Archive for June, 2012

Here are three collegiate points from the prior week in sports.

1)      American finally got a playoff

Enjoy this now because this four team playoff will only be going downhill from this point forward.  Beginning in 2014, NCAA Division I football will have a four team playoff to determine its National Champion with the major BCS bowls serving as semi-final games for some super huge title game.  The deal will be twelve years meaning the twelve university CEOs, eleven conference commissioners, and one athletic director wanted something substantial to capitalize on the dollars and provide stability for their schools.  Now, I did not think that college football needed a playoff.  People watched the games and in the history of the BCS, the best two teams generally ended up in the Championship game.  Restricting the number of teams eligible added controversy (those number three teams left out) but also cut down on controversy (limiting teams stating legitimate claims to compete for the championship.  I am not against a playoff but I did not think it was absolutely necessary.

All that said, get ready for all hell to break loose.  Four teams get in based on…a selection committee.  People worried about the computers with mystery formulas will quickly turn their attention to some type of committee with closed criteria evaluating the top four teams to compete for a championship.  Of course we are not sure how this committee will be formed, if it will be consistent throughout the life of the playoff, or the criteria to be used.  All of this suggests bad news.  The biggest concern with this selection committee will be choosing four teams from the wealth of talent dispersed within conferences and throughout the entire landscape of college football.  The regular season still matters (although people advocating for an eight team playoff would be doing damage to that idea) but how much is placed on winning your conference?  Strength of schedule?  Placement in a major conference?  Consider the difficulty in picking the top four teams over the past three seasons.

2010: Auburn and Oregon both went undefeated from major football conferences (SEC and Pac-12 respectively).  So we have two more spots left.  TCU went undefeated too.  Makes sense to include the undefeated teams.  One spot: Stanford (11-1), Wisconsin (11-1), Ohio State (11-1), Michigan State (11-1), and Boise State (11-1).  Well, Big Ten obviously had a great year but which one do you take?  Arkansas was 10-2 but play in the toughest conference in college football.  How does one figure that out?  Thank goodness we have a four team playoff to solve this issue.

2009: Alabama (SEC) and Texas (Big 12) both went undefeated.  Traditional power conferences so they are definitely in.  But Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State also went undefeated.  All three of these teams come from lesser respected conferences, conferences that simply are not as challenging as the SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, and Big 12.  Florida, case and point, went 12-1.  Probably going to put them in…but why?  Because they had a power schedule?  Bigger attraction for the television people?  This is bedlam.

2008: Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama, USC, Penn State, and Texas Tech lost one game.  (Oklahoma and Florida played for the championship)  Already there is going to major controversy.  Oh Utah and Boise State went undefeated.  You know the Utah that went on to beat the hell out of Alabama in the Sugar bowl 31-17.  It would be a shame if Utah did not get a chance to make the playoffs because it is in a lesser conference.

Despite being easy to argue for the playoff in 2011 with four one loss teams, more often than not the selection of the four teams will lead to multiple angry franchises because in this system an opportunity is more valuable than before.  A chance is all that matters.  Maybe the commissioners waited for their opportunity to get a season where four teams clearly stood out from the rest.  Congrats on the playoffs but remember this enthusiasm while you are cursing out the selection committee in December.

Aside: The value of conferences will probably go up.  Pac-12, SEC, Big 10, and Big 12 are the dominant conferences.  Everything else is secondary, have been treated as such, and will continue to be treated as such.  The aforementioned athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, represented Notre Dame, the thoroughly outdated power still living off its success in the 1980s, NBC contract, and independent status.  Notre Dame means hardly anything to young athletes.  Your school is no longer the anchor of college football.  Your NBC contract is insignificant compared to the large television deals to schools and conferences today.  Get in a darn conference or step aside.  It’s a joke that they continue to be independent.  NCAA should get progressive on this issue because it is laughable that the Fighting Irish get special treatment with independent status.  Get control of your program, stop covering up the illicit behavior in South Bend, and get with the program.

2)      Michigan did less with more than any other school over the last twenty years.

When the Miami Heat became NBA Champions, Juwan Howard earned acquired the first and only championship ring of the famous Fab Five.  Howard hardly had significance on this Heat team meaning Jalen Rose is the only member of the Fab Five to meaningfully contribute in the NBA Finals.  Webber-Rose-Howard-King-Jackson.  This squad did reach two NCAA Championship games but lost in both games.  They went on to have good careers with Chris Webber as a borderline Hall of Famer.  But this reminded me of Michigan’s athletic motto: Top Five draft classes, few results on court/field.

Basketball has limited samples but it did set the table for the football program which absolutely eroded during the 21st century.  Michigan consistently acquired top five football classes but found themselves losing bowl games, being destroyed by Ohio State (re: Sweatervest), and ultimately not putting players in the NFL (Tom Brady, before you come after me, went very late in the draft –pick  #199- so don’t act like he was a high pick).  Before Wisconsin rebuilt their program, they put more players in the NFL from 2000-2006 than Michigan.

Michigan football also dealt with the turmoil surrounding Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez which never helped develop talent or win games.  I have nothing against Michigan and think Brady Hoke will continue the reestablishing of Wolverines football, but Howard winning a title forced me to address the trend of top classes leading to underachievement.  Michigan…my eye is on you long term.

3)      UCLA: Playing to the home crowd

UCLA, a school which recently signed Sean Combs’ son Justin Combs to play football beginning this season, decided to offer a scholarship to Cordell Broadus, son of USC fan Snoop Dogg.  Unlike Combs, Broadus just completed his freshman year of high school.  One year of high school football.  May not grow to be any taller.  May not make it through four years of the game.  May get bored with it and play basketball.  UCLA just gave him a scholarship and expect people to believe it is not because he is related by blood to Snoop?  UCLA basketball and football has eroded over the last five years and public relations stunts like this suggest the trend will continue.  But maybe this is a case of great scouting…naaa, not even I could try to argue the other side of this one.

Not to be confused with the ever popular “The Cycle” on MSNBC, this “cycle” will cover four stories in baseball that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Single: Cliff Lee has no wins and it’s almost July!

Chika Okafor and I got into a somewhat legitimate debate about pitchers between my man Roy Halladay and his guy Cliff Lee.  I say somewhat ridiculous because the Doc is clearly the better pitcher, a point Chika later conceded, but has been for quite some time.  People tend to forget his wasted days on the Blue Jays that easily drew comparisons to Kevin Garnett on the Timberwolves.  Lee’s development and resurgence was clear as he bounced around the American League to later support a dominant Phillies staff that could not sustain their success due to injury this year.  Injury and poor offense at the worst possible time.  Cliff lee represents the inadequacy of evaluating a pitcher solely on the basis of wins.  Despite having no wins, Lee has an ERA of 3.72 with at least eight quality starts and the Phillies own a scoring average of nearly 4.4 runs per game, at least slightly above the National League average this season.  Sadly, Lee’s starts have coincidently been the times where the Phillies have failed to give him run support.  Thus far, Lee is only getting 3.1 runs per game in his starts.  This includes his 1-0 loss when he pitched ten innings against the Giants and two separate (but not equal) 2-1 losses.  This is not to say the Phillies have lost all the games he started; in fact, the Phillies have three wins in games he started with wins going to relief pitchers usually after strong starts to keep the game close.

This has always been my defense of advanced metric in assessing pitchers, usually ERA+ and other figures where wins and losses don’t tell the complete story.  “King” Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young campaign of two years ago featured a .500 record but top status in nearly every other pitching category of importance.  Sabathia, who had a great season, possessed many more wins but was not as dominant in part to a very powerful Yankees offense.  Look at Yankee’s starter Ivan Nova at 9-2 this season.  Great record but simple digging in a box score/stat sheet reveal at 4.25 ERA and .282 BAA, certainly not All-Star figures.  The difference?  The Yankees, the overall leaders in Home Runs per game, score over six runs per start for Nova which covers up his darn near two home runs given up per start.  Just like with anything else, context matters.  Let this be another indictment of wins/losses being a tad bit more complicated than individual numbers suggest.

Double: Joe Maddon vs. Davey Johnson, the genuine piss fight we needed

Pine tar and baseball has not caused this much of an outrage since George Brett came the closest to killing an umpire that I could remember after being called out for pine tar too high up on the bat after a game winning home run.  Although the principals in this dispute remained calm, shots were fired as Joe Maddon and Davey Johnson differed on Joel Peralta’s pine tarred glove resulting in an eight game suspension which began on June 22.  Davey Johnson, for some reason, suspected Peralta of using pine tar on his glove and naturally asked for the glove to be inspected.  He subsequently was tossed from the game and Major League Baseball suspended him for cheating in some capacity or another with the pine tarred glove.  All is fine with me as rule violators should be tossed and reprimanded until we learn that Peralta previously pitched for the Nationals two years ago and Davey Johnson likely relied on insider information to expose Peralta’s cheating.  And then…manager war of words!

Maddon: Johnson’s actions were “cowardly,” “bush league,” and “bogus”

Johnson: Claimed he would not talk about the issue then started talking about the issue. “”Any time there’s a rule violation, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a rule violation. My only comment to him is read the rulebook. It’s simple.”

Maddon: “I totally understand that. Davey’s right. I’m incapable of reading the rulebook, and there’s also reading between the lines in some situations that needs to be looked at, too. He’s been around long enough; he knows better than that.”

Johnson: In response to some wise-arse media member who inquired if they would meet in person to settle their media rift: “No, I don’t know him that well, but I thought he was a weird wuss anyway, so no. I understand where he’s coming from. His job as a manager is to protect the players, striking out at whoever is causing your players any grievance.”  After that Johnson took a turn and shot at Maddon’s twitter activity and reputation as someone who is intelligent: “I don’t want to get into a shouting match with Joe. I looked him up on the Internet and found out he is a tweeter, so he can get to more people than me. But it was interesting reading. But you can tell him I have a doctorate of letters, too. Mine’s from Loyola in Humanities, and I’m proud of that, too.”

Maddon: Seemingly more concerned with the intellectual war, Maddon suggested Johnson’s glove checking move was “”an attempt to indicate a higher form of baseball intellect.”

ALL II’s Thoughts:  If they guy was cheating then he is cheating.  Maddon’s assertion that pine tar is commonly used by pitchers appears to be validated throughout the league and with pitchers I have interacted with throughout my years playing and watching the game.  While I respect and love Joe Maddon, his defense that pine tar use – as ubiquitous as Viagra at the local retirement homes – is weak.  He suggests players police themselves which is why this is not a greater issue despite many people using it.  You know the last major issue that players should’ve been policing themselves?  Steroids.  Not exactly apples and oranges but certainly players didn’t exactly check themselves before they wrecked themselves (and the game).  Still, Maddon raises a great point in that players and fans seemed to not care about pine tar on gloves which should mean something.

Johnson, on the other hand, is pretty low for using some old information for something that doesn’t seem like a major issue in the game.  Do I think this will hurt the Nationals from getting future players? Heck no but it will make veterans cautious of what they do while in Washington D.C.  The worst part is the fact that Johnson agrees with Maddon that Peralta should not be suspended.  Uhh, it is against the rules?  You wanted policing.  Now you don’t want all of the policing.  You need to do better, Davey.  Own your baggage.  You called him out, you should know the rules and the penalties for those crimes.  All in all this is a non-story but two old people arguing really sums up why this game is so popular with the kids!

Triple: Four Man Rotation

Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy announced the Rockies would move Jeremy Guthrie to the bullpen and begin going with a four man rotation, a pitching model of yesteryear.  Tracy suggested that each started would get a 75 pitch limit thereby distributing more starts to pitchers that, by the numbers, should be better than a fifth starter.  Teams rarely experiment with the non-five man rotation with those that do resulting in limited success.  The obvious question is simple: If intuitively we know taking starts away from the worst pitcher and giving them to four better pitchers should be more beneficial to the team and we know players have higher batting averages the more they see a pitcher in a single game, why does the four pitcher rotation fail?

Looking at the Rockies this season and other teams that tried to return to four pitchers, the answer appears to be that the pitchers on the roster are not good enough.  This is evidenced by some pretty simple figures provided by Sport Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe: “The Rockies’ rotation is downright awful, even beyond the fact that they’re toiling in Coors Field, the game’s least pitcher-friendly environment. Their 6.31 ERA is dead last in baseball, and more than two runs worse than the average starter’s ERA of 4.15. Their 5.19 innings per start is second-to-last; the major league average is 5.96. Rockies starters are delivering quality starts (by definition six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) just 26 percent of the time, not only the game’s worst rate but also half of the major league average.”

Teams that resort to making fundamental changes with their rotation probably need to make a big change because what they have is not working.  This does not mean that a four man rotation would fail, but it does mean that good teams do not have an incentive to shorten up their staff over a season because, unlike Facebook, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  I hope a team does try to move towards the four man rotation especially with pitch counts becoming more significant among younger starters.  Doubt it will happen but with the balance of power back towards pitching, clever teams should look for advantages to maximize their good starters over the course of a long season.

Home Run: Rocket Man Bigger Than Congress and Justice

Not being a legal expert, I turned to the Editor-in-Chief to provide his legal acumen on his beloved former Yankees star.

Thank you prosecutor for once again proving private sector big name attorneys can and will always take down the government. We appreciate your attempt to rectify the wrong doings and cheaters who thought their names were prominent enough too perjure themselves in congress. Clemens had the best lawyer money could buy, Rusty Hardin while the government tripped over themselves at every step. Hardin made it look easy, not because he was brilliant (which he is), but because the prosecution made it really easy during trial for the veteran criminal defense attorney.

Let’s not forget there was an original mistrial ordered by the judge due to the prosecutor playing footage that was deemed inadmissible by the trial judge. That didn’t stop our paid by tax dollars federal prosecutors from continuing to pursue what they called justice, while the evidence was so clearly stacked in the defense’s favor. Brian McNamee, their star witness, changed his story and conjured up evidence seemingly weekly in an attempt to corroborate a story that seemed as though he didn’t even believe. The prosecution did a horrendous job handling their star witness and his wife in the conference room and it was exposed on the stand. Conference room witness Rule #1: No surprises. Treat your witness as with as much thorough questioning as the defense would. Rule #2: Consistency. Urge it; Demand it. Rule #3: Make sure his wife doesn’t have a conflicting story. No, rule #3 doesn’t really exist, but the prosecution has to know that the conflicting story about the syringe was a possibility

The prosecution was too eager to make a statement that they forgot the most important question of all, is there reasonable doubt? Reasonable doubt oozed from the erratic and inconsistent testimony of Brian McNamee and more embarrassing Andy Pettitte. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens’ best friend in baseball. I’m sure he has no problem recalling a conversation he had with Roger Clemens saying Clemens used HGH. Oh yeah, he did have a problem with that. The prosecution should have done its due diligence to be more specific in pin pointing when and where this conversation occurred. Not only that to make that story so full-proof that any preliminary questioning the defense put forth could poke a hole in his testimony. Turns out it, Pettitte wasn’t too sure about exactly if that conversation ever took place.

Tax payer money was supposed to be used on getting justice for baseball fans and to ensure the integrity of the game and of Congressional hearings. While baseball did not take much of a hit, Congress and our Federal prosecutors office certainly did. I’m glad to see that justice was served. If the prosecution was able to convict Clemens with this defense, now that would have really been a failure of our justice system.

I try not to speak for the group unless I am given full permission to say what is needed.  It saves me some unnecessary time arguing internally and generally makes it easier for people to find the person responsible for adding perspective to their lives.  But allow me to deviate and make a bold claim that you need to know given next month’s festivities: Five2pickup will not be a hot bed of London 2012 Summer Olympic coverage.  Hell, I can’t get approval from the boss man to write about the Tour de France (though I will be writing about Lance Armstrong).  The only time any of us will probably post about the Olympics is during scandal, amazing drama (i.e. Men’s basketball, tennis, or Usain Bolt), and…that’s all I could think of prior to yesterday.  Today, however, add amateur hour activities to the list of things that get these young fingers hammering away on the Olympics.

The United States of America Track and Field body apparently did not establish a system to address the potential for ties in qualifying races to make the Olympic team.  Sure, this is unlikely to happen because technology can show who wins during tight finishes so why have a policy!?  Well, the day has arrived.  Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh both finished 3rd in the women’s 100 meter race with the third place spot being the final spot on the Olympic roster for next month’s games in London.  11.068 seconds.  How do we break the tie?  Uhh…we have no tie breaker.

That is the stunning part to the entire story.  How in the hell is there no tie breaker which seems to be a very simple thing to expect and have a policy to address.  Just take the two racers and have another race at some time and location agreed upon by both racers!  I am certainly not paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in a sport plagued with allegations of incompetence and cheating (all things that seem to be a growing trademark of amateur athletics in America), but there is no reasonable way that this can’t be on the books.  Doing a short bit of research on Yahoo! (screw Google) let me to tie breaks in swimming: a swim off between all tied competitors.  I quickly found procedures to settle ties in…track: a race between all tied competitors.  There were also several other convoluted solutions for settling ties that seemed hopelessly unfair but at least they had policies.  Perhaps I am too harsh to expect everything but I am sure the adults in the room will figure it out.

*Some seven hours later*

USATF decided to give monkeys darts, spin a wheel, have the monkeys throw darts at a board, and whatever they hit determined the tie break.  Maybe that is an exaggeration but that’s pretty darn close to what the adults came up with.  Tie break policy: the two competitors will separately be given, it appears, three options to settle the tie: 1) Decline to make a decision, 2) runoff, and 3) coin flip.  Really?  A coin flip?  I trained for most of my life to get into the Olympics, obviously am good enough to compete with the person I tied, and am a prideful athlete so I will turn to the flip of a coin for a resolution in this dispute?  The option is insulting and absurd.  That is not even the end of it.

Back in 2000: “Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore welcome to our session to settle the close electoral dispute in Florida.  Mr. Bush, as your party was out of the Presidency last, you are considered the guest…call it in the air.  The American Flag is heads, the Eagle is tails.”

If both athletes choose runoff, we get a runoff.  Both athletes choose coin toss (an egregious decision), we get a coin toss.  If one picks runoff and the other picks coin toss, we get a runoff.  If both flip the USATF off and select no preference, we get a coin flip.  If one declines preference and the other chooses either runoff or coin flip…there is no policy on record to deal with that scenario because…well who the hell knows!  Let me add that this tie break policy is WAY TOO fluid.  There should be one policy.  That’s it.  It should go into effect when a tie happens.  That’s it.  What is with the pick your own adventure B.S.?

Let me also add that Tarmoh and Felix are also competing in the 200 meter race this upcoming Saturday.  Training for that race is significantly different, and Felix is favored to win the event overall.  USATF wants to have their teams selected and ready by Sunday…the day after the 200 meter race.  All of this screams of terrible planning, worse response, and just the right type of story needed to shift America’s collective attention to the Olympics.

On the heels of our celebration of Title IX, it didn’t take long for someone to combine the place of women’s sports in America with the piss poor solution to this fairly simple problem.  American sprinter Justin Gatlin provided the apt suggestion: “I’m voting for Jell-O wrestling match…red Jell-O. That’s my favorite.”  Yep, that comment about sums it up for me.  People not taking the competition or the athletes seriously opening up the USATF up to criticism that it deserves and off color jokes that reveal, mostly male, thoughts on females in sports.

Amateurism indeed.

 

Prior to the beginning of the NBA Finals, I declared that Kevin Durant was rapidly becoming a complete player and because of that, he would one day surpass LeBron James while both players were in their respective prime. Up until the Finals, Durant had displayed an all-round game. He ccreated for his teammates, rebounded at a high clip for a small forward, and defended well when called upon (See his lockdown of Kobe Bryant in the second round). Durant has always been regarded as a scorer—nothing more, nothing less—but his play during the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs demanded that we change our perception of his game.

Well, now four games into the Finals, the perception that Durant is only a scorer and is far from being a complete player seems fitting and his glaring weaknesses are one of the main reasons that the Thunder find themselves down 1-3. Scott Brooks has some culpability for his consistent, gross mismanagement of his lineup configurations but as the inarguable best player on his team, Durant has disappointed in every game of the Finals since than game 1.

His defensive play has regressed to the point that OKC has determined that it’s best that they assign him to one of the Heat’s worst offensive players (Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, etc.) in order to avoid getting into foul trouble. And even when put on the aforementioned players, he has struggled to defend them. Last night, Cole and Chalmers had their best game of the series and Durant primarily defended them. Granted that Cole and Chalmers were the beneficiaries of passes from James when OKC doubled or shaded players his way while he worked in the post, but the need to employ that strategy is a direct result of Durant’s inability to defend his position. Durant’s poor defensive ability has also negatively affected James Harden in an indirect way. Harden has been repeatedly called upon in this series to defend James, who is at least three inches taller and 35 pounds bigger. The constant battle with a player that is substantially bigger is tiring and partly explains Harden’s struggles on the offensive end.

Durant has also struggled mightily in other areas during the Finals. During the regular season, he averaged eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and 7.9 and 4.75 respectively in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But in the Finals, those numbers have dipped to 4.2 rebounds and 2 assists per game, numbers that aren’t commensurate with a player that is widely regarded as the second best player in the NBA.

Due to his underwhelming all-around performance in the Finals, Durant has failed to seize an opportunity to establish himself as the best player in the game or at the very least, complicate the discussion. As James is on his way to winning his first Finals MVP, it is as clear as ever that he is the best player in the game and will hold that title throughout his prime.

As Nike propagated a few years back: We are all witnesses.

As disgusted as it is to see my Seattle Mariners lose, and they do so quite often, it would be unfair to ignore Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill hitting for the cycle against the aforementioned Mariners on June 18th.  Hill became the second player to hit the cycle this season; the first was Scott Hairston of the New York Metropolitans.  I was going to call this post/column Hill-Hairston but that was a dumb idea.  Four stories in the world of baseball.

Single: $85 Million Questions on the Coasts

I needed to do some extra research and a viable reason to write about contracts after Adam Jones signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract, the largest in Baltimore Orioles team history.  This season Jones, the San Diego native, finds himself in the top five (or ten) in most meaningful baseball categories: home runs, runs scored, hits, total bases, slugging percentage, and stolen bases.  In the year of big contracts, this deal comes with some question marks.  Jones’ defense has been under fire, a consequence of his overreliance on his speed to chase down balls.  Though a great 2012 season thus far, Jones sported a sub-.400 on-base percentage and often takes few pitches per at bat.  Still the Orioles have watched his development and project this season to be the beginning of a steady trend towards improvement.

While Adam Jones’ deal doesn’t scream Zito or Crawford, Andre Ethier’s five-year, $85 million contract has many people worried.  The deal makes Ethier the eight highest paid outfielder in baseball but while Jones is progressing, people are not sure if Ethier is trending up or at his peak going down.   At 30 years old, Ethier’s OPS has fallen every year since his rookie year in 2006.  Perhaps showing his age, defense is not a strong suit of Ethier with an unimpressive Defense Runs Saved figure.  Yes, I am totally down on the Ethier contract because of the age but also the restrictions it brings to the Dodgers as a franchise that still is paying Matt Kemp from now until I am done with graduate school.  Years matter but signing big for a 26 year old versus an injury plagued (not prone) outfielder matters.  Time will tell but I like Jones over Ethier for my $85 million.

Double: Players Survey, I Survey

Men’s Journal will run their annual survey of 100 MLB players on a bevy of questions.  I only feel it necessary to provide my feelings on the same questions.

Least Respected Manager:

Ozzie Guillen (36%)

Bobby Valentine (14%)

Manny Acta (5%)

 

Easy why people would not respect Ozzie and Bobby, his foul mouth and his constant genius, but Manny Acta?  Not really sure what that was about but it is just not good enough.  I don’t really have a manager that I do not respect.  But what has Manny Acta done to piss people off?

 

Most hated player:

 

A.J. Pierzynski (34%)

Alex Rodriguez (10%)

Nick Swisher (9%)

 

This is a very good list.  Lots of reputation going on here for Pierzynski but catchers should deserve this distinction.  No issue.

 

Player you would most want on your team:

 

Albert Pujols (19%)

Derek Jeter (14%)

Dustin Pedroia (10%)

 

Clearly there is everyday player bias here which is understandable.  Pujols, even though he has struggled, should be the top answer for this question.  Conversely, El Capitan is a great human being, maybe the greatest ever according to other writers on this site, but he does not do it for me.  Too old.  Not going to win now with him.  I’d like to see Evan Longoria.  Or someone who has lots of elaborate handshakes.

 

Most obnoxious fans:

 

Philadelphia (36%)

San Francisco (22%)

New York (12%)

 

You know NYC should be at the top of this list with their “we don’t care about baseball” attitude until the playoffs come and then everyone is ready to pay for their $10 beers.  Alas, the big city life does that.

 

Triple: R.A. Dickey is a Stud!

 

The Mets tried to get a little greedy a week ago when they went to Major League Baseball to appeal an infield single during R.A. Dickey’s 9-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.  The appeal came nearly two weeks after Johan Santana threw the Mets’ first no-hitter, a topic I will address below.  Dickey’s scoreless streak ended at 32 2/3 innings but his transition from surprise story to premier pitcher in the National League just became a nationwide phenomenon.  Dickey throws the knuckleball, the infamous uncontrollable pitch as slow as the car in the right lane but lethal when on.  Unlike classic knuckleballers, Dickey throws his with some extra speed allowing for more control and some flexibility when throwing other “moderate” pitches.  In fact the knuckleballer has only 21 walks this season, a figure more startling than his impressive record (11-1) or his list of first place accomplishments in the National League: Wins, Strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, Win Percentage, and Complete Games.  That is unbelievable for anyone, especially for a knuckleballer.

 

After the one-hitter, Dickey went out against a good Baltimore Orioles team to throw another one-hitter.  For the first time since 1998, a pitcher has thrown back-to-back no hitters.  42 2/3 innings of baseball without an earned run.  At 37 years old, Dickey’s surge to the top of baseball is everything that one would not expect.  Many players are deterred from practicing the knuckleball as control and power is emphasized; knuckleball catchers are a separate skill that takes away from building a consistent catcher.  Like the hook shot in basketball, the knuckleball can be dominant but athletes don’t pick up on it because they are not encouraged to practice and develop it.  I am certainly not criticizing a premier program for not wanting to develop this unique skill set; it is clear that if you can develop it, it can overwhelm the best in the business and give you a long career (see Tim Wakefield).  Dickey should be the National League starter in the All-Star game.  No question about it.  It will be interesting to see if he can sustain this or pull an Ubaldo, collapsing when it matters the most.  In any event, Dickey should not be a Cy Young candidate.  He is the favorite!  His 11 wins, sub-2.50 ERA with at least one strikeout per inning pitched over the first 14 starts puts him in rare air: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, and Francisco Liriano (hehehe).  From a failed knuckleballer to a knuckleball revolutionary, I salute you sir!

 

Home Run: Pitching Dominance and the Real Reasons Why

 

Nothing has pissed me off more than the attribution of pitching’s resurgence to the work of Major League Baseball on the issue of steroids.  This seems like an easy argument to deal with but everyone continues to make this argument.  PED/steroid policing can help explain the lower home run totals, lower scoring figures, and declines in extra-base hits but that cannot explain why we have had so many no-hitters, one-hitters, and perfect games.  See, steroids usually are attributed to 1) more power as in Brady Anderson hitting 50 home runs one season followed by no more than 20 for his entire career or 2) recovery from injury.  Steroids cannot help someone see the ball and put the ball in play better on a pitch by pitch basis.  That is not a steroids issue, that is a pitching and hitting skill issue.

 

The prevalence of no hitters in baseball can only be associated with steroids by way of older players being unable to recover between games quickly meaning younger players will be put in situations against tougher, power pitchers.  More young bats result in poor at bats and limited experience to know the necessary adjustments needed to take on the better pitchers of today’s game.  Outside of steroids, Dave Sheinin points out the expanded strike zone over the years as part of the issue.  Umpiring appears to be more favorable to a wider, though consistent, strike zone allowing pitchers to paint the corners and dictate the outside corner.  Large ball parks (re: Petco Park, Citi Field, Chase Field, etc.) hurt power numbers but should counter intuitively help hitting as large parks feature more distance in the alleys giving greater opportunities for quality hits to land on the field.

 

Ultimately the greatest reason for increased no hitters is the sophisticated defensive alignment of all major league teams.  Advanced metrics and improved scouting have teams employing detailed game plans for every pitcher/batter combination attempting to exploit tendencies to get the players out.  Major pull hitters no longer exclusively suffer through shifts as all players appear to get some type of adjustment from managers making hitting to empty spots much harder.  The sophistication of the game has matched the power and control of the pitcher.  The flipside of defensive emphasis is usually the decline of offensive ability.  This is a correlation story, not a causation story.  But the advanced stats that “moneyball” popularized leading most teams to find Gold Glove fielders appears to undervalue hitting ability; the resulting emphasis on small ball or “pitching and defense” strategies are teams with superior fielding but little offense.  The juggernauts will continue to exist but historically bad offensive teams will still have the ability to support dominant pitching.  Pitching will be supported by great scouts and better defenses.  Hitters will need to accommodate but pinning the prevalence of historical pitching performances on steroid policing or bigger ballparks is misleading and irresponsible research.

Kevin Durant’s Team vs. Lebron James’ team: NBA Finals recap, a U.S. Open review, and Twitter’s impact on sports are covered on Father’s Day by the Editor-in-Chief, ALL II, and Cheeks!

 

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxBsUpX8W0Y]

Why can’t they be more like this?:

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHW9b468bto&feature=related]

UPDATE – Battier Likes Mario Chalmers

GIF: Shane Battier Takes His Son, Mario Chalmers On A Sunday ... on Twitpic

 

Addendum:                                                Ladies and Gentleman Mario Chalmers has come FULL CIRCLE

Bosh/Chalmers


Bill Maher said it best “Tweets are just brain farts” and I tend to agree. They are thoughts, many times impulsive that are unfortunately confined to 140 characters. Not much of a chance to provide nuance and within seconds you have published something that will forever live on the internet forever. In the beginning I was wholly against twitter, as it seemed to be celebrity obsessed, useless and never seemed to provide any deep level of insight I wanted unless there was a link provided. In addition it gave the narcissists a platform to opine what seemed to be undeveloped thoughts and perspectives. It was too reactionary for me at first. Why do I want to see what a whole bunch of people’s first knee jerk reactions were to an event?

I cam down from my ivory tower and started using twitter, following sports pundits (sometimes referred to as “writers” or “journalists”), political pundits, comedians and bloggers. More importantly, I wouldn’t follow athletes and entertainers. The last thing I needed to read were entertainers and athletes sparring with their “haters” or embracing the adulation from fans who live for nothing more than getting a Re-tweet.

Like any linguist will tell you, languages evolve, sometimes rapidly within particular subcultures. I was sucked into the subculture, enjoying some of the arguments between the pundits (both petty and intellectual) and becoming fascinated with the controversies that were sparked as a result of these “brain farts”. Tweets also became the home for new types of gaffes. Instead of blurting out inappropriate comments, there were those who took the time to type them and more shockingly, to hit send! Within 5 minutes of the tweet-gaffe and after dealing with responses to the gaffe, the tweeter would retreat. Delete the comment and prepare your mea-culpa. Even with the mea-culpa expect it to make the news especially if you’re one of those selected few with a “verified” twitter handle.

The most interesting part of twitter is the way it  has revolutionized the sports viewing experience for me. Prior to twitter, a player was judged by his game to game performance. We reacted to the results of the game through sports radio, we digested columns and articles from journalists and we’d give them our perspective via e-mail or telephone call on a radio show. Those days of limited interaction are over. With trending topics, you not only share the experience with the “verified” tweeters, but also with other casual fans. The legacy of a particular game is still determined by the outcome, however, with twitter we now share in the journey of the game. We comment on every missed call, penalty, foul call, homer run, pitch, double play etc.. It creates an even more dramatic rollercoaster and you digest that the experts’ perspective in real time. It enhances (or detracts from) your experience watching the game or can often add perspective that you would usually have to wait for by the end of the game. We indict players and teams on a minute to minute basis in a way that was never done in such a public manner. The more intense or important the game, the greater the scrutiny of every play. The phrase “let’s not rush judgment” has been seemingly made obsolete with the advent of twitter and the “trending topic.” The trending topic lays itself for overreaction and no one is immune.

It’s also fascinating the see the antagonistic relationship that exists between journalist and fan. It usually goes something like this: Fan accuses journalist/expert of being biased, racist, offensive or disrespecting a player or team. Journalist/expert dismisses fan in condescending manner. Fan reacts with an immature comment usually calling the journalist/expert a name. Journalist/Expert #blocked. While that can get old and is at best mildly amusing, it has highlighted the tumultuous relationship between sports journalist and fan.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of the long-time journalists, but judging by their apoplectic and curt reactions to fans’ tweets, the twitter journalist seems to be shocked by the idiocy of sports fans. Even more fascinating is reading what and who the journalist decides to respond to publicly. Rarely anyone who seems to fall in line with their perspective and even more rare someone who presents a good point. It seems as though a large portion of the public replies are the fringe fanatics who are usually concerned with conspiracy theories and/or repeating tired narratives that have long been disproven. It’s as if by portraying the fan in a less than positive light, the journalist is saying “hey remember I am STILL the expert”. Which is valid, but tends to rub the fan the wrong way, especially those who want to interact with the journalist in manner where they can actually gain some of their unique perspective. The fan vs. athlete, pundit vs. pundit, fan vs. pundit, pundit vs. athlete, athlete vs. athlete banter is what make twitter magnetic whether or not the game is actually being played.

Has twitter made the narrative as important as the game itself? That’s yet to be seen, but we’re certainly on the way.

As far as non-controversies are concerned, the David Stern/Jim Rome riff tops the list thus far.  To recap: Jim Rome straightforwardly asked Commissioner David Stern, in all sincerity, “was the fix in for the lottery?” referring to the New Orleans Hornets winning the first overall pick.  New Orleans had been owned by the NBA and was sold recently; Stern was also involved in the vetoing of the original trade involving Chris Paul  – a move I defended as he acted in his role as owner of the franchise with other league officials.  (For basketball reasons, vetoing that trade was smart)  Stern retorted in classic, snide, Stern way: “I have two answers for that: I’ll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking.”  After some back and forth about the ridiculousness of the question versus Rome’s job to ask what people are wondering, Stern fired off the line that got everyone up in arms: “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?  At this point most people did not care to hear the rest of the interview and missed Rome handling the question with “Yeah, I don’t know if that’s fair” and a renewed discussion of public perception, Stern suggesting Rome asked the question for as a “cheap trick”, a practice Stern suggested Rome made a living off of, Rome being offended (gasp!), and an abrupt ending.

Whew.  Deadspin has the audio which you can find on their site by clicking here.

Why is this not nearly a big deal as everyone made it out to be?  Well, because it is gamesmanship between two Type-A media darlings (sarcasm Chika) and a ton of ignorance about the entire situation.  First, the question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” was not personally directed at Rome, a guy who has no history of domestic violence.  It is a classic/famous/infamous/slick/wise-arse rhetorical logic game to illustrate a compromising position when answering said question.  Yes = I previously beat my wife but I stopped; No = I have not stopped beating my wife, thanks for asking.  The use of this trick (and general illustrations of loaded questions) can be frequently found among lawyers and products of law school training.  What do you know…Stern graduated from Columbia Law School so the phrasing was probably easy for him to employ.  Rome, to his credit, seemed to be aware of the turn of speech and didn’t take offense.  Many others – certainly his listeners- did not know and started comparing Stern’s question to that asked of Dez Byrant about his mother by the Miami Dolphins GM Jim Ireland: Is your mother a prostitute?

I want to be clear that I do think Jim Rome is not wrong for asking the question; his viewers and most people (not me) believe the draft was fixed so asking upfront would seem to help clarify the issue (though we all know that it did not matter what the Commish says because people believe what they want.  If he just said no, would people say: “Oh, glad we cleared that up”?  Doubt it.)  While Rome asked a reasonable question, the assertion behind the question (the fact that it needed to be asked) is offensive and irritating if the draft is not fixed.  No one asks that question if they believe the league to be genuine in its efforts.  That is Stern’s point: it questions his integrity and that would piss me off too.  Sure he could’ve taken the high ground and kept saying “no” and moved on as suggested by Yahoo! Sport’s Dan Devine (who blasted the Commish for his petty shot) but sometimes you get sick of answering questions that call you into question.  To Stern’s point, later in the interview he acknowledged that people would constantly think the draft was fixed regardless of if New Orleans won the pick:

“I commented last night in my presser that there was one guy who I won’t dignify by naming who says, ‘I have no reason to know anything, and I don’t know anything, but I tell you, I believe it’s fixed.’ OK, that’s good. Why is that? ‘Well, because this team won.’ And if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also, and if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also. And if every team was invited to have a representative there, and there were four members of the media there, and if Ernst and Young certified it, would you still think it? ‘Yes.’”

And no one whining about conspiracies today can reasonably respond: “I would not have suggested it was fixed if [insert other team here] won the draft.”  This is classic hate the guy in power business (plus unresolved shadiness in the Patrick Ewing draft but I digress).  Bobcats win it?  A gift to Michael Jordan to jump start the ship.  Wizards?  Great to place two great Kentucky players together – maybe lure Coach Cal. Cavaliers?  Lebron James back in the finals – let’s build them up to compete for the East.  (Remember, that was the theory last year for the Cavs).  Nets?  Team is going to Brooklyn, let’s make sure they open up with a huge splash.  It’s always a conspiracy to conspiracy theorists and it gets old and is tiring.

So yeah a whole lot of nothing and hot air and misunderstandings.  Not like we should be talking about this or that I spent 900 words on it.  Oops, non-story.

Contrary to popular media opinion the 2012 NBA Finals is more than a battle between good and evil Kevin Durant and Lebron James.  In a star driven sport popularized and polarized between Lebron and anti-Lebron, one can understand the fascination with seeing the greatest basketball player on Earth and the second greatest player in the league.  The Editor-In-Chief addressed the gap between the two stars so I will address the other storylines that should get some attention over the next 4,5,6, or 7 games (if necessary).

Derek Fisher – Still Fighting

Fisher finished off the Spurs by hitting clutch shots to extend a perilous lead to reach another NBA Finals last week.  This is the same embattled Fisher that could not get it done with the Lakers as the 16 seasons finally caught up to him.  Oh the joy of seeing Fisher be a genuine part of the Thunder who knocked off the Lakers and appears as a favorite to pass Kobe Bryant for championship rings.  Yes, it helps that the guy the Lakers were worried about covering (Russell Westbrook) is now your teammate but that doesn’t change Fisher’s desire and will to make big plays when it matters.  Oh and let’s not forget the bigger Eff-You going to Billy Hunter, the Executive Director of the NBA Players Association.  Hunter tried to force Fisher to resign his position as President of the aforementioned association when Fisher suspected foul monetary play – which he (I think) is right about in totality.  Sticking it to the team that cut you is one thing but showing up on the largest stage when someone tried to ruin your name is another thing all together.  Definitely rooting for him to win a title and shove it in Hunter’s face in his soon to be raided corrupt office.

Mario Chalmers – Finals MVP

Not my Finals MVP but he will need to be there for the Heat to win.  Chalmers should be assigned the toughest role in defending Westbrook but the third year man out of Kansas is entering the Finals with the best playoff series of his career and not actually assigned to Russ.  All signs point to some double teaming of Wade or James which means Chalmers needs to step up as a leader of the non-big three.  Conversely, Chalmers cannot slow down the pace when in the open court, something he regretted after a Lebron James cursing out for three minutes.  The Heat WILL lose if their Big Three are the only ones scoring late in games.  Chalmers will need to be the guy to set the table but also take shots with confidence.

Russell Westbrook – Pressure Cooker

Lebron and the Heat have the most pressure on them to win but if they do all of the blame will fall at the feet of Russell Westbrook, a phenomenon that is not new.  When Westbrook carried the Thunder earlier in the playoffs no one cared because the world collectively fought to pay compliments to Durant’s greatness.  When the Thunder loss, Westbrook needed to change.  Too selfish.  Too immature.  He is under immense pressure to be himself but feed the super-duper star.  He can handle it.  Westbrook answered many questions about his decision making and shooting this season, his best of his young career.

Chris Bosh – Equalizer

Bosh was the second best player for the Heat in each playoff series last year.  His absence this year cost the Heat (possibly?) with more games played, energy expended, and more pressure on the team as a whole.  Bosh plays and the Heat win.  The record speaks for itself.  Bosh’s health is critical but a healthy Bosh effectively spreads the defense, moving Ibaka or Perkins out to help James or Wade get to the lane and finish at the basket.  Grantland’s Robert Mays goes into detail about Bosh’s value summed up as: “Using Bosh as a screener/3-point threat (an idea for which Heat coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t seem to be getting enough credit) opened up the rest of the Miami offense in a way that it had struggled to against the Celtics. When the Heat went small with Bosh at the five and sitting in the corner, it prevented Kevin Garnett from playing the normal defensive center field that he’d been allowed to play all series…Oklahoma City has more lineup [but] the Thunder will likely be forced to go small as well. That leaves Serge Ibaka as the lone post defender, and if Bosh can consistently put together what he did in Game 7, it may leave none at all.”

Big Three Philosophy

Personally, the “Big Three” needs to be added to sports platitudes/saying that have no genuine meaning.  I believe a Big Three need to all be starters like the original, modern big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.  Miami has a big three.  Oklahoma City has three great players but a big two.  Which big three wins out may revitalize or end this argument as many point to the Spurs who never had a big three with Duncan-Parker + Ginobili until “Big Three” became as popular as drinking games associated with Mad Men.

Dwyane Wade – The Magician

He disappears for halves at a time.  Comes up when it matters most (last eight minutes) which excuses the pressure put on his teammates to keep the Heat in contention for 38 minutes.  His play may be excused to injury, but I don’t think Lebron will get that pass (see “phantom” elbow injury).  Step up or prepare to incur the rather of not being there for Lebron.

So those are a few things I will keep an eye out for but allow me to give my two cents on the biggest star with the most to lose.  Do you remember when people felt the utmost disgust for Michael Vick and dogfighting?  Remember when people hated him and felt that he did one of the worst things ever?  Remember when people could not believe that he went to jail while other crimes go unpunished kicking off a silly debate over prosecuting some things versus others?  What I remember most is the emphasis of doing the time for the crime and getting a second chance.  Most hatred for Lebron James can be summarized by “The Decision” and the subsequent pre-success party with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  No crime.  No death.  Just the most talented player in the world, a guy blessed with everything in his mid-twenties, being arrogant and making a bad decision.  To date he has apologized numerous times, still helps out the community (in Akron and Miami), gives his all every single night leading to the tune of a finals appearance, MVP, and another finals appearance.  And we as a society continue to hate him for a mistake that, honestly, a blip on the radar.  As much as I love Russell Westbrook, I hope the Heat win and we can hopefully end this absurd disdain of a marvelous player.  But with rating projected to be through the roof, I hope America doesn’t back down in the clutch to giving Lebron James a second chance as the hate is blocking a very simple fact: America is underappreciating one of the greatest players to ever walk on to a basketball court.

Heat in Six.