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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Evaluating the Remaining corner OF's: Abreu, Dunn, ManRam

Whether it is economic conditions, outrageous salary demands, or something else, spring training is just around the corner and several impact free agents remained unsigned.  Perhaps none are more surprising than Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez.  All three play a corner outfield position and all three are middle of the order hitters.  However each player's game varies from the others causing teams to evaluate them differently.

Age: 33
Bats: Left
Abreu has rated as a plus offensive player since he got the starting job with the Phillies in 1998.  He has good patience, medium power, and stolen at least 22 bases in eleven consecutive seasons.  These skills allowed him to put up an EqA of .299 last year (EqA takes all offensive contributions into consideration including stolen bases except for other baserunning.  It is park and league adjusted and is modified to resemble batting average.)  and finish in the top ten in pitches seen per plate appearance.  The big concerns with Abreu are his slowly evaporating power and speed.  His days of slugging .500 are probably gone and if he steals 20 bases it's likely he won't have a success rate that warrants the attempts.  His defense on the other hand can be described as mediocre at best since he was 10 fielding runs below average last year.  This is a guy who could be washed up in four years.  I think Abreu's would be best served by signing a two year deal but in this market conditions I doubt that happens.
Best fits: Atlanta, Minnesota, Cincinnati
Where he'll land: Atlanta

Age: 29
Bats: Left
Adam Dunn is a guy you either hate or love.  There is no in-between.  Reds fans hated the guy for the ridiculous number of strikeouts and his infamously bad outfield defense.  Stat geeks love him for being a three true outcomes player (at bats that end with a walk, whiff, or homer).  Dunn is probably the guy whose batting average has the greatest variance from season to season due to his insane number of plate appearances ending with him failing to put the ball in play (286 BBs + K's over the last 3 seasons).  These are the kind of things which drive managers crazy but still have value.  He has only grounded into 26 double plays over the last three seasons despite his less than blazing speed and those walks allowed him to compile a career .381 OBP.  This coupled with five consecutive 40 homer seasons and you've got yourself a player.  With his large build and old players skills, teams are cautious to give him a contract for multiple years because of his awful defense and risk of rapid decline.  Latest reports have him demanding a $14 million per year contract and a starting spot in the outfield.  Teams that are willing to pony up that kind of money want him to DH.  Seems something's gotta give.
Best fits: Cincinnati (yeah, right), Baltimore (as DH), Atlanta, Minnesota (DH), Toronto, Dodgers
Likely destination: I have no idea.  Texas?

Age: 37 in May
Bats: Right
Possibly best known for his eccentric behavior, Manny Ramirez is a sure thing Hall of Famer that has alienated teammates and general managers with his me-first attitude and Scott Boras led contract demands.  Despite the allegations of Manny quitting in Boston last year, there is no statistical evidence to support this.  Once traded to the Dodgers, he took off, thrusting himself into MVP talk and helping the Dodgers make the playoffs.  When motivated there is little doubt that he is still a hitter who can carry a team for weeks at a time.  But a team should also be prepared to see him walk to first on routine groundouts and play "defense"--an art where he is just as likely to catch the ball as he is to turn it into a circus act.  Needless to say twelve 30+ homer seasons and a career .327 EqA will eventually get him a contract on a competitive team.  Hopefully they have a patient manager and an open DH slot too.
Best fits:  Angels, Giants, Dodgers, Yankees
Where he'll sign: Dodgers

OBP Rank:            Power rank:
1. Ramirez            1. Dunn
2. Dunn                2. Ramirez
3. Abreu               3. Abreu

Baserunning rank:    Defensive rank:
1. Abreu                     1. Abreu
2. Ramirez                 2. Dunn
3. Dunn                      3. Ramirez

1. Ramirez
2. Dunn
3. Abreu

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cubs get Heilman

Earlier this week the Cubs and Mariners hooked up in another trade in which Seattle received a couple of guys who are out of options (they cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers) for Aaron Heilman.  Heilman has already been traded once this offseason as a piece in the JJ Putz trade.

Seattle gets a utility infielder in Ronny Cedeño who was passed by two other similar players in Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot in Chicago.  I personally feel he was given a sort of raw deal by the Cubs but that's an argument for another day.  What is evident is he has skills that offer an upgrade to what the Mariners are currently running out there in Yuniesky Betancourt (offense) and José Lopez (defense), the guys he'll be competing against in spring training.  
Garrett Olson is a guy who's really taken his lumps in the majors but is also worth taking a chance on.  Maybe he's learned how to pitch?  Going from a terrible defensive ball club in a hitters park to one that appears to be much improved defensively and in an extreme pitcher's park should give him a little more confidence.
These are the types of deals teams like Seattle need to make in order to find a core of players upon which they can build their next playoff run.

In losing Cedeño Chicago isn't really losing too much in that he was only a utility guy for them. The bigger question is who is replacing him?  With DeRosa being traded, second base appears to be a platoon situation between Fontenot and Aaron Miles.  It's a reach to think either of them would a decent defensive shortstop though.  It's doubtful the Cubs are satisfied with this alignment so picking up a decent defensive shortstop for the stretch run already seems likely (Andres Blanco is not the answer either).  
Heilman is an above average reliever who could really solidify their pen in the late innings.  However there's already rumblings about the Cubs letting him compete with Sean Marshall and Chad Gaudin for the fifth starter's role.  In November I said this about Heilman starting:
AHeilman is a disgruntled reliever who told the Mets to start him or trade him.  Well, Aaron, you got your wish.  If used as a starter it will be a disaster since he only has two decent pitches and a pretty significant platoon split.
Lucky for him and Cubs fans I don't think management is serious about this offer.  Granted we are talking about a fifth starter but 2 good innings of Heilman will be more important to the Cubs than 5 mediocre ones.

What this trade boils down to is the Clubs clearing out a roster space by trading two guys who are out of options and Seattle taking on those guys hoping to capitalize on their upside.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Statistical Observations of Mike Redmond

While reading Sox Machine yesterday, I noticed an archived link that showed Mike Redmond was 14-28 in his career versus Mark Buehrle.  I thought that somewhat interesting since Mike Remond is probably most famous for his career line vs. Tom Glavine (21-48).  This caused me to run some numbers on some pitchers I consider similar to Glavine and Buehrle (soft-tossing, control oriented lefties).
  • Tom Glavine 21-48   .438
  • Mark Buehrle 14-28 .500
  • Mike Hampton 9-21 .429
  • Barry Zito        0-3    .000
  • Jamie Moyer   2-3    .667
  • Al Leiter         13-29  .448
  • Andy Pettitte  2-3     .667
  • Odalis Perez   8-17    .471
  • Horacio Ramirez 2-6 .333
Pretty interesting line, don't you think?

Here is how Redmond has fared versus some harder throwing lefties:
  • Randy Johnson  5-22  .227
  • Oliver Perez       1-4    .225
  • Scott Kazmir      2-6    .333
  • Erik Bedard       2-5     .400
  • CC Sabathia      13-26  .500
  • Billy Wagner     2-6     .333
  • Ervin Santana   0-6     .000
  • Ted Lilly            0-2     .000
Not as impressive, but that 13-26 line against CC is incredible.  I sent my findings to Jon Marthaler, one of the main authors of Twinkietown, to see if he had any insight.  He confirmed what I was thinking:

I like the comparison and I don't think it's surprising Redmond has more success against guys that don't throw particularly hard.  After all, he doesn't exactly have the quickest hands in the league - he's no Paul Molitor, for certain.  Against guys that throw hard, he's sort of reduced to choking up on the bat and trying to poke the ball to right, and while that's not a bad strategy, he looks like a guy with a tennis racket trying to fight off a cannonball.  

Adding to the fact that Joe Mauer is only 4-22 against Buehrle, Redmond at least justifies his #3 spot in the batting order 5 out of his 40 starts each year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bring on the Noise!

Just like the construction of Camden Yards ushered in a revolutionary era of ballpark design in the 1990s, developing a more intimidating indoor venue could be possible with the rebuilding of Chicago Stadium type arenas. Today’s arenas are met with mausoleum type level crowd noise with artificial sounds being substituted to provide any semblance of atmosphere among NBA and NHL contests. With the Chicago Black Hawks displaying a return to glory with on ice success and high box office turnout this season, the time is right to strike with looking into plans at erecting an arena dedicated to bringing back the noise level of past indoor stadiums. By adopting a more compact design, where the upper decks settle more on top of the lower bowl, the fan noise level can return and actually provide a more exciting/intimidating atmosphere. Black Hawk fans discuss ad nauseum about how the old Chicago Stadium rocked on game nights with the National Anthem continuously being drowned out by hysterical crowd noise. Constructing an arena that provides a seating arrangement that stacks up against the game area while instituting architectural troubleshooting that allow skyboxes (that ownership so desperately covets) to be implored within the master blueprints.
Having a return of indoor sporting venues that bring back memories of Boston Garden or Maple Leaf Gardens would add immense pleasure to moribund fanbases, insight renewed interest among team’s respective sport’s cities, and develop a more big game atmosphere that would improve the television viewing experience. I just see no negative to building an arena of this magnitude for struggling NBA/NHL franchises. All one has to do is look at the incredible amount of college basketball games on late-night television to see the benefit of electric crowds to grab fair-weather viewers. Boisterous crowds catch our attention. It adds to the importance of a sporting contest, not Sir Mix a Lot or some cheesy drum machine. Building old-school barns would be great for indoor professional sports. Chicago itself desperately needs to escape the doldrums of the carnivorous United Center. By moving away from derelict West Chicago and moving more towards the downtown or northside that would allow Chicagoans easier access to the main lines of public transportation, true hockey success can be achieved.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tucker Madness

I’m torn over on what stance to take on Iowa superfrosh guard Anthony Tucker. With his public intoxication conviction, a bout with mononucleosis, and now academic suspension this season; it seems Tucker has become more of a liability than asset for the Hawkeye basketball program. His inability to stay on the court and make a difference as well as his uncaring demeanor while playing basketball have become a concern for me in finding room to support Tucker as an individual. The young man seems to still be learning the ropes of adulthood yet has shown quite a lot of potential for the future. Shockingly, Iowa’s coaching staff decided to keep him on the team for which many media members felt was more for Tucker’s sake than as maintaining a needed piece for future Hawkeye success. I’m all for supporting supplying second chances to individuals. Some people just need more time to mature. It is possible that his mono caused Tucker to struggle with his classes and first time exposure to college life can always breed poor decisions. Therefore, if Tucker starts to show real determination and a more serious outlook upon his career at Iowa, I will support him. To see this though, I need observe some evidence that he is going to take his stint in Iowa City as a blessing rather than a roadblock to playing in Belgium or something.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Tucker put on some muscle for a start, the guy has girl arms for crying out loud. Not saying that I’m the cat’s meow when it comes to supplying a “gun show” but I expect a Big Ten starter to provide a little muscle tone to succeed in this gladiator conference. How can a Division One athlete get this far in playing a sport without gaining some body tone? If this is a perfect example of a lack of work ethic from Tucker, call this a reason for me to side on not giving this guy another shot at wearing the black and gold. Without added strength, there is no way this young player will be able to drive to the paint or create his own shot. I pray that his aloofness to conference games is not evidence of a dislike to the physicality of playing college basketball.
Further making Tucker’s transition to becoming a college basketball player, is the lack of leadership on this Hawkeye team. With youth sprawling up and down the lineup, juco transfers galore, and only two seniors remaining, it will take at least till next season for a true leadership hierarchy to immerge. Possible acknowledgement that he is not the best player on the team or the most liked could be causing Tucker’s questionable behavior. Possible petty behavior of this nature is should no longer be accepted, for its time for Anthony Tucker to discover teamwork and a will to help Iowa become a winning program again.

Sorting out the Big East

The Big East is unquestionably the best basketball conference in the country.  It's likely eight and possibly as many as nine teams will be selected to play in the NCAA tournament.  But who are the pretenders and contenders?

Go here for an updated look at the conference standings.  There are currently 7 teams ranked the AP top 25 with an eighth receiving votes.  Here's a quick profile examination of the eleven teams in the conference aspiring for postseason play.

#3 Connecticut: 16-1, 7-1
  • Only loss was at home to #12 Georgetown.  
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 2-1.  
  • RPI: 6
  • SOS: 34
  • Non-conference SOS is 96th
#4 Pittsburgh: 17-1, 5-1
  • Only loss @ Louisville
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 4-1
  • RPI: 2
  • SOS: 13
  • Is 3-1 on the road
#8 Syracuse: 17-3, 5-2
  • Lost vs Cleveland St., @ Georgetown, vs Louisville
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 1-2
  • RPI: 12
  • SOS: 35
  • Average over 80 points a game
#9 Louisville 13-3, 5-0
  • Lost vs W. Kentucky, Minnesota, UNLV
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 1-0
  • RPI: 11
  • SOS: 12
  • Is 3-0 vs teams ranked in ESPN/USA Today top 25
#11 Marquette: 16-2, 6-0
  • Lost vs Dayton, vs Tennessee
  • Recored vs RPI top 25: 2-1
  • RPI: 17
  • SOS: 65
  • Has yet to play Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut, and Notre Dame
#12 Georgetown: 12-5, 3-3
  • Lost vs Tennessee, Pittsburgh, @Notre Dame, @ Duke, West Virginia
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 3-4
  • RPI: 10
  • SOS: 1
  • The win over Marlyand looks less impressive now but has also defeated Memphis and is the only team do beat UConn
#19 Notre Dame 12-6, 3-4
  • Lost vs North Carolina, Ohio St, @ St. John's , @ Louisville, @ Syracuse, Connecticut
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 1-5
  • RPI: 66
  • SOS: 169
  • 9-1 at home, 2-3 on the road, 1-2 on neutral court
#20 Villanova: 15-4, 3-3
  • Lost vs Texas, @ Marquette, @ Louisville, Connecticut
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 0-3
  • RPI: 27
  • SOS: 39
  • Only 2 of 6 conference games have been at home thus far
NR West Virginia: 14-4, 3-2
  • Lost vs Kentucky, vs Davidson, vs Connecticut, @ Marquette
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 2-2
  • RPI: 14
  • SOS: 26
  • 3-2 on neutral courts 
NR Providence: 13-6, 5-2
  • Lost vs Northeastern, Baylor, St. Mary's, Boston College, @ Georgetown, vs Marquette
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 0-3
  • RPI: 73
  • SOS: 77
  • Five of their losses are vs teams that will make the tournament but eventually you have to beat someone good to prove you belong.  Their best win thus far is vs Cincinnati.
NR Cincinnati: 13-7, 3-4
  • Lost vs Florida St, Xavier, @ Memphis, @ Marquette, Providence, Connecticut, @ Providence
  • Record vs RPI top 25: 0-5
  • RPI: 57
  • SOS: 36
  • They have the same problem as Providence except they've had more chances to beat a top 25 team.
With this information here is how I rank them:
  1. Connecticut
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Louisville
  4. Georgetown
  5. Syracuse
  6. West Virginia
  7. Marquette
  8. Notre Dame
  9. Villanova
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The time for Pie is now

Anytime is a good time for Pie
--Fabienne from Pulp Fiction

Jim Hendry obviously disagrees with the above quote.  By shipping him to Baltimore for Garrett Olsen, the Cubs are basically getting another team's failed prospect.

I am a big supporter of Pie's.  I never understood why the Cubs didn't give him more of an opportunity.  Pie plays great defense, is a good runner, and has shown some pop in the minors.  The Cubs named him their everyday center fielder last season but pulled the plug after 83 at bats.  What kind of chance is that?  

In order to replace him, the Cubs signed Jim Edmonds in a move that worked out better than anyone could have imagined.  They won't be so lucky this year.  This team has no center fielder. Reed Johnson is not a center fielder and Fukudome is already in Lou's doghouse.  That's right, the Cubs will probably wish they still had Pie on the roster.

In Baltimore Pie will be moved to left field (a definite waste of his defensive value) since they already have a budding superstar in Adam Jones entrenched in the middle.  He is going to a team that will not give up on him after 83 at bats.  Now, I'm not predicting Pie will be an all-star and it's pretty widely accepted that he's brutal against lefties, but a .270/.330/.465 line isn't out of the question.  Add in gold glove caliber defense and 20+ steals and you have yourself a guy who could get a team like the Cubs over the hump.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention he turns 24 in February.

The Cubs traded away a guy with whom they should  have been patient.  Instead he goes to Baltimore to help form the youngest outfield in the majors with Nick Markakis (25) and Jones (23) but one that now might have the most upside.  Baltimore is building a team the right way whereas the Cubs' window is closing fast.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why does the NFL ignore the Steeler way?

Pittsburgh’s seventh trip to the Super Bowl warrants great applause for second year coach Mike Tomlin. Yet, the real reason for the Steelers success is surrounded in the team’s determined approach at maintaining organizational stability. One can’t ignore that Tomlin’s team has 20 players with Super Bowl experience. The Steelers have only had three coaches over the last four decades, which everyone knows and have often pointed to as the main reason for their consistent on-field success. Actually, stability in ownership and a dogged determination in sporting a vicious defense has become the cornerstone for continued success instead of the lack of a coaching carousel in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh has also developed a habit of drafting hard-working players with moderate talent but a much more advanced work ethic over perceived flash. One exception for Pittsburgh in drafting away from the solid rookie was signing Plaxico Burress in 2000, with Burress’ off-field behavior eventually leading to the team’s refusal to resign the all-pro receiver. The team’s willingness to skirt past electric players in favor of signing tough, determined winners makes for a fascinating elixir for success.
Shockingly, it seems that other teams in the NFL have refused to adopt the Pittsburgh way for building a quality/winning football organization. So quickly have fellow teams attempted to ransack the Patriots for Belichick capologists and Dungyites with cover-2 backgrounds, yet rarely is the Pittsburgh stability model explored. Sure, former Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has led his current Arizona squad to the Super Bowl and Dom Capers was given many a chance to install a blitzburgh type defense in Houston but a flurry of NFL teams have shied away from promoting stability within their front office. Absent in Houston has always been a failure to develop stability within administration, scouting and player development. Arizona seems to be moving more towards a Pittsburgh model with the Bidwell family maintaining ownership since their days in Chicago and the imminent abandonment of enigmas like Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James next season allow for hot-head behavior and selfish demeanor to evaporate in the desert. A powerful defense remains lacking and the Bidwell Empire fails to qualify for competent administrative stability.
Maybe it’s just fate that Pittsburgh has met such glorious fortune and their formula really provides no gain for teams who have achieved success through different means or have never tasted sweet success. I’m not saying one needs a Tom Landry or Don Shula type roaming the sidelines to achieve wins but a real model of stability should be prevalent up and down the organizational ladder. With its absence, comes the absence of wins.

Big Ten Power Rankings

Now that the Big Ten season is fully underway, I've had an opportunity to see 8 of the 11 teams play.  Here's how I rank them thus far:

1. Michigan State: Sometimes they play pretty sloppy but they have still managed to go undefeated thus far including a 3-0 road record.

2. Illinois: They lost to both Michigan and Michigan State on the road but beat Purdue.  This team is the ultimate T-E-A-M.  Expect them to play several close games but to exploit their opponent's weaknesses like they did against Purdue.  This is one of the rare teams that can go far because they don't have a superstar.

3. Purdue: The beginning of the season was ugly with a home loss to Illinois and a loss on the road to Penn St. But their last two home games have been convincing wins.  This team will need to win on the road, however, to convince anyone they are for real.

4. Minnesota: Ask Wisconsin how tough the Gophers are when the full-court press is on.  Tubby has his kids playing well but the next two games will tell if they are for real as they host Purdue and then travel to Champaign.

5. Wisconsin:  Got off to a scorching 3-0 start before stumbling vs Purdue and then embarrassing themselves at home vs Minnesota.   Iowa's next so there's a chance to right the ship before facing Illinois.

6. Ohio State: 2-0 at home and 1-3 on the road.  Granted their road games have been against the better teams but their best win thus far is @ Michigan.  Need to beat someone good before I change my mind.

7.  Michigan: The Wolverines have been up and down through the conference's first six games.  They do have an impressive win vs Illinois but they barely escaped Indiana and got pounded at home by Wisconsin.  Maybe I'm blinded by them having the best player in the conference or maybe I'm ignorant because this is one of the three teams I have yet to see play.

8. Northwestern:  Blew 2nd half leads to Penn State, Michigan State, and Purdue.  Most teams would have been demoralized by the last one but then they came out and beat Minnesota convincingly.  Yes, they were destroyed by the Badgers but this is the conference's most improved team.  

9. Penn State: They are 3-3 in the conference and if Michigan continues their poor play will likely be 5-3 at the end of it.  Could easily be #7 on this list.  7-9 are interchangeable at this point.  

10. Iowa: They look really, really bad sometimes.  They are averaging 60 ppg in Big Ten play but their highest point total in their last three is 53.

11. Indiana: What can I say?  They almost beat Michigan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Update on free agent signings

  • Derek Lowe signed a four year deal with Atlanta today.  I like this move for the Braves because Lowe is an innings eater who can take advantage of Atlanta's good infield defense.  The Braves can probably expect some decline in his performance since he'll be 36 in his first season but with prospects Tommy Hanson and Cole Rohrbough knocking on the door, Lowe will fit nicely into the #4 spot at the end of this deal.
  • Kenshin Kawakami also signed with the Braves.  I'm not entirely sure what to expect out of this guy but a 4.50 ERA seems reasonable.  Unless the Braves sign Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu to play outfield their defense should be above average.  That's a good thing to have for a flyball pitcher.
  • Jason Giambi will most likely split between DH and 1b with the A's.  He helps Oakland improve in their two greatest deficiencies: on-base and slugging.  Oh wow, maybe I should have just said OFFENSE.  His numbers will decline from last season thanks to playing in one of the toughest hitters parks but with a Cust-Giambi-Holliday heart of the order the A's will score some runs.
  • Trevor Hoffman gives Milwaukee the closer they've been dying to get.  Unfortunately the nametag is probably all they are getting as I don't envision him hanging on to the job past July.   His fastball is below average and last year he gave up 8 home runs in only 45 innings.  That number might go up by 25% this year.  Not good.
And finally, I started this post with the signings that might begin a new era (probably not) but I'll finish it with the end of an era.  
  • John Smoltz is officially a member of the Boston Red Sox.  I know Atlanta didn't want to give a lot of guaranteed money to a guy who might not be able to pitch until May-June but he was the face of the franchise.  The greatest postseason pitcher of his generation (except for maybe Josh Beckett), Smoltz was always the guy I rooted for most out of the Big Three.  I can't believe I'm going to say this but if Atlanta can't win the World Series this year I hope John Smoltz does.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

NCAA Basketball Conference Power Rankings

1. Big East: As many as nine teams appear tournament bound and they also have the nation's #1 team in Pittsburgh.  This conference expanded recently in an effort to become a Basketball Super Conference and early indications are it's working.
NCAA Bound: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Syracuse, Louisville, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Villanova, Marquette

2. ACC: The ACC has three top five teams and even though they are not ranked #1, North Carolina is everyone's pick to win it all.  The ACC also edged out the Big Ten in the ACC-Big Ten challenge with UNC blowing out Michigan St and Duke beating Purdue.
NCAA Bound: North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Boston College, Miami
Close: Florida State, Maryland

3. Big Ten: The Big Ten might be the nation's most improved conference.  It's too early to get accurate RPI rankings but here's a guess that the Big Ten ranks third in conference RPI.
NCAA Bound: Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
With some luck: Penn State

4. Big 12: The Big 12 does not have the dominant team it's accustomed to having but in a way that is a good thing as it allows a couple other teams to get a shot.  Last year's champs, Kansas, are a lot better than many imagined after sending the majority of the team to the NBA.
NCAA Bound: Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M
Probably in: Kansas, Missouri
Not quite: Oklahoma State

5. Pac 10: This once proud basketball conference is not having a strong season on the hardwood.  Getting more than four teams in is probably wishful thinking.  This might be the conference that lost the most talent to the NBA so it's probably just a blip on the screen.
NCAA Bound: UCLA, California, Arizona State
Working hard: Stanford, Washington, USC

6. SEC: The SEC also does not have a team that is likely to win a championship as Florida and Kentucky are not dominant teams and the bottom half of the conference is awful.
NCAA Bound: Florida, Tennessee
Likely nostalgic inclusion: Kentucky

7. Atlantic 10:  Xavier is for real and even though this conference will likely not get more than two schools into the Big Dance, the Musketeers can't be ignored.
NCAA Bound: Xavier, Dayton

8. Horizon: Butler is at it again!
NCAA Bound: Butler, UW-Milwaukee

9. West Coast: Gonzaga is a weird team having beaten Tennessee, Ok. State, Maryland and losing a nail biter to Oklahoma while losing to Portland State.  They'll get it together but they better hurry because St. Mary's is pretty good too.
NCAA Bound: St. Mary's, Gonzaga

10. Mountain West: This is probably the most up-for-grabs mid-major.  I don't know much about the teams except that San Diego State is good.
Out due to small conference bias: Utah

Go ahead and make a stand.

If you are a struggling former college basketball power, a once traditional top 25 program, a highly respected mid-major, or just a program wanting to take a Gonzaga type leap into the national spotlight, I feel accepting a bid to the NIT or CBI tournaments is the wrong message to send to your program. College Athletic Directors (AD) should take a stand in accepting mediocrity for their basketball programs or spawning any acceptance of mediocre seasons by participating in these illegitimate college basketball postseasons. A real message can be sent to your players, athletic department, coaching staff, and fan-base by rejecting an invitation to the NIT/CBI.
Ten years ago the NIT was relatively new in the TV/fans eyes with many games being solid sell-outs throughout America’s college campuses but this decade most students shy away from attending an NIT tournament games. Most NIT games and especially CBI matchups are played in front of sparse crowds. Maybe it gives the networks some decent ratings (I have my doubts) but I have severe feelings about the NIT being profitable enough to justify the manpower involved in hosting and displaying these games on television. Even the NCAA tournament has issues with selling out its early round games but at least a team has an opportunity to advance in the legitimate tournament and play in sold-out later round games. Oh, and did I mention the NCAA Tournament is the real postseason (just thought I need to reinforce that)?
To take your program or return your program to desired standards, AD’s should refuse to give into temptation and allow their basketball squads the supposed reward of playing beyond the regular season. If a team couldn’t put together a decent enough regular season or win the conferences post-season tournament to get invited to the NCAA tournament, then there should be no harm instilling required winning standards upon a team by keeping them home in March. Some proponents compare the NIT to a lower tier football bowl and prescribe it to add the same benefits for a basketball squad. In allowing a college football team to attend a lower tier bowls though, it is beneficial for it allows more practice to break in younger players and institute new playing strategies. College basketball’s post season fails to supply any real added benefit with more practices. College football has more players involved and a more complex system that further practice benefits. Basketball does not gain such similar advantages. I’m sure it would help but missing the NIT isn’t detrimental to a basketball team.
Therefore, if you’re an AD in Champaign or Palo Alto, you might want to make a stand if your once elite programs fail to make the NCAA tournament (though Bruce Webber seems to be making me eat crow this season) this year. A coach should not provide the excuse for a solid season by proclaiming success due to entering the NIT or CBI. If the goal for a football program is to make a bowl, then the goal for a college basketball program should be the NCAA tournament…no exceptions.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sooners Need to Change

Oklahoma’s 24-14 national title game loss represents the fifth consecutive BCS bowl loss for the Sooners. Oklahoma has won two bowl games (Cotton & Holiday) since their triumphant Orange Bowl victory in 2001 over Florida State for Bob Stoops' first and only National Title. In these last five BCS losses, the Sooner defense has given up an amazing 191 points! The Sooner defense did hold Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators to 24 points but allowed the Tim Tebow led offense to rack up 480 yards with the Gator’s running attack averaging a gaudy 5.7 yards per carry. The fact is, Bob Stoop’s program has been met with an absence of physical defense since his 2000 national title run. A team that was stocked with 5th year seniors (Josh Heupel, Rocky Calmus, Torrance Marshall) and the amazing Roy Williams, which astonshingly were products of the previous coaching administration.
My synopsis as to why the Sooners have struggled in BCS bowl matchups since their 13-2 Orange Bowl triumph in 2001 is a mixture of the hiring of spread offense guru Kevin Wilson from Northwestern in 2002 and the absence of defensive mastermind Mike Stoops since 2003 (his last year at Oklahoma, held LSU to 21 points in Sugar Bowl loss). Prior to these major changes on Bob Stoops’ staff, the Sooners practiced a more balanced offense coupled with a smash-mouth physical mantra on defense. Kevin Wilson’s origins from the tutelage of the late spread offense proponent Randy Walker have over the last five years altered the style of placing points on the scoreboard for Oklahoma. Though, Walker’s offensive spread philosophy has inspired amazing point production for the Sooners with the team averaging over 30 points per game five of the last six years. There was help with Chuck Long being a co-coordinator half those years (’02-’05) but since Walker has been given the keys to car, the Sooners have averaged over 40 points per game the last two seasons. Still, a glowing weakness of these spread offensive tactics is the inability to be consistent in short yardage situations, especially in goal-line or red zone down sets which were vitally exposed in the ’09 BCS Title Game against Florida. The inability to get down to brass tacks can handicap any attempt to mentally intimidate a formidable opponent. Sure, sexy passing offenses can overwhelm a Chico State or Baylor, but a powerful SEC team with the ability to punch back, I think not.
The blitzkrieg on offense the last three years and the exodus of Mike Stoops has caused severe setbacks within Bob Stoops’ Sooner defense, once his bread and butter. Since Arizona named Mike Stoops their head coach in 2004, Brent Venables (what is with the cheesy wristbands?) has been the leader on the defensive coaching staff. Bobby Jack Wright has also been given the title of co-defensive coordinator but Venables have been the head strategist. Venables deficiency in strategy has been grossly exposed in huge games with the defense allowing over 20 points per game two of the last three seasons. Mike Stoops’ defenses on the other hand stayed at 15 ppg. or below during his tenure. Venables just doesn’t maintain the makeup for a Rolls-Royce program like Oklahoma. I feel he is also facing the issue of a defensive mindset among his players that feels it doesn’t have to shut down teams due their explosive offense. Therefore, when the Sooners come up against quality competition, the defense is unable to answer the bell when their offense is unable to surmount the 35 point mark.
In combating the dilemma, Bob Stoops needs to move away from the spread dominant philosophy that is so prevalent throughout college football and return to a more balanced offense that still values a pounding running attack. It’s impossible to ignore that past BCS champions like Miami, Ohio State, LSU, Southern Cal, Florida, and Stoops old ’01 team all maintained a smash-mouth factor with the ability to also throw the deep ball. I also feel new blood is needed on the defensive side of the ball where maybe the hiring of another Stoops brother (Mark Stoops) could help restore a more physical/ball-hawking presence amongst the defense. Either way, the talent is present for the Sooner’s defense to dominate but the system or thought is not producing any unyielding temperament. If something is not changed, the mantra as a “big game” coach for Bob Stoops could disappear forever.

Tim Raines Keltner List

Since Tim Raines is another guy who voters are divided on, let's take a look at his Keltner list and see if we can find anything.

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
No.  He was never mentioned as the best and was only mentioned among the best for a few years in his prime.  He was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson who had the same skill set, played the same position, batted leadoff, and did it all in more publicized markets: Oakland and New York vs.Montreal

Was he the best player on his team?
Yes.  He played on some very good teams in Montreal with Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, and Gary Carter in which he was the best and also played for the White Sox where Frank Thomas was unquestionably better.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position?
He had a couple of seasons where he was  (1984, 1986) but he was #2 consistently behind Rickey Henderson.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
His rookie year they won the division but the 1980's Expos can be describe as the team that could never get over the hump, finishing 3rd six times.  While with Chicago the Sox won the division in 1993 and 1994 and finished second twice.  Towards the tail end of his career, Raines joined the Yankees and helped them win two World Series.

Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Without question.

Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the HOF?
Mark McGwire is going to be the answer to this question for a number of years.  Aside from BigMac there is no one more deserving on the outside looking in.

Are most players who have comparable statistics in the HOF?
Using the Baseball-Reference top comps, the #1 player most similar to Raines is Lou Brock.  Even then the similarity score isn't that strong, which is good because Raines was the better player.  

Do the players statistics meet HOF standards?
Aboslutely.  He led the league in batting average and on-base percentage in 1986.  Led the league in runs scored in 1983 and 1987.  Led the league in doubles in 1984.  Led the league in steals four times.  Makes me think the knock on him of not leading his league in important categories is unwarranted.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Not really.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the HOF?
No, he's still shadowing Rickey. 

How many MVP type seasons did he have?  Did he ever win an MVP award?  If not, how many times was he close?
Timmy never won an MVP but finished in the top 10 only three times.  He was MVP worthy each season from 1983-1987.

How many All-Star type seasons did he have?  How many All-Star games did he play in?  Did most of the players who played this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Raines performance warranted All Star consideration in 1981, 1983-1989 and 1992-1993.  He made seven straight teams.

If this man was the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
I want to say yes but his teams didn't back me up on this.  There were some pitching issues in Montreal though.

What impact did this player have on baseball history?  Was he responsible for any rule changes?  Did he introduce any new equipment?  Did he change the game in any way?
He, along with Henderson, helped change the leadoff position by convincing teams that fast guys who get on base and hit for power are perfect in this role.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? 
Rock, had a cocaine problem early in his career but checked himself into rehab and appeared to be fine after that.  Other than that I have heard nothing negative.   

Thursday, January 8, 2009

NFL impact players in tonight's game

  • Jermaine Gresham TE: Big receiving tight end that some scouts say is the best receiving tight end since Kellen Winslow.  He can't be covered by a linebacker and is too tall for most corners.  Buffalo could take him with the 11th pick but I'm hoping they go for a pass rushing defensive end.  Fantasy players take note.  This guy will have an impact.
  • Percy Harvin SE: The dude can run and catch with the best of them.  Sorta reminds me of Reggie Bush.  Will he be a WR or be a 3rd down back in the NLF?  For fantasy players out there, remember this guy has trouble staying healthy in college.  Probably a late first or early second rounder.  I could see San Diego or Tennessee taking this guy. 
  • Sam Bradford QB: Unlike Big12 Qb's Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell, and Chase Daniels, Bradford has a skill set that appears will translate to the next level.  The Heisman winner is probably the first or second best pocket passer in college.  I don't think Detroit takes him with the first pick but I could see him going in the middle of the first round, possibly to the Texans or Jets.  What does Kiper say? (please post in the comments)
  • Gerald McCoy DT:  Blows up blockers as soon as the ball is snapped.  Can rush the passer or stop the run.  Could be the new Tommie Harris.  Let's just hope he doesn't lose his passion after signing like Tommie did.  I think he goes in the top 10.  St. Louis would be a great fit.
  • Tim Tebow: I don't see Tebow making a big impact in a statistical point of view, but he is perhaps the biggest name in this game.  I see three options for him in the NFL: Safety, fullback, or a piece in a wild-cat type offense.  His lack of accuracy will prevent him from being a quarterback and he's not nearly fast enough to be a feature running back.  Unfortunately for him he's just a product of the Gators offensive system.  Fortunately for him he was the perfect fit and it earned him a Heisman trophy and at least one national championship.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My HOF vote...if I had one

Baseball-reference has a complete list of this year's hall of fame class.  Go there and click on their stats to get a good idea of what each player has done.  Seriously.  
Each writer can vote up to ten players but is not obligated to vote for anyone.  Here is what my ballot would look like:

No Brainers
  • Rickey Henderson: see my post from earlier this week
  • Mark McGwire: Steroids or not, this guy was a monster.  Even won a gold glove.  Was a 12 time All Star.  
  • Tim Raines: played in Henderson's shadow for his entire career.  Is the 2nd greatest leadoff hitter of all time and retired with an OPS+ of 123.  That's sweet.  Also look at those BB & K numbers.  You don't see that anymore.
  • Bert Blyleven: Really, what's the difference between 287 wins and 300?  A lot of luck.  How about finishing in the top 10 in ERA 10 times?  Being 5th all time in strikeouts and fourteenth in innings pitched is HOF worthy also.
Recently convinced
  • Dale Murphy: 2 time MVP and five time gold glover.  Finished first or second four times in OPS.  I think it's possible he's being penalized because it was evident to everyone except himself when the end had come.  
  • Alan Trammell: If Keith Law says so it must be true, right?  1984 MVP, 4 straight gold gloves.  Basically was a very good hitter and a very good fielder from 1979-1990 and was great at both from 1980-1984 & 1987-88.  Bill James has him ranked as the best SS of all time not in the Hall and better than several that are in.  Is definitely better than Dave Concepcion, who has been getting a lot of support lately.
Oh-so-close but not quite
  • Tommy John: Similar to Blyleven just not as dominant in his peak years.
  • Don Mattingly: Mattingly was a GREAT player from 84-89 but once the 90s came he was merely average.  Sadly, he doesn't get my vote.
  • Andre Dawson: I just can't get past that OBP.  Excellent defensive player with a legendary arm.  Good power, good speed, and a hall worthy nickname.  In the Hawk's MVP season (1987) he finished sixth in offensive outs made.  In 1983 when he finished 2nd in MVP voting, he was third in outs made.  His career OPS+ is 119 which is very good but that OBP is .338.  By comparison the other Hall of Famers on my ballot retired with OBPs of .401 (Henderson), .394 (McGwire), .385 (Raines), .346 (Murphy), and .354 (Trammell).  .338 just isn't good.  Now I'll shut up before I change my mind on Murphy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I prefer Parker Brothers

So, Hendry decides to trade the pseudo team captain (Mark DeRosa) that represented the glue of the Cubs’ fragile chemistry and then turns around and signs a headcase in Milton Bradley to supplant DeRosa’s absence? I call Milton Bradley a headcase for the fact that the guy practically charged into the Dodger Stadium crowd in 2004 because a fan threw a plastic bottle in his vicinity only to be restrained by his teammates from storming the crowd. If Bradley is unable to handle fair-weather LA fans, how is he going to handle the raucous Wrigley crowds who can quickly turn on under performing newly signed players with even more passionate vitriol behavior? The guy for better or worse is a baby with no care for restraining his emotions that can boil over to the point of ripping off his uniform in some fanatical striptease.
Supporters of the signing feel that the instituting of Bradley into Chicago's lineup will push the Cubs into the NLCS with his fiery intensity motivating the bats of Ramirez and Lee. But I view his inability to stay on the field due to persistent health issues as being detrimental to that playoff prediction. A player will have trouble motivating teammates in street clothes, especially a player in his first year on a team with no history of having a cordial personality. Besides, the Dodgers also suspended Bradley in the heat of a 2004 pennant chase (last five games of the season) due to his combustible attitude. Talk about an eye-opening example of how his tantrums overshadow his offensive talent. How can a player push players when he has a history of not running out pop ups, getting into the face of managers, and just lacking any passion for the game of baseball? I have trouble seeing Lou Piniella being patient with Bradley's antics, especially with Lou's history of violent encounters himself. Bradley has spent a majority of his career playing for a long term contract that has been out of reach due to his confusing behavior. Now, he has received a bloated guaranteed contract that has no way of penalizing any inane on field behavior. Therefore, I see this signing only being further ammunition towards my belief that the Cubs will be home come October 2009.

Game on: Milton Bradley to Cubs

Cubs fans, be happy.  This is a good thing.

Sure there are some huge red flags:
  • He has played 100 games only three times (2003, 2004, 2008) and 130 games only once
  • This will be his 7th organization in his 9 year career.  He has been suspended while with the Dodgers and Padres and his confrontations with Eric Wedge and Billy Beane earned him a ticket out of town.
  • His latest major injury (a torn ACL while arguing with an umpire in 2007) has severely hindered his range in the outfield rendering him incapable of playing a decent center.  Now he is in right field.
  • This is his first multi-year contract drawing speculation that he won't play hard since he finally got his money.
This is what I like:
  • Bradley led the American League in OBP & OPS last season.
  • Bradley is a switch hitter who has a career .801 OPS vs RHP--a perfect fit for a right-handed dominated team.
  • Since becoming a regular in 2003,  Bradley's line reads .295/.391/.488 and shows no signs of slowing down.
  • He is a year removed from his knee injury which should allow him to play competent defense in Wrigley's small outfield.
  • Bradley brings a fire that is unmatched by any of his Cub teammates.  No more DLee in the headlights looks in October.
I believe the pros outweigh the cons in this situation.  Yes, Bradley will inevitably be injured and he'll inevitably pick a fight with Fontenot and Theriot for having silent a silent 't' in their name, but when this happens that's why Kosuke is earning his megabucks, right?  I believe Bradley will prevent this team from sleepwalking through the NLDS and push them into the NLCS.  Good job, Jim Hendry.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Who should have been the NFL MVP?

Peyton Manning just won his 3rd NFL MVP this week in a landslide vote.  Shouldn't the vote have been a little bit closer?  Brees nearly broke the record for passing yards and Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to a division title.  Let's take a look and some stats and see what we come up with.

Yds/Att 20+ 40+ Int% Sack TO Off Pts
A 7.211 40 7 2.2 14 12 347
B 7.664 50 12 2.3 26 21 389
C 7.983 66 16 2.7 13 18 443

Quarterback A had the fewest percentage of his passes picked off but his offenses also scored the fewest points and had the fewest big plays in the passing game.  However this quarterback was also sacked the fewest and committed the fewest turnovers.
Quarterback B was average across the board except for sacks and turnovers--two no-no's.
Quarterback C had the best average per pass attempt and the most big plays.  His offense also scored the most points.

Rat 2 min TD Int
A 86.3 6 2
B 57.8 1 3
C 83.4 4 3
*Rat 2 min = QB rating in the last 2 minutes of a half

Once again QB B fails to stand out in this metric.  QB A has the best rating and best TO:Int ratio although QB C is not far behind.  

So who should be the MVP? A, B, or C?  I personally would vote for QB C due to the insane number of points and big plays he gave his team while not hurting them as badly as QB B.

A = Manning
B = Warner
C = Brees

The fact that the Saints did not make the playoffs speaks volumes of their defense and special teams.  Once Bush got injured the return game suffered and the defense had some injuries as well.  I don't think Brees should have been penalized for this.

A quick glance at the Man of Steal

For some reason that doesn't make any sense to me, Rickey Henderson will not be on every writer's ballot.  Listed below are several reasons why I believe Rickey Henderson should be the first unanimous pick to enter Cooperstown in 2009.
  • Retired as the all-time leader in walks, runs scored, and stolen bases.
  • Accumulated more than 3000 hits, 500 doubles, 100 triples, and missed the 300 HR barrier by just three.
  • Was a 10 time All Star and won a gold glove
  • 1991 AL MVP and also finished 2nd in 1981 and 3rd in 1985
  • Led the league in runs scored five times, hits once, walks four times, stolen bases twelve times, and on-base % once.
  • Has the single season record for stolen bases with 130
  • Retired with a .401 OBP
  • Played in 8 postseasons including three World Series.
  • Batted .284/.389/.441 in the postseason and .339/.448/.607 in the World Series
  • Was 1989 ALCS MVP
  • Is unquestionably the greatest leadoff hitter ever
So we're looking at a guy who had a few great seasons, was good for an incredible length of time, and was a superstar in the World Series.  Plus there's a lot of fun stories about him.  I don't know how some writers can say he doesn't deserve to go in on the first ballot.

Jim Rice Keltner List

In Jim Rice's first year on the ballot he received less than 30 percent of the vote.  Last year he was oh-so-close to getting in.  Now that the fifteenth and final year of his eligibility is upon us there is growing speculation that he's in.  Why is he a better candidate today than he was fifteen years ago?  I have no idea.  I thought I'd run a Keltner test on him to see if we can find anything.  The Keltner List a non-quantified way of determining a player's HOF candidacy.  Here we go:

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
Yes, in a way.  He was regarded as the best hitter for a couple of years in the late '70s but not necessarily the best player. He did lead the AL in VORP (value over replacement level) in 1978 and finished 2nd in 1977 & 1979.

Was he the best player on his team?
Yes & No.  Fred Lynn was the superior player but injuries frequently kept him out of the lineup.  In the '80s Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, and Rice flip flopped being the best player.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position?
Yes.  In the 1980s he was third behind Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
The Red Sox won the AL East in 1975 & 1986.  In 1977 they just finished 2.5 out and in 1978..well Bucky Dent ruined that one.

Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Not really.  1986 was the end of the line.  Played poorly in '87 and '88.

Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the HOF?
No. In fact I believe he is not the best at his position who is not in the HOF since I rank him behind Tim Raines, Albert Belle, and maybe Roy White.

Are most players who have comparable statistics in the HOF?
Using the Baseball-Reference link four of his best comps are in the HOF.  The six that are not are Galarraga, Ellis Burks, Moises Alou, and Luis Gonzalez.  

Do the players statistics meet HOF standards?
Yes. Again, using the Baseball-Reference HOF monitor he meets the standards.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Yes.  His home/road splits are dramatic and his defensive value is inflated due to playing in Fenway (see assists for Ramirez, Manny).  His OPS+ was 128 for his career though, and that is right on par for HOFers.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the HOF?

How many MVP type seasons did he have?  Did he ever win an MVP award?  If not, how many times was he close?
Rice finished in the top 5 six times and won the award in 1978.

How many All-Star type seasons did he have?  How many All-Star games did he play in?  Did most of the players who played this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Rice made the squad eight times.  I think that meets the standard for HOF.

If this man was the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
The years he was the best (1977, 1978, 1983) they missed by 2.5 games, Bucky Dent, and a lot of games.  I think the answer to this question is yes.

What impact did this player have on baseball history?  Was he responsible for any rule changes?  Did he introduce any new equipment?  Did he change the game in any way?

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?  
From what I can find he was somewhat surly in his interviews but is most remembered for carrying a child out of the stands and to safety after being hit w/ a foul ball.  Was also credited as being one of the guys who "played the game the right way."  Sounds a bit like Frank Thomas, no?

I don't think this screams yes or no.  He's definitely on the fence.  If I had a vote I'd probably lean towards no based on the fact that he is not one of the three best players at his position not in the Hall of Fame.  Voters should be responsible for keeping the Hall of Fame an elite group.  I don't think electing Jim Rice enhances the Hall of Fame in any way.

Jim Rice was a very good player and in some seasons a great player but he would not get my vote.  Sorry, Jim.