A CAUTIONARY TAIL

Ken Hoffman warns of the dangers in Houston dog parks

Photo by Jacob Power

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

My dog, Sally, is never going to a public dog park again. I've always had my concerns about dog parks, like aggressive dogs, potential bacteria and disease, and unsupervised activity.

But, I thought, I've heard good things about Officer Lucy Dog Park in Bellaire. Let's see if Sally has fun there. I adopted Sally last New Year's Eve. She's grown into the sweetest, gentlest, most adorable dog I've ever owned.

She's also grown into one of the biggest dogs I've ever owned. It didn't say that on the card on her cage at the shelter.
Here's what happened: I brought Sally to the dog park around 8 am last Thursday. There was a guy in there with three dogs. I asked him, "Are your dogs safe?" He said, "Yeah."As we walked along the fence toward the entrance, I noticed one of his dogs defecating. The guy made no effort to pick it up. I told him, "Hey…"

He said, "I got it, worry about your own dog." He looked annoyed that I called him out about his dog pooping.

Attack at the park

That was a bad sign and I should have turned around right there. The moment we entered the gate, his three dogs attacked Sally. It happened in an instant and it was a frightening, horrible scene. They had Sally pinned down. They were snarling and one was going after her neck. Sally was screaming, a sound I had never heard her make.

This was for real. It wasn't playing, dogs sniffing each other out. These dogs were hurting my amazing dog. I'll never forget the awful sound of growling and barking and crying.

Ken to the rescue

I jumped in the middle and kicked the dog going for Sally's neck as hard as I could. I yelled "Get off!" and "Do something" to the other dog's owner. He just stood there.

I grabbed Sally and slammed the gate behind. The other dogs were hurling themselves at the fence, still trying to get at Sally. The moment we were safe, here's my admission, I went into a rage hollering at the other dogs' owner. He never said sorry, just that, "...two of my dogs are in heat."

That took a terrible situation to 11. I unleashed a torrent of profanity. The guy didn't back off. He told me to F-off, and how about this, "I was here first. If you don't like it, don't bring your dog in here."

That made me 1,000 times angrier. There is a list of rules on the gate at Officer Lucy Dog Park. No vicious dogs, no dogs in heat, on and on. The problem — and this was my original concern about public dog parks — you can have all the rules you want, but if you don't enforce the rules, you have no rules.

I was furious. You never know how you're going to react in a situation, but if his dogs had killed Sally, I would have spent last Thursday night in jail. People dump on me all day long — get in line — but it you can't hurt my dog.

Continue on CultureMap to read what happened when Ken Hoffman called the police.


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The numbers show a concerning trend. Composite image by Brandon Strange

Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $30M deal with the Houston Astros prior to 2019 to little fanfare. The then 32 year-old was coming off of yet another injury riddled season with the Cleveland Indians, and the signing was seen as a safe gamble (if there is such a thing). Brantley would produce if healthy, but would he ever be healthy?

Brantley went on to have two of the healthiest seasons of his career, putting up big numbers for the Astros. Across two seasons, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The Astros got the best version of Brantley, who had slashed .295/.351/.430 with a 114 wRC+ during his tenure with the Indians.

Brantley is set to hit the market once again, and the Astros face a couple of questions. One, is Brantley worth bringing back? Two, is Brantley worth a qualifying offer?

Hard Hit % - 37.3%

Barrel % - 4.9%

K % - 15%

BB % - 9.1%

Chase % - 20.1%

(All numbers from 2020)

Brantley's greatest skill is controlling the strike zone. He forces pitchers to come to him, and he's only getting better at it. His chase % was the best of his career, and it was 6% better than his 26% mark in 2019. Brantley was t-19th in MLB in chase % with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yasmani Grandal. Brantley combines this enviable level of plate discipline with another enviable trait: he doesn't swing and miss. His 16.4% whiff % was in the 93rd percentile of MLB. By comparison, Acuña and Grandal were in the 29th and 26th percentiles respectively. Those two don't chase often because they keyhole one spot that they know they can drive. Brantley forces pitchers to come in the zone similar to those two, but he usually doesn't swing and miss when the pitchers do come to him.

However, there are some alarming trends for a hitter now well onto the wrong side of 30.

His 15% K% was the highest it's been since 2011, when he was a 24-year-old in his first full big league season. It was a 4.6% increase in K% over last season. Brantley's 16% whiff % is far and away the worst it's been in his career, and it's 5.6% worse than it was in 2019. That 5.6% is the difference between swinging-and-missing the second least in MLB and swinging-and-missing the 11th least. That's a steep drop over one season. Remember, Brantley chased pitches outside the zone the least he ever had in his career. That increase in whiff % mostly came on strikes. His contact % on strikes dropped 4.8% from 2019.

A big indicator of age is the inability to catch up with the fastball. Brantley's 13.2% whiff rate against fastballs in 2020 was the worst it's been in his career. The second worst? 7.5% back in 2011. On the surface, Brantley performed fine on fastballs in 2020. He batted .295 with a .438 SLG against them. But it gets a little uglier just one level deeper. Brantley's xBA on fastballs was .242. His xSLG was .410.

Compared to his 2019 performance against fastballs, it was quite the downturn. Brantley batted .320 against fastballs in 2019 with a .311 xBA. He slugged .501 with a xSLG of .506. Lastly, Brantley had an 89.3 average exit velocity on fastballs in 2019 compared to 87.4 in 2020. The downturn in fastball productivity is alarming.

Brantley performed great against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in 2020, but once pitchers realize that he can't stay on the fastball like he used to, Brantley will be setup for failure, not success.

Brantley doesn't run well either. His average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/s was in the 34th percentile in MLB. Brantley did perform well defensively by nearly every metric, but he was in the 39th percentile in outfielder jump. He really can't afford a downturn defensively, and with Yordan Alvarez returning as the full time DH next season, they won't have the ability to give Brantley the occasional day off his legs at DH

The qualifying offer has been set at $18.9M for the 2020 offseason. Considering Houston's lack of draft picks due to their punishment for technological sign-stealing, recouping some of that draft capital would be helpful for the club. $18.9M would represent a $3.9M raise for Brantley, which is exactly the price of not being able to bring back Brad Peacock.

It's unlikely that Brantley will regress so quickly that he'll be unplayable in 2021. He will likely be a productive ballplayer. Considering that the Astros can afford to pay the raise in salary if he accepts the qualifying offer, it is worth giving it to him. If he declines the QO, however, it isn't worth giving him a multi-year deal. There are too many signs of regression, and anything more than one year is a risk. If Brantley demands a multi-year deal, the Astros should let him walk and take the draft pick compensation.

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