Catching Fire: The Tigers are not Utilitarians

jeremy_bentham

In the late 1700s, Jeremy Bentham introduced the modern world to utilitarianism, a political theory organized around the “fundamental axiom” that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham believed that happiness is quantifiable (unit of measurement: util) and argued that governments should legislate so as to create the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Utilitarianism has its blind spots and, at least at its Benthamite core, is subject to the conceptual critique that it prioritizes majority preferences over minority rights (a classic critical example here), as well as the practical one that utils aren’t as susceptible to arithmetic in the policy-making context as other measurements of value, like, say, dollars. One of Bentham’s students, John Stuart Mill, later updated and expanded utilitarianism in an attempt to address some of its critics, and although some of the theory’s broader ideas remain in the modern political milieu, utilitarian is viewed as a relatively primitive approach today.

Mike Aviles, Andrew Romine

The 2016 Detroit Tigers are, to some extent, a team out of time. They are neither aggressively modern (e.g., Tampa Bay) nor hopelessly mired in the past (e.g., Arizona). With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, they are neither obvious buyers (e.g., Toronto) nor obvious sellers (e.g., San Diego). Observers have been declaring for years that the team’s “window is closing,” while conceding that it still is open and may remain as such for another season (in which they will repeat their hand-wringing diagnosis all over again). Given their aging roster, though, time is something out of which this team may be running.

All of that leaves the Tigers with two utility players, arguably a practical necessity in an age of limited rosters and relief pitching specialization, Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles. Unlike Bentham’s utils, it is fairly easy– and easier than ever– to calculate how much these two utility men contribute to the team. Readers may recall Aviles’ preseason scouting report (sayeth BP: “Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense,” and “his inability to reach base . . . makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities”) or this more recent peek at Romine’s poor offensive numbers. To keep this part of the offensive update simple, the palindromic Romine (73 wRC+) and Aviles (37 wRC+) have been decidedly below average and aggressively below average hitters, respectively, to this point. Aviles, who’s received twice as many plate appearances as Romine, has been worse than all but ten other batters in baseball (minimum 80 PA), and four of those ten no longer have major-league jobs.

Since spring training, manager Brad Ausmus has insisted that carrying two utility players is not redundant, but the question remains: do Aviles and Romine, together, provide utility to their team?

In one basic, immediate respect, the answer clearly is no. Continue reading

The political costs of a new baseball stadium

braves_lee_deal

In his role as Cobb County Commission Chairman, Tim Lee probably thought that pushing through an expensive plan to relocate the Atlanta Braves from their downtown home to his northern suburban jurisdiction by skirting public referendum and delivering the pork for large business interests would, in return, lead to his reelection.

Once again, however, Lee has miscalculated. Challenger Mike Boyce, a retired Marine colonel, nearly defeated Lee outright in an election this spring. Boyce only secured forty-nine-percent of the vote, however, which sent him into a runoff election with Lee this summer.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explained last month, “Boyce’s candidacy is drawing on a deep well of resentment over the deal, which was struck in secret without a public vote.”

Last night, that resentment drove Boyce to victory. He toppled Lee by securing sixty-four-percent of the runoff vote.

This won’t reverse the new stadium deal, of course, but it may serve as a warning to other politicians who, in the future, contemplate similar boondoggles.

_____________________________________________________________

Previously
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Catching Fire: Is Brad Ausmus Evolving?, Or, Evidence That Brad Ausmus Definitely Reads ALDLAND

usa-today-8775862-0

Although it did not happen precisely as I predicted, the Tigers scored enough runs off new Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz to allow rejuvenated starter Justin Verlander to depart after the sixth inning with a 2-1 Detroit lead. The offense added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, but, with Justin Wilson on to take care of the power portion of the Boston batting order in the bottom of the eighth, the situation quickly became dicey:

chart

Those skyrocketing green leverage index bars right before the red ones are what pop up when you load the bases before you get any outs. Not good if you’re on defense. Wilson secured the first out by way of a strikeout, but the next batter singled, driving in a run and narrowing Detroit’s lead to two, with the bases loaded and only one out. That will earn you your first red leverage index bar of the night.

Wilson always looks a bit fidgety on the mound, and with the home crowd mockingly chanting his name like they would that of a visiting hockey goalie who appeared to be cracking under pressure, Wilson mustered his second strikeout of the inning. The reliever appeared, if not relieved, then not unhappy when manager Brad Ausmus came out to fetch him, surrendering the ball without protest. The team’s closer, Francisco Rodriguez, would be coming in to attempt a four-out save.

Not three weeks ago, a nearly identical situation presented itself to Ausmus and the Tigers. They were on the road in Toronto– another team they’re chasing in the AL Wild Card race– that night, and Verlander left in the sixth inning with Detroit up one. That favorable margin held through the top of the eighth inning, and Wilson was back out to handle the bottom of the eighth. He quickly got himself in trouble, putting two men on base. The next two batters made outs, but Wilson walked the third, leaving himself with bases loaded, two outs, and the slimmest of leads to protect. Last night, Ausmus went to his surest option, Rodriguez, in that spot, but on that night in Toronto, he turned to Alex Wilson, a decidedly less sure option, who immediately proved as such by surrendering the lead for good.

At the time, I criticized Ausmus for the decision to bring in Alex Wilson instead of Rodriguez, as well as for his stated reason for making that decision:   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Tigers offered another opportunity tonight against Pomeranz

pom

The Detroit Tigers are not out of the playoff hunt, but without any new faces likely to join their band during this in-season trade period, the team is going to need to take advantage of every beneficial opportunity the schedule affords them if their playoff push is to succeed.

The good news: on balance, that schedule is a favorable one.

remaining-schedule-strength

Detroit has the easiest post-All-Star break schedule among the AL Central teams, and they’ve held steady in second place for a few weeks now. First-place Cleveland has maintained a roughly six-game lead, though, and the Tigers also have been stuck at about four games back in the AL Wild Card chase as well.

Recent losses by relevant teams in both of those races– Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto– created an opportunity for the Tigers to make significant gains on both the divisional and wild card fronts. Detroit fumbled that opportunity, though, dropping two of three against the Twins and two of four against the White Sox.

They have yet another opportunity tonight at Fenway Park, though. Justin Verlander has been excellent again this season, and he’ll start tonight against the newest member of the Red Sox rotation, Drew Pomeranz. Detroit’s batters should be salivating.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out when Boston dealt a top prospect to San Diego in exchange for the Padres pitcher, Pomeranz isn’t exactly a model of endurance:

Pomeranz is up to 105 innings pitched heading into tonight’s start, and the twenty-seven-year-old doesn’t exactly have a track record of getting better as the season progresses:

pomxfiproll

Those late-season climbing trends in his xFIP indicate that Pomeranz, like many pitchers, tends to perform worse as his seasonal workload accumulates. He’s made one start for Boston so far, and it went badly. He lasted only three innings, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits, two of them homers.

Tonight’s game represents another good opportunity for Detroit to make progress toward a playoff spot. Even if that’s just a one-game wild card spot, this may be the closest they come to postseason action for some time, and they need to make the most of it.

First pitch is at 7:10 on ESPN.

______________________________________________

Previously
Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying – 7/8
Catching Fire: Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game – 7/6
Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs – 6/21
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf – 6/16
Catching Fire: When is it okay to stop short? – 6/15
Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity – 5/17

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time – 5/3
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet

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

3cfdd55b04ef9e55c3e2a42228211176-2

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

ausmus tantrum

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.

chart

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

kinsler breaking records

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.

kinslerasg

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