Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eagles making big splashes in free agency

By Jeff

The city of Philadelphia is very excited for the NFL season to start. I've been here the past few days, and in that time the team has signed Nnamdi Asomugha and Vince Young and traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Don't forget they added Jason Babin, who had 12.5 sacks for the Tennessee Titans last year.

Needless to say, fans of the team are thinking this is a championship year.

Of course, Eagles fans are like any other Philadelphia fans in that they are relly passionate and really annoying. I want to tell them how their moves suck and they won't do anything in the playoffs, but that would be a lie. They have one of the best two corners in the league to go along with two other very good ones. Their defensive line just got a very good pass rusher and Vince Young could be Michael Vick 2.0 in terms of reviving his career. The only thing they don't have going for them is their top weapon on offense, DeSean Jackson, is holding out for now. We see this every year and it's pretty much guaranteed he'll be playing when September rolls around.

On the other side of the state, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't doing too much. They released tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. Starks was coming back from an injury, owed a lot of money and was really fat. Adams was owed $5 million and the Steelers didn't like him that much. They did re-sign Willie Colon, Jonathan Scott and Ike Taylor, though. Colon and Taylor were great signings, Scott has me shaking my head a little bit. Why can't the Steelers find a reliable lft tackle to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side? I know this team got to the Super Bowl with Scott playing left tackle for half the season, but that does't mean Scott played well. Roethlisberger still got sacked and pressured often.

Of course, we can't talk about the moves made this past week without touching on the New England Patriots. In usual Bill Belichick fashion, the Pats got two very talented players in Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco for a couple late round draft picks.

What the hell? Every year the Patriots are doing this. Is Belichick the only man that thinks he can handle these egos, so he can make these ridiculous deals? If that's true, then I'm losing a lot of respect for coaches around the league. Belichick is a great coach. It pains me to admit that but I have to. But at the same time, there have to be others out there that have a set of balls and can get big egos in check. Right?

If the season is anything like the excitement that free agency brought, we're in for a great year.

The Eagles - Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pirates do need to make a trade

by Mike Z

First for the record, this isn't a post to slap fearless leader's post in the face, but just to play devil's advocate. This post is coming off the heel's of Paul Zeise's blurb in the Post-Gazette about Hurdle indicating Lyle Overbay is on the verge of losing his job if he doesn't turn it around quick. I've mentioned Lyle Overbay a few times in the past about how poorly he's performed, but here's a couple other stats to further reinforce things.

One of the best comparative stats out there is adjusted OPS, abbreviated OPS+, which takes OBP plus Slugging (OPS) across the league and also adjusts for ballpark factors. A score of exactly 100 is league average. Approaching 75-80 is very poor and 120-125 is very good. League leader usually approaches 200, which is where Joey Bats is right now. It may be helpful to become familiar with OPS+ because I've seen it more and more in articles because it incorporates stadium neutrality. (Granted, it still gauges OBP as SLG equals, which isn't exactly true because OBP has been proven to be more predictive of run production, but OPS+ is still hugely effective.)

Overbay for the season is at 82 now, being a 108 for his career. His last 8 seasons: 122, 112, 125, 85 (injury shortened 2007), 108, 119, 105, 82. So this is a pretty severe drop-off. To further condemn him, his last two months are 87 and an abysmal 58 this month. To put that into numbers you're more familiar to, Lyle's OPS this month is .567. Bautista's slugging alone is higher than that. He's absolutely destroying this team.

This black hole is why the Pirates need to make a trade (or at the very least, find someone internally). For the talk on Carlos Pena, he's been slumping the past 3 weeks or so but still has an OPS+ of 116. The difference between the two players is about 3 wins, according to WAR at this point in the season and projects to be about 2 more by the end of the season. Now am I saying that Carlos Pena is a good player? Absolutely not, and I think calling him decent is a stretch. He can't hit lefties at all, as he's only hitting .125 (yes, that's one-hundred-twenty five) and glove isn't anything special so there are still plenty of flaws.

Whether it's Lyle Overbay, or any of the other names rumored like Jason Kubel or Casey Kotchman, they all have severe flaws. But when it comes to who they are replacing, it's an upgrade no matter who you're replacing Overbay with. And for all the flaws the players have, especially with Carlos Pena, they can be had for cheap. The Pirates have a lot of players eligible for the rule 5 draft this year and won't be able to protect all of them. Trading one of these C+ type prospects and taking on all of Pena's contract would most likely be enough. Replacing the Grand Canyon with a crater definitely isn't ideal but it's definitely better than what the Pirates have now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pirates can only blame themselves

By Jeff

If you haven't seen it by now, here is a link to the final play of last night's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. To me, Julio Lugo is clearly out, but he was called safe and the Braves won in the 19th inning. Even Lugo thought he was out.

As obvious as that call appears, you can't blame the umpires for the Pirates losing that game and falling to third in the NL Central. Sure, it certainly ended the game prematurely, but it should have never got to that point.

After storming out to a 3-0 lead after the second inning, the Pirates failed to score a run in the next 17 innings. That's embarassing. Lyle Overbay further made his case for release by going 1-for-7. The team as a whole just wasn't clutch. Pedro Alvarex, Overbay and Andrew McCutchen all could have put the Bucs ahead when they had runners on third base with less than two outs, but they didn't. Xavier Paul could have done whatever necessary to hit the ball on a suicide squeee attempt, but instead pulled the bunt back and left his teammate out to dry.

To be fair, the Braves' bullpen, like the Pirates', was excellent last night. As much as we want to rip on the Pirates offense for stinking, and they did, credit has to be given to the opposition. On the flip side, Pirates fans should be pleased from the amazing performance of their team's bullpen.

Last night's thriller was a tremendous baseball game that had fans on the edge of their seats for six hours. That's tough for baseball. While the final play has placed a stain on the game, it was great to see Pirates fans care so much. Go look at the ratings. They were comparable to Penguins playoff games. That's absurd for a Pirates game.

I wish the game ended clean with no controversy, but there was no such luck. But Pirates fans can't blame the umps too much. The guy was consistently terrible all night. But if the Pirates scored a few runs when they had the chances, the ump's most egregious error would have never happened.

By the way, despite the lineup sucking, I still don't think trading for an above average bat is the right way to go.

Dropkick Murphys - Hang Em' High

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pirates don't need to make a trade

By Jeff

With the Pittsburgh Pirates tied for first place in the National League Central Division and the trade deadline looming Sunday, many fans and sports writers are crying for the team to make a move.

I understand these thoughts. The Pirates were not expected to be any good this year, or next really. This is an opportunity for them to not only break the 18 consecutive years of losing records, but actually win the division. It's a mentality this team and fans haven't known in a long time and it's exciting to think that the team might be buyers. Too bad there is nothing worse buying out there right now.

As a Pirates fan, there is nothing more I'd want to see than this team make the playoffs. Once they're in, anything can happen. But looking at the type of players available this year, the Pirates would be better off in the long run to just sit back and let players get healthy.

I'm not saying Carlos Beltran, Carlos Pena or Hunter Pence wouldn't be upgrades to what the Pirates have right now. They certainly would be. But two of these players are not worth what is being demanded for them. There are reports that the New York Mets want four top prospects, one of whom is major league ready, for Beltran. The Houston Astros have asked a similar price for Pence.

Neither of these players is worth that kind of haul. Their teams are just trying to take advantage of a weak market this season. Beltran would immediately be the Pirates home run leader and Pence would be second but that's not saying much on a team that doesn't hit home runs.

I would be more inclined to snag Pence. He is younger and he wouldn't be a free agent at the end of the year. But if the Astros are demanding anything that includes Jameson Taillon then the Pirates have to say no. Taillon is the best chance this team has of getting an ace any time soon (Sorry, Karstens). And pitching is what wins championships in baseball.

Carlos Pena is interesting because he wouldn't require the Pirates give up a top prospect. At least he shouldn't. The man can't hit for average, but he does get on base and hit the homers. Two things Lyle Overbay doesn't do. This is the one move I wouldn't mind seeing the Pirates make. But at the same time, if they didn't, I wouldn't think ill of the team.

There will be a time when the Pirates can and should take a big risk at the deadline. Now is not that time. If the right deal presents itself, the team should definitely move on it. But they shouldn't sacrifice the future for any of the men named above. They are good players, but they are not superstars that will take this team over the top. Let's be honest, the Pirates lineup needs more than one bat right now. Just one of these guys won't increase their odds of winning the division that much.

Fans will be pissed if the team doesn't do something at the deadline. They shouldn't be. This team has done more than was ever expected this season. They have brought passion back to baseball fans in this town. They can't risk the future, which appears to be promising, for one season. That's just another way teams get stuck sucking year after year.

Big Country - The Promised Land

Friday, July 22, 2011

Damn you, NFL!

By Jeff

The reason I'm so upset with the NFL, both players and owners, is because they created a product that I am pretty much addicted to. This addiction means I will watch football when the season starts up again even though I'm pissed at the league and it's players.

The latest revelation is that the players once again think the owners are trying to screw them over. This is a day after owners approved a new CBA and reports were that the players would approve today. They didn't. Instead they are going back to their previous stance that owners are trying to screw them. It was so annoying hearing Takeo Spikes tell us that this was a power play by the owners.

What happened to all the good feelings we were hearing about the past 10 days? Well, other than Peyton Manning and Logan Mankins being little girls about the franchise tag. Poor guys. I get why they don't want huge, guaranteed one-year contracts. They want to get massive, multi-year deals. That's nice, but fans don't like hearing guys complaining about receiving guaranteed deals that would give said players eight figure salaries for a year.

But even with this news, and the fact owners were crying about making tons of money, but not quite enough, I won't boycott the NFL. The game is a part of my life in the fall and winter. I would wake up at 3 a.m. every Monday on Guam so I could watch the game. Sleep be damned. It's an escape from the fact the weekend is almost over.

Of course, these feelings leave me even more pissed at the owners and players. They have such a great thing going, yet they would risk it all for more money.

Weezer - You Might Think

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Funny, wonderful feelings

By Jeff

Pittsburgh residents usually only have one thing on their mind this time of year when it comes to sports. Steelers training camp.

For those of you who are not from around here, this is because there is nothing going on in the hockey world and the Pirates haven't been above .500 at this point in the season for almost two decades.

But something has changed. The Pirates don't suck! Hell, they're in first place on July 19. That is not a typo or a blatant disregard for the truth. No. It is fact. If you look up the MLB standings and scroll down to the National League Central Division you will see the Pirates with a 50-44 record and a .5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for first place.

It's a weird and new feeling for young Pirates fans. We are actually watching every Pirates game we can with legitimate excitement. Not the joking, "Hey we're only 20 games out of first," excitement, but genuine excitement about what this team can accomplish.

I have to admit, while I have been an optimist regarding this team ever since Dave Littlefield got canned, I never thought this team was going to win in 2011. I'm pretty sure I bet Mike a Coke that the team would be under 70 wins. I thought 2012 was going to be the year the dark ages ended. potentially being wrong never felt so good. Well, it has, but not in regards to the Pirates.

What is most encouraging about the Pirates' success is that the team is not showing signs of a tragic fall that fans have been expecting. The team hasn't lost two games in a row for a month. If they suck one day, they have been resilient and take a win the next day. They also have a run differential of plus 14. So they aren't getting blown out in their losses like previous seasons.

So when is the Neal Huntingdon movie coming out? I'm pretty sure it might be more relevant than the upcoming "Moneyball" movie.

Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel

AL Positional WAR All-Stars

by Mike Z

Hey guys, sorry for the long delay. Here's the AL list. I'll focus on the original guys that were placed on team, instead of analyzing the 90 other players that were added a replacements. All stats are through July 18th.

C - Alex Avila - 2.7 WAR
Reserve - Matt Wieters - 2.6 WAR
Reserve - Carlos Santana - 2.4 WAR

Actual - Alex Avila - 2.7 WAR
Reserve - Matt Wieters - 2.6 WAR
Reserve - Russell Martin 1.7 WAR

Avila has quietly come out of nowhere to help a Detroit offense that would arguable be a liability without him. At the halfway point, he already had more runs, RBI and HR than he did all last year. Granted, his BABIP is .350, but he is only 23 and will probably only get better. Wieters here is why I jokingly gave Jeff a hard time in the comments a couple posts back. He's really improving as a hitter, after really looking lost his first season. His K% dropped each year from 22.3%, to 18.7% to 15.5% this year and he's slugging .425, well above league average, and even more so compared to other catchers.

1B - Adrian Gonzalez - 4.5 WAR
Reserve - Miguel Cabrera - 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Mark Teixeira - 2.6 WAR

Actual - Adrian Gonzalez - 4.5 WAR
Reserve - Miguel Cabrera - 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Paul Konerko - 2.5 WAR

Yes, by using SABR, I was able to figure out that Adrian Gonzalez is good at baseball. For me, it's fun seeing WAR numbers for the people destroying the league because they just look absurd. That said, his WAR is only 3rd highest for his team, which is surprising and I'll get to in a little bit. He's quietly having a great season again, and his WAR would be higher if he knew how to use his glove. I'd have gone with Konerko over Teixeira in the actual game as well. For the 2nd half however, keep an eye on Teixeira because he's only hitting .239 due to his insanely unlucky .221 BABIP so he could start flat-out raking soon.

2B - Dustin Pedroia - 5.5 WAR
Reserve - Ben Zobrist - 4.8 WAR

Actual - Robinson Cano - 2.9 WAR
Reserve - Howie Kendrick - 4.0 WAR

This is the first position in this post series that wildly varies from actual vs. WAR. Does it surprise anyone that Pedroia has the 2nd highest WAR in all of baseball? After having the foot injury that hampered him last year and raised plenty of questions if he could hold up over a full season, he may be having a better season than his MVP year, and nobody is talking about it. Check out these lines:

2008 157 17 118 83 20 6.9%
2011 91 13 63 50 17 15.0%

He's on pace to crush these totals. In 2008, his total WAR was 6.8 so he's just on a tear right now. If Cano weren't voted on, Pedey is on this team easy. Zobrist is interesting too because his stats are more in line with his 2009 stats than his disappointing 2010 follow up. (He's also eligible as an OF)

SS - Asdrubal Cabrera - 3.5 WAR
Reserve - Jhonny Peralta - 3.3 WAR

Actual - Derek Jeter - 1.0 WAR
Reserve - Asdrubal Cabrera - 3.5 WAR

How awesome has Asdrubal been? He's playing an amazing SS and playing a huge part in turning around the Indians. I'm waiting to see him turn a double play by fielding a grounder while doing a cartwheel. His glove is sick. I don't need to say much about Jeter that hasn't been said. I'm fine with the lifetime achievement picks like this, but I'd like to see All-Star appearances stopped being used as a Hall of Fame gauge. Props to Peralta for hitting better than he ever has--he's earned his spot as a replacement. Honorable mention to Yunel Escobar being hundreths of a point below Jhonny.

3B - Alex Rodriguez - 4.1 WAR
Reserve - Kevin Youkilis - 3.4 WAR

Actual - Alex Rodriguez -4.1 WAR
Reserve - Adrian Beltre - 3.3 WAR

Statistically A-Rod is having his best season since his 30-100-100 of 2008. He's again playing great with the bat, and his war is somewhat inflated with a high UZR rating, which I feel is skewing things slightly. Not too much going on with this position to debate. Watch Beltre in the second half as he's getting unlucky with a low BABIP and a few other things, so he may experience a spike in production.

OF 1 - Jose Bautista - 6.9 WAR
OF 2 - Curtis Granderson - 4.7 WAR
OF 3 - Jacoby Ellsbury - 4.7 WAR
Reserve 1 - Brett Gardner - 3.7 WAR
Reserve 2 - Melky Cabrera - 3.1 WAR
Reserve 3 - Carlos Quentin - 2.7 WAR
Reserve 4 - Denard Span - 2.7 WAR

Actual 1 - Jose Bautista - 6.9 WAR
Actual 2 - Curtis Granderson - 4.7 WAR
Actual 3 - Josh Hamilton - 1.7 WAR
Reserve 1 - Jacoby Ellsbury - 4.7 WAR
Reserve 2 - Carlos Quentin - 2.7 WAR
Reserve 3 - Matt Joyce - 2.3 WAR
Reserve 4 - Michael Cuddyer - 2.2 WAR

This is a great example of where the criticism of WAR is best portrayed. 4 out of the 7 on the WAR team received a huge boost due to their defensive rating. WAR has been determined to be one of the best ways to compare overall worth of players, but be sure to keep this list in mind when looking at WAR. That said, Bautista is making a mockery of the league again. 6.9 WAR is just insane. There will only be a handful of players that will break 7 WAR by the end of the entire season. Just another example of how ridiculous he's performing.

DH - David Ortiz - 2.5 WAR
Reserve - Michael Young 2.0 WAR

Actual - David Ortiz - 2.5 WAR
Reserve - Michael Young 2.0 WAR

No surprises here. I'm still slightly amazed how it looked like in 2009 that Ortiz just lost his hitting ability for half a season, then all of a sudden put it back together like nothing happened. Good for Michael Young keeping things together after "losing his position" in the off-season. Granted, there was a good bit of whining on his part and was asking for a trade, but he's put a nice season together. If Travis Hafner didn't get hurt, he would've most likely been the reserve.

Just one more post on the AL pitchers and you don't have to look at WAR again for another year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Amusement park review: Dorney Park

By Jeff

My fiancee and I have a thing for amusement parks and zoos. We love them and went Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa., for the first time yesterday. It was fun, but nothing special.

You have to know that the park is owned by the same company that owns Cedar Point, the best amusement park I've ever been to. So my hopes were high for Dorney, despite it being a fraction of the size of Cedar Point. This relationship is evident by the Peanuts theme and all of the restuarants and vendors around Dorney, as they are the same as Cedar Point.

As for the rides, it's like Cedar Point's rides had children and shipped them to Dorney. There are five roller coasters (I will never consider the Wild Mouse a roller coaster), and they are decent but not incredible. First, we rode Talon, an inverted coaster with a 135-foot drop and a high speed of 58 mph. It was a smooth and fun ride. If Cedar Point's Raptor and Mantis had a baby, it would be Talon. While the speed and height is nearly identical to Raptor, it's not as fun. There are less loops and turns, kind of like Mantis.

Next up was Hydra, which was our least favorite of the five. It's only 95 feet and barely tops 50 mph. It boasts that it begins with a unique twist that flips riders upside-down to start out, but you're going like 5 mph through the twist. It would be one thing to be shot through the twist to start, but ou slowly roll through it, so what's the point? The rest of the ride is pretty lame. If Mantis and Corkscrew had a child and then left it at the firestation it would be Hydra.

The only wooden coaster at Dorney is Thunderhawk and it's great. Thunderhawk is 87 years old and you can tell during your ride. You are tossed around from side to side and never feel safe, but it doesn't hurt your body either. It's exactly what you want from a wooden coaster. Thunderhawk would be the child of Mean Streak and Blue Streak at Cedar Point. It has the speed and excitement of Mean Streak, but you can enjoy it pain-free like Blue Streak.

The gem of Dorney's coasters is Steel Force. The logo is like a ripoff of Kennywood's Steel Phantom/Phantom's Revenge, but the ride itself is a ripoff of Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200. Steel Force has practically the same height and speed as Magnum, and it even has the tunnels that Magnum does. Hell, it's even red. But guess what? Magnum is an incredible coaster and Steel Force does it's daddy proud. Basically, it is Magnum's adopted child.

The final coaster at Dorney is Possessed, which is one of those coasters that consists of two towers and riders are propelled up the towers a few times. It's a fun ride, but only one side twists, whereas Cedar Point's Wicked Twister has twists on both towers. If you're a man, there is also the fact it kind of hurts your tenders, especially when you go up the tower backward. Make sure you push down on your harness to relieve pressure on your groin and you should be OK. Rather than being Wicked Twister's child, Possessed is more like Wicked Twister's sibling that was never as successful.

Other fun rides at Dorney were Dominator (A mini Power Tower), Meteor (Identical to Kennywood's Aero 360), Enterprise and Screamin' Swing (Kennywood's Swing Shot). I wanted to do Thunder Creek Mountain (Kennywood's Log Jammer) but my fiancee does not like water rides.

Dorney also has a nice looking waterpark, but we did not go in there at all as we didn't know the night riders' passes were good for the waterpark as well. Hmm. That kind of sounds like Cedar Point!

The Who - The Kids Are All Right

Home Run Derby needs to change or end

By Jeff

MLB's Home Run Derby during the All-Star Break has lost all of its allure.

It's just boring now watching sluggers take batting practice. It's even more boring watching them take pitch after pitch. And it's really annoying listening to Chris Berman and the other commentators act shocked at how far balls are going on every home run. I mean, these guys are routinely hitting it 400 feet or greater, and these commentators are in awe of every one. When a player does something rare, like Josh Hamilton hitting 28 first-round bombs, then it's OK to go nuts for every home run. That's exciting. That type of feat rarely happens.

Instead of seeing Hamilton-like shows, we're forced to sit through the Matt Kemps and Rickie Weeks-type players, who hit two homers but still take five pitches between swings. It's so boring.

So the league needs to either get rid of the event, which they won't do because it makes a lot of money, or change it up. It was cute that they had captains pick the squads this year, but it served no purpose. It wasn't AL versus NL. It was still every man for himself.

MLB might be on to something with their tiebreaker. The players vying for the second round only got five swings regardless of the result. Why not do that for the whole event? Give each player 10 swings. Of course, this would make moments like the Josh Hamilton show impossible, but we've already established that performances like his are few and far between. And it's kind of ridiculous that Hamilton didn't even win that year because you reset for the final. Just another issue I have with the spectacle.

Now, if you limit the number of swings, that also limits the charity ball. I love that a sponsor will donate large amounts of money to charity for every home run hit with nine outs. It's the one thing MLB has right with the derby. Well, how about we limit the swings to 10, but once you have nine swings you get an extra swing for every home run you hit. That will keep the charity ball in play and still speed up the derby.

None of this will ever happen though. The money is too good for MLB and ESPN. If the derby isn't four hours, then ESPN won't get as many advertisers.

At least I can dream, right?

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - The Waiting

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Athletes being stupid: James Harrison

By Jeff

James Harrison is a great linebacker. Some may think he plays dirty, but I think the majority of the plays he was fined for were not really dirty hits. His football skills aside, Harrison comes off as an idiot.

The lastest example is an interview he did in a recent issue of Men's Journal. Harrison rips Roger Goodell, Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall in the interview. You can read some of the quotes in the link above, but they don't let you read the full story. More of the quotes are in this Post-Gazette story.

While I giggled a little bit when I read the line about how Harrison wouldn't pee on Goodell if the man was on fire, I can't approve of those comments. According to the Post-Gazette, Harrison also used a gay slur to describe Goodell, which is wrong and needs to stop in sports and society in general. Now, I am guilty of having used gay in inapproriate ways or as insults, but I'm trying to eliminate words like gay, fag, homo and similar words when I rip on people. I'm saying this because if you're a regular reader, you know I try and point out my hypocrisy.

Anyway, Harrison was already out of line when he started ripping his own teammates. He had some harsh words for Roethlisberger's two interceptions and Mendenhall's fumbling in the Super Bowl. While the plays Harrison talks about in the article definitely hurt the Steelers, it's incredibly stupid to call out your teammates in a magazine months after the Super Bowl.

Football is the ultimate team game. You never win or lose because of one or two players. Teams win or lose because one team plays better or one doesn't play well. The defense could have stepped up, but instead were beat by Aaron Rodgers. There is no doubt the game would have been different without there turnovers. But it would have also been different had the defense stopped the Packers on several third and long plays.

Those are words that should stay in the locker room. They are not for the world to read about or for Roethlisberger or Mendenhall to read for the first time after a friend sends them a link. This can really mess of team chemistry. If Harrison wants to remain a member of the Steelers, he may want to issue an apology or have a chat with his teammates and team management. The Steelers organization havs never had a shortage of linebackers and Harrison is 33 years old. While he is stil producing like an elite linebacker, the Steelers have shown in the past they have no problem with cutting older veterans and just finding that next great linebacker.

Kenny Loggins - Footloose

Friday, July 8, 2011

Selling my soul by kind of defending Dave Littlefield

By Jeff

If you know me well, I've probably told you the story where I almost won one of those envelopes that blimps drop during intermissions of Pittsburgh Penguins games.

It's always been my dream to catch one of these magical envelopes, and in 2007 I had an open lane to sprint and grab one. I started my dash with glory on my mind, but then noticed a small boy patiently waiting for the envelope to fall into his waiting arms. At tht moment two options went through my head. The first was truck the little kid and just keep running to avoid the ushers and angry parents. The second was to pull up and let the kid have the envelope. I was with blog contributor Mike at the time, and he would have made me feel like a terrible person if I destroyed the kid, so I went with option B.

I tell this story because I then saw the boy run to his dad and boast about his prize. His dad was then Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield. I immediately regretted my decision. Littlefield was and still is despised in the city of Pittsburgh. No one would have been mad at me if I checked his kid. Hell, they probably would have come to my aid if Littlefield came after me.

For those readers who are familiar with the Littlefield era, you know he sucked as a GM. He is the one who traded Aramis Ramirez for garbage. He is the one that traded for Matt Morris and didn't have the San Francisco Giants help pay any of his remaining $10 million contract. Morris was cut less than a year later. Littlefield made signings like Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa when they had nothing left in the tank. Basically, he was one of the worst general managers ever.

What a tool.
 One of his most critiqued moves was using the fourth pick in the 2007 draft to take Danny Moskos, a guy who was never projected to be more than a decent closer at best. In doing so, Littlefield passed up on switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters, who was projected to rise through the ranks quickly and be a superstar. This is usually the first thing Littlefield haters bring up when discussing reasons to plot his demise.

Well, I'm here to defend Littlefield to an extent. Let me make it clear, I hated Littlefield and think he set the Pirates franchise back about 10 years with all his moves. It's just this is an interesting topic to look at.

Wieters ended up going to the Baltimore Orioles and was called up in 2009. Since that day he has a career average of .267, an OBP of .327, 28 home runs and 132 RBIs in 1065 at bats. Now he's only 25, but those aren't exactly superstar numbers.

Now let's look at the Pirates primary catcher from 2008 to the present , Ryan Doumit. Once again, if you know me, I'm not a fan of Doumit. He is terrible on defense and has the most evil eyes on the planet. With his demonic possession aside, Doumit's stats in this timeframe are: .276 average, .321 OBP, 42 home runs and 167 RBIs in 1210 at bats.

So Doumit's stats are pretty similar to Wieters, but he has one more year under his belt in this comparison. He is also more injury prone and not as good defensively. So is all the hate thrown Littlefield's and Doumit's way really justified? Looking at the numbers and Wieters' struggles in the majors, I think it's likely Pirates fans would probably be hating on Wieters and Littlefield had he been selected with the No. 4 pick. OK, so Littlefield would be hated no matter what.

Moskos made his majors debut this season and is doing well except for a bad game. He's 1-0, has appeared in 21 games, pitched 16.1 innings and has a 2.76 ERA. The ERA is a little misleading as his WHIP is 1.65. Certainly he wasn't worth the No. 4 pick, but he hasn't been terrible in doing the job he's been asked to do.

While lots of people wish Wieters was the Pirates selection, they should really be mad for the team passing on names like Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward, who have played big roles for their teams.

OK, maybe this isn't a defense of Littlefield. He sucked no matter how you look at it.

Ben Folds - Sleazy

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Green Lantern not terrible, lots of things die in Transformers

By Jeff

Sports is in a lull right now. I could go through the MLB all-stars snubs and surprises, but Mike is doing a fun job of that already. All I'm going to say about it is that it's frustrating to see players like Andrew McCutchen and Mark Teixeira get jobbed out of spots. But this is a game for the fans, and they vote who they want to see. It's an unfair system, but it makes sense. Well, Bruce Bochy doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, because there is nothing exciting in sports, here are few movie reviews for your reading pleasure.

First, we have "Green Lantern". It wasn't that bad. People are trashing it pretty good, but it entertained me for the most part. Ryan Reynolds was good, not great, in the starring role of Hal Jordan. Blake Lively was OK, Peter Sarsgard was solid, Tim Robbins was useless, and Mark Strong wasn't around nearly enough.

The rest of the movie had it's usual comic book movies draws and flaws. The special effects were fun and a dogfight early in the movie was pretty cool to watch. Ridiculous like every movie dogfight, but still enjoyable. Seeing the filmmakers create all the different constructs the Green Lanterns used was interesting and surprisingly tame. Maybe that's because Jordan has yet to fully harness his power. I mean the ring he wears allows him to create anything in his mind. There are literally endless possibilities.

A major flaw was character development. Sarsgard's character, Hector Hammond, and Jordan clearly have some kind of history together. But that history is never explained in any way. It was pretty lazy. They could have looked at Jordan and Lively's character's history, but they hardly did that either.

The main problem with the movie was Strong as the Green Lantern Sinestro, only had a few scenes. Of course, if there is a sequel he is going to be in it a lot more. But when you have a talent like that on staff, use it! Why not have him team up with Jordan to take down the bad guy, which was a giant being known as Parallax that eats people's and planet's fear, which then kills them rather than making them fearless. That would have made his fall all more powerful and gut wrenching than it will be. Yes, I just played spoiler without warning and don't care. If you know anything about the Green Lantern comics or cartoon appearances, you know Sinestro is a pretty bad dude.

Overall, it was a B-. It was more entertaining than "Thor" but not as clever or well-done as movies like "X-Men: First Class" and "Iron Man".

Then there was "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon", the finale of the Transformers trilogy. Listen, if you go to a Transformers movie for plot, you're silly. It is giant, robotic space aliens fighting each other and humans while Shia LaBeouf runs around screaming. If you take out the words, "bumble", "bee", and "no", LeBeouf would have had maybe 15 lines in the three movies combined.

What's I'm trying to say is that the acting isn't very good, nor does it have to be. Although, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong were great in very limited roles.

"Dark Side of the Moon" was just a fun, blow everything up movie. The last hour of the movie is just non-stop action as the Autobots and Decepticons tear Chicago to pieces as they attempt to kill each other. The special effects are great. Some of them are ridiculously stupid, even for a movie about a warring robotic alien race. But those scenes are still fun.

The movie is well over 2 hours long, which is a bit much. There are a lot of scenes that could have been cut, as they served little to no purpose.

This review isn't very detailed because there isn't that much you need to know. The acting was the typical Transformers quality, the action was intense and lots of stuff blows up. Optimus Prime talked a little bit of shit, but should have been talking a lot more.

If you like the other two in the series, or just the first one, you will enjoy "Dark Side of the Moon." If you hate robots, dumb action, ridiculous stunts or fun, you won't like this movie. I love all of that stuff so I give it a B.

Alien Ant Farm - Movies

NL Pitching WAR All Stars

by Mike Z

Similar to position players, WAR still attempts to determine overall value of pitchers. Again, I'm not saying that these are the players that should have been on the team or that the teams should be picked based on WAR. I'm doing this as a different way to evaluate players and to generate some thought and discussion. All stats include up to the end of games July 4th via Fangraphs.

SP 1 - Roy Halladay - 4.7 WAR
SP 2 - Cole Hamels - 3.8 WAR
SP 3 - Clayton Kershaw - 3.6 WAR
SP 4 - Cliff Lee - 3.5 WAR
SP 5 - Daniel Hudson - 3.2 WAR
SP 6 - Tim Lincecum - 3.2 WAR
SP 7 - Jordan Zimmermann - 3.0 WAR
SP 8 - Madison Bumgarner - 2.9 WAR

SP 1 - Roy Halladay - 4.7 WAR
SP 2 - Cole Hamels - 3.8 WAR
SP 3 - Clayton Kershaw - 3.6 WAR
SP 4 - Cliff Lee - 3.2 WAR
SP 5 - Tim Lincecum - 3.2 WAR
SP 6 - Matt Cain - 2.6 WAR
SP 7 - Jair Jurrjens - 2.2 WAR
SP 8 - Ryan Vogelsong - 1.4 WAR

Is it really that surprising that the 3 of the top 4 are Philles, with Halladay just crushing everybody? He's 0.4 WAR ahead of CC for leauge lead, and on pace for the best season, according to WAR, of his career. His strikeout rate is at his highest at 8.65 K/9 and his walk rate is at 1.12 BB/9, which is only 0.04 higher than his career best. His xFIP is essentially identical to his ERA (2.41 v.s 2.44) so his ERA is right in line, and his BABIP is .302 as well, so nothing he's doing can not really be attributed to any "luck". The man isn't human, that's all there is to it.

The last couple on the list is a big reason why I find WAR and other SABR stuff so interesting. After Daniel Hudson went to Arizona after being traded from the White Sox, he was lights out, but his numbers superficially make it look like he's dropped off after his breakout. His ERA this season is an uninspiring 3.75 this year. In his first 4 starts, he gave up 17 runs and walked 12 batters in 4 games. But since then, he's been fantastic, he's had a 2.6 ERA since then. Overall, his xFIP of 3.45 indicates he's pitching better than his numbers indicate. His walk rate has dropped from 2.55 BB/9 last year to 2.03 BB/9 this year. You could make a great case for his inclusion.

Jordan Zimmermann is an interesting case because he's been performing like an ace this year with a 2.62 ERA and with a 76/24 K/BB ratio. However, his xFIP is 3.68, indicating some luck. His BABIP is a low .281 and his HR/FB% is a ridiculously tiny 2.9%. That HR rate just has to jump soon, as league average normalizes around 11% every single year.

Now onto the debacle. Ryan Vogelsong is a cool story, pitching lights out after working his way back from pitching in Japan after being absolutely awful with SF and Pittsburgh before that. That said, he has no reason to be near this team. His BABIP is only .256 so he's due for some regression. With the luck he's getting with a skewed BABIP, high left on base percentage, low HR/FB rate and low ground ball percentage, he's bound to come back to earth. All of that goes into his current xFIP of 3.62, about 1.5 higher than his ERA. Plus, he's had at least 5 fewer starts than any other starter (he doesn't have enough starts yet to qualify for statistics yet). Other pitchers that have a WAR of 1.4: Ryan Dempster, Charlie Morton, Paul Maholm, Chris Narveson. There were plenty of better picks than Bochy taking one of his own.

Relief 1 - Craig Kimbrel - 1.9 WAR
Relief 2 - John Axford - 1.3 WAR
Relief 3 - Jonny Venters - 1.3 WAR
Relief 4 - Sean Marshall - 1.3 WAR
Relief 5 - Joel Hanrahan - 1.2 WAR

Relief 1 - Jonny Venters - 1.3 WAR
Relief 2 - Joel Hanrahan - 1.2 WAR
Relief 3 - Heath Bell - 0.8 WAR
Relief 4 - Tyler Clippard - 0.6 WAR
Relief 5 - Brian Wilson - 0.6 WAR

Because the sample sizes for these guys are so small (52 innings pitched is the high), it's tough to use WAR to compare them. All this really shows is that the save stat is usually overvalued. Craig Kimbrel, Heath Bell and Joel Hanrahan are tied for the league lead with 25 saves, and there's there's a sizable gap between the three. Kimbrel's big lead is driven by his 67 strikeouts, tops for all relievers. There are some guys with some nice seasons like Carlos Marmol or Mike Adams that you could add instead of Clippard or Wilson, but there isn't too much to argue about. It is interesting though that WAR agrees with most analysts that Hanranan and Kimbrel have possibly been the top 2 closers this season.

I'll be out of town for the next few days, so it might be a while, but I'll definitely be back to do WAR for the AL all stars as well. Until then, you can use the time to try and figure out a reason Vogelsong deserves to be on the team. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

NL Positional WAR All Stars

by Mike Z

That's right, I'm back to use SABR to pick the all star teams. As a refresher, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is an all-encompassing calculation to determine a player's overall worth, in comparison to a player called up from AAA to fill in. The calculations for WAR vary slightly depending on the website you use, so I'll be using the numbers from Fangraphs throughout. All stats are through the beginning of July 3.

C - Brian McCann 3.1 WAR
Reserve - Miguel Montero 2.3 WAR

Actual - Brian McCann 3.1 WAR
Reserve - Yadier Molina 1.4 WAR

Brian McCann has been an absolute animal this year, and deserves the start here. He's blowing everyone away due to his great offensive numbers, as well as leading all catchers in hits, HR, OBP, and RBI. Montero of the Diamondbacks got a huge WAR boost due to some very good offensive numbers, as probably the 2nd best hitting catcher in the NL this year. Because "This game counts~Bud Selig", Molina is a great choice due to his stellar defense, which is really driving up his WAR. No real snubs here at all.

1B - Prince Fielder 3.6 WAR
Reserve - Joey Votto 3.6 WAR
Reserve - Gaby Sanchez 2.5 WAR

Actual 1B - Prince Fielder 3.6 WAR
Reserve - Joey Votto 3.6 WAR
Reserve - Gaby Sanchez 2.5 WAR

WAR lines up perfectly with the actuals here. Picking your starter here comes down to whether you prefer a masher or an on base machine with great defense. Fielder is in the top 5 in baseball slugging, HR, and RBI. Votto has been "slumping" recently and is hitting .317 now and has been on base in all but 5 games this year. He's not slugging nearly as much as Fielder, but has one of the best gloves at 1B in the league. Gaby Sanchez may be surprising here, but he looks like he'll become a big time slugger real soon, if not already, and can field his position well. He's the only Marlins rep, but he does deserve the spot. He beat out Helton and Pujols by 0.1 WAR.

2B - Rickie Weeks 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Danny Espinosa 3.1 WAR

Actual - Rickie Weeks 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Brandon Phillips 2.8 WAR

Those are some high WAR numbers thanks to defense for all three of them. Weeks is having a repeat of his great season of last year, and is more than deserving. (Sidenote - His brother Jemile looks like he's going to be even better) Espinosa is pretty surprising here, but is getting propped up due to his .466 SLG even though he's only hitting .243 overall. Phillips is having another great season, being on pace for career highs for all major categories except steals. I would've gone with him as my reserve as well.

SS - Jose Reyes 5.3 WAR
Reserve - Troy Tulowitzki 3.5 WAR
Reserve - Stephen Drew 2.1 WAR

Actual - Jose Reyes 5.3 WAR
Reserve - Troy Tulowitzki 3.5 WAR
Reserve - Starlin Castro 1.6 WAR

Yeah that Reyes WAR isn't a typo. He's 0.3 behind Bautista for the league lead. He's been that good. You could make a great case for him being the MVP of the first half. Hitting .354 with already having 65 runs and 30 steals is real impressive. The man is going to get paid this offseason. And if the Mets decide to trade him even though he's almost gotten them back to .500, he could bring back a massive haul for all their holes. Or maybe a lot of money to help pay for Bobby Bonilla's buyout for the next 25 years. I have no idea why they need 3 SS, but they need to get a Cub on the roster somehow. I would've gone with Darwin Barney, just because I think his name is awesome.

3B - Ryan Roberts 2.1 WAR
Reserve -Chase Headley 2.0 WAR

Actual - Placido Polanco 1.8 WAR
Reserve - Chipper Jones 0.8 WAR

.......and Polanco wins by default! He's actually done a nice job for the Phillies, but the hot corner has been a whole lot of suck this year in the NL. Chipper's WAR puts him in elite company this year as Chris Getz and Miguel Olivo. Heath Bell is the Padres rep so there's no way they would get 2 and Ryan Roberts is such a generic name that everybody forgot about him.

OF - Andrew McCutchen 4.6 WAR
OF - Matt Kemp 4.5 WAR
OF - Shane Victorino 4.0 WAR
Reserve - Ryan Braun 4.0 WAR
Reserve - Michael Bourn 3.4 WAR
Reserve - Justin Upton 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Matt Holliday 3.2 WAR
Reserve - Carlos Beltran 2.7 WAR

Actual - Matt Kemp 4.5 WAR
Actual - Ryan Braun 4.0 WAR
Actual - Lance Berkman 2.6 WAR
Reserve - Justin Upton 3.3 WAR
Reserve - Matt Holliday 3.2 WAR
Reserve - Carlos Beltran 2.7 WAR
Reserve - Hunter Pence 2.2 WAR
Reserve - Jay Bruce 1.5 WAR

OK who's ready for a rant? Hunter Pence? OK fine I get it, everybody needs a rep (because this is still 4th grade-why not give everybody a plastic trophy for participating?), regardless of how bad they are. But Cincy already has a few, so please explain why Jay Bruce is there for any other reason than the celebrity softball game beforehand? Why would it matter that he has 18 HR when he misses the ball every other time (K% of 26.1)? Plus, he'd still have trouble fielding his position with one of those giant gloves that the mascots use. Not only is McCutchen leading all NL outfielders in WAR, he's 3rd in ALL OF BASEBALL. How he isn't even on that dumb vote for the last player on the team is beyond me. (Michael Morse? REALLLLLY?)

Up next: NL Pitchers

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thanks for the ride, Max. Jagr clearly still thinks he's a star

By Jeff

If you haven't heard, "The Superstar" Max Talbot has signed a 5-year deal worth $9 million with the Philadelphia Flyers. Considering Talbot was Mr. Pittsburgh these last several years, this was quite a shocker. We all knew he was leaving, we just never thought it would be to the Pens' in-state rivals.

I'm not mad at Talbot. The man scored two of the biggest goals in the franchise's history, played hard when he was here and was an active member of the community. And let's not forget he told a radio station that Alexander Ovechkin is a douche. He will be missed.
It was fun while it lasted, Max. Of course, now these once funny
pictures now serve as proof that you're a douche.

But let's be real, the Pens offered him a 3-year deal and he turned it down. Seeing as Talbot only produced eight goals and 21 points in a season where the team needed everyone to step up their offensive games, that offer was probably in the $1 to $1.5 million per season range. He tested free agency and got a significant raise and the security of a 5-year deal. I can't blame him for leaving, even when considering the team he went to.

Talbot also said all the right things in leaving. He wasn't bitter. He didn't say the Pens were low-balling him. He said he enjoyed his time and the fans here, and that he's making a business decision. Can't argue with that.

Now don't get me wrong, if Brooks Orpik destroys Talbot as he crosses the blue line I will cheer as loud as any Pens fans. All I'm saying is that I appreciate his time here and will never boo him.

Then there was the conclusion to the whole Jaromir Jagr ordeal today. He signed with the Flyers for $3.3 million after supposedly telling the Pens and Mario Lemieux that his heart was in Pittsburgh.

There are two things that are clear here. One is that Jagr wanted what was best for Jagr's pocket, and two is that he still thinks he can be the face of the franchise.

On that first point, Jagr and his agent can deny all they want that it wasn't about the money, but it was. Jagr's agent Peter Svoboda told "The Fan" today that Jagr made what he thought was the best move for his career, and that money had nothing to do with it. Svoboda even went as far as to say Jagr got a 1-year offer for more than $6 million from an NHL team that turned him down.

Anyone who is buying that is living in a fantasy land. No one would pay that kind of money to a 39-year-old who hasn't played in the league for 3 years. No, Jagr wanted to get paid the most he could in the NHL and based his decision on that. Not his heart or where he thinks he can win next year.
You think this hurt, Jagr?
Wait until you get served some free candy.

This brings us to point No. 2. Now I've never spoken to Jagr and don't know his inner thoughts, but I'm thinking he saw the Flyers trade away their two biggest offensive stars and thought he could fill the void. At best, he would have been the third biggest star on the Pens. On the Flyers, he becomes the most recognizable player on the team. You think that doesn't feed his ego just a little bit?

While the way Jagr and Svoboda went about Jagr's decision was selfish, I also can't get mad at Jagr. This is who Jagr is. Pens fans were hoping he had matured with time, but he hasn't. He is still a me-first kind of guy. That would be OK and easy to ignore if he were still putting up 50 goals a season, but he's not. I will cheer against him with all my might because he is a Flyer. Not because he didn't come back to Pittsburgh.

Pens GM Shero was smart to let these two players sign elsewhere while he resigned Tyler Kennedy to 2-year deal and Steve Sullivan to a 1-year deal. And Talbot and Jagr were smart in that they got more money then they could have got here. Before we critique either of them, we need ask ourselves what we would do for raises in excess of $1 million.

The Eagles - After the Thrill is Gone