25 February 2017

Dellin Betances Exposes Baseball

I'm going to go out on a limb and opine that Dellin Betances is awesome. The gigantic, Brooklyn-raised Yankee reliever sports a career ERA of 2.16, a WHIP of one, and 400 strikeouts in 254 innings. Those numbers put him in the company of the two best relievers in baseball -- Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.

What makes Betances especially valuable is what you might call Andrew Miller Syndrome: Betances is Joe Girardi's Swiss Army Knife, heading to the hill whenever he's needed. In three years, he's made 217 appearances -- mostly in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He's entered games with no days' rest about as often as he's pitched with days off. And half his pitches are thrown in high-leverage situations.

A mere 22 saves belie his prodigious value to the Bronx Bombers.

The Betances Arbitration Debacle
You might have heard that Betances took the team to salary arbitration, requesting a tenfold raise to $5 million, citing projections that put his financial worth at about $15 million to the team. The Yankees countered with $3 million, citing precedent. No other non-closer has ever won more than $2 million in his first year of arbitration.

The Yankees' case is based on a flaw in the arbitration rules, which were constructed on an old paradigm that over-values closers and saves. Without the saves to make his case, Betances was forced into the untenable position of having to argue that he is a closer, which he patently isn't, although patently false arguments seem to be the strategy du jour in America.

Needless to say, the Yankees won the arbitration case and Betances will simply double his career earnings this season. 

A Great Set-up Man > A Lousy Closer
The larger issue is that the arbitration system makes no sense. Had Betances simply pitched at the same level of production all ninth innings, instead of seventh and eighth innings, he would have cited Aroldis Chapman's $5 million arbitration salary from three years ago and probably exceeded that. The irony there is that Betances pitches in more high leverage situations as a fireman than he would as a closer, who is often asked to protect two- and three-run leads.

Compare Betances with Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez, a replacement-level pitcher who is Betances' inferior by every measure except saves, 37 of which Gomez fell into last season despite a 4.85 ERA. And by salary: those 37 saves earned Gomez a $4.2 million contract for 2017.

Take a look at the difference between these two pitchers over the last three years:
Betances: 217 games, 245 innings, 5.3 hits/9, 3.4 BB/9, 14.3 K/9, 1.93 ERA, 8.5 WAR
Gomez: 179 games, 205 innings, 10 hits/9, 2.7 BB/9, 6.4 K/9, 3.68 ERA, 1.5 WAR\

One More Thing, Randy Levine...
There is one more point to make, and that is that Yankees president Randy Levine must have been channeling his inner Jim Dolan in the aftermath of the arbitrator's decision, and now he owes Betances an apology. Levine's denigrating public rant about Betances and his arbitration strategy was mean-spirited and gratuitous. He is going to have to live with the consequences if Betances leaves town as a free agent when he's eligible because the boss treated him poorly in public.

23 February 2017

The Amazing Career of Randy Velarde

You might remember Randy Velarde, a longtime backup middle infielder for the Yankees in the late 80s-early 90s who bolted to the Angels just as the Yankee steamroller got into gear, and played into the new millennium.

Generally speaking, Velarde could hit for average and get on base, offered middling pop, ran well and had a fine glove, all in spot duty. He played 120 games just four times in his 16-year career but when he played, he could be asked to cover second, short, third or the outfield.

What's so amazing about that? 1999.

That season, toiling for the woebegone Angels, and traded after 95 games to the second-place A's, Velarde set career marks for games, at bats, hits, runs, home runs, RBI, steals, OBP, baserunning value, and offensive and defensive WAR. 

Not just by a little. He scored 105 runs. His next best was 82.

He knocked in 76 runs. His next best was 54.

He stole 24 bases. His next best was nine.

He earned six wins against replacement for those two teams, batting .317/.390/.455. His next best WAR in a season was three. (These are all Fangraphs estimates. Baseball Reference credited him with seven wins in '99.)

Indeed, Velarde earned more WAR in 1999 than in his nine worst seasons combined.

Now, I know where your mind is going: steroids. Velarde admitted buying PEDs from Barry Bonds' personal trainer and benefiting from them. But that started in 2001, two years after his career year.

For his career, Velarde added 22 wins to his employers over 16 years, a pretty hefty number. More than a quarter of that came in that one great campaign.

But wait, you haven't heard the amazing part: Velarde accomplished that -- by far his best season in the Majors -- at age 36.

No one does that. By age 36, Derek Jeter was hitting .270 without power. Cal Ripken was playing third base. Miguel Tejada was a replacement-level backup. Nomar was no more.

Randy Velarde never made an All-Star team, never garnered an MVP vote, never led the league in anything except for that year (most singles). Eighty second-basemen's careers are rated ahead of his. Yet he is one of only two second basemen since 1946 to earn 5+ WAR after age 35. The other fella is a guy called Joe Morgan, perhaps the greatest keystoner in baseball history.

21 February 2017

Big Dividends On Tap for the White Sox

Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing. The Chicago White Sox came to the realization last season, the fourth sub-.500 year in a row, that their vector did not point up.

Others might not have reached that conclusion. After all, one of the best pitchers on the planet, Chris Sale, hurled for the White Sox between fashion contretemps. So did promising lefties Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon. David Robertson has saved 110 games the last three seasons. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier have banged 200 home runs between them over the last three years. And all-around star Adam Eaton (pictured right) has hit and run to 15 wins during that same period.

Shouldn't They Be Great?
That, plus some other assets, are a great core. You could win with a true ace, two more solid starters, two big boppers and a solid outfield as the anchors of an otherwise solid team. Alas, that last part was not the White Sox.

Chicago's South Siders were the ultimate stars and scrubs outfit. They played a .205 hitter with four home runs in center field. Their best bench bat was 35-year-old Justin Morneau, who can't play the field and posted a .303 OBP. This strategy, if indeed it was one, has proven itself flawed. Teams are measured not by their best players, but by their sixth starter, their utility infielder and the depth of their 40-man roster.

The gentlemen named above carried the team, accounting for 71% of their WAR. Because nine guys have to bat, and your top three starters can only pitch 60% of your games, that's a problem. Well, it's a problem if you're trying to win. But if you want to rebuild, it's an asset.

The Advantage of Tradeable Stars
A sell-off of decent players returns middling prospects, but Chris Sale and Adam Eaton brought a haul of developing talent. The White Sox plucked two big pitching prospects from the nation's capital for Eaton. Sale delivered New England's two prized farmhands. 

Frazier, 31, (pictured left) and Melky Cabrera, 33 in the last year of their contracts; and Robertson, 32, who has two years left; might move before the trade deadline if they continue to play up to expectation. Robertson has already been the subject of trade talks with the closer-deficient Nats.

Assets begat assets, if the front office is adept. Turning Frazier, Cabrera and Robertson into future value, combined with the retrenchment that started with the Eaton and Sale sales, will allow the White Sox to start over, this time with a more balanced approach.

19 February 2017

What Are the Braves Doing?

If you wanted your old jalopy to look and run like new, would you swap out the engine for a '75 Malibu's? Would you attach the rusted doors from a '92 Nova? Even if you could get them cheap?

The rebuilding Braves, they of the 68-93 record, have inked deals with two-thirds of a nursing home. 40+ hurlers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey were just the beginning. Atlanta has since picked up 30-year-old Jaime Garcia, 36-year-old Brandon Phillips, 33-year-old Kurt Suzuki and 32-year-old Sean Rodriguez.

It's not like these players were found in the bargain bin. Phillips and Garcia will cost $26 million between them. Dickey's knuckler and Colon's many folds chew up another $20 million. Rodriguez signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract. It's a parade of post-prime players on the books for a team clawing back from the abyss.

And that's added to a last place team already starting two MLB graybeards, Nick Markakis, 33 and Matt Kemp, 32. 

Are They Any Better?
None of these players is currently a star, though Colon was a Cy Young candidate back when rookie phenom Dansby Swanson was in diapers and Matt Kemp came within a Ryan Braun drug test of earning an MVP back in the Bush Administration. All of them together aren't propelling the Braves into contention. So what does it mean?

It means Atlanta's brass knows Atlanta's kids aren't ready, particularly on the mound. Rather than rush the prospects to the Majors, the team is bringing in elderly placeholders on one-year deals. If any of them takes his Geritol and lights it up in the first half,  GM John Copolella will flip them at the trade deadline for more young assets.

“We’re looking for guys who can suck up innings," he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

Beyond that, Copolella recognizes that it's a bad look, particularly as they open Sun Trust Park, if the Braves suck. There might actually be some value to not finishing last in the NL East. So if they want to catch an ascendant Philadelphia team, they'd better get some quality on the field. Middling 29-year-olds aren't generally settling for one-year deals, so they recruited the guys they could.

It's an innovative strategy that might catch on among rebuilding clubs that calculate they are still a couple of years away.

So Year One in the new digs in Marietta won't involve a pennant chase. It won't even involve a .500 chase, most likely. But it increases the odds that a contender gets to Sun Trust Park before its novelty wears off.

17 February 2017

Wouldja Hurry It Up Already?

We're in Dead-Horse Beating territory here, but it seems as if Major League Baseball has taken a Lilliputian step forward with its decree that from now on intentional walks may simply be signaled by the pitcher, rather than throwing four pitches high and away.

I understand the argument that something unexpected can happen during a purposeful free pass, like a batted ball or a wild pitch, but the larger issue is that baseball is an entertainment business and an intentional walk is as entertaining watching a cat cough up a hairball. (Believe me.)

The time saved on one intentional walk every other game is smaller than the president's credibility, or, if that's not possible, than whatever else you can imagine that would be infinitesimal and undetectable.

Two Simple Solutions
First steps are helpful as long as they're not last steps. Baby steps are fine when followed by giant steps. It's time for MLB to take the two big steps that would really increase the pace of games.

First, of course, enforce the existing rules about getting pitches to the plate when no one is on base. A batter gets in the box and stays there. A pitcher has 20 seconds (or whatever it is) to deliver. Shampoo, rinse, repeat, because human rain delays aren't fun. They make flowers grow, but so does chicken poop.

Second, limit pitching changes during innings. There are a number of ways to do it and it almost doesn't matter which one you choose. Pitching changes are the baseball equivalent of corporate board meetings. They provide all the entertainment value of uranium decaying.

It's not about how long games take; it's about how much action they pack. These two simple changes, one of which isn't even a change, would go a long way towards tilting the ratio of excitement to boredom into positive territory, particularly for the casual fans who will make or break our sport.

15 February 2017

Predicting the Predictable

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch was renowned for asking Gotham residents, "How'm I doin'?" 

Let's see how I'm doing. Last year, in this post, I reviewed 2015 performances that seemed ripe for surpassing before the Summer Solstice. Let's review:

Jackie Bradley Jr. -- had amassed just five hits, one homer, no steals, and three runs and RBI into August. In April alone he knocked 22 hits, a home run, 11 runs scored, a base swipe and 13 RBIs. He popped his second homer on May 5. Mission Accomplished.

Tanner Roark -- I predicted he could top his 2015 win total of 4 right quick. It did take him until June 5, but then he heated up and finished 16-10, 2.83.

Nick Markakis -- after mashing just three home runs in 686 plate appearances in 2015, it seemed inconceivable that a guy with 144 lifetime jacks wouldn't bounce back in 2016. We were starting to conceive in 2016 when Markakis totaled just three in the first half of the season. He picked up the pop a bit as the weather warmed and ended the season with 13.

Anthony Rendon -- Injuries limited Rendon to five dingers and 25 runs batted in during the 2015 campaign. He repeated the pattern in April, but got uncorked by mid-May and collected 7 homers and 29 RBIs by the end of June. He finished with a more characteristic 20 and 85.

Jake Arrieta -- allowed just seven runs in August and September of 2015 en route to a Cy Young. Still a CY candidate in 2016, Arrieta allowed seven runs in five innings of one game against Pittsburgh. It cost him 25 points of ERA on the season.

Dee Gordon and A.J. Pierzynski -- world-beaters in 2015, both flopped predictably in 2016. The former, the batting leader in 2015, served a first half suspension and then needed all but the last two weeks to notch his 78th hit, his total by Memorial day the previous year. Pierzynski, coming back for his age 39 season, couldn't match his April 2015 home run total (three) and topped the April 2015 RBI total (15) by just nine all year.

Andrew Cashner -- Cashner appeared due for a bounce after absorbing four losses in April 2015 despite a 2.61 ERA. That was not a problem at all in 2016: Cashner pitched just 53 innings for the Marlins, going 1-4, 5.98. Bust!

Shelby Miller -- After a 6-17, 3.02 season in Atlanta, there was no way his record and ERA could be so divergent in Arizona, right? Right! In 2016, his 3-12 record was validated by a 6.02 ERA. Didn't see that coming!

Jon Jay -- As San Diego's anointed CF, it seemed likely he'd top his 2015 production of six doubles and a stolen base, early last season. He bopped his seventh double May 5 and stole his second bag May 13. It was his last steal, but Jay did leg out 26 doubles for the season.

Corey Seager -- I knew I was cheating on this one, but oh my. Seager, in an impressive cup of coffee with the Dodgers in 2015 presaged great things, so it's no surprise that by May 15 he'd topped his 2015 numbers with six homers, 20 RBIs, 23 runs and, well, everything else. Seager enjoyed a rookie season for the ages, winning ROY and earning third place in the MVP balloting with a .308/.365/.512 line and 6 WAR.

Hunter Pence -- What injuries did to limit him to 9 HR and 30 RBI in 2015 they also did to him in 2016. However, he managed twice as many games and delivered 13 homers and 57 RBI. Pence would be a perennial 4-win player if he could just stay on the field.

So there you go, 10 for 12. Of course, considering this was a self-selected sample, it doesn't exactly make me Nostradamus. It just shows that good players tend to bounce back from bad years and no one is as good as his best year.

26 January 2017

Let the Silly Season Begin!

Now that the wonderful college football season has ended with my home state's flagship university atop the mountain, the sports world turns its full attention to the NFL.

Having narrowed down the field to the final two, woe is us.

We are now in the middle stages of the interminable Stupid Bowl run-up, during which analysts throw every possibility against the wall in their aggregate effort to demonstrate their collective ignorance about how the game will play out. Primarily, they will wax in a continuous loop for a fortnight about the contestants' past performances, which we already know will have little bearing on the contest. 

Indeed, one of the two combatants is legendary for their weekly overhauls that render all that came before as credible as a presidential tweet.

The dreariness will not end there. Once Disneyland gets its annual plug and the postmortems are rung out a week later, we will be subjected to a sports universe whiling away the next several months obsessing about NBA regular season and early playoff irrelevancies, as if they will have any effect on the inevitable Cleveland-Golden State championship. You will hear more about who finishes seventh in the West -- some mediocre outfit of no consequence -- than about global poverty.

(During this time, the preliminary NHL season will conclude, and its months of playoffs will drag on, but you don't have to worry about sports media wasting any airtime on the sport. If you want to see the games, try the Elbonian Music channel, number 657 on your satellite package.)

Thankfully, the college hoops season will offer a consequential interregnum in February and March. Because it actually does matter to fans, alumni and locals who emerges victorious from some third rate conference and gets to go dancing against some big conference bully, the league playoffs will inspire huge interest around the nation. And unlike the early months of the NBA playoffs, round one and two (the real rounds one and two, not the Dayton-based play-in games euphemistically called Round 1) will actually matter, and provide noteworthy drama, as upsets provide some smaller conference teams and their school communities with their own Super Bowl moments.

The Final Four kicks off in Phoenix just as the Major League Baseball season -- thank God! -- finally resumes in April. It's always darkest before the dawn.

16 January 2017

Cubs in the White House

Did you see the World Champion Chicago Cubs' visit to the White House on Martin Luther King's birthday?

The players, coaches and front office people all stood around White Sox fan Barak Obama who extolled them for uniting a nation with effort and fair play.

Here's what I noticed: a gaggle of professional athletes surrounded the Commander in Chief and the only black guy in the room was...the President of the United States.

What would Jackie Robinson make of that?

09 January 2017

The National Championship: Don't Bet on a Good Game

I don't know which professional minor league football team representing a university is going to win tonight's National Championship game. No one does.

I could take a guess. It's a binary choice. Fifty percent of the guessers will be right. Being so doesn't demonstrate that they know anything.

Last year's game doesn't mean very much. It was one game. Many of the players from that game are gone. It's not likely to have a great deal of bearing on this year's contest.

I live in South Carolina, home of Clemson. I have many friends who are Clemson graduates or have children at Clemson. I like purple and orange. I'm sick of the Alabama franchise winning. So I certainly have my preference.

All that said, there is a lot of sentiment among the cognoscenti about a Clemson victory that is mostly wishful thinking. Alabama is so clearly the better team it hardly seems debatable.

Alabama blitzed through the SEC. They crushed almost everyone they played. They hammered Auburn. Their defense nearly outscored their opponents' offenses.

Clemson lost a game to up-and-down Pittsburgh. They should have lost to a mediocre N.C. State team that missed an easy field goal for the win. They edged Auburn by six. Non-BCS Troy took them to the wire.

Observers are weighting too heavily results from the semi-finals, where Clemson steamrolled mighty Ohio State 31-0 and Alabama struggled on offense in a 24-7 romp over a suspect Washington team. That Alabama would be criticized for only defeating the #4 team in the country by 17 is a testament to the powerhouse they are.

The Vegas spread on this game of 6.5 points is a reflection of two things: recency bias and nationwide sentiment. I've just described the recency bias. No team is as good as its best game or as bad as its worst.

The Crimson Tide played one game all season that ended within the 6.5-point spread, and that was in hostile territory to the team that defeated them last year. Fans want a close game tonight, if not an outright Clemson triumph. I hope they get both.

But that's definitely not the way to bet.

03 January 2017

The Questions Keep Coming

More Braindrizzling queue and eh, eh?

Q. Okay, Trout won't make the Hall with just five more seasons, but what if he plays for like, 12 average seasons. Would he make the HOF then?
A. There are two concepts that grease the HOF skids -- peak value and career value. Career value is Don Sutton -- a very good pitcher for a long time. Peak value is Ken Griffey Jr. who averaged .260 with 19 home runs a year after age 30. (Of course, that allowed him to compile career value as well.)  In your scenario, Trout would look like Junior, except for a shorter peak.

Q. Who is the best young play-by-play guy in Major League Baseball?
A.  No one. Only three of the PBP guys were even born in the '80s. I guess Vin Scully's replacement might qualify.

Q. Which of the big money relievers is most likely to flame out? 
A. There have been some questions raised about Mark Melancon because he's 31, signed a four-year deal with the Giants and is most prone to losing velocity. His four-seamers average 92 mph, a relative tortoise among closers.

Q. I've seen comparisons between Yoenis Cespedes and Edwin Encarnacion that are not favorable to Cespedes, yet EE was forced to accept a deal worth millions less. Are the Mets just stupid?
A. Here's the comparison to which you refer:
  • Encarnacion, 146 OPS+, 21.1 WAR last five years.  3 years/$60 million with Cleveland
  • Cespedes, 124 OPS+, 18.7 WAR last five years.  4/$110 milliion with Mets
Cespedes is three critical years younger (31 vs. 34) and plays the field. In addition, the Mets had no leverage; they had to sign a slugger.

Q. Realistically, how long can this Cubs team dominate baseball?
A. At least until the bulk of the lineup reaches free agency. Their combination of dominance and youth is kind of unprecedented.

Q. What is the next area of Sabermetric advancement?
A. Defense. Statcast is telling us exactly where balls are hit and what kinds of routes defenders take. And there's so much more to learn in that realm.

Q. If Clayton Kershaw pitched one more Kershaw-type season in 2017 and then retired after the requisite 10 years, is he in the Hall of Fame?
A. No doubt. Greatest pitcher of his time. Lifetime ERA+ an unfathomable 59% better than average. Top 5 Cy Young each of the last six years -- top 3 if he hadn't been hurt in 2016. Led league in ERA five times in six years.

Q. As of right now, which teams have no chance to win in 2017?
A. Fans of these teams can make other plans in October: Braves, Phillies, Reds, Padres, Rockies, Twins, White Sox and A's. I wouldn't cash in my Berkshire Hathaway stock on several other teams, but these are the lead-pipe locks.

Q. Which under-the-radar signing is most likely to pay big dividends?
A. Depends how low your radar is. Let's say it's a player who didn't command a Qualifying Offer. I like the Marlins signing Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa, a reverberation of the Royals' World Series formula in which they teamed a shutdown bullpen with a wobbly rotation. Adding two consistent relievers to A.J. Ramos is critical in Miami because their best starter is no one.

The signing of Steve Pearce by Toronto is intriguing for several reasons. First, Pearce quietly hit .288/.374/.492 with 13 homers in less than half a season last year. Second, he'll play all the corners of the field for the Blue Jays. Third, he'll replace Edwin Encarnacion north of the border, which means we'll compare the two and wouldn't it be just like Baseball if Pearce, at one-fifth the cost, turns out to be every bit the addition Encarnacion is to Cleveland.

Of course, the real big-payoff signing is the one we can't predict, some guy with 13 lifetime home runs in parts of six seasons who slugs 28 and hits .280 this year. 2017's version of Adam Duvall.

Q.  Now that A.J. Preller has pushed San Diego fans through hell and high water, are you still impressed?
A. Young Preller took the reins of the Padres in 2014 and yanked them hard into expensive free agency with a bevy of stars who almost without exception cratered. Recognizing the error of his ways, he quickly reversed course and unloaded the bunch for prospects in 2015. His team has bumbled in both his seasons and he still hasn't steered the franchise entirely back on the road to success. To top it off, he was busted for falsifying information in a trade with the Red Sox. So while Preller's reign has been audacious, it has not been auspicious, but his full vitae has yet to be written.

Q. What would Matt Holiday have to do to make the Hall of Fame?
A. Age backwards? He's well short and turning 37. Hasn't played a full season in two years. When he's done, he can console himself with $160 million in career earnings and a World Series ring.

Q. Does Carlos Beltran need another crazy-good season to earn his Hall pass?
A. That would help but I think he's already in, based on the career value I described earlier. Beltran's been a very good, five-tool player for a very long time. So while he has never led the league in anything during his illustrious 19-year career, he's done a little of everything at one time or another -- won Rookie of the Year (1999) slugged more than 40 homers (2006), posted an OBP above .400 (2009), delivered an OPS+ above 150 (2011), won a Gold Glove (2006-08), stolen more than 40 bases (2003, 2004) and added post-season heroics (2004 with Houston, 2012 with St. Louis). He is rated the 9th best power-speed combination of all time.

Q. A lot of players and managers dismiss defensive statistics. Are they just Luddites or are they on to something?
A. Both. Defensive statistics are not sufficiently mature to tell the whole story. They are going to mislead us in some cases as the craft evolves. Observation by knowledgeable people has value.

At the same time, the defensive metrics add to the base of knowledge because they are unbiased. Players and managers can discern talent that stats can't, but they can also be mislead by confirmation bias and conventional wisdom. Derek Jeter was a great case in point: he was beloved, made a couple of high-profile circus catches and invented that jump throw, consequently, many observers believed he was a great fielder. But deeper analysis showed quite conclusively that he had extremely limited range on ground balls, which is the sine non qua for shortstops.

Anyone who relies on their eyeballs to the exclusion of the metrics, or vice versa, is a fool.

Q. You've railed against the ignorance of baseball media for years. Where are they now in understanding the science?
A. It's a little like race relations: we've come so far and have far to go.

Q. What do you make of Curt Schilling's HOF case?
A. Schill's arm belongs in the Hall but his mouth is keeping him out. A recent tweet about lynching journalists has prompted a serious number of voters to put his candidacy on the bench for now. Given the large number of legitimate candidates on a ballot limited to 10 choices, many of whom are more worthy than Schilling, that could cost him in the long run. This is particularly so because he has not been gracious about the very reasonable reaction to that indefensible tweet. He doesn't seem to recognize the difference between having a political point of view, which is his right, and being a jackass, which is getting him in trouble.

01 January 2017

11 New Year's Wishes for Sports

The universe owes us one. We will have thrust upon us at the beginning of this year by a comatose American electorate a sociopathic, clinically narcissistic, utterly unqualified, willfully ignorant, despicable, lecherous, shallow, juvenile, jackass-in-chief.*

I hope that wasn't payback for the Cubs and Indians in a thrilling seven-game World Series. Assuming the former was the common people knowing what they want and getting it good and hard, and the latter just good luck, it's only fair that one of the following occur this year to improve the sports universe.

1. Put the N-Scam-A-A out of our misery -- its member institutions admit that they are, in
collusion with various television networks, in the for-profit sports entertainment business. They agree to treat revenue generating sports -- big time football and men's basketball -- as the business franchises they are, bidding for players with actual cash and offering everyone who wants one a scholarship to matriculate and graduate like regular students. They maintain the limits on practice time and provide time for all athletes to attend classes, but in every other way continue to treat them like the employees they are. This is the only formula that allows the member institutions to move forward without lying through their teeth every day about their athletic programs.

2. Slash the NHL and NBA playoffs in half -- so that the regular season actually matters. With only the eight best teams qualifying, most every game will count.

3. Enforce MLB's rules designed to move the game along and limit the number of pitching changes. Committee meetings are stultifying, even when they take place on the mound.

4. Have a foreign network provide the telecast of the next Olympics to the U.S. -- It's not all about us.

5. Limit the NCAA hoops tournament to a league's best teams -- No team that loses more games in its conference than it wins should be allowed in the tournament, period. We'd all much rather see a 25-4 squad that lost in the Southern Conference semi-finals make the tournament than a 16-12 powerhouse that finished 10th in the ACC. The latter did not have a successful season and the former did, and they should be likewise rewarded.

6. Begin every televised NFL game with a warning to fans: Though the officiating will not be perfect, it doesn't matter. Luck is 30% of the game. Don't sweat every call; don't worry about three inches that can't be discerned without super slow motion, stop action and three camera angles. Enjoy today's action by freakish athletes who are maiming and killing themselves for your entertainment.

7. Sometimes, tell replay to shut the @#$%&! up -- Baseball players who dive safely into a base but bounce over it while still being tagged shall be deemed safe. That's not what replay was for.

8. Eliminate crappy bowl games -- Division 1A college football post-season contests played in
Detroit, Birmingham or Charlotte, or featuring contestants with losing records in their conference, may not be called "bowls." Instead, each of these contests shall be called the "NIT," as in, the "Pinstripe NIT" and the "Armed Forces NIT" to distinguish it from a real bowl game. There shall be 12 bowl games, -- the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach, Outback, Citrus, Sun, Alamo, Music City and Liberty -- pitting only ranked teams or league champions.

9. Remove the remaining dolts from baseball coverage -- Require everyone requesting a press credential to a Major League Baseball game to pass a test demonstrating that they understand why the old measurements no longer pass muster.

10. Screw the plane. Get into the end zone for a touchdown.

11. Admit it already: sports gambling is legal. They scroll stats under football games for fantasy league players and list point spreads in newspapers. Every office and bar advertises an NCAA tourney bracket. Forty-nine states participate in lottery operations. Your bookie is just a click away. So let's ditch the self-righteous hypocrisy and end the remaining prohibitions. Good idea? You bet.

* This blog remains non-partisan. This is not an endorsement of the other major party's nominee, who, though qualified and generally adult, was also a miserable candidate. Contrary to what the news media told you during its 25/8/366 coverage of the election, there were actually more than two candidates for president, one of them an actual Republican, all of whom more qualified, mature and dignified than the ultimate victor.

30 December 2016

You Can't Fool Players or Coaches

What do Gregg Popovich, Leonard Fournette and all of Major League Baseball have in common?

They're not buying the hype.

Popovich is the championship-winning San Antonio Spurs coach who regularly flouts NBA rules by resting his best players for whole games, despite outrage from league brass and ticket-buying fans. Recently, LeBron James absorbed blowback for similarly agreeing not to make a trip to Memphis for the second half of a home-and-home series between the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies.

Fournette is the star running back at LSU who has chosen to skip his team's bowl game -- an advertising platform for Hyundai -- in order to prepare for his Major League career in the NFL, which will actually pay him a salary. The sporting public lit up Twitter and the radio and TV commentary universe with brick-a-brats for Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and others making the same decision.

All of Major League Baseball regularly sits its star players from time to time in order to rest them for the grueling six-month, 162-game schedule. No one comments.

Their Own Best Interest
The common thread is this: the people involved recognize, even if their hypocritical overseers don't want to acknowledge it, that their best interests don't dovetail with those of the money counters in their sport. Contrary to the Association's best efforts to bamboozle fans about the abject irrelevance of its interminable regular season, Popovich understands that his team will cruise into the over-stuffed playoff field regardless of its lineup in any given game. He knows that seeding is, as Harry Truman famously quipped about the vice presidency, as relevant as the fifth teat on a cow. And he knows that championships are won on fresh legs, not on victories in Game 26 of an 82-game season against an out-of-conference opponent. And finally, he is well aware that he answers to the owner of the San Antonio Spurs, not the commissioner of the NBA.

Fournette, McCaffrey, et. al. are unmoved by the NCAA's best efforts to befuddle them about their "amateur" status. They are professional revenue generators for their schools, no more so than during bowl season, when a single game kicks back a multi-million dollar payout, even if it is the desultory Buffalo Wild Wings Sun Bowl to which McCaffrey's Stanford squad has been relegated. Each of them is acting in his own best interest. The swami of the NCAA, whatever irrelevant personage that is today, won't reimburse these NFL prospects if they get injured or fall in the draft because they offered their talents for free to the university's capital engine for one more game.

Some of the derision aimed at Fournette, McCaffrey and their ilk has centered around their "abandonment" of teammates. This is hysterical. Both are leaving school after their junior year, a well-worn tradition against which no one has ever railed for "abandoning" teammates. Coaches regularly "abandon" recruits for better-paying jobs at bigger football programs. That die was cast long ago.

A Base Hit for Baseball
Once again, baseball gets it right like no other sport. It's commonly understood that in a long season players need occasional rest in order to perform at their best for the most games. Fans purchase tickets aware that their favorite player might play spectator that day. Ironically, unlike the NBA, MLB's regular season actually does matter. One game can and often does cost teams an opportunity to earn a playoff spot that can lead to a championship. Yet everyone involved readily accepts the notion that resting players is a long-term investment.

What really separates baseball from college football and the NBA is that the latter two sports are built on foundations of hypocrisy, inevitably propping up a precarious structure prone to a collapse of logic. For all its warts, Major League Baseball at least is what it says it is, which is why no one complains when its athletes skip a meaningless game.

28 December 2016

The Projections System Got It All -- Right?!!

Remember this?

And this?

They were Baseball Prospectus's projected standings for 2016 last March. At the time, I made sport of the sabermetric community for continuing to expose themselves to ridicule. BP can no more predict next season's results than can any nominally educated fan .

Want proof? Look at that very first line. They have the 68-94 Tampa Bay Rays winning the East, while tabbing the Baltimore Orioles, a Wild Card entry, as the worst team in the AL. With projection systems like this, why not just throw darts, right?

But Wait, There's More...
Well, keep looking. BP pretty much nailed the rest of Baseball. Sure, the Rangers won the West, but there's lots of evidence that their level of play was much more like a lucky .500 team. The rest of the AL is dead on. As projected, the World Champion Royals did stumble. The Indians did indeed run away with the Central. The Angels, with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, did in fact stink.

Take a gander at their NL projections. Nationals, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers and Giants in the playoffs. Spot on, but for the Nats and Mets switching places. The new and improved Dbacks? Correctly unimpressed. The 98-win Pirates? Stumbled even worse than projected. The Braves' tear down? BP nailed their record.

We could analyze what happened in the game that led to this unlikely result. The big spending teams in Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles delivered. The bad teams lived down to expectations. There's no evidence that the projection system, called PECOTA, learned any new tricks.

If you were projecting BP's projections for 2017, you would regress them to the mean and peg them for largely on target but for some big misses. But BP had a high BABIP last year and avoided the injury bug. They outplayed their third-order Pythagorean record.  I project that BP's 2017 projections -- and everyone else's -- will stumble about like Andy Capp, with some home runs and some big whiffs, no better than a semi-educated fan's best guesses. They won't nail all the playoff teams in either league, but they'll get the Cubs and Dodgers right, maybe the Astros too.

Next year this time, we can review my projection of BP's projection and determine who the bigger dope is. I'm betting that baseball's unpredictability vindicates me.