Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One small question for college baskeetball



Just why again did you choose to put the Final Four in Detroit? Shouldn't this event be in, you know, a place that people might actually want to go to?

The Steelers Get One For The Other Other Thumb



This is fantastic on many levels, but it assumes that any Steeler Fan is thin enough to have sex. Somewhat NSFW, and I'm disappointed that they didn't get into the smaller Asian sizes popularized for Hines Ward. Do not miss.

Does the NBA own stock in Twitter?

Mark Cuban has found a new way to get fined; criticizing refs on his Twitter page. Shaquille O'Neal gets controversy for using the service at halftime, and asking people to accost him in public. Baron Davis just told the world he's got an ulcer on his page. (Finally, a Clipper has something in common with their ticket holders. That, and the soul-crushing losing.) Charlie Villaneuva has been candid about his coach's displeasure with him on Twitter. Many teams have committed to official feeds.

And that spine-crackling yawn that you just emitted from this knowledge? Well, I'm on the record as loving the Association, but I'm with you on this one.

Personally, I'm one of the far too many Rapidly Aging Americans who use Facebook; I do so for the same reasons that people used to use Reunion or MySpace, which is to say, to look at pictures of women I knew in high school. (Yeah, like you use it for anything else.) That, and trying to casually amuse people, or generate a few extra folks for my poker game, or blog posts, or whatever.

I do not care, and never will, about the not very illuminating or interesting lists or quizzes or applications that people use in the course of their Facebook day. Nor, for that matter, am I all that interested in the building blocks of your thought process, which is to say, the real grist of what Twitter is about.

So why do so many NBA guys do this?

1) They have too much free time. Seriously, at this point in the season, there isn't much in the way of new scouting or coaching going on. It's all about either qualifying for the playoffs, finding out about bench guys, or just playing out the string for the benefit of your statistics. There's a reason why scoring goes up late in the year; there's a tacit quid pro quo of guys more or less going easy on each other.

2) They are young enough to embrace any new technology. Your mom uses e-mail. Parents use Facebook. Twittering is basically a public text messaging service; it rewards a lack of forethought or editing, and that's right in the wheelhouse of folks who are less likely to have set habits and schedules.

3) It's a fad. Kobe Bryant notwithstanding, there really aren't very many NBA players who have been on Shaq's teams that have really disliked the guy. He may be a defensive sieve now, he might have squandered some of his talent and opportunities from not taking his conditioning seriously, and he's left untold thousands of points on the table from being a free-throw liability. But he seems fun to be around, and he keeps the media away from you. So when he starts doing something, other people are going to check it out.

4) Easier to be second than first. Who, really, is going to crack hard on a Twittering NBA guy now? You'd have to crack on Gilbert Arenas first, for opening Pandora's Box with the blogging, then the half dozen folks who've already done this in the last month.

My only real question is this... what will it be next month? 24-hour Web cams carried on the players? Bathroom updates? A cortical implant that will allow us 24/7/365 thought access? Non-inquiring minds do not want to know!

That's the way to start the year



Word out of Milwaukee, in no way surprising, that Trevor Hoffman will start his Brewer career on the disabled list.

Of course, I own him on two out of three leagues, because that is just how I roll, bitches.

The move is retroactive to March 27, because the team doesn't think that he'll be out for a very long time, and 41 year old closers are not exactly known for their durability. So I'm not exactly cutting him. Just myself.

Luckily, I'm sure this will be the last time this year that I have to deal with hurt players. Good to get that out of the way early, really.

The Price Is Wrong

Two AL East teams have announced to their fans that the first couple of months of their year don't matter very much, and that they are more than willing to jeopardize the integrity of their season in an attempt to save money at some future date. I speak, of course, of the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles.

Let's start with the team that wasn't very far away at all from winning the World Series last year, your defending AL East and AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays. They've decided that the guy who had their season and championship in his hands during last year's ALDS, and the man that is ranked no lower than the #2 prospect in all of MLB, isn't worthy of their #5 starter role. No, seriously.

David Price will instead take his career 1.93 ERA, 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio, 95 mile per hour lefthanded heat and 0.93 WHIP to Triple A Durham, so that he can work on, I don't know, his diction or something.

The Rays claim that what they are really trying to do here is to make sure that the young guy doesn't run into arm trouble, as they want to limit his 2009 output to 165 innings or less. Instead, the early season starts will go to Jason Hammel (career ERA of 5.90, mostly because he can't throw strikes) and/or Jeff Niemann (career ERA of 5.06, similar live arm with control issues).

What is really happening, of course, is that the Rays are playing games with Price over his arbitration years by trying to keep his service time down. They are, in effect, gambling that they are so much better than the Red Sox or Yankees that they can play at a disadvantage in April and maybe even May, while their potentially best starting pitching option twiddles his thumbs in Durham.

They just might get away with it, too. Hammel and Niemann both have live arms and might figure it out, and it's not like they will be facing the beasts of the world in the #5 slot, especially with early season rainouts and off days tending to limit the work of a #5 starter. It's also not the worst idea in the world to limit the innings from a talented 23-year-old.

But it just sends a terrible, terrible message to their fan base, and it also -- and this is the hidden bummer point -- increases the risk of injury and overuse to their top arms. Those would be James Shields, Matt Garza and most especially Scott Kazmir.

Because when Price is your #5 starter, he's not *really* your #5 guy; he's an arm that you aren't going to skip over. So you wouldn't have the temptation to overuse the top pitchers, in the same way that you will with the marginal candidates in the #5 slot. That will do double or better if the Rays stumble out of the gate while the Yanks and Red Sox get off to a hot start.

Oh, and there's also this. Price is fully aware that he's in the minors for no good reason at all, and is *very* likely to remember this when the time comes for his arbitration and free agent negotiations. Enjoy him for the legal minimum that you'll get him, Rays Fan.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, the #1 prospect in baseball is going to the minor league camp despite being a switch-hitting catcher with power. In 2008, Matt Wieters hit .345 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs at Class A Frederick and .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs at Double-A Bowie. In preseason action, he's 13 for 39 with a homer, five RBIs and four walks.

The Orioles have decided, in their infinite wisdom, to have this asset go to Norfolk, just so they can save on his future arbitration rights, and avoid taking calls from Scott Boras for a few more months.

Now, I understand that 2009 is not going to go well for Baltimore, and that there is a certain logic to making sure that the next Oriole team that will compete has Wieters with a marginal amount of more seasoning.

But let's just call this what it is: tanking baseball games, from the very start of the year, and telling their fan base that there is no reason to pay attention to them from the very start. Come back later, folks. If at all.

Don't think that the baseball gods haven't noticed. Nominal starting catcher Gregg Zaun, who will be 38 in April and is coming off a robust .700 OPS year with Toronto, got crunched at home plate last week, and is questionable for the start of the season with a bad elbow. If he can't go, the club will go with Chad Moeller or Robby Hammock, which is to say, the worst Opening Day starting catcher in MLB. As Big Star (and for the younger readers, Trent Reznor) once sang, you get what you deserve.

Here's a thought for Baltimore management: if 2009 is so outside of your realm of interest, discount the tickets until Wieters comes up. Trade away Brian Roberts, who won't be good when Wieters is in his prime. Sell off George Sherill in the bullpen, and maybe Chris Ray as well, since it's not like you care about winning the 1 in 3 games that you might possibly have a late lead for. Release Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff.

Or, and this is the real winning play... sell the team to any entity in the world that actually wants to win baseball games, rather than feel smart about their payroll while finishing fifth.

Oh, and cashing all of those revenue sharing checks from the teams that, you know, actually want to win.

Seriously, why on earth is anyone an Orioles fan?

And why on earth does MLB (and yes, I'm looking at you once more, Bud Selig, and regretting the decision to do so) perpetuate a compensation system in which teams are discouraged from starting the year with their best young players? Shouldn't Opening Day be about, you know, *hope* for every fan in every city, no matter how deluded that hope may be?

Or do only MLB+ teams get that now, officially, for good and forever?

Blogrollins Is Making Sheep Do Things



Very cool, but where is the love for the dogs that made it happen? Or some talking pig?

You'll say Sham Ow! See what I did there, folks? That's comedy.

MLJ digs into the details of Dontrelle Willis going on the DL with anxiety. He's got too much mitoclorion in his blood, or his ERA. Let's just call this for what it is: he's not good enough to pitch in the major leagues. But if this gives them any kind of out medically, look for the Giants to do the same thing with Barry Zito...

Backing up what will be said in another post soon, but the Orioles' quitting ways extends to their radio coverage, too. Why, exactly, does this team have a single fan left?

In case you were thinking that Michigan State Fan didn't have the Internets. This one had the good manners to link to us recently, so here's some love.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Post Save World

In Chicago, Cubs manager Lou Pinella has announced that Kevin Gregg, a reliever that the team acquired from Florida in the off-season, will now have the closer role. This is to some mild upset of fantasy owners who have drafted the electric stuff of Carlos Marmol, especially seeing how Marmol has been the best reliever in the Cubby pen for years now, but has seen the counting stat go to Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood, and now Gregg.

Fun tangent for Not Cubs Fans: start a meme in Chicago sports radio and the Internets claiming that this is a race-based decision, since the other three men are all tighty whitey and Marmol is not, because what else could a decision in Chicago be?

In Seattle, top arm Brandon Morrow is going to the pen as another team decides to baby a talented young guy, rather than risk Dusty Baker-esque malpractice accusations later. Morrow is expected to eventually close, if for no other reason than the Mariners aren't going to win more than 65 to 70 games and want to have at least one guy who could be named to the All-Star Game if Ichiro craters this year.

In New York, I'd say something more here about Joba Chamberlain, but that would cause the Internets to break under the weight of people talking about Joba Chamberlain. Let me just cut to the chase here and say that if he were going to the pen because Mariano Rivera suddenly became unavailable, it would probably be a heck of a lot less controversial than having him take set-up innings.

In Oakland, fantasy players are prepared for a screwing as the A's deliberate on whether Brad Zieglar or Joey Devine should have the role. They've both been lights out in their time in the East Bay, but Devine is more of a strikeout guy and also more injury-prone. So it could go either way, and probably eventually will, just because Billy Beane and the ownership probably want to avoid paying for a counting stat more than they can exploit some other dumb team to pay for a counting stat.

And finally, in Boston, Jonathan Papelbon has the closer spot for something like the third or fourth straight year. What can I tell you, I don't feel like looking up the numbers and seeing when he got the job, because the blog's advertising revenue is not high enough for me to think about the Red Sox that much. Paps is getting paid and staying healthy despite slowly eroding numbers, so I guess it's working out for him. Moving on.

Which is all said in the manner of a set-up for the gist of this post: the market, at least in terms of how major league teams contemplate value, is moving beyond the save. Whether or not the Cubs want to admit this, Marmol is very likely to be a better pitcher than Gregg this year, and they are going to use him in the most valuable role that a bullpen has: men on base, protecting a lead, in the late innings. Which is more likely to be the seventh or the eighth, rather than the ninth, since the closer role now almost always involves working the full inning from the start.

Anyone who has seen the value of their home, 401K and employment crater in the past year knows this with painful certainty right now: market inefficiencies are eventually corrected with prejudice. Saves are, simply, a market inefficiency, one that is pointed out year after year by fantasy leaguers who spend their high picks on more stable roles and then patch or luck their way into treading water in the category. (Though, to be honest, I kind of hate the patch work, because it is a hideous timesuck in what is already a hideous timesuck. Give me three good ones that I don't have to worry about, and I'm happy, or at least, less miserable. But anyway...)

If you wanted to play in a fantasy league that best approximated real life competence, you would abandon the usual 5 x 5 category format. Typically, that is batting average or on-base average, home runs, runs, RBIs and steals for offense, and wins, saves, ERA, walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, and some measure of strikeouts, whether it's total, per nine innings or divided by walks.

Instead, you'd have *fewer* categories -- maybe just OPS for hitters (on base plus slugging percentage) and just ERA for pitchers, while keeping the position requirements to match a real team.

So you'd sweat out two catchers, back-up infielders, and the number of teams in the league being more or less equivalent to the number of teams in the real sport.

Finally, you would do a roto situation, which is to say year-long instead of week to week matchups, and you'd impose some kind of structure to limit moves, since real teams do not have the luxury of "streaming" players for small daily advantages.

There is a reason why people don't do this kind of league, of course, and that reason is that it would be about as much fun as maintaining an actuarial table. Counting stats like saves, wins, homers and RBIs are *fun*; they give you a definitive fist pump of joy from the fact that something of importance just happened, even if the importance doesn't quite match the value given to it by the system.

But I can tell you this: nature abhors a market inefficiency, and in a relentlessly competitive system like baseball, inefficiencies that cost you wins in the long term are not tolerated. We are moving with all speed to a world where the save counting statistic costs teams much more than it benefits them, and individual players, and their commission-aware agents, become aware of how they are getting hosed.

If you are Carlos Marmol, you know this, and most likely, you know it hard. If you are Brandon Morrow and the Mariners don't give you the glory job, it's going to play in your decision to take a deal to lock up your arbitration years, or just your long-term decision to stay in town. If you are Joba Chamberlain, you may be too drunk to think very hard about this, but your agent most assuredly has.

And if you are a very particular kind of geek, you are now wondering about setting up a 1x1 fantasy league for what passes for street cred in propeller-head circles.

(Please don't ask me to join it; I'm already in three leagues and more importantly, I might not ever be able to play in them if I join yours, for the fun of not worrying about saves.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Your Jose Lima Update

Now, which of the following points amazes you the most about our man's indie ball comeback...

1) Jose Lima is still employed to pitch at any level

2) Garry Templeton (yes, of "If I'm not starting, I'm not departing" fame)is employed as a baseball manager

3) Lima is still married to a woman with a Show-level rack

4) The presence of Mrs. Lima ensures that Mr. Lima will continue to be more than blog-worthy for the foreseeable future

5) Long Beach, CA seems to be the repository of all of Teh Crazy in the sporting world

Where Unfortunate Happens

Tonight, I'm watching Bugs-Spurs on the Lemur. The Spurs make two three pointers to cut the lead down to 1 with 15 seconds left. The Bugs inbound the ball to Chris Paul, who uses his hyperspeed to avoid the intentional foul, but not really. As CP3 gets to the frontcourt, Manu Ginobili finally gets to him, but not before Paul hoists one from 40 feet. The refs finally get the whistles out, but now it's Paul shooting three free throws; he makes them all. With the lead now up to four, the Spurs don't score again, and that's your ballgame.

Now, I'm not a Bug or Spur Fan; I was just hoping to see this go to overtime, so that I could get a few more minutes out of my fantasy game players. But if I were Spurs Fan, I'd be bent, because the zebras clearly missed the call on Paul's clock kill, because Tony Parker-Longoria clearly fouled CP in the backcourt. But, um, not the way the ref saw it, and instead of a shot at the end to tie, CPs made free throws ended things.

Now, is this really a disaster? No, not really; New Orleans led for most of the way and were probably going to win anyway, as Paul was just MVPish tonight, and they were at home.

But it does show the general maddening tendency of the Association, which is that every close game is going to have intense scrutiny on the refs. And ever since the Donaghy scandal, that scrutiny goes beyond thinking about the competence of the individual crew, or how so and so got lucky... and right into a realm that does the league no good at all.

Nothing you need in a recession, during the time of the year when the world cares more about college basketball and spring training baseball...

Britches pound Texas, Hookers shock Butchers

The Philthy Britches crushed the Texas Hustlers in the first game of a derby doubleheader at the 23rd Street Armory on Saturday, but the real excitement came in the second game when Heavy Metal Hookers overcame a 21-point second half deficit to beat the Broad Street Butchers on the last jam of the game.

The Hustlers are the gran dames of WFTDA, part of the first women's flat-track league in country. (On a personal note, the Hustlers do have kickass purple uniforms. They were reminiscent of Interplanet Janet, who played a formative role in our early development.) The Britches showed no respect for their elders, though, beating the Hustlers 129-64.

It was a tight, slow game in the early going and the Britches frequently found themselves behind before taking a 44-37 lead into halftime. Texas had narrowed the lead to 48-44 when the Britches all but ended the game, erupting for 30 points in the fifth and sixth jams from Gloria Grindem and Ginger Vitis while allowing only two points.

The Britches clamped down at that point, allowing only 20 points for the rest of the game.

The Hustlers held all-everything jammer Mo Pain in check, allowing her only eight points in five jams. Many of the Hustlers were part of the all-star Texecuctioner team that lost to the Liberty Belles at the 2008 Nationals (Ed note. Philly puttin' a boot in Texas' ass again). and blocker Babe Ruthless said they knew they had to stop the Britches most dangerous jammer.

"We saw her at Nationals and knew she was an amazing scorer," Ruthless said. "We really targeted her and that allowed some of the other girls the opportunity to really shine. We underestimated some of their other jammers."

The second game looked like it would follow the same pattern of a close game at halftime blowing open after a big second half run. The Hookers held a 42-37 lead at the half, but the Butchers roared out of the locker room, scoring 15 points to the Hookers' one in the first three jams.

With the help of a 10 point jam from co-captain Persephone while Hooker jammer Ivana Rock watched from the Sin Bin, the Butchers pushed their lead to 73-58. Then a curious thing happened, the Butchers stopped scoring. At all. The wouldn't score another point the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, the Hookers weren't doing much scoring themselves, going scoreless for the next three jams. But Robin Drugstores picked up eight points with 7:31 to play and after Teflon Donna added five more, the Hookers were suddenly two points down with all the momentum on their side.

When Mandawar shot from the pack as lead jammer, it looked like the Hookers would take their first lead of the half. A penalty for a back push (Ed. note: Hey! You're learning the penalties. About damned time) cut the rally short, but she did her job, knotting the score at 73 with two minutes to play.

Ivana Rock and Elle Viento took their positions as jammers, a sneer on their lips, steel in their hearts, their very loins girded for battle (Ed. note: Dial it back, Grantland). The whistle blew and a few minutes later, Rock popped free of the pack into the lead.

The final showdown never quite materialized; Viento was sent off a penalty (Ed. note: Where's your sense of drama, ref?) and watched helplessly as Rock picked up the winning points for a final score of Hookers 83, Butchers 73.

The Liberty Belles will be on the road April 11 against the Carolina All-Stars in Raleigh, N.C. In a rematch of the 2008 Warrior Cup game, the three-time defending champion Philthy Britches will face the Broad Street Butchers at the Armory on May 2. (Correction: the Hookers are playing the Britches for the Warrior Cup. Five Tool Tool. Ackuracy is our watchword.) Be there or be square, derby fans.

Something you could not possibly care about: The Fantasy Baseball Roster Post

The keeper league drafted today, and longtime readers will not be surprised to learn that it was, once again, the best day of the year. The room had a good mix of new owners, phone folks and established vets, and the proceedings changed considerably from last year -- less over-the-top aggression early, and a pretty strong increase in overall knowledge.

The Keeper Auction League

C Matt Wieters BAL 9
C Pablo Sandoval SF 7
1B Chris Davis TEX 16
2B Ian Kinsler TEX 17 *
3B Jorge Cantu FLA 10
SS Jimmy Rollins PHI 34
CI Joey Votto CIN 13
MI Kazuo Matsui HOU 1
OF Shane Victorino PHL 20 *
OF Brad Hawpe COL 12 *
OF Carlos Quentin CWS 17
U Ryan Ludwick STL 5
SP Rich Harden CHN 7 *
SP Ricky Nolasoo FLA 13
SP Kevin Slowey MIN 16
SP Max Scherzer ARZ 7
RP Trevor Hoffman MIL 6 *
RP BJ Ryan TOR 5 *
P Brian Fuentes ANA 11
P Chris Carpenter STL 5
P David Price TB 5
BN Justin Upton ARZ 8
BN Skip Schumaker STL 1
BN Brandon Morrow SEA 3

Notes: * marks a keeper that I came into the draft with.

I was able to work out a strong futures/keeper role this year while still giving myself a shot at contending. Keys to my good feelings about this squad is that I was able to get the best available closer on my board (Fuentes), and a couple of strong ratio starters (Nolasco and Slowey) that fueled a second half run last year as free agents. I also didn't overspend on any of my projections, though Rollins was right at the limit.

Biggest boned play was Skip Schumaker, who wasn't available at the second base position that he's won until he, well, plays some MLB games there. I also took Wieters out of position, which cost me more than was probably necessary, but I believe in the kid, and it's not like a month or two from a bad back-up is going to make the difference in a season-long roto set up. The outfield is good and cheap, but probably not good enough, especially given the weakness of the corner. It would also be nice my closers stopped breaking down.

The Strong Friends H2H League

1. (6) Grady Sizemore
2. (19) Lance Berkman
3. (30) Carl Crawford
4. (43) Brandon Phillips
5. (54) Rafael Furcal
6. (67) Josh Beckett
7. (78) Rich Harden
8. (91) Felix Hernandez
9. (102) Jonathan Broxton
10. (115) Ryan Zimmerman
11. (126) Edinson Volquez
12. (139) Mike Gonzalez
13. (150) Carlos Delgado
14. (163) Ryan Doumit
15. (174) Justin Upton
16. (187) Mark Reynolds
17. (198) Chris Carpenter
18. (211) Howie Kendrick
19. (222) Elijah Dukes
20. (235) Brad Penny
21. (246) Yunel Escobar

Very tough league and draft, where I got poached on at a half dozen early picks. I liked Sizemore with the sixth pick here, as it's an OBA league and I think that helps him considerably. I like my pitching depth and don't think I've gotten quite enough wood here, but you never know. I'm also going to struggle in saves here, as the league was closer-crazy -- probably a more defensible play in H2H with a K/9 category, which is what this is. I need a saving surge from one of the low-ranked hitters to have any chance here.

The Weak Work H2H League


1. (3) Jose Reyes
2. (22) Chase Utley
3. (27) Manny Ramirez
4. (46) Matt Kemp
5. (51) Dan Haren
6. (70) Chris Davis
7. (75) Rich Harden
8. (94) Ryan Ludwick
9. (99) Cliff Lee
10. (118) Bobby Jenks
11. (123) Kerry Wood
12. (142) Pablo Sandoval
13. (147) Carlos Pena
14. (166) Jason Motte
15. (171) Milton Bradley
16. (190) Trevor Hoffman
17. (195) Matt Lindstrom
18. (214) Hiroki Kuroda
19. (219) Melvin Mora
20. (238) Ryan Theriot
21. (243) Coco Crisp

Just a supremely comfortable draft here, with the top five picks going almost according to script and the closer run being started by me, rather than reach-finished. Note also the presence of Sandoval, Motte and Bradley, all of which seemed like great values when I got them. This was the first league to draft, and the fact that I found useful bench hitters like Theriot and Crisp in the last two rounds made me warm all over, too.

Feel free to (a) use this to influence your own draft, or (b) roll your eyes at the idea that this counts as actually helpful content, rather than me telling you about this awesome Dungeons and Dragons session I had over the weekend...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blogrolling is giving you one-time ship avoiding sexy stink

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gives stink bombs and rotten eggs their smell. But according to Italian researchers, H2S has an unexpected side effect: It also triggers erections. Scientists at the University of Naples injected the gas into the penises of anesthetized rats and found that it relaxed penile nerves and dilated blood vessels: The rats quickly developed erections... The results suggest that hydrogen sulfide — which is toxic in high concentrations but acts as a neurotransmitter at low doses — may become a viable alternative to Viagra.

Now, two big points here:

1) Thanks to me, you now know what gas to use if you ever have to give an anesthetized rat a boner. Oh, the trouble this could have saved me back in college!

2) Perhaps more importantly, you now have carte blanche to pass gas in bed. Hell, given the expense and possible side effects of all of those magic erection pills, maybe it's even a moral imperative. Once again, your life is substantially enriched from reading this blog, and yes, you are welcome.

Are you frequently at risk from your inability to avoid huge ships? I know I am! This and other issues of the day (I'm especially partial to "Cheese Problems Solved", despite the fact that it's doing nothing for the lactose intolerance problem) are covered by the NY Times today.

Your MVP, especially if you are the camera crew and want to go home. Good grief, the man's a mutant.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Breastpaw

Eri Yoshida is 17 years old, 5 feet tall, 114 pounds and female. She is also the first female, assuming that one does not think unkind thoughts about Hideo Nomo, to pitch against men in a Japanese professional league.

Friday in Osaka, she made her debut, walking the first hitter on four pitches, giving up a stolen base, and then striking out the next hitter before being replace. She throws a sidearm knuckleball, which can't be something that most people have much experience handling, and wants to emulate Tim Wakefield, which can't say much about her future offers to pop her top for skin magazines. Yoshida is said to have been pitching since she was in second grade, so that gives her a solid decade of throwing the knuckler.

Now, there is the usual question as to whether this is a publicity stunt (of course), and the Lemur's Rob Neyer asked the particularly obvious and insensitive question as to how she's handle a bunt, or what she'd do on a 3-0 count. Um, Rob... what makes Yoshida's plight in that situation any different from, say, Chad Bradford? And did being a lot shorter than most of his opponents stop Tom Gordon from having a 20-year career? I don't remember too many people worrying about Pedro Martinez not being able to handle himself out there despite being half of the size of some of the hitters. Hell, Pedro was a headhunter. Plus, he beat up Don Zimmer. That has to count for something.

The simple fact of the matter is that baseball is an individual sport with a ton of physical outliers, and if Yoshida gets people out -- and I'm thinking that any 17 year-old person that can strike an adult out, by any means, is something of a prospect -- she'll have a job, regardless of whether or not she sells tickets. And, of course, she will. Teams have employed utter reprobates like Ugie Urbina, Denny McClain and Dwight Gooden; the job is to get outs, and if you can do that, nothing else really matters.

I am convinced, and have stated before on this blog, that during my lifetime, a woman will pitch in the major leagues. Yoshida has just the kind of novelty act that could break through, and if it's not her, it will be someone that can get the ball up to 90 mph.

Particularly if she's left-handed. And cute. (What, you think there won't be some ticket sales involved?)

Bad Gear Fear

Last night on my commute home, my iPod began to malfunction. It would cut out after a few minutes, and while music would begin again with a mere click, it was annoying, and after a dozen reboots in 25 minutes, I gave up and suffered with the jabbering crosstalk that too many commutes now have. Maybe I could have played with it longer, but since I'm still wearing multiple layers (spring, my ass) since moving back to the East Coast from Northern California 2.5 years ago, that means that I can never be warm again. Seriously, I'm like a little old man here. I'll be moving to a condo in Boca and eating dinner at 3pm within weeks. But anyway, that's not where I'm going with this, so...

The point is that, having gotten used to a level of performance and consistency from my gear, I became spoiled. When the iPod went down, I still had the same magazines, laptop and Blackberry that I carry every day. My commute hadn't become terrible; it just reverted to what it was in December, before the Shooter Wife gifted me with the iPod. And suddenly, what I had been used to all that time was damn near intolerable, and all I could think of was how screwed I was if the iPod had real issues.

We all do this; once you have new and better gear, going back to the old level of performance can just seem soul-crushing. In my 20s, after the first marriage circled the bowl, I wound up moving away from my nice downtown Philly apartment, back to the same crappy part of Fishtown that I had escaped to before. It was what I had to do for economics and work, but man alive, was it soul-crushing. Bad gear is a reversion, and it strikes at every insecurity you might have ever had; progress was an illusion. Failure was your true level of performance. The bad gear is simply a manifestation of that.

Now that I've given you a sunny start to your day, let's lasso this and bring it back to sports.

As a (mostly) Philly sports fan, I live in fear of the return of bad gear. So instead of obsessing over how, say, the Sixers may have years and years to go on a crippling contract to Elton Brand that will cap their ceiling at 45 to 50 wins, I think about how nice it is that Samuel Dalembert could never ever be compared to Shawn Bradley, and how Tony DiLeo has the team playing in a way that could never be confused with The Doug Moe Era.

When other Eagles fans long and pule for the return of a messianic #1 wide receiver (this month, the eternal wanderlust that is Anquan Boldin has given way to the he might be available Braylon Edwards), I'm just hoping that the new offensive line doesn't make me remember Ron Solt.

Now, this might explain a few things (too much, really?): the acceptance of mediocrity, holding on to the memories of players that were entertaining but flawed, the hedging of allegiances and/or passion for the knowledge that, like death, taxes and people jabbering for the entire length of my commute at a volume that even the rejuvenated iPod can't mask, a reversion to a bad level is just a matter of time.

And it is, of course, a matter for willful deception of one's own intellect. The same way that every day is, really.

Just because Tra Thomas is gone does not mean that we're going to go back to turnstile tackles. The fact that the Sixers haven't had a top-level low-post scorer since Malone and Barkley does not mean that they will never have one again, or that Brand is doomed. Eric Chavez might be useful for the A's this year. They might not regret the Rich Harden salary dump in the same way that they regretted the Tim Hudson salary dump. And so on.

We may think we know what will happen, but we really don't. We might even be right more often than we are wrong (yes, I've got a little ego from the fantasy sports performance, thanks for noticing)... but teh wrongness is going to return.

The details are not written, and the details mean everything.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blogrolling Is Very, Very Sorry

If you've noticed the blog losing a bit of steam in the last 1-2 weeks, you're not mistaken; I've been fighting a persistent bug and prepping for way too many fantasy baseball league drafts, and also covering for the frequent absence of a coworker who has also been laid low.

Once we get past Saturday, we should be back up to our normal levels of snark. In the meantime, eat out on the lowest energy Blogrolling ever, which isn't to demean the quality of the links.

Hey, we won our first round blog name contest, but appear to have lost the second. If I had only known that the second round had started, kids. IF ONLY.

MLJ has the story on how the Tigers make Baby Jebus cry. Isn't Detroit already, you know, hell?

Weapons grade timewaste. Uses sound, and if you are at work, you better have headphones.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NFL Sprawl

Blogfricans weigh in on the NFL thinking about going to an 18-game schedule. I'll save you the clicking to give you the three views you are allowed to take.

1) Yay! More Football!

I, for one, applaud our NFL Overlords, because it will give me several more weeks of not caring or watching any sport other than football. Also, despite my rampant football hard-on, I refuse to watch any new league. Like, say, a real spring football league.

2) We Fear Change!

The current 16-game schedule with a bye, despite only being in place for a decade or so, is the zenith of human accomplishment and must not be messed with. After all, what will this do to the career records that no one really cares that much about, or the Hall of Fame that even fewer care about. Besides, everyone's gonna get hurt!

3) Yay! More Gambling!

Finally, fantasy sports can remain relevant for an extra two weeks, despite the fact that a third of the people that play in leagues quit after the first month anyway. This will cut down on the amount of time that I have to think about anything other than my nerding!

As you might imagine... I'm going a different way.

Reasons to like it:

1) Less preseason games. Along with minor league baseball, the lack of a college football playoff and Super Bowl ads, preseason football games are an offense against God and country. The idea that NFL season ticket holders have to pony up for these useless exhibitions should be the cause of a class-action lawsuit, and if you think that the longer regular season will just make for more injuries... well, every year in preseason meaningless games, we see guys suffering season and career ending injuries.

2) Less preseason football might mean less preseason football coverage. Who will tell us that it's hot out there when our newspapers all go away?

3) More even scheduling. Last year, any division that played the Wests had a huge tactical advantage. Two extra games should help to make that less compelling. (And you thought the Patriots were 11-5 on the merits, or that the Jets weren't mostly horrible.)

Reasons to Dislike It

1) It will contribute to the growing pussification (see the raft of new safety rules that the league is putting in this year, with no more wedge, defensive players that must rise up and dust themselves off before continuing to inconvenience the quarterback, and the all-new category of defenseless defensive player (Izell Jenkins is back!) more or less neutering Hines Ward. It's a game for men, by men, filled with people who won't be able to walk by their mid-40s. Do you really want to see even more judgment calls in the hands of these refs?

2) By the time that the league went to ground last year, with NFLN games adding to the noise, do you know who was sponsoring them? Amway. Now, I'm not going to get into a full scale pissing contest with those people, because I like the current location of my teeth and marginal legal assets. But let's just say that it's not exactly the same tier of advertiser that you've come to expect with the NFL.

Now, what do you think these telecasts are going to look like in 2009, with the economy in full retreat, and advertising budgets circling the drain?

Right. The NFL will be *lucky* to have Amway. And you know what you are really going to see? Well, it will start here...



and eventually wind up with Tony Siragusa wearing one on the sideline.

I loves me some NFL, but is another month of it worth that? Think hard. Some things that are seen can not be unseen.

Say It Isn't Zero

Word on the Lemur tonight that the only Washington Wizard that matters (and, of course, the one that hasn't played all year) is giving up the blogging. Gilbert Arenas, we really knew you.

Now, it's possible / overwhelmingly likely that Agent Zero will go back to the word needle as soon as he feels compelled. It's also possible that blogging is just your grandfather's Internet for today's NBA superstar, who's all about the Twittering. But it might also be that Gilbert just doesn't have the time for Blogfrica anymore, especially wince he might actually play a game this year.

Gilbert believes now that blogging is a damn do / damned don't kind of thing, in that the Meed'ja will simply take whatever you write and snipe. Um, Gilbert? That's not the meed'ja, that's the public. If I had a dime for every Epic Carnival commenter who tried to ruin my joie de vie, I'd hav esome joie de vie.

It may, or course, be that I'm just very bitter about drafting and stashing Gilbert's medical ass for six months, Gilbert! Or that you might finally come back for an opponent, just in time to not replace Devin Harris after that sum'bitch Marcus Camby took him off the court for absolutely no reason, given that the Clippers should be required by law to not care every game?

Anyway, sorry to see you go, Gilbert. You'd think that a guy with an utterly untradeable contract who is more or less crippling his team's efforts to be competitive would want to be more entertaining, not less...

Blogrolling is on the bounce

Stephen Colbert will orbit you and own outer space. Do not trifle with him.

This is a little old, but still, a new low in the length of the Terrible Honeymoon Period. The most self-regarded star in NFL History misses the start of the Bills' voluntary practice. The batshit craziness is coming out early, Bills Fan!

Fonzie Soriano's ride. Let's just say that he hasn't gotten the message that the Hummer is passe.

And finally, just because I know that you aren't getting enough sing-along electronica in your life, bounce with me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Road Work

Last night in Portland, the Sixers won one of those games that NBA teams almost never win, the dreaded fourth game in five nights, end of the road trip game against a rested opponent. It was even in overtime. A few notes...

> Your hero of the game: Andre Miller, who more or less willed this one. Something I hadn't quite noticed about Andre before is just how freaky strong he is, especially on defense. He wound up working against the 6'-9" Travis Outlaw on a 1-on-1 defensive switch. Outlaw, sensing he had a physical advantage, tried to grind Miller down in the block, and the point guard simply locked in place and went nowhere. Outlaw wound up forcing a long bank and missing, and um, really, wow.

Now, it's not like Outlaw is some kind of star, or that there are no other point guards in the league that could have pulled off that trick, but it still showed me something. First off, that Miller truly cares about winning, to be putting his body on the line in that situation. Secondly, that he might be an Eric Snow level defender, which is saying something. (I'm talking about back when Snow could, you know, move.)

> The Sixers' announcing crew clearly has a hard-on for Reggie Evans, and it's not too hard to see why; he has no physical gifts, and yet is an effective NBA player. Plus, he clearly enjoys playing the game, and that's not a small thing; his enthusiasm is infectious, and it seems to help him really get under the skin of the opposition and enemy crowd. Evans had some key (and, of course, questionable) stops last night, especially late, and while it's pretty hard to imagine him getting those calls against teams with more star power, that doesn't mean he's not fun to watch.

> Tony DiLeo can flat out coach. In last night's game, the Sixers ran out to a big lead at the half behind too hot to last shooting, then went ice-cold to start the second and eventually give back the lead. Throughout the Blazers' runs, DiLeo kept stopping the momentum like he was leading the dance, even buying time for Andre Igoulsda, who had four fouls early in the third.

DiLeo also does something else that's pretty great; he uses his good but fairly untested young players (Lou Williams, Marresse Speights) in situations where they are likely to succeed, and gets them out of bad situations. The confidence that both players showed in crunch time spoke to the coach, and while it seems like a small thing, I can't tell you how many times I've seen a young NBA player ruined by the Sink Or Swim school of non-thought

A final point: maybe it was just the length of the road trip, but DiLeo does more with a deep but limited bench that any Sixers coach I've seen as an adult. He's got the remains of Donyell Marshall and Theo Ratliff, both signings that I more or less mocked in the off-season, giving him useful minutes and helping to change the dynamic of any game.

As for Portland...

> I can see why they like Greg Oden; he tries hard, is active, and is exactly what they need. Unfortunately, he's also a walking foul, didn't show much in the way of range, and has no real moves in the post. Maybe he develops these things, and maybe he doesn't. Portland also really didn't need another wing player, no matter how good Kevin Durant is. But, um, jeez... at some point, you've got to take the next Bernard King over the next Samuel Dalembert, don't you?

> Rudy Fernandez is a lot of fun; he's got hops and couldn't miss from downtown last night, and was the reason why the Blazers forced overtime. But everything is at a million miles per hour, and he doesn't seem to have much in the way of a mid-range game.

> I couldn't be sure of this on the non-HD feed, but it really does look like Steve Blake wears pink sneakers. Maybe it's a breast cancer thing, but if so, he's on an island. Oh, and also, he can't keep anyone in front of him. Portland needs a real point before they are going to go anywhere.

Finally, this... the Sixers wound up going 3-2 on their West Coast road trip, and won what might have been the two hardest games. The next 10 they've got on the schedule feature a fair number of Eastern also-rans, and they might even be able to put the Pistons down for good. Maybe no one else in town much cares, but seeing how the last three times the Sixers have made the playoffs, Detroit has been there to end them in the first round... well, I'd like to see them out of the playoffs.

Besides, who really wants to see more of Detroit, anyway?

Poach and Gag

So twice now in the past week, I've been in drafts where there's been a notable high ranked player that has slipped far behind his average draft position. And in both cases, an owner has piped up in the chat window to note this, as if this wasn't, you know, roughly akin to staring at a poker hand that he wasn't in and announcing what he folded. (Especially if you were, you know, bluffing.)

Twenty years ago, when I was playing in my first leagues with guys that were older than me, in a time that was mostly before computers, we had people who did this. It irritated the hell out of the commish, and eventually we passed a league law (the "gag" rule) prohibiting that kind of behavior. It's not like we took a guy's picks away or other punitive measures; we didn't have to, because there was, you know, a degreee of personal shame involved in violating the group dynamic.

Not to get all curmudgeonly on the world, but if you are violating the gag rule routinely or (even worse) on purpose, please learn youreself some manners. I wound up having to ream a guy in the chat window (no names, it's fine now) over this. Winning a fantasy league is difficult enough, even when the league is composed of homers and people that reach on name recognition only, without having that sort of fart in an elevator thing to deal with.

Because winning a league is not about just taking the best players; it's about taking them at the right time. In a typical draft with good competitors (and sadly, like poker, the number of fish seem to be declining over time, and replaced by nothing but fellow sharks), I'm going to have 2-3 options before a pick, and my decision isn't just about who fits my roster bet, but who I think I can get if I pass on them right there.

How you feel about your team is, basically, directly related to whether or not you got the guys you wanted at the time that you wanted them. Get poached enough, and you're going on the fantasy league equivalent of tilt. And if I lose out on a guy due to some loose talk while I'm waiting for my pick, when I don't really have a secondary option set up, I'm going to be on tilt for that pick and bone it. (Nine times out of ten.)

Life is too short to put up with that, really. Moving on...

The Induction Speech You Don't Want To Hear

Curt Schilling announced his retirement yesterday, just in time for the recession created by his pick for President (whoops, sorry, that was out loud) to dry up the market of team that were willing to pony up many millions of dollars under the possibility that he might come back and add to his career stats. And while one should never take an athlete at his word on the lack of a comeback, especially given how much green is still on the sidelines and how much a media whore like Schill craves the limelight, I do think we've seen the last of him. (If nothing else, the Red Sox have effectively doubled his role by bringing in John Smoltz and Brad Penny.)

Now, for the possibly surprising point for blog readers who are familiar with my longstanding enmity for Bloggy McBloggermouth... I think he's a lock for the Hall of Fame. If I had a vote, he'd be first ballot. As Rob Neyer has pointed out, he's basically got the Catfish Hunter career, only better.

You have to give the Mouth his due. A won-loss record that's 70 games on the positive side of .500, given how much of his time was spent toiling for terrible Phillies teams, is meaningful. So are the three championship rings, all of which were more or less impossible to imagine without his contributions. He also did it, as far as anyone can tell, without the needle, and for all of the man's considerable personal foibles, it would be genuinely shocking to find out that he was a liar on that.

He will be remembered, of course, not for the curiously hittable power mix that led to the 14th most strikeouts in MLB history (at least today), nor for the pioneering measure of writing his own blog. No, the legacy will be entirely wrapped in the Bloody Sock, baseball's Shroud of Turin. One wonders, really, whether it would have been worth all of the hullabaloo had "The Natural" not foreshadowed the entire episode, or if Fox hadn't given us pitch by pitch updates on the status of the blood, as if Big Schill were a boxer trying to limp home on points.

But in the end, results matter more than style, and on that count, Schill is no worse than the third-best right-handed starting pitcher of his era, behind only Clemens and Maddux. And since the Rajah is now seen as the utter reprobate that he always was, maybe he goes up to second.

He was durable, good and clutch, and he succeeds on the only measure that should matter for Hall of Fame inclusion.

That would be this: it's impossible to tell the story of the game during the time that he played without him, because he dominated his class and standing.

Now, if you don't mind, I need to go wash up. Having praised His 38ness that much just left me feeling all dirty.

Your Fantasy Baseball Sleeper and Bust Column

Every year, I have the same problem with this column: when to write it. FTT's readership must assuredly includes all of the people that I compete with in my three leagues, and tipping my hand on these players is, more or less, my entire prep work for the season. Not advisable. But with two out of three leagues down already, and the last having some mitigating circumstances from being a keeper league, here goes. (Also, if I'm in a league with you, you already know that I'm the grandaddy of all liars.)

Sleepers

1) John Baker, SP, Minnesota Twins. I love the Twins staff on value for a bunch of reasons. The first is the park. People think the Metrodome is a hitters' park because of the baggie in right field and the way the ball used to jump out of the place, but look again; it's now neutral at best, and the visibility is just not something that opposing hitters can adjust to quickly, especially if they aren't experienced at playing there before. What the Twins have here is simply an unfair park for the home team, rather than an equal opportunity hitters paradise.

Second is the club behind him. Minnesota does the small market thing of stocking the team with plus defenders and a deep bullpen; you rarely get a start here from a pitcher that is going to out and out kill you. In head to head leagues where you spend most of the week hoping that your SP doesn't give you a turd sandwich, that's critical.

Finally is Baker himself. He's the closest thing to an ace that the Twins have, post-Santana, and can out and out dominate (in a quiet, polite, Midwestern way) when he's on. Combine all of that with the usual market discount that you get for shopping in the hinterlands, and even a little bit of spring training stay-away (he's been less than sharp so far), and I think you have the perfect recipe for a bargain. 141 Ks in 172 IP last year, with a 1.18 WHIP. Buy into it now, and get the 225 IP version.

2) Chris Ray, RP, Baltimore Orioles. This just in: George Sherrill wasn't anything special before last year. He's also lefthanded, which is something that rarely works in your favor in a closer battle. Ray hasn't given up anything in spring training, and the very worst that you'll get is a co-closer with the better end of the platoon. Given what the Orioles are and do, you might even luck into him getting a full-time job with a playoff contender by mid-season.

3) Jason Motte, RP, St. Louis Cardinals.
The first person to not like his stuff will be the last, and with Chris Perez succumbing to injury, the next great young closer is primed to take the role. With Tony LaRussa going by the numbers and the Cardinals looking surprisingly frisky this year (hey, if Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright can stay healthy, it's not impossible to see them winning the Central), you've got a very good Rookie of the Year candidate brewing. Take advantage of the people in your league who don't pay enough attention here.

4) JJ Putz, RP, New York Mets. Is it possible that the best reliever on the Mets doesn't have the closer job? Yes, of course, and that's not even too much of a knock on K-Rod, who should be good enough in the weaker league. If K-Rod should falter and/or break, Putz would take the gig for a probable 90+ win team in a probable strong pitcher's park. Worse case scenario, you've got a steady Scott Shields type of guy who can provide good ratios in a lot of relief innings -- infinitely preferable for a late round selection than a marginal starter.

5) Coco Crisp, OF, Kansas City Royals. He's murdered the ball in camp (.371 BA), and 20+ SBs won't come any cheaper. I could see him chipping in with moderate power and batting average, and the Royals' offense could be a lot better behind him. Heck, I even like the team to not be mathematically eliminated this year until Labor Day. So what's not to love? Jump on the Coco Career Year Train.

6) Mark Ellis, 2B, Oakland A's. In 2007, Ellis gave budget-base shoppers 19 homers, 76 RBIs and 9 steals with 84 runs scored. Last year, he got hurt, stank, and was also at the top of an order that had less punch than your average "fight" after a beanball. So what to expect this year, with Mssrs. Holliday and Giambi up behind him? 2007, provided he ever gets healthy. Either way, you won't have to pay much to find out.

7) Fred Lewis, OF, San Francisco Giants. This is what you get when you take too long to get to the majors and play for a god-awful team; zero hype or love, even when you deliver 81 runs and 21 steals in less than a full starting job. Expect a little more from Right Said Fred this year -- maybe 90 runs, 15 homers and 25 steals, and all of that for a late late late pick. Let someone else pay the name freight for Johnny Damon and ride the anonymous Lewis for cheap steals.

8) Elijah Dukes, OF, Washington Nationals. Is he a murderous stooge? of course. Are the Natty Lights a terrible, terrible team? Mais oui. But you don't have to bring him home to Mom; all you have to do is hold your nose and pick him, then hope that he stays in his shoes long enough to give you 30/30 on the sly. He'd have done that last year if he hadn't gotten hurt, and he's still just 24 years of age. Besides, the Natty's can't be as bad as they were last year, so he could really exceed all expectations without too much trouble.

9) Trevor Cahill, SP, Oakland A's. Who? A 2006 high school pick of the Billy Beaneaters, who took the A's money rather than go to Dartmouth. You'll be able to draft him as late as you like, or maybe even just stream in daily leagues, but here's what he's got going for him: 1) exceptional ground ball ratio, 2) good control, 3) excellent home park, 4) a lockdown bully that strands inherited runners and 5) an organization that knows what they are doing with young arms.

With Gio Gonzalez on the shelf and Justin Duchscherer a little iffy, he should get a chance to impress, and might do more than that; if Greg Smith and Dana Eveland could give you some goodness last year, the bar is certainly not high. And if he fails, the organization will swap him out for another guy (Gonzalez, most likely) that you'll want to roll the dice with. This is a really good place to have a young starter.

10) Kevin Slowey, SP, Minnesota Twins. If you are in a K/BB league, Slowey is absolute gold due to his freaky great control; last year, in just his second year in the Show, it was over 5 to 1, and he did the same thing in his rookie year, too. He also increased his strikeout rate, and with Baker and Francisco Liriano on board, he won't be facing the other team's top pitchers. He's tasty.

Busts

1) Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles.
Now, don't get me wrong: I've seen the PECOTA predictions and read the scouting reports, and I'm also convinced that he's going to be great. The question is, what year will that be? In 2009, he's going to start the season in the minors as the Orioles give the middle finger to their 43 remaining fans, just to make sure that his arbitration-ready clock doesn't start right away. If you can carry a zero on your roster in a H2H league until June, you are in a league that plays a lot different than mine.

2) Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins. Continuing my trend of Catcher Hate is Joe Mauer, who has rarely been part of a winning fantasy breakfast. Too injury prone, with less power than AJ Pyrzinski, and the handful of steals that he gives you is hardly worth the early round premium -- especially now that more OFs are running. Let someone else overpay for the relatively emplty batting average calories and season-long worries about his back; unless he gets a clean bill of health (unlikely), he's not going on any team of mine.

3) Cole Hamels, P, Philadelphia Phillies.
In my keeper league, he got traded something like four times this off-season. I suspect that what happened each time is that his new owner took a look at his innings pitched for 2008, then compared that to every other year in his life and winced. No one else believes me on this, but I think he was completely spent at the close of 2008, which means you won't get nearly enough from him in 2009.

4) Max Scherzer, P, Arizona Diamondbacks. Another electric talent that's overbought for this year, mostly due to control issues. I also don't like his home park (Arizona is sneaky good for the hitter), his division (the Dodgers will be good this year, and no pitcher ever really enjoys trips to Coors), or his need to perform (with Randy Johnson gone to San Francisco, Mad Max is going to be asked to do too much, too soon). Get him in the post-hype 2010 year, when he delivers real value.

5) Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees. Perhaps the most divergent pick on the board in any draft. I've heard the argument that you're going to get 2/3rds of a year from him and that he'll be fine, but I'm not seeing it. He's not going to steal bases this year for fear of making the hip worse, and a stationary A-Rod is really not better than Aramis Ramirez -- and that's not even taking into account the fact that you'll get a full year of work out of A-Ram.

There's also this, of course. A-Fraud is 32, with the biggest contract in the history of the game, and will either return to a Yankee team that's been winning without his sideshow, or that desperately needs him to save the season. Meanwhile, he's going to be Tabloid Friend #1, and the road fan work on him is going to be fantastic -- he's just given them an incredible arsenal for heckling here. Not exactly an easy rehab, is that? Mighty good chance that he tries to do too much too soon and gets hurt worse, right?

Save yourself the stress and let someone else take him, unless it's getting to be 5th round or worse. It's just not worth it this year.

6) Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs. No denying that he's got the stuff to close, but he doesn't have the job, and after his March adventures in arson during the WBC, maybe he doesn't have the stuff right now, either. Every year, there are dozens of sure-thing relievers that just go poof, and Marmol just has that feel to me this year. Besides, in most drafts you are having to pay closer rates for a guy that, well, doesn't have the gig. Pass.

7) Rich Harden, SP, Chicago Cubs. This hurts, because he's catnip to me and probably always will be; if nothing else, I've always been fond of the guy who is either great or hurt, because he doesn't kill you.

But Harden-With-Care is absolutely stone-cold due to get taken down this year, and all of the coddling that Cap'n Lou Pinella can do isn't going to stop that. The man's just not built to throw more than 150 innings in a year, and after last year's mini-CC act, the price you'll pay for those innings is probably too great.

8) Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers. This one is almost entirely a hunch, as there's a lot to like about Ryno; he's young, in a position that doesn't get in his head defensively, and on a team that looks primed to score some runs this year. So why don't I like him? He's just unconsciously streaky, and from watching him, I just get the sense that he's the kind of guy that isn't quite comfortable being the top dog. With Prince Fielder seemingly on his way out of town (he's represented by Scott Boras, which is to say, he's represented by an agent that doesn't sign deals with non-MLB+ teams), that's the role they'll need from him.

9) Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros. Another guy coming off a career year, and on the wrong side of 32. You might not be able to get away from him, given the shallow state of top-drawer first basemen, but you're not getting a .420 OBA and 18 SBs again.

10) David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox. Want to make Red Sox Fan angry? Tell him or her that Big Papi is Big Over. For everyone that thought that the winter off would bring back the quicks to the bat that he lost after the wrist problem last year, I give you his work in the WBC, which looked a heck of a lot more like Slow October Papi than the old crusher. When you weigh as much as he does, the decline is not gradual, and while he'll still keep the OBA, I'm not seeing a return to those halcyon days of yon. This is also a guy that should really start using more of the field; that defensive shift on him is paying real dividends.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The NCAAs Are Not Allowed To Be Boring

With all four number one seeds going on to the Sweet 16, and an almost unbearable amount of chalk being thrown around (seriously, you'd have gone 22-10 just picking the high seed in round 1, and 15-1 with the high seeds in round 2)...

Well, it must be a really fantastic tournament, right?

The NCAA tournament has reached the level of NFL season in terms of being in a more or less every season hype monster. If the low seeds are upset, it's crazy exciting, best weekend in sports, etc., etc.

If the picks stay chalk, well, wow, what matchups we've got in the final rounds.

Um, far be it for me to call bullsquat here, but from where I sit, so far this tournament looks like the Big East tournament, only with more ballast. Perhaps UNC and Duke will make it an ACC run again, or maybe Gonzaga will finally pay off all of those years of teasing...

But well, no one watches the first two rounds of the tournament hoping for nothing more amazing than a single double digit seed (Arizona, who hardly fits the profile of a From Nowhere team anyway).

So I'm asking, from the point of view of someone who watched little more than Flynn and Devendorf as they kept my Orangemen alive... have these first four days been dull?

And if not, what is?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Your Annual Women's Basketball Post

Ball State pulled off a big upset tonight, knocking off Pat Summit's fabled Vols.

I have nothing more to add to this, other than to note that Ball State's team is called the Cardinals, which is really just a marketing opportunity gone to waste. You couldn't call them anything more suggestive or risque than that? Give me the Lady Matadors, the Donkey Punchers, the Walnuts, the Danglers, the Rockers...

Come on, people. There's money to be made here!

All Hail Our New Japanese Overlords

In the WBC tonight, Japan 9, USA 4, and your WBC Final will be Japan versus the South Koreans.

Now, you might want to credit Daisuka Matsuzaka for the win, and give props to the electric relief work of Yu Darvish; the latter, especially, is hardcore. But that's really not in the tone of the blog, so here's your Top 6 Goats...

6) Derek Jeter. A crucial error that led to the Japanese explosion in the sixth inning, which made a manageable 4-6 deficit into the 4-9 final. How much longer is the statute of limitations on Jeet being clutch, anyway?

5) Adam Dunn. His career as a National can start now with the proper feel, as his deer in the headlights strikeout in the ninth gave this the perfect Terence Long-ish moment. He also took the Oh Fer Sucking Out Loud tonight with three K's, and there's a reason why beer league guys that sabermetric freaks drool over aren't, you know, actually present on teams that win championships. The faster this guy gets to an AL team and a DH role, the better.

4) David Wright. Also had an error to go with his perfect A-Rodish CYA RBI double and .281 average. No one will point the finger at him, but for a guy that's clearly the best third baseman in MLB as people draft today, they needed a lot more than this.

3) Roy Oswalt. Betrayed by his defense, but you're going to get that with 7 baserunners in 3.2 innings, and four of the six runs were earned. His 9.82 WBC ERA was indicative of the biggest reason why the Americans aren't going to win this year, and probably won't in the future, either: starting pitching. When Akinoria Iwamura is beating you senseless, it's not good.

2) Jake Peavy. A 14-run ERA that was so bad, manager Davey Johnson skipped him for Oswalt. Any post mortem of the US effort in the WBC will begin and end with the Mercy Rule Meltdown against Puerto Rico, and that was all on Peavy.

1) Davey Johnson. Has been just dying to pull the trigger and forfeit due to various injuries. His decision to go for Oswalt over Peavy didn't work out tonight, and why anyone on this earth would have Jeter at shortstop and Jimmy Rollins at designated hitter, in a game that you are supposed to want to win...

Well, dumb managers get what they deserve. And it's not like anyone is giving Johnson a job at managing in MLB now. For every really good reason.

This Just In: The Sacremento Kings Are Really, Really Bad

With two fantasy league starters and the promised goodness of a matchup against the worst team in the league, I tuned in to the Sixers-Kings game.

And, um, hoo boy, are the Kings awful.

How bad are they? Well, the Sixers gave Kareem Rush playing time tonight. In fact, a good amount of it, the most he's had since December. Rush has played in two other games in the last two months. And it's not because the Sixers were having injury concerns, or that they didn't need the game; it was just because they could, and with a game looming tomorrow night in Portland, there was no reason not to.

The lead was 28 a little more than a minute into the second half, and it was closer than it should have been, because the Kings' "offense" of dribbling it up court and having a player shoot a crazy long three pointer was more effective than you might imagine. And yes, I know, what else was I expecting from a 15-54 team and all, but good grief, they are terrible. Philly set a new record for points in the first half for this season with 69... beating their previous record which was set on, you guessed it, the Kings.

(The Kings actually made it a game late behind Spencer Hawes slowly accumulating triple double numbers and Francisco Garcia getting a season high from made threes, but I never felt compelled to rewrite the lede here. Make of that what you will. Your final score was Sixers 112, Kings 100.)

There is a palpable feel and stink to a bad pro basketball team. The lifelessness of the defensive rotations, the abandon in which the opponent drives to the hoop, the zeal in which opposing star players start working, because they know that tonight is the night that you are not going to have to pace yourself, and that if you are going to get numbers, you will need them in the first three quarters, because your ass will likely be bench-bound in the fourth; it's all very recognizable to someone who came up in the Doug Moe Era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala had been struggling with his shot in the last couple of games; tonight he hit his first 10 in a row. Bad teams have a way of doing that.

But for this all to happen in a wildly enthusiastic setting like Sacremento, where the locals care way too much because they are the only game in town, and the team won 55 games just a couple of years ago... well, it's hard to imagine, really, that a franchise could fall this far, this fast, without some sort of catastrophe happening on the court or in the owner's box.

Sheesh, even last year, they had 38 wins and were in the playoff hunt.

There's also the *way* in which the Kings lose. Bank shots that miss the rim entirely. Turnovers are common, and not from attempts at spectacular passes; just from the routine, day-in, day-out kind of throws that you never see sail in to the stands from a decent team. They must have hit the sideline monitors a half dozen times tonight. No player stands out as a plus offensive or defensive player, and they don't move the ball in any way that might convince you that Pete Carill is drawing a paycheck.

Of course, they don't defend worth a damn, and didn't even in the glory days. The most speed I might have seen from a Kings employee tonight might have been from the mascot. He had hops, too.

Word has it that the Kings aren't long for Northern California, with the Maloofs looking to take them to Vegas or Anaheim or God knows where else. The next place will get a team with no real signature player. Kevin Martin gets numbers, but has no game that puts fear into any opponent. Rookie Jason Thompson may be tolerable, but they need a lot more than that. Hawes wound up with 17 points, 11 boards and 9 assists tonight, and for the life of me, I can't remember any of his points.

More telling about the Kings is that the owners seem to have lost their taste for this sort of thing. How else can you explain locking up Beno Udrih, a career mediocrity as a back up point guard, to a five-year, $32 million deal? Or failing to get anything meaningful in trades that moved veterans John Salmons and Brad Miller? Is anyone even still trying here?

But at least they beat the Knicks the other night, which means that they won't be the first team in the history of the league to lose every game they played against the opposing conference. So there's that. Oh, and they also will have the most lottery balls in next year's hopper, which is shaping up to be one of the worst drafts in recent history; maybe they'll wind up with Blake Griffin, who looks like another meh pro to me. Plus, they'll have lots of money under the cap to try to lure a premier free agent to a one-team cow town that might be on the move. Good luck with all of that.

For the Sixers, the win gives them a 2-2 road trip so far, with wins against the Lakers and Kings, and losses to the Suns and Warriors. Realistically, it's what you'd expect from the trip. if not quite the order you'd predict. If they can somehow pull out a win on the fourth game in five nights in Portland against the rested Blazers, they have a winning trip.

And despite the de facto bye they got tonight, I'm not really expecting it. Portland, unlike the Kings, are actually trying to win games.

Where Amazing Salary Dumps Happen

Today in San Antonio, the Rockets took out the Spurs. That would be remarkable enough, really, given that this is the time of the year that the Spurs historically put the throttle down and get into disturbingly efficient killing mode, especially against a Rockets team that doesn't have Tracy McGrady (naturally) and traded away its starting point guard (Rafer Alston).

But hey, Yao Ming can do some things, right? And so can Testy, since he's still in that first year good guy stage. But, um, no. The fingerprints on this loss were entirely those of Luis Scola, who had 19 points, 17 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals and was the high man in plus/minus at +14, the highest on his team. Rockets 87, Spurs 85.

So who is Luis Scola? An Argentine power forward who the Spurs drafted in 2002. He never played a minute for that club, in part due to difficulty getting him away from his club team, and in part because, well, the Spurs have little need for a power forward given the presence of Tim Duncan. In 2007, San Antonio essentially gave Scola away to the Rockets along with big stiff Jackie Butler for cash, a second round pick, and a tax deduction named Vassilis Spanoulis. Scola finished third in the rookie of the year voting last year, and he's giving them 12.6 points, 8.7 boards, and shooting 53% from the field -- all of them up from his good rookie year.

This is, in all likelihood, Scola's ceiling; he's 28, after all, and while he knows what he's doing on the floor, he's certainly not a lockdown defensive player. But it's interesting, on some level, just how convoluted the salary cap makes the NBA. Here the Spurs had to more or less move an asset for very little to an arch-rival, just to make sure that they didn't go over the cap, or create a logjam at a position where they already had a star.

The closest corollary I can think of here is Raheem Brock having a career in Indianapolis for the Colts, after the Eagles drafted the Temple product in the seventh round, then overspent on signing their rookies and had to give him up. Baseball teams sell off assets all the time, of course, but rarely this blatant, and usually not in ways that could cause them a head to head loss that matters.

And, of course, Scola's also not likely to do this again in the playoffs, so on some level, you have to wonder how much it matters. But right now, with the Rockets ahead of the Spurs in the hyper-tight West, the answer is: a lot. And in a way that no other league does...



(And here's the YouTube link of the clinching plays, brought to you by commenter John over at Mundo Albiceleste. For more on the game, go check his site out.)

Blogrolling is Hooker-Riffic, Explosive and Holy

The Holy Hand Grenade, still causing problems after all these years.

Do you have a weakness for golfer on golfer violence, especially when it involves the cart? I know I do, especially when it involves the use of a cart, dragging a body, and cursing. Ask any of my old golfing buddies, and they'll tell you that's *my* move...

Do you have a weakness for A-Rod's hookers? I know I do. Plus, his madam dated him for free. Aw, that's sweet. True love!

(And in another small moment, consider the name of the skank du jour -- Kristin Davis. Here I was thinking that she played the prude on "Sex and the City", but it turns out that she's 20 years younger and blonde. What an actress!)

Oh, and one last thing... isn't using the services of a prostitute illegal? Someone needs to arrest that troublesome A-Rod. He broke the law.

The NFL considers moving the draft up to late February. The idea is to put the draft in front of free agency, to further kneecap the free agents. Makes sense to me, though not nearly as much sense as, say, providing a freaking spring league so that the most popular sport in the country doesn't have an 8-month off-season.

Oh noes! Shaq is doing online shenanigans during the halftime break, rather than, say, paying attention to what the coach is saying.

In other news, he just became the fifth leading all-time scorer in NBA history, mainly because he's an unstoppable combination of soft hands and utter power. Anything that makes him less focused on playing the game is, in my opinion, something to be applauded, since an angry focused Shaq is a danger to himself and others.

Sports By Brooks
does the math to show that the average seat at the new Yankee Stadium is $237. That sound you heard was jaws dropping from coast to coast, but to be honest, I'm just not seeing the Yanks getting it in the long term. Yes, people make serious and ridiculous bank in the City, but at some point (especially when that New Stadium Smell wears off), paying more per hour for baseball than hookers is a losing proposition.

Hugo's Not Gonna Like That

Re-enacting the same kind of vibe as when the least Dutch looking group of athletes ever knocked off the Dominicans, it's the South Koreans taking down my pick to win, the Venezuelans. The Koreans go to the finals, and will either face the Japanese or Americans.

You'd like to wax rhapsodic about the scrappy Koreans, but really, Hugo Chavez's team lost this one when Johan Santana claimed an ouchie and went home. Carlos Silva is one of those guys that "pitches to contact", and that's right up there with "knowing the system" and "being a game manager" in the list of compliments that you want to avoid as an athlete. Someone with the name of Yoon Suk-Min gave the Koreans a quality start, Bobby Abreu continued his long slow slide into obsolescence based on awful defensive play, and over 40 thousand people paid to see this in Los Angeles. All was right in Commissioner Bud's world.

Are the Koreans really ready to be our new baseball overlords? No, of course, not, because that means the WBC actually has some consequences or isn't a complete joke. But who knows, maybe this will mean Silva a spot in a Caracas jail on some trumped up charge from the Hugonots. That's something that Seattle Fan could also really get behind...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blogrolling Is Keeping It In The Family

Does it matter how you dress your kids? Yes. The Figthin' have Brett Myers and son, a sweet little tyke that's probably not being brought up to live in urban areas.

Are you shocked to learn that Kevin Youkilis thinks Red Sox Fan is better than American Fan? No, I'm not either. But to say it in public is special. Larry Brown Sports with the love.

Sparty and Friends is helping a laid-off blogger pay the bills. Or just feel bitter that he's watching the tournament, and you're, well, maybe not.

MLJ wants to know what the point of the WBC is, considering that Davey Johnson seems to be constantly talking about forfeiting. Personally, I think that we should all be giving Johnson his props for pioneering new ways to lose.

An excellent point to be made here people -- don't hate Duke because they enjoy same-sex relations. There are much better reasons!

Driving (Down) Miss Grady, or Death in the Outfield

One of the things that I've noticed in prepping for my various leagues, and in reading way too many scouting reports from way too many sources, is this.

I'm really not overwhelmed by the selections at outfielder this year. And considering how, historically, outfield is where you can always find a replacement level or better bat, that's not good.

Here are the top ten OFs in fantasy, according to the Yahoo rankings.

Grady Sizemore

Ryan Braun

Josh Hamilton

BJ Upton

Alfonso Soriano

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Quentin

Carlos Lee

Carl Crawford

Manny Ramirez

Forgive me, if some level, I'm not overwhelmed. (I know, people would really rather have Quentin, Lee or Crawford over the Man Ram, after what he did in Dodger Laundry last year? I'm not feeling that, at least not in a standard re-draft league. But that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.)

It starts with Sizemore, a very nice player who, well, just doesn't scream out #1 OF. If you play with BA instead of OBA (well, you're an idiot, but it is the default setting), you are only getting four categories instead of five, and elite but not overwhelming (i.e., sub 40) homers and steals.

Grady is still young enough to get better, and I love me the 30/30 guys, but this used to be the kind of player you would got in the second round. If he wasn't still 24 and on the upswing, he'd be Carlos Beltran -- good, but never the top guy.

Second up is Ryan Braun, the emerging third-year slugger from Milwaukee. Here, you are buying power and lots of it... but you also get it in a guy that was wildly inconsistent last year, with months where he didn't do much at all. He's a very good player, just not what you think of as the #2 OF. (He's also, of course, a failed infielder, and while that might not seem relevant right now, it will be later. Stay with me on this.)

Josh Hamilton is third, and I personally think he could easily deliver top pick value this year... but he won't steal more than a dozen bases, and he does have that history of off-season self-inflicted wounds to keep you on guard. I think he'll hit 40+ HRs this year and lead the AL in RBIs, but there is a reason that someone who is this good isn't with his first organization.

We'll move to the speed round here...

BJ Upton is fantastic, but has shown some attitude issues and an injury history, and no one really knows if he can keep it together enough to play to his talent level... Alfonso Soriano is probably on the down side now, and given his relative disinterest in taking walks, the down slope could be steep... Carlos Beltran has been very consistent and useful as a Met, but always less than spectacular, since he's usually no more than the third or fourth best player on just his own team... Carlos Quentin is on his second team and has had one really good year that ended early with injury; in this market, that makes him the #6 OF... Carlos Lee doesn't run and won't start to at his age, and plays for a terrible team that should limit his RBI opportunities... Carl Crawford is coming off a lost injury year and has never provided even average homers and RBIs... and Manny Ramirez is, well, freaking insane, 36 going on 37, and prone to all kinds of self-inflicted silliness. He can't possibly have the year he had last year, because he can't possibly continue to care this much.

Now, are there values to be had in the outfield? Of course. Will a bunch of these guys overcome their question marks and be worth their draft positions or better? Sure.

But the bigger point remains that the best and brightest baseball players, the ones with the most natural talent at hitting the tar out of the ball, are not patrolling the outfield.

Compare the best of the best (Sizemore, Braun and Hamilton) versus the top three shortstops (Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins). HanRam hits with as much power as Sizmore; all three infielders steal loads more bases, and are less risky given their past record of performance. Even in a position-free counting game, you're probably going with the shortstops.

If you think that's an unfair comparison, let's try first base, where you get to go against Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira. Only the fact that no first baseman contributes much in steals keeps this from going to the cornermen. And if A-Rod were starting the year healthy, the comparison with third base (others in the triumvirate there are David Wright and Evan Longoria) would also be surprisingly close to the infielders.

Now, maybe this is just because baseball has evolved, with more accurate offensive statistics and defensive statistics giving GMs more of an inclination to keep the people that have the very best tools in the place where they can make the most impact. Maybe it's just the second generation Cal Ripken Effect, where baseball players grew up dreaming of being in the infield and wouldn't take you're too big for an answer. Perhaps it's just reflecting the influx of foreign players, since so many of those star names aren't born in the USA. Maybe it's just a temporary cycle that doesn't really merit a conspiracy theory.

Or maybe, and this is the nasty little secret, baseball isn't attracting nearly the same number of elite athletes, and is just funneling what they have into the places where they will make the most difference. Because, well, and with no disrespect to Mr. Sizemore... if he's the very best that MLB has to offer in the position that takes up a third of the at bats, that's not really the baseball world I grew up in. Or yours, for that matter.

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