Monday, November 30, 2009

A-Rod For Sportsman Of The Year?

So, it's official, Derek Jeter won the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award. It's easy to understand why: The Yankees won the World Series this year, he's been an excellent player for a long time and nothing short of a class act.

What I can't possibly fathom, however, is the fact that Joel Sherman thinks that "If the competition were A-Rod vs. Jeter, it is not even close: Rodriguez is the Sportsman of the Year". He elaborates:
Alex Rodriguez should be the Sportsman of the Year. Before you hit me with how that title should go to someone who embodies the best in sports let’s remember that both Pete Rose and Mark McGwire have won the award, and before long we might remember that Tiger Woods has won twice.
Would you like a side of perspective to go along with your triple-stack of hindsight, Joel?

How does what happened with Tiger Woods over the weekend (if even the most salacious speculation is true) in any way alter whether he embodied "the best in sports" or more accurately, as the award says, was "the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement" in 1996 or 2000 years before he even laid eyes on his wife?

Pete Rose won the award in 1975 when he capped off a great regular season (5th in the MVP voting) by being named the the World Series MVP, ten years before he bet on baseball and almost 15 years before the rumors of those indiscretions came to light. Mark McGwire shared it with Sammy Sosa in 1998, six years before androstenedione was considered to be a steroid by Congress.

If Sports Illustrated had a crystal ball, perhaps they wouldn't have given the awards to Rose or McGwire in '75 & '98 (the Woods assertion is flatly ridiculous), but they need only a rearview mirror to realize that A-Rod was far from the right choice this year.

So what's Sherman's argument for Rodriguez?
Sports are publicly messier these days, and we should not run away from that. Heck, the initial broken story on Rodriguez’s steroid use was published by Sports Illustrated. He also touches on the advancement of sports medicine as he came back successfully from significant hip surgery months after undergoing the operation. And he was again a great player, this time finally in the postseason, as well.

In the end, A-Rod offers a story of second chances and redemption. He was a better teammate and was rewarded with the most positive feedback yet as a person while scoring that elusive championship.
So we should give A-Rod the Sportsman of the Year Award because he did steroids, recovered from an injury and was a "better teammate" (mostly because he was such a shitty teammate before)? How about the fact that Derek Jeter is widely assumed to never have done steroids, was not injured this year and has always been a great teammate?

Sherman has been pushing this story of the faux comeback of A-Rod for quite some time, but in reality, Jeter is the one who improved over last year in ways that can actually be measured.

Jeter raised his OPS+ from 102 to 132 and his UZR from negative to positive. A-Rod played in the fewest games he has since 1995 and had his lowest HR and RBI totals since 1997. But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story, Joel.

The award doesn't say anything about "second chances and redemption" it rewards "sportsmanship and achievement" and both of those things Derek Jeter has - and has had for a long time - in spades.

Waiting For The Hot Stove To Cook

Good morning Fackers. Well the long holiday weekend is behind us and we're back at the daily grind. While we slowed things down over the weekend the Hot Stove rumor mill kept a churning. The Roy Halladay machine kept rolling: he'll accept a trade to the Yankees, The Red Sox don't want to lose him to the Yankees, the Jays want a Major League ready arm and bat, and on and on and on.

Oh yeah, we also heard that the Blue Jays like Jesus Montero. Well, no kidding. You know who else likes Jesus Montero? The other 28 clubs in Major League Baseball. That's some ground breaking journalism there Heyman. Oh yes, the Blue Jays might be interested in Baseball America's number three overall prospect if they were to trade their ace pitcher. Surprise, surprise.

Meanwhile, an entirely different Hot Stove rumor broke, ramped up, and flamed out, all before the turkey carcass was picked clean. On the heels of his failure to reach a contract extension with the Marlins came the rumors that Josh Johnson was on the market. On Friday, ESPN's Keith Law speculated as to what the Marlins could get in exchange for Johnson (a lot) and things just snowballed from there. Next came word that the Marlins were "very willing" to move him for the right package. Almost immediately, contrary reports came out. Amazingly, it was chief rumor-mongerer Ken Rosenthal who broke what as of now is the going story: that the Marlins have no intention of moving Johnson prior to Opening Day.

I have to admit, I was intrigued by the possibility of Josh Johnson. Not that Roy Halladay isn't an outstanding pitcher, but as RAB's Mike Axisa pointed out last week, opportunities to acquire young, talented pitchers like Johnson are rare.

I hate to keep striking the same chord that we've been strumming all off-season thus far, but there's rarely any merit to these rumors. At this stage in the off-season, virtually everyone is up for grabs. Teams float weather balloons to see what the market is for a particular player or a particular type of player. But the truth of the matter is that this is dead time right now, and the national baseball writers have to write about something until the real moving and shaking starts happening.

The good news is that it's about to start happening. Today is the final day of November. Teams have until tomorrow to offer arbitration to their free agents. Once that's done, teams will know who amongst the Type A free agents carry draft pick compensation. Armed with the knowledge, the real free agent courting process will begin in earnest, leading into the Winter Meetings December 7th through 10th. Once the top free agents sign, market value will be established, the lesser free agents will fall in, and in some ways, the trade market will be determined as well. It's only a matter of days before the Hot Stove really starts cooking. Until then, I'm filing everything away as near baseless rumors.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

College Football Saturday: Week 13

Good morning Fackers. For the second time in as many days we're leading off with a college football post, while we haven't hit on any real Yankee news in days. What the hell happened to this place? Well, things are slow on the Hot Stove right now, and rather than be the four hundredth person to comment on essentially meritless Roy Halladay "rumors", we're choosing to sit back and enjoy the holiday weekend. And it was pretty easy to cue up a couple college football posts authored early in the week and go on autopilot than to sit around and wait for Yankee news to come along in real time - or worse yet, take the Rosenthal route and just start making shit up.

So with that in mind, we're an hour away from Gameday, coming from Gainesville this week where Tim Tebow will play the final home game of his collegiate career and we will all pause again and marvel at his wondrous deeds one last time. Well one last time with the exception of the SEC Championship Game next week. And potentially the Heisman ceremony next month. And maybe the BCS Championship Game. And the inevitable months-long "can he or can't he?" debate leading up to the NFL Draft in April. Here's the rest of today's rilvary week slate:

#18 Clemson at South Carolina, 12:00 ESPN: The Tigers are headed to the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech next Saturday, but today they play a big rivalry against against South Carolina. Despite a dismal 3-5 record in SEC play, The Head Ball Coach has coaxed a pretty good season out of his squad, and at 6-5 they're bowl eligible regardless of what happens today.

#24 North Carolina at North Carolina State, 12:00 ESPN2: Another intra-state rivalry match-up. Best wishes to N.C. State offensive coordinator Dana Bible - who served in the same capacity at BC during my years there - who was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

#25 Mississippi at Mississippi State, 12:00 MSG2/ESPN360: The Egg Bowl relegated to internet only? For shame ESPN, for shame. Probably the biggest rivalry of the noon match-ups, this one has been a career ender in each of the last two years. In 2007, Ole Miss led 14-0 halfway through the fourth quarter before collapsing, finishing the SEC season winless and costing head coach Ed Ogeron his job. Last year a 45-0 whupping at the hands of the Rebels ended the tenure of Sylvester Croom - the first African-American head coach in SEC history - at Mississippi St. I think both Houston Nutt and Dan Mullen are safe regardless of this year's outcome.

Syracuse at Connecticut, 12:00 SNY: This would be a helluva basketball game.

#12 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, 12:00 MSG Plus2: One of the rare occassions in recent years where the Cowboys have entered with the upper hand.

Florida State at #1 Florida, 3:30 CBS: In addition to this being Tebow's last home game, this could be the end of the road for Bobby Bowden as well. I suppose there may also be some chatter about Urban Meyer and Notre Dame, but I think there's virtually no chance of that happening.

#14 Virginia Tech at Virginia, 3:30 ESPN: This should be the final game of Al Groh's tenure with the Cavs. I hope he can pull off an upset today.

#17 Miami at South Florida, 3:30 ABC: Maybe this would be a legitimate rivalry game had Miami stayed in the Big East. But, with Florida and Florida St. already tied up this weekend the Canes have to play someone, and South Florida is the next best program in the state. Also, maybe Miami, which is actually located in south Florida is pissed that South Florida, which is located in Tampa, has the nerve to call themselves South Florida. Regardless, this Thanksgiving weekend should turn out better for Miami than it did 25 years ago:

I never tire of that video.

Missouri vs. Kansas in Kansas City, 3:30 ESPN360: The Border War, except it's not PC to call it a "war" anymore. Since most of the country isn't even going to see this one anyway, they can call it whatever they want. That's what happens when the two schools momentary periods of not sucking comes to an end. Last game for Mark Mangino? Sure sounds like it.

Boston College at Maryland, 3:30 ESPNU: Another game, another coach facing the unemployment line. This time, it's Maryland's Ralph Friedgen. It was originally thought that his buyout figure would be prohibitive, but the latest rumors are that it is not. Coming off a brutally poor loss against UNC last week, BC hopes to rebound and earn just their second road victory of the year.

#21 Utah at #19 Brigham Young University, 5:00 MTN: Unfortunately no one gets MTN. But The Holy War is one of college football's oldest and most intese rivalries, dating back to argument between the public and Mormon institutions over which is the proper number of wives for a man to have. Correct answer? Zero.

Arkansas at #15 LSU, 7:00 ESPN: The Battle for the Golden Boot. Sort of an interesting name for a rilvary between two schools where most people don't even wear shoes. I kid, I kid. Your Erin Andrews game for tonight.

Tennessee at Kentucky, 7:00 ESPNU: Perhaps the least captivating of the rivalry match-ups. Most everyone in Lexington will probably be watching basketball practice anyway. The winner of this game does get the Beer Barrel, which is cool. But given the two states, shouldn't it be a whisky vs. bourbon battle?

Notre Dame at Stanford, 8:00 ABC: So this is how the Charlie Weis era will end. Stanford is having a good year for themselves, with big victories over Oregon and USC before falling to Cal last week. A win against ND, even in a down year for the Irish, would be another feather in their cap. Stanford coach John Harbaugh will likely be named as a candidate for the Notre Dame job, but I can't see the former Michigan man going to South Bend.

Georgia at #7 Georgia Tech, 8:00 ESPN2: Like their opponent in the ACC Championship Game, Clemson, the Rambling Wreck will be facing an in-state, SEC rival in a big game the week before the conference championship. Meanwhile, PETA wants Georgia to replace the recently deceased UGA VII with an animatronic robot dog. Fucking PETA...

Navy at Hawaii, 10:30 ESPN2: Well I suppose if any team is equipped to go the middle of the Pacific Ocean to play a game it would be Navy.

Enjoy the games.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Well, Black Friday has come and almost gone. Get your shopping done yet? I haven't. Why start today when there are still twenty eight shopping days until Christmas? And how about the irony in the biggest retail bonanza day of the year having appropriated the name originally given to the day in 1929 that the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression?

Anyway, I hope no senior citizen greeters were trampled to death by charging, angry mobs this morning, rushing to get their shopping done before the sun rose. It would be an improvement from last year. It's bad enough to have be in a work at four in the morning the day after a holiday, it's quite another to have to fear for one's life in doing so.

A couple tidbits of Yankee news that you've doubt heard already. Shelley Duncan, outrighted last week, has elected free agency. And Bob Sheppard, absent from the Yankee public address job for the past two plus years, has officially announced his retirement. I knew it was a long shot for Mr. Sheppard to make it back, but it certainly is sad to know that "The Voice of God" will never be heard live in the new Stadium. We wish them both the best in the future endeavors.

That's it for today Fackers. We'll probably ease our way back into the swing of things after the long holiday weekend.

College Football Friday: Week 13

Good morning Fackers. If you're like me, you're still shaking out the cobwebs from a gluttonous Turkey Day. If you're not, you've just returned from shopping at some ungodly hour just to save a few bucks. Either way, the good news is we have some college football to help while away the day. Without further ado, here's a special Friday edition of College Football Saturday, er, Friday:

Rutgers at Louisville, 11:00 ESPN2: Well, at least it beats what's usually on at 11:00 on a Friday. I'm in Jersey this morning, so I suppose I'm obligated to pull for the State University in this one.

Temple at Ohio, 11:00 ESPNU: Maybe you want to go back out and try to get some shopping done afterall

Illinois at #5 Cincinnati, 12:00 ABC: Sort of an odd match-up for a day like this. This is neither a conference game nor a rivalry game. But it's an important one. Cincy is still undefeated and needs to remain as such to keep alive whatever slim hope they have of reaching the BCS Championship Game. With a de facto Big East Championship game looming against Pitt next week, this one has the makings of a classic trap game.

#2 Alabama at Auburn, 3:00 CBS: The Iron Bowl. 'Bama has already clinched a berth in the SEC Title Game, but there's no way they're looking past this game. Rankings or no rankings, this is the only game of the year that matters in the state of Alabama. The rankings and Vegas both heavily favor the Crimson Tide. But rivalry games like this tend to be the ones to beat the odds. And recent history favors Auburn. Auburn has won seven of the last nine meetings, including six in a row from 2002 through 2007. Alabama holds the current bragging rights however, pitching a 36-0 shutout last year.

Nebraska at Colorado, 3:00 ABC: There was a time when this was a big game. This year is not one of those times. Both teams have been down from their previous lofty standards in recent years, but the Cornhuskers have rebounded this year. Nebraska already has an appointment to be annihilated by Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Colorado is finishing off a miserable season. This will be the final game for head coach Dan Hawkins and his benched QB son Cody.

#9 Pittsburgh at West Virginia, 7:00 ESPN2: The Backyard Brawl. I'll give this one a slight edge over the Iron Bowl as the game of the day. Pitt has a huge showdown looming with Cincy next weekend, but there's no way they overlook the Mountaineers - not just because this is their rivalry game. Pitt knows firsthand how this game can derail a season, as two years ago a poor Pitt team pulled off a stunning upset of a West Virginia team that was a win away from playing in the BCS Championship Game. The roles are reversed this time, and there isn't quite as much at stake, but 2009 Pitt isn't quite as good at 2007 WVU, and 2009 WVU is far, far better than 2007 Pitt. A Pitt win tonight means next week's game against Cincy is for the Big East title.

Nevada at #6 Boise State, 10:00 ESPN2: Another contender for game of the day. Boise St is one of six undefeated FBS teams, but is the only one that isn't close to a sure bet for a BCS game. Both teams are undefeated in the WAC. A Nevada win gives them the conference and ends the Broncos' BCS hopes. If Boise State can conquer the Wolf Pack's historic rushing attack, they'll win the conference and need only a win against lowly New Mexico St next week to ensure a perfect season and will likely be deserving of a BCS at large bid.

That's it for today's abbreviated slate. Enjoy the games Fackers. We'll be back tomorrow with the Saturday games.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This Film Should Be Played Loud!

On Thanksgiving night thirty three years ago, the focus of the music world was on the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Luminaries from throughout the industry - Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison, and others - joined The Band as they gave their final concert - The Last Waltz. It was a diverse collection of friends, mentors, and influences assembled to give a great group a proper sendoff.

Earlier that year, The Band - or more specifically The Band's guitarist Robbie Robertson - decided it was time to leave the road. So they decided to give one final concert, and invite Robertson's new buddy Martin Scorsese to film the whole deal. The result is one of the most legendary concerts of all time, and a film that is all at once the gold standard of concert films, a lasting - if disturbing - monument to Robertson's massive ego, and insight perhaps into just why The Band broke up. After Leo the Lion roared, signaling the opening of the MGM film, the sentence "This Film Should Be Played Loud!" appears on the screen.

Watching the film at some point over the weekend and listening to the CDs on my Thanksgiving morning drive to New Jersey has become a personal Thanksgiving Day tradition. So, in the event that anyone is looking to kill time this Thanksgiving, here are some performances from the film:

"Up On Cripple Creek", the concert's opening performance and one of The Band's most recognizable tunes

"It Makes No Difference", a beautiful song featuring the vocals of the late Rick Danko

"The Weight", easily The Band's most well-known and most widely-covered song. The concert performance didn't make the cut for the film. But a post-production performance was cut on a soundstage shortly after the concert. It features the fabulous Staples Singers, and Pops and Mavis really steal the spotlight on this one.

"Mannish Boy", with the legendary Muddy Waters. Just prior to the start of the song Scorsese had ordered all his cameramen to change film. One cameraman, fed up with Scorsese's incessant instructions, had long since removed his headphones. His was the only camera rolling during the performance and is the reason why the entire performance is a single shot.

"Further On Up the Road", with Eric Clapton. The strap on Slowhand's Strat gives out during his opening solo. Robertson astutely swoops in to grab the lead and keep things moving.

"Helpless", with Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell providing background vocals off stage. Drummer Levon Helm was the only non-Canadian involved in this performance. I imagine he was wondering why they didn't hold the concert on Canadian Thanksgiving the month before. Legend has it that Young had a huge clump of coke hanging in his nostril during this performance and that it was edited out during post-production.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", my favorite Band song, written about the war that was taking place when President Lincoln issued the proclamation that began an annual observance of Thanksgiving. This is easily the most powerful performance of the song that I've heard.

"Forever Young", with Bob Dylan. "The Band" existed as a band before they linked up with Bob Dylan, but they didn't become "The Band" until they met Dylan. They were with him for his foray into electric music, and it was Dylan who brought them to the hamlet of Woodstock, where Danko lived until his death and Helm still calls home.

"Don't Do It", the opening performance of the film was in fact the final performance of the night, and the final performance of "The Band" consisting of this line up. It's a Marvin Gaye song that The Band often covered, and covered well.

You Can Get Anything You Want...

Good morning Fackers. And once again, Happy Thanksgiving. Here's a classic to listen to while stuffing the bird:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Torre, Turnpikes, And Taverns

As Joe Torre exited town two years ago, one of the lessons learned - or at least a memorable message he conveyed on his way out the door - was that the greater the expectation became to win year after year, and the greater the desperation became with each successive championshipless season, the less people appreciated the good things that did happen.

It's something I've tried to stay mindful of since Torre left. As badly as we as fans want our team to win, it's not a birthright, and it's not going to happen every year. Way back when, we began following baseball because we loved the game, because it entertained and amused us. It's easy to lose sight of that when the hunger to win becomes insatiable. But even a season like 2008 has something to take away from it. I suppose it's much easier to bang that drum in the aftermath of a World Series victory, but even without that 2009 was an extremely enjoyable year of Yankee baseball. I know I have my list of favorite moments, and I'm sure you have yours too.

While our health, and our families and friends are ceratinly the most important things to be thankful for this holiday, what brings us together here is Yankee baseball. And we have a lot to be thankful for in that regard too. Let's keep that in mind next time we're ready to go over the edge due to something Yankee related.


Today is simultaneously regarded as both the worst travel day of the year and the best bar night of the year. All the folks traveling home for the holidays clog up the highways and skyways, but they also load up the local watering holes. You never know who you're going to bump into on Thanksgiving eve. I'll be passing up both the parkways and the pubs tonight, electing instead to host a little party tonight and hit the road for Jersey in the morning.

Whichever your choice for tonight, driving or drinking, be safe. And please don't do both. We'll send you off into the night with this one. Chances are you'll be encountering either Traffic or John Barleycorn later on.

Q & A Round Up

When the flow of baseball news slows to a trickle over the offseason in the absence of game action, it becomes a challenge to maintain a stream of interesting content. After we baseball bloggers are done debating not whether the awards voting was poorly done but whether we should even care about it to begin with, we are left with a few means of filling content aside from playing whack-a-mole with an RSS reader until something intriguing finally materializes. One of those techniques is to keep hitting "refresh" over at MLBTR and pray the word "Yankees" appears (something we generally avoid), while another is to scroll through the newsblog over at BBTF and hope something strikes our fancy.

Of course, there's another common method of finding something to write about that doesn't require aggregators to deliver the typically baseless speculation of Ken Rosenthal or Jon Heyman, or the work of other columnists and bloggers. The more enterprising of us internet scribes go out and drum up interviews with well-respected writers and bloggers to carry us through the cold winter months.

Since we have yet to secure any interviews this offseason, we took the liberty of rounding up some of the better ones from around the baseball-related interwebz:

Happy Thanksgiving

Good morning Fackers. And Happy Thanksgiving to you. Of course, Thanksgiving isn't until tomorrow technically, but let's face it, you've already checked out mentally. If you're not off from work/school already, today is your last day before that sweet, sweet four day weekend. At worst you're completely non-functional this morning. At best you'll be counting the minutes until the whistle blows.

Though perhaps not as often as we do with music or vulgarity, we like to pepper our posts here with some American History. And the history of Thanksgiving is distinctively American. It's a tradition stemming from the earliest European settlers of our continent, who despite fleeing their homeland in search of religious freedom, spending months upon the Atlantic Ocean, landing hundreds of miles from their intended destination, surviving a harsh northern winter, and suffering the indignity of inhabiting what would become Red Sox Nation, took the time give thanks for a bountiful harvest, celebrating with their Native American neighbors - a situation that was far too rare in the nation's history.

The tradition was observed, sporadically at least, throughout the colonial days and into the early years of nationhood. Though it didn't become an official holiday until it was signed into law just weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it had been unofficially celebrated anually since a proclamation from President Lincoln at the height of the Civil War. That the unofficial and official births of the holiday came during such dire times in American History speaks volumes as to how important it is to pause and be thankful for the good things, no matter how bad everything else may be.

Thanksgiving is easily, absolutely, positively, without doubt, indisputably, hands down my favorite holiday. There's no debate between religious and secular societies as to what the "true meaning" is. There's no pressure to find "the perfect gift". It hasn't been commandeered by furniture stores or car dealerships as an excuse to have a sale. It isn't something that can be claimed as holiday specifically for a particular nationality or culture. It isn't a holiday whose original intent has been obscured by becoming the "official" start of the summer, or the middle of the summer, or the end of the summer. It wasn't concocted by the greeting card, candy, floral, or jewelry industry. It's not a celebration of simply flipping the calendar or an excuse for those who can't handle their alcohol to binge drink.

It's so simple that its name says it all. It's a day to pause and reflect, put aside all the garbage that we bitch about and let bog us down all the other days of the year and just give thanks - to God, to Allah, to Buddha, to Ganesh, to random chance, to whatever - for all the good things that we do have in our lives. I know that's not something I do nearly often enough. A friend of mine is fond of saying "If everyone threw all their problems into one big pile, chances are everyone would want to take their own back". I think that's true, and I'm thankful we have this holiday to remind us of that. If that's not enough, we get to smother copious amounts of food in gravy, cap it off with pie, and nap off the tryptophan coma while watching football. It doesn't get much better than that.

So Happy Thanksgiving Fackers. We're thankful that you choose to visit this little corner of the internet and we hope that you and your families have a great holiday. I'll step down from my soap box now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Counterpoint: Who Cares?

In the six months I've been writing here, rarely have Jay and I disagreed on any major points. We disagreed about a hypothetical recall of Austin Jackson in the wake of a potential Melky Cabrera injury, and we differ as to how the Yankees should approach Hideki Matsui this off-season. But in instances like these, I think we both can understand, if not agree with, the other viewpoint.

Today though, I think we may have an instance of us being distinctly on opposite sides of the coin. This morning, Jay parsed the AL MVP results and had some valid criticisms of the order of finish as well as some of the more obscure individual votes. Moshe Mandel at The Yankee Universe had something similar yesterday, and I've seen traces of the same sentiment elsewhere in the blogosphere. To which I say: who cares?

Perhaps this is hypocritical of me. Just last week I put up a post here essentially criticizing the "stats based community" for not calling out Tyler Kepner, Zack Greinke, and Brian Bannister for their misuse and misunderstanding of advanced metrics in the wake of Greinke's Cy Young Award victory. Though perhaps I didn't make the point as clearly as I wanted, my issue wasn't so much with the misuse and misunderstanding as it was that everyone was so happy that Greinke both won and acknowledged FIP in the process, that they withheld the usual cantankerousness and I'm-smarter-than-you responses that normally follow such a slip up. Now, when the reaction is a bit truer to character, once again it's me who's complaining about the complaining, just as last week I complained about the lack of complaining.

That said, I still think this is really, really unnecessary. Yes, by any worthy metric Derek Jeter was more valuable than Mark Teixeira. Yes, Ben Zobrist probably finished much lower than he deserved. Yes, there were several players who received individual votes that were higher than they deserved or not deserved at all. Yes, I'm surprised/disappointed that Jason Bartlett didn't receive a single vote. Yes, a first place vote for Miguel Cabrera is so patently stupid that it's probably a waste of energy to even explain why.

But still, do we really need to break down all the grave injustices that happened behind Joe Mauer's cavernous margin of victory? Should we even care what happened beyond Mauer taking the hardware? Isn't the whole point to get the winner right, not whoever comes after him? Don't we often preach about sample size, and isn't the point of casting 28 ballots with 10 slots each for a pool of over 400 players that the "most valuable" player will rise to the top? Sure there will be some oddball votes in there, but the right guy won, and he came within one vote and five points of doing so unanimously. Does any of the rest matter?

Please don't take for me anti-statistic. If you read here with any degree of regularity during the season you know that I often sigthed OPS+, wOBA, UZR, WAR, FIP, etc. That isn't the point. The point is how much is enough? We've seen the deservedly-maligned BBWAA get all four major awards "right", and three of the votes weren't particularly close. In doing so they've eschewed traditional biases that would have favored less deserving candidates in years past. Shouldn't this be enough to keep us content for now? Remember, this round of off-season awards represents the Battle of Saratoga, not the Treaty of Paris.

At their core, the MVP, the Cy Young Award, and even the Hall of Fame for that matter are subjective, loosely-defined awards that have little value beyond whatever worth we assign to them. I have a hard time understanding the utter outrage year after year as the awards season comes and goes. While we'd all like to believe that "objective journalists" are the stewards of these institutions, the fact of the matter is we're not talking about Edward R. Murrow or Walter Kronkite here. These are sportswriters. And while many may still exhibit signs of homerism or may be hopelessly clinging to archaic and ineffective means of measuring performance, I still think they're in a much better state today than they were in the days of Grantland Rice, or Ford C. Frick, or Jimmy Cannon. We're not seeing even the likes of Barry Bonds getting jobbed out of a deserved MVP because he's an asshole to the writers. Ask Ted Williams' frozen detached skull what he thinks about that.

So, with a plethora of better methods to assess value at our disposal, why do we even care who wins these things anymore, let alone who finishes second through tenth? If we want to know who is truly valuable, then why not just pull up the WAR leaderboard, or whichever future metric proves to be the most accurate means of assessing performance? Why do we care which pitcher is given an award named after the all-time wins leader, when we know wins are a misleading indicator of true performance, and we know that Cy Young was an inferior pitcher when compared to contemporaries like Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson? Do we even need the BBWAA to give the awards to the "right" players to validate what the metrics have already told us?

As Joe at RAB pointed out in the wake of the Cy Young voting, this isn't a culture war anymore. This is the true state of baseball these days, and it's an amalgamation of what were once two distinct schools of thought. As much as some seem to define themselves by it, this is no longer us vs. them, Moneyball vs. old-school, stats vs. scouts, RBI vs. WAR. The game - or more specifically how we look at the game - has changed, is changing, will continue to change, and will do so across the board. It's no longer just Bill James, a few forward thinking executives, a handful of enlightened websites. It's widespread; it's prevalent.

Few if any of GMs are traditional "baseball men"; nearly all have a business background in addition to their baseball experience. Every front office has some sort of statistical analysis taking place. Bill James, Voros McCracken, Tom Tango and others were or are employed by, or are consultants to, Major League clubs. David Cone's routinely referencing Fangraphs on Yankee telecasts. Keith Law, Will Carroll, and other Baseball Prospectus folks were given votes in the post-season awards process. High-profile national sportswriters like Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski are at the forefront of the "statistical revolution", and if their work wasn't enough to force their colleagues to learn about advanced metrics it was at least enough to create a palpable buzz about the truly worthy candidates.

The times they are a changing folks. And while we might not yet be living in a sabermetric utopia, we've seen great strides made this past week. As we approach Thanksgiving and presumably stop to reflect upon what we are thankful for, shouldn't we at least be satisfied, if not grateful, that the most deserving candidates won both MVPs and both Cy Young Awards rather than griping about the idiot who voted Jason Kubel seventh? I think we should; what about you?

Parsing The AL MVP Vote

Good morning, Fackers. To the surprise of essentially no one who followed the 2009 Major League Baseball season, Joe Mauer won the A.L. MVP yesterday. He led the league in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs created, wOBA, wRAA, VORP and would have in WAR if Ben Zobrist's UZR's wasn't propped up by small sample sizes or the stat gave any credit for a catcher's defense behind the plate.

With the exception of one writer from a Japanese newspaper based in Seattle (who inexplicably voted for Miguel Cabrera), Mauer was the unanimous choice. He didn't have 30 HR or 100 RBI, but the man from Minnesota was close on both counts. He didn't play in a game until May 1st, but at bat for at bat, he was the best hitter in the American League by a country mile.

While credit should go to the BBWAA for another award winner properly selected, the reality is that, even if you don't understand the concept of positional adjustment, there's no one else that had a legitimate case. And judging by the respective finishes of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, it's apparent that many writers still don't grasp that concept.

Teixeira received 15 second place votes with only 3 voters ranking him lower than 4th. Nine voters ranked Jeter second, 16 others placed him between 3rd and 6th with the remaining three identifying him as the 8th, 9th or 10th most valuable player in the league. In other words, the general consensus was that Teix was a notch above Jeter.

According to Weighted On Base Average or wOBA, the statistic that most accurately measures a hitter's ability to get on base and hit for power, Teixeira (.402) led Jeter (.390) by fairly slim margin. However, wOBA doesn't take into account that Jeter played a much more difficult defensive position and, at least according to UZR, had a much better year in the field.

Perhaps UZR is selling Teixeira short, which most observers would argue is the case. Maybe Teixeira even saved Jeter a few errors by scooping balls in the dirt, although John Dewan's research doesn't seem to indicate that. But even if you grant both of those assumptions, it's unlikely they close the gap from Teixeira's 5.1 wins to Jeter's 7.4.

Of course, most voters don't care about players' wOBA or WAR. The biggest reason that Jeter finished lower than Teixeira on the majority of the ballots was that he only drove in 66 runs while Teix led the AL with 122. Runs Batted In are to the MVP vote what pitcher's wins are to the Cy Young: a context-driven, luck-determinant counting stat that depends largely on the production of one's teammates.

What was the biggest reason that Teixeira was able to drive in 122 runs despite a batting average (.264) and a slugging percentage (.471) with runners in scoring position well below his season marks (.292 & .565)? Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon's on base percentages of .406 and .365, respectively. The same thing happened to Mauer in 2006 when his .429 OBP teed up Justin Morneau for a huge amount of his 130 RBIs. That total was second in the league to David Ortiz and Morneau won the MVP award but Mauer ended up finishing 6th and was behind his teammate on every single ballot.

There were some other oddities within the voting aside from Miguel Cabrera getting a vote for first place but 3 votes for 10th and Teix topping Jeter. Mariano Rivera placed ahead of Zack Greinke although he didn't receive one Cy Young vote and Greinke won the award. Robinson Cano got three votes - all for 7th place. A-Rod netted a third place vote despite being left off 3/4 of the ballots all together.

A commenter over at BBTF took the liberty of compiling a "bizarro ballot", made up of actual selections writers submitted:
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Kevin Youkilis
3. Alex Rodriguez
4. Jason Bay
5. Aaron Hill
6. Chone Figgins
7. Jason Kubel
8. Michael Cuddyer
9. Placido Polanco
10. Ian Kinsler
Sure, I'm nitpicking a little bit here. The writers have thus far got the 3 major award winners right, but with the exception of Tim Lincecum, they have been absolute no-brainers. When people have to list out 10 players, there are going to be some perceived sleights, but how many of those 10 actual placements do you think you could legitimately justify with statistical evidence?

Maybe we're not quite as far along the road to statistical enlightenment as we thought after Lincecum won the NL Cy Young. Perhaps, as Moshe Mandel from The Yankee Universe contends, we aren't seeing the voters wise up but the ability of sabermetricians (or at least those who are stat savvy) to influence the "buzz" surrounding players. And make no mistake, this is in large part due to the increasing influence of the internet which has given people like Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski a national voice.

Is anyone going to remember who finished second or third in the voting when next year rolls around? Probably not. But that doesn't negate the fact that many voters (ostensibly "journalists") who have the privilege of voting for these awards are so severely lacking in objective analytical skills when that is one of the most important parts of their job description.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Minor League Monday: Kevin Russo

Two weeks ago, we filed our final Jackson Report for 2009, taking a look at top Yankee prospect Austin Jackson. In it, I mentioned that we hoped to fill the void of the off-season by taking a look at some of the prospects in the Yankee system. To that end, we'll be running a Minor League Monday series, taking a look at a Yankees' prospect each week.

This week it'll be infielder Kevin Russo, who was just added to the Yankees 40 man roster. Russo isn't quite the highly touted prospect that Jackson is or some of our future subjects are, but he is close to Big League ready and likely will see time in the Bronx in 2010.

A native of Suffolk County, Russo is 25 and was drafted out of Baylor in the 20th round of the 2006 draft. He made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast Rookie League that summer, spent 2007 with High-A Tampa, 2008 with AA Trenton, and 2009 with AAA Scranton. He's increased his batting average in each of his four seasons, peaking at .326 this year thanks to a double digit jump in his line drive percentage. He's a .300 hitter for his minor league career, has shown good plate discipline with a .360 career OBP, including a .397 mark in AAA last year. He's also a good contact hitter, with a career K% of 15.7% and no more than 66 strikeouts in any one season.

Defensively, Russo is primarily a second baseman. He's seen a decent amount of time at third base, has made a half dozen appearances at both shortstop and left field, and has made one apperance in right field. Clearly, Russo will not usurp Robinson Cano as the Yankee second baseman, so his role be that of a utility infielder. As such, he'll have to show an ability to play a passable shortstop if he's going to be of any value. He never appeared at the position until this past season, and has both the least experience at short and the poorest defensive reputation of any of the four utility infielders currently on the Yankees 40 man roster. He does, however, have easily the best offensive skill set of the four. If he can continue to be servicable in the outfield that would only add to his value. As I stated way back in July, I'd like to see Russo get the Ramiro Pena treatment and see some time in center field as well.

Russo greatest skill is his ability to get on base. However, as we saw with Brett Gardner, minor leaguers with good on base skills but poor power often struggle at the Big League level. The pitching is of a higher quality, the control is generally better, and the pitchers are unafraid to challenge such hitters when they know there's little chance of a ball leaving the yard. It took Gardner some time to make the adjustment and we may see something similar with Russo when he gets his chance.

2009 was easily Russo's best season as a pro, and it came in his first year at AAA. He was named a post-season All-Star by the International League and a AAA All-Star by Topps. With the exception of a hiccup in 2007, he's shown steady improvement throughout his minor league career, and has done so while advancing a level each year. His performance at Scranton this past season translates to a Major League equivalent of .280/.344/.363. Two of those numbers will play at the Major League level; the third is pretty abysmal and would have in the bottom twenty amongst American Leaguers with at least 350 PA in 2009.

CHONE has him at .272/.326/.382, The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has him at .249/.311/.338 in their first CAIRO projections, and ZiPS has him at .260/.312/.351 with an OPS+ of 78, while providing average defense at second and third. For what it's worth, CAIRO was the most accurate projection system in 2009 - and unfortunately for Russo that's the one that takes the most pessimistic outlook on him. As far as I know, PECOTA and Marcel are unreleased at present, and I think Marcel just puts rookies at league average anyway.

Depending upon how the off-season shakes out, Russo has a small chance to make the club as a bench player out of Spring Training. More likely though, he'll start the season at Scranton. I'd expect the organization to try to get him some time at shortstop and in the outfield to round out his value as a utility player and perhaps implement a program or approach to attempt to increase his power a bit. Either way, I expect to see Kevin Russo in pinstripes at some point in 2010.

Mauer Wins MVP, Teixeira Second, Jeter Third

Joe Mauer convincingly and deservedly won the AL MVP this afternoon. He was named first on 27 of 28 ballots, and second on the other. He finished with 387 points.

The remaining first place vote went to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera received only one second place vote, but was as low as tenth on three ballots and finished fourth overall. Coincidentally, the only AL Cy Young first place vote that didn't go to Zack Greinke or Felix Hernandez went to Detroit's Justin Verlander, who didn't finish higher than third on any other ballot. Looks like someone in Detroit should have his voting privileges revoked.

[UPDATE 4:30 PM: The Cabrera vote did not come from a Detroit writer, but from a member of the Seattle chapter, Keizo Konishi of Kyodo News. Whouda thunk it?]

For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira finished second, 162 points behind Mauer with 225. His 15 second place votes were the most cast, and his six third place votes were the second highest total. He was named on all 28 ballots and finished no lower than eighth on any of them.

Derek Jeter finished third, with 193 points. His nine second place votes were the second most cast, and his five third place votes tied for third most cast. He too was named on all 28 ballots, finishing 6th or higher on all but three of them.

Alex Rodriguez finished tied for tenth with 31 points. He was named on seven ballots, with highest vote being a single one for third place.

Mariano Rivera was named on four ballots, with two sixth place votes, and one each for seventh and eighth, finishing with 17 points. Robinson Cano received three seventh place votes, CC Sabathia a single seventh place vote. No other Yankees were named on any ballots.

Blog favorite Kevin Youkilis finished sixth. He was named on 25 ballots and received two votes for second place. Full results are available here.

For all the grunting and groaning all year about who should and who would win the post-season awards, let's give the voters a bit of credit. They've picked the right guy for the AL and NL Cy Young Awards, and now the AL MVP as well. A win for Albert Pujols in the NL MVP vote tomorrow would make it a clean sweep for the big four awards.

Looking Back On The Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League finished up Saturday with the Peoria Javelinas taking the Championship Game. All the Yankee prospects played for the Surprise Rafters, who finished two games behind Peoria in the West Division.

Seven Yankee farmhands took part in the league:
Colin Curtis, OF: .397/.472/.731, 19 R, 11 BB, 7 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR
Brandon Laird, 3B: .333/.406/.633, 18 R, 10 BB, 9 doubles, 6 HR
Austin Romine, C: .400/.438/.400, 2 R, 1 BB

Ian Kennedy, SP: 4.25 ERA, 28 K, 5 BB, 1 HR, in 29.2 IP over 7 starts
Zach Kroenke, RP: 5.28 ERA, 14 K, 4 BB, 2 HR in 15.1 IP over 11 appearances
Mike Dunn: RP: 4.35 ERA, 20 K, 10 BB, 2 HR in 10.1 IP over 10 appearances
Grant Duff, RP: 2.89 ERA, 4 K, 5 BB, 0 HR, in 9.1 IP over 10 appearances

Traditionally, the AZFL has been a very offense-friendly league. Curtis led the league in SLG and OPS, finished second in AVG and OBP, and tied for fourth in HR and TB. Laird finished sixth in SLG, seventh in OPS, second in HR, tied for third in 2B, and tied for fourth in TB. Romine played in just four games due to a finger injury, but it isn't considered to be serious.

For the pitchers, Kennedy led the league in IP and tied for the lead league in starts. His 28 Ks trailed the league leader by one and he had the fifth best WHIP amongst starters. With 59.2 Major League innings to his credit, Kennedy was one of the most seasoned players in the league and it likely contributed to his sterling performance. Still, Kennedy's performance in such an offense-friendly league is an encouraging sign as he continues his comeback from aneurysm surgery in May. The mere fact that he got another 30 innings in after missing nearly the entire season is great for him.

Dunn finished tied for seventh in Ks, despite throwing at least eight fewer innings than all those ahead of him. Of course, as we addressed in September, the problem with Dunn is the number of free passes he issues. He had the eleventh most walks in the league despite working exclusively in relief. In his defense though, a handful of pitchers ahead of him on the BB leader board had walk rates similar to or worse than Dunn's 8.71 per 9.

We've seen both Kennedy and Dunn before, and at least Kennedy - if not both - figure to see time in the Bronx in 2010. Romine is amongst the Yankees' top three or five prospects, won the Florida State League Player of the Year in 2009, and figures to be about two years away. Laird is the younger brother of Tigers' catcher Gerald Laird. He's just completed his third pro season with high A Tampa, and may be moved to first base.

Curtis, Duff, and Kroenke are all Rule 5 eligible and none were protected when the Yankees made their roster moves Friday. Despite his strong showing, Curtis is considered a non-propsect, who like Kennedy, may have been so successful because of his level of experience relative to the league. Duff throws gas, but walks a lot of batters, didn't make it above A ball until this year, and will 27 by year's end. Kroenke has promise and was taken and returned in the Rule 5 last year, but the Yankees already have four other lefty relievers on their 40 man roster.

I don't have a particular problem with leaving any of them exposed, but I don't see much difference between them and the lower tier players that were added to the 40 man. Still, I do find it odd that the Yankees thought enough of them to use three of their seven Fall League allotments on them, but not enough to protect any of them.

Forty Spots, Little Freedom

Good morning Fackers. So how was your weekend? Mine - I took Friday off and shot up to enemy territory - Boston. Got to hang out with some old friends, ate some kickass BBQ at Redbones, got to bust on a good friend who's a big Phillie fan, and watched another friend drink a fifth of Captain Morgan 100 proof straight before 11 AM and still make it through the game on two feet. Very impressive. Less impressive was BC's performance - five picks, first home loss of the season, and officially eliminated from the ACC Atlantic race. Also unimpressive was the scene at our tailgate - pretty weak, it ain't like it used to be. But hey, at least we have a short workweek, capped by my absolute favorite holiday. Now, back to baseball.

As we mentioned last week, midnight Friday morning was the deadline for clubs to finalize their 40 man rosters in preparation for next month's Rule 5 Draft. It took several hours for the news to get out, but the Yankees' moves were announced late in the day Friday.

As expected, top prospect Austin Jackson, second baseman/utility man Kevin Russo, and starting pitcher Ivan Nova were all added. Surprisingly though, the Yankees also chose to protect an additional four players: middle infielders Reegie Corona and Eduardo Nunez, and pitchers Romulo Sanchez and Hector Noesi.

With Andy Pettitte finally filing for free agency and Shelley Duncan being outrighted to Scranton, Friday's moves leave the Yankees with 39 spots spoken for on their 40 man roster. Technically, this gives them the freedom to select one player in the Rule 5 Draft - but I wouldn't count on that happening. Firstly, the Yankees are not constructed in a manner that would make it easy for them to fulfill the Rule 5 requirement of keeping a selected player on their Major League roster for all of 2010. Secondly, the Yankees are going to need that one roster spot and likely a few others to add Major League free agents this off-season - which makes the 40 man decisions all the more curious.

The Yankees currently have seven players from the 2009 roster who are free agents: Pettitte, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr, Eric Hinske, and Xavier Nady. While Nady was a non-factor all year as an injured player, and back-ups like Molina, Hairston, and Hinske can be replaced by internal options (Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Russo, Juan Miranda), Pettitte, Damon, and Matsui all figure to be either resigned or replaced by a comparable Major League talent. And since any free agent inked to a Major League contract needs to be added to the 40 man roster, the Yankees are going to need more than just that one open roster spot.

Thus, it's curious as to why the Yankees chose to protect so many players. I'm sure there was sound reasoning behind it, but it isn't readily evident to me. At the most basic level, the Yankees protected these seven players because they wanted to ensure they would retain their services. But because of the nature of the Rule 5 draft, sometimes the best way to retain a Rule 5 eligible player is to expose him - particularly in the cases of "fringey" players like Corona, Nunez, Sanchez, and Noesi. Last year for example, the Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft: Corona, Nova, Zach Kroenke, and Jason Jones. All four were returned to the Yankees as they were unable to win Major League jobs with the clubs that selected them.

So in choosing to protect protect the likes of Corona, Nunez, Sanchez, and Noesi the Yankees are saying not only that they want to retain these players, but also that they're reasonably confident that the players could win Major League jobs elsewhere. I find this surprising, as Noesi has pitched just 41.1 innings in High A, Nunez has spent just a single season as high as AA, and Corona struggled terribly in a 44 game cameo at AAA last year, earning a demotion back to AA. The Yankees might have had a good chance to retain all four by leaving them exposed while keeping some flexibility with the 40 man roster.

Also curious is that in adding Corona and Nunez, the Yankees now have a glut of utility infielders on their 40 man. Incumbent Ramiro Pena and newly added Kevin Russo give the Yanks a good glove/good stick pairing, adding Corona and Nunez respectively seems to only duplicate that pairing while giving the Yankees twice as many utility infielders on their 40 man as they could rightly need.

The Yankees have a few options as to how to create the necessary spots for free agent signings. Chien-Ming Wang will likely be non-tendered to avoid arbitration, but if he's resigned to a Major League deal he'll need to be re-added. Brian Bruney and Sergio Mitre are non-tender candidates, but the early buzz is that both will be back. Relievers Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez, perpetually injured Christian Garcia, and first baseman Juan Miranda could all be removed from the roster, but all ostensibly represent better options than the players just added.

A more likely scenario could be the Yankees clearing room via trade. Last year's Nick Swisher trade opened a spot by moving Wilson Betemit and Jeff Marquez from the 40 man. Albaladejo and Ramirez may be of some value to a lesser club, and Miranda, blocked by Mark Teixeira, may be of some worth on the market as well. I think the Yanks may want to wait to see how the Damon and Matsui situations play out before moving potential DH candidate Miranda though. A rumored Roy Halladay trade, however unlikely, would clearly remove several players from the 40 man.

Finally, the 40 man roster situation might preclude the Yankees from jumping into the free agent pool right away. The market likely won't materialize until after December 1st anyway, but the non-tender deadline isn't until December 12th. Barring a trade, it might not be until then that the Yankees have the 40 man flexibility to add more than a single free agent. This will be an interesting situation to monitor as the Hot Stove heats up over the next several weeks. The Yankees need a little more freedom with their forty man.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who's The Boss?

This guy is.

Big day for Giants' TE Kevin Boss with 5 catches for 76 yards and 2 TDs. He proved himself a worthy successor to Mark Bavaro's former position and number.

Mario Manningham also had a good day for himself with 6 catches for 126, Steve Smith with 4 for 79, and Hakeem Nicks with 5 for 65. All added up to a career high 384 passing yards for Eli Manning.

Still, following yet another rough second half, the Giants needed OT to ensure victory. Lawrence Tynes, who missed from 31 yards in the second quarter, connected from 36 to put an end to it on the extra period's opening drive.

Big win for Big Blue, allowing them to keep pace with Dallas and Green Bay, both of whom were victorious today and earning them a game's lead over Atlanta.

Big Day For Big Blue

The Giants are returning to action this afternoon following their bye week and four straight losses - two of them ugly, and the last of them a final minute stomach punch.

Today's game is an important one for the G-Men, not only to right the ship but also because today's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, will be one of the Giants' principal rivals in fighting for playoff spots down the stretch. Dallas leads the NFC East by a game over both the Giants and Philadelphia. They, along with the Eagles, Packers, and Falcons are in a four way tie for the two wild card spots. The Giants still have a shot at the division, and a win today would not only be a step in the right direction as far as that's concerned but have the added benefit of giving them a leg up on of their chief competitors for the wild card spots.

The Giants will be without captain and starting middle linebacker Antonio Pierce who, according to the New York Daily News, is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his neck. The Giant defense will have top cornerback Aaron Ross in the lineup for the first time all season, providing much needed help to a secondary that's been decimated by injuries all season long.

I'll be a bit torn today, seeing the Giants go up against one of my favorite BC Eagles of all time in Matt Ryan, but rest assured, I'm firmly pulling for the G-Men in this one. It's getting down to crunch time now - the Giants did their damage early this year going 5-0 against mostly mediocre competition and have been on a losing streak ever since. Today's game kicks off a pretty challenging seven game stretch, including a short rest Thanksgiving night game in Denver's high altitude. It would do the Giants a world of good to bank a "W" this afternoon.

Game is at 1:00 on FOX, with Moose, Goose, and Kenny Albert - unless 50 Cent has had Kenny knocked off. Let's hope it's an enjoyable one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

College Football Saturday: Week 12

A special Saturday good morning to you Fackers. College Gameday kicks off in 60 minutes from Tucson, where Arizona hosts Oregon in match up of two teams still alive in what's a relatively wide open Pac-10. The show is starting at 8 AM local time and the game starts at 6 PM local time. It's going to be a long day out there. Thankfully, there's a full slate of games to fill the void in between.

North Carolina at Boston College, 12:00 ESPN2: Finally I get to watch a BC game - not because this game is actually on TV but because I've made the trip up to Chestnut Hill for the weekend. Tailgating! Plus, I get the added benefit of not having to listen to Pam Ward call this one. BC still has a chance to win the ACC Atlantic and head to their third straight ACC Championship Game, but they need help. They need to win out against UNC and Maryland and have Clemson lose to against a poor Virginia team. I'm not holding my breath. Up until last week - when they beat Virginia - BC was winless on the road. Entering this game, they're undefeated at home. But UNC has won three in a row, including upsets of then #13 Virginia Tech and then #14 Miami. I have a bad feeling about this one.

#10 Ohio St. at Michigan, 12:00 ABC: Three years ago this game decided who would play in the BCS Championship Game. Now Michigan is a laughingstock. Can't say I'm too broken up about that, particularly with how Lloyd Carr was unceremoniously shown the door. But, this is one of the two times a year I pull for the Wolverines (the Notre Dame game being the other of course). Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher will find themselves on opposite ends of this one.

Minnesota at #13 Iowa, 12:00 ESPN: Poor Iowa. Not only did they lose a heartbreaker in OT against Ohio St last week, costing them a trip to the Rose Bowl, but the loss dropped them below Penn State in both the AP and USA Today polls. Lest you forget, the Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions handily, in Happy Valley, earlier this season. And you thought the BBWAA voters were bad.

Duke at #20 Miami, 12:00 ESPNU: Miami has had a bit of an up and down season, and it was down last week as they were upset by UNC. Duke is having their best season in years. I still don't think there's another upset in the works in this one.

Louisville at South Florida, 12:00 SNY: As with last week's SNY game, I have nothing to say. Which is exactly why this game is on SNY.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 12:30 MSGPlus: Both head coaches will be mentioned in coaching searches this off-season; neither will be going anywhere.

Connecticut at Notre Dame, 2:30 NBC: So Charlie Weis thinks his future at ND is yet to be decided. Perhaps the fact that the university has disabled tracking of its private jet so as not to draw attention to their coaching search might be some indication that it has been decided. Despite living in Connecticut all my life I've never been a big UConn fan. In fact, I sort of dislike them because I have to hear about the men's - and even worse the women's - basketball team all damn year long. Needless to say though, I'll be a big Huskies fan this weekend. My cousin, who went to Notre Dame, and a good friend of mine, who went to UConn, are both heading out to this game. One of them is coming home unhappy; I think it'll be my cousin.

#8 LSU at Mississippi, 3:30 CBS: Rebels RB Dexter McCluster had an outstanding game against Tennessee last week, singlehandedly outgaining and outscoring the entirety of the Vols' offense. That must have made quite an impression on the boys in Vegas, because at this point unranked Ole Miss is favored by four and a half against the #8 team in the country. Also, in response the "From Dixie With Love" scandal I touched on last week, it's rumored that there may be a Klan rally on campus, both before and after the game. Only in the SEC.

#14 Penn State at Michigan State, 3:30 ABC: A couple years ago I spent a Saturday watching college football at Blondie's on the Upper West Side. I was there with a bunch of BC folk to watch the BC-Notre Dame game. The bar had booked a party of Michigan State people to take our place when our game was over. Our game ran a bit a late, and the later it got the bigger assholes the Spartans became. BC beat MSU in the Champs Sports Bowl at the end of that season. I was particularly happy about that.

Virginia at #23 Clemson, 3:30 ESPN: As above, Clemson needs to lose to keep BC's hopes alive in the ACC Atlantic. Let's go Cavs! At least give Groh one more high note on his way out the door. BC alum and sometime MSG guy Bob Wischusen is calling this one. Wonder who he's pulling for.

NC State at #15 Virginia Tech, 3:30 ESPNU: As best as I can tell, a Hokie is an oversized, maroon turkey. Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday.

Arizona State at UCLA, 4:00 MSGPlus: At this point in the season the Pac-10 is the most exciting conference in the country. This game features two teams who are entirely out of a wide open race. Thanks for nothing MSGPlus.

San Diego State at #21 Utah, 4:00 Versus: Utah got trounced by TCU last week, virtually ensuring the Utes will wind up in a second rate bowl game. So I'll go off on a bit of tangent instead. I was killing some time on You Tube this week, and decided to take a trip down memory lane by watching videos of old WWF wrestling matches. That led me to this video of former second rate wrestler "The Birman" Koko B. Ware getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last year. If wrestling were like baseball, people would be going nuts about this. Koko B. Ware was never more than a midcard wrestler. But the reason I bring this up here is that if you mute the sound and just watch the video, I defy you to tell me that you don't think it's MLB Hall of Famer and former San Diego State Aztec Tony Gwynn.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7:00 ESPNU: Hey, arrests of Tennessee players are down 67% this week. Great job Coach Kiffin. It's the Commodores against the Volunteers. Who you got?

#25 California at #17 Stanford, 7:30 Versus: So how good is Stanford? In consecutive weeks they've beaten then #8 Oregon and absolutely destroyed then #9 USC at the L.A. Coliseum. They have a shot at winning the Pac-10 now, and a win in this one would go a long way towards making that happen. Might coach Jim Harbaugh's alma mater come calling after that? Cal will be without Jahvid Best for the second consecutive week.

Kansas State at Nebraska, 7:45 ESPN:
Somehow this is Kansas State's final regular season game. Nebraska has lowly Colorado next week and a half game lead on the Wildcats in the Big 12 North. So, essentially this breaks down to the Big 12 North Championship Game, for the right to get obliterated by Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. More importantly, this is your Erin Andrews game for the night.

Kentucky at Georgia, 7:45 ESPN2: Tragic news out of Athens Thursday, as mascot UGA VII went to the great beyond. Rest in peace UGA. That's about the most interesting angle on this one.

#11 Oregon at Arizona, 8:00 ABC: As mentioned above, this is a big one out in the wild wild west. This is one of the rare weeks where Kirk Herbstreit doesn't have to jet from the Gameday location to his Saturday night broadcast. Will he spend his day watching games or Arizona co-eds?

Kansas at #3 Texas, 8:00 ESPN360: It's a bad week to be a morbidly obese football coach. Charlie Weis, despite pleading ignorance, is all but done at Notre Dame and now Heavyweight Champion of the World Mark Mangino is the subject of an internal investigation at Kansas over allegations that he's something of an asshole. Oh, and that he's lost five straight. This will assuredly make six. He used to be so cute and happy. Andy Reid, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan: consider yourselves warned.

Nevada at New Mexico State, 10:30 ESPNU: Sort of a weak way to wind out the night, particularly on a station that not everyone gets. Hey, New Mexico State is just like the pros. Head coach Mike Locksley beat the shit out of one of his assistants, just like Tom Cable Now, Locksley is being mentored by super-football-mentor-extraordinaire Tony Dungy, just like Michael Vick. Does that make former New Mexico assistant J.B. Gerald a pitbull?

Enjoy the games Fackers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Something To Read Over The Weekend

The work week is winding down, but there's one thing you should probably do before you attempt to sneak out of the office early. Print off a copy of the new e-Ticket over at by Patrick Hruby. It's 12,000 words and once printed out turns into a healthy 16 pages of prime weekend reading material. Use the company's printer and save your eyes from reading it off your computer screen. Heck, once you print it out, you can even take it places with you just like one of those "newspapers" they used to sell.

The article is about a Cambodian man who goes by the Americanized name "Joe Cook" and his efforts to bring baseball back to his home country. That's where the story starts, anyway.
Yes, I definitely thought this would be an elevating assortment of words, a triumph of the human spirit with lots of pretty prose and a bright, happy ending. Sports. Uplift. An emotional shot in the arm. Tonic for a world forever going wrong. But that was before this. Before I ventured halfway around the planet to drink from a half-empty glass of half-curdled joy, before I discovered that a tale too inspiring to be true -- Cambodian refugee escapes the Killing Fields, comes to America, takes hope and baseball back to his homeland (and yeah, someone already is filming a documentary) -- is probably too deranged to make up.
After you're done reading, there's an 11 or 12 minute video embedded in the article.

Woven into a story about baseball are the sad realities of power, greed, abuse, dishonesty and lust, all underpinned by poverty. If you've spent some time in the third world, the descriptions of what goes on in Cambodia will be less shocking, but it won't make them any less sad. The silver lining is that after this article, fewer people are going to hand over their money to "Joe Cook" thinking with the assumption he's using it for the development of baseball in Cambodia.

The writing is heavy on style but there's more than enough substance to go around. I'm not sure if "enjoy" is the right word, but it's a piece that's certainly worth reading.

More On Chapman

In a post yesterday I advocated against signing Aroldis Chapman mainly based on historical reasons and a risk vs. reward point of view. I didn't offer anything in the way of evaluating Chapman's skill set, mainly because very little is known about it - at least very little that is reliable.

Over at Baseball-Intellect, they have an outstanding, in depth look at Chapman. Maybe it's confirmation bias on my part, but I don't see anything in there that makes me more open to the prospect of inking Chapman to the type of deal he will command. He has control problems, has one good pitch and a couple so-so ones, and has a tendency to tip his pitches via arm slot.

At The Yankee Universe, they also have an open post on whether the Yankees should pursue Chapman. Most people weighing in are in favor of it, with the exception of one annoying commentor.

Lastly, via MLBTradeRumors, comes a few tidbits from Keith Law's Top 50 Free Agents. Law ranks another Cuban lefty, Noel Arguelles, as the tenth best option on the market. Arguelles is two years younger than Chapman, and Law speculates he could be had for around $8M. That's a risk I'd be far, far more inclined to assume.

That's it for me this week Fackers. College Football Saturday will be up in the morning.

WHIP, FIP & The WAR Against Wins

Good morning, Fackers. In the wake of the senior circuit Cy Young, like the AL version, being awarded to a pitcher not on the basis of his won-lost record but on the quality and number of his innings pitched, we're again going to disagree with the well-respected Tyler Kepner.

As Matt pointed out on Wednesday, Kepner noted that Zack Greinke acknowledged FIP in his post-award conference call but was grasping at straws in an attempt to frame the knowledge of advanced statistics as a key component in Greinke's success. Last night, Kepner tried to connect what was said by Greinke (or more accurately, Brian Bannister) with Tim Lincecum's explanation of his approach and made the same conflation:
Obviously, there is no substitute for pure talent. But in Greinke, Bannister’s teammate, we are seeing what can happen when off-the-charts talent meets sophisticated understanding of numbers.

The same is true of Lincecum, to a degree. His stuff is filthy, but he said he was mainly concerned with how many walks-plus-hits he allows per inning – which was curious, in a way, because Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter and Javier Vazquez all had a better WHIP than Lincecum in the N.L. this season.
First, Lincecum's WHIP was a minuscule 1.05. Haren, Carpenter, and Vasquez? 1.00, 1.01, 1.03. That's a difference of one batter for every 20, 25 and 50 innings, respectively, which Lincecum easily erases with his superior strikeout ratio.

But more importantly, what if Lincecum had simply said that he was trying his best not to allow batters to reach base? It would have been dismissed as a typical cliche. On the offensive side of the ball, we frequently hear batters saying that they were "just trying to get on base" which is just a different way of saying that they were trying to improve their on base percentage.

In most cases, the goals in baseball are pretty obvious. If you are a batter, don't use up outs. If you are a pitcher, try to keep men off the basepaths, preferably via strikeout. There is still some wiggle room regarding the value of sacrifice hits and bunting, but there isn't a whole lot advanced statistics can teach players. Knowing about UZR isn't going to make someone a better defender. They already know they should be trying to field as many balls, as far away from them as possible.

The main function of the more advanced metrics that are steadily gaining in popularity such as WAR, wOBA, VORP, WPA, RE24, UZR, and FRAA is that they allow observers to more accurately compare players to one another. While players citing FIP and WHIP can only increase their popularity, which is certainly a positive thing, understanding them doesn't provide much in terms of strategical, on-field edge.

The real story emerging from the 2009 Cy Young voting is that the voters have begun to value better statistics and in turn, more objective analysis. Which is to say, they're not blindly picking the pitcher who had the most wins.

Kepner demonstrates this by comparing this year's voting to win-skewed results 1990 and 1998 (both of which illustrate the writer's old reliance on wins), but Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs sums it up best:
Congratulations to the members of the BBWAA, who have been willing to adapt as the game changes. They deserve recognition for being willing to accept the shift towards better analytical methods. And getting away from wins as a measure of the value of a pitcher is a big first step.
Of course, Adam Wainwright who left his last game of the season with a 6-1 lead in line for his 20th win still received the most first place votes in the NL. He only finished 10 points behind Lincecum, so maybe if his bullpen had held up, the aftermath of these awards would be slightly less celebratory.

Both Matt and I have taken turns raining on this parade, but I think it's likely that in hindsight, 2009 will be cited as the year that Advanced Stats won the war against Conventional Wisdom. However, I'm more inclined to think that this was the Battle of Saratoga. And considering Bill James penned the hardball version of the Declaration of Independence over 30 years ago, it's probably going to a while before we see any sort of Treaty of Paris.