The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary, and they are holding a public vote to determine the winners.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist and includes a link to cast your vote.

As a preview, here are my summaries of my two favorite articles of the bunch:    Continue reading

How to watch and listen to Super Bowl 50

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It’s almost time for the Super Bowl! Kickoff for Big Game Fifty is at 6:30 pm Eastern on Sunday, and, as further explained in my latest post at TechGraphs, you can watch it on your television, for free online, and streaming on certain mobile devices. You also can hear it on conventional and satellite radio. In addition, comedy duo Key & Peele will be running a live, unauthorized commentary stream during the game.

All of the details are in the full post here.

Calvin Johnson is only 3/4 done

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys

All available signs indicate that Calvin Johnson’s NFL career is over. He’s borne a heavy burden for the Detroit Lions for nine seasons, during which he has performed at historically great levels, although injuries have limited his (still above-average) production in recent seasons. Nevertheless, outside of Johnson’s reportedly expressed desire to walk away from the game, there is nothing to suggest that, if he decided to continue his career, he would not continue to play at a very high level.

In fact, FiveThirtyEight’s projections show that if Johnson, who has compiled 11,619 receiving yards, stayed in the game, he could pull down an additional 4,355:

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That would account for twenty-seven-percent of his projected total receiving yards, and if Johnson were to reach that projected total of 15,974 yards, he would finish as the number two all-time receiver, just ahead of Terrell Owens’ 15,934, though still well behind Jerry Rice’s absurd 22,895. (So long as we’re projecting, it’s worth noting, as the article does, that Larry Fitzgerald (17,323) and Brandon Marshall (16,323) both project to finish ahead of Johnson’s projected mark.)

These projections, like many sports projections, are based in significant part on the performance arcs of past players. This is a reasonable methodological approach, and it’s probably the best and most widely used for these purposes. It has a few blind spots that are worth keeping in mind, however. One of those is the health of the individual player. There is no doubt that today’s players take their health and well-being more seriously and with a broader perspective than those of previous generations, including Rice’s. (There always will be exceptions, of course.) The backward-looking orientation of these projections mean that they will miss both new (or effectively hidden) injuries to the specific player, as well as new general trends regarding health and wellness, both of which could limit Johnson’s future production. So too, of course, could his desire to stop playing entirely. Also not directly included are rule changes and general changes in strategy, and here, those– rules that favor passing offense and a strategic shift to emphasize passing in offensive schemes– actually could push Johnson’s actual future output above his projected total.

Still, Johnson is thirty years old, he’s been banged up in each of his last few seasons, and his team’s present trajectory fairly is categorized as stagnant. As the FiveThirtyEight article reasonably concluded, “if Johnson ultimately decides to leave, good for him. If he ultimately decides to stay, good for football.” For fans, sports always will, in relatively equal parts, be about what was and what could be, and, as fun and important as imagining and projecting the sports future is, it’s just as important to realize what we have and have had play out before our eyes. Luckily for us, Johnson made the latter very easy and very enjoyable.

2016 NHL All-Star Game recap

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The 2016 NHL All-Star weekend is in the books, and there were plenty of highlights from Nashville:

Continue reading

Calvin Johnson’s NFL career likely is over

ESPN reports:

Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson told his family and a close circle of friends before the past season that 2015-16 would be his final season in the NFL. He delivered the same message to coach Jim Caldwell the day after the regular season ended, sources told ESPN.

Johnson’s body has been so sore and his conviction so strong that he shared his decision to retire after the 2015 season with only two teammates — quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Stephen Tulloch — with the request that they keep it confidential, according to sources.

[U]nless Johnson has the change of heart the Lions are still hoping for (but not many are expecting), one of the greatest players in Detroit franchise history is likely to walk away from the game.

The full report is available here.

As difficult as it is to imagine these Lions without their all-pro receiver, a change of heart on the retirement decision seems like a long shot, even by Johnson’s standards. While the team hasn’t given Lions fans much to cheer about in terms of postseason success and championship contention, like Barry Sanders before him, Johnson treated us to the special experience of cheering for one of the game’s all-time greats clad in Detroit’s Honolulu blue and silver.

At the time of this post, Johnson has not made a definitive public statement on the subject of his retirement, and neither have the Lions.

Atlanta Hawks make NBA All-Star Game history, good and bad, in consecutive seasons

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In 2015, the Atlanta Hawks became just the eighth team in NBA history to place four players on the all-star team in the same season. Despite returning those same four starters– Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver– in 2016, only one Hawk, Millsap, is an all-star this season, making Atlanta the first team in NBA history ever to follow up a four-all-star season with a season in which only one (or fewer) of its players made the all-star team. (For purposes of the 1998 Lakers, I looked to the 2000 ASG, the event having been cancelled in 1999 due to an owners’ lockout.)

Furthermore, due to an ankle sprain he suffered in last night’s loss to the Pacers, Millsap might not even make an appearance in next month’s All-Star Game.

The Hawks’ 27-21 record is good enough for first in their division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Mike Ilitch’s baseball bona fides

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Everyone knows Mike Ilitch as the wealthy pizza baron who owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, but when new Tigers General Manager Al Avila appeared on Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo’s television show today, he revealed something about Mr. I that most folks probably don’t know: Ilitch is a former professional baseball player.

Ilitch played four seasons of minor-league ball in the mid-1950s. He split the 1952 season between the Jamestown, NY Falcons, a Tigers affiliate, as chance would have it, and the unaffiliated Hot Springs, AR Bathers. He spent the entirety of the 1953 season with the unaffiliated Tampa, FL Smokers, where he was the starting second baseman and his .310 batting average was second-best on the team. In 1954, Ilitch divided his time between the Smokers and the unaffiliated Miami Beach/Greater Miami Flamingos in what would prove to be the Flamingos’ final season of existence. He continued to demonstrate an ability to hit for average, if not power (his sole home run of the season was just the second of his career to that point), finishing 1954 with a .324/.375/.400 line, the best of his career. 1955 was Ilitch’s final year as a professional baseball player. He appeared in just sixty-two games while playing for three different teams: the unaffiliated St. Petersburg, FL Saints, the Norfolk, VA Tars (Yankees), and the Charlotte, NC Hornets (Senators). Ilitch’s offense slipped in his final season, in which he hit his third career home run and batted .255/.328/.273 for the Tars (incomplete records from the other teams suggest this line is representative of his performance for the Saints and Hornets as well).

The knee injury that ended Ilitch’s playing career in 1955 probably explains the decline in his offensive production. Four years later, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesars Pizza restaurant. They bought the Red Wings in 1982 and the Tigers– from Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan– in 1992.