Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Federer Defense

In response to some complaints from friends of the blog, this is a brief Roger Federer defense.

From our inbox:
[Federer] always seemed a bit cocky to me, but check this one out, after his recent French open win: "Now the question is: Am I the greatest of all time?" Federer said. "We don't know, but I definitely have many things going for me because I've finally won all four Grand Slams, and I'm particularly happy reaching Pete's 14."

And another:

I checked out the article and found this gem: "It's different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody."

There was also some other quote about how though he didn't face Nadal, he beat him in some ther recent tournament, so he "really felt like [he] deserved [the French Open win]" or something.

I had no idea he was such a complete ass.

It's unclear if the quotes are from one article, but they can be found within these two: 1, 2.

We don't share the same sentiment.

We were moved (and impressed) when Federer cried after losing to Nadal at last year's Wimbledon. Since then we've thought of him as sincere, and obviously, emotional (incidentally he cried after this French Open win too).

To us, the way he asks that first question is not about braggadocio; it's earnest and contemplative. Federer became only the sixth player with a career Grand Slam. Other than Agassi the other four all did it before 1970. He's tied with Sampras for the most singles titles ever. It's a valid question for him to ask.

Our feelings are the same about the "dominating" line. Again, it feels contemplative. On it's own it looks especially harsh, but not so much within the context of its preamble: “I didn’t think I played the greatest tennis of my life throughout this tournament. But I definitely played the right way: I was smart. I was strong. I had to show fighting spirit and all those things. It’s different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody.”

Of course this is all very difficult without visual evidence. We're interpreting these solely based on our previously established views on Federer. (Which, we'll note here, are no doubt positively affected by this DFW article from 2006, Federer as Religious Experience).

The quote we do take some issue with is the last one, where he convinces himself of the dubious validity of his victory. Though again here, our complaint is not the same as the emails. It doesn't make us angry. If anything it evokes sympathy. It comes off as a pretty transparent lie to himself, and thus the false bravado is pitiable, as opposed to genuine bragging being deplorable. Let's take it back to last year's Wimbledon again. He didn't cry just because he lost:

He's getting older, Nadal is just coming into his own, he can't beat him on clay, can't win that last Grand Slam, and then it all crests with Nadal beating him on his home court. Five Wimbledon's in a row up until that point. It's like it confirmed all of Federer's worst fears. He cried because he understood that that was the end of his prime, if not his career (in the sense that he was the dominant player).

We're sure beating Nadal on clay a few weeks ago was somewhat satisfying, but it's preposterous to suggest that that gave Federer any closure. Maybe satisfaction, but not closure: He knows that only the Grand Slams count, in the eyes of the public, and the eyes of history; nobody will remember that he beat Nadal in some third rate tournament this year. Continuing the speculation here, reading that last line, we would bet he was happy Nadal got bounced and he didn't have to face him. While his dream scenario is probably beating Nadal in the final, he knows - again, this is why he cried - that he probably can't. And so if he can win the career Grand Slam - in any way - he'll take it. Meanwhile the thought festers in the back of his head, that the win, without a vanquished Nadal, is somehow cheapened, that everyone knows just what he knew last year at Wimbledon, and that can't be erased. And so he says something contrived, not so much for our benefit, but for his own.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catching up with...

- Melo never "felt slighted" by George Karl as we suggested he might and the Nuggets didn't fire their coach as we predicted. Our logic was borne out to be reasonable, however. ESPN's E-Ticket, which rarely dissapoints, most recently featured Chauncey Billups, or rather the journey of Chauncey Billups. Within Chauncey's story and specifically his impact on the Nuggets, are telling details of where Denver's season might've ended up without him. Karl, for one, openly acknowldges his fragile position,
"I just don't think I would've survived. I would've quit or they would've fired me... There was a posse of people in Denver that were tired of George Karl."
Before Chauncey, the Nuggets' play was erratic, "dysfunctional" Billups says. Billups came in to Denver and took the reins. J.R. Smith and Melo both praise him as a mentor, and the team's brass echos the same: "The Nuggets are grateful to have him, and team camaraderie skies through the roof."

- Michael Phelps' superficial PR-driven suspension ended last week. His response? "I had no idea."

- Last month the NYT profiled Roy Halladay, our pick for last year's AL Cy Young. it was good to see him get some much deserved attention - in the words of Raul Ibanez, "If he was in New York or Boston, fans would know more about him." The Times focused mostly on the same things as us - Roy Halladay, the throwback workhorse. This was their best:
"The movement on Halladay’s pitches can be seen in numbers compiled by the Inside Edge scouting service. Batters swung and missed at only 15 percent of his strikes, about the major league average. But they made solid contact only 7 percent of the time, one of the better rates in the league — the pitches looked good, but they flitted from the bat barrel at the last second."
- And on a sad note, Nick Adenhart, one of the Angels from the failed Cabrera trade that we followed all season, passed away. After just barely missing out on a spot in the roatation and struggling through a season in the minors last year, Adenhart won himself a starting spot this spring. He started the third game of the season and left after six innings and a 3-0 lead. He died that night at the hands of a drunken driver.

-Agent Easy

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Manny Manny Manny Drugs Drugs Drugs

Is it stating the obvious to say that the Manny PED bust is the most significant to date? Aside from his being the biggest name to be busted for present-day doping (as opposed to A-Rod’s retroactive bust) it is his personality and the way he was perceived that are more significant. Manny was beloved. Certainly not by all, but by the Dodger Blue and by just as many in Red Sox nation to whom Bill Simmons gave voice to in his August ’08 column.

There was a feeling that Manny was too silly or goofy or ignorant or naïve to know or try PEDs. Manny was a pudgy idiot savant who, with his eccentricities, charmed just as many as he put off. (Hmm, maybe not so pudgy.)

There is no profile. The Manny bust more than any previous suspension or allegation, cements the feeling that everyone is under suspicion.

This is different than A-Rod, who Bill James and Joe Posnanski half-defended, thusly:
1) Baseball allowed a situation to develop in which it was in the self-interest of players to use steroids.

2) Now we are very angry with people because they did what the system rewarded them for doing.
Of course, that defense can’t apply to Manny.

In that same piece Posnanski’s anger at A-Rod comes not from his steroid use, but his non-apology and his PR spin. Back then we too fantasized that a ballplayer would come out and out and say, "Yeah I did it. I am embarrassed for myself and for the game. The players of that era that never took drugs? They are better men than me. I admire them; they were stronger than me. I’m sorry.” And maybe he’d throw in a line implicitly fingering Selig, Fehr, and Orza.

It still baffles us how little ire is directed at Selig and the rest. In his Manny column, Lupica, praised Selig for having a policy that doesn’t spare the stars. Ugh. Lupica discredits himself by making such claims absent context. Every time another player gets busted, every time there is a new big to-do about steroids and baseball, it must be noted that Selig only acted once the government intervened, once his hand was forced. The 2003 anonymous testing was instituted only after the Balco case began to dominate the news cycle and the 2005 Mitchell report was commissioned only after Congress had hearings with the fab five.

What's worse is that he's delusional, and not only refuses blame, but had the temerity to tacitly threaten A-Rod with punishment for his 2003 misdeeds. Retroactively. Ahem. In 2003. When PEDs still weren't illegal. Ahem. On Selig's watch!

Of course now, and this is the significance of the Manny bust, the to-dos will be smaller. It had already felt that way last year, if only because we had reached a saturation point after years of steroid talk, but now, on top of that, perspectives have been rearranged and it's not a matter of being numb to steroid talk but no longer even being surprised by new information.

And that's great for Selig because, of the players who will now be caught, most will be caught by the testing program and less by allegations or investigations of past use, and the praise will only be louder and the past will only recede faster. Or, maybe what the Manny bust portends is that most players don't care about a fifty game suspension or the impact on their legacy - certainly not a utility infielder or a middle reliever with no HOF plaque at stake - and the possibility of an extra million is worth it. Either way, Bud still gets to throw his hands up, play the victim, and plead, "I've done all I could!"

But for truth's sake, let’s ever so briefly revisit that past and examine Selig's fingerprints.

Take a look at the active home run leaders and how many of them have been linked to PEDs. Goodness.

Add to that list Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmiero, and now the only players from the modern era to have hit 500 HRs cleanly (so far) are Griffey, Thome, and Frank Thomas, with Delgado ready to join.

Let’s also consider the recent guilty award winners. Three MVPs: Tejada, Giambi, Pudge. Five Cy Youngs: Gagne, Clemens (4 post-sox).

When A-Rod was outed, the Dallas Morning News published this handy lineup from the 2003 Rangers squad. At first look it only drew attention to the Rangers – a funny anomaly, but now, seeing it a second time, it’s startling how telling it is. The entire starting lineup! Consider the extrapolation. Is that what every team’s lineup looked like?

That’s what the Manny bust keeps making us think of. Everyone is under suspicion. Unfortunately, that'll continue to be the norm; new drugs are right around the corner.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Facebook and College Recruiting

We're late on this, but...

Back in April the Memphis head coaching hire story was broken by John Calipari's daughter on her Facebook page. She didn't mean to break the news. According to her distressed dad, "she was just saying yay for Josh."

Three days later, in perhaps a not completely unrelated move (it's reasonable that the Calipari story inspired greater Facebook vigilance), the NCAA started attempting to shutter Facebook groups that urged recruits to choose a certain school, arguing that they violated its recruiting policies. At the suggestion that their guidelines, or at least their wording, are behind the times, the notoriously obstinate and arrogant NCAA said, its rules are "technology neutral." [h/t TBL]

-Agent Easy

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kyle Orton for President

Bears fans should be happy with the Cutler deal if only because it puts an end to their perennial off-season QB anxiety. At least now they know who their starter is before August.

Starting QB debates had become somewhat of a Bears off-season ritual. When Kyle Orton was named the starter for the '08 season the announcement didn't elicit much excitement and most supporters comforted themselves with some "lesser of two evils" logic. The popular argument was that Orton was just as unreliable as Grossman; both had taken the Bears to the playoffs while putting up less than impressive stats. Orton's '05 numbers were unsightly and few cared to probe deeper than that. For two traight off-seasons when Orton competed with Griese and Grossman for the job rarely was it noted that Orton was a rookie in '05. In a rush to pessimism that fact was regularly overlooked.

Orton never got the benefit of the doubt in Chicago. At the end of last season as he hobbled around on one ankle the popular logic was that since he had returned to the field he therefore was fully healthy and once again Bears fans were content to neglect context when making up their minds about Orton. In seven games before the ankle injury Orton threw for 10 TDs and 4 Ints. In eight games after the injury those numbers went to 8 and 8 respectively.

Now Bears fans are psyched for Cutler, as they should be; he's one of the best young QBs in the league. It's just that Orton - only one year older - may be too. Orton has the edge in wins, Cutler the edge in stats, and it seems that in this case stats have won out. The Sun-Times' Mike Mulligan's reasoning is typical of the Cutler enthusiasm emanating from Chicago:
"Much has been made of Cutler's 17-20 record as a starter, but that also reflects some of the Broncos' terrible defensive performances. He's 13-1 in games in which the Broncos held their opponents to 21 points or fewer."
Using this same dubious metric Orton's record as a starter goes from 21-12 to 17-5.

Now Cutler will be playing where it's a bit colder for a bit longer and while Orton throws to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Cutler will be throwing to two converted Cornerbacks, each of which stands at 5'9". Orton will be playing for a noted QB specialist in Josh McDaniels while Cutler will be playing for Ron Turner, noted leader of the offense where "recievers go to die."

Certainly Cutler has more cachet, but this is largely insignificant. After all, nothing gets an NFL GM hard like a strong armed QB - how many spots, or rounds, did Kyle Boller's famous from-the-knees-through-the-uprights throw bump the 45% career college passer? And if we can offer some conjecture: how likely is it that Angelo made the trade largely because it is safer to make a splash and bring in a famous quarterback than to stay the course with a guy who the city had collectively decided was no better than Rex Grossman.

Ultimately this isn't about comparing the two QBs, but noting that it wont be surprising if Orton plays well for the Broncos. Those extra picks won't hurt either.

-Agent Easy

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Beyond the Stats

The AJ Smith-LaDainian Tomlinson beef is ostensibly over, public apologies having been issued from both camps. There is no longer an official grievance, but as this was just the latest in a series of flare-ups between the two we wonder how LT will be affected in the upcoming season.

We are limited in the tools we have to evaluate a player’s performance. If a player isn’t playing well the deepest analysis usually ends at injury speculation. Rarely is the bigger picture considered. Sure there’s Tomlinson’s age (30 in June) and the evanescence of Runningback careers to consider, but what part do stress, uncertainty, and anxiety play?

After his second year in Oakland Moss was already a has-been. As many people that acknowledged that he was playing poorly because he was unhappy or insufficiently motivated they were a minority, their voices deafened by the popular certainty that at 30 he had slowed considerably. It’s perfectly defensible - it’s the logical conclusion. We see Moss playing poorly; we know he’s thirty and we know that athletes get worse with age. We don’t know what’s going on inside the Raider organization nor the huddle, so even if we get reports about them its too tempting to rely on what we know and what’s familiar – he’s old. And thus New England gets him for a fourth round pick.

Remember, in 2005 Smith traded LT’s best friend (Drew Brees) after LT had publicly hoped for Brees to stay, and then considered firing Marty Schottenheimer, with whom LT was “as close as a coach and a player can be.” LT was so concerned for his coach’s future that he went on a mission to secure his job, telling him “I'm going to do everything I can for you.”

LT put together the greatest statistical season in history to make sure that his beloved coach wouldn’t be fired, and like Brees, publicly supported him after the season. Like Brees, Smith fired him.

Now act three. After a subpar season, LT began hearing the requisite trade and cut rumors. Anxiously, he made his side of it clear. He wanted to stay in San Diego. It was unsettling the way Smith responded, openly mocking LT, parroting his statement.

Generally a GM will be evaluated for his draft picks and his contracts, and as far as Smith goes Michael Silver does a good job picking him apart on those grounds alone, but here again, just like with players, we are often limited in seeing the bigger picture.

In their 2006 year-end report on the Redskins the Washington Post unearthed some deeper reasons to explain the Skins’ problems. The hypocrisy of the team policy engendered anxiety and mistrust among the players.
Over and over Gibbs has stressed the importance of having players who are "core Redskins" or "real Redskins." Yet many of the people interviewed for this article, who requested anonymity because they did not want to be publicly associated with criticism of Gibbs or the Redskins, questioned whether Gibbs has ignored his own principles, being blinded by the temptations made available by Snyder's open wallet. Players said the organization has not prized the interpersonal relationships between teammates and the significance of those bonds in a game that is intrinsically team-oriented and brutally demanding.

" 'Real Redskins,' what does that mean?" one veteran player asked. "Everybody sees through that. When it comes to guys who have been here three or four years, who played hard and played in pain for them, they use that money to go out and buy the next toy. They make promises about using the money to keep everybody together, then guys like A.P. [Antonio Pierce] and Ryan [Clark] and Robert Royal -- our real glue guys -- leave and they go outside again.

"It's the same thing year after year. You look at a lot of the guys who left here, and they're mostly playing well and their teams are doing well, and we pick up more guys than any team, and we struggle. What does that say about us? It's like they're trying to build a team of superstars, or guys who are paid like superstars, and it's not working."
No doubt they struggled to a 5-11 record that year in part because Mark Brunell could no longer throw the ball deeper than 20 yards, Jason Campbell was thrown into the fire and Portis only managed to play half of the season, but it was also because of a disconnect between players and management and likely the task of learning a new offense in the form of Al Saunders’ notoriously large playbook. There’s almost always more to it than what we see on the field and almost always we fail to acknowledge that.

When Parcells came to Dallas he ordered the trainer’s room temperature lowered to just about freezing to discourage those that would linger there. Now Jerry Jones wont let Wade Phillips fine anyone more than $100 and Jason Garret is slow to corral Tony Romo.

San Fransisco is getting their 7th OC in 7 seasons, Denver their 4th DC in 4 seasons. Glen Dorsey is languishing because the Chiefs are using him incorrectly, Baron Davis is sulking because Dunleavy reneged on his promise to run, Mo Cheeks just about ruined Matt Barnes’ career, and Leo Mazzone explained the Orioles’ perennial woes in one swoop: “Once I got there and saw how they operated compared to the Braves, I knew I made a mistake the first week of spring training…The lack of organization. The lack of discipline. The lack of overall professionalism. I was shocked, and I couldn’t believe it.”

In the NBA Daryl Morey is leading the way in new statistical analysis, but inasmuch as the Rockets can measure Shane Battier’s effectiveness with newfangled techniques, a lot of his value is still unquantifiable – "basketball intelligence" for example. We're often forgetful and think we’re evaluating players in a vacuum. Why are his numbers down? Ah, he's probably hurt. Maybe not.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NFL Coaching Carousel Round-up Part II

Seattle and Indianapolis had the two smoothest transitions, both Jim Mora Jr. and Jim Caldwell having coach-in-waiting clauses in their contracts.

The teams are losing two future Hall of Famers in Holmgren and Dungy. If you blink at that consider that Holmgren will join Parcells and Dan Reeves as the only coaches with 3+ Super Bowl trips not yet in the HOF. Dungy retires with the 11th best winning percentage, surpassed exclusively by Hall of Famers. He’ll also deservedly get points for breaking the color barrier as well as transforming the Bucs.

Caldwell has been quick to put his stamp on the team. He replaced the Special Teams coach and DC, both his peers only months ago.

Rex Ryan replaced Eric Mangini in New York. Mangini’s firing was a bit perplexing. Only two years removed from weekly “Mangenius” stories he rebounded after an atrocious 2007 and had a winning record with a quarterback who led the league in interceptions.

Woody Johnson was intent on wooing Favre to stay for one more season. (No doubt his name would sell more tickets in the new stadium – it couldn’t have been a matter of preserving team chemistry). As Favre and Mangini didn’t get along it became an either-or proposition and Mangini was out.

Unsurprisingly he quickly landed on his feet with the Browns, forming the fabled ManKok duo.

Earlier it had been rumored he might wind up in KC with his old pal Scott Pioli, but Pioli – who went to KC ostensibly solely to make his name separate of Belichick – wasn’t interested in maintaining New England ties. He hired Haley, who, if his experience is wanting (one impressive playoff run) at least has a notable pedigree.

As for the Pats, they replaced Pioli with Tennesse personnel chief Floyd Reese. This attrition is typical of a Pats offseason. Since their 2001 Super Bowl season they’ve now lost 2 OCs, 1 DC and their Director of Player Personnel. This year alone they lost four position coaches.

In other front office news, after much speculation the Dolphins retained Bill Parcells. The balance of his $12 million (over three years) will be guaranteed regardless of his continued employment with the team. Parcells says he plans to stay on until the GM (Jeff Ireland) and coach (Sparano) “have enough experience.” Akin Ayodele thinks Parcells still wants to coach.

Finally there are the Raiders. Al Davis was uncertain of keeping Tom Cable because he was a Kiffin hire and let him flounder for six weeks. When he couldn’t find anyone better he offered Cable the job. No doubt many prospects were scared off by Kiffin’s midseason accusations.

Derrick Brooks speculated that the immediate success of John Harbaugh, Tony Sparano, and Mike Smith encouraged the Glazers to try things with a fresh face. That’s not a bad theory to explain the bump in seasonal firings. As Shanahan’s, Mangini’s, and Gruden’s teams were faltering down the stretch it was the Ravens, Dolphins, and Falcons that took their playoff spots.

With so much turnover – specifically the absence of Shanahan, Holmgren, and Dungy - the tenure list now looks like this: Jeff Fisher (15), Bill Belichick (14), Tom Coughlin (13), Norv Turner (11), Andy Reid (10), Wade Phillips (9), Dick Jauron (9), John Fox (7), Marvin Lewis (6), Jack Del Rio (6).

- Agent Easy