Friday, December 26, 2008

Heading into Week 17

- This will be McNabb's first year without a missed start due to injury since 2004. He's also within 134 of his career high in passing yards.

- Can we please halt all the "LT is done for" talk, and stop associating his name with Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander until we see what happens next year when he's healthy? People are blinded by his awe-inspiring 2006 season and the recent spate of RB careers falling off a cliff. In case you haven't heard he's playing with turf toe. Let Deion and James Andrews educate you on how painful and debilitating it can be. Yes you have to get beyond the 30th leading rusher to find someone with a worse YPC than LT, but sometimes a dip is just a dip. Witness similar YPC drops and subsequent rebounds in Payton's and Emmitt's careers as well as Curtis Martin's late-career resurgence.

Meanwhile, the trash talk has been flying leading up to the Denver-SD game.

- Since the NFL went to the eight division realignment in 2002, one team has gone worst to first within their division each year. The streak can continue this year with the Phins, Falcons, or Bears.

- Because of the Boston/Patriots/Belichick hate, the Pats accomplishments with Matt Cassell this year have gone underappreciated. Many are quick to make the "system QB" argument, but that could only fly in college. The NFL's talent level is simply too much of a mitigating factor no matter how ingenious a system is. It's about as ridiculous as making the dominant college team X could beat NFL cellar dweller Y argument.

Credit is due to the Belichick and the Pats staff for having the confidence in both Cassell and their own evaluative abilities, and the for the foresight in understanding the value system familiarity has for a QB.

To chalk up Cassell's success to a system is not only shortsighted but it also presumes that the Pats kept a QB who hadn't started a game since high school as their #2 for three seasons only because they couldn't think of a better option. Cassell was a long-term investment, someone whom the Patriots decided had the skill set to succeed in their designed offense and someone whom, as the years went on, the Patriots felt more and more comfortable with because of his knowledge of their system.

- Two short articles worth checking out:
1. Michael Silver on the absurdity of draft grades.
“We know who we are,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, soon to be a hot head-coaching prospect, said after Sunday’s game. “We have a system. You have to give Mike Reinfeldt a lot of credit. This team is not built to say, ‘Hey, we’ll be good as long as we don’t get any injuries.’ This team is built to say, ‘When we get injuries, we’ll still be good, because we have the depth to withstand them.’
2. Jason Whitlock on the Chiefs' questionable use of Glenn Dorsey. It's rare that someone even attempts a critical evaluation of NFL line play, let alone convincingly makes his case.

“He has no chance in pass rush,” guard Brian Waters told me. “I love it when a guy lines head-up.”

Members of the Chiefs’ scouting department have blamed Dorsey’s subpar rookie season on the extra weight they allege he’s carrying. I’ve been told on two separate occasions that KC’s scouting department evaluated a 300-pounder who is now playing at 315. The personnel guys stand behind their evaluation of Dorsey, the insinuation being a lighter Dorsey would be a more effective Dorsey.

“The way we’re playing him, he better be 315,” Waters said. “He would get destroyed in the run game at 300.”

[H/T to TBL for the Whitlock piece]

-Agent Easy

Thursday, December 25, 2008

ESPN's Best Moments of 2008

For a more comprehensive list scan Le Anne Schreiber's archive or the "ESPN Nonsense" tag at Awful Announcing. We're going small, with our three favorite moments of the year. (Video within each link).

July 1
SportsCenter counts down the top 10 plays of the day, and at number 8, unironically and unapologetically, shows a promo for an upcoming show on ABC.

August 27
SC anchor Stan Verrett interviews LL Cool J with no ostensible reason but to promote a forthcoming album. "Take that twinkie out your mouth!"

December 19
Skip Bayless (and Jemele Hill) rank the NFL's best looking quarterbacks. That screen-grab is priceless.

- Agent Easy

Quick Hits - Christmas Edition

Christmas is a time for traditions - going to a movie, getting Chinese food, and, starting this year, throwing up some Badsnap Quick Hits.

Celebrating Mediocrity
-Not one but two NFL teams this year might win their divisions with 8-8 records: the 8-7 Cardinals, who go into their final game with the NFC West wrapped up, and the 7-8 Chargers, who will win the AFC West if they beat slightly-less-mediocre 8-7 Denver at home this week. These records look even lamer in light of who these teams have played: the Cards are 5-0 in their division, meaning they're 3-7 against teams who aren't the 49ers, Rams, or Seahawks. Denver and San Diego, for their part, have been unable to muster more than 8 wins despite having two games each against Oakland and Kansas City. Meanwhile, the AFC will have at least one and possibly two 10+ win teams (some combination of Miami, New England, New York, and Baltimore) miss the playoffs. [Simmons, for one, suggests a minimum 9-7 record to qualify for the playoffs].

The Jerk Store called, and they're running out of you.
-Anytime Terry Bradshaw calls someone a disgrace to journalism you know you've got a weird story on your hands, as was the case with the flap this week over Detroit reporter Rob Parker asking Rod Marinelli if he wished his daughter had married a better defensive coordinator (the Lions' coordinator is Marinelli's son-in-law). Marinelli disingenuously criticized Parker for attacking his daughter, which is ridiculous: it would have been an attack on his daughter if Parker had actually criticized her for not marrying a better defensive coordinator ("What about that nice Dick LeBeau? He's such a gentleman, and he's a master of the zone blitz."), but this was clearly a criticism of Marinelli himself for letting nepotism influence the makeup of his coaching staff. The delivery was a bit Costanzian, but as the Lions now appear uninterested in avoiding an 0-16 finish after playing dead against the Saints last week, it's hard to blame Detroit media for not pulling the punch.

Celebrating Less than Mediocrity
-With Notre Dame's beatdown of Hawaii last night for their first Bowl win in over a decade, how long will it be until the old "Notre Dame is back" chorus starts up again? And will it come to a halt when they next play a team that actually has an offensive line? Stay tuned.

A Merry Christmas to You and Yours,
Hazelwood

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gettin chumped

The guys over at The Angry T put together a list of the year's best hits, college and pro.

The receivers coming across the middle are always the toughest to watch. I still can't believe Boldin only missed two games after that hit.

My personal favorite is #11 - the Reggie Bush punt return. I love the symmetry of both of those dudes getting cleared off the ground almost simultaneously.

The reverse angle on the Bradford hit (#9) is indeed "spectacular." And in case you forgot, the Hines Ward hit on Keith Rivers (#2) ended Rivers' season with a broken jaw.

Below I'm including one of my favorite "big hit" youtube clips. It's not so much the content, though I do enjoy Ronnie Brown's power running, but it's the production of this clip that I love. Have you seen my painting? I like to imagine Ronnie secretly slips this clip into a Dolphins DBs meeting once a year.



-Agent Easy

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Hits from the Primetime Games

Two amazing stats from the Giants-Panthers game.

1. After his last touchdown run, according to NBC, DeAngelo Williams had the second most 30+ yard rushing TDs in one season with 6. Jim Brown had a season with 6 and another with 7. Usually I don't dig stats that require four qualifiers, but every once in a while one of them will appear significant, or at the very least cool. I wish they showed an expanded list so we could see if Barry Sanders was lurking nearby, though I imagine, they probably limited it to the top three because writing "17 players tied with 5" would have devalued it a bit.

2. The holy crap stat of the year: Ken Lucas' 4th quarter end zone pass interference was the first pass interference call on the Panthers all year. I'm sure this includes called PIs that were declined, but that's remarkable nonetheless. I hope someone (Football Outsiders just wrote about PI or Charlotter Observer columnists?) goes deeper on this and can mine the significance.



Three moments from the fourth quarter of the Cowboys-Ravens game that show just how poorly coached the Cowboys are.

1. Why was Dallas still driving for a touchdown from the 21 yard line, with less than two minutes to go and down by two scores? That they scored a touchdown was a happy accident, but someone should explain to Wade that you can try a hail mary from midfiled, but not a field goal. On top of that, he's got Romo back there, the gunslinger junior, who'd already taken a sack just a few plays earlier that had chewed up precious clock and briefly knocked the Cowboys out of FG range.

2. On McClain's nail-in-the-coffin TD run (3:29 mark), here's how the Cowboys tried to bring him down: Anthony Spencer went for the ball strip instead of trying to wrap-up and then Ken Hamlin tried an arm tackle, aka the coward's tackle, and was rightfully emasculated with a stiff arm. It's poor fundamentals that most often betray poor coaching.

3. On the last Cowboy drive - once again down two scores - Patrick Crayton caught a pass on the sideline and after making one guy miss, dove inside instead of stepping out to preserve the clock. I emphasize dove because his move to the inside barely got him an extra yard. If he had an opportunity to juke and possibly make a first down, that'd be one thing, but his dive is indefensible.

Here's Don Banks' November article suggesting the negative effects a "coach in waiting" like Jason Garrett has on a team.

Also, I love the shot of Phillips at the 3:11 mark in the above highlight.

-Agent Easy

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Texas Whiners

The Texas whining has become unbearable. Bob Ryan and Dan Patrick put it over the top.

Here’s how Patrick started his interview with Mack Brown in last week’s SI:
The 11--1 Longhorns lost out on a spot in the Big 12 conference title game, despite having beaten Oklahoma this year, because of a tiebreaker system that relied on BCS standings.

Dan Patrick: Why isn't head-to-head the first tiebreaker?
That reads as if Patrick has not even a cursory knowledge of the facts and did his interview prep by reading Longhorn message boards.

No problem; he'll easily hide behind the cloud of misinformation created by the constant whining that has emanated from Austin. Ryan got caught up in the smoke last week:
Oklahoma got to play Missouri in the Big 12 championship game as the beneficiary of a fifth tiebreaker used to settle a three-way tie, that criterion being which team was ranked higher in the current BCS standings. But had it been only a two-way tie between Texas and Oklahoma, Texas would have gone by virtue of having the very first tiebreaker, which is, of course, a victory in head-to-head competition.

Is this either fair or sensible?
Is it fair or sensible to arbitrarily leave out one of three teams in a tiebreaker? Is it fair or sensible for a nationally recognized columnist to base his argument on a non sequitur?

A step up from Patrick, Ryan at least knows the tiebreaker rules, but is quick to toss them aside.

Where did this attitude come from? Unsurprisingly, partly from Mack Brown. He’s been too happy to revel in this disinformation campaign.

Here’s how he answered Patrick’s question
Dan Patrick: Why isn't head-to-head the first tiebreaker?

Mack Brown: It just isn't, but I've already asked the Big 12 to look at changing it. It probably wouldn't be admitted right now, but probably they wish head-to-head would have been in there. Hopefully they'll revisit that this spring.
A strange answer, no? Brown is coy and evasive, unconcerned with clarifying Patrick’s dubiously phrased question.

What Brown is referencing is the tiebreaker that other conferences use in such cases, where, instead eliminating the two lowest ranked BCS teams, they make an exception if the two top ranked teams are within 5 spots of each other, and that way, eliminate the third team, and then revert to the primary tiebreaker for a two team tie, head to head.

Don’t mistake Brown's motives (remember, he has a history of this). He’s only happy to feed the beast. From his official statement:
I’m really disappointed for our kids that two teams we beat this season will be playing for the Big 12 championship. I’ll try to explain it to them, but most importantly, my message will be that you’ve done enough to put yourself in position to play for the conference championship…
Actually, no Mack, in fact, they did not do enough. If they hadn’t lost to Tech, if your DBs wrapped up, then yes, you might be able to say they did enough, but this statement is either disingenuous or delusional.

Later he adds,
I do appreciate all of the respect many of the poll voters and fans gave to our season and the importance they placed on the head-to-head matchup in the end, but, unfortunately, it was not enough.
He is purposely glib. I'm sure he's similarly appreciative of the lack of importance the voters placed on the other head-to-head matchup. Tech's ranking in the coaches' poll is acceptable, but because they aren't a perennial power like OU and UT, and because they lose style points for producing system quarterbacks, they are thoughtlessly and unfairly disregarded in the tiebreaker conversation.

Notice Ryan's language here:
But the trump card for jilted Texas remains that 45-35 victory over Oklahoma.

There was nothing fluky or cheesy about it. Back on Oct. 11, these two great teams lined up in the Cotton Bowl - a true neutral field since there are always as many Oklahoma fans as Texas supporters - and produced a collegiate football gem. Oklahoma was good, but Texas was better...

Texas stood taller in the fourth quarter. It could not have been simpler...

Oh, but Texas would later lose to Texas Tech, a team the Sooners would throttle by 44. Of course, that game was in Norman while the Texas-Texas Tech game was in Lubbock. And the Red Raiders won that game on a touchdown with one second left. Which loss is more forgivable?
Tech's win is "fluky and cheesy." Texas and OU are “great." Texas is "jilted," but Tech is not.

His Texas predisposition aside, at least this portion of Ryan’s argument - the merits of the Big 12's chosen tiebreaker - is sensible.

But what Ryan fails to acknowledge (though he eventually simply makes the case for a playoff) is that imperfection is inherent to any tiebreaker. The important thing is to have a predetermined and agreeable one.

Bob Stoops' conclusion is the only rational one:
[The league] went to a [tiebreaker] system we all agreed upon before the season. If someone didn't like the system, whether it be the media or some other team, hey, just change it before the season and I'll play by whatever rules they want to play by. Just let me know before the season starts.
As for the intention and effectiveness of the current tiebreaker the Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe covers that here:
Any tiebreaker system is difficult and will leave teams disappointed. When the tiebreaker was written, I was not in the league, but they wanted to put in the team that had the best chance to play in the national championship game.
He addresses Brown's concern directly,
Let's say that the eighth-ranked team in the BCS is in the same division as the third-ranked. If the eighth-ranked team beat the third-ranked team on a last-second play at home, sending the eighth-ranked team, that would defeat the purpose of trying to send the team with the best chance of winning a national championship.
For good measure:




[Mack Brown's 2004 complaining history via BCS Guru]

-Agent Easy

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Game Rewind"

You can watch any NFL game from this season. Without commercials.

The NFL has made them available through their service "Game Rewind." For $20 you get access to every game of the season, up to and including the Super Bowl, in HD. Of course you have to wait until the live broadcast is over, but this is still a great buy for anyone without directTV, DVR, or happens to work on game days.

Oh, and it's commercial-free.

H/T Videozune

-Agent Easy

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Gay for Gilbert Arenas"

Straight from the UCB





-Agent Easy

Monday, December 8, 2008

Plaxico

Impact
For all the talk last week about how the Giants would get on just fine without Plaxico - their team focus is unshakable, they've already won three games without Plax, etc. - the Eagles game showed that that might not be the case.

Plax' absences could be seen on the Giants first drive. Instead of trying a long filed goal in poor conditions, they went for it on 4th and 4. The Eagles brought the house and Manning's pass to Hixon was broken up. Without Plaxico Eli doesn't have a safety blanket. The Eagles knew they could bring pressure and not worry about getting burned because Hixon (or any other Gaints WR for that matter) doesn't have Plax's size or skill. On that 4th and 4, the Eagles' corner didn't have to play Hixon with a cushion, and was able to be on him when the ball arrived. Furthermore, once he got there, Hixon wasn't big or physical enough to shield him.

They'll really feel it in the red zone too, where they'll no longer be able to run their favorite play.


Judgement
It's surprising the Plaxico reaction has been so one-sided, a mix of indignation and condemnation. In fact, the conversation is much more complex than the media has permitted it to be. Let us offer two critical pieces of context

1. Sports Illustrated's comprehensive year-old story about the Vick saga. While its focus is on Vick, its more general thrust is the dilemma so many athletes face in reconciling their upbringing (poor, ghetto, etc) with their sudden success, celebrity, and riches.

2. An ESPN mag article that coincidentally came out just a few days pre-Plax. I'm surprised it didn't get more attention, nor seem to inform ESPN's tv coverage. Within it players discuss the security risks that come with their status. Their anxiety is sobering.

For those still hazy on the details of how it all went down, the AP's most recent story should answer any questions. Also, the Wall Street Journal makes the case that NY gun laws may be unconstitutional.

[Hat tip to TBL on these last two.]

-Agent Easy

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Review: Michael Lewis' The Blind Side

You know Lewis as the author of Moneyball. “The Blind Side” is ostensibly the story of Michael Oher – currently a senior left tackle at Ole Miss, then a senior left tackle in HS – but it’s really a sociological examination of both football and American society. That’s not surprising; Moneyball was social science (economics) at its core,* and Blind Side seems like it could have started out with a similar economic take. In fact, the scope of Blind Side is so broad it’s impossible to know where this story came from.

Oher was a poor black kid, adopted by rich white parents. He played football for the first time in his junior year of high school, and by the following summer he was one of the most sought after recruits in the country. A year later, as a true freshman, he was a starting left tackle in the SEC. His story is about race relations, the education system, economic disparity, and the plight of the poor.

Yet Lewis never trivializes Oher at the expense of these perhaps more intriguing topics. He always keeps Oher front and center – he is very sensitive to the fact that Oher is only a kid – and the societal considerations on the periphery. He realizes they are evocative in and of themselves. Because of this, the story never loses a sense of authenticity and it’s what makes the book so compelling.

Lewis is able to extract the most interesting details from each area without descending into clinical discussions of the potentially dry topics. He relies heavily on anecdotes (no wonder he has a Gladwell endorsement on the back) and is a talented storyteller. He isn’t preachy. He maintains an even tone and thus seamlessly weaves between the more weighty topics and football history, football strategy, the business of college recruiting, and the awkward role of the NCAA.

When deeper into pure football talk Lewis takes what could be esoteric trivia and presents it as relevant and engrossing and thus is able to engage both the layman and the avid fan.

He jumps between contextual information and Michael’s story. He crafts the setting as if everything that had happened up until now – Bill Walsh, Lawrence Taylor, free agency, the financial and cultural growth of football, in a phrase, “the evolution of the game,”* as well as “a series of social accidents” – happened so that Michael Oher, a poor, uneducated kid from the ghetto with a bleak future, could succeed.

Ultimately this is the most salient point in the book. Oher went from “one of the least valued 15 year olds on the planet to among the most highly prized 18 year olds.” Lewis references a study of Memphis inner city athletes: 5 of 6 public school kids who could play sports at the college level fail to qualify academically. At one point Oher blithely declares that “if all the guys who could play got a chance to play, there would have to be two NFLs because one wouldn’t be enough.” Within his afterword, Lewis writes, “Micahel Oher might have been born to play left tackle in the NFL, but if he had remained in the environment into which he was born no one would have ever known about his talent. I find this remarkable.”

Here it is on Amazon.

*While many think of Moneyball as a Billy Beane bio or simply an endorsement of sabermetrics, its clearly stated premise was to investigate the abilities of a small market team to compete in baseballs non-revenue sharing landscape. FJM covers this nicely in their glossary.

*This was the subtitle of the book when it was first published as a hardcover. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t retained for the paperback.


Two other tangential thoughts:

1. The business of college recruiting: 21 DI schools each spent more than $1-million on their recruiting budgets last year.

2. This book reminded me a lot of “The Wire,” my favorite TV show, the way it laid bare much of the dysfunction of US society, without lapsing into the conventional indignation, all the while maintaining a captivating narrative that reinforced the authenticity.

-Agent Easy

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Implications of Darius Miles' Contract: Why is this kind of news fringe?

Simmons referenced this in an article the other day and thankfully I found the details within Tom Ziller's Fanhouse blog (take a second and check it out).

Without exaggeration, this is the most fascinating thing I've read about the NBA this year. As trivial as it might seem within the larger scope of the entire season (stars, records, wins), it offers insight into the inner workings of the league.

The 10-day contract loophole itself is interesting enough, but the story's Machiavellian possibilities really drive it.

It's frustrating that news like this is treated as fringe material, that one has to seek it out. (Though this is coming from someone who's barely watched SportCenter in months, I imagine their online content reflects whatever they report on tv). It's aggravating that too often the focus is on the "what" rather than the "how" and "why."

This comes down to blogs vs. MSM and the reason why the former are viable in the first place. This kind of story doesn't have any national flavor in that it isn't about a large-market team or a controversial player, and it's too complex for a casual fan. Thus, ESPN wont run with it. But their is an audience for it, perhaps a large one. Notice that Ziller prefaces his thoughts by saying "as we all know by now." His wording starkly distinguish the two entities. Who knows? Not anyone that relies exclusively on ESPN and the rest.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Titans closer to the '72 Dolphins than you think

It's obvious that the Titans' 10-0 start isn't generating the kind of fanfare that followed the Patriots' drive for an undefeated season in '07, or for that matter the Colts' undefeated start in '05. The clear reason is that Tennessee isn't winning in the dominant fashion that those two teams did, and it's nearly impossible to picture Kerry Collins succeeding where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning failed.

The irony is that the Titans are closer in style to the '72 Dolphins than either of those two teams: they're winning close games with a dominant defense, a backup quarterback, a stable of running backs, and, yes, an easy schedule. And just as the Dolphins were underdogs in the Super Bowl against Washington, it's perfectly conceivable that a 16-0 Titans team would be an underdog to, let's say, a 15-1 or 14-2 Giants team on a neutral field. And just as the '72 Dolphins are remembered more for going undefeated than for being a great team (like the Steelers teams of the '70s or 49ers of the '80s), the Titans would similarly be likely not to be remembered as fondly as a great team as would the Patriots, Colts, etc.

Given all this, it's no surprise Mercury Morris is openly supporting Tennessee (and also predicted the Giants might be favored against them in the Super Bowl).

-Hazelwood

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Miggy, the Final Frontier

The final installment of the Johan trade was yesterday.
On to Miguel Cabrera.
Previous entries here.


Tigers

Miguel Cabrera, who was already having the best second half in the AL when we last checked on him, stayed hot through the end of the season and finished as the HR champ in the AL. He was named “Tiger of the Year” which sounds like a tee-ball award, but is actually just the team MVP honor.

Despite optimism from Tigers management, Willis didn’t look particularly rejuvenated in his three September starts. He gave up 12 in 12.2 IP, got knocked out in the second inning in one of those games, and gave up at least one HR in each of the others. Naturally, there’s trade speculation.


Marlins

Cameron Maybin made a splash, hitting .500 and scoring more than a run per game in the 8 games he got to play at the end of the year. As impressive as the numbers are, it’s a very small sample size, and his numbers from his season in the minors suggest he might still need some seasoning. He also squeezed the last out that kept the Mets at home.

Andrew Miller struggled in his bullpen role, as did Eulugio De La Cruz. They combined to give up 17 runs in 11.1 innings.

Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop finished their minor league seasons days after our last update. Technically the same could be said of Mike Rabelo, except that he was injured all year long and hadn’t seen the field since spring training.


Angels
Howie Kendrick came back from his second hamstring injury of the year in name only, as he struggled through the last week of the season and through the playoffs. There is concern about Kendrick’s ability to stay healthy, but chances are his spot is secure on next year’s roster.

After his postseason heroics, it’s likely that Mike Napoli wrested the catching job from Jeff Mathis.

Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders lived in the top ten in pretty much every significant statistical category all year, but both got lit up by the Red Sox in the ALDS.

The Angels decided not to re-sign Jon Garland, and that means that Nick Adenhart will get a chance to compete for the 5th spot in the rotation. That is, if he takes “ownership of his career.”

Interestingly, the Rockies proposed an almost identical package to the one that was in play for Cabrera last year, in return for Holliday. Unsurprisingly the Angels turned them down.


Dodgers

Kemp's weak September turned into an equally weak October. In eight games against the Cubs and Phils he had more strikeouts than hits.

Russell Martin looked on the bright side and pointed to Kemp's development, saying, "We got on [Kemp] about his baserunning in 2006, and he was tremendous this year running the bases."

Within the same article, Kemp agreed: "Hopefully I'll take what I did in the playoffs into next year to make myself better, and hopefully we get further than this year." Elsewhere, so did Joe Torre.

The Ventura County Star suggests including Clayton Kershaw in a Peavy deal, but Fox’s Ken Rosenthal says that Kershaw is untouchable.

Andy LaRoche hit .166 for the Pirates. They have two other top prospects that will challenge him for the job next year.

-Agent Easy

More baseball: FInal Installments of Johan and Miggy

We waited on the final installment of the trade-tracker series to see if Johan might win the NL Cy Young. He finished third.

Our previous update came with three weeks left in the regular season. Santana finished strong, doing as much as he could to get get the Mets to the playoffs. He ended the season with the ERA crown.

Twins

Rob Neyer thought Carlos Gomez “might have been the best outfielder on the planet this season,” and lamented that the OF Gold Gloves went elsewhere.

With the exception of one instance of long relief, Phil Humber only saw action as an inning eater. In his one opportunity he acquitted himself nicely, giving up 2 in 5.1 IP, keeping the game within reach for a Twins ninth inning comeback.

GM Bill Smith offered this about Humber and his other two pitchers from the Santana deal:
"Humber and Mulvey both struggled in the first half, but their first half and second half were dramatically different. Humber had a tremendous second half [2.67 ERA after the All-Star break, compared to 5.92 ERA before], and Mulvey was very good [3.64 after, 3.84 before]...Guerra is so young. He's got a world of ability."


Red Sox

Ellsbury wasn’t able to break out of his September slump and in the playoffs was ignominiously replaced by Coco Crisp. He finished the regular season as the AL steals leader and third in ROY voting.

A November 2 headline from pawsox.com: "Buchholz rebounding nicely in Arizona Fall League." A November 4 headline from the Portland Press Herald: "Buchholz hit hard again." It’s tough to gage whether Theo Epstein was being honest or polite when he said, “As a whole…it was a constructive development time. I think he regained his confidence, his stuff was crisp and he tweaked his delivery out of the stretch. We’re very glad he went (to the AFL). It allowed him to write a little different ending to his season.” Even if that’s a sincere appraisal, the feelings must not be strong ones because his name has been floated in trade talks.


Lester finished September 4-1 with an ERA barely over 2, and with Beckett’s oblique problem, became the staff ace in the playoffs. He handled the Angels twice, shutting them out for 14 innings. He was respectable in game 7 against the Rays (3 earned in 7 IP), but couldn’t match Garza and Price on the other side. He wants one pitch back.

Yankees

Like Buchholz, Phil Hughes is also working on his stuff in the AFL. His last start offered some hope, but The New York Times is already calling him a failure, ESPN’s Jason Grey suggests that his ceiling is now as a middle-of-rotation starter, and he’s being outpaced in Google search results by a cricketer of the same name.

Cashman said that CF would not be a priority in the off-season, but it wouldn't be surprising if Melky Cabrera was moved.

-Agent Easy

If the BWAA is still talkin baseball, so can we

Belated WS questions to ponder:

- Why did neither team start their game 2 starters (or any of their starters for that matter) to finish off game 5? I can only assume that the managerial thinking was that a reliver had the advantage of proper mindset, but for all intents and purposes it was 0-0 and aren’t relivers relievers because they’re not as good as the starters?

Furthermore, why was Maddon so intent on keeping Howell in the game that he had him bunting a runner over in the 8th?

- Why was Upton so praised for his baserunning (which was in fact remarkable and memorable), but not the least bit criticized for his lackadaisical fielding in game 5? Anyone that didn’t flinch when he neglected to charge two consecutive shallow flies in the later innings and excused him for making the safe play, must have missed the camera shot of him sitting on the bench, and conspicuously not on the top step, wrapped in a towel, with a look that couldn’t have said anything but, "I wish it wasn’t so cold; I just want to get out of here."

- Did Kazmir reveal himself as less than an ace? If his playoff performace showed one thing it was that he’s incapable of going deep into a game. Between his pedestrian numbers, Matt Garza’s performance, and David Price’s debut, Kazmir might soon find himself the number three in that rotation.

- And a point of information: For all the weather problems baseball had in the WS this year (even if it hadn’t rained, this fashion debuted), they’re content to roll the dice again: because of the World Baseball Classic, next year’s game one will be on Oct 27th.

-Agent Easy

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Referees and Umpires Across the Leagues.

Derryl Cousins
According to the Worcester Telegram Derryl Cousins is out for the year with a bruised collarbone. Cousins, if you recall, was the umpire at the center of Tampa Bay's rotation juggle, many speculating that, despite Joe Maddon's and Kazmir's denials, and even the numbers to support the decision, Kazmir was bumped up as a game 5 starter in part due to his history with Cousins. (While most stories include quotes in which Kazmir is towing the line, there is one confirmation floating out there).

In a June game at Anaheim both Maddon and Kazmir were tossed by Cousins for arguing balls and strikes. Here's the oft-quoted Kazmir rant that followed:
"That was unbelievable, I'd never seen anything like that before,'' Kazmir said. "I never said anything like this about an umpire before but that was just a crucial part of the game and you just don't do that. Makeup calls or not makeup calls - call it when it's there, you know what I mean? You shouldn't change your strike zone because of the count. It doesn't make sense."
Cousins' collarbone is not broken, only bruised. Would Cousins still be umpiring with the rest of his crew if it was the Red Sox that had reached the series?

It's not far-fetched that MLB would have him removed in order to avoid unwanted attention and to limit possible disruptions and distractions. A second controversy invovling Cousins and the Rays, this time in the World Series, would've generated nothing but negative attention. At the very least even if no other incident occured, MLB would be running the uneccesary risk of letting the original Cousins story persist. They couldn't simply yank him off the crew without appearing to kowtow to the Rays, but once he was injured in game six, the MLB brass had a plausible excuse to replace him.


NFL
The NFL seems to have a similar policy of keeping their referees from certain teams. In July Mike Sando uncovered a pattern of unofficial suspensions for NFL refs. Sando's study revealed that many referees have gone years without seeing a particular team, their absences seemingly a direct result of one or more highly disputed calls they made against that team.

Within that article, the NFL, and the head of refs, Mike Pereira, denied that they practice "blacklisting," but ESPN's circumstantial evidence is quite convincing. Walt Coleman, who reversed the Tuck Rule fumble hasn't seen the Raiders since. Ed Hochuli just finished serving a seven year suspension from refereeing the Broncos, only to, ahem..well, you know. It's safe to assume we won't see Hochuli doing a Charger game for a while.

Sando offers the two sides to the practice: “[It] shows how much care the league takes behind the scenes in putting its game officials in position to succeed. The practice also raises questions about whether teams can bully the league into blacklisting referees deemed unsympathetic.”


David Stern
Count David Stern among those more concerned with the negative effects of a policy such as the NFL's. Back in May, Stern appeared on “Rome is Burning" to address the lingering Donaghy issue. When Rome asked whether or not Stern would consider a referee's previous history with a particular team when scheduling the referee crews, Stern responded, "When I have a referee that I can’t assign to a series then I don’t have a referee." He reiterated, "If a referee can’t referee a game then he can’t referee."


-Agent Easy

[Rome link found via West Coast Bias]

LBs from Da U

Going into tomorrow's games, four of the top 10 NFL tacklers are linebackers from the U. Beyond DJ Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Nate Webster, and Jon Beason*, a little farther down the list fellow UM LBs Ray Lewis and Rocky MacIntosh round out the top 25.

Tackles are not the most reliable stat, both in the way that they're computed and in their significance. For example, you could argue that Williams' and Websters' numbers are inflated because Denver's defense is so awful; the same could be said of Vilma and New Orleans.

That being said, at the very least it's a good indicator of who is regularly around the ball.

Only Lewis and Webster are older than 28. PSU earned it's nickname by having so many successful college linebackers, but Miami could stake a claim as the new Linebacker U based on NFL resumes.

Then again, maybe it's got nothing to do with linebackers because Miami has recently produced an ungodly amount of players at every position. So maybe this is just Butch Davis praise.

- Agent Easy

*The obligatory NSFW 7th Floor Crew link in honor of "Big Beast"

Friday, October 10, 2008

NFL quick hits

- Last week, Aaron Rodgers looked tough throwing touchdown bombs with a separated shoulder.

- Ben Roethlisberger, or simply "Ben," as the announcers seem to prefer, has looked even tougher. Three weeks ago in Philly, he "came under as heavy a pass rush as he has experienced in five NFL seasons as the rampaging Eagles defense sacked him eight times." He's been playing with a sprained throwing shoulder since.

Then came two nationally televised games in which he was thrown around like a rag doll; the sack numbers stayed down, but only because Roethlisberger was able to make plays while being hit. He was almost always on the run, seemingly never able to deliver a pass while standing pat in the pocket. Check out the three-minute mark here.

- In thats same game David Garrard looked impressive himself. He had a chance to lead a third consecutive fourth quarter comeback drive, but sure enough the Jaguars last two possessions were halted by dropped passes. You could put together a five-minute highlight reel of the Jaguars' best dropped passes over the last 3 season. The only reason why they only have one representative on this list, and none at all on last year's is because they insist on taking part equally.

It's not so surprising that Garrard ran five times (twice for first downs, once for a TD) on the game-tying drive the week prior.

- The value of Ronnie Brown
Tim Graham, on the ESPN NFl blog, put together some numbers, showing Ronnie Brown's effectiveness on a per-game basis, thus showing what he can do when healthy.

It's a small sample size, sure, and it does nothing to quell doubts about him him being injury prone, but the numbers do jump out at you: most TD's per game!

- It's instructive to notice LaDainian Tomlinson second on that list. While he's on pace for 15 Touchdowns this year, it's fair to say that he's struggled this year, playing with a bad toe. But for some reason few have seemed to notice and it is the rare opinion that acknowledges the possible severity of the injury. From the Houston Chronicle:
"I’ve seen LT’s season before, and it happened in 1996. Marshall Faulk was hobbled by a dislocated toe and started 13 games that season and averaged 45.2 yards per game and 3 yards per carry. Fast forward 12 years, and Tomlinson is dealing with a lingering toe problem, and he clearly lacks the explosiveness he has had in the past."
Then again, maybe it's just Norv Turner's "predictable" play calling.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Marlins' Infield (guest piece by Sackett)

The Marlins infield (Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu) became the first ever to each hit 25 home runs in a season. If Cantu had hit one more, each would have had at least 30. Ramirez led the team with 33, followed closely by Jacobs and Uggla with 32. That's a total of 126 home runs from the infield alone.

The last team to come close to having an infield belt 25 home runs each was the 2005 Rangers, and they came very close. Michael Young was the only player to not hit 25, and he hit 24. The other members of that infield were Mark Teixeira (43), Alfonso Soriano (36), and Hank Blalock (25), bringing the infield total to 128. (Even more impressive, every starter for that team had a home run total in the double digits, with the least amount being Richard Hidalgo's 16. And Hidalgo only appeared in 88 games!)

To further put into perspective how amazing the Marlins infielders' feat was, the Elias Sports Bureau records that only seven teams since 1876 have had three infielders to crush 25 longballs. Only six infield units, the '08 Marlins and '05 Rangers included, have had all four members hit 20.

Cody Ross (with 22 homers himself) commented last month: "A lot of times, teams will have first basemen or third basemen that hit for power, but to also have a second baseman do what Uggla does and a shortstop do what Hanley does ... it's pretty amazing what they've done."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"It's time to be a MAN."

That's what Johan Santana wrote in the Mets clubhouse before Saturday's game.

Then, Santana, (who we briefly disparaged here) went out and pitched on short rest after notching his career-high pitch count in his previous start. He threw back-to-back complete games, last night's a shutout. When the Mets needed him with their season on the line, he showed his mettle and (temporarily) saved their season.

Then today, CC Sabathia one-upped him, leaving nothing temporary about his performance.

Sabathia went to the mound for the third consecutive time on three days' rest and threw his MLB-leading 9th complete game, this one also a shutout. The Brew Crew went to the playoffs at the expense of the Mets.

These two just put the exclamation point on our argument from Friday, showing what it really means for a pitcher to go the full nine. Props to Johan, who as we pointed out, could stand to record 27 outs a little more frequently. Dropped jaws to CC, who finished his NL season 10-2 with a 1.65 era and four shutouts.


Here is a measure of awe from their teammates and coaches:

"That was probably the best pitching performance that I've ever been a part of." - David Wright
"To me, if you want my own opinion, it’s the best I’ve seen, given the situation.” - Pedro
"That was serious 'gangsta' right there!" - Jerry Manuel

"CC has the heart of a lion," - Robin Yount.
"That was one of the greatest performances of all time," - Dale Sveum
“The short rest thing is what’s unbelievable. There’s no words for that. It’s a new category for him now. He’s got his own category. It’s not even clutch. It’s just being that dude.” - Prince Fielder

-Agent Easy

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No One Goes Nine Anymore: The Case for Roy Halladay

Cliff Lee, the comeback kid, has been getting press all year long and his Cy Young has long been a foregone conclusion, but now that the season is actually coming to a close he is no longer alone in the Cy Young conversation. We give you, Roy Halladay.

Their numbers, with their respective league ranks in parentheses (a big asterisk)*:

Cliff Lee

22 Wins (1), 2.54 ERA (1), 1.11 WHIP (3), 170 Ks (9), 223.1IP (2), 4 CGs (2)

Roy Halladay
20 Wins (2), 2.78 ERA (2), 1.05 WHIP (1), 206 Ks (3), 246 IP (1), 9 CGs (1)

If we go a step further, and use Bill James' favorite pitching tool, Halladay's SO-BB ratio is 5.29 to Lee's 5.00. Going more Jamesian still, Lee has the higher ERA+, sitting at a league-leading 174. The discrepancy is Halladay's pitcher's park and Lee's hitter's park. A 174 ERA+ would be the highest in the AL in five years, but let's not unfairly penalize Halladay while praising Lee, because his splits bear out that he was unaffected by his supposed home field advantage.

The talk in the NL CY Young race has been about the bullpens, specifically how many wins they've cost Santana and Lincecum. The flip side of that argument, that everyone so conveniently ignores in this age of pitch counts, is that if Santana or Lincecum had the fortitude to regularly go 9 innings, there wouldn't be any whining about bullpens.

This is what the AL Cy Young comes down to. Lee's and Halladay's stat lines are quite similar. Either would be a defensible winner, but the tie breaker should be, has to be, those nine Complete Games staring back at you.

Appropriately, last night, Halladay finished his season with yet another complete game, and it is significant that he now has more than twice that of his nearest competitor, that he is the only pitcher in the league that regularly gives his bullpen a rest, that he gives his entire team a boost of confidence. And no, we do not mean the confidence of "the stopper," no, it's more than that; it's the kind of confidence that the Mets' players, for example, do not get to experience when Santana takes the mound, because they know that once his pitch count starts to approach triple digits he'll be out of the game shortly and thus their bullpen-driven anxiety can never quite subside. And yes, that's why Halladay is carrying that ugly looking "11" in the loss column, because, if you want to get into the numbers of it, he leads the league with 5 "tough losses," defined as losses in Quality Starts.

This is no knock on Lee, because 4 CGs is nothing to sneeze at; it would've lead the NL last year. This is in praise of Roy, of Doc Halladay.

Lee has his own tiebreaker working for him, and that's his story, and since it's writers doing the voting, perhaps that will be the tiebreaker they choose to consider. Or maybe convention will dictate that it's preferable for the Cy Young to have a sexy win-loss record and they'll never even get to the point of considering Doc, but the case can be made, and perhaps they should.



*Yes, Lee could make one more start on Sunday, but for now it's uncertain.

-Agent Easy

Friday, September 12, 2008

Miggy - Johan Update 3: Miggy

Johan was yesterday.
On to the Miguel Cabrera trade.


Tigers

As mentioned here Cabrera is leading the leage in HRs and RBIs since the all star break. His slow start has been forgotten and now Jim Leyland is comparing him to Pujols and Brandon Inge is calling him a "freak of nature."

Lately he's been playing first base and it looks like he'll stay there for the following season.

Dontrelle Willis has worked his way back from A ball in Lakeland and will get a start or two before the season ends. Though his latest AAA starts were "up and down," Dombrowski and Leyland were sufficiently impressed by his more recent simulated outings.


Marlins

Among their flurry of September 1 moves, the Fish called up Eulogio De La Cruz, activated Andrew Miller of the DL and moved Mike Rabelo to the 60-day DL.

Prior to going on the DL in July, Miller was starting, but now has been brought back as a reliever. He's working on making his delivery more consistent. He struggled in his first week back.

Cruz had his first major league outing in which he didn't give up a run, but immediately followed it by giving up 6 in 2 IP.

Rabelo is still rehabbing his right wrist that he hurt back in June.

Cameron Maybin has played well all season long, and recently has started walking more and striking out less. He wasn't among the Marlins' four call-ups last week, because Fredi Gonzalez wants to wait until the AA Carolina team finishes their post-season before calling up any of their players.

Dallas Trahern spent the entire season in AAA and his numbers have been mediocre across the board. There is not a bright spot to be found among his splits: day or night, home or away, pre- or post-all star break, his ERA is higher than 5.00 and batters hit better than .300 against him.

Burke Badenhop: After a handful of starts and relief appearance he was sent down to the minors, made two appearances there in July and hasn't been heard from since. The most recent news about him is that he was selected the Tigers' best minor leaguer in 2006.


Angels

Howie Kendrick came back from an injured hamstring, had a monster July, came back to earth in August, and hurt it again two weeks ago. The injury is not as severe as the one that kept him out for 40+ games earlier, but apparently hammy pulls dont make for precise healing estimates and the team is waiting it out blindly.

Jeff Mathis had been overshadowed by Mike Napoli, who spent most of the first half mashing, but got a chance to establish himself when Napoli went down. He started 27 of 28 games and was able to show off his "greater all-around game." With Napoli healthy again, they'll continue to platoon.

Now that they've clinched their division, the Angels will be resting their starters. Ervin Santana, for example, will get 7 days off between starts. Santana is still all over the top 10 in every significant pitching category.

Joe Saunders is tied with Santana for the team lead in Wins at 15. He had a rough August, but has started September strong, and is still sporting a 3.64 ERA.

Nick Adenhart is still in the minors and "needs more seasoning."


Dodgers

Matt Kemp: The LA times says, "of the players who have been on the roster all season, none has improved as much as the young Oklahoman." Within the same piece Larry Bowa agrees: "He's way ahead of schedule...Right now, he's at the point I thought he might be in two or three years, that's how much he has improved."

He had a "red hot August," but has now cooled considerably and is 4-25 in September.

Clayton Kershaw pitched well in early August - a run of 5 ER in 5 starts - floundered a bit, and looks to be in the groove again, going 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in his past five starts.

The Dodgers have been careful to monitor his workload, and only last week they allowed him to work into the 8th inning for the first time all season. Kershaw is not thrilled with the 170 inning cap they've installed, but he's already reached a career high in IP.

Andy LaRoche eventually did get dealt for a slugger, Manny Ramirez. Now in Pittsburgh, he's been disappointing. Jayson Stark reveals that,
"Scouts who have followed the Pirates have been buzzing about Andy LaRoche's lethargic play since he arrived from the Dodgers, who traded him because they had the same concerns. 'To see that effort level is really disappointing," one scout said. 'I'm stunned that the effort level has been so poor. To see a kid hitting .170 and not running ground balls out, it's hard to fathom. This isn't the kind of player this team needs. They need more dirt balls and fire guys who scratch and claw.'"
The perhaps politically inclined writers at mlb.com softly suggest that there's "room for improvement."

He's batting .150 in 33 games for the Pirates, prompting local fans to ask their columnists, "...Did the Bucs even scout Andy LaRoche?"

-Agent Easy

A Replay Flap You Might Have Missed

While the use of instant replay in MLB has raised a lot of controversy this year, the quirks of tennis's "Hawk-Eye" replay system came to the forefront the US Open Final. Hawk-Eye's use in determining whether balls were hit in or out has gotten positive reviews. But a glitch in the system hurt Andy Murray's chances to upset Roger Federer. During a second-set rally in which Murray, down 1-0, had Federer at break point, Federer hit a ball that was incorrectly ruled inside the line.

For Murray to have challenged the call, he would have had to stop playing the point - players can only challenge the last hit of the rally - which would have been a huge gamble for a call that was close enough for the line judge to have missed. Instead Murray played out the point and Federer won, going on to avoid the break and, eventually, narrowly winning the set. The fact that Murray couldn't challenge the call after playing out the point may have made the difference between he and Federer being tied 1-1, instead of Federer escaping with a basically insurmountable 2-0 lead.

-Hazelwood

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Johan - Miggy Part 3: Santana

We're still following all of the players involved in the Miggy and Johan trades and trade talks. This is part 3. A refresher on the whos and the whys: parts 1 and 2.

Mets

Santana is having his typically filthy second half: he's won his last 6 decisions and hasn't given up more than 3 runs since July 17.

The Mets pitchers (Wagner, Maine) are dropping like flies, and last year's collapse is still fresh on everyone's mind, so he has that much less room for error.

Hopefully the Mets offense continues to provide sufficient run support, and the wins continue to suppress the bickering. To wit: The NY Post at the end of June:

At least one person in the Mets' clubhouse didn't appreciate Johan Santana pointing the blame at teammates for not scoring enough runs in the four straight decisions the ace left-hander has lost.

Posted anonymously inside the clubhouse was this saying: "Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his thumb on the scales."

Twins

Carlos Gomez has struggled at the plate, but that hasn't mattered much to his manager. Gardenhire's season-long theme regarding Gomez continues:
"He's exciting," Gardenhire said. "Guys are into it. When he's all over the field like he usually is, the other team they see what we're trying to do here and it affects them. They have to start getting the ball in quicker. And that's what it is all about."

"I'm not saying other guys aren't bringing that energy to the table, but there is something different about that young man that he does," Gardenhire said. "He's got a little charisma."
For the Sabermaticians out there who might snicker at the above praise for intangibles, the Jamesian "Zone Rating" and "Range Factor" both show Gomez to be the top defensive CF in all of baseball.

Phil Humber was the only one of the rest of the batch to get a September call-up. He made his Twins debut last week and gave up 1 run in 2/3 IP of mop-up duty.

Deolis Guerra is still a typical 19 year-old developing in A ball. He can throw 95, but is reworking his arm angle.

Kevin Mulvey has been in AAA all year. He's lowered his ERA in three consecutive months, finishing his August 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA and healthy 8 K/9. Considering that the Twins' bullpen is struggling maybe Mulvey might get a call to contibute in these next couple weeks. Then again, per CBA rules, as a 2006 draft pick out of college, Mulvey isn't required to be added to the 40 man roster until after the 2009 season, so maybe the frugal Twins will elect to keep him from arbitration that one extra year.

Red Sox

After his hot start, Jacoby Ellsbury has definitely been slowed in the second half, not surprising, considering it's his first full season in the bigs. He missed a few games in August with a sore wrist and now it looks like he might miss a few more because of his ailing quad. Regardless, he remains valued for his speed, toughness, and hustle. He still leads the league in Stolen Bases.

Clay Buchholz toiled in the minors for a while, working out injuries and technique, then got called up for a month, only to be sent right back down.

Jon Lester is 14-5, with a 3.23ERA, the latter good for 4th in the league.

The guys at Sports Lounge said it well:
Lester has become everything Buchholz was expected to be, but with a little less hype. He’s been nothing short of spectacular this season, leading Red Sox in innings pitched (167.2) and ERA (3.17). Since Buchholz’s no-hitter on September 1st of last year, Lester has won Game 4 of last year’s Fall Classic, pitched his own no-hitter, and become Boston’s solid number three starter behind Beckett and Dice-K . Dice-K has been terrific this season; he and Lester are the sole reasons the starting rotation has put Boston at the top of the wildcard standings.
Lester said after his last win,
“I think I’m more consistent with my mechanics, that’s making me stronger,” Lester said. “I don’t have to use as much energy, wasted energy, as before. Now it just seems that I’m more efficient and I’m consistent with what I’m trying to do, so I’m not wasting energy on bad thoughts or anything like that."
Yankees

Phil Hughes spends most of the season on the DL with broken ribs and then rehabbing in the minors. It looks like he's finally healthy and doing well.

Melky Cabrera was playing so poorly (.242/.296/.337 thru 117 games) that he was sent down August 15. Now that Bobby Abreu will miss a few games with a hurt wrist, he'll have another chance, but has "much to prove."


The Miguel Cabrera Trade coming tommorrow

-Agent Easy

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Late Season Surges

The national stories of the past week had been the Rays' swoon and Yanks sinking back to fourth in the East, but the flip side of those stories was that it was the Jays, sweping the Rays, and surging past the Yanks into third place in the Wild Card race. Toronto's 10-game winning streak is the longest current one in the majors.

That rank is a bit deceptive because they're still seven games back of that Wild Card, trailing both Boston and Minnesota, but their recent run has been cause enough for Boston headlines like this.

They're doing it with their bullpen (4 out of those 10 wins) which remains fresh and effective because they get to rest every fifth day when Roy Halladay takes the mound (league leader in IP, CGs), spot starters you've never heard of and a little of the Cito Gaston magic.

As much as they're not in the playoff conversation just yet, they're on the cusp, and they play Boston 10 more times, so at least they control their own destiny.

The Jays' late-closing counterparts in the NL perhaps make a better case to be included in the playoff talks.

Houston is 9-1 in their last 10 and owns the best second half record at 34-16. They are only four games back of the Wild Card, though this too is slightly deceptive as they still have 3 teams to leapfrog in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.

They first got hot in early August as Carlos Lee went on an RBI tear before breaking his hand and wrist. Without missing a beat Ty Wigginton stepped in led the majors in HRs and Slugging for the month. Then he went down with a groin pull and the 'Stros have won three in a row since. Roy Oswalt is 8-1 since the break and Ed Wade's mid-season pickups Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins have a combined 2.95 ERA since joining the team. Wolf has gone 4-1 as a starter and Hawkins has become the primary set-up man (9 holds).

They control their destiny a bit less that the Jays because they don't play any of the teams ahead of them in the standings, but instead, they might have something better going for them: an easy schedule. They see the Pirates twice and play series each against Cincy and Atlanta. Their only tough matchup, the slumping Cubs, they get at home.

To reiterate, we're not trumpeting either of these teams as playoff-bound. We're just pointing out that they're creeping in that direction. Think of them as the Rockies and Phillies of last season.

Some 2nd half statistical leaders:
AL HRs, RBIs: Miguel Cabrera
AL OPS: Melvin Mora
AL Wins, ERA: Cliff Lee
NL HRs, RBIs: Carlos Delgado
NL OPS: Manny Ramirez
NL Wins, ERA: CC Sabathia

-Agent Easy

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Quick Hits - Hazelwood

-One event that's been a disappointment so far is boxing. The scoring system is vastly different than in professional boxing making it difficult to follow, and the quality of fighting has been surprisingly low. You've probably already seen the famous bite clip, but look at it again and don't just focus on the bite - instead, notice how immediately the fighters go into a wrestling hug at the beginning of the round, typical of the general sloppiness the fights.


-An interesting photo essay on China's very youthful female gymnastics team.


-Even with the sense of unfairness in the women's gymnastics event overall - not only from the underage controversy but a puzzling bronze for China's Cheng Fei over Alicia Sacramone in the vault despite a crash landing - gymnastics has been surprisingly fun to watch. While I can't completely shake the suspicion that I'm being tricked into watching ballet, the athletic feats are pretty mindblowing - especially on the suspended parallel rings.


-All other sporting events seem like they're being pushed to the back page, but in case you missed it, the Rays are now in first by 4.5 over Boston.


-Hazelwood

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympic Quick Hits - Agent Easy

- Phelps
Ok, most everything has been said. The enduring images of Phelps will be his Lezak primal scream, out-touching Cavic, and maybe even the goggle toss, when he won the 200 Butterfly without being able to see.

Just as revealing were Phelps' reactions to his other wins. For example, check out how he reacted to winning the 200 IM, in WR time no less. No excitement, barely any joy, only a controlled and almost perfunctory salute to the crowd. It was matter-of-fact. His lack of enthusiasm after the 200 Butterfly win was just as telling as his head shakes and deep breaths of elation and relief once on the medal stand for the 100 Butterfly (The Cavic race). Phelps had said from day one that 8 golds was his goal and this accounted for the most striking aspect of his time in Beijing, that for him the individual races were subjugated to that larger goal. And thus we saw that startling image of an athlete not celebrating a gold medal.


- Women's Gymnastics
Despite it's name, considering that the senior members of the teams are still teens, Girls Gymnastic seems more appropriate. With this in mind, it was somewhat discomfiting to see the steely looks of determination and focus on faces that you're used to seeing exclaim "We're BFFs!"

They would refuse to even look at each other when standing feet apart awaiting they're respective turns. Sure, it's what's expected from a high class athlete, but not from a high school girl, and it was difficult to reconcile the two.

To confuse me further, the formality of the presentation was peculiar itself: between events they were marched single-file, all the while looking straight ahead, as if they weren't permitted to acknowledge the crowd except for the specified times when they should curtsy after completing a routine.

Sticking with the age theme, was anyone else struck by the particularly high cut of their uniforms? Ok, obviously people were noticing, but if we're speculating that some of these girls aren't even 14, isn't anyone at all perturbed by this? Then again, I suppose the times, they are a changin...


- Usain Bolt's 100M
Thankfully only a few people have complained or bothered to characterize Bolt's jubilation as "antics." That celebration was full of joy and positivity and was so completely in the moment; it lacked the sometimes stale feel of premeditated endzone celebrations.

I don't buy the idea that it was showboating. The kid has been racing the 100M for only a year, and though yes, he did break the WR a few months ago, he didn't strike me as someone so full of himself that he slowed up to taunt the other racers. Rather, he looked to the right at the end of the race because the man to beat, Asafa Powell, was to his right, and when he saw no one, the chest pounding that followed came from exuberance, not from gloating.

While the analysts speculated that he could have made up as much as another full tenth of a second had he run the race in full, and thus completely obliterated the previous record, the image of him pumping his arms and pounding his chest, winning the race with such flare and still breaking the record at 9.69 - the visual of it all - will be just as, if not more memorable than a lower time. Without that memorable finish to go with it, the record would be just like any other as it would eventually be lowered over the years and at some point Bolt's name would be relegated to the level of nostalgia currently afforded LeRoy Burrell. Instead, the image of Bolt crossing the finish line will have Beamon-like staying power.

Of course Bolt made all of this moot when he broke Michael Johnson's already ridiculous 200M record, and thus cemented his legacy irrespective of his boyish joy.

-Agent Easy

Monday, August 11, 2008

The 4X100 Free Was Awesome

I watched the 4x100 Freestyle Relay in a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The bar was packed and the TVs were on with the sound off. More importantly, the bar was packed with hipsters, a group that generally does not care too much about sports, and only one tv was showing the games.

The French team's quote flashed on the screen as the teams were warming up.

"The Americans? We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for."

That comment only received minimal murmurs of boos. Obviously, relatively few people among the crowd of 100+ were paying attention, but for those that were, it got them that much more amped for the race. My group, for instance, tried to spread the antagonistic word as much as possible.

As the race went on, the din grew louder; more and more people were watching.

The crowd gave bursts of cheers anytime the Americans took, or even simply battled for, the lead, and conversely, responded with "ughs" of disappointment anytime they gave ground.

The cheers were trumping the "ughs" as Jason Lezak jumped in the pool for the anchor lap, though I would bet the majority (myself included) had assumed that it was Phelps swimming the last leg.

The cheers grew during the first 50 meters as Lezak was close to even with Alain Bernard (the author of the above quote), and they even culminated in a "USA" chant as they approached the turn. Though immediately after, the bar fell silent when we saw the gap in the turnaround, Bernard suddenly seeming to lead by more than ever before, and instantly the room's anxiety was palpable.

As Lezak started gaining ground in the middle of the pool, the crowd went from resigned disappointment to hope in those five seconds; the murmur grew and had already burst into screams by the time he touched the wall. This time, when the official finish flashed, the 100+ of us sustained the drunken USA chants for much longer, replete with fist pumps and bar slaps.

That was then followed by a cacophony of "wows" and everyone catching their breath.

Just as the chant had died down, and a chant of "Fuck the French" had failed to gain traction, NBC showed the replay and a loud burst a of "Yeahs" answered. They showed the replay again not 10 seconds later, and as Lezak touched the wall, now for the third time, another huge cheer came . And then they showed the replay again and again, maybe 10 more times, and each time as Lezak touched the wall the entire bar erupted with yet another hurrah.

The bar exchanged high fives and traded exclamations of excitement, and the high lingered as everyone seemed to be less shocked by the actual race, and more surprised at the spontaneous passion that it inspired.

-Agent Easy

Update: A cool interactive graphic of the race (NYT)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Team Handball: Fun for the Whole Family

With 34 Olympic sports to choose from, you're probably going to stick to the standard American diet of Basketball, Track and Field, the Michael Phelps watch, Baseball, the recently popular Women's Beach Volleyball, and maybe some boxing.

A suggestion: Team Handball
Not to be confused with the sport practiced by the old guy at your rec center, wailing on a racquetbal with a gloved hand, wearing a tank top and prominently displaying his shoulder hair, this is NBA-type athleticism and fast paced ball movement coupled with the occasional body check or bear hug take-down. (Absence of shoulder hair not guaranteed).

The rule breakdown, quick and dirty: On a hardwood court, with a smallish rubbery, grippable soccer-styled ball, dribbling and and only limited steps allowed, players unleash shots from outside a six meter boundry. A goalie tries to get in the way.

The defensive rules are a bit vague, leaving it only at "frontal contact," so it gets pretty physical. If you don't believe me, you'll surely believe the Batmanesque graphic at the 2 minute mark of this video.



Holy-airtime Robin, this video is even better.




It's sometimes called "European Handball" so its not surprising that the favorites are Euros, namely Germany and Croatia, and that the US didn't even qualify. But, c'mon, there are guys out there making YouTube highlight videos of this stuff; that's reason enough to watch right there.



Here's NBC's official "what to expect" write-up.

-Agent Easy

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Jets' QB Gamble

It's hard to touch the Favre soap opera without feeling dirty, but against my better judgment... the Jets may have actually made a smart move in acquiring him.

Earlier in the offseason we puzzled over the Jets' offseason strategy, in which they paid big for veteran players despite coming off a 4-12 season when rebuilding seems the right approach. In particular, we questioned the decision to acquire veteran o-linemen like Alan Faneca and Damien Woody when there wasn't a quarterback in place to make the offense run, having only the weak-armed Pennington and raw Clemens as their choices.

I still think the Jets should have gone into rebuilding mode, but, in the context of their "win-now" strategy, for this year, getting Favre makes some sense, especially as it was done on the cheap. Although the memory of it has been erased by an embarrassing INT to end the postseason and an even more embarrassing offseason, Favre did have a very good 2007 season with 28 TDs and 15 picks (his lowest total since 2001). If he can come close to that this year, it would be a considerable improvement over what either Pennington (who'll find a new address soon) or Clemens is likely to do this year, and, as it's hard to imagine Favre playing more than a season in NY, it shouldn't delay Clemens's development by very long.

And if Favre can't produce for the Jets? They only have to give up a fourth-round pick; as the compensation for Favre depends on his playing time and the Jets' winning, they only have to give up a high round pick to Green Bay if the experiment works.

The Jets are a good fit in another way: while sending a new face into a QB controversy might seem to increase the chaos, you don't have the problem of undermining an established starting QB (as would have been the case in Tampa, for example).

Of course, there are some nightmare scenarios - Favre plays poorly and the coaching staff doesn't have the guts to bench him, or his careless, self-absorbed attitude rubs off on the rest of the team.

But, for a team like the Jets that has already shelled out to put other pieces in place to try for a return to the playoffs, this trade might be a risk worth taking. The Favre saga as a whole has made a lot of parties look bad - Favre, the Packers, and most of the sports media for its obsessive, gossipy coverage of the whole thing - but the Jets might end up looking good.

-Hazelwood

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Pudge Trade: What's In It for Detroit?

It's no surprise for a borderline playoff contender like Detroit to seek out pitching help, especially as their weak bullpen is a major part of their disappointing 2008 showing. What is strange is that they acquired him in a deal with no clear buyer or seller, and so gave up another "win now" kind of player in Pudge Rodriguez instead of the typical practice of giving up prospects for immediate help.

This would make more sense if there was a great young catcher waiting in the wings for Detroit, but that's not the case. Since the Pudge trade, they've been going mostly with Brandon Inge, a light-hitting career third baseman who'd already been slated as the likely 2009 catcher, and longtime minor leaguer Dane Sardinha.

It's possible that the Tigers front office considered it worth sacrificing some offense, which they have in abundance, for some help with pitching which, again, has been a weakness all season. Even so, the move has weakened the Tigers' defense: the Rays challenged them on the basepaths during a weekend sweep, going 3 for 5 in stolen bases on Friday and 2 for 3 in on Saturday - aggressive even by Tampa's standards.

The Tigers' decision to trade Pudge seems to lie in Detroit's offseason blockbuster deal for Cabrera and Willis which improved their lineup (if not their rotation) for this year, but, along with earlier trades, drained the organization of prospects. Needing bullpen help, the Tigers apparently had no choice but to give a present contributor. So far the risk hasn't paid off, as Detroit has lost four straight and has fallen even further behind Chicago and Minnesta in the standings.

-Hazelwood