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


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