Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Dream Fight

In the MMA world, the major dream fight being talked about right now is Anderson Silva versus Georges St. Pierre.  I was completely on board with this fight happening...three years ago.  But some things have happened since then that has made me change my mind.  The first was that it was pointed out that the risk-reward for each fighter is disproportionate.  GSP has more to gain than to lose and Silva has more to lose than to gain.  What shame does GSP have in losing to Silva?  On the other hand, what is there to gain from Silva beating a smaller fighter?  Silva beating GSP wouldn't be that impressive.  The same even goes for GSP beating Silva, after what happened at UFC 117 (where Chael Sonnen took, and held down, Silva at will).  Yes, there were questionable circumstances surrounding the fight (Silva being injured, Sonnen on PEDs etc.), but the fact remains that the novelty of seeing Silva dominated through wrestling is gone.  That's the problem with this fight.  The outcome will almost certainly resemble either GSP-Serra I (albeit more legitimately) or Silva-Sonnen I (albeit more legitimately).  It doesn't have the unpredictable nature that a dream fight should have.

The next thing that happened was UFC 128 and the beginning of Jon Jones' ascension up the P4P rankings.  Jones' victory over Shogun was the most dominant title win I'd seen since that of one Anderson Silva.  It was this precise moment that the prospect of a Jones-Silva fight surpassed Silva-GSP.  Silva and Jones are two of the, if not the, best and most creative strikers in the sport.  This fight is not predictable.  Technically Jones could employ a Sonnen-like gameplan, but there's also the possibility that something happens that's never been done before (Jones getting picked apart or vice versa); something that's not possible with GSP.  Not to mention that, unlike GSP-Silva, the loser doesn't take a big hit.  If Jones were to lose, then it would be to the greatest fighter of all-time.  And if Silva were to lose, it would be to a younger fighter just entering his prime (and could be on his way to being the greatest of all-time).  It's a win-win.  Both fighters would be helped by a win and not that hurt by a loss.

Not only is Silva-Jones a more exciting, even, and unpredictable matchup, but both fighters are in similar situations of not really having imminent contenders.  Other than postponing a potential Dan Henderson-Jon Jones fight (which could've been avoided had the UFC just rescheduled Henderson-Jones, instead of irrationally plugging in a completely undeserving Chael Sonnen), neither division would be held up by a super fight. That's not the case with the Welterweight division.  GSP has both Nick Diaz and Johnny Hendricks waiting in the wings (not to mention Rory MacDonald closing in on a title shot).  In fact, I'd much rather see GSP fight Diaz over Silva.  Diaz's boxing and Jiu-Jitsu make for a good stylistic matchup with GSP.  Even if he couldn't beat GSP, he should at least be able to get a great fight out of him (much like Condit just did).

Thankfully, GSP-Diaz is exactly the direction the UFC is going in.   The next step is moving on from the idea of GSP fighting Silva and switching to the true dream fight: Silva versus Jon Jones.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Who's up first?

When I broke down the AL MVP race, one of the things I mentioned was how RBIs are somewhat circumstantial.  Being a good hitter doesn't automatically get you RBIs; you do need runners on base (obviously).  In the same way, having runners on base could lead to RBIs, even if a player isn't hitting great.  For a perfect example of this, look no further than Hunter Pence.  Pence finished 14th in baseball with 104 RBIs, even though he only hit .253 (106th in the league).  But that doesn't tell the full story.  Because Pence was on two different teams, you can see the difference in production.

In Philly, Pence hit 59 RBIs in 398 at-bats.  In San Francisco, he had 45 RBIs in 219 at-bats.  In order to give a clearer comparison, let's look at how many RBIs he would have had if he had played a full year in each location.  Pence was on pace for 630 at-bats in Philly and 594 at-bats in San Francisco.  We'll just average the two and set the hypothetical number at 612 at-bats.  Assuming he had 612 ABs, Pence was on pace for 91 RBIs in Philly and 126 RBIs in San Francisco.  What's even crazier?  Pence was hitting .271 in Philly and only .219 with the Giants.  Using the same 612 ABs, that's the difference between finishing with 166 hits and 134.  Pence would have 35 more RBIs, despite getting 32 less hits!  If you can hit worse, yet drive in more runs, something tells me that who bats in front of you does make a pretty big difference.

Monday, December 10, 2012

UFC on Fox 5 review

On paper, the UFC's latest Fox event offered easily the best card to date.  It didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations, but it was still a good show.  Part of the problem was the inclusion of Shogun and BJ Penn.  This isn't to criticize the matchmaking.  As I said, these were all great fights (on paper).  The problem is that Shogun and Penn aren't the same fighters anymore, which makes them a gamble.  There's no way of knowing how the fighters are going to show up.  Is it going to be the Shogun from the Dan Henderson/Machida fights or the Shogun from the Vera fight?  Because Shogun is so hit or miss, it makes it hard to judge Gustafsson's performance.  Did he pick him apart because he's just better or because the underwhelming Shogun showed up?  It was still an impressive performance from Gustafsson, but not as much as it could've been, if we could tell for sure that it was the good Shogun that he dominated.

Penn's case is more extreme than Shogun's.  Obviously questions of his preparedness and endurance have surrounded him virtually his whole career.  But as the fight was going on, I started thinking less about how those questions pertained to this fight and more about how they pertained to his career; which led me to this question: has any athlete ever achieved so much while simultaneously leaving so much on the table?  He's the greatest Lightweight fighter of all-time and only the second person in UFC history to hold a title in multiple weight classes, yet it still feels like he greatly underachieved.  If only he had trained with a real trainer and was in shape for every fight, he probably would have beaten GSP the first time, Hughes the second time, Edgar both times, and Fitch.  Could you imagine if BJ had the stamina that Ben Henderson has?  He would've been virtually unbeatable.  Instead, he might be the most accomplished underachiever ever.

In my review of UFC's last Fox event, I mentioned how the UFC is in a tough place because all of their previous superstars are fading.  That continued with this show, as the doors closed more and more for Shogun and Penn.  However, I had also mentioned some new fighters that were becoming must-see (Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo).  The big positive from this event?  Add Benson Henderson to that list.  On the heels of his fights with Clay Guida and Frankie Edgar, Henderson put together another stellar performance on Saturday night.  He's now what I would call the most entertaining "decision fighter" in the sport.  He's so active and aggressive; it doesn't feel like he's just trying to outpoint his opponent or play it safe.  Great showing from the champ.

In total, the show was a mixed bag.  Swick-Brown was pretty good and Henderson-Diaz was great, but Shogun-Gustafsson and Penn-MacDonald felt more like two stars falling than it did two stars rising; which is a shame.  Hopefully their next fights will be against more consistent fighters (like Machida and Condit, respectively), where potentially dominant performances would say more about them than it would their opponents.  And thankfully there's a quick turnaround to the next Fox event, where two of the three fights (Johnson-Dodson and Pettis-Cerrone) won't be subject to "declining superstar sabotage".  Should be good.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Case for Kaepernick

For the past week or two, the hot topic in the NFL has been the quarterback situation in San Francisco.  Some think Alex Smith should start, while others think Colin Kaepernick should start.  Personally, I don't think there's a wrong answer.  I think the Niners would be perfectly fine with Smith starting.  But with that said, here's the case for why Kapernick was the right choice.

For starters, a Niners blog post points out that "the 49ers have [had] fewer really bad plays – and more really good plays – with Kaepernick at the controls".  One stat given in that blog post is that, in his two starts, Kaepernick has 10 completions of 20+ yard passes, while Alex only has 22 such completions in the eight full games he has played.  This is reflected in Kapernick's 9.9 yards/attempt, compared to 8.0 yards/attempt for Smith.  Here's some other stat comparisons of Smith's eight starts to Kaepernick's two:

Completion percentage- 70.0%
Third down efficiency- 38.0%
Touchdown percentage- 6.0%
Interception percentage- 2.3%
Sack percentage- 10.0%

Completion percentage- 66.7%
Third down efficiency- 40.0%
Touchdown percentage- 6.3%
Interception percentage- 2.1%
Sack percentage- 2.0%

People think Kaepernick was chosen because he's a high-risk, high-reward player; that he can provide the big plays that Smith rarely does.  The thing is, he hasn't been high-risk (so far).  Smith's calling card has been ball security.  Kaepernick has been just as proficient in that area, but hasn't needed to take sacks or throw shorter passes to achieve that.  Smith wasn't benched just because he was injured.  He was benched because Kaepernick has been able to play Smith's style and more.

Of course one could (wisely) point out that Kaepernick's stats consist of a very small sample size.  It's possible that defenses eventually adjust to him and that he becomes less effective.  But here's the thing, if that happens, going back to Smith is easy.  It's not like Smith is going to struggle if they go right back to him in three or four weeks.  But on the flip side, what if Harbaugh had gone with Smith over Kaepernick and then there was a visible dropoff from Kaepernick?  The media and fan base would be clamoring for a change.  And if that happened, and a change was made at that point, then going back to Smith is completely off the table.  Right now, Smith isn't benched because he was playing bad; he's benched because Kaepernick happens to be playing better.  If you went back to Smith and then benched him, it would actually be an indictment of his play.  And that you can't come back from.  You can go from Kaepernick to Smith.  But if you went from Smith to Kaepernick, you can't go back to Smith.  In that instance, you're stuck with Kaepernick and would have to hope he really is good enough to win in the playoffs.

Which is better: going with Kaepernick and having Smith as the safety net or going with Smith and having Kaepernick as the safety net?  Harbaugh didn't just go with the option that had the biggest upside, he went with the one that also had the safest plan B.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fool's Gold

The Gold Glove winners were announced this week.  The big headline was Mike Trout losing to Adam Jones.  To see how questionable of a choice that was, I decided to look up some stats (Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, Fielding Percentage, Range Factor, and Defensive Wins Above Replacement) and compare the two.  Here's what I found:


Trout had such a big statistical advantage it's laughable.  The one knock I read against Trout came from a comment on an ESPN article, which brought up Trout shifting to LF when they would bring in Peter Bourjos for defensive purposes.  The problem with that point is that it doesn't take into account how good Bourjos is defensively.  Being not as good as Bourjos automatically means he's not as good as Jones?  That would be like saying Jordan wasn't as good of a defender as Dumars, because he wasn't the best defensive player on his team.  You wouldn't fault Jordan for playing with Pippen, so why would you fault Trout for playing with Bourjos (who, by the way, did have the highest UZR of anyone with a minimum of 500 innings played)?

Even if you held that against Trout, that doesn't mean Jones was the right choice.  Denard Span had 20 DRS, an 8.5 UZR, a .989 FPCT, a .289 RF, and 2.4 dWAR.  Not only did Jones have the lowest DRS of any qualified center fielder and negative defensive wins, he also committed the most errors.  Yes, he had 439 putouts, but he still only had 54.9 putouts per error.  By comparison, Trout had 132 putouts per error and Span had 84.8.  So regardless of whether you thought it should or shouldn't go to Trout, it clearly shouldn't have gone to Jones.  Here are some other questionable choices:

Carlos Gonzalez over Martin Prado:


Chase Headley over David Wright:


Jimmy Rollins over Clint Barmes:


Finally, the biggest travesty of all, Andrew McCutchen over Michael Bourn:


McCutchen over Bourn?  Bourn is statistically the best defensive outfielder in baseball.  How did he lose to someone with subpar stats?  Even if you don't think advanced metrics are 100% conclusive, you can't ignore significant gaps.  If Bourn had 24 DRS and McCutchen had 19, you might be able to make an argument that stats don't tell a complete story.  But a 29-run difference?  That's hard to write-off.  All of these questionable decisions involved at least a 19-run difference.  Is it really reasonable to expect a margin of error of 20?  These players chosen were questionable at best and preposterous at worst.  I hope these perplexing Gold Glove selections don't carry over to the AL MVP, and that the rightful winner prevails.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Best D in the League?

Who has the best defense the NFL?  Some say Houston.  Some say Chicago.  Some say Seattle.  How could anyone say anything but San Francisco?  Let's compare their rankings:

Houston- 4th fewest points, 3rd fewest yards
Chicago- 3rd fewest points, 5th fewest yards
Seattle- 2nd fewest points, fewest yards
San Francisco- Fewest points, 2nd fewest yards

Those are pretty close, but what about the competition they have faced?  Here's the rankings of the offenses that each has faced:

Houston- 19.8 ppg, 320.3 ypg
Chicago-18.7 ppg, 321 ypg
Seattle- 19 ppg, 299.9 ypg
San Francisco- 22.9 ppg, 345.9 ypg

Some would say that points per game and yards per game aren't extensive enough.  Using advanced stats, Football Outsiders ranks the defenses as follows: Chicago, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco.  The crazy part?  Here's Football Oustiders' average ranking of each of their opponents:

Houston- 23.8
Chicago- 19.6
Seattle- 20.2
San Francisco- 16.6

By Football Outsiders' own rankings, the Niners have faced the best offenses.  The Niners have given up the fewest points in the league, to better offenses than Houston, Chicago, or Seattle faced, and they're not the best defense in the league?  How does that make any sense?  I'm sorry, but San Francisco has the best defense in the league.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Rule is not a Flop

Starting this season, the NBA will finally penalize flopping.  Surprisingly, this new rule wasn't met with universal praise and, quite frankly, I'm dumbfounded by that.  Jalen Rose tweeted, "I appreciate rules against 'FLOPPING' but dislike the new penalties. Any punishment should happen DURING the game(personal/tech foul)."  In his article on Grantland, Zach Lowe stated, "An in-game punishment would be ideal, especially in the rare case in which a blatant flop tricks the referee. It wouldn’t take long for a video-review official to make the call, and the victimized team would shoot a technical after a timeout, minimizing the interruption."

In-game punishments?  As Zach stated, the way for this to be done would be to review it.  People complain about the pace of sports already; I don't think reviewing more plays is going to help that.  How would this even be done fairly, without reviewing every flop?  Do we really want/expect the refs to review every flop?  The only thing worse then flopping would be flops leading to delays in the game.

Jalen also tweeted why he doesn't like the punishment: "You must get 16 technical fouls to pay $5k while the 2nd flop has the same fee attached? Don't like it."  I think that punishment is completely fair.  Here's why: technical fouls are incidental; flopping is not.  Technical fouls can happen in the heat of the moment.  Flopping is an intentional attempt to deceive the referees.  In fact, I even think that $5,000 dollars is low, for the type of flopping the refs should penalize.

Flops like these:

Flopping to exaggerate the contact of actual fouls is one thing.  The complete fabrication that a foul happened is what needs to be punished.  This may sound strict, but I think the flops in those videos should be punished with suspensions.  Why?  Because they NEVER need to happen.  Pretending like you were fouled, when you weren't, is a disgrace to the game.  The problem isn't the fines.  It's that the fines even need to exist in the first place.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Criteria Carousel

The AL MVP race is one of the closest of all-time.  But before deciding who should win, shouldn’t we decide what it really means to be the MVP?  The problem I have with this race is the same problem I have with any MVP race: arbitrary criteria.  The reasoning for why someone's a MVP changes.  Sometimes it's the "best player on the best team" scenario.  Sometimes it's the "he's the best player" reasoning. And sometimes it's the "he carried his team to the playoffs" rationale.  The reasoning for a given player, in a given year, is completely arbitrary.  In 2002, Miguel Tejada appeared to win the MVP as "the best player on the best team."  By regular or advanced stats, A-Rod was the better player.  He had more HRs, more RBIs, better OBP, better fielding percentage, a greater range factor, and more Wins Above Replacement (8-10 for A-Rod compared to 4-5 for Tejada).  A-Rod was a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove.  It appears the only thing Tejada had on him was that his team won 103 games (compared to 72 for A-Rod).  In 2003, A-Rod won the MVP.  His numbers were slightly down from the year before, but he still got a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.  But how did his team do?  Not better.  They only won 71 games that year.  So apparently he was the MVP as "the best player."  In 2010, Joey Votto and Albert Pujols had very similar stats.  Advanced stats gave Pujols the slight edge, and he also beat out Votto for the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.  Who won MVP?  Votto, because he "carried his team to the playoffs."  Pujols was a better hitter and defender, just not more valuable?  How are we supposed to accurately judge who's the MVP, when the reasoning is not even consistent?

This is precisely the problem with this year's AL MVP debate.  People touting Cabrera as the MVP as "the player that carried his team," while others are saying that Trout is "the best player."  So who's the MVP?  Is it "player that carried his team," like in 2010?  Or is it "best player," like it was in 2003?  Who knows which side will win out this year, so let's examine both.

Best player:
Both players have strong cases.  There are, however, two words that shouldn't matter: Triple Crown.  Now I'm not saying that Cabrera winning the Triple Crown isn't impressive.  Of course it is.  But this is about value.  If Josh Hamilton would've hit two more HRs this year, would that have affected Cabrera's value to the Tigers in any way?  No.  The production Cabrera provided for the Tigers is the value he brought.  Hamilton hitting two more HRs wouldn't have taken away from Cabrera's production.  He wouldn't have helped the Tigers less, because Hamilton hit two more HRs.  In other words, the value Cabrera brought to the team is independent from the award.

Not to mention that Triple Crown is an achievement of relatively superficial stats, in terms of value.  Batting average isn't as important as On-base percentage and RBIs are circumstantial.  Trout may have hit slightly less, but he got on-base more frequently (.399 compared to .393).  And when I say RBIs are circumstantial, I mean that they're influenced by your teammates and where you hit in the lineup.  You don't control how frequently your teammates get on-base ahead of you.  Cabrera had more RBIs, but that's to be expected.  Trout hits leadoff, while Cabrera hits third.  Check the splits for both guys and you'll see that Cabrera had more at-bats with runners on, as well as runners in scoring position.  Cabrera had 174 at-bats with RISP.  Trout had 111.  In those 111, Trout had 53 RBIs.  At that rate, Trout would've had 83 RBIs (in 174 at-bats).  That means that if Trout had as many opportunities to drive in runs as Cabrera, he would've had an extra 30 RBIs.  Add those 30 to his actual 83 and he would've had 113.  Not that far off from Cabrera's 139.

Since RBIs are team dependent, let's try and isolate what Cabrera and Trout did on their own. Apart from driving people in, the best thing a hitter can do is score themselves (a HR) or get in scoring position (double, triple, or stealing a base).  Cabrera hit 44 HRs, 40 doubles, no triples, and stole 4 bases.  So Cabrera scored or put himself in scoring position on 88 occasions.  Trout had 30 HRs, 27 doubles, 8 triples, and stole 49 bases, which means he scored or put himself in scoring position on 114 occasions.  Which one is more valuable?

If you go by advanced stats, Trout was the better offensive player.  According to Baseball-Reference, Trout was worth 8.6 offensive Wins Above Replacement and Cabrera was worth 6.9.  By the way, I think it's funny that people think advanced stats (like WAR) are inaccurate or faulty, but would use the Triple Crown as evidence.  One final thing on that: Cabrera may only be the 10th guy to win the Triple Crown in the AL, but Trout is only the third player ever to hit 30 HRs and steal at least 49 bases in a season. 

The final point for Trout is defense.  Baseball-reference had Cabrera worth -0.2 defensive Wins Above Replacement, while Trout was worth 2.2.  Trout was one of the best center fielders in baseball.  The guy literally robbed multiple HRs.  Offense, defense, baserunning.  The guy did it all.  Dig deeper than HRs and RBIs and you will see that Mike Trout wasn't just the best player in the AL, he was the best player in baseball.

Carried his team to the playoffs:
Not only do we not know which year this will be the decisive factor in a MVP race, we don't even know what this really means.  Shouldn't there be a more nuanced reasoning than one team making the playoffs and the other one not?  Acting like a team making the playoffs is automatically significant ignores the strength of the division.  How can you fault Trout for the Angels not making the playoffs, when they play in a tougher division?   The Angels had a .556 winning percentage against the AL Central and a .526 winning percentage against the West.  The Tigers had a .597 winning percentage against the Central and a .394 winning percentage against the West.  The West was much tougher than the Central.

Not only did the Angels have a tougher schedule, they still finished a game ahead of the Tigers.  If they switched divisions, Cabrera wouldn't be in the playoffs.  If the playoffs didn't require a representative from every division, Cabrera wouldn't be in the playoffs.  The Tigers needed a soft division and a technicality to make the playoffs; not Cabrera "carrying them."  "Carrying his team to the playoffs" is a faulty way to determine the MVP, unless they're from the same division (and even then it's not necessarily conclusive).  Something so circumstantial shouldn't be used to determine a players' value.  Trout's not the MVP because he played in a tougher division?  That doesn't make sense.

Forget about the technicality of the playoffs and focus on what they players actually did.  Mike Trout was worth 10 WAR.  Cabrera was worth 7.  Mike Trout's job was to score runs.  He did that better than anyone in the league (129).  Miguel Cabrera's job was to drive in runs.  He did that better than anyone in the league (139).  That's a difference of only 10 runs (less if you factor in the literal runs Trout saved).  This, in spite of the difference in the level of competition.  The teams in Cabrera's division gave up an average of 775 runs.  The teams in Trout's division gave up an average of  657.  That's essentially the difference between playing a team that gives up the 5th most runs in the AL and the 11th most runs.  Yet Trout was basically as productive at his job as Cabrera was at his.  And if you still insist on tying their value to their team's record, look at how their teams performed; not whether they made the playoffs.  When Trout started, the Angels had a .580 winning percentage.  When Cabrera started, the Tigers had a .540 winning percentage.  That's the difference between a 94-win team and an 88-win team.  You tell me who's more valuable.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Historic and Hyperbolic

Last year, the NFL season kicked off in historic fashion.  Rodgers and Brees passed for 300+ yards, 3 TDs and no INTs in the same game, Brady passed for 500+ yards, Cam Newton set the rookie debut record with over 400 yards, Janikowski kicked a 63-yard FG, and Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kick and a punt for a TD.  This season started in a very similar fashion.  While last season saw offensive explosions from players (Rodgers, Brees, and Brady), this season saw offensive explosions of teams.  The Bears, Falcons, Redskins, Jets, and Ravens all scored 40+ points, the most number of teams to do so on opening weekend in history.  Cam Newton's rookie debut was topped by RGIII, who became the first player in history to throw for over 300 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs in his debut.  Janikowski's record-tying 63-yard FG was tied by David Akers.  And a return record was set, albeit a different kind, as Ed Reed set the record for most interception return yards in history.  With a similar beginning, let's just hope this season plays out close to as well as last year did.

The only negative start to the year revolves around the Green Bay Packers.  The media coverage of the Packers has been pretty ridiculous.  Coming into the year, ESPN the Magazine predicted that the Packers would go 16-0.  I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that is the most ludicrous prediction that's ever been made.  The Packers went 15-1 last year!  Do they really think a team is going to go 31-1 over a two year period?  That's insane!  It's very unlikely that a team wins more than 27 games, over a two-year stretch.  In fact, since the merger in 1970, it's happened less than half a dozen times.  The Niners have won 28 ('89-'90), the Patriots have won 28 on two separate occasions ('03-'04 and '06-'07), the Bears won 29 ('85-'86), and the '72-'73 Dolphins went 26-2 (which would be the equivalent of 29.7 wins, over a 32-game stretch).  No team has won 30 games over two years, yet the Packers are going to win 31?  Are you kidding me?  Not only is it statistically improbable for the Packers to win that many games, they don't even have the right type of team to attempt to do it.  The teams that won 28+ games all had very good defenses.  Here's their defensive rankings, by points allowed:

'89 Niners- 3rd
'90 Niners- 2nd

'03 Patriots- 1st
'04 Patriots- 2nd

'06 Patriots- 2nd
'07 Patriots- 4th

'85 Bears- 1st
'86 Bears- 1st

'72 Dolphins- 1st
'73 Dolphins- 1st

Where did the Packers rank last year?  19th.  They would've had to get substantially better on defense, in order to even get to 29 wins.  Especially considering the possibility that the offense would take a step back.  Prior to last year, there were 13 teams that scored 500+ points in a season.  Of those teams, only four regressed by less than triple digit points and only one (the 2000 Rams) actually scored more points the following year.  In summation, the Packers lacked an elite defense and possibly an unsustainable offense.  Not exactly the recipe for unprecedented success.

And when it took all of one week for the projection of an undefeated season to come crashing down, did everyone realize the error of their ways?  Did they realize that predicting an undefeated season was an absurd projection to make and that maybe they should stop making statements like that?  Nope.  Instead of deciding to stop making absurd statements, some thought the best course of action was to respond with some more idiotic remarks.  Like this gem from Foxsports: "The '72 Dolphins can pop bubbly early".  This, of course, is referencing the '72 Dolphins' ritual of toasting champagne whenever the last undefeated team in the league loses, preserving their season as the lone undefeated one.  Saying that the Dolphins can toast now is idiotic.  What they're saying is "Green Bay's not going undefeated, so no one is".  When a hyperbolic statement blows up in your face, it's probably not smart to immediately make another one.  Saying "there's no way anyone goes undefeated" is as stupid as guaranteeing that a team will go undefeated.  How about just not guaranteeing something that can't be guaranteed?

As if that wasn't bad enough, that wasn't the only generalized statement in that post (that's right, there's four sentences and half of them are generalizations).  It also stated that the Packers "still have no running game" (a sentiment I've heard from more than just Foxsports).  Let me get this straight, because Benson only had 18 yards rushing, the Packers will have no running game all year?  A guy in his first game with the team, against last year's top rushing defense, was enough to project how his year will go?  Maybe one game against a great rushing defense shouldn't be used to draw a conclusion?  (Last year, Steven Jackson had 19 yards against the Niners.  I guess he wouldn't help the Packers either?)

People overreact ("the Packers have no running game") in order to pretend that the original sentiment ("Green Bay will go undefeated") wasn't absurd to begin with.  How about just acknowledging that it was more likely the Packers were going to win 10-13 games this year?  Don't poke holes in the team after one week, pretending like some unforeseen circumstance is the reason why the original prediction isn't going to come true.  Don't make preposterous predictions and you won't have to sound the alarm after one week of football.

The hyperbolic nature of the media is taking away from the real stories, like how the Ravens are going to have the best offense in the NFL, RGIII is going to have the greatest rookie season in history, and that Adrian Peterson is genetically superior to the rest of us.  Ok, that last one is true.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Puzzling Scouting Reports

For every week 1 game, ESPN has done a scouting report, which includes a head to head comparison of each position group.  I'm no expert, but one of them included some egregious picks.  In the Green Bay-San Francisco scouting report, it gave the linebacker advantage to Green Bay.  A curious decision, seeing as the Niners have the best linebackers in football.  All-Pros Bowman and Willis, the best inside linebacker tandem in the league, are joined by Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks (who combined for 21 sacks last year).  It's no contest.  Clay Matthews is the only linebacker in Green Bay that would start in San Francisco, so picking Green Bay is a joke.  Equally as terrible of a selection was saying Green Bay had the advantage in special teams.  Apparently slighting the best linebackers in football wasn't enough, so I guess they had to slight the best special teams in football too.  Granted, special teams fluctuates from year to year, but seeing as a game hasn't been played yet, this analysis can really only go off of last year.  And what happened last year?  San Francisco had record years from Andy Lee and David Akers, and the Niners outperformed the Packers in kickoff return average, punt return average, opponents' kick return average and opponents' punt return average.  They literally outperformed Green Bay in every way, and Green Bay gets the nod?  Is this a joke?  I don't know what went into those decisions, but it clearly had nothing to do with what actually happens on the field.

Some other, less egregious, choices that I thought were curious:
Carolina DBs over Tampa Bay's- Tampa Bay signed Eric Wright (one of the best corners on the market), moved Ronde Barber to safety, and drafted Mark Barron 7th overall.  Meanwhile, Carolina's only new addition is Haruki Nakamura (a backup safety last year for the Ravens).  This on top of the fact that Tampa gave up less passing yards and their opponents had a worse passer rating against them.  So the better unit from last year got stronger, yet Carolina has the edge?  Makes total sense.

Atlanta RBs over Kansas City's- The Chiefs get the return of Jamaal Charles and the addition of Peyton Hillis.  The Falcons have a year-older Michael Turner.  Last year, Kansas City (led by Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle) had more total rushing yards than Atlanta.  Are they really going to be worse with Charles and Hillis?  Granted, there's some uncertainty about how they'll both bounce back from last year's injuries, but there's still too much upside.  This at least should've been ranked an "even".

Minnesota RBs over Jacksonville's- Gerhart and Jennings are probably pretty close to each other.  I think the disparity should come from the fact that MJD only sat out camp, while Peterson is recovering from a serious knee injury.  Even though it's mainly a battle of backups, I think MJD is likely to be more effective than Peterson (if Peterson even plays at all).  Therefore, the scales should be tipped in Jacksonville's favor.

Again, I'm no expert, but these all seemed like weird choices.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012

We're less than two weeks away from the start of the season, in what has potential to be the best year of quarterback play ever.  Now it's possible (or maybe even probable) that Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Stafford, Eli, and Newton don't play quite as well as they did last year.  But league-wide play may improve, with the return of Peyton Manning and the possibility that last year's success of rookie QB's carries over to Luck, RGIII, and maybe even Russell Wilson.  Additional improvement can come from Rivers, Freeman and Bradford bouncing back, Palmer having a full offseason, and Cutler, Schaub, Vick, and Cassel staying healthy. Granted, not all those things are likely to happen.  But the fact remains that there's really only worrisome quarterback situations in Arizona, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Miami.  It wouldn't shock me for the other 28 teams to have positive play from their QB's, so it could be a very good year for passers.  But enough speculation.

Now it's time to speculate on who will make the playoffs.  Last year didn't turn out so good (I only got 7 out of 12 right).  But in all fairness, I wasn't aware of the stat that an average of five new teams make the playoffs every year.  I'll be ignoring that stat again this year, but at least I knew about it this time around.

The playoff returnees are the Packers, Falcons, Niners, and Giants.  Of the four, I feel the most confident with the Packers and Falcons.  The Niners are likely to drop to 9 or 10 wins.  I do think it's possible that Seattle wins the division, but I think Harbaugh's a good enough coach to prevent the Niners from missing the playoffs.  The Giants are trickier because of the ole Super Bowl hangover, but they did win 12 games after their last Super Bowl; so that may not be an issue with them.  Combine that with the risky nature of the Eagles and Cowboys and I think they make it back.  I think the safest newcomer pick is the Bears.  They won 8 games last year, even with Cutler and Forte missing a combined 10 games.  They were 7-3, prior to Cutler breaking his thumb, then went 1-5.  Just having those guys healthy makes them a playoff team.  Add to that the fact that they acquired a true number one receiver in Brandon Marshall, much-improved insurance for Cutler and Forte (in the form of Jason Campbell and Michael Bush), and special teams ace Blake Costanzo, and the Bears should be a dangerous team this year.  For the last playoff pick, I'm going with a sleeper and taking the Bucs.  The other possibilities were the Saints, Lions, Cowboys and Eagles.  I resisted the Saints, because of everything that's happened with them.  I find it hard to believe that a team can lose its head coach and defensive coordinator and not be affected (not to mention the player suspensions).  I think the Lions take a small step back.  I think the Cowboys are too risky.  They could be very good, but there's injury and personality risks with pretty much every significant player.  I think the Eagles are the likeliest to make the playoffs over Tampa Bay, but I'm going with the long shot.  Going from 10 wins in 2010 to 4 wins last year makes them likely to bounce back in general.  Factor in the additions of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Doug Martin to the offense (along with a supposedly newly motivated Josh Freeman) and Eric Wright and Mark Barron to the defense (along with shifting Barber from corner to safety), and they could very well make the playoffs.

The playoff returnees are the Patriots, Ravens, Texans, and Steelers.  I think the Patriots and Texans are the safest picks.  The Patriots have a better roster than last year and the Texans play in a weak division.  The Ravens should be pretty much a lock.  The only reasons they aren't is the lack of Terrell Suggs for at least 6 games and the fact that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are both a year older, but I still think they make the playoffs.  Of the four, I feel like the Steelers are the likeliest to fall out.  Mike Wallace missed training camp over a contract dispute, Rashard Mendenhall will miss the start of the season with an injury, and first-round pick David DeCastro will be out for awhile (if not all year).  Not to mention that since Roethlisberger's been around (and even the three years before), the Steelers have had a pattern of making the playoffs two years in a row and missing them the them the next year.  After two consecutive playoff appearances, will that pattern continue this year?  I say they break that tradition, only because I see don't see anyone who could potentially push them out.  The first newcomer to the playoffs is America's seemingly favorite pick: the Bills.  With the addition of Mario Williams and the return of Fred Jackson, the Bills should be in a good position to make a playoff run (especially if it's true that Fitzpatrick wasn't fully healthy last year).  I'm not completely confident in them though, I just think there's a lot of question marks with other teams.  I thought the Jets were done last year, so I don't expect much from them this year.  The Dolphins lost arguably their best offensive player, leaving Reggie Bush as their primary weapon (who only has a year of experience as a featured back).  Combine that with a rookie quarterback and it could be a tough year in Miami.  The toughest pick to make is the AFC West winner.  The Broncos are the favorites.  But since there's question marks about Manning (both in his health and how he'll fit in with a new offense), combined with the fact that the Broncos scraped by with a lot of comeback wins last year, they're a risky pick for me.  Another team that pulled off a lot of close wins was the Raiders.  So while I think the team should be better this year, some of the bounces that went their way last year may not this year, which could cause them to end up with the same record.  The Chargers have the best quarterback in the division, but I feel like they might be in the same boat as the Jets (in that they peaked a couple years ago).  And the loss of Vincent Jackson doesn't help.  So I'm picking the Chiefs.  They finished only a game behind the rest of their division, in spite of the fact that Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki all missed (essentially) the entire year.  Matt Cassel was also hurt last year, and he seems to have a pattern of playing good every other year; which means he should bounce back this year.  The AFC West should be a tight race, and it's truly anyone's division to win, but I feel like the Chiefs have the most room for improvement from last year.  Although, with the possibility that Pittsburgh or Buffalo doesn't make it, it may very well be a second AFC West team that takes their spot.

I think the likeliest candidates for MVP are Brady, Manning, and Brees.  I feel like Brady and Rodgers have the best shot at putting up ridiculous MVP numbers; but since Rodgers won it last year, I don't think he's likely to win it twice in a row.  The case for Manning and Brees are all about circumstance.  The press loves Manning to begin with.  If he were to come back from injury and put up even just top 10 totals in yards and TDs, and Denver made the playoffs, I think he'd take it.  Even if Brady put up close to 5,000 yards and 40 TDs, I think the story surrounding Manning would push him over the top (even if he had only 4,000 yards and 25 TDs).  The only one who can match Peyton, as far as circumstances go, is Brees.  If the Saints make the playoffs, I think Brees gets his first MVP.  Just like with Peyton, he doesn't need gaudy stats to do it.  If he were to lead the Saints to the playoffs, in spite of losing Sean Payton and Gregg Williams, he would get it.  The interesting question: what would happen if both Denver and New Orleans make the playoffs?  Since it's impossible to know which one could pull it off, I'll go with the safest pick in Brady.

Super Bowl pick
How will the Packers defense do this year?  Will their offense be as good?  How will the Niners offense do this year?  Will their defense be as good?  Can the Giants make back to back Super Bowl trips?  As likely as any of those teams are to make the Super Bowl, I think the Bears might be the best all-around team.  The other teams have questions about performance, while it seems like the only question with the Bears is health.  Since the only question about them is something that could be a problem for any team, I'll go with the Bears to represent the NFC.  For the AFC, I think it comes down to the Patriots, Texans, and Ravens.  I'm not 100% confident in Joe Flacco yet, so I don't feel comfortable picking them.  The Texans are probably the best all-around team in the conference, but health is a question mark with them (and not in the way that it is with Chicago).  While Cutler and Forte missed significant time with injuries for the first time in their careers, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have struggled with injuries for three of the last five years.  For that reason, I'll pick the Patriots to make a second consecutive appearance.

Final rankings:
NFC- Bears, Packers, Niners, Falcons, Giants..........Bucs
AFC- Patriots, Texans, Ravens.....Steelers.....Chiefs..........Bills.

Since I picked neither to make the playoffs, watch it turn out to be my ill-fated pick from last year: Saints-Chargers.  Although if that was the case, I'll just say I was a year ahead.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

UFC on Fox 4 review

The fourth installment of UFC on Fox was almost a home run.  The team of Menefee, Couture, and Stann did an excellent job, once again, and all the fights were good.  We got to see the return of Mike Swick, which was nice, along with a great fight between Lauzon and Varner and a nice KO from Machida.  The only thing that kept this show from being a home run was the fact that Brandon Vera was in the main event.  He's won three fights in the last in the last three years, none of which were against particularly impressive competition, yet he's in the main event?  I realize he was an injury replacement, but he was not worthy of fighting a contender.

The fact that Vera was even considered for a fight with Shogun is proof that UFC is stretched thin with talent right now; which I think is due to a lack of new stars and too many events.  In the last couple of years, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin, Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Rich Franklin, Brock Lesnar, "Minotauro" Nogueira, Rampage, and Tito Ortiz have all retired or essentially become irrelevant.  This has resulted in a pretty big superstar deficiency, because I think the only new "must-see" fighters to come along are Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo (and I'm not even sure those guys have moved into being automatic draws yet).  As a result, I think the UFC needs to cut back some on the number of events they put on.  With an increasing number of events and a decreasing number of true stars, we're left with situations like Rich Franklin-Wanderlei Silva main eventing a PPV or Brandon Vera headlining a Fox card.

The UFC needs to cut down to 12 PPVs per year.  With a lesser number of events, they'll be able to load shows with more talent.  This will help events that may not have a true money fight and it will help create better replacement fights, in the event of injuries.  Dana has said that fans want more fights, but I think it's better to have quality over quantity.  If some fans want more than 12 PPVs and four Fox cards, then add more FX and Fuel TV cards.  Fans that want to watch as many events as possible would likely be satisfied with non-marquee events.  But when it comes to marquee events, less of them is more.  It's better to have shows too loaded than shows stretched too thin.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The "hardest" thing in sports

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, "hitting a pitch is the hardest thing to do in sports."  This is the dumbest statement, because it's both incorrect and pointless.  The stat people always use is "3 out of 10" is a successful hitter.  The problem is that 3 out of 10 is a batting average.  Batting average isn't hitting a pitch.  Batting average is getting a base hit.  That's not the same thing.  If you literally mean "hitting a pitch," then hitters hit pitches more than 30% of the time (they don't literally miss the ball on 70% of their swings).  And if you mean "getting a hit is the hardest thing in sports," then you're making a completely pointless statement.  Baseball is played 1 on 9.  Of course getting hit involves such a low success rate.  So can we please never use the phrase "hitting a pitch is the hardest thing to do in sports" ever again?  Because you're either saying something that's not true or you're not even saying what you mean, and what you mean is a completely pointless statement.  Either way, it's time to put that idiotic phrase to rest.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moneyball "misrepresentation"

When Moneyball first came out, there was some discussion about the movie's omission of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder.  It seemed to bug people that three of the best players on the team weren't credited with any of its success (and it still does, because a recent article I read made a comment along those lines, which is why I feel the need to address it).  In my opinion, I think the omission of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder was acceptable (for the most part).  Not because I don't think they were valuable, but because they weren't new.  Moneyball focuses primarily on the changes the team experienced during the 2002 season.  Yes, the A's trio won an impressive 57 games.  But they won 56 games the year before.  In other words, their performance didn't make up for the departures of Giambi and Damon.  I think the same reasoning can be used for the downplaying of Tejada and Chavez.  They produced 365 hits, 68 HRs, 240 RBIs, and combined for 9.5 WAR in '02 (according to baseball-reference).  The year before, they produced 325 hits, 63 HRs, 227 RBIs, and combined for 9.2 WAR.  So it's not like they filled the holes left by Giambi and Damon either.

Obviously those five guys were important to the success of the A's (and they deserved some mention), but if their performances didn't make up for the loss of Giambi and Damon, then what did?  Those five guys with Hatteberg and Justice shouldn't have been good enough to match those five guys with Giambi and Damon.  But they did.  They lost their best player, yet finished with a better record.  That shouldn't have happened.  Yes the A's had good players, but nothing epitomized the concept of Moneyball better than replacing Jason Giambi with Scott Hatteberg and actually being more successful.  That's why it's the main point of the movie.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 vs. 1992

The Olympic Team vs. Dream Team story is so stupid.  It was dumb of Kobe to say the 2012 team could beat the Dream Team.  Especially considering that the 2012 team isn't even healthy.  But it's not just Kobe I disagree with.  I'm also not in complete agreement with people when it comes to why Kobe's team would lose.  The dumbest reasoning used is the outcomes of the Dream Team's games.  To pretend for one second that the competition they faced is anywhere near the quality of opposition the current team will face is asinine.  Dominating subpar competition doesn't unequivocally prove greatness; dominating a Kukoc-led team doesn't prove you could dominate a LeBron-led team.  The other point of emphasis that I'm not a big fan of is the "11 Hall of Famers" point.  Only because it could've been matched, in theory.  A team of LeBron, Durant, Carmelo, Kobe, Wade, Howard, Duncan, Garnett, Love, Paul, Rose, and Kidd (in the Larry Bird inactive role) could contain 11, or even 12, future HOFers (maybe if that team existed, Kobe's challenge of the Dream Team wouldn't look so foolish).  The lack of HOF status of the current team is more a result of circumstances than it is a result of an inability to produce potential HOF talent.  Therefore, I don't think "point differential" and "11 HOFers" should be the primary arguments for a Dream Team victory.  The real reason I think the Dream Team is the best Olympic Team ever is because of their competitiveness.  The Dream Team documentary coverage of their practices was amazing.  I don't think anyone on the current team goes at it like Barkley and Malone or Magic and Michael.  So even if a team in 2012 could come close to matching the talent, they wouldn't come close to matching the ferocity.  And that's why the Dream Team would win.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The NBA Finals was a tale of two stories.  As a series, it was somewhat underwhelming.  Expectations were high that we'd witness a competitive series between two exciting teams, led by arguably the two best players in the world.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  The Thunder who dominated the Spurs were nowhere to be found (especially James Harden).  They seemed to succumb to their youth and inexperience, and it ended in the worst way possible.  Game 5 was an awful way to end the season.  Nothing's worse than a series closing out on a beatdown that involves fluky 3-pt shooting.  Note: I'm not saying Miami's title win was fluky, but rather the manner in which the decisive game was won.  It's one thing for a "fluky" blowout to happen in the middle of a series.  But it sucks when it happens in the close-out game, because it makes the series feel less competitive than it actually was.  A short series, ending with a one-sided beatdown, is only fun for the fans of the winning team.  And not only did we not get a competitive series with a compelling ending, we didn't get to witness a legendary battle between the two best players in the world.  Neither guy played poorly, by any stretch, but they didn't have that ultimate performance with both guys at their best, trading shots (a la Bird-Dominique or LeBron-Pierce).  The series just didn't feel like a battle between the two best players and the two best teams.  So in that way, it was disappointing.

But on the other hand, there was LeBron James.  What we witnessed from LeBron was nothing short of incredible.  He averaged 28.6 points, on 46% shooting, along with 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game.  But it wasn't just what he did that was amazing, it was how he did it.  LeBron answered every question people had about him.  Will he be an assassin?  Will he perform in the 4th quarter?  Will he develop a post game?  Check, check, and check.  He played with an edge, he hit some big shots, and he was effective playing with his back to the basket.  He did everything that was asked of him.  How can anybody be anything but impressed and respectful of that?  Fans complain about holes in players' games all the time (Kobe needs to pass more, Westbrook needs to shoot less, Rondo needs a jumper, Howard needs more post moves etc.) and rarely do those players answer the call promptly, if at all.  Well, LeBron did.  So what else do you want?

Think about what he's done.  Not only did he actually do what people asked of him, but he eliminated all but one of his flaws.  If he works on his shooting, he will be the most complete basketball player of all-time (defense, passing, rebounding, post game and shooting).  Honestly, who wouldn't want to see that?  How could anyone not want to see a player with no weaknesses?

Fans want players to dedicate themselves to their craft and to winning.  LeBron clearly did that.  You could've complained about his attitude or desire in the past, but he clearly improved his game and focused on winning, so you can't hold that against him anymore.  If he reverts to that stuff in the future, then I guess you can hold it against him then.  But as of right now, that can't be a reason to not respect him.  If you can't admire him for addressing his faults, then your dislike of him isn't based in objectivity.  Which would be a shame, because if he becomes the most complete basketball player of all-time, everyone should enjoy that.  Your dislike of who he was shouldn't affect your opinion of who he has appeared to become.  His transformation redeemed the Finals.  And if it's permanent, it has redeemed his career.