Monday, April 30, 2007

A terrible trio of topics: the Eagles' draft, the NBA, the Phillies 'pen.

The NFL draft: First off, I apologize to our more sensitive readers for the obscene content of my former post, although I renege none of its hatred or vitriol and persist in hating the Kolb pick and everybody in the Eagles' FO. I've watched whatever highlight films of his I can find (this one seems to be the best, if not the best choice of resolution or backing music), and he strikes me as a weak-armed run-first system guy who never worked under center (and the Eagles almost never run a shotgun, preferring instead, as I've often lamented, to run one-back play-action horseshit even on third-and-long). Suffice to say I don't think Kevin Kolb will ever be the Eagles' starting quarterback, and if he is, he'll be Bobby Hoying redux.

But fine -- franchise quarterbacks dont' come often, especially in the second round. The bigger issue is that they didn't pick a single real safety: Gaddis out of Clemson and the Barksdale guy (can we start a petition to make him change his first name to Avon?) from Albany are both hybrid CB/S guys not ideally suited for either position. I bet cash money that will come back to haunt them in a very material sense, probably this season -- but I like a few of their later picks a hell of a lot and think they addressed glaring needs. Namely:

Abiamiri out of ND is exactly what they needed on the D-line, a big earthmover end who can stop the run, the kind of guy they usually forsake in favor of undersized "high-motor" busts like McDougle, Patterson, Bunkley -- hell, all the way back to Mike Mamula.

Bradley from Nebraska -- a 6'4", 254-lb LB -- is another welcome departure from their tendency to draft fast undersized linebackers who invariably wind up sucking (Reid has yet to draft a starting-quality linebacker -- see McCoy, Reese, Caver, Gardner, Gocong, etc. -- with the possible exception of Gaither last year, and it's too early to say with him). This guy's not a freak athlete, but he's almost Trotter's size and can't possibly be any worse in coverage than Dhani Jones.

Tony Hunt could finally be the big back Eagles fans have been waiting for since Reid took over. I love Westbrook -- I think he's still underrated, despite his recent hype, because he's not as fragile as people think, runs well between the tackles, comes up big in big spots, is a very good blocker, an excellent receiver, and all-around, probably the best running back in the NFC and the single most dangerous player I've seen since Marshall Faulk. But we could use a change-of-pace guy to play the Brandon Jacobs/T.J. Duckett role in goalline situations and third-and-short. Maybe now Andy will even decide to fucking run the ball sometimes in those situations. Probably not, but I can dream.

However, Doyle makes an excellent point that draft-day speculation -- and indeed the media blitz that is the NFL draft -- is invariably wrong and, further, pointless. NFL scouts fail in evaluating talent most of the time and we probably can't do any better.

The NBA: Unfortunately, I just finished working four days in a row and don't have cable, so I haven't been able to watch any of the first-round games save for snippets caught between serving Smithwicks. So I'll leave most of it to Connor, except to take minor issue with a couple of his statements from the previous post:

I agree that its players' streetball ethic has helped the NBA's popularity. However, I also think it's partly to blame for its decline in popularity since the MJ/Magic/Bird days, largely for the reason you touch upon -- white America can no longer identify with many of the players, or no longer wants to try, which in turn has led to the NBA's quest to Tigerfy its players, as you mentioned.

The only other thing I have to offer is that the LeBron/A-Rod comparison is dead-on. That's the first time I've seen it made, and I hadn't considered it, but the parallels are all there.

The Phillies
: Another strong outing from a starting pitcher today. Seven innings, one earned run from Leiber. Myers pitched another scoreless eighth. And the back end of the 'pen blew it again. This time El Pulpo Flashed a fastball to Andruw and he hit it halfway to Punxsutawney.

Clock's ticking, Chaz. Make Myers the closer soon or you're out of a job and the Phils will be out of the Wild Card race.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a post discussing Josh Hancock's death and the sports media's response. I expect it will piss a lot of people off for no good reason.

On to things we can speak about with some measure of authority

While I understand Justin's absolute horror at the Kolb pick -- it was, simply, stunning (or: simply stunning; or: stunning, simply ... too many choices) -- I also think it's always a little crazy when fans start flying off the handle about draft picks before camp has even broken. Does this have the potential to be bad? Sure. But outsiders like us really know so little about draft prospects outside of what the talking heads tell us that it's virtually impossible to make informed criticism. Who knows? This Kolb kid could be perfectly suited for Reid's offense, and maybe they know something about Donovan that the rest of us don't. I'm not saying any of this is particularly likely, I'm just saying there isn't much beyond conjecture to go with here. So I'm going to take a pass on NFL Draft commentary.

What I do want to talk about is my new favorite sports franchise, The Golden State Warriors. Yes, my Warriors. I have inevitably become a fan of the Suns since I moved back to Phoenix, because there's no real reason not to; my love for the Pacers had more to do with Reggie Miller than it did the city or franchise as a whole, and living in the same city as a franchise this good and spectator-friendly is a little too much to resist. But the rub is that the Suns might be a little too good to captivate me, because I don't particularly gain any joy out of rooting for the bully. The Warriors, on the other hand, are like the Suns in every way except for two important exceptions:

1) They should not be beating anyone, particularly the Mavs; this is a team that barely made it into the Western Conference Playoffs, beating out luminaries like the T-Wolves and Clips for that honor;

2) This is by far the sloppiest, most street-cred-obsessed, blatantly anti-David Stern team ever assembled.

Honestly, tell me if there's one person on the Warriors you wouldn't take in a street fight? Have you seen Matt Barnes? My reflex has always been to back the "threatening" guys, if only because I get tired of the NBA's constant quest to pretend it's not a game that owes it's popularity en consummo to the street ball ethic and aesthetic. The quest began with the constant harping on AI's tats, and quickly extended to anyone who's not immediately appealing to corporate America's ideal of the grateful negro athlete. Sure, Carmelo might be an idiot, but at least he's somewhat genuine; in the span of two years and roughly 1,345 commercials, LeBron's gone from a marvel to just another sycophantic endorsement machine. Like it would be a crime if everyone didn't love him.

(Side note: Anyone else see A-Rod parallels popping up like crazy with LeBron? He's unquestionably one of the most unique and complete athletes, respective to his sport, we've ever seen. Each came into the pros as both extremely young and prodigiously talented, and hit the ground running. Both were serious contenders for the MVP Award by their second seasons. LeBron is likely to do Cleveland like A-Rod did Seattle. And both will end up, probably, being underappreciated when it's all said and done because they both come off as canned and disingenuous during public appearances, commercials, etc.)

The point is that my love of the Warriors has less to do with what they are than what they aren't. Yeah, I love Steve Nash, and Marion, and Raja, but those are the kinds of guys who wear sweater vests to post-game interviews. Amare might be the only Sun who could blend in with the Warriors, but even he's managed to tone it down a notch. Chuck learned the same lesson most of the Suns have learned: Phoenix isn't the kind of city that relishes the opportunity to witness the counter-culture. Remember the Stephon Marbury years for this franchise? Not many people in Phoenix do, either, because they stopped going to the fucking games, even though it remained a moderately competative and fairly fun-to-watch team in the bridge years between Jason "I done told Joumanna twice already" Kidd and Steve Nash, who's the most hardcore Canadian since Terry Fox, minus the prosthesis. But it's safe to say that Nash's bicep kiss in Game 2 was probably the most showing-out we've seen from anyone on this team all year.

Conversely, all the Warriors do is conclude frenetic fast breaks with wild shots, try to break defenders' ankles, and primp for the fans and cameras when they succeed. They're all attitude, and it's fucking great. It's even better that they're doing it all to the league's most annoying player, Dirk, whose general lack of human qualities has been put in clearer relief in this series. This guy was supposedly the leading MVP candidate? Please. He's as unwilling to grind as any superstar I've ever seen. The Warriors, on the other hand, are all heart. Contrary to what most commentators will tell you, you'll get about 10 times the hustle out of a kid from the streets (McGuire 2:17). The only exception to that rule is when they become so popular at a young age that the hangers-on tell them it's not worth it to try. But that's not the case with anyone on the Warriors; all these guys have been told, often multiple times, that they can't hack it. Davis, J. Rich, Pietrus, Barnes, Harrington, Jackson, et all., would tear their mothers' throats out if it meant they would get the respect they all think they deserve. Sure, that's not noble, but it makes for some seriously fun ball.

And, yes, I know this is like the 43rd team I've "liked." But it's the NBA; who gives a shit? I'll watch (and root for) anyone who does the complete opposite of what the Pistons and Spurs do.

To wrap things up, here's what today's TSTIHAD would have been:

Joe (Granger, IN): If it was your call, what would you do about the Cubs over crowded outfield?

SportsNation Steve Phillips: The Cubs outfield is a real situation in that they have a number of workable parts, none of which really work in the positions in which they are playing. If Pie can play at the major league level, then he has to play center. Then I would have Soriano in left and Jones and right. If Pie cannot hit in the majors right now, then they have to play Jones in center, Soriano in left, and Floyd and Merton in right. That configuration plays three outfielders out of position, but I still think it is better than putting Soriano in center. The bigger problem the Cubs have is that they would like to go back to a twelfth pitcher which would mean Pie or Merton goes to the minor leagues. Merton has proved he can hit and deserves to be there, but Pie is they're only true center-fielder. It is a real mess. My friend Steve Stone, with whom I worked games with at ESPN, compares the Cubs' outfield with playing a round of golf with three 7 Irons and two 3 woods. You have pieces that may work in certain situations but they do not work in every situation; it is tough to win that way.

Jerry (TX): Do you think the Giants should unload one or maybe two of their young pitching prospects to land some offense?

SportsNation Steve Phillips: No, I think that pitching and defense wins and they need to hold on to as much pitching as possible, because some of those young arms will need to go to the bullpen at some time this year. The Giants will score enough runs to win, the question is do they have the pitching to win. I think they will stay competitive all year, especially with the front end of their rotation. There is a lot of power potential in the line-up and they have some good "baseball players." I think you may see some impact this year with some of the good young pitchers they have.

Two straight Q&As, two completely and utterly horseshit answers. Beyond the fact that Phillips spells Matt Murton's name wrong three fucking times, he actually thinks that having three players playing out-of-position is better than having one. Then, to follow it up, he starts and answer with an incorrect truism ("pitching and defense wins"), and then states unequivocally that he does not actually follow baseball at all: The Giants are 27th in runs scored in the major leagues right now. Outside of Bonds, Durham and maybe Roberts, there isn't a hitter on the team who starts for any other NL West team. The "power potential" Phillips alludes to has amounted to 18 home runs (22nd in MLB) and a .390 team slugging percentage (20th). You can say a lot of things about the Giants: They are old, they are creepily former-Padre-heavy, they play in a gorgeous ballpark, they have exquisite gear. You cannot say they have power potential, because this is so clearly untrue that Michael Bloomberg has just tried to ban Steve Phillips chats for the public's protection.

However, Phillips did accurately note that the Giants have plenty of "baseball players," which is a relief for a team that usually fields a squad of "transgender marine biologists."

Saturday, April 28, 2007



Oh Christ, I can't fucking take this shit. KEVIN FUCKING KOLB? He's some no-name jagoff out of Houston. He's like the sixth-best QB prospect in a terrible QB draft! He was a projected second-day pick! Sure, he had decent stats, but guess who else had decent stats playing at fucking Houston: a couple guys names of Andre Ware and David Klingler. How great did they turn out, Andy?


Oh my God I can't fucking thing straight. I'm going to go urinate on my Eagles beanie and rack my shin against the coffee table until it bleeds. We'd better draft fucking Chuck Bednarik, Rocky Balboa, and Barbaro's long-lost brother with our next three picks, or there's going to be fucking Hell to pay in Philly.


Check the 700 level for video of Eagles fans booing Kolb's sorry ass and then either yelling incoherently or walking out. Yeah sure Donny got the same treatment -- somehow I feel like this one's a little different.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Time to place your base-ball thinking caps on your heads, gentlemen

The Myers/bullpen situation has the potential to become one of the more fascinating baseball subplots of the season, if only because it's such a rare occurrence that you see a top starter in his prime get moved out of the rotation. When I first heard of the move, I chortled, like a lot of people. But the more I've thought about what the move can accomplish, I actually wondered if it wasn't really the kind of forward-thinking club management that seemed completely anachronistic to the SOP for this team since I can remember.

What's important to consider, in this situation, is the true value of having an "ace" reliever, a role that should not be confused with "closer." Contrary to what a lot of people think, the ninth-inning is not automatically the most vital frame in a close baseball game, though it often is. What determines the most important inning, or cluster of innings, is leverage, a value explained by BP as such:

Leverage is calculated as the ratio of the impact of one additional run at a point in time to the impact of one additional run at the beginning of the game averaged over all plate appearances.

Essentially, measuring leverage is calculating how important scoring (or preventing) a run is in any given situation, weighted against the remaining number of outs for the team in question. Every out becomes more valuable as the game progresses, since there will be fewer subsequent opportunities to score. That's why such a premium is placed on having studs in late-inning roles; there's little question that the Padres' 2006 division title came down to the Linebrink-Meredith-Hoffman trio, as they combined to provide a little more than 13.5 additional wins over replacement level last season (according to BP's WXRL table), an astounding (and way, way, way league-leading) figure. However, most teams make do with one truly dominant arm in the 'pen, and that person is almost always the closer (except in the case of teams like the Indians, Tigers and Braves), who will almost always be deployed according to the following lightning-etched decrees:

1) Thou shalt not use thy closer prior to the eighth inning, and almost always in the ninth alone;

2) Thou shalt not use thy closer in games where ye are not to the fore; equalized games and one-run deficits are the realm of lesser men;

3) Thou shalt not use thy closer in games where ye are to the fore by more than three runs.

Conveniently, almost all situations within these parameters constitute high-leverage situations, with the exception of three-run leads against non-juggernaut teams. They also encompass all situations in which a "save" can be awarded. Which, if you're a fantasy leaguer, is about the only thing one can expect of value from a bullpen arm. But like most pitching stats that are part of the 5x5 roto structure, saves are bad at assessing the value of a reliever, not to mention closer. For the sake of focus, I'll leave that for another day.

What is important to note is that just because almost all save situations are high-leverage situations as well, not all high-leverage situations are save situations. Often, games hinge on events that take place in the seventh and eighth innings, situations in which teams are often willing to either let a tiring starter continue to work or bring in a reliever who is not the best available arm. This is almost always a bad strategy, particularly when the situation is charged with high-leverage variables.

For example:

It's the seventh-inning, and your team currently leads by one run. There is one out, but runners are on second and third and Albert Pujols is coming to the plate (which means that this isn't a situation where a LOOGY can be of use). In your bullpen, you have two relievers to decide between:

Reliever A: .30 DERA, 2.8 K/BB, 1.265 WXRL
Reliever B: 5.97 DERA, 0.5 K/BB, .118 WXRL

Easy decision, right? But the problem is that Reliever A is Jonathan Papelbon and B is Mike Timlin. While Tito's proven to be one of the more progressive managers in the majors, it's a reach to think he'd put Papes out there in the seventh, even though this is very clearly the turning point of the game. And if Tito wouldn't do it, sure as shit there ain't another manager in the majors who would.

The point of this exercise wasn't so much a rant about bullpen misuse; it's within this matrix that I think the Phillies can benefit. Tom Gordon is the team's "closer," even though he's probably the second-best reliever in the 'pen. I think this is a massively liberating situation for the Phillies, since they can now utilize Myers (presumably the bullpen's ace) in the highest-leverage situations possible, no matter what inning it comes in. If the Phillies have a two-run lead in the ninth against the Fish, let Gordon pitch: the odds of the Phillies winning in that situation are fairly staggering no matter who's on the bump. If Myers isn't penciled in for that ninth-inning-only role, he can then be deployed in those situations where his team most needs a high-strikeout bullpen ace. This kind of use -- not shifting him to closer -- would most likely give the Phillies the best possible increase in overall win expectancy, not to mention freedom to deploy the bullpen in more creative methods.

Unfortunately, all of this is strictly hypothetical, since there's no way the chimps in charge of the Phillies will ever utilize this kind of gambit with Myers, as evidenced by how they've used him so far. But if we could somehow get Charlie Manuel to flip spots with Manny Acta, and then buy Acta a BP Premium membership, this could be really interesting.

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 25

I'm sitting here grading my students' Documented Arguments, most of which offer claims so wildly unreasonable, they make Ryan's "Arizona is squeaky clean" argument seem tenable by comparison. (Sample: "Therefore, it is clear that the Supreme Court should ban cell phones from school classrooms." Seriously, the Supreme Court? Shouldn't we just skip that and go straight to a Constitutional amendment? And are there any other kind of classrooms but school classrooms? Two weeks, self. Two weeks until you don't have to do this shit anymore.) I'm also watching the Phillies game on Mosaic. (Aside: as loath as I am to do this, I have to give Connor credit. He told me to download it and said it was glorious. I did, and it is.)

So it's 7-2 Phillies in the top of the 7th. The Fightins have just scored three in the last half on a Ronnie Belliard error and a textbook opposite-way single by Chase Utley (his fourth hit of the game). Things are good.

Then Matt Smith comes in and does what he does best, walking two people in a row. But he gets a couple outs, and I'm not too worried -- we've got a five-run lead, for chrissakes. He walks another. Still no biggie -- bring in Geoff Geary, he'll save us. They do exactly that, and he does exactly that.

Then in the Phils half, I'm thoroughly enjoying giving this smartass sorority girl a B-, and I hear the following:

"Brett Myers warming up in the bullpen."

I dropped my pen in disbelief and maximized the Mosaic window. It was true.

So let me get this straight, Charlie Manuel: this is why we sent our ace to the bullpen? To cement four-run leads in the seventh inning? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

This is the fourth relief appearance since your decision to send him to the 'pen. (see below for my opinion on the move, with I've so far refrained from posting, since Doyle offered a sensible opinion for once). Those appearances, in order, thanks to the wonderful people over at

4/18, @WAS: pitched a scoreless eighth in a tie game. Phils lost 2-1 in extras. Rosario got the loss.
4/20, @CIN: pitched a scoreless eighth in a 1-0 game. Phils lost 2-1 in extras. Flash got the loss.
4/22, @CIN: allowed one run in the ninth of a six-run (!!!) game. Phils won 9-4.
Today, WAS: pitched a scoreless eighth in a game the Phillies are winning 9-3 in top 9.

(Aside: J-Roll just went cheesesteak again. Two-run job. That's #8. Khalil who?)

Now, I realize that no lead has been safe with this bullpen, but come the fuck on! You don't demote your ace to pitch the eighth inning! Especially not when your closer is a 39-year-old guy with a 1.90 WHIP and two blown saves already (both of which were downright pornographic), whose best career work by far was as a set-up man right before you signed him!

In other words, if you're going to send Myers to the pen, make him the fucking closer! He's a hard-throwing, high-strikeout guy who beats his wife in public and used to be a boxer! In other words, he's perfect!

I wasn't all that upset when Manuel made the move. Myers is our best proven starter (Hamels has future Cy Young-winner scrawled all over him, but has played less than a full season and is notoriously fragile), but the bullpen cost us three or four of the first ten games and was the primary reason why Charlie Manuel was about to be fired before the current four-game winning streak (game just went final). Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and I have long said that Myers makes sense as a potential closer (I said it a good year-and-a-half ago on Four Weeks, but can't find the link because that blog's practically defunct). Desperate times and all that shit. It certainly wasn't as crazy as Steve Phillips, et. al, made it sound.

But sending Myers down the first-base line so he can pitch with six-run leads is fucking ludicrous. I hate to agree with Phillips (ever), but make him the closer or send him back out there and demote Jon Leiber's fat me-first mercenary ass to the bullpen, or all the way to Reading for all I care, far enough away so nobody can hear him whine through a mouthful of bagels about how much he hates pitching in relief for 9 million dollars. Maybe he'll start taking pilot lessons and save us all some trouble.

The real fix to the bullpen is easy: make Geary and Alfonseca the primary middles, put Flash at setup, find a good song for Myers (may I suggest "Smack My Bitch Up"?) and bring him in to close. Yeah, you've still only got one bullpen lefty in Matt Smith -- and a horrible one at that -- but I don't see any solutions for that unless you want to demote Moyer or Hamels, which would be retarded and retardeder, respectively.

Of course, as long as the lineup's hitting like it is (five hits for Utley today, although Howard's mysterious timing issues continue), it won't matter who's pitching.

Was everybody gay in 1933?

Jeffrey Lurie has got to be fucking kidding me with these new Eagles throwbacks:

The design is actually kind of slick -- the helmets especially -- but oh, mercy, those colors are bad. They had metallic pale blue in 1933? To reprise a crack I made during an IM conversation yesterday, these look like something Pat would wear beneath a khaki blazer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let me clear my throat

As is often the case, the post that seems innocuous generates the most attention, if not some below-the-belt shots that, mercifully, are delivered in a good-natured fashion (I'm assuming here). It appears that two camps have formed in re: Arizona basketball. If I may, here is the condensed platform of each:

Position A: Arizona basketball is a low-character program that's been populated by ne'er-do-wells and miscreants who may or may not have been later murdered by brothers. The only other people who will say otherwise are homers or those who are compromised via a symbiotic relationship with the program. Ergo, one should not root for Arizona without the awareness that they do so at the expense of ethical considerations.

Position B: Arizona basketball is a high-character program, as evidenced by a relatively low (relative to other major programs, a peer group to which Arizona belongs to based on earning power, nationwide popularity and reputation, if not results) incidence of arrests, academic scandals and murder convictions. Ergo, Lute Olson is an unqualified (some would say staggering) success story.

While it would seem the two positions are at odds, the premises don't actually contradict each other. The root of a rambling IM conversation between Ryan and I today that culminated with me wanting to kill him for being a patronizing asshole (I'm overstating about the killing part, but I was pretty pissed) was that I don't believe that arrest records/NCAA violation histories are good ways to measure the "character" of a program. The NCAA is notorious for arriving on the scene too late; usually, sanctions are handed down on a program once the high-profile coach that did the bad shit is gone. The only way the NCAA operates in real-time, on the whole, is when the media does the NCAA's work for it and uncovers something (the Clem Haskins situation, as an example) that can't be ignored. While I'm not as prone to baiting the sports media as Justin is, it is worthwhile noting that in cities like Tucson, where the college basketball or football team is the biggest draw, there is often ample motivation for the local wrap to not take an overly aggressive approach when it comes to poking around the program; there's something to be said about not writing stories that will get you into a ton of hot water with a majority of your readership. However, the media will always report those situations in which a player (or, sometimes, a coach) runs afoul of the law, and that is important. But not all settings are the same; while I have no reason beyond suspicion to believe this is actually the case, it's entirely feasible that the TPD is willing to overlook some spots players get into. Clearly, that's not the case with DUIs, but in situations where some measure of discretion is available (bar fights, busted-up parties, attempts at underage drinking, speeding, and the like) it's not out of the question that an officer might issue a "warning," the carbon copy of which will possess a newly minted autograph. However, in bigger cities like Los Angeles, it's harder to imagine a college athlete getting away with anything once caught.

I'm not basing the issue of law enforcement on theory; I witnessed it in Pocatello, where a football player had to all but kill a guy to actually get arrested (again, DUIs exist in a different realm, because those are called in during pursuit and almost impossible to "cover up"). And even if that person was arrested, he would usually get a pass from the judge. Now, is Pocatello completely analogous to Tucson? Of course not. But there are enough similarities in the situations w/r/t the "value" of the local athletic program as a lone source of sports entertainment that it doesn't require any great suspension of disbelief to see that the same could be the case in Tucson. Thusly, I am less willing to trust arrest figures as a reliable indicator of "character."

However, as Justin has discovered, trying to apply concrete examples of malfeasance to Arizona players can be a daunting task, since the vast majority of it is hearsay or blatant speculation. Truth is, we saw very little of the players, even while we were in school with them, and even when we covered them. How many times did any of us see Walton or RJ in relaxed social settings? Further, how many of us saw them, say, smoking out? Not many, even those who lived at Jefferson Commons when RJ was laying waste to the reputation of one of Kim's friends. Meaningful, personal interaction is a scare commodity with college athletes, so the idea of "evidence" is pretty much non-existent in this kind of argument.

So what does that leave us with? Conjecture. Based on a host of factors, including what I witnessed in my short time covering the program, what I've seen as a fan and what I've read in the papers, this is a program that thinks it answers to no one. Shakes doesn't appear to consider attitude an important part of the recruiting process, and it shows on the floor when he trots out whiny cunts like Bynum (who also managed to shoot out some windows without it either becoming a big story or getting himself suspended for any period of time), Stoudamire, Williams, Rodgers, Bibby, Woods and Simon, not to mention some other guys that aren't springing to mind. It's important to note that I'm not talking about what they produced, but instead how they played and ultimately represented my alma mater. This lack of character -- and that's what I believe it is -- was further proven by how "soft" these teams have been. It's interesting to note that the one guy who's managed to prove he's got tons of "character" is actually someone I rung up in a column: Gilbert Arenas, who along with Walton and RJ are the only current pros out of the program I can say I'm proud to claim. The rest of them, honestly, can go to hell.

As for Shakes, I think the jury's been out for a long time for most of us: He's an absolute power-drunk asshole who's managed to overstay his welcome. It is evident he's never once been asked to be a real ambassador for his institution, and he certainly has never been inclined to do it on his own. Sure, lots of coaches are assholes, but that doesn't mean Shakes gets a pass. As I said before, I will not support this program in any way until it's gone; I'll go one step further by saying I won't support the program until its leader is someone that shows a shred of respect to anyone besides the Nike sales rep and the national media.

Finally, I don't give a fuck what happens at other programs. There is no relative measure of good or bad, high or low character, or respectful or disrespectful. These attributes are at once abstract yet identifiable; to dumb down the cliché Supreme Court definition of obscenity, you know each when you see it. Speaking for myself alone, I've been seeing it for a long time, but the inglorious firing of Roz forced me to realize that I couldn't look past it any longer, and couldn't in good conscience support a program that mocks me and the school it is attached to.

And, as opposed to some of my other sports-related views, this is one opinion I'm willing to stand by without empirical evidence, because I don't believe there is any of worth available.

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 23

Guess what: It's from another Steve Phillips chat.

Dan (Philadelphia): Steve, is Brett Meyers ultimately going to be the closer for the Phillies? If so, what can they get for Tom Gordon?

SportsNation Steve Phillips: The Brett Myers move is one of the most perplexing I've seen in the recent past. I understand Jonathan Papelbon moving to the closer's role this spring, because the Red Sox had three other potential aces. The Phillies aren't as lucky, and removing Myers from the number 1 spot in the rotation to pitch him in the eighth innning doesn't make sense to me. I know the Phillies have concerns about the physical well-being of Tom Gordon to handle the closer's role for an entire season. If Myers goes to the bullpen, he has to close. For instance, he came in and pitched the ninth inning in a 9-2 game. That's a complete waste of Brett Myers' ability. He needs to start if he's not pitching in critical situations. Gordon doesn't have much trade value right now because everybody interprets the Phillies' moves to be as much about the eighth inning today as the ninth tomorow. If the Phillies could trade Gordon for a proven, consistent, top-flight eighth inning pitcher, they should jump at it now. they could move Myers to the closer's role and have more predictability out of the bullpen. I just don't think that deal is out there.

First of all, while I may not agree with some very smart people (and dumb people) who believe the Myers' move was the right one to make, using the term "perplexing" usually indicates that there's really no viable explanation. There are arguments to be made (even some good ones) that moving Myers to the 'pen is actually a masterstroke. It depends; I'm thinking about writing a post about how it could be a great move, but likely will be mismanaged. But that's neither here nor there; what's important is that "perplexing" is overstatement.

Further, holding up an example of how the Phillies have already starting mismanaging Brett Myers out of the 'pen doesn't illustrate your point, asshole. Of course Myers shouldn't be out there in a 9-2 game, but he should have been out there sometime in the first two weeks of the season when the Phillies were choking away leads in the late innings.

Finally, there is a truly "perplexing" argument made by Phillips, here, that made me laugh out loud. Here is the argument, presented in order of chronological premises and ultimate conclusion:

1) Brett Myers is the ace of the staff: .47 VORP (Veracity Over Replacement Premise, with 1.00 representing a completely and verifiably true statement)

2) (Implied) Brett Myers, as the "ace" of the starting staff, is immediately also the team's best pitcher in the bullpen: .13 VORP

3) Brett Myers would only have value to the Phillies bullpen if he were the closer, because only closers come up in "critical" situations: -.99 VORP (a negative VORP like this one indicates that it's actually the complete opposite of the truth)

4) Tom Gordon does not have trade value: -.41 VORP

Those are the four main premises to the following argument, which have a combined VORP of -.80, which means that there is no possible way that Phillips could possibly reach a viable conclusion. Yet he soldiers on with this gem:

Conclusion: The Phillies should consider trading Tom Gordon for an eighth-inning pitcher, despite the fact that Steve just said that eighth-inning pitchers aren't all that important because they don't pitch in "critical" situations. Furthermore, Brett Myers, upon receiving the magical "C" tattoo on his left ass cheek, will immediately become a great closer because there's no possible way a talented guy could possibly not be suited to short relief roles after spending his entire career starting and he's put up numbers this season that make Russ Ortiz look like Walter Fucking Johnson but who cares about that shit because Myers has the "look" of a great closer, unlike Tom Gordon who I hate because he looks like a nice dude that wouldn't hit his wife on a crowded, public street.

Yes, Steve, it all makes sense to me now. Thank ye.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

That's it

I hope all of you read the Hansen piece on Jim Rosborough's firing from the Arizona coaching staff. If you haven't check it out; I'll wait.

The departure of Roz, as Hansen notes, is a sad day for the program. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit to being a huge Roz guy, because when I was a student reporter covering the team, he was the only person in the program who never once big-leagued me. After every game, he'd give me as much time as I wanted, one-on-one, and treated me fairly. I know the same went for Hansen during his no-comm days with Olson, because it was often Hansen and I talking to Roz while everyone else huddled around the players for some non-quotes in the locker room. When I look back over my few days as a sportswriter, I find that I enjoyed my time with assistant coaches more than any athletes, with the very notable exception of Mark Grace. Roz was the first assistant I built a good working relationship with, and taught me how important it was to get to know the cooks instead of just talking to the chef.

I haven't always been kind to Hansen, for many of the same reasons that I am rarely kind to regular sports columnists in general; the job description is probably the greatest enemy of good opinion writing. It doesn't help that Hansen's never been particularly humorous (at least not in writing) and only has the "Remember in 1979?" shtick to carry his columns when there's really nothing worth offering comment on. But there have also been times when Hansen has proven himself to be the only guy up to the job of calling out the big boys in the athletic department. That he managed to do his job for the better part of a decade while being a persona non grata with the basketball team is a pretty big testament to his chops. Bad taste in shirts aside, Hansen is the kind of journalist you wish more up-and-coming guys had the balls to be.

I might differ with some of Hansen's specific take in his piece -- the Arizona program stopped being a "family" the second Bobbi died, in truth, and it's been a "business" ever since the Nike Elite contract -- but four sentences pretty much succinctly wrapped up why Roz's departure means I won't be watching Arizona basketball until Shakes is out of the picture:

Such is the sway of Olson. Such is the $16 million-a-year industry, a monster, Olson has built from the ground up. Many of us have worshipped and fed the monster.

But now, for the first time, the monster is insatiably hungry and it has begun to eat its own.

Any time you can come close to justifying the use of the term "monster" to describe what something has become, you know it's time to hit the panic button. I find it funny that of the 56 comments left on Hansen's story, not one person took issue with Hansen's "monster" epithet, instead choosing to call him a racist because he accurately noted that Arizona's not going to fire it's only minority assistant -- no matter how much of a cocksucker he is -- to bring in another white, veteran coach. It's no secret that Tucson's been willing to put up with just about anything in an effort to maintain a top-flight basketball program; I just didn't realize that they were so comfortable with it being explicitly stated.

Not me. Roz was the last remnant of the group of guys who made Arizona into something special. He was the last link to Lute Olson, Human Being, an entity we haven't seen pretty much since 1997. Roz was a relatively ambition-free dinosaur in league with raptors who would rape their mothers for a better job (or, more precisely, the job of the guy in front of them). Perhaps my fondest memory of Roz was talking to him after he had coached a handful of games while Lute was out. I asked him how it went, and he didn't waste a second. "I hated it," he said. "Nothing but stress." He went on to assure me that what few ideas he had about one day being a head coach disappeared after that short stint. If nothing else, it was refreshing to hear at least one person in the world of athletics not overestimate his abilities.

I realize that Arizona really doesn't care about fans like me. I haven't bought a ticket to a basketball game in years, I don't buy any new gear, and I'm certainly not in the pool of potential big-money donors. The McKale Center will continue to sell out, the team will continue (at least in the short term) to get waxed against any moderately talented team, and people will continue to blame everyone except the guy at the top.

I'll just be another alum who will keep his gear tucked away in a drawer somewhere, waiting for a good reason to pull it out again.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Best Thing I've Read All Year, April 18

I haven't wanted to be a sportswriter again in a long time. Reading this made me miss how much I wanted to be good at it.

The Charlie Manuel watch, day 18

My expert prediction has moved up to May 1.

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 18 (Early Morning Edition)

Yeah, I know this is coming from the country I love, and want to move to some day. But it's from the "leftist" Il Manifesto, which is mostly as irrelevant as it sounds like it would be.

In Italy, the leftist Il Manifesto newspaper said the (Va. Tech) shooting was "as American as apple pie."

Ma va fanculo, Il Manifesto.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 16

From John Clayton's piece on rookie quarterbacks:

Spread options aren't going away, and while this evolution is creating quarterback prospects able to do more things in passing offenses, it is hampering their preparation for the NFL. More and more, scouts look at tape and see quarterbacks taking their first running steps after they accept a shotgun snap.

That style fits the CFL more than the NFL, and as creative as offensive coaches might be in the NFL, defenses have too many fast athletes to be beaten with a steady diet of quarterback options. Ultimately, teams have to line up in conventional sets, run the ball and work the play-action game with quarterbacks. That's NFL football and it will always be NFL football.

Has Clayton (who I usually like, if only because he makes me feel 10x handsomer every time I see him on SportsCenter) been watching the same football league that I have? Because I could have sworn that the single biggest story in the NFL last year ran the fucking shotgun option on about 15 percent of his downs. Sure, the Titans didn't exactly become the Utah Utes, but I sure saw a lot of NFL teams get "beaten up" by Vince Young running right fucking by them.

More examples:

- The St. Louis Rams lined up 4- or 5-wide on most of their plays the two consecutive years they went to the Super Bowl.
- The Atlanta Falcons have been anything but traditional in terms of offensive gameplanning since Mike Vick was named the starting quarterback. The Falcons have also integrated some options into the ostensibly "West Coast" playbook, and Mike Vick doesn't play-action so much as run bootlegs and decide on the fly whether to pass or throw.
- My good friend would actually appreciate it if you told Andy Reid that he "has to run the ball," because good ol' Sacred Underpants hasn't gotten the memo yet.

There are probably a few more examples of "outside Clayton's box" thinking going on in the NFL, but those are the ones that come to mind first. So, we've now established that Clayton's wrong, or at least overstates his case.

But there's another thing that bothers me about what Clayton's writing here: I promise you, it's exactly the kind of shit that people wrote during the West Coast's infancy (Not to mention the infancy of any "revolutionary" tactical shift in sports [Moneyball, zone defenses, neutral-zone trap]). "That's always going to be NFL football?" Says who, you ugly son of a bitch? Say that to Bill Belicheck, and see how quickly Sweats laughs in your fucking face and completely dismisses you.

Believe it or not, everyone, the only teams who place themselves at a disadvantage these days are those who truly believe the "recipe" for winning NFL franchises is 50/50 pass/run splits, two-tight sets (how many teams even run a two-tight base anymore ... five?) and play-action passing. It's not that those things are wrong, or bad, it's that they're all ultimately personnel-dependent. I am relatively sure that if Bill Walsh had been handed Eric Dickerson, he wouldn't have come up with the West Coast offense. But he didn't have Dickerson, and rightly concluded that if he wanted to win, he needed to shake some shit up. It's fitting that in the subsequent years, the West Coast has gone from being an "alternative" offense to being the norm, so much so that you see teams forcing non-WC players into a system that clearly doesn't play to their strengths, which is precisely the kind of problem the WC was created to solve. But I digress; the bottom line is that you have to be an incredibly lazy thinker to believe that the NFL is going to remain static, not to mention believe that it's ever actually been that way.

Lastly: The whining we've heard from NFL front offices surrounding some of the modern college offenses is called "improving job security," Johnny. If they can convince the fans that it's "impossible" to scout a QB these days, then they presumably don't look so bad when the pick flops. I'm shocked they don't complain about how "short" the college schedule is, too.

I know thinking this makes me a bad person, but ...

Did anyone else wake up this morning, see that there was a ton of shooting at the Va. Tech campus, and think, "Marcus Vick must have been visiting some old college buddies."?

I need to know I'm not the only one.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Stupidest Most Blatantly Racisct Thing I've Heard All Day, April 15

I'I'm sure I'm not the only one who heard Rachel Robinson say this during the Padres-Odgers broacast, in re: Blacks in Baseball and why it's necessary for the numbers to increase:

"It's important for the fans, too. People come to see their own, you know."

I don't care who this woman is: That is an incredibly ignorant, racist statement. Mostly because it's completely fucking untrue, and a slap to the face of every non-black fan of baseball who's celebrated Robinson's legacy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Seen All Day, April 14

But first a trivia question: who currently leads the NL in homers with 6? Don't look it up.

TSTISAD honors for this fine Saturday go to Charlie Manuel, for something like the tenth straight day. Top 7, Phils up 7-5, Carlos Ruiz singles to lead off the inning, advances to second on a wild pitch. No outs and Charlie trots out the formidable Greg Dobbs, a 28-year-old corner infielder with 232 career ABs.

(By the way, I sure am glad we kept Greg Fucking Dobbs on the roster instead of the guy the Inquirer called a "Philly folk hero," a 34-year-old feel-good rookie who also happened to hit .330 for us last year and who plays five positions including catcher. Why did we do that? Because Greg Dobbs used to play for Seattle. Thanks, Gillick. It worked with Ryan Franklin, right? Right?)

Anyway, so his team's up 2 runs and in good shape to tack on another, which is a good thing since our bullpen's collective VORB has been about -8.7 so far. Your team's 2-8 after the first ten and already five back in the East, Charlie. It's Greg Dobbs batting, for chrissakes. J-Roll is on deck, he of the uppercut swing and NL East-leading 6 homers (trivia question answered), a guy prone to warning-track popups. Of course you bunt Ruiz over and hope Rolly knocks him in with a sac fly or a base knock.

Not Charlie Manuel. Nope, he loves him some Greg Dobbs, enough to let him swing away and pop out weakly to second. Great fucking managerial decision, you dunce-cap dickhead.

Ruiz scored anyway, thanks to an infield single by former Hawaii state 100m champion Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino. But strategerizing like that is part of the reason the Phils are in last place and C-Man's already on the hot seat two weeks into the season.

I'm going on the record and giving him until late May.

Oh God, Flash is in. Gotta go steel myself.

Runners-up for TSTISAD:

Thom Brennaman's latest nugget: "Antonio Alfonseca has been reborn here in Philly." The Octopus has pitched five innings as a Phil.

Another: "The scout who signed Alfonseca for the Marlins in '89 gave him his nickname, 'El Pulpo.'" Which Marlins existed in '89? The Port-Au-Prince Marlins of the Machete Revolution League?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 12

Just in case anyone wondered what went through Steve Phillips' head when he made some of the worst personnel moves in the history of professional sports, here's an example of this man's line of thought:

(Re: B.J. Upton)
Upton is still raw and at times overly agressive while hitting. He's hitting .385 but has struck out 11 times in 25 ABs. That's a formula for failure--it's just a matter of time. I think the Devil Rays should trade Upton at peak value and try to bring some pitching back for their organization.

I doubt highly that many professional baseball G.M.s take time out of their busy days to read online chats by the guy who used to be their insurance policy against being the worst within the peer group. Well, maybe Bavasi does, but he won't count in about two weeks anyway. Anyway, here's what Steve Phillips has to offer on one of the most scrutinized young players in the major leagues:

1) He's still raw: This would make sense, as Upton is 22. Thanks Steve.

2) At times he's overly aggressive when hitting: This could probably be said about every major league hitter, with the possible exception of the laconic Bobby Abreu and the incomparable Albert Pujols. Everyone else gets out of line sometimes. This is not helpful analysis.

3) He's hitting .385: This is awesome because Steve, in the same sentence, admits that Upton's only had 25 at-bats. Twenty-five at-bats! Mind you, it is 175 doggy at-bats, so maybe it does mean something.


SORRY AB Sorry about the screaming.

5) The "that's a formula for failure" line: No, it's not. Again, let me pull out a list that's come in handy before:



That's a list of the gentlemen who struck out more than anyone else in the National League last season. Also doubles as: A list of five of the most valuable players in the NL last season.

For the last time, everyone: Strikeouts are really not that bad at all. Provided you are good at hitting, a concept that is not mutually exclusive with striking out.

6) I think the Devil Rays should trade Upton at peak value and try to bring some pitching back for their organization.

I just want everyone to read that sentence again. I'll wait.


For the last year, just about everyone has taken turns stomping on B.J. Upton's nuts, because he hasn't hit quite like he was expected to and it's turned out that he couldn't catch a grounder off the bat of a little leaguer. He's gone from SS to 2B to 3B to possible outfielder and back to 2B this season. That many position changes would make Jenna Jameson's head spin. All the while, the Devil Rays have publicly wrung the franchise's metaphorical hands over what to do with this guy, like he was some kind of ticking, iron-gloved time bomb. Two days before Spring Training came to a close, they announced they weren't going to dick around with him as some kind of super-utility player, instead opting to stick him at second base, where at least they're used to having shitty defenders. The general vibe coming from Tampa is that the club is treating the keystone like it's a fucking quarantine island for the worlds biggest-swinging leper.

Then, to top it all off, idiot pundits like Steve Phillips won't get off the kid's ass for two seconds, constantly nattering about his strikeouts (no mention of that ugly .308 OBP he put up last year, though) and his defense, and referring to him as a giant disappointment.

Yet, his value is at its peak because he's hitting .385 in 25 fucking ABs.

When I started writing this, I was in a good mood and I wanted it to be funny. Now, I'm just really angry and I want to make a time machine and fly back in time and abort Steve Phillips.

(Too soon?)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 11, Part II

From the Eureka! department of sports discoveries, ESPN's Fantasy Geek Rex Eric Karabell has figured out something that's been totally missed by, roughly, 15 percent of the baseball-watching population:

It dawned on me while I was watching Juan Pierre and Willy Taveras Tuesday night that these are not what leadoff hitters are supposed to be. Of course, they are fast, capable of stealing 100 bases between them, and they can cover ground in center field like few others, but do they get on base enough to satisfy their teams? Are they only leading off because they run fast?

It's entirely posssible that Karabell isn't writing in earnest, and is instead using the "dawned on me Tuesday night" bit as an easy way to bring readers into the fold. There might even be some saracsm here -- the ultra-rhetorical question to close the graf is hard to say without a straight face -- that I'm too dense to pick up on. I hope so, because if he's really spent this much time studying baseball statistics (even if only for fantasy baseball, a universe in which Pierre is something of a stud) and it's just dawned on him that the guy who's led the major leagues in outs three of the last four years might not be the dude you want to be giving the most at-bats on your team to (or the second-most, or sixth-most, or any) then he's quite possibly the most retarded gentleman in the greater Bristol area, and that's saying something.


I know it's early, but it's not like Pierre and Taveras have a track record of getting on base. I'd argue they are far more valuable in fantasy than real life because of the stolen bases. You know, steals aren't exactly a critical strategy in real baseball. Teams win without running all the time.

What's that you say? Karabell's in?!? That's it, folks: Nothing can stop us now.

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 11

Two things, actually. I promise, I'm going to stop pretending that Joe Morgan is a legitimate topic, but there are two of the single funniest, most obtuse things I've ever seen in my life. I am now convinced that Joe Morgan is functionally illiterate, and has his 7-year-old godson answer all the questions "because he knows about those newfangled eletrical keyboards."

Mike (St. Louis): Joe, can you share your favorite Jackie Robinson encounter with us?

SportsNation Joe Morgan: I guess the one time I met him and had a chance to talk to him. I told him thank you and he smiled and said you're welcome. That's probably my favorite when we had a chance to converse.

I don't know why, but I can't get the image of Joe Morgan being soothed by his wife out of my head. It is a disturbing image.

And then, the most awesome chat response of all time:

Rick H. (Selah, Wa.): Do you think King Felix has a shot at the AL Cy Young this season? Or, will it be another year or two?

SportsNation Joe Morgan: Dwight Gooden is the best young pitcher I've ever seen. He was better than all of them at a young age.

In the words of Alex Trebeck, "Simply stunning."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Would Jackie really be all that pissed?

I'm not going to even bother wondering exactly when it is 60 year anniversaries became such a huge fucking deal; I can understand MLB's desire to celebrate Jackie Robinson's career as often and loudly as possible, so there's not much of an argument to be had there. But, not surprisingly, amidst the increasingly tired platitudes and trite stunts, no small amount of discussion about the relative paucity of black players in the game has been generated.

Here is a prime example of the standard operating procedure for these position pieces.

Looking beyond the truly fetid writing (which, admittedly, is difficult) one finds an even more troubling phenomena: The idea that a lack of black players is a problem -- a net negative for the game -- as opposed to it being simply neutral. But I'll get to that in a second.

As is often the case with important historical figures -- particularly civil rights leaders -- Robinson has assumed a deified status in America. And, if there were ever anyone primed for such a role, I guess it would be Robinson. He's practically unimpeachable as both a person and player (at least as far as we know, and I suppose there's no real profit in attempting to prove he was not) and spent his post-playing days using his pulpit for good causes, not the least of which was the civil rights movement. While his effect on the country at large is probably overstated, the same can't be said about his effect on the world of sports. By breaking the color line in baseball, he made it impossible for the other sports leagues to tolerate any kind of discrimination. I think it's safe to say that Robinson is the most important athlete in this country's history.

But the basis for Robinson's status is, I believe, misunderstood by many fans and even more pundits. And that's never more clear than it is in the story I linked to, or the 15 episodes of Outside the Lines running for these two weeks dedicated to exploring Robinson's legacy.

Bottom line: The number of black players in baseball is totally and utterly irrelevant, and I do believe Jackie would feel the same way.

Robinson's fight wasn't in an effort to increase the number of black players in the major leagues, despite what others will claim. It was a fight to turn baseball (and ultimately sports) into a true meritocracy. The tragedy of segregation as it related to baseball was that the accomplishments of some the game's greatest players have been marginalized. Josh Gibson would have been one of the two or three best players in the majors had he been allowed to play; Satchel might have been the best pitcher alive in his prime. But we don't know because there were variables present in the selection of major league baseball that trumped pure ability. In the years following Robinson's (and Branch Rickey's) bold step, the game slowly stripped away a lot of that bullshit and got down to just playing the best talent.

Despite some specific obstacles -- mostly the long-term contract, which Robinson, an outspoken advocate for players' rights who was one of Curt Flood's most vocal supporters, would surely see as a huge positive -- baseball and the rest of sports today are perhaps the last example of a pure meritocracy we have left in our society. It's lunacy to think that a GM or manager wouldn't put the best talent available out on the field to accommodate any prejudices he might have (with the notable exception of Ned Colletti, who simply hates young players and would like to see a minimum age requirement [his suugestion: 37]). And isn't that really what Jackie wanted after all? He didn't play second for the Odgers because he was black; he played because he was a superlative talent.

To take it a step further, I think people have it all wrong when they bemoan the lack of black baseball players these days. Beyond the fact that a large percentage of those "few" black players are bona fide stars -- guys like Bonds, Howard, Rollins, Crawford and Dontrelle -- the "flight" of the black baseball player to other sports suggests unparalleled levels of access and equality within the entire body of athletic competition in this country. A schoolboy in the sticks can still choose freely between basketball, football and baseball, or any combination of the three. That, in my mind, is the true hallmark of success of the racial equality front.

C.C. Sabathia proclaimed a few weeks ago that the lack of black baseball players represents a "crisis," and laid the problem at the feet of MLB, which he thinks should do more to promote the game in the inner city. At the time I simply thought it was another example of an athlete speaking before he thought, but the more I've considered it, I actually think it's pretty insulting. Black kids aren't choosing basketball or football over baseball because the NBA and NFL are doing more to promote the sport in the inner cities; it's because the kids like those sports more. And, really, what's the problem with that anyway? I may think baseball is the best sport in the world, but that doesn't mean I think anyone disagreeing with me on that point does so out of ignorance.

On a related note, this was an interesting story.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 9

From this morning's Mets-Phillies game (a tilt on which I'm sure Justin has no small amount of things to say):

(Note: This is in regard to a Paul LoDuca groundout the inning before that moved a runner to third who eventually scored. This conversation takes place the next time Paul LoDuca is up to bat. This conversation is not verbatim, but it's pretty damn close. I don't know who these assholes are.)

Asshole in the Booth No. 1: "Stat-heads will say that's a bad play, but it's not a bad play! It ended up scoring a run! That's good!"
Asshole in the Booth No. 2: "They ("stat-heads") can go into their laboratory with all their stats, for all I care."
No. 1: "Well ... stats are useful for some things (emphasis his)."
No. 2: "Yeah ... they are. But you should also actually watch the game (emphasis mine). You need a feel for the game."

There are so many parts of this exchange that are so insulting to our evolutionary ancestors that it's actually quite remarkable. Tragically, the "actually watching games" thing seems to be a common conceit among those who feel threatened by the encroachment of numbers, computers and critical thought into the once-virginal halls of The Way Things Are Done In Baseball. I just love thinking about a bunch of geeks who spend their entire lives breaking down statistics to prove that conventional baseball wisdom is silly, but adamantly refuse to watch an actual game because it's too boring, or they think it will somehow ruin their ability to view the game objectively.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day, April 6

I've been knocking around different things to do with the blog that don't involve vitriolic opposing record reviews ("You don't know a pan flute from your ass, cuntbag!") or sabermetric rants that serve to do nothing but anger the traditional sportswriters in our growing audience who still stand by Bartolo Colon as the AL's Cy Young Award winner in '05 and think that A-Rod isn't "clutch" enough (I think it's because of all the standard definition TV they watch).

Not that any of that stuff is going away, mind you ... I just wanted to add something to the mix.

So, I'm breaking out the first regular TGWNA staple: "The Stupidest Thing I've Heard All Day," which will be essentially a short-form (who am I kidding? "Run-on" form is more like it) criticism of something dumb that I've either heard or read that day. If it's a slow news day, I may dig in the archives, but with baseball back in full swing, there should be no shortage of moronic, uninformed quotes floating around the interweb for me to take my rudderless frustration on.

If you have read or heard something dumb that you would like the Diesel to comment on, feel free to drop me an e-mail at Name and town, please, if you wish to make it on the air.

Without further adoo ado adieu needless pause, here's the inaugural entry, from today's season-opening Joe Morgan chat.

Brent S. (fjm): what are your thoughts on josh hamiltons comeback story?

<span class=SportsNation" height="11" width="24"> Joe Morgan: I think it's great that a guy can straighten his life out and try to move forward. I'm not sure baseball is the right place for that. My first thought is that he's been out of the game for three years, due to substance abuse and I worry because there were so many other players in the minor leagues at the time trying to make the big leagues and doing all the right things and he has jumped over them. No matter what we say, he's taken someone's place who was trying to get to the big leagues. I always pull for guys trying to get their lives straight, but playing in the big leagues is a privilege, not a right. As happy as I am for him, I feel bad for some player that is in the minors and doing all the right things and not get a chance in the big leagues.

<span class=SportsNation" height="11" width="24"> Joe Morgan: All that said, let's hope that he can keep his life together this time.

<span class=SportsNation" height="11" width="24"> Joe Morgan: Baseball has had some disappointments from players in the past that its given several chances to and it hasn't panned. Maybe he should have started in AAA to prove he deserved to be in the big leagues.

It's worth noting that this is a question from an FJM fan, so it's clearly meant to induce Joe into saying something dumb, like we can't talk about Josh Hamilton because he hasn't won a World Series yet. But that's irrelevant, because Joe says dumb things all the time without provocation.

What is relevant is that this response brought into relief what it was about all the Josh Hamilton hand-wringing that bothered me this spring, beyond simple overexposure. Everyone who wrote about this guy seemed to do so while wincing (get it?!?); it's like they understood the attractive (if not cliché) angle here was redemption, but what they really wanted to say was, "I hope he fails because he did drugs and wasted his talent and I wish I would have had the talent because I really love baseball and would never have wasted it like him." I think this concept of, "What I wouldn't do for ..." is a big part of the motivation for those around baseball, whether it be people in the administration, sportswriters, bloggers or casual fans. Baseball is the one game we could all see ourselves, in some way, playing, and that's why we love it so much. When someone like Hamilton comes around, the rest of us are perplexed. Why would he ruin his shot to be the best baseball player alive? It's like kicking Charlize Theron out of bed after stalking her for six months and finally getting her to agree to a date. But what those people never seem to understand is that no one can stalk Theron and actually convince her to go out on a date, not to mention bed her afterward. You're either born with the goods to get in them drahs, or you ain't. That the rest of us aren't is, I suppose, the inherent unfairness of nature, and means we're probably going to have to bust our ass for every piece of trim we get.

Josh Hamilton, in truth, never had to work for his talent. There's never been more definitive proof of this than Spring Training 2007, when he came back after three years of playing essentially no baseball and started beating the living shit out of AAAA pitching. When the laptops opened up everyday, I think most sportswriters felt like they had an angel/devil dichotomy; the story they wanted to write was that Hamilton's success made it all the more galling that he ever started with the drugs in the first place, but the story they eventually wrote was how nice it was to see this heavily tattooed man play the game he loves again under bright blue skies and the sounds of spring. Mercifully, most of the hacks who took aim at this story weren't good enough craftsmen to compel us to go more than three paragraphs with this tripe. But the undercurrent was enough to unsettle even the most obtuse of readers; you could tell that deep-down, they wanted this guy to continue being punished for turning his back on what every single on of them would kill to have.

So, I at least respect Joe for coming out and saying it. But that doesn't mean it isn't, still, total horseshit.

Bottom line, folks (and I'm looking at you, Emmy-award winning fuckstick): Sports are not fair. Stop pretending they are. Stop acting like there's a single manager in the country who would rather have Eckstein than Jeter, Tejada, Ramirez or Rollins. Scrap makes for great, clichéd stories, but talent is what wins ballgames. Josh Hamilton, astonishingly, has enough talent that he's still good enough to make a major league roster after spending three years out of baseball and even longer than that hooked on dope. Whatever Reds farmhand got denied a spot on the 25-man roster because of Hamilton -- maybe even a stud like Joey Votto -- got denied it because the prospect of losing Hamilton to the Devil Rays had more downside than leaving a prospect in the minors until the inevitable Scott Hatteberg injury prompts a call-up. If any of those prospects, Joe, were a better option for the team, Hamilton would be back in Durham right now. So stop it with the "doing the right things" crap; they obviously weren't doing enough of the most important thing, which is being better at baseball than Josh Hamilton is.

Also, do some fucking research: The Reds would have lost Hamilton if they didn't keep him on the major league roster. Aren't you supposed to be a baseball expert?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Red means go to hell, Charlie

Exactly two-and-a-half games into the season, the Phillies are down 2-1 in the fifth to the Braves, facing a home sweep, and also happen to sit two-and-a-half games behind the Mets as of this writing.


Even better, that's all true despite the fact that their starting pitchers have done the following:

14.2 IP 8 H 3 ER 3 BB 18 K

And 0 wins.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has done just slightly worse:

5.1 IP 6 H 5 ER 4 BB 3 K

And 2 losses.

(Note: I began doing the stats as of the fourth inning. But predictably, the moment I started writing all these good things about the rotation, Adam Eaton started walking pitchers and tubing fastballs. 8-1 Braves. Sigh.)

So the bullpen sucks. No surprise there. What kills me is the fact that the coaching has cost them at least one win already, possibly two.

Diesel's already discussed the lineup switch. I'm pretty much completely in agreement (for once). In two games, the situation discussed in the Baseball Prospectus article has occurred twice: late-game situation, tight game, lefty relievers come in and close the door on the meat of the lineup, because there's no right-handed threat between Utley and Howard. Burrell has quietly not been bad thus far (one promising development, along with Rollins' seemingly improved patience at the plate), but he will almost never get a chance to contribute in this lineup. So much for redemption.

(On a side note, I take issue with the BP claim that the Pat Burrell controversy is invented. However, for some reason I can't quite explain -- perhaps some residual sense of humanity and pity, not yet completely consumed by my Philly-fan hatred of my sports teams and myself; more likely, because he's absolutely critical to the Phils' success this year -- I want him to succeed. I want him to return to something near his All-Star form. Failing that, I want him to be serviceable and maybe even get a fucking chance to bat in some fucking runs this year, especially by doing one of the few thins he can consistently do anymore: raking lefties.)

So there's the lineup thing. That's one strike. However, my more immediate problem is the fact that they've apparently replaced deceased third-base coach John Vukovich with ...

(Aside: they had a tribute to John Vukovich on opening day. Also featured in the video montage on the Jumbotron: Cory Lidle. Putting that on a tee for you, Diesel.)

(Aside part deux: make one more John Vukovich crack in your life, Pat Finley, and see if I don't spit in your Smithwick's next time I see you.)

actually, it seems they haven't replaced him, and are still expecting him to hold up runners from the grave. Nothing else can explain the fact that, up 2 runs in the seventh with one out, a man in scoring position, and the reigning NL MVP at the plate, they SENT THE FUCKING RUNNER TO STEAL THIRD!

Of course, Victorino gets thrown out, then Howard walks, Utley rips a double, and Howard gets thrown out trying to score.

I should have seen this coming when I first heard the Philthies' 2007 slogan:


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The law of diminishing retards

Awww ... this was dissapointing, Steve. You usually say at least six or seven things that are totally and completely wrong. Today, there are only two things worth bringing up:

Adam (Mount Vernon, IA):
Do you agree with the Twin's decision of going with Ponson & Silva(both proven to be awful) instead of Garza & Perkins(both unproven)?

SportsNation Steve Phillips: I do agree with the decision. Teams don't always start with the best 25-man roster, because over the course of a season, you need probably 15 pitchers available to cover 162 games. It's about having the best roster for the most number of games. Often times, teams will make decisions out of Spring Training to protect their depth for 162 games. Garza and Perkins will both be in the rotation at some point this year. If they were to release both Ponson and Ortiz and go with the two young starters, the risk they run is that one of both of them fails and there's nobody down below to replace them.

This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. Here is a breakdown of what Steve's really saying:

- You have two very good young pitchers who are ready to pitch in the minor leagues;
- You have two older, horrible pitchers who are ready to be pumping my gas;
- You would rather have the two older, horrible pitchers on the opening day roster even though you are almost positive they are going to fail, and you fully expect you will need to call up one or both of the younger guys to replace them at some point in the season, because there's a chance the young guys could fail, and then you wouldn't have anyone to replace them;
- Your central concern should always be depth, as opposed to winning baseball games.

Steve, a piece of advice: The next time you're taking it in the ass from Bill Stoneman, get him to choke you. I hear it's a rush.

Ryan from Lansing NY: Do you feel Frank Thomas is a Hall of Famer?

SportsNation Steve Phillips: Absolutely.

OK, cool. I agree.

I don't think there's any question about it.

Well, of course there's going to be some question about it, Steve ... Ran Santo and Burt Blyleven aren't in, so it's not like it's impossible for a qualified candidate to get shut out.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We get it. Stop now.

he's played clean his whole career.

Huh? How do you know? I bet you didn't think Alex Sanchez was juicing, did ya? Or Jason Grimsley? How the fuck do you know who has and hasn't juiced, Steve, unless there's been a fucking book written about how that player juiced that ended up getting the authors thrown in jail?

There's never been any thing about steroids with him.

There's (was) never been any thing about steroids with Matt Lawton, before got caught he did, Corky.

He'll be a 500-HR club member and worthy of HOF status.

At least you decided to cite some basis for his HOF worthiness. He may also wear Members Only jackets, Steve ... I think you should check on this.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

You are Mike Scioscia, and I am my father's son

(Note: The majority of this post was written on Tuesday, which should explain why it sounds like it was either written on Tuesday, or that I've gone on another one of my infamous hash binges. Because you know I can't resist the sticky tarry.)

I'm not going to lie: I got roughly 1.5 hours worth of work done yesterday, which is nothing short of a miracle. Have you seen the Mosiac program? It might be a compelling enough setup for me to bypass Extra Innings completely, especially since I can hook up the computer to the TV at home. But at the office is where it really shines; with my two computer setup, I've got one showing games fullscreen, while I'm "working" on the other. Plus, it gave me the all-too-rare opportunity to listen to/swear at Joe Morgan during the day, which is truly the kind of experience one can't put a price tag on. Or, one can put a $120/year price tag on.

Anyway, I finished off the night with the DVRed Ranger/Angels game, and was happy to see that nothing's changed in the offseason for my favorite good manager who still consistently does stupid things, Mike Scioscia.

This was the Angels' opening-day lineup, with each player's career triple slash numbers:

1. Gary Matthews .263/.337/.419
2. Orlando Cabrera .269/.317/.403
3. Vladamir Guerrero .325/.390/.583
4. Garrett Anderson .297/.327/.470
5. Shea Hillenbrand .287/.324/.448
6. Casey Kotchman .231/.303/.355 (.325/.406/.493 in the minors)
7. Howie Kendrick .280/.310/.410 (.361/.401/.570 in the minors)
8. Mike Napoli .229/.360/.454 (can't seem to find minor league stats)
9. Macier Izturis .265/.335/.377

Two things are engrossing about this lineup:

1) No one in the top-half of the lineup, save for Guerrerro, is even modestly competent at getting on base. Matthews is coming off an allegedly HGH-fueled .313/.371/.495 year that has made his career OBP number around league average, but the rest of the hitters are simply terrible when it comes to not making outs. Most tellingly, the player who promises to do the least with his opportunities, Cabrera, is on track to get the second-most at-bats on the team this season. This is inexplicable.

2) Scioscia has one of the craziest, most segregated batting orders I've ever seen here; the entire top half is composed of (mostly bad) veterans, and the entire bottom half is promising young guys, with the possible exception of Kotchman, who's well into his post-prospect days. But he's still way fucking better than Garrett Anderson. And Howie Kendrick is probably the third-best offensive second baseman in the majors already, and he's essentially a rookie. His career minor-league average is three-sixty-fucking-one, Mike Scioscia ... you really think he can't handle the "pressure" of hitting higher in the order? And even if he couldn't, you don't think he'd be better than Cabrera anyway?

I did mean it when I said Scioscia is a good manager -- I especially love the way he handles pitching staffs, and I expect the Angels to lead the AL in every meaningful pitching category this season, and they're definitely the favorite out of the AL West -- but he is pretty fucking retarded sometimes when it comes to handling the offense. Beyond the fact that he's utterly addicted to the hit-and-run (he did it three times Monday night, without it once doing anything useful and twice ruining potentially great run-scoring situations. One strikeout/throwout DP, one FC, and one groundout with the runner advancing to 2nd. Neither commentator editorialized about the relative merit of running in those situations, but did totally go nuts when Mike Napoli's stolen base attempt resulted in a throwing error by the catcher [advancing him to third], which then turned into a run [it goes without saying that Napoli would have been out by 7-12 steps if Laird hadn't squeezed the throw]) he also does crazy things like insist on batting Darrin Erstad second (until this season, obvs) and Garrett Anderson 5th and Orlando Cabrera anywhere but ninth. In essence, when saddled with a roster of aging hitters who would rather club a pup seal on home plate than take a walk and really promising young guys who have at least shown some willingness to not flail at anything within seven inches of the plate, he gives the most at-bats to the out-makers. Yet, for some reason, I like him. He's got great intangibles.

Anyway, neither announced mentioned that it was only mildly crazy that out-machine Orlando Cabrera was batting second, but I'm not sure why. Is it because they've read the thought-provoking essay by James Click in Baseball Between the Numbers on how, statistically speaking, batting order is essentially meaningless in terms of run expectancy? Or is it because they, like Scioscia (presumably), think that the No. 2 spot in the order is the domain of slappy, fast middle infielders, regardless of whether or not the middle infielder in question is actually any good at being a major league baseball hitter? Or is it because they would never consider questioning the wisdom of a manager on-air? I suppose this is a rhetorical question, which means I can't touch it with Justin around.

What made the Cabrera situation all the more interesting is that yesterday was somewhat of a banner day for managers pulling their heads out of their asses w/r/t to the No. 2 spot in the lineup. As noted by Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan, a handful of managers used "non-traditional" guys in the No. 2 hole, including Lyle Overbay, Adam Dunn, Trot Nixon and Russell Martin. What all those guys have in common is that they're high-OBP hitters with some pop. While the number isn't large enough to suggest that managers are becoming more aware of the need to get one's best hitters the most possible at-bats, as opposed to worrying most about speed and avoiding strikeouts, it's heartening.

As mentioned earlier, however, it's not exactly as if the sabermetric community is lying awake at night trying to figure out how to spread the lineup gospel. The conclusion of Click's essay in BBTN is that, the most sub-optimal batting order is probably only 18 runs worse than an optimal one over the course of the season, and that there's no statistical evidence that "protection" in a lineup is really all that important. It's a shame the two were presented in concert, because while one has merit -- "protection" is a myth, as there's no discernible difference in how batters perform based on who's hitting in front of or behind them -- the other is fundamentally flawed.

Take the decision made by Charlie Manuel to switch Utley and Howard in the lineup last night (and perhaps for a while), going Howard-Utley-Burrell in the heart of the order. He was doing it, presumably, to better "protect" Howard. Ultimately, I don't have a massive problem with Manuel's decision in a vacuum, since Howard is a better hitter than Utley (who's also awesome), and I do believe that one's best hitters should be in line to hit most often. But it's not the switch Manuel should have made; he should have swapped Burrell with either Utley or Howard, setting up a L/R/L heart of the order, which would be a huge boon to Burrell. Why? Platoon splits, friends.

Burrell vs. RH: .256/.362/.475
Burrell vs. LH: .296/.432/.526

Those are some draw-dropping spreads right there, which fits right in with Justin's Eureka! observation that he can't remember the last time Pat Burrell hit a slider away. So, if you know that you have a valuable hitter who becomes immensely more valuable when there's a southpaw on the mound, wouldn't you do whatever you could to put him in a situation where he'll actually get to hit off lefties? 3 out of 5 non-lobotomized humans agree this would be a preferable strategy; guess which camp Manuel falls into.

I realize this is getting long (and probably impossible to follow) but the point is that lineup construction is actually very important, provided you understand that everything's a matter of context. If the Phillies are facing a team that's starting a right-hander, and doesn't have any lefties in the pen, then it's probably costing the Phillies in the long-run to sandwich Burrell between Howard and Utley (or Utley and Howard ... it should be 2-3-4 with those guys anyway, but we all know that Victorino would have to hit like Mario Mendoza to lose the No. 2 hole, because he's fast). But those teams really don't exist anymore; in the age of LOOGYs and 13-man pitching staffs (The Orioles broke camp with thirteen fucking pitchers this season!), an added emphasis has been placed on removing potential gambits from the toolbox of other managers. This is particularly the case with the Phillies, who feature two young left-handed sluggers that actually fare fairly well against lefties; if Manuel sandwiched Burrell in there, the decision to bring in a LOOGY to face the heart of the order goes from mildly profitable to suicidal. Furthermore, Manuel would be setting up Burrell to actually have some eye-catching success, instead of ensuring that Burrell won't see a left-handed reliever for pretty much the rest of the season.

(Props to Sheehan, again, who touched on the Phillies' situation at BP, and started me thinking about the ramifications of Manuel's decision with his quick take on the matter)

I know what you're thinking: Diesel needs a broad, because he just wrote close to 3,000 words on batting orders. All I can say in return is that broad or no broad, it's this kind of trenchant analysis you should be demanding from me this season. Where else are you going to get this kind of shit? Not on Four Weeks with the fucking Commies, that's for goddamn sure.

There's a Steve Phillips chat taking place as I write. I am overjoyed.