez in the #22 spot. Martinez spent much of 2015 injured, so he only made 485 plate appearances, seeing a full shift on roughly forty-three percent of them. Like Ortiz, Martinez is heavier, slow, and hits from the left side, and his 2012-2014 spray chart shows similar batted-ball tendencies to Ortiz’s:

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One way in which Martinez is unlike Ortiz, though, is that, while both bat left-handed, Martinez also bats right-handed. Continue reading

Haggard Jam

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Country legend Merle Haggard died on Wednesday, his seventy-ninth birthday. Without further ado, because Haggard didn’t seem to be the type who cared for any ado, here are two of his songs. The first seems a fitting choice for the occasion, and the second is a cover of one of his songs, the first one I remember knowing.


(Featured image from Alejandro Escovedo)

Red Wings’ season, playoff chances coming down to the wire

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It’s easy to second-guess coaching decisions after the fact, begins many post-loss sports articles, but it was immediately clear that the Detroit Red Wings, and their recently redeemed goalie, Jimmy Howard, were not 100% last night in Boston. The direct evidence? Surrendering two goals on four Bruin shots in the first 2:44 of the game. The circumstantial evidence? A hard-fought win the night before in a game that did not start until after 8:00, delaying the team’s arrival at its Boston hotel until 2:45 yesterday morning. Howard looked sluggish, and his teammates weren’t able to bail him out. Their backs against the wall, Boston hardly let up, eventually claiming a 5-2 win.

The Howard redemption story is a nice and good one, and, if the Red Wings are able to clinch a twenty-fifth-consecutive playoff berth, there’s little reason to believe it can’t continue into the postseason, but hockey, as much as any sport, is a sucker for narratives like these, and they can color strategic decisions. Continue reading

Detroit Red Wings closing in on 2016 NHL playoffs, upholding historic mantle

It’s that simple. After a very big shutout win last night over the Flyers in Detroit, the Red Wings go on the road tonight in Boston with the opportunity to extend the longest active playoff streak in all of professional sports.

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The Bruins, Flyers, and Red Wings are fighting for the Eastern Conference’s two remaining playoff spots. Detroit and Boston each have two games left, including one against each other, while Philadelphia has three games remaining. The Eastern Conference standings currently look like this:   Continue reading

Local soccer player trains in neighborhood park, Kent Trails for chance at pros (via The Rapidian)

dsc6106It’s an overcast February day at Clemente Park. The late winter thaw has melted the snow revealing the dull, listless grass. A young man in sweats pulls up in a faded black Nissan Sentra and begins to pull some gear out of the back seat. Ernesto Pulido is tall and lean with flowing wavy hair, cut close on the sides and in the beard. He pulls out some ragged pink Nikes and meticulously laces them up. “I really don’t like to change shoes,” he explains. Typical of many athletes, he’s particular about keeping his gear unchanged.

Pulido is here for his solitary training session. He trains for an hour in the morning, and then again in afternoon. But there’s no team, no school, and no job. This not by bad luck or laziness. No, Pulido has made a tough decision to leave his engineering program at Ferris State University to travel to Mexico to accept an invitation from a professional Mexican team, and follow the unlikely dream of a career in professional soccer. … Read More

(via The Rapidian)

Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?

Last night, the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 season finally got underway in Miami, where the team opened a two-game series against the Marlins. I’m perhaps over-eager to employ this concept, but if Detroit’s 8-7 win in eleven innings wasn’t a microcosm of a Tigers season, I’m not sure what was. This game had pretty much everything:   Continue reading