Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lockouts a blessing for NHL?

By Jeff

Let's be honest, the big four of professional sports hasn't been the big four in a long time. The NHL fell out of that category by letting goons and dirty play annoy fans to the point that they stopped caring about the sport. It reached an all-time low when the league missed the entire 2004-2005 season to a lockout.

Well, with the NBA announcing today that they will begin their own lockout tomorrow, and the NFL isn't as close to a deal as some initially reported, the NHL has an opportunity this fall and winter to gain some ground.

The big question is whether the NHL can take advantage of the potential losses of these other sports' seasons when their games are on Versus and NBC.

As much as it pains me to say it, this won't happen. The NFL will have a season. It's way too much money for these players and owners not to come together and get something done. The NBA may not have a season, but I don't think their fans are really going to flock to NHL arenas as a substitute for their basketball fix. Rather, fans will probably pay closer attention to college basketball, as the NCAA has more games on major networks like ESPN.

On the bright side, the NHL may be on the right track to gaining more attention. Colin Campbell is gone (Best sports firing of 2011?). OK, so he technically resigned, but we all know Gary Bettman just got sick of having to defend the dumbass. The league is also going to look at ways to eliminate dangerous hits to the head, which could also help reduce retaliation fights that scare non-diehard fans away from the game.

The NHL has also shown that they are open to new ideas. They had players draft the All-Star teams this year. It was really boring, as the captains were boring. The most entertaining part of the night was when Kris Letang tripped going to his seat.

The end result kinda sucked, but at least they did something different. Now they are talking realignment to stir up the pot. I love the idea. But it won't happen this season, when they have an opportunity to gain new fans. They need an idea this year.

One thing that would make the game more fun to watch is making the playing surface as big as the International ices. It won't happen, but it would open up the game and make it easier for people to watch on television.

I would also like helmet cams on players. OK, this one is ridiculous but wouldn't it have been great to see what Brooks Orpik was seeing when he destroyed Steven Stamkos in Game 1 of the playoffs?

On a more serious note, let's spice up the All-Star game a little more. Have players challenge others to competitions. Let's see Ovechkin challenge Crosby to a shoot out contest. Let them pick their opponents for different events and hope that some fun smack talk ensues.

Clearly I will never be running or working for a league. My ideas are not very good. But the NHL needs to do something with the opportunity they have been presented, especially if the NFL misses any time. People will be frustrated with the NBA and NFL. The NHL needs to fill that void with great hockey and fun ideas to reach new fans.

Of course, with Bettman running the ship, chances are the league will somehow find a way to harm itself and turn off more people from the game. At least Campbell is gone!

Mumford and Sons - Winter Winds

Federer's time on top officially over

By Jeff

If the game of tennis disappeared today, Roger Federer would still go down as the greatest player to ever play.

I never saw Rod Laver play, so Federer gets my vote. Mostly because Federer's main adversary has been perhaps the future greatest player to ever play tennis is Rafael Nadal.

Nadal has been No. 1 in the world for a while now, but deep down I thought Federer still had the edge on hard and grass courts. I fully expected him to win Wimbledon this year, not fall in five sets to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals yesterday.

The loss is very similar to day when Tiger Woods officially lost his place at the top and has yet to recover from. Remember the 2009 PGA Championship? That was the first time Tiger Woods lost a major when he went into the final day with the lead. Woods then got caught cheating on his wife with 23,751 different women and he has roughly had the same amount of different swings in attempts to regain his form.

Well, Federer's loss yesterday was the first time in a grand slam he led by two sets to none and ended up losing. Federer is now 178-1 in Grand Slam matches after taking the first two sets. That's an impressive record, but that one is going to be the one that represents his fall.

Now Federer's decline won't be as drastic or quick as Woods' downward spiral. No, Federer will probably have a Pete Sampras-like moment and storm through one final major. But it would be shocking if he won more than a single Grand Slam during the remainder of his career.

It wasn't just this Wimbledon match that leads me to believe Federer doesn't have the fire anymore. In last month;s French Open, he should have taken the first set from Nadal, but choked it away. In the second set, he fought to break back against Nadal, only to lose his next service game. So either Federer has lost a bit of his formerly ruthless killer instinct, or his game has declined just enough so that he can't act on that killer instinct.

It was a great run, Roger. You still have your Grand Slam quarterfinals appearances streak, but we all know that's not good enough for the man who has hats, shirts and jackets embroidered with your initials.

The Righteous Brothers - Little Latin Lupe Lu

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dupuis signing a good one

By Jeff

While Pens fans are constantly debating whether to bring back Jaromir Jagr and resign Tyler Kennedy, Pens general manager Ray Shero quietly resigned Pascal Dupuis to a 2-year, $3 million deal.

The move is a great one for the Pens. They retain a versatile winger who has 35 goals combined in the past two seasons and was a vital part of the league's best penalty killing unit.

Dupuis certainly isn't a skill guy or a young guy (He's 32). He skates hard and fast, forechecks wells and doesn't take a game off. If he could hit the net more often with his slap shot he'd be a threat for 30 goals, but to say he has no control of it would be a bit of an understatement.

He clearly isn't a superstar, so why am I so excited to see him back? It's because the man works his ass off in every game. It doesn't matter what the score is, or what line who he's playing with; Dupuis is always going full throttle.

While some players would complain about being tossed around from line to line, like Dupuis did last year after Sidney Crosby got hurt, Dupuis went out and played hockey without any complaint. Whether he was on the first line or fourth, he went about his business with the same no surrender attitude.

He could have got more money on the open market (See Armstrong, Colby), but he stayed where he has won a Stanley Cup and likes the locker room. Maybe the Pens could have picked up a very similar player on the open market, or someone with more goal-scoring pedigree. And that player could have sucked and not played up to his potential like a few recent Pens pickups. With Dupuis they got a guy at a discount and they know what to expect from him.

Regardless of whether the team signs Jagr or Kennedy, fans can be happy No. 9 will be coming back for two more years.

The Byrds - My Back Pages

ERA vs. xFIP

by Mike Z

Considering I throw around a bunch of these obscure stats, I've often considered posts explaining the major ones a little more. This was a little tougher than I thought because I had to find some way to make formulas sound interesting. The ERA formula is self-explanatory (earned runs/innings pitched X 9), but the xFIP one is insane [xFIP = ((FB*.11)*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP] and essentially miserably dry to break down all the variable. However I'll try to briefly go over what xFIP is before I go any farther.

xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, is a metric devised to determine what a pitcher's ERA should be, taking into account only the variable that he is theoretically responsible for. Those variables are walks, strikeouts, hit batters, home runs and innings pitched. Walks, strikeouts, and hit batters are self explanatory. The innings pitched dividend puts the calculation onto an ERA scale so you can now effectively compare the two stats.

The one major thing I want you to focus on in the formula is the (FB*.11). This is fly balls times .11, with .11 being the average home run to fly ball ratio for pitchers league wide. Without that correction, you get the calculation for FIP instead of xFIP. Home run rates for a single pitcher fluctuate wildly from year to year so (FB*.11) provides a more accurate calculation.

So now that the crash course is completed, what's a good way to compare the statistics? I decided on a correlation study as it can compare multiple data points at once and is fairly simple to follow. I compared starting pitcher win/loss percentage to ERA, and then starting pitcher wins to xFIP on a graph made by Excel and then best fit a line through the points, using the slope of the line as the read out. A slope/correlation value is on a 0 to 1 scale, for example, 0.1 being a weak correlation to 0.9 being a strong correlation. To protect myself from small sample sizes skewing my results, I took statistics for only the starters that qualified for statistical awards (about 25 starts each year) and took all data from 2008-2010, which gave me 251 data points to work with (Excel can only calculate 255 points, otherwise I had data going through 2006).

First, here's the correlation graph for W/L (X-axis) vs. ERA (Y-axis):

The correlation for this graph is 0.44, so not that strong. the greatest density of points is running right along the 3-4 range of ERA , but there are still points all over the place, which is what the correlation value indicates.

Here's the same thing using W/L vs. xFIP instead:

The correlation with this graph looks similar to the ERA comparison, but notice how the data points are much more closely scattered around the best fit line than previously. The correlation for this graph is 0.62, not strong, but much better than ERA and definitely an improvement.

So what does all this mean? This is a real quick study with plenty of factors that make it less than ideal, with using Wins/Losses the biggest gripe that I have. If anybody has an idea for a better correlation study, let me know because I saved all my data from this so that I can revisit it if I decide to do anything more in-depth with the data. This was pretty crude, but I hope it illustrates why a lot of the sabermetrics types use xFIP to gauge starting pitchers than ERA, especially when attempting to project how they'll perform for the remainder of the season.

If anybody has any suggestions for other stats they would like me to look at, leave them in the comments and I'll look at it the next time I do one of these.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bring back Jagr

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been exploring the possibility of bringing back former star Jaromir Jagr for the upcoming season. I'm all for it.

Of course, if you live in the Pittsburgh area and listen to Ron Cook on 93.7 the Fan, you know the old columnist doesn't want to bring back the five-time Art Ross winner and one-time Hart winner. This is because of Jagr's infamous "I'm dying alive" comment he made in regards to playing for the Pens in 2000.
You couldn't Photoshop a mullet like that.

Jagr was then traded for a bunch of scrubs and the dark ages of the Pittsburgh Penguins officially began.

That quote also led to Pens fans, myself included, hating Jagr. How dare he hate being in Pittsburgh and actually say it! It was this anger that allowed us to ignore the fact he played in 81 games, scored 52 goals and accumulated 121 points in his final season with the Pens. Jagr struggled in the playoffs that year, with just 12 points, but he made Darius Kasparaitis' Game 7 overtime goal against the Buffalo Sabres possible. It's easy to overlook, but he fought off a Sabre at mid-ice and kept the play alive.

Following this season the team was terrible. They finished last in the division and continued to trade away its core players for crappy prospects. I'd be dying alive too.

If the price is right, bringing back Jagr could be a great move. The man can score. Sure, I haven't seen him play in about three years, but it's not like he left the NHL playing poor hockey. He had a career low 25 goals in his last NHL season, but he still led the New York Rangers in goals and points. Put him on a line with Crosby or Malkin, and he should be a lock for 20 goals. Something that recently has been a big problem for Pens wingers.

The only way this move wouldn't work is if Jagr came in with the attitude that he's the star. Seeing as Jagr is 39 years old, I doubt that idea will cross his mind and he will be more than content to defer to Crosby and Malkin.

Hall and Oates - Baby Come Back

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Overbay Black Hole

by Mike Z

Over the last 3 game series against the Orioles, Clint Hurdle decided to sit Lyle Overbay to help try and "reignite" him for the remainder of the season. By "reignite" him, I'm fairly sure he means to help him show up for the season. The decision came because he's now hitting .227, well below his .271 career average, as well as an OBP of .306 and SLG of .351, all being his career worsts by far. I don't think even the most optimistic fan thought he was going to hit much more than his .243 last year, but the main reason for the signing was for his his defense, with the Pirates hoping his bat would be adequate. In this post, I'm going to determine how bad his bat has been, and whether his defense good enough to keep him on the roster.

First going over his hitting, it really solidifies how bad he's been. His BABIP is .269, slightly low, but normalizing by to near .300 would only bring his average up around his .243 batting average of last year. His batted ball info indicates that he just isn't making good contact anymore, so the low BABIP may be expected. His line drive percentage is 16%, lowest of his career, and well below his 21.5% career average. His ground ball percentage is 2 percent higher than his career average and his fly ball percentage is about 4 percent higher than his career average. An inflated ground ball percentage is a great indicator that a player is no longer having good at-bats or making good contact, often a telltale sign of an aging player losing his ability.

While his hitting stats are looking horrible, his defense, the reason for his contract, has been abysmal. While he only has 6 errors for a fielding percentage of .991, this stat (like always, in my opinion) tells us nothing of how he's performed. It seems that he has little range anymore, and his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) seems to indicate that too. While most defensive metrics have their flaws, there is such huge drop here that it is very telling. His UZR/150 (divided by 150 to project over 150 games) is -14.1, meaning he's cost the team 14 runs, more than double his career worst, and 1 of 3 season in which it's been negative. Remember, this is a cumulative stat, so he's on pace to cost the team 24 runs. He's been a butcher in the field, and really did earn this benching.

Combining his offense and defense, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement, meaning playing a AAA player instead) for the season is -0.7. Sure that sounds bad, and for reference, that WAR is lowest in the league for all 1B, and only 4 players are worse in the entire league. So what do you you do with him? Here's a couple ideas I've thought of that are plausible.

1. Keep him on the team, but platoon him.
I don't really see this happening, and this would have been more likely if Steve Pearce were healthy. Pearce (right handed) is a career .300 hitter against lefties, and Overbay (left handed) hit .190 and .220 each of the last 2 years against righties.

2. Cut him, call up Matt Hague
I think this would be a nice move to make, but not sure how likely it really would be. Hague isn't really considered a prospect, as he's already almost 26, but he's been hitting well. His triple slash line is .312/.361/.435 this year in AAA, with 5 HR and 35 RBI in 70 games. Not too much going on there with the bat slugging wise, but he'd likely hit much better than Overbay and the Pirates will be able to find out what they have in the player.

3. Cut him, move Garrett Jones to 1B and call up Alex Presley
I listed this last because I feel like this would be the most likely to happen, and would be my preference. Sure Presley is 26, but he has flat out hit the past 2 years in AAA. This year, he's hitting an impressive .332 and slugging .506, along with 15 stolen bases. If they want to protect Presley, he's a lefty so the Pirates can continue their RF platoon if desired. Garrett Jones isn't the ideal glove at 1B, but he showed enough in the Orioles series that he could be serviceable there.

Any scenario with Overbay being cut will probably be a few weeks down the line at the earliest. They didn't cut Aki Iwamura until late June, about a month after it was obvious he couldn't play anymore and let Brendan Donnelly linger in the bullpen until the end of July. It's amazing to think how well the Pirates are doing now in the past few week having 4 or 5 automatic outs in their lineup (Overbay, Cedeno, Wood, Brown/Toreagas/McKenry) The Pirates need production from 1B if they want to continue hovering around .500 and cutting bait with Lyle Overbay will go a long way, as well as let the Pirates know in some of their younger players.

When remakes go too far

By Jeff

Is it me, or has Hollywood lost all creativity?

Just look at all the movies that have been and will be released this summer. The summer schedule is filled with sequels, comic book movies and adaptations from children's books or older movies. "Inception" is the only original movie I can remember in the past year or so.

Well, I was scanning IMDB today when I stumbled on this trailer. Apparently they are remaking the dance classic "Footloose". I have a soft spot in my heart for "Footloose" for a few reasons. Kevin Bacon is awesome, Kenny Loggins was all I listened to until the 5th grade, and I can't imagine living in a town where dancing is illegal.

It stars some guy I've never seen before, a woman that looks a lot like Miley Cyrus and Dennis Quaid, who once again proves there is no role he will turn down.

These reasons allowed me to ignore how terrible a young Jessica Parker was, the absurdity of Chris Penn being in healthy shape, the whole warehouse scene where Bacon's character is so angry he has to dance it out, Bacon swinging from a random rope in said scene, and whole plot in general.

Why would Hollywood make a remake and update it with modern rap music and bumping and grinding? Haven't they already given us three "Step Up" movies?

This movie will fail. It needs to fail. But it won't. It seems like it's the uncreative movies that bring people to the movies. I'm guilty of supporting this, as I have seen many comic book movies in theaters.

Sarah Bareilles - Uncharted

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sorry, but I have more random thoughts

By Jeff

OK, I am really sucking lately as a blogger. I could throw out some excuses, but really it comes down to me being lazy. Things have been, and will continue to be, hectic for me. Hopefully things will settle down soon and I will get back to the daily grind.

Until that day comes, you're going to have to settle for my sparse posts and they will most likely be reviews because I am missing a lot of stuff as they happen. Once again, I'm sorry.

  • The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. It sucked, but I'm glad they won instead of the Vancouver Canucks. It takes a lot for me to root for any Boston teams, but the Canucks managed to do so by playing really cheap hockey throughout the postseason. 
  • I'm happy for the Dallas Mavericks. Dirk deserved a title with the way he played this season and postseason. That's all I have to say about professional basketball.
  • Ali Riske had a great showing at Wimbledon today. She lost to No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva in three sets. It was looking good in the third set, but Riske stated making a lot of errors after tying the set at 3-3. She is going to be really good, and I used to beat her when she was 9. Woo!
  • I never watch golf, but it was insane what Rory McIlroy accomplished this weekend at the U.S. Open. I think he broke around 12 records. I'm still not a big golf fan, but you have to respect what McIlroy did to the rest of the field.
  • Tiger Woods will not break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. 
  • "X-Men: First Class" was probably the best X-Men movie yet. It had a good mix of action and plot, and the acting was very good. I'm sure people familiar with the comics will find plenty to complain about, but it was still a good movie. Kevin Bacon rules.
  • Attended a Phillies game in Philadelphia last week and it was impressive. The stadium was packed at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday. The stadium absolutely roared for every run they scored. It was quite the atmosphere and I'm very jealous of the team's success and fans.
  • Joe and I had a great discussion on the Pirates the other day. While we are happy they are around .500 (They actually went above for a day!) we are a little worried about them keeping it up. In Joe's words, the team is a house of cards. The pitching is saving their struggling lineup, but how long can they keep it up? Especially considering the team doesn't have a healthy veteran catcher right now. There could be a long losing streak in the near future for this team.
  • I've recently started watching "Breaking Bad". It's a good show. I'm not sure it's as amazing as critics and award shows make it out to be, but it's certainly entertaining and each episode ends with you wanting to watch the next one immediately. I like to call this the "24" Effect.
  • RJ already wrote a nice piece about the passing of Clarence Clemens, but I need to add my thoughts. The man was awesome and was a big reason for me falling in love with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band's music. The epic solo in "Born to Run" and just the fun notes he played throughout "Rosalita" are what I'll remember the most.
  • Ryan Dunn of "Jackass" fame died in a car crash early this morning. He was 34. 
Sorry to end on sad notes.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band - Rosalita

Missing The Big Man

By: RJ

Over the weekend, saxophone player and the pillar for the wall of sound known as The E Street Band, Clarence Clemons passed away due to complications from a stroke. He was 69.

Clemons was Bruce Springsteen's main on-stage partner for nearly 40 years and his sax brought to life so many of Springsteen's songs, ranging from his signature solo in "Jungleland," to the story of the E Street Band and The Big Man in "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" to the closing sax solo during "Thunder Road" or even the sax solo and vocals in the middle of the E Street Band version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (The list could go on for days.) Springsteen's bromance with The Big Man was always apparent on stage, saving him as the last of the band members to be introduced, always plugging his partner's latest exploits, saying "You wish you could be like him but you can't" and touting him as "The next president of the United States."

The Big Man was more than just an original member of the E Street Band, he was an actor (guesting on The Wire and back in the day, Different Strokes), worked with other musicians in the studio setting (Arthea Franklin, Jackson Browne and most recently, Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory", for which he appears in the video, to name a few) and had his own band, Clarence Clemons and the Temple of Soul.

In recent years, Clemons was bothered by various ailments (knees, back) that hindered his ability to move around on stage. But Springsteen knew how much he needed his pillar on stage, so various accommodations were made, from installing an elevator near the stage entrance for Clemons to having a gigantic chair placed behind Clarence's mic stand for him to rest on songs he didn't have to play the sax for.

The loss of Clemons was felt all throughout the music community. Fans gathered at The Stone Pony, a Jersey shore music club that was a frequently haunt for members of the E Street Band. Tributes came in all forms from Bono reciting lyrics of "Jungleland" during U2's closing song at an Anaheim concert, "Moment of Surrender" to Eddie Vedder sending out "Betterman" after learning of Clemons' passing on stage at a Connecticut concert to Bon Jovi playing a cover of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" in Denmark.

This continued on Monday with the mainstream media. Springsteen fans Brian Williams and Jon Stewart both touched on The Big Man's passing. Williams had a three-minute segment on NBC's Nightly News to Clemons and Stewart used The Daily Show's trademark "Moment of Zen, as what he called "My moment of Zen" and showcased a clip of Springsteen introducing Clemons from the Live in Barcelona DVD released in 2003. Eddie Vedder also did an additional tribute on the David Letterman showing with the name Clarence inscribed on his ukulele during his performance on the program.

Having seen the E Street Band in concert a countless number of times and having ultimately seen Clarence's second-to-last show with the band in Baltimore in November of 2009, this loss hurts much more than when longtime E Street organist Danny Federici died in April 2008 from melanoma. Federici's passing wasn't out of the blue, where as there were reports earlier in the week that Clemons was improving after his stroke last Sunday.

It was hard yesterday not to listen to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and get misty-eyed when Springsteen recites the line, "And they made that change uptown and the Big Man joined the band," followed by Clarence on the sax.

Life on E Street won't be the same without the Big Man by Bruce's side. We will miss you, R.I.P. Clarence.

Friday, June 10, 2011

40 for 40 – Part 1 of 2

by Joe Ryan

In 2010 ESPN turned 30 years old. Instead of having a surprise party or barhopping like they were 21, the actually did something worthwhile. The funded/helped produce/aired 30 documentaries chronicling some of sport’s untold but fascinating stories. The films are very well done and ESPN allowed the filmmakers to run with their own ideas. They’ve told stories that have shaped sports and how sports has shaped our society. For once, the worldwide leader did something that wasn’t shallow or self serving, and it was nice. My personal favorite was The Two Escobars; a film detailing the relationship between the world’s biggest drug lord and the Columbian National Soccer Team.

We can only hope that ESPN will do it again in 2020 and allow ten more stories to be told. Here’s what I’d like to see documented for the next go round. Obviously, the next decade will shape how we view each of these stories, but I see these five as candidates for 40 for 40.

Close to the Vest – The Build Up of Jim Tressel, the Tear Down of OSU football. Tressel was so beloved in Ohio, but he thought the ends justified the means. The film could delve into whether or not Terrelle Pryor was wrong or the system was wrong. How could Tressel ignore that many infractions for that long? Start by talking about Woody Hayes’ fall from grace. Flash back to Tressel’s trouble at Youngstown State. Dominance over Michigan and the recruitment of Pryor. Basically, turn the SI article into a movie.
Now, if OSU doesn’t miss a beat and continue to make BCS games, maybe this film doesn’t get made.

Bolt of Lightning
– The World’s Fastest Man. I think Usain Bolt’s accomplishments will really come into perspective in the next decade. This guy was making the 7 other Olympians look slow, really slow. He was/is so fun to watch. What does sprinting mean to Jamaica? Accusations of doping, pushing the limits of what is humanly possible. I hope this film is made regardless if he’s still the record holder in 2020.

Pound for Pound – The Manny Pacquiao Story. Now, I don’t think Manny will be too far removed from our memories in 2020. He’ll probably be the president of the Filipinas by then. He has world championships in eight weight divisions, eight! He transcends language and culture. He’s easy to root for. He almost made people care about boxing. Did MMA’s skyrocketing popularity hurt his legacy? Does he care? Imagine if he was a heavyweight.

Big Bats, Blind Eyes – Sammy and Mark Save Baseball. 1999 was the year. MLB was still suffering from a 1994 strike that cancelled much of the 1994 season, including the playoffs. Fans were bitter. But then the magical summer of 1999 where Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both chased the single season homerun record of 61. It lead Sportscenter just about every night. Who’s leading? McGwire hit two! Cubs and Cardinals games were the toughest ticket in the league. But then, the fall out. Accusation of steroid use. Did Bud Selig or anyone else really think they weren’t juicing? Why do we love homeruns so much? Weren’t the pitchers juicing too? Baseball promoted the shit out of these two, but then came down on them when people finally started asking, why is his head so huge? He’s how old? And hit 15 more homeruns than he ever has before?? The homeruns are gone, but the fans are back.

Seattle’s Sound – The Franchise that Raised the Bar for Soccer in America. The Sounders are average 36,000 fans per game when the league average is around 17,000. Not only are the fans there, but they marched in together, and sang in unison for 100 minutes. But how did they get there? The Sonics were taken and the city needed to support another team. How perfect was the fit between soccer-as-a-counterculture (in America) and Seattle’s residents? The management cares; their stadium was designed with a soccer pitch in mind. Other MLS franchises will have to live up to the Sounders the next decade. How far has the league come in 25 years?

That’s all for now. I’ll be back with 5 more sometime next week. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Back with lots of thoughts

By Jeff

Once again, I've become lazy with the blog. I've been freelancing, looking for jobs, looking for apartments and going on vacation, so I've been busy. But none of those are good excuses considering how many stories have been going on that demand my attention and commentary.

So here is another thoughts post.
  • As someone who dislikes Ohio State, it's fun to watch their football program squirm under all the problems being brought to light. Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel are out and there seem to be new allegations every day. This may be the cynic in me, but I'm starting to think that every big program, coach and athlete in NCAA football is in somehow violating rules. It's just a matter of catching them. SI has a great article on Tressel here.
  • USC was stripped of its 2004 National Championship by the BCS because the NCAA determined Reggie Bush was ineligible that year because he received extra benefits. We all knew it was coming. What's interesting to talk about is that it's not as if Bush or any other Trojans player did something to enhance their football skills. Bush took money from a sports marketer. So while the team was stripped of it's title, we all know that the 2004 Trojans were the best team in college football that year. 
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing good baseball. They recently took two of three games from the Philadelphia Phillies, are one game below .500 and are +1 in run differential. The run differential stat I think is the most important one to take away from that last sentence when you consider how bad this Pirates teams was beat on a consistent basis last season.
  • Let's play a game popularized by ESPN's Matthew Berry. Here are the stat lines for two NL pitchers.
    Pitcher A: 2.56 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, eight wins and four complete games
    Pitcher B: 2.52 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, six wins and two complete games
    Pitcher A is two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Pitcher B is... Charlie Morton?
  • They also have identical throwing motions.
  • Even though the majority of the crowds were Phillies fans, it was nice to see PNC Park packed this past weekend.
  • I don't know anything about baseball prospects and the draft. I'm told by my Baseball America friend that Gerrit Cole could be really good for the Pirates. Cool.
  • Maybe it wasn't all Colin Campbell's fault after all. Well, he still sucked at his job, but clearly the NHL as a whole has no consistency with their punishments. First, they didn't discipline Vancouver's Alex Burrows when he intentionally bit Patrice Bergeron's finger. How they could rule that there was no evidence of Burrows' intent is beyond me. Burrows clearly tilted his head back so he could fit Bergeron's finger in his mouth and then bit down. Then the NHL only gave Canucks' forward Aaron Rome four games for his late, blindside hit to Nathan Horton's head. Rome had plenty of time to pull up. He started his check after Horton passed the puck, so the common "I was just finishing my check" defense is crap. Rome then left his feet and planted his shoulder into Horton's head. Contrary to what the Canucks' head coach thinks, this is exactly the type of hit the league is trying to eliminate. Rome is a scrub who recorded five points in the regular season. Horton is a vital piece of the Boston Bruins, with 17 points in this year's playoffs, including three game-winning goals. Rome should have got at least 10 games and the Canucks should be fined.
  • I'd like the NHL to know that I am available for employment in case they want someone with common sense in their offices. I know that's not the type of people they hire, but maybe someday that will change.
  • Speaking of common sense, why is it that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the only ones in the media that seem to have it? They are comedians, yet they provide more accurate commentary than CNN, MSNBC and FOX.
  • I know I'm really late on this, but "The Macho Man" Randy Savage died last month. He was one of my favorites growing up. I dressed as him for Halloween in second grade and probably annoyed my parents to death with countless impressions as I was growing up. While Savage was great in the 80's and early 90's he also turned into the kind of wrestler you get annoyed with. He was the old guy that wouldn't go away and insist on being a main eventer, even though he clearly didn't have it anymore. But that's not what I'll remember him for. I'll remember the seven flying elbow drops he put on the Ultimate Warrior in a retirement match, and yet the Warrior still kicked out. What bullshit. The Warrior sucked.
  • Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player of all time. This is not a new development, but was reinforced with his sixth French Open title Sunday against Roger Federer. I never thought I'd say this, but Nadal has the potential to become the greatest player of all time.
  • Remember when Americans dominated the top 10 in tennis. Now we don't have a single top 10 player. Sad.
  • NASCAR is silly. 
  • I just recently discovered the greatness that is FOX's "Raising Hope". The show is hilarious. The main character, Jimmy, has a one-night stand with a serial killer, who then has a baby because she thinks it will prevent them from executing her. Well, that doesn't work and Jimmy is forced ti raise the child, Hope, with his dumb parents and crazy great grandmother. It's awesome.
Erasure - Little Respect

Friday, June 3, 2011

2011 Gold Cup Preview

What is it? The Gold Cup is the bi-annual, 12-team continental soccer championship for CONCACAF, which consist of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Does it Matter?
Yes, why else would we be talking about it? The winner gets to compete in the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013. (note: it matters more every other time it's contested. this is one of the times in matters more) They will face off against the defending World Cup Champs, and the winners from Asia, South America, Oceania, Africa, and Europe. It's sort of a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Gold Cup gives you a chance to pull off upsets like this:

Oh, and you get continental bragging rights for two years.

Fine. When does it start?
June 8, 2011 in stadiums across the USA.

I'm intrigued...Who's playing?!?!
Group A - Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, and Mexico
Group B - Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, and Jamaica
Group C - Canada, Guadeloupe, Panama, and United States

What should we expect?
I'm glad you asked. CONCACAF is an improving region, but its teams can be categorized into three umm...categories??

The Powerhouses - USA and Mexico. These are the big boys. It would be a shock if a team other than these two wins the cup. They have more than half their players playing in Europe and should trounce the majority of CONCACAF. What up Little Pea??

The Capables -Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica...i guess. All these teams are certainly capable of upsetting either Mexico or the US and should not be taken lightly. They could make a run to the Final, but I still can't see them winning. Pictured: NYRB's Dane Richards

The Minnows-Cuba, Grenada, Guatemala, Canada, Guadeloupe, Panama. This is their World Cup. These guys aren't going to make a World Cup any time soon. Well, Canada might but they are still a few years away. These teams will be gunning for the teams above them, hoping to catch them on an off-night. It's their chance to gain some respect regionally.

My Prediction
I believe that it will once again come down to the USA vs Mexico in the final in the Rose Bowl. Mexico commits a harsh early foul just to up the intensity. US scores off a set piece rebound. Mexico answers quickly to tie things. Landon Donovan starts a breakout in the 89th minute. He sees Freddy Adu (Freddy Adu!?!?! isn't he like 33 by now?) streaking up the left side. One-touch, winner. Career restored. Let's go Yanks!!!

Leave your predictions, concerns, complaints, and celebrations in the comments section.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kevin Correia: behind the W-L record

by Mike Z

With the Pirates 9-3 over the Mets last night, it gave Kevin Correia his major league leading 8th win of the year. While I don't put much into the win-loss statistics for multiple reasons, it's still fun to see a Pirates pitcher leading the league in a pitching category other than losses and batting average against (cheers Zach Duke!). He's now 8-4 on the season with a 3.40 ERA, some pretty good numbers for a guy that I was worried about being a liability coming into the season. The purpose of this post isn't to determine if Correia is one of the best pitchers in the league so far (he isn't), but rather determine how much of this is a fluke and how much he can carry on through the rest of the season.

I looked at Correia's PitchFX charts, courtesy of Fangraphs, from this year with the Pirates and last year with the Padres to see if I could determine anything different between them. I have a couple theories after going through the charts and statistics and I found two game I'll use as a case study at similar times of the year with similar stat lines. The first is a Rockies-Padres game from 5/3/2010, while the second is a Padres-Pirates game from 5/4/2011. These games are taken in isolation, but each season as a whole indicated these same trends. Here are Correia's lines from each game for context.

5/3/2010 6 4 3 2 4 12/4/3
5/4/2011 6 5 2 2 3 14/4/1

With these lines similar, I thought they'd be perfect to compare to each other by having fewer variables, allowing me to to rely more on the Pitch FX charts. All of his game charts show essentially the same arm slot and release point, so there's no indication of him changing his delivery, but the one thing that did jump out was the horizontal break on all of his pitches.



Both these graphs are from the catcher's perspective, depicting horizontal movement on the X axis in relation to pitch velocity on the Y axis. A couple things jump out here. First, look at how grouped together each pitch is in 2011 versus 2010. Generally, that can mean Correia is doing a better job at controlling his pitches around the strike zone. Specifically, check out his two seam fastball first (FT=blue) In 2010, the two seam had a little more break into the hands of a right handed hitter, but the velocity was dropping close to 85 MPH for some pitches. For the game, his fastball was sitting 91, with the two seam sitting 87, a noticable difference for a major league hitter. In the 2011 graph, note how he is throwing the two seam almost as hard as his fastball. For the game, the fastball was sitting 90.7, but the two seam was at 89.1, making it harder for hitters to distinguish between the two pitches.

Also, take close notice at the curveball (CU=purple dots). He's doing a much better job of controlling his break and having it tail away from right handed hitters 5-10 inches in 2011. In the 2010 graph, the horizontal break is all over the place. What also jumped out at me with the curveball, is how many times he was throwing it. The 2010 game had him throwing 9 curveballs out of his 106 pitches, while in 2011 it was up to 15 curveballs of only 94 pitches, a much larger percentage. I found this interesting, so I checked his pitch selection for the year to determine if it's the curveball that's directing his success so far.

In fact, pitch selection seems to be the case. His use of the slider is down from 16% to 11.4% while his curveball is up from 10.5% to 15.2%. This is a sizeable jump. The sample size is still a little too small to use any of the quantitative statistics for each pitch, but his curveball is saving him an impressive 1.4 more runs this year than last, for what that's worth.

To me, it seems like his better use of the curveball is setting up his other pitches to keep batters a little more off-balance than year's past. Batters are swinging at 31.3% of his pitches outside the strike zone, up from his career average of 24%. He's kept this curveball trend up the entire season, which may help him maintain his success throughout the season. He does need to strike out more hitters, though. His K/9 is an awful 3.99 right now, with his career average being 6.38, a low number as it is. Getting a few more Ks will certainly go a long way in allowing his recent success be sustainable for the remainder of the season.

His BABIP is at .265 and his xFIP is around 4.12, so his statistics may regress backwards gradually, but that doesn't mean he cannot maintain his current level of pitching. As long as he maintains the control of his breaking pitches like he has for the first two months of the season, he'll be be one of the Pirates' better pitchers going forward. I'd expect his ERA to settle around 4 by the end of the season, but that doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion. With the Pirates improved infield defense and Kevin Correia's improved control, he may not end the season as the league leader in wins, but that doesn't mean he won't be one of the best free agent signings for any team this season.