Sunday, May 29, 2011

Miscellaneous Me

Some NBA thoughts heading into the Finals this week:

- Not enough has ever been made of the fact that Dwyane Wade spells his first name like that. I mean someone like Chone (pronounced "Shawn") Figgins of the Seattle Mariners gets grief all the time and he's not even that famous outside of baseball circles.

Even Brett Favre took flak for years and years because his last name reads like "Faver" rather than "Far-v."

- NBA players should take a cue from actors and tweak/change their names for purposes of sticking in people's heads.

Topher Grace made a very shrewd move by not going by Chris. No one would have ever remembered who Chris Grace was. He would have turned into a "that guy."

I'm looking at you Joel Anthony, if you ever want to be Joakim Noah.

- PER is a nice stat that has its place somewhere but anything that ranks Pau Gasol's 2011 playoff performance ahead of Brandon Roy or Jeff Teague or even the limply armed Rajon Rondo has to be questioned.

- Is there anything more impressive than playoff hockey referees? Watching them avoid pucks, leap over passes and sticks, slide down the boards and seemingly make good calls most of the time makes NBA referees look even worse by comparison.

Dick Bavetta makes bad calls jogging slowly on his feet; just imagine if he was on skates.

- Much like 5'-something JJ Barea's playoff coming-out party, wouldn't it be hilarious if model and new Transformers actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is actually tremendous? Everyone made all the jokes when her involvement was announced but what if she's a really good actor?

I know, it seems unlikely but so did a player shorter than six feet taking the NBA by storm and being unstoppable at the rim.

- The most underrated storyline of the NBA playoffs in general has been the takeover of the Oklahoma City Thunder by Russell Westbrook. Sure plenty of people have mentioned how he hogged the ball too much and made bad decisions but I've only heard a couple people get to the crux of the problem: the Thunder are going to be Westbrook's team.

No one will argue that Kevin Durant is a better player and yet he seems to be letting Westbrook take over the team, emotionally and with the ball. This is not a good thing for the team's future.

- This Finals match-up has some tremendous storylines of its own.

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki are each trying to win their first title and push their careers to that next level. As is Jason Kidd.

The Miami Heat, everyone's villain, got here a year or two earlier than we expected. A title in 2011 may set up the next sports dynasty.

The Dallas Mavericks are returning to the championship game and will face the monkey on their back, the team that vanquished them in epic fashion in 2006, the Heat.

The failure of the Bulls and Thunder goes on to prove that getting your playoff chops may still be a necessity to reaching playoff success.

The failure of the Celtics and Lakers may also prove that a changing of the guard in the league is upon us; youth and athleticism is in. Dallas is of course the exception that proves the rule.

It will be awesome to watch LeBron guard Dirk when the Mavericks are on offense, if the Heat play it that way, but Dallas does not have the bodies to match-up on the other end. Can anyone on the Mavs stop LeBron or Wade?

Dallas has the big bodies to outmatch Miami on the boards, especially if Haslem slows as the series goes on. Also, can anyone on Miami stay in front of Barea or Jason Terry for that matter?

I would not be surprised if the Heat won the title in five games. I would not be surprised if Dallas won either, however it would be in six or seven games. I guess that gives the edge to Miami. Dallas still can't get any love.

Dallas has lost three games combined throughout these entire playoffs. They would need to lose four in this one series to not win the NBA title.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enter Sandman

I am not a music savant or critic. I can hardly be called musically literate for that matter. I played the saxophone for a few years in middle school and I can play the chorus to “In the Jungle” on a piano for some reason.

I am not really a fan of rock or metal. My knowledge of the genre stems from nothing more than reading Chuck Klosterman essays.

Music does not “speak to me.” I hear all the time how someone is moved by a song or hears lyrics that touch their soul. I missed out on this form of elation somehow. The closest I usually come to being moved by a song is getting my foot to tap with the beat…with one exception.

Metallica’s Enter Sandman is a song that will live with me for as long as I live, a song that brings out feelings of excitement and anticipation, feelings that have almost nothing to do with the score or melody.

Enter Sandman has become my sports national anthem through no fault of my own. It has happened because I grew up through the 90’s loving the New York Yankees and I went to college at Virginia Tech: two teams that have no correlation to one another and would have no conceivable connection at all if it wasn’t for Metallica’s hit.

Since the mid-1990’s, Mariano Rivera has been the closer for the 27-time World Champion New York Yankees. As baseball fans know, each closer has a song they enter to, much as each batter has walk-up music that plays when they come to the plate. In Rivera’s case, he chose Enter Sandman as his entrance theme, one that displays his power and finesse, oozing excitement. Mariano Rivera has run in from the bullpen to the mound to this specific song nearly 1,000 times since joining the Yankees. I have been in the stands for a few and watched on television for hundreds more. Any time Enter Sandman plays that feeling plays with it. Mariano is coming in, the greatest closer in baseball history. The other team is doomed. Victory is ours. That’s what Enter Sandman represents.

That would have been enough for me, enough for one song. However, upon graduating high school early in the 2000s, I chose to attend Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree. My first visit into Lane Stadium for a football game revealed more than I was anticipating. Every game, the Virginia Tech Hokies run out onto the field to Enter Sandman.

It even goes beyond being an entrance song though. Enter Sandman is a school tradition. Prior to the team running through the tunnel, the song picks up in the stands, every student starts jumping. We jump, we yell, the fervor building. When the Hokies finally burst out onto the field, the crowd is raring to go. I experienced this every home football game for four years until I graduated.

As is the case with these things, the basketball team also used Enter Sandman to jack up crowds. It was pulled out in strategic places, at opportune times, to get the crowd juiced. Anytime that tune came on, it was like a Pavlov’s Dog reaction. We are Hokies and we know what to do when Metallica comes on.

Years later now, I don’t sleep with one eye open as the lyrics would suggest but Enter Sandman has a place in my heart that I never assumed a song could. If it comes on in a bar or at a random place, I get that thrill back, the anticipation of Rivera coming in to close out another Yankees win, the exhilaration of the Hokies booming onto the field to mash another opponent, and I always start jumping. Always.

(Image courtesy of

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MLB paint by number

Francisco Liriano threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. On the surface, this doesn't seem so bizarre. He has the reputation of being a good pitcher, with good stuff. However, at least this season, he isn't and he doesn't.

Liriano leads the league in walks. His ERA is over 6.5 even after the complete game shutout. And this no-hitter happened to be the first time he has ever completed a game in his career.

But that's baseball for you. Stats and numbers tell only part of the story, oftentimes the wrong part. Here are 20 more stats from the first month (and change) of the 2011 season, divided into what can be believed and what cannot.

Everything listed below is a complete fact. Just remember the popular Mark Twain quote, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."


  • Jose Bautista leads the AL in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He has a 30:16 walks to strikeouts ratio and is hitting a home run every nine at-bats.

Let's just say I'm no longer in the camp that thinks last year was a fluke.

  • Jorge Posada has cracked six home runs on the season, out of his 14 total hits.

Posada is no longer the hitter he used to be. The power is real but so is the average for the most part.

  • The San Diego Padres are scoring 3.10 runs per game.

This would mean a quality start from their starter would almost certainly mean they are losing the game. With how bad they were last year WITH Adrian Gonzalez, this is sure to continue.

  • Josh Johnson has allowed only 4.0 hits per nine innings pitched.

This is by far the best ratio in the league for qualified pitchers, and is no fluke since Johnson was the best pitcher in the league a year ago before he got hurt.

  • Dexter Fowler is in the top five in the NL in both walks and strikeouts.

Kids these days...strikeouts are not a top concern of many hitters. The walks mean Fowler is a good batter with a good idea. The Rockies will take the good with the bad.

  • (Speaking of K's) Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn have struck out a combined 81 times, nearly 37% of the Tigers' total strikeouts on the season.

No surprise here nothing to say it won't continue. Neither Jackson or Raburn make any attempt to cut down on their strikeouts.

  • Alex Rodriguez ranks in the top 25 in all of baseball in slugging percentage at .537, yet that is only good enough for fifth on his own team.

Rodriguez is having a very nice season, as are many of this teammates. The Yankees should continue to mash the ball all year long even if the batting averages are low.

  • Chris Young (AZ) has scored 20 runs already even though his OBP is below .265 and he's only stolen one base.

Although the steals are sure to pick up, the believable part is the high runs total with the low on-base. Young will never be a good OBP guy but with his speed and base-running ability, the runs will still be there.

  • On the other hand, Jack Cust ranks in the top five in MLB in walks yet there are 236 players who have scored more runs than he has.

The combination of a terrible batting average and a very slow runner in the middle of a below average lineup means the walks will not translate to tons of runs being scored.

  • Of the top 10 players in baseball in at-bats, seven of them have no more than five combined home runs and steals.

Essentially this means, the players getting the most at-bats have neither power nor speed. Teams are willing to accept this oftentimes if the player can consistently get on base.

Not Believable

I hesitate to label these "unbelievable" because that gives them a positive connotation that they do not deserve.

  • Ian Desmond has the second most steals in the league with only a .279 OBP.

The classic example of something having to give. Desmond very well could continue racking up the steals, but not if his on-base doesn't improve. The steals chances will dry up quickly if he continues at a clip of .279.

  • Brian Roberts has stolen third base this year more than he has stolen second.

Just one of those complete facts that is utterly ridiculous. Of course this won't continue.

  • Juan Pierre has been caught stealing eight times, twice as many as any other ML player.

Although it is quite possible Pierre may lead the league in CS, it will be purely because of the amount of attempts. He is too good a base-runner to continue this horrible percentage.

  • Adam Dunn, who has never had an OPS below .800 any season of his career, currently sits at .582, less than half of Jose Bautista's current OPS.

The injury early in April set Dunn back. He will get his bat back together soon enough.

  • The Minnesota Twins have 935 at-bats as a team and 13 home runs. Alfonso Soriano has hit 11 home runs in 105 at-bats.

The Twins may certainly continue to stink. That is plausible. The part that will not continue is Soriano's year. He is not a 30 home run hitter anymore (let alone 50+) and is sure to slow this pace down.

  • There are four pitchers who have as many wins as they do complete games.

Another oddity along the lines of Brian Roberts' steals numbers. If a pitcher is able to go deep into games, the wins will come, eventually.

  • Prior to Liriano's no-hitter (since he now jumped to number one), none of the top seven pitchers in MLB in walks given up had a losing record.

This is perhaps the most unbelievable stat in baseball right now. Giving up walks almost always translates to losing games. It is the pet peeve of pitching coaches, the ultimate no-no of a young pitcher. Throwing strikes is what separates the Cliff Lees from the A.J. Burnetts.

  • Conversely, there are only five qualified pitchers in baseball with a SO/9 of at least 10. Only two of them have a winning record.

Although there are strikeout pitchers who don't have great winning percentages, in general, striking out over 10 batters every nine innings is a sign of success.

  • Matt Thornton has pitched only 9.1 innings yet already has a -1.3 WAR.

Since WAR is cumulative (the more outings/innings, the greater effect your numbers have), this is nearly impossible. Pitching so few innings and affecting your team this much in a negative way is too hard to keep up. The simple fact is that if he continues to this THIS bad, the White Sox won't let him pitch anymore.

  • The Cleveland Indians, who finished 24 games under .500 last year, have played 28 games so far this season and already have at least a 10 game lead on both the Twins and the White Sox.

That's baseball for you.

(Image courtesy of the Associated Press - Chicago)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Video Gaming got Boring

Don't lambast me as an old fart, but when I was a kid video games were fun. They were still fun in high school, and even more fun through college, but now they have become more and more the realm of lone wolfs. Men and women sit alone in the dark, perhaps playing against a faceless human sitting in the dark somewhere else. The days of group gaming are gone.

I realize that online gaming is hugely popular, but popular for whom? My fondest memories of video games begin with playing NFL Gameday on the original Sony Playstation. You and a few friends would battle it out, raise the stakes, and play some more. When the PS2 was released along side the next generation of Madden football, playing your friends became even more of an event. The game was special, the graphics were special, and the party which formed to play felt special.

The N64 and subsequent Wii took this concept up a notch. Mario Party was amazing. I speak in past tense because the game from 1998 or 2000 is more fun than any version in the last five years hands down. The game stinks now. With the Wii, group gaming was introduced to new territory, yet what happened to this momentum? I'll tell you what happened, the casual gamers got bored because nothing new was introduced to utilize the technology, and by the time the Xbox Kinect or Sony Move came out, no one cared. The fun was exhausted to the point of boredom with the Rock Band series of games, and without anything new to do we are now sitting in a void of nothingness when it comes to playing video games with others.

Now don't confuse my disappointment for a lack of interest in gaming. I do love the RPG, and stand by Oblivion as the greatest game I've ever played to date. However, I hold few memories of the game itself, besides the fact that it was amazing and consumed many hours of my life for the better. My video game memories exist with others playing with me, the group dynamic. And this doesn't even have to be a group game; what happened to the games that were fun to not only play, but to watch someone else play? The original Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 2, were so riveting that I didn't have to play them. Watching my friend play was just as fun! Final Fantasy 7 was the same way. The game was fun, up beat, and quirky, a blast to watch.

Today's video games have gone the way of summer movies, bland recreations of past success. Now there is hope on the horizon. LA Noire looks amazing, and should take video gaming to a new and exciting place with a story driven game. Others may want to watch the game unfold like a great film. But video games need to take a page from television and learn to reinvent themselves. Movies are flashy and fun, finding a great balance between new ideas and money making old ones. TV has to stay cutting edge to stop you from changing the channel or canceling your DVR recording. Games need to do the same thing or we will all start going hiking.