Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Miscellaneous Me

The August edition of Miscellaneous Me contains a number of short stories to wrap up the summer and welcome in the fall/football season.

- I sat on the beach with my dad a few weeks back, watching two seagulls battle over territory. They were really going at it, biting at each other's beaks, locked in a tussle. The fight was finally decided when one bird was scared away, not by the other bird, but by a little boy swinging a shovel. Ah, the circle of life.

- It was reported this month that Hall of Fame baseball player Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig's Disease. A study was showing that he may have instead had a disease similar to ALS. I don't think this needs a follow-up joke or analogy. Lou Gehrig not having Lou Gehrig's Disease speaks for itself.

- Avon Barksdale was in Remember the Titans. This amused me for some reason.

- In the fourth novel of the Harry Potter series, world famous seeker Viktor Krum attends Hogwarts School for the semester to participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Quidditch is the only wizarding sport that exists and he is the most famous Quidditch player in the world. Is there even a real-life equivalent to this? The closest thing I can imagine would be if LeBron James came to your high school to compete in a science fair. A big enough deal was not made of this.

- Leroy "Satchel" Paige is probably the greatest pitcher who ever lived. He wasn't allowed in the major leagues until his 40's so we will never really know. All we do know are the stories. Satchel would purposely walk the bases loaded just to strike out the side. He would tell his outfielders to sit down in the grass during innings because he wouldn't need them. Satch would then strike out all three batters. Talk about being an entertainer. Now we're so easily impressed by quality starts thrown. I'd like to see Ubaldo Jimenez call in his outfielders next start.

- My family went to dinner at a restaurant on Long Beach Island. The restaurant ran out of two different entrées, two different dessert dishes, and tea all in one night. Yes, they ran out of tea. They still had paper to write our check on though.

- I called the Kansas City Chiefs my 2010 NFL sleeper team more than a month before Bill Simmons hopped on that bandwagon. I'm not saying he stole my reasoning and conclusion because there seems to be a limited chance he read my column about it. But, in the very least, if I end up being right, can we remember this? If I'm wrong, then I of course don't care.

- This summer has been home to quite a baseball story that has gotten pretty much ignored. The early part of the year saw everyone and their uncle going crazy about 2010 being the year of the pitcher. I was on board with it as well. However, a more impressive story has developed: dueling triple crown battles. Albert Pujols and Joey Votto each stand in the top three in the NL in all three triple crown categories. Miguel Cabrera also stands near the top in batting average, home runs, and RBI's in the AL. Not only might this negate the belief of it being the year of the pitcher; but this also allows me to bring up Colin Cowherd's insanely stupid rant from earlier this year about how Joey Votto did not deserve to make the all-star team.

- Who made a quicker vault into fantasy stardom, Chris Johnson or Kevin Durant? They are both number one in their respective sports after attending college only three years ago.

- Pre-season football is the epitome of summer. So much is made of something that should just be enjoyed at a relaxing and calm pace. People need to learn to appreciate it for what it is: scouting for late round fantasy sleepers and nothing more.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A full year fantasy

Today is one of only a handful of days in the year where fantasy football is open but the season has not quite started, fantasy basketball is open, and so is fantasy hockey. In addition, fantasy baseball is winding down. In essence, the month of September is host to every fantasy sport, with baseball and football in full swing, and basketball and hockey in drafting/preparation stages. I have, as have many others, noticed this and since that point, my life has lost all purpose other than figuring out a way to create a year round fantasy league that includes each of the four major sports. This dream is still in the beginning phases and is not much more than theory at this point, yet it must be shared to at least create the avenues of discussion on such a topic. Full year fantasy will be a reality.

To use a sports reference, the play call is easy; it is the execution that will create trouble. Knowing what we need for a full year fantasy league is easy; implementing and ironing out details is the tricky part. I know what ingredients are needed to make fajitas but that doesn't mean I can cook a good one. Just because I know when a word is misspelled does not mean I necessarily know the correct spelling. Should I keep going with this analogy? I'm kind of in a groove.

The parameters are the easy part. We need a roster of players from each sport and some sort of bench/disabled list. We need to draft these players (preferably once and never again I.E. a dynasty league). We need to have the 'season' begin and end at a certain time of the year that coincides the best with the four sports' seasons. This needs a scoring system that will fairly balance the importance of each position. That's all simple stuff. Getting into specifics is where I lose my way Hansel and Gretel style.

(That's right. I am not above a classic children's fairy tale reference to complete an apt analogy.)

I would try to take these one by one but as you will see, the problems run into each other rather quickly. Rather than attempt it, I am going to go at this like gangbusters moving from point to point, weaving and darting, never coming to a solid conclusion yet always sounding like I should be.

The key to making a league like this work is freedom. There must be very little freedom allowed.

The rules cannot be established fairly with very much wiggle room. Otherwise, owners would be able to choose their own course of action to try to win, whether that be balancing each sport equally, focusing on one sport, punting one sport, or another possibility in between. Those techniques, on the surface, are fine. In fact, they should be encouraged. However, combining sports would allow for the taking advantage of loopholes and creating teams that win because they thwart the system, rather than because they are the most talented. Because of this, the scoring system is vital and must be points-based. Head to head scoring wouldn't work because players could unevenly stack their teams based on how and when the league championships are awarded. Rotisserie scoring wouldn't work either because the athletes would be unfairly balanced. An NHL goalie would end up being much more valuable than, say, Kevin Durant just based on using that scoring system alone. Sure Durant would produce well in all the basketball categories, but an NHL goalie, or an NFL kicker would sway the standings because being first in extra points would be as valuable as leading the league in rebounds. Roto is out. That leaves points scoring. This system awards each stat a point value. The team with the highest amount of points accumulated wins. Of course this is where I lose my way for the first time. How would this work either? I would need to create some sort of super formula taking into account the amount of players and production from each position in each sport and mathematically award values to the stat based on how prevalent it would be. Otherwise, a similar problem to using roto would surface. An RBI could be valued at 1 point but so would a block in basketball. However, RBI's are way more abundant than blocks. Thus, drafting a shot blocker would be a waste when there is some average baseballer who could simply accumulate 80-90 RBI's for the year. How many NBA guys are getting 90 blocks a season? Since I don't have the time or the know-how to create that super formula, the only way around it is to have set rosters.

Each owner must be forced to draft a minimum amount of every position from every sport. All four sports need to be represented, but not equally. As for the roster makeup, as a baseline we'd need five NBA players (C, PF, SF, SG, PG), six NHL players (G, two D, C, two W), eight NFL players (QB, two RB, two WR, TE, K, DE/St), and something like 11 MLB players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, three OF, three pitchers). These would be standards each team has to meet. The rest of the roster, again without allowing too much wiggle, could be filled as the owner desires. Thus, one person may try to scoop up a bunch of NFL QB's while another goes after a handful of MLB Outfielders. Whatever the final roster tally ends up being, at least those 30 slots will be mandatory.

As you can see, what might make the most sense is to have very few rotatable roster slots. Perhaps the full rosters should only be 35 slots. The more 'utility' spots available, the thinner the ice gets. No one will ever draft a second NBA center or MLB catcher. In fact, there are only four or five positions that will get drafted to fill those extra spots. MLB pitchers will collect hundreds of strikeouts; NBA forwards collect hundreds of points and rebounds; MLB power hitters collect hundreds of RBI's and runs scored. Those are about it. It makes for a very awkward roster building stage. I told you there were lots of kinks still to work out.

I feel like "the season" aspect of this is the easy part. The full year fantasy season must include the most time of all four sports. The easiest way would be to have it begin during the MLB all-star break and end at next year's all-star break. Thus, one fantasy season would include the second half of a baseball season, an entire NFL season, an entire NBA season, an entire NHL season, and the first half of the next baseball season. This makes the most sense chronologically. Now, you ready for the downside? The fantasy championship would then be decided only by baseball players. All three other seasons would be completed by then. This could make for interesting wheelings and dealings or it could just be terrible.

So that's all the bad stuff, the confusing, holes-riddled league plans. But how great will the good stuff be? Just imagine being in a league where you can trade Dwyane Wade for Roy Halladay. And there will be no off-season. Sure, certain players will get time off, but your team will be in constant battle for that title. The only break needed will be those four days during the MLB all-star break where the league winner gets his prizes, rosters are updated, and everyone gets ready to go at it again.

Now obviously there are a zillion problems that need addressing before this fantasy can become...real fantasy. I know people currently participate in the best alternative to full year fantasy that could work right now: they have four leagues in the four sports with all the same owners. And yet, there is no cross-sport scoring or trading. It is the best we have, but nothing close to good enough. All the input in the world is needed on this. If you are friends or associates with any type of math professor or quantum mechanic, tell them to take a look at my blueprints and offer feedback. Contact your local Nate Silvers and Christopher Harrises and get their input as well.

Of course this topic will have to be addressed again in The Sports Pinata. It is too incomplete to leave where it is. I just felt the need to get the idea out there to my legions of fans....okay maybe 'legions' is a bit strong....to my score of fans. A score is 20 right? That might still be a high estimate. Nevertheless, the process of obtaining a full year fantasy league that works has begun.

(Image taken from entrepreneur.com)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An enigma wrapped in a riddle

Through the dog days of August, the lull in the calendar where the heat builds, the football season hasn't quite started yet, and the baseball season is a grind, there comes a time where sports fans get too critical. Brett Favre helped to fill some of this year's void and focused hatred. Tiger Woods aided in a similar fashion. Even the FIBA basketball games have been a thing to discuss, mostly because of who is not on the American team, rather than who is. Yet through it all, I still feel it necessary to ask myself one baseball question that I could not sweep under the rug like so many others: is A.J. Burnett the worst value in the history of sports?

Of course this seems like a bit of an overstatement. After all, Burnett had some good years to warrant his Yankees contract. In fact, earlier this season, The Hardball Times ran an article about the biggest fantasy disappointments of the year and Burnett made the list. This website expected big things from him, and they weren't alone. For some reason, A.J. Burnett fooled most of the country into thinking he was actually a good pitcher.

Now I pride myself on never overreacting to sports, especially baseball. The season is so damn long, I don't even look into making a fantasy trade until May or June. When a proven player struggles, there is no reason to panic. Proven players always reach close to what is expected of them. Sometimes they have a poor year, sometimes a great year, yet usually the end stats of every season approach the mean. For example, I have not worried a single day about the production of fellow Yankee, Mark Teixeira. Sure his batting average is not where it was expected to be, but his numbers get to where they usually end up. So I wouldn't be so inclined to be upset with Burnett if I had a feeling his numbers would reach what is expected of him.

No wait, let me rephrase that. I wouldn't be so inclined to be upset with Burnett if I had a feeling his numbers would reach what everyone seems to unrealistically expect of him. A.J. Burnett is the epitome of a sports one-hit wonder. He had a couple seasons that weren't bad. He had a couple seasons that were bad. And he had one very good season, 2008, and it is not even worth calling it a great season. He's barely over .500 for his career. His career BB/K is barely over 2. And for being thought of as a stud strikeout pitcher, he has only struck out 200 batters in a season twice. Where is the evidence that Burnett has ever been a great pitcher who is under-performing, rather than an average pitcher who can throw a complete game every now and then?

I'm going to now pull a Bill Simmons by referencing my own comments from another platform and pretend like I'm not repeating myself: I recently tweeted that I would rather have Stephen Strasburg for the rest of this season than A.J. Burnett. For the non-baseball fans out there, Strasburg is done for the year. But the exaggeration of that statement is not too far off. There is never a Burnett outing where I expect him to last six innings anymore. 8 earned through 3.2 seems like the norm nowadays. The Yankees recently announced they would give rookie Ivan "Super" Nova another start, in replace of the struggling Javier Vasquez. The Super Nova certainly deserved another start, but even with Javy pitching so poorly, I'd have rather seen Burnett get bumped to the pen. And that has nothing to do with who I see pitching better from a relief role. I'm just really tired of see Burnett take the mound.

When the Yankees signed Burnett prior to last season, I wasn't thrilled. The money didn't matter at all, but I couldn't understand the fascination with the player. He was averagely mediocre last year but we won the World Series so it's all water under the bridge. Now, a season later, his performance is still sort of irrelevant. He's been dreadful and the Yankees still have the best record in baseball. And yet, what if he wasn't on the team? After all, the Yankees are tied for their division lead. They are by no means guaranteed a playoff berth with a 78-50 record. Burnett is responsible for 12 of those 50 losses. He lost every start he made in June. He hasn't won a single decision in August either. He has a negative WAR rating. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. It is a formula to determine how many wins a certain player is worth above a completely average replacement player. It is not a perfect stat of course, and yet it still measures success. A.J. Burnett owning a negative WAR implies he has hurt the Yankees more than if they had replaced him with any remotely coherent minor leaguer.

Last year, the Yankees employed a three man rotation come playoff time. They could do something similar this season with Sabathia, Pettitte (who returns in two weeks hopefully) and Hughes. This is anything but ideal, and yet it worked well enough a year ago. In the end, they'll go with who they can trust and I don't see that being Burnett. Hopefully he turns things around, but then we'll still have to come to grips with him having a guaranteed contract through the 2013 season. Talk about bang for your buck. At least he's good at pieing people in the face.

(Image taken from nydailynews.com)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Living in the past

It is the year 2010 and some people still participate in fantasy drafts using the 'snake' format. For the unaware, a snake draft is the common style where one person picks at a time and the selection process follows through one team after another. When everyone has selected a player of their choice, the order then reverses back on itself in a snake fashion, allowing the person who selected last in the first round to select again, going first in the second round. And so forth. Snake drafts are used routinely. I know this because I am one of these people who uses them, although not by choice. I also know this because for the fantasy league that I created, which of course utilizes the auction draft capability, I have had many people decline to join citing the fact that they don't like or aren't familiar with auction style drafts. To put this argument in some perspective, imagine that you were trying to persuade a friend to see a movie. "You still haven't seen The Dark Knight. Go see it," you say. Your friend then responds by saying, "Nah. No thanks. I'm not big on movies with color. I prefer black and white films."

I am sure a similar conversation to that may have taken place once or twice when refracted light and color was first added to the film genre. Perhaps one of Charlie Chaplin's relatives was against going to see this color movie, or just a person scared of change was. But after a week or two, I'm sure everyone was on board. The same cannot be said of fantasy auction drafts. Even though it is well perfected and has no clear downside, people are still against making the switch.

The argument for snake drafts is easy. Snake drafts are simple and painless and require very little thought. I'm American; I'm busy; I play fantasy sports but only because it's cool to and not because I enjoy the process. If I was really a huge fantasy sports fan anyway, I'd play baseball and not football. Football is the cop-out of fantasy sports. There are only 16 days where I have to check on my roster. After that, let luck take my team where it desires. Since I am all of these things, I do snake drafts. I only have to pay attention on my turn. I usually just take the best player available, and especially if my league only contains 10 teams, my roster will fill out nicely no matter what I do. That is the snake draft argument in a large, rather obnoxious, nutshell.

Convincing a snake drafter to abandon their prehistoric drafting style and participate in auctions is about as hard as de-housing a hermit. Yet I don't understand the hesitation. Auction drafts are capitalistic, engaging, and everything we want out of our fantasy experience. In this type of fantasy sports draft, an auction takes place, just as the name hints at. Each player is put up for bid. The person who bids the most wins the player. Each team has a set budget and set roster to fill. The concept is simple. The execution is anything but.

The real downside to a snake draft is the lack of freedom. If you are dealt the sixth overall pick, you have no shot at the five best players. That is that. There is nothing to be done. There is no point in complaining, and there is no getting around it. Sounds like a dictatorship of a draft to me. And what if you have the first pick but would have rather "traded down" than select the number one player? Too bad. There is no trading down in fantasy drafts, and by not selecting that best player, you would be putting yourself up for ridicule and humiliation. But not only that, you would be hurting your team. The draft slot you are forced to draft in is about value and wasting the top pick value to select a seemingly lesser player is bad business. You'd be better off taking that top guy and trying to trade him as soon as the draft ends. Talk about an ordeal.

Now let's say you have ventured in to the wonderful world of auctions. Here it rains skittles and everyday is 74 degrees outside. In the world of auctions, there is no draft slotting. You are free to make whatever type of roster you wish. If you want to spend 90% of your money and grab the top three players in the league, go ahead. If you want to wait out the other teams, and grab bargain after bargain later on, go ahead. If you want to draft Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers even though you can probably only start one (depending on league settings of course) go ahead. Auctions give us the freedom we deserve as American citizens. No more should we be bogged down by the dictatorship that is a snake draft.

But the auction has still more to offer, if you can believe it. Auctions are more complex than that. You are free to screw other players by who you nominate and how you bid. And what's more fun in fantasy sports than screwing over your friend? Bidding up a player you aren't interested in just to force your buddy to spend more of his dough is the epitome of friendship. And yet, you always risk the possibility of the reverse screw. Bid up said player $1 too much and get stuck with him. This is part of perhaps the best thing about auctions: having to pay attention and adjust on the fly.

I've already made it clear that snake drafts are for the lazy and uninformed. Thus, auctions are for the players who love their fantasy sports and want to be challenged. There is no strategy to think about before a snake draft takes place. You wait to see what position you are slotted in, wait to see who is drafted before your pick, and then click someone. Do that 15 more times and you're done. In an auction however, strategy must be continually adjusted for the market. You can come up with a plan prior to the draft yet be forced to change it when something goes awry.

For example, coming into this season's fantasy baseball draft, for my auction I was targeting a few players, but also eying a few guys to avoid. For my third baseman, I wanted a second tier player, who would cost me less but not produce much less than the top guys. Evan Longoria got nominated, and I decided not to bid. I thought I could get Ryan Zimmerman for less, and he wasn't much worse of a player. Well, apparently another owner had similar thoughts. Zimmerman got nominated and we bid back and forth until I came out victorious, yet spent a bunch more than I had hoped to. I could have passed on Zimm too, yet then been forced to pick through scraps to fill my 3B slot. Instead, I spent some more and had to adjust later, not having as much money left as I had anticipated. That's an auction at its finest. Even if you have a plan and want to stick to it, there are always adjustments to make. To me that's what makes fantasy sports fun.

So if you love your fantasy sports dry and bland, by all means, stick to your snake draft format. But if you enjoy thinking out moves, anticipating opponents' decisions, altering game plans in a moment's notice, and want to get the most out of your 'fantasy' then do a damn auction.

By the way, I am in no way affiliated with the trademark of auction drafting, nor compensated for this post, yet sending me money for the advertisement would not be frowned upon. I'm looking at you ESPN Live Auction capability!

(Image taken from postercentral.com)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gimmicky NFL Power Rankings

Preseason NFL football is about as interesting as regular season NBA basketball. I don't watch unless I have a very good reason to. The games essentially mean nothing. Sure, guys are playing for jobs and minutes come games that matter, but that's not enough to make me watch. However, one large difference remains. Whereas regular season NBA leads to the NBA playoffs that drag on for weeks and weeks and crown a champion that everyone predicted from before the season had even started, the NFL preseason leads to the ultimate pot of gold: the NFL regular season.

Of course we can't start the regular season without first knowing where everyone stands and who the favorites are. The NFL, unlike any other sport, has massive turnover with playoff teams. Every season a handful of teams hop across that line. Super Bowl runner-ups had been known to miss the playoffs for many years running in fact. It's hard to figure out what an NFL season will have in store. The most effective way to do this would be to examine each team's strengths and weaknesses, as well as their schedule and injuries and factor everything in to a large matrix and come up with an output. The easiest way to do this, on the other hand, is to do a gimmicky power rankings list. I have chosen the latter.

Writing gimmick columns is common practice. Bill Simmons is known for it. Hell, his most famous type of column is a mailbag where he lets all his readers write half the info and Bill fills in the blanks. ESPN's other big name, Matthew Berry, is a great gimmick writer as well. Rather than simply have a bland column of facts being listed or stats being listed, he labels them "10 Lists of 10" or "You Heard Me" to make them sound bold and eye-catching even if they aren't. It works. They are great reads. The key to a gimmick article is to know when you need to fill in for a lack of body. And, most importantly, you have to do the same type of post again at some point, otherwise it'd just be a dumb column. Doing that dumb column religiously makes it fun and gimmicky.

In honor of English being my first language, the NFL Power Rankings at The Sports Piñata will be a word game, and almost entirely written in English. Por que? Porque I said so, that's why.

32. St. Louis Rams - Sigh.

31. Buffalo Bills - Oh brother.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mature quickly Josh.

29. Cleveland Browns - Remember that LeBron guy?

28. Seattle Seahawks - Holmgren left for a reason.

27. Detroit Lions - I see promise, in 2011 perhaps.

26. Denver Broncos - Talk about catching the injury bug early.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers - Bound to start slow and will not recover.

24. Oakland Raiders - Major upgrade at QB goes well with winning more.

23. Arizona Cardinals - Remember when Matt Leinart was good? Neither does Larry Fitzgerald.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars - They seem to be getting worse everywhere other than running back.

21. Philadelphia Eagles - No McNabb means no conference title loss but no playoff berth either.

20. Carolina Panthers - Will they miss Delhomme? Nah, but the rest of that team a'int great.

19. Washington Redskins - They'll be better but who do they jump? Tough division and aging skill players.

18. Miami Dolphins - Look for Chad Henne to be 2010 Joe Flacco in 2012. If that makes sense.

17. Atlanta Falcons - Good running game with a great wide receiver should help develop a spotty, yet talented quarterback.

16. Tennessee Titans - Maybe Chris Johnson does gain 2,500 yards from scrimmage but playoff hopes rest on Vince Young's shoulders.

15. Chicago Bears - Defense can't be that bad. Jay Cutler wasn't actually terrible. Matt Forte was. The Bears will be average.

14. San Francisco 49ers - Everyone sees them as a trendy pick this year. They will win a terrible division and go no further.

13. Cincinnati Bengals - Owens' impact will be minimal. Same with Chad's. Running and defense will leave them just shy of the playoffs though.

12. Houston Texans - Their year is always 'next year' and 2010 is no different. They'll be on the outside looking in on the playoffs.

11. Kansas City Chiefs - If this doesn't make sense, read my July post 'Making The Leap.' You still might not agree, but will see the rationale.

10. New England Patriots - Can you see Brady, Moss, Welker, Belichick and that defense missing the playoffs? I don't yet. 2011 may be a different story though.

9. New York Giants - Kenny Phillips is the new Bob Sanders. With him healthy, this defense will be spectacular again. Bradshaw starting over Jacobs would help the offense.

8. Baltimore Ravens - I see big things in Mr. Flacco's immediate future. Adding a number one receiver can't hurt a developing QB with a laser for an arm.

7. San Diego Chargers - Bye bye Ladainian. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Oh no, sit down Darren. Come on in Ryan, we've been expecting you.

6. New York Jets - This hinges on Darrelle Revis. If he comes to camp soon, this team will win the AFC East. If he doesn't, they won't. I think he will.

5. Minnesota Vikings - Great run defense, great skill players, and another playoff berth simply hinges on the jerkiness of one rostered player. I'd rather root for Mike Vick than Brett Favre.

4. Dallas Cowboys - Perhaps the best defense in the conference is aided by perhaps the best offense in the conference. One of those 'perhaps' won't come true. That's why they're only fourth.

3. Indianapolis Colts - Eventually, like the Patriots, the Colts will stop winning. It won't be this year however. It seems as though this year's offense will actually be better than last year's version.

2. Green Bay Packers - This offense is great. We know that part. The defense should have been great last year but was ravaged by injury. They'll make up for it by being great this year.

1. New Orleans Saints - The defending champs get 32 words. No preseason rankings list makes any kind of sense if last year's title winner is not number one going in. Bottom line is offense wins championships.

So there you have it. By definition to make this a gimmick, I'll have to do this again at some point. The next Gimmicky NFL Power Rankings will be written sometime before the playoffs. You Heard Me!

(Image taken from webcastr.com)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Banana Split

Most of the time in sports, we get things right. When a player accomplishes something, we celebrate it. Fans enjoy seeing players reach milestones or goals, even if they aren't team accomplishments. When a running back rushes for 200 yards in one game, we make a big deal about it, and rightly so. That's one hell of an afternoon. If a pitcher throws a no-hitter (no matter how prevalent it has recently become) it is something to cherish. Putting up a double-double in a basketball game is rather commonplace, yet the sign of a solid afternoon.

Occasionally there are events celebrated that are understandable, yet a bit over the top. Derek Jeter recently passed Babe Ruth on the all-time hits list. Sure, that is a nice thing for Derek. But Jeter was already the all-time Yankees' hits leader. He reached that milestone last season. And Ruth, although a fantastic player, was something like 38th on this list. Big deal. The name meant more than what Derek actually accomplished. So, if it meant something to him, then so be it. Good for him, passing a legend, but let's leave it at that.

I feel the same way when a team makes a bowl game in college football. Perhaps if it is their first bowl appearance in school history, we can celebrate it, but other than that, is there any conceivable reason to be proud of this? The way college basketball is going, making the NCAA tournament will be thought of in the same vein. With so many schools reaching this goal, how great can it be?

On the other hand, every so often in sports, there is an accomplishment celebrated that is so inane, so utterly pointless, that people cheer as if it means something. The only sport this happens in is baseball. The only event that spurs such a reaction is when a player hits for the cycle.

Hitting for the cycle: the dumbest accolade in sports. The first true test of whether something is dumb is how completely random it is. For you see, most of the time, when a player has a chance to hit for the cycle, they are not trying to, or shouldn't be trying to get there. The act of actually hitting for the cycle in a baseball game is all circumstance and luck. The second test of idiocy is whether said goal is actually a good thing to reach. Is hitting for the cycle really good? If the alternative can be thought of as better, you have yourself a very dumb accolade.

Joe Jones is coming to the hypothetical plate. There is one out, and his team is trailing by one run. This is his fifth and final at-bat of the game. Coincidentally, (yes, entirely coincidentally) in his first four at-bats, he has gone 3 for 4, with a single, triple, and a home run. Jones is having himself a nice afternoon. Of course, with one out, he needs to get to third base so the next guy up can knock him in with an out. If he hits the ball to deep right center field, does he think about stopping at second base for the double even if he can probably get to third? Does he consider it just for a split second? Does the crowd groan a bit if he passes second base and continues on, knowing he gave up his cycle? Does a fan at home, to himself or quietly aloud, whisper the thought, "ooh, ah, okay, I guess if he gets to third that was a smart play...but still..."? And what if he gets thrown out at third? It is not, inherently, a bad play to make a second out at third base, yet if it was in place of hitting for the cycle, can't you just imagine what the announcer would say?

If this hypothetical Joe Jones scenario is plausible, even possible, what does that say for the accomplishment of hitting for the cycle? When an act, that clearly and without question, hinders the success of your team (stopping at second when you should be able to get to third) is celebrated, where does that leave us?

As a self-proclaimed fan of stats, cycles are even more obnoxious. 'Oh, Jim Jones went 5 for 6 with 5 doubles? That's a nice game for him. But didn't you see John Jones hit for the cycle!?' Jim's afternoon is good for his average and slugging percentage but gets lost in the wind, not to be remembered even two weeks later. Meanwhile, John's day, albeit less impressive than Jim's, will be remembered, in fact it is forever etched in history as another cycle.

Please, for the sake of everyone who is a fan of common sense, do not bring up how historic it would be to hit for five doubles in one game, and just appreciate the exaggerated analogy for what it's worth. The point is, going 5 for 6 with five doubles is not "something." It doesn't have a name, and that makes all the difference. In fact, right now, I want to officially call any game where a player hits five doubles a banana split. Banana splits have two bananas (the double) and five scoops of ice cream (the five). Actually I made that up, but the name stands nevertheless. Now someone contact the Elias Sports Bureau and see how many Banana Splits there have been in major league history. Then we're really getting somewhere.

Okay, where was I? So how great can an accomplishment be if anyone even considers hurting their team to get it? How can that be celebrated when it is even an option? And what about the alternative? If Jeff Jones has a double, triple and home run in a game already, he just needs a single for the cycle. However, a player coming to bat wants extra bases to help his team. So Jeff hits one between the left fielder and center fielder, and makes the valiant attempt to stretch the extra base. Unfortunately he gets thrown out at second. He goes back to the dugout, sullen and disappointed, until he realizes, by making a possible base running error and taking a man off the base paths for his team, he has now hit for a cycle! Hooray! Make sure to inscribe his name in the record books.

The only other possibility where an event like this can take place is with a triple double in basketball. I suppose it is technically possible for a player to have 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists, and to begin to miss every shot he takes on purpose, in order to try to get some extra rebounds. This is possible, yet seems unlikely and out of place. Where as a player foregoing or missing the extra base in an attempt to secure a cycle seems probable and commonplace.

From now on, can we all agree to never give a crap if someone hits for the cycle? I want this to happen. By all means, congratulate him on getting four hits in a game and slugging 2.500 (if he was 4 for 4) but that should be as far as it goes. In the history of baseball, there have been about the same amount of no-hitters as there are times a batter has hit for the cycle. I want to never hear this stat again. No-hitters are impressive. Hitting for the cycle is random and fluky. No one should ever compare them again. Now hitting for the banana split? That's another story.

(Image taken from icecreamjournal.turkeyhill.com)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A trip down memory lane

The year was 1930. Elm Farm Ollie became the first cow to fly in an airplane. Hostess Twinkies were invented. Clint Eastwood was born and Arthur Conan Doyle died. It was also the year not a single man was deemed "most valuable" in Major League Baseball.

The lack of MVP's in 1930 was not as sinister or devious as you might expect. There was no boycott or demonstration. In fact, according to the Baseball Almanac, it was simply due to financial strains. However, the Associated Press, Baseball Writers Association, and The Sporting News polled their members and all selected different winners. The reason was, there were too many guys who had great seasons.

Today people love to chirp about smaller ballparks, juiced baseballs, and steroids. Yet it is just another era. For the uninformed, the baseballs used in 1930 were, for some reason, livelier than ever, and the numbers went on to prove it. Just by the simple fact that there was such a debate over who could have won the MVP says how crazy the numbers put up in 1930 really were.

As their National League MVP, the Baseball Writers Association went with a man standing at just 5'6" as their biggest slugger. His name was Lewis Robert Wilson. Better known by his nickname, Hack Wilson didn't exactly take the league by storm in 1930, considering he had finished in the top dozen of the MVP balloting each of the prior four seasons. Yet this season in particular, Wilson and his Chicago Cubs' teammates decided to put together something special. They finished only two games behind the pennant winning Cardinals thanks to their epic everyday lineup. The Cubs finished first in the league in home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging, and finished in the top five in every major offensive category.

This season, the Cubs, as a team, batted .309. They had five players who sported a batting average of .335 or higher. Five. They had three players drive in over 120 runs. A different group of three each notched over 200 hits in the season, while scoring more than 140 runs a piece.

At the center of the fray was Hack Wilson. In 1930, Hack had his best season ever. This was the year Hack Wilson knocked in 191 RBI's. In our current 2010 season, Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in RBI's with 93, through 111 team games. To reach Hack's record, Cabrera would have to drive in just under 2 runs per game, every game, for the remaining 51 games his team has to play. I feel comfortable calling Wilson's record safe for another year.

But 1930 wasn't all about the runs batted in for Lewis Robert. Besides leading the league in that category, he also finished first in home runs, with 56, walks, drawing over 100, slugging percentage, and OPS, while also batting over .350. His 423 total bases logged in 1930 are the 8th most ever in a season in major league history.

It was a good year. But it might not even have been the best for an NL outfielder, let alone the best in baseball. In that very same season, Chuck Klein put together a campaign for the ages. He did not win any of the newspapers' fake votes, yet he very well could have. 1930 saw Klein lead the league in runs scored and doubles. With those 59 doubles, Klein had 107 extra base hits and 250 total hits. For some perspective, 107 XBH is the third most in a season in baseball history. And remember how Hack Wilson led the league in all those categories? Well he didn't lead it in total bases. Chuck Klein did. With 445, Klein's 1930 total ranks as the 4th most ever in one year. Just for good measure, Chuck batted .386 that season, with an 1.123 OPS.

Much like Hack's Cubs, Klein's Phillies had themselves quite an offensive year, even though they finished dead last in the standings. They sported a team batting average of .315 and, including Klein, had three players with 200+ hits. Last year, only four players in all of baseball ended with more than 200 hits! In fact, there hasn't been a season since the turn of the century where more than eight guys ended with over 200 hits and the 1930 Cubs and Phillies had six such players by themselves. Now you tell me which era has inflated numbers.

Overlooked with all those amazing stats was the fact that both Wilson and Klein walked more times in 1930 than they struck out. Another player who can make that claim, and who won the Sporting News' National League MVP vote, is Bill Terry. Terry led the league in hits and batted over .400. He too had an OPS over a thousand and finished just eight total bases shy of 400. (Keeping with the pattern, Terry's team, the New York Giants, finished with a cumulative batting average of .319).

You know how I love perspective. Well, only one player has recorded at least 400 total bases in the last decade, and that was Sammy Sosa in 2001. We have already seen two of our three 1930 MVP candidates do just that, with Terry finishing just eight bases short. And, as you might have suspected, they were not alone. 1930 also saw Lou Gehrig put up an argument to win MVP, buoyed by his AL leading 419 total bases.

If it wasn't for the shear ridiculousness of the competition, Gehrig's 1930 season would be thought of as MVP caliber for sure. His 174 RBI's, 100 extra base hits, and 1.194 OPS would probably secure him a top three MVP finish nowadays. Especially since he accompanied it with over 200 hits, over 100 walks, and a .379 batting average. In 1930? It wasn't good enough to get a win for MVP from any of the three voting groups.

Along with Gehrig on the outside looking in on the fake MVP race was his teammate, Babe Ruth. Now Ruth and Gehrig's Yankees club was not good enough to make the World Series that year, yet it did have seven of its eight everyday batters hit 20 or more doubles, and the team ended the season batting .309. As for Ruth, he really had a historic season by any measure. That is, unless of course, you are comparing it to other Ruth seasons, or to other players during that 1930 season.

49 home runs and 153 RBI's were the starting points. Drawing 136 walks helped Ruth, once again, lead the league in on-base percentage, with a .493 clip this time around. That sounds impressive enough, until you mention that the Babe had five other seasons with an OBP of over .500. To go with his lead league OBP, Babe batted .359, and led the league in slugging. His 1.225 season OPS is good for the 15th highest ever, trailing four separate Barry Bonds seasons, six more seasons of his own, and a couple other Hall of Fame seasons. Babe Ruth's 1930 was great, just ill-timed and had hard shoes to fill.

So what happened in 1930? Well the ball was alive. That's for sure. That season gave us the most hits ever in a season since the 1800's. There also has not been more runs scored in any year since nor more RBI's. And yes, all those figures count the 'steroid era.' What else happened? There was no player deemed Most Valuable, and the timing could not have been better, because really, who deserved it?

(Image taken from chicago.cubs.mlb.com)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hokie Nation

I am, by necessity, a member of Hokie Nation. I attended Virginia Tech, which was admittedly my choice, however, membership in the nation is now not up to me. Before my school became my alma mater, I attended every Hokies home game for a four year span. This again was kind of my choice, but I really couldn't choose any alternative. I mean I had to go to all those games at Lane Stadium. I had to. In addition, I attended a couple Virginia Tech road games, including an Orange Bowl or two. This was more of a choice than either of the previous choices, yet it still felt like it had to be done. What kind of Hokie would I be if I never saw them play on the road? It would be like claiming I was a Mad Men fan yet never watching it without the aid of a DVR.

Throughout my years, Virginia Tech football won a lot of games and lost very few. In fact, they have won 10 or more games now for six straight seasons. The Hokies won their share of ACC titles during my time as well. That was always the goal: to win the conference. Sure the team was occasionally ranked very high in the polls, but they were never title contenders. After all, they couldn't score with the big boys.

Hokie football has always been about defense and special teams. The defense finishes every season in the top dozen in scoring and total defense. That's their thing. It isn't even a question coming into a season. It is as guaranteed as an SEC program committing recruitment violations. It's a done deal. As for special teams, well that's what we're known for: Beamer Ball. Coach Frank Beamer, unlike most head coaches, takes the special teams in his own hands and makes it a weapon, not just a way to change possession. Blocked kicks and punt returns were a weekly thing.

But 2010 is odd for us Hokie faithful. Sure, the defense lost a lot of starters from last year, and it might be due for a down year, but that's been said before. We aren't worried about Bud Foster's defense. No, the odd thing is the hype surrounding the Virginia Tech offense. Not since Mr. Vick have people thought of a Hokies team as having an offense worth worrying about. Not since Kevin Jones has the offense had one running back worth game planning for, let alone two. Ryan Williams, in his freshman season, was the best running back in the conference. He ran for over 1,600 yards, a Tech record. He scored 22 touchdowns, breaking the ACC record. He could very well challenge for the Heisman Trophy in '10. The only person standing in his way could be teammate Darren Evans. In 2008, Evans' freshman season, he carried the Hokies' offense and went on to win Orange Bowl MVP. The only reason Williams got a chance last year was because Evans got hurt prior to the season, and missed the entire year. A year later, Virginia Tech now boasts a rushing duo to be proud of. It's also been a while since we've had a senior quarterback under center with this much talent and this much promise. Tyrod Taylor is quite the running back in his own right. With such a monstrous dual threat at quarterback, there is no play this offense can't run. And not since, dare I say, Antonio Freeman, has the offense had wide receivers that anyone would bother covering.

(For all those Eddie Royal fans out there, get real. When Eddie was a Hokie, you could leave him be. Believe me. Defensive coordinators weren't up at night worrying about how to cover him on an out route. He was a better wide receiver his NFL rookie year than he ever was in college. Now as a returner...that's another story. Devin Hester had nothing on him.)

The 2010 Virginia Tech offense is rounding into something to be feared. But I'll tell you who is actually scared: Hokie Nation. For you see, this team has never had an offense that made us comfortable. We rarely blew away weaker competition. We rarely saw offensive imagination from our play callers. Hell, the offense rarely outscored the defense and special teams. Now we have a star quarterback in his senior season, yet he's never put together a good season with his arm. We have two of the best running backs in the conference, yet because of injury, they aren't used to sharing a workload or giving up carries. We have a good group of receivers but a question about whether the play calling and quarterback can get them the ball routinely.

Just as stereotypes are developed from truth, or else they wouldn't be developed at all, so are nicknames. Big Game James. You can tell what James Worthy did from that nickname. Mr. October sums up how Reggie Jackson performed come playoff time. Well some people, in the past, have tossed around a nickname for my school: the Virginia Tech Chokies. It is admittedly, slightly clever, yet stings just the same. Virginia Tech is not known for living up to national championship expectations. It has been more than a decade since Tech has made the title game. We lost in 1999, back when Florida State was still good, and Virginia Tech still belonged to the Big East. Since then there have been seasons where the Hokies were ranked inside the top five. Being a top five team, by definition, means you should be battling for the championship. Yet it never seemed like we were, or if we were close, something would go awry.

My feeling of dread always stemmed from a doubt that our offense could ever score if it needed to. Sure, the defense could get us a stop. There was no doubt about that. But if our QB needed to take us 55 yards in under two minutes, I wasn't exactly betting the house it would happen.

So here we are. It is 2010. The season is just around the corner, one month away. Virginia Tech will be ranked in the pre-season top five most likely. Game one will be against an opponent also ranked in the top five in the nation. But that is not the main concern. Hokie Nation is about the big picture. Can the offense actually live up to expectations and run wild on people? Can we be an offensive juggernaut? If so, there is nothing preventing us from running through the ACC and being one of the last two teams standing come New Year's Day. If the offense can actually carry a Virginia Tech team on its back, we are title bound. I am not sold. Or, at least, I need to see it with my own eyes before I jump on board. Is it possible to be dreadfully pessimistic while having ridiculously high hopes? If it is, that's what I am. I am so pumped about the 2010 campaign, and actually watching a team that can score in the 40's. The possibilities make me giddy. And yet, I just can't picture it coming together. Dreadfully hopeful; that's what it feels like to be a member of Hokie Nation.

(Image taken from stadiumpanoramics.com)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Your 2014 New York Yankees

Over the weekend, I spoke with my longtime friend Hal Steinbrenner. We met a number of years ago, at a Mets game oddly enough. For those of you not familiar with last names, Hal Steinbrenner is the son of George, and owns the New York Yankees with his brother Hank. Before we even got into baseball, I had to offer my condolences for the loss of his father. He was quite an interesting fellow, certainly, but a good owner in the fact that he was never afraid to spend his money. That brought me to my main question for Hal. What would change now that you are in charge instead of George? Many people have hypothesized that neither Hal nor Hank 'approved' of the way George ran things. Yet these past few years, even with their father slightly out of the picture, they were afraid to step on his toes. Now with his passing, would the blueprint change? He assured me that the Yankees will still be the Yankees, yet they won't be the Yankees anymore, if I got his drift. I think I did.

The club will still be all about winning, and will not be afraid to spend some extra money to prove it. Evidence of this was seen as the 2010 trade deadline came and went, and the Yankees decided to add a few pieces and a few million to the payroll. However, the future might bring a Yankees organization that isn't afraid to be frugal at times, save prospects, and build rather than buy. Sure, as Hal put it, "we'll still try to bring in a star or two. That never hurts." But I wouldn't expect many more off-seasons like prior to the '09 campaign.

My final question to Hal was about the future look of the team. With a number of big guns reaching the final years of their contracts, what will this team look like in, say, four years? Hal didn't want to give me a straight answer. He just left me with this piece of information: "It won't be the team my dad would have built."

We said our farewells and I hung up. Yet my brain was now in motion. What did that mean and what WOULD the 2014 Yankees look like? Well, using a few nuggets from the 'new' owner, here is what it might look like:

1. Gardner, Brett - LF. Leading off will be left fielder Brett Gardner. He will not be a free agent until 2015, so bringing him back with either a new contract, or through arbitration will not be a problem. Gardner will be 30 years old, in the prime of his career. And if 2010 is any indication, he should be a star by then. In only his second full season, Brett is already a guaranteed 40 steals player from here forward. He also has a .300 batting average and .400 on-base percentage. With just under 50 walks already, and two months still to go in the season, his mixture of speed and getting on base makes him the ultimate lead-off hitter. Gardner won't challenge Rickey Henderson's lead-off home run record, but the Yankees don't need him to.

2. Kemp, Matt - CF. The Dodgers were already feeling out the trade market for Kemp in 2010. Come 2011, they will move him. With the franchise in flux because of ownership problems, and with Kemp's up and down play in what was supposed to be a breakout season, the Dodgers will try to get more than just type A draft picks for him and the Yankees will comply. Even though he has been just plain awful stealing bases in '10, Kemp was very good the season prior and obviously has the skill. With some help from the coaching staff to straighten things out, as well as this lineup around him, Kemp should be back to all-star form in 2014.

3. Cano, Robinson - 2B. By the time 2014 rolls around, Cano will be a star, if he isn't already. His contract has a few team option years, but I figure he will be re-signed officially before then. Turning 31 at that point, Cano should see his biggest power seasons to date. Right now, as a fifth place hitter, he is already an MVP candidate. As he continues to get better, he will continue to slide up in the lineup until he settles where all the best players in the league land: batting third.

4. Teixeira, Mark - 1B. In four years, at 34 years of age, Mark will be nearing the downside of his career, yet this should not prevent him from still mashing the ball. He has never be known for any type of speed, and although his glove work will have dropped by this point, his power will not have. He's hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 RBI's every season except his rookie year. Being signed through 2016 means the Yankees don't have much to think about here and Teixeira won't have much to worry about either.

5. Montero, Jesus - DH. One trade deadline has passed with Montero remaining a Yankee and that should be the last chance he had to get moved. Come next season, Montero will be up with the big boys and hitting everyday. Four years later, at a crisp 25 years old, Jesus will be a middle of the order hitter, without a position. Being the everyday DH is not ideal, yet his bat is too good to waste. If we don't see him getting some work at the major league level by September of 2010, he will definitely make the team by the start of 2011.

6. Rodriguez, Alex - 3B. Apart from his hip problem, Alex has remained healthy his whole time in New York. Approaching 40 years old, with a contract through 2017, the Yankees will be both set and concerned. There will not be consideration to moving him, because of the contract. Yet there is not overwhelming evidence he won't still be productive in any case. During this 'off' year of 2010, Rodriguez has still knocked in 85 runs by August 2nd. As his hip heals, and he gets a day or so at DH every week, the years will be good to Alex. He will get dropped in the lineup, but that seems unavoidable.

7. Despaigne, Alfredo - RF. Predicting Cuban imports is near impossible. Yet Despaigne is one of the better young, Cuban outfielders right now. He had a disappointing World Baseball Classic in 2009, as did the Cuban team as a whole. Yet in the rest of his international competitions, Alfredo has hit the cover off the ball. In the 2008 Olympics, he had a 1.165 OPS for the tournament, while Cuba went on to win the silver medal. Since then, Despaigne won back to back league MVP awards in Serie Nacional. Who knows how likely this is. But if he manages to leave Cuba, as a power outfielder in his prime, we know the Yankees will be after him.

8. Romine, Austin - C. The second best prospect in the current Yankees farm system is also a catcher, yet, unlike the first, he can catch. Romine is much better defensively than Jesus Montero and will be the catcher of the future when Jorge Posada is forced to hang up the cleats in the next year or two. Romine won't be a big time hitter, yet he'll be better with the bat than Francisco Cervelli. Unlike Steinbrenners of the past, this franchise will no longer force itself to have power hitters at every point in the lineup in favor of defense and youthful exuberance.

9. Ramirez, Alexei - SS. Don't think just because Derek Jeter is who he is that this ownership team will give him whatever money he wants for as long he wants. By 2014, Jeter will no longer be a Yankee. I can see him getting a new, three year contract at the end of 2010, but it just isn't viable to pay him any further than that. Ramirez, on the other hand, will have only been in the majors six seasons at that point, even though he will be a bit older than a normal six year player. 2014 will be Ramirez's first year of free agency and he will most likely be looking to cash in. Although he is nothing special, Alexei is a solid player with reasonable middle infield power who should continue to improve. By 2014, look for him to be a yearly contender to make the all-star team (in place of the short stop who DID always make the all-star team.)

The starting pitcher on opening day will, again, be CC Sabathia. He will be approaching his mid-thirties, yet with that body, no one thinks he will be breaking down. Maybe his fastball won't touch 97 anymore, but Sabathia will still be a front line starter four years from now.

The closer for the 2014 New York Yankees will be none other than Phil Hughes. By this time, Mariano Rivera will finally have called it quits. Of course, if Rivera is actually not human, as it appears, maybe he will pitch into his fifties, but I suspect not. Hughes has a powerful fastball and all the makings of a successful closer. His success in the pen in 2009 proved this. His success on the mound in 2010 might make people shy away from thinking he'd make his way back to the bullpen. But the Yankees know better than anyone how important a top shelf closer can be. And the fact is, Joba Chamberlain is not that guy. The ideal situation would be for Hughes to remain in the rotation, probably as the number two starter, and have Joba move into the closer role. But not everything works out ideally.

So there you have it: the nucleus of the future Bronx Bombers. Maybe George would have extended Jeter through the 2014 season; maybe he would have traded away Montero and/or Romine; maybe he would have brought in another aging veteran, rather than take a chance on the young Cuban. But, as Hal described, these are not George's Yankees anymore.

(Image taken from sportingnews.com)