Everton-Bournemouth stands out among today’s Premier League matchups, as the former will secure a return to England’s elite division with a win (they could also survive with a loss or a draw, but only if both Leeds and Leicester City likewise fail to win). Everton FC, which is located in Liverpool, was last relegated below the top flight in 1951.
As most EPL fans are aware, Everton’s home grounds, Goodison Park, are located less than a mile from Anfield, the historic home of Liverpool FC. They also know that the principal owner of Everton’s longtime arch rival is John Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group purchased the more-ballyhooed of the two clubs in 2010.
According to a new book by Bruce Schoenfeld, the acquisition happened only after initial reluctance from FSG’s ultimate decision-maker. As chronicled in Game of Edges: The Analytics Revolution and the Future of Professional Sports, Henry proclaimed the following during a business meeting held to assess the possible purchase:
“But I don’t want to own a soccer team.”
Not surprisingly, the bottom line is what led the billionaire ultimately to change his mind. Henry learned that he could reap significant financial gain, and that included a degree of earnings that couldn’t be attained through his ownership of the Boston Red Sox. As Schoenfeld explained, “In baseball, the revenue from all merchandise sold around the world was pooled and equally divided…” and “the restrictions on the Red Sox even extended to the internet itself,” as the commissioner’s office controls team’s digital rights. Conversely, “The owner of Liverpool Football Club had the freedom to use its name and images in almost any way he desired.”
The intricacies of owning a professional sports franchise go far beyond what is noted above — “Game of Edges” addresses several of them — and as the book’s title suggests, business analytics play a huge role, both in the assessing of a possible acquisition and what happens after one is made. As Schoenfeld makes all too clear, sports franchises are increasingly being purchased and run like the businesses that made their billionaire owners wealthy enough to afford them in the first place. That’s true whether they actually “wanted” the team, or simply desired the money and prestige that came with owning it.
As for Everton FC, the storied club is currently owned by Farhad Moshiri, whose wealth far exceeds his popularity among an understandably-disgruntled fanbase that includes yours truly. And for good reason. Imagine if relegation were possible in MLB, and the Red Sox were in danger of being dropped from professional baseball’s top tier. Fortunately for Henry — ditto John Fisher, who has ignominiously run the Oakland Athletics into the ground — that’s not something he needs to worry about.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Joe Ryan was emerging as one of baseball’s best young pitchers when he discussed his repertoire (and water polo) here at FanGraphs last April. He went on to finish his rookie campaign with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.99 FIP, his 13 wins and 147 innings tops on the Minnesota Twins staff. And he’s been ever better this year. Through 10 starts, the 26-year-old right-hander has won seven of eight decisions and boasts a 2.21 ERA and a 2.38 FIP.
He’s excelling with a slightly different arsenal than the one he featured last season. Ryan’s bread and butter is still his vertical-approach-angle-enhanced heater, but he’s tweaked his secondary offerings.
“I started throwing a sweeper slider last September,” Ryan explained. “I’m also throwing a different changeup. I went to Driveline two days after the season ended, threw a bullpen, and we decided that with my hand position, [a grip adjustment] made sense. It’s more of a split-change now — it’s not a splitter — and as they suggested, it’s a good complementary pitch to my arsenal.”
The numbers back that up. Ryan has utilized his split-change 266 times — 28.5% of his total pitches thrown — and the results have been a 22.5% whiff rate and a .188 BAA.
Ryan’s sweeper slider, which he’s thrown 70 times so far this season, has elicited a 25.0% whiff rate and a .250 BAA. According to the righty, the reason for adding it isn’t dissimilar to the decision to adjust his changeup grip. “A sweeper is better for my hand position,” Ryan said. “The spike helps, too. It helps me get through it with my middle finger and spin it better.”
The spin rate on Ryan’s sweeper has averaged 2,431 RPM this year, while his conventional slider — Statcast has him throwing 48 of them — has averaged 2,371, up from last season’s 2.136.
The answer can be found below.
Derek Holland signed with the independent Atlantic League’s York Revolution earlier this week. A veteran of 13 big-league seasons who spent last year in Triple-A, the 36-year-old southpaw made his last MLB appearance with the Detroit Tigers in 2021.
Katie Krall has been added as a featured speaker at this summer’s SABR convention in Chicago. A former development coach in the Red Sox organization, and now Senior Product Manager, Baseball Strategy at Hawk-Eye Innovations, Krall will present on “Analytics and Coaching in Baseball.”
Cotton Nash, who played briefly for the Chicago White Sox in 1967, and for the Minnesota Twins in 1969 and 1970, died earlier this week at age 80. A first baseman/outfielder who had starred on the hardwood at the University of Kentucky, Nash also played for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors, and the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. His hoops teammates included Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West.
The answer to the quiz is Bret Boone, who had 206 hits in 2001.
A conversation I had with Kansas City Royals closer Scott Barlow at the tail end of last season included a subject I’ve rarely seen addressed: The impact that different backgrounds can have on a pitcher’s visual perception. To a certain extent, 60 feet, six inches can feel either closer or farther away.
“It can be different,” said Barlow. “The backdrop… at Fenway Park, for instance, it feels close — it feels really close — whereas Wrigley Field has got that weird angle at the backstop. It’s a little bit off center, which you can notice. Tampa Bay is another place where the depth is really short. It kind of makes you feel, ‘I’m really close,’ which maybe gives you a subconscious boost. It’s almost like you can’t miss, or your heater is going to play up.
“It depends, too, on how many people are sitting behind the plate to kind of fill in the space,” added Barlow. “If I were to throw off a mound in an open park, and there was a chain-link fence back there, the plate would seem miles away. Even warming up in a big-league ballpark, where it’s just you and the catcher, the plate can feel a little farther away. But once the umpire and batter are in there it feels normal again. Everything is kind of the same.”
Masanori Ishikawa singled on Wednesday, and now has at least one hit in all 22 of his seasons with NPB’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The 43-year-old left-hander has 132 career hits to go with 184 wins.
Hiroya Miyagi is 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA in six starts for NPB’s Orix Buffaloes. The 21-year-old left-hander has fanned 30 batters and allowed 24 hits over 39-and-a-third innings.
Shunpeita Yamashita is 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA in six starts for the Buffaloes. The 20-year-old right-hander has fanned 42 batters and allowed 23 hits over 36-and-two-thirds innings.
David MacKinnon is slashing .247/.308/.429 with seven home runs for the Seibu Lions in his first NPB season. The 28-year-old corner infielder made his MLB debut last year and logged a combined 57 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics.
ByungHo Park is slashing .287/.355/.393 and has gone deep three times for the KBO’s KT Wiz. The 36-year-old former Minnesota Twins first baseman has 388 professional home runs, including 12 in his lone MLB season.
Gyun-an Na is 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 55 innings for the Lotte Giants. The 25-year-old right-hander is a converted catcher who made his KBO debut in 2017 and began pitching in 2021.
Left on the cutting-room floor from the in-depth interview I did with Josh Barfield back in February were his thoughts on balancing old-school and new-school concepts within the player-development process. According to the Arizona DiamondBacks farm director, each is essential to an organization’s success.
“I have an appreciation for both,” Barfield said in our Prospect Week conversation. “There are a lot of things that have been done in this game for a long time, and there is a reason for that: they work. But there is also a lot of new information and technology — some of the new ideas are really good — so it would be silly not to take advantage of it.
“There are times when something new aligns with what we’ve always believed. And then there are times where it doesn’t necessarily match up, but because we can quantify it, we need to approach it as, ‘Oh, maybe we’ve been looking at this one thing the wrong way.’ So, we try to do a good job of being open-minded and blending the two. We care about getting getting the right information, and just as importantly, getting it to our players in a way that they can digest.”
The D-Backs strive to have that communication stream running in both directions.
“We want to make sure that the players know what’s being asked of them,” said Barfield, whose own playing career spanned 2001-2013 seasons. “At the same time, we get a lot of feedback from them, too. It’s not the old school, ‘Hey, this is how we do it; you’re going do what we say.’ We understand that it’s the player’s career — a lot of us on the staff have been in that position — so we want to make sure that everybody is on the same page.”
Arizona’s farm system currently ranks seventh-best in MLB. Homegrown players 25 years and younger who have seen big-league action with the D-Backs this season comprise Corbin Carroll, Dominic Fletcher, Luis Frías, Tommy Henry, Drey Jameson, Jake McCarthy, Ryne Nelson, Geraldo Perdomo, Brandon Pfaadt, and Alek Thomas.
Carter Jensen has a 26.0% walk rate, second highest in the minors among qualified hitters. The 19-year-old, left-handed-hitting catcher in the Kansas City Royals organization has 23 hits and 45 walks to go with a .181/.393/.323 slash line with the High-A Quad Cities River Bandits.
Drew Gilbert is slashing .346/.430/.596 with seven home runs between High-A Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi. The 22-year-old outfielder was drafted 28th overall last year out of the University of Tennessee by the Houston Astros.
Guy Lipscomb is slashing .290/.405/.374 and has 30 stolen bases in 31 attempts for the Low-A Lynchburg Hillcats. The 22-year-old outfielder was drafted in the fifth round last year out of Belmont University by the Cleveland Guardians.
Wilfred Veras is slashing .327/.345/.519 with 19 doubles and four home runs for the High-A Winston-Salem Dash. The 20-year-old outfielder/first baseman from Santo Domingo is No. 23 on our Chicago White Sox Top Prospects list.
Blake Adams has a 2.03 ERA over 40 innings with the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies. The 22-year-old right-hander in the Colorado Rockies organization has fanned 50 batters while allowing just 30 hits and five walks.
Jake Garland has a 3.43 ERA over 44-and-two-thirds innings between Low-A Stockton and High-A Lansing. The 22-year-old right-hander in the Oakland Athletics organization has a 63.6% ground-ball rate, second highest in the minors.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
The Carolina League’s Down East Wood Ducks, currently based in Kinston, North Carolina, will soon be relocating to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Christian Boschult has the story at The Post and Courier.
The staff of SB Nation’s Fish Stripes has departed the Vox Media platform and is now providing Miami Marlins coverage at the newly-formed Fish on First. Managing editor Ely Sussman explained why.
Andscape’s Justice B. Hill wrote about how Black Baseball will be getting an upgrade at The National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser paid tribute to Tina Turner while chronicling Seattle’s 6-1 win over Oakland on Wednesday night.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Toronto Blue Jays have a plus-17 run differential and are in last place in the A.L. East. The Milwaukee Brewers have a minus-23 run differential and are in first place in the N.L. Central. Each team has 27 wins.
The San Francisco Giants have hit 72 home runs and scored 233 runs. The Colorado Rockies have hit 43 home runs and scored 239 runs.
Billy Wagner had 422 saves while playing for five teams from 1995-2010. The only team he didn’t record a save with was the Boston Red Sox, with whom he appeared in 15 games in 2009.
Johnnie LeMaster played for three teams in 1985, and all of them lost 100 or more games. The San Francisco Giants went 62-100, the Cleveland Indians 60-102, and the Pittsburgh Pirates 57-104. An infielder, LeMaster appeared in 45 games that year and went 12-for-94 with a minus-14 wRC+ and minus-1.2 WAR.
Steve Carlton lost five straight starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1972, the last of them leaving him with a W-L record of 5-6 at the end of May. “Lefty” proceeded to finish the season 27-10, this on a team that went 59-97.
On today’s date in 1987, Mike Young hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Baltimore Orioles an 8-7 with over the California Angels. Young had homered two innings earlier to knot the game at six apiece after the Angels scored in the top of the 10th.
New York Yankees outfielder George Selkirk took Philadelphia Athletics reliever Bob Joyce deep twice on today’s date in 1939. A day earlier, Joyce started for the A’s and surrendered two home runs to Selkirk.
Baltimore Oriole’s right-hander Steve Trachsel threw a complete game with no strikeouts in a 9-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on today’s date in 2007. (As a side note, Roger Clemens had two complete games without a K in July 1987.)
Players born on today’s date include Ryota Igarashi, a native of Chiba, Japan who went a cumulative 5-2 with a 6.41 ERA while pitching for the New York Mets in 2010 and 2011, and for the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. A reliever whose career spanned 1999-2020, Igarashi made 1,025 professional appearances, including 83 in MLB and 823 in NPB.
Also born on today’s date was Willard Hershberger, a catcher who batted .316 over 440 plate appearances with the Cincinnati Reds from 1938-1940. Hershberger tragically took his own life in August of 1940, making him the only player in MLB history to die by suicide during the season.