An audible discussion of current baseball stories

While the ALDLAND Podcast continues to take a technical hiatus, I was a guest on this week’s episode of the Banished to the Pen podcast, where we discussed current baseball stories ranging from StatCast to Chicago Cubs prospects to the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the fightin’ AL Central.

You can download or stream the entire podcast here.

If We Win Again, We’ll Be One Again (via The Bitter Southerner)

The moment has been lauded for over 40 years. It trumped, for a short time, the more ominous brand of “white flight,” that of white folks selling their houses and fleeing to the suburbs. Hank was the right hero at the right time. He had no bluster about him. He had poise and was stoic, Russell said. Some white folks of the day said they liked that Hank wasn’t “uppity” — as if his grace was just an act to please them.

Aaron suddenly has some diplomatic descendants in the meshing of two sides of town. Just as baseball has ripped us apart as a sporting city with the Braves and their business flight to Cobb County and the taking of public money to build their new stadium, there are some new heroes in our midst at the right time. They created a oneness with a round ball — this one weighing about 22 ounces. They play with poise and heart, like Hank played.

I’m talking about the Hawks, of course.

Preposterous, you say?

Go buy a playoff ticket and see for yourself. They are the People’s Team. … Read More

(via The Bitter Southerner)

The moral implications of StatCast

moralitycastIf your neighborhood baseball nerd is nerding out a little more than usual today, it’s probably because Pluto’s in retrograde right now or something, and it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with tonight’s television broadcast debut of StatCast, which will go far beyond showing balls and strikes by tracking things like player movements and batted-ball data. Ben Lindbergh has a good preview of the technology and its chief implications for expanded baseball analysis here.   Continue reading

Shane Greene Outduels A.J. Burnett as Tigers Hurdle Pirates to Avenge Only Loss

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After the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Detroit Tigers their only loss of the 2015 season on Monday afternoon, Detroit sought and found revenge against Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The Tigers’ first seven games were marked by nearly unbridled offense (+32 run differential, second only to Kansas City and, excluding third-best Oakland (+28), not close to anyone else), but they looked to their defense for a bounceback win in game eight. Starting pitcher Shane Greene, making his second start for the Tigers after his acquisition from the Yankees during the offsesason, was excellent. In particular, Greene was highly efficient, averaging just over ten pitches per inning for eight innings of three-hit, no-walk, shutout baseball. Not-insubstantial credit for his performance is due to key defensive plays by Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez. (Greene, who was making his first-ever plate appearances as a major leaguer, was generally ineffective with his brand-new Louisville Sluggers, but no one should care because this from his mother was adorable.)

Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett also had a strong outing, but he could not keep the Tigers at bay forever. The visitors broke through with one run in the seventh and, thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Iglesias, an insurance run in the ninth. Joakim Soria retired the Pirates side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the win.

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A minor subplot during this pitchers’ duel was the seemingly vertically compressed strike zone of home-plate umpire David Rackley, who had little interest in labeling anything up in the zone a strike. I was watching the Pittsburgh broadcast via MLB Network, but even I had to agree with the Pirate faithful that Rackley was robbing Burnett, who was throwing plenty down and away, when he even tried to go up in the zone. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle certainly thought so, and after Rackley sided with the batter on a second or third Burnett pitch that really appeared to be in the zone, Hurdle started hollering at Rackley from the dugout, and Rackley tossed him as Jim Leyland watched from the front row.

Taking a fresh look at last night’s pitches this morning, it appears that my eyes did not deceive me, and Hurdle et al. were justified in their complaining:

burnettpitchplotI’ve circled in blue what I believe to be the Burnett pitch that immediately preceded the Hurdle ejection. Looked like a strike last night, and it looks like one today too. In Rackley’s limited defense, he wasn’t really calling any high strikes, but that defense isn’t much of a defense at all in the broader scheme of things. Consistency is important, but an umpire’s imposition of his own personal, deviant strike zone really isn’t.

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Our 2015 Tigers series, Window Shopping, will begin in earnest very soon. Consider this post a prequel, and until I can get the engine revved up, I encourage you to enjoy this 2015 Tigers season preview to which I contributed in significant part.

2015 Detroit Red Wings Playoff Preview

The longest active playoff-appearance streak in American professional sports is alive and well. This is the good news in Detroit, where the Red Wings are preparing for their twenty-fourth consecutive NHL postseason. Their first-round opponent: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The smart hockey folks predicted a very bad hockey season for the Wings, so the team should take some extra satisfaction in this postseason appearance. (They were right to project improvement by Justin Abdelkader, but less so for Luke Glendenning.) Their reward for consistently above-average production all season long was third place in the Atlantic Division, one spot behind their first-round opponents in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning, who got the better of Detroit in their four meetings this season, present a difficult challenge for the Red Wings.

Two areas where Detroit would seem to have an advantage, goaltending and powerplay scoring, may be mitigated by external factors. April is a bad time to host an internal goaltending competition, but neither of the team’s two primary options, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, has been able to carry the load to the satisfaction of coach Mike Babcock, who today announced that Mrazek will start game one. A question mark in net is not part of a winning playoff formula, but this is part of the hand these Red Wings have been dealt.

The powerplay advantage is nice, but powerplay opportunities are at their lowest in at least the last seventeen seasons, which means Detroit is likely to have fewer chances to leverage this advantage, particularly in the playoffs, where penalties already are reduced.

Detroit still has some of the best veteran and young players in the sport, as I was fortunate enough to witness in two wins against top teams (Nashville and St. Louis) this season. By my count, they had a .500 record against other playoff teams this season. They will be underdogs in this round and likely any others to which they advance, but if their defense can hold up, they have a fair shot of doing so.

There’s nothing like playoff hockey – enjoy!

A fresh glance at Babe Ruth, upon the resumption of baseball

My latest post at Banished to the Pen contributes to the spirit of the opening of a new baseball season with a quick look back at one of the game’s most accomplished players.

It is nice to see the rookies of today showing respect for their elders, but modern celebrants of the game sometimes fear that reexaminations of their childhood heroes will alter their images and understandings of past giants in adverse fashion. For Babe Ruth, a truncated, targeted retrospective does serve to modify the Ruthian folk zeitgeist, but, in his case, it does so exclusively to enhance the stature of the Sultan.

The full post is available here.

Preseason BP Nuggets

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Real baseball finally gets underway today. (The NL Central doesn’t count.) Like last year, I read the Baseball Prospectus annual (now just 476 pages!) so you don’t have to. Rather than roll around in the sea of numbers, the following are some little nuggets of information that, at the very least and probably the very most, might help you get excited for the 2015 baseball season.

  • Albert Pujols: Everyone knows Pujols is a mechanized slugger who is and has been aging for some time, beginning in especially noticeable and expensive fashion when he left St. Louis for Southern California in 2012. The authors criticize Pujols for “earning $23 million for 2.9 WARP worth of work,” yet the Angels’ overpayment isn’t really that bad. A win usually is valued between $6 million and $8 million, and while an amount north of $7 million is on the high end, the Angels probably are just fine paying Pujols less than $8 million per win.

  • Ian Kinsler: The Tigers’ return for Prince Fielder, Kinsler made Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski look good last season. One thing Kinsler didn’t do last season though was take a free trip to first base. His walk rate fell off precipitously from his career levels, something the Tigers would like to see return for a guy who’s likely to bat high in the order and is a decent runner and base stealer once he’s aboard.
  • Max Stassi: “He must be the only guy in the game ever to earn his first major-league RBI by taking a fastball to the face.”
  • Kansas City Royals: The American League’s representative in the 2014 World Series had a remarkably mediocre regular season last year. Their ranks in various team measures: RS/G (14th), RA/G (12th), True Average (25th), FIP (16th), Defensive Efficiency Rating (12th). And yet there they were in October, one baserunning decision away from a world championship.
  • Ruben Tejada: PECOTA is in love with the Mets shortstop. BP’s projection machine sees Tejada hitting twenty-five home runs this season (he hit eight in the past three seasons combined) with a True Average of .306 (up from the decidedly average .261 last year), and other gains of similar magnitude across his offensive stats. It also sees him aging eleven years this offsesaon and moving from short in New York to first base in Los Angeles. Something must be wrong here.
  • Pitch framing: The middle child of the famous catching family finds himself a free agent, which is a little bit surprising given the new and widespread focus on catcher value, particularly in the area of pitch framing, where all of the Molinas shine. Here’s José’s player comment: “In 1947, private investigator Eddie Valiant was declared a hero for his work in the murder case of Marvin Acme and R. R. Maroon. With help from his girlfriend Dolores, Baby Herman and Maroon Cartoon Studio star Jessica Rabbit, Valiant discovered that Judge Doom killed Acme and Maroon in an attempt to take over Toontown. Unfortunately, Valiant’s investigation came before the time of detectives Mike Fast and max Marchi. The case was re-opened in 2011 when it was determined that Jose Molina was indeed the one who framed Roger Rabbit.”
  • Chris Archer: We may have found the Detroit Tigers Dugout Librarian‘s favorite non-Tiger in Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer: “The Dalai Lama of the diamond, Archer is cool as a cucumber off the field, engaging in philosophical debates and juggling book club memberships. Between the chalk, however, he is a firey competitor, chucking hardballs in the upper 90s with a sharp slider.”

Finally, to satisfy all of your team projection needs, here’s the best prediction piece out there, courtesy of the hard-working crew at Banished to the Pen. Leave your opening day thoughts in the comments below.