Friday, February 29, 2008

Bobby Knight on ESPN

So listening to "Mike and Mike" this morning, Bobby Knight made one of his first appearances as an ESPN analyst. Here's how it went:

1) He basically said that whoever scored the most points would win the NCAA tournament games, and that free throw percentages aren't important if you score more points than the other team.

2) He refused to answer questions about Indiana, changing the subject, then telling Greenberg that the matter was off-limits.

I wonder how much ESPN is paying for that type of insight?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Old People Try Too Hard

Well, the only really strong sports news lately (if you don't count Yao Ming getting broken, just completely Andy Dufresne'ing my fantasy basketball team) was GW making fun of Manny and his dead grandpeople (which was, admittedly, awesome), so we turn back to the world of music, where we've proven one more age-old adage: old people who try to sound hip usually suck.

Mariah Carey, widely known for peaking at age 20, flipping her shit on MTV's Cribs, having ridiculous fake boobs and having sex with a diving Derek Jeter (luckily, she wasn't seven feet to his left, or they never would have hooked up), has released a new single called "Touch my Body" (which you can listen to on just about every radio station in the country, if life is no longer worth living).

Here are the opening lines to Ms. Carey's current bon mot:

If there's a camera up in here, then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cause if you run your mouth and brag about this secret rendezvous,
I will hunt you down

So wait - she's doing some dude, but she's worried he's going to tape her getting railed. Her worry about said taping is that it will land on YouTube. Her defense, then, is to inform the inferred gentleman that "(she) will hunt (him) down." Got it.

That shit's crazy, kids - Mariah Carey scares the living God out of me. What a song formula - check how this worked out:

  • Direct implication of sluttiness? CHECK
  • Intimation of taping sex act? CHECK
  • Awkward use of modern media that "the kids" use? BIG FUCKING CHECK
  • Death threat (either real or implied)? OH, YEP - CHECK
This record should come hermetically sealed with Agent Orange, with a heavy dusting of silver nitrate on the album so we can mark all of the absolute retards in one fell swoop - instead of the scarlet letter, welcome to the blue-hands 'tard coalition. Instead of a "Parental Guidance" sticker, it should just have a photo of record companies raping children, because how on Earth does this record get a green light?

Just out of curiosity, how many times do you think Mariah Carey, the human shitshow that brought you Glitter, has actually gone onto YouTube to do anything? Remember, she's not exactly a MENSA candidate - I'd guess she can't even "surf" her shiny ass to YouTube, there's just no chance she would even know the URL. YouTube? Seriously? I'd be much more worried about RedTube at this point in your career, you decrepit, irrelevant douche - seriously, the sooner you actually leak a sex tape, the more I'll actually care about you. For ten minutes. Then I'll take a nap.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Learning is Fundamental

To kick off the fantasy moneymaking season for 2008, I wanted to look back at last year's big keeper-league draft, to try to point out places where I could perhaps make an improvement going into this year, and just generally giving retrospective opinions on the entire deal. Also, since this was technically my worst fantasy finish since Teapot Dome, my little ass probably should hit the books, since even the goofiest bastards have 24/7 access to (usually shitty, but still existent) fantasy advice.

My original interpretation of the draft is located here, with some piss-poor analysis that I probably did while slightly hung over at work. I finished fourth in the regular season, then lost a quarterfinal game and punted the rest of the playoffs for draft position (unsuccessfully, I might add - 6th overall). It sucked.

The first five picks were my 5 "keepers" - which, clearly, became an unmitigated disaster after the unfortunate death of Jason Bay's talent (and knee cartilage), Joe Mauer thankfully donating some of his knee to try to help Mr. Bay (which was an unmitigated failure, on par with "Operation: Nail Freshman Girls" at my Bay State brownstone in 2000) and collapsing like Tacoma Narrows in the process, and BJ Ryan's elbow exploding just four short months too early.

The lesson here is pretty clear - sometimes, players will just slip, like Bay. Mauer's injury was moderately predictable, and he might have been a reach in the 4th round anyway, while for all of Ryan's superb stats and peripherals, he's still a closer, and we know the rule: never draft a closer high.

Luckily, I was able to resurrect the draft by pseudo-keeping Adam Dunn with my 6th round pick (making this the 7th consecutive season of watching Big Donkey be my most valuable terrible outfielder - he is sick in this league because it uses OBP instead of BA), so we'll count that as a keeper, which still gives me a C- overall. I must improve this year - luckily, I have four no-brainers for keepers (Wright, Howard, Fielder and Dunn), along with the potential to either keep Granderson or pick up the best player not kept by the remaining teams with my 5th-rounder (which will usually yield a 3rd-round talent, as dudes keep man-crushes instead of the best players).

The most striking problem with my draft was almost certainly my high-risk strategy for pitching, which relied on old guys with breakdown potential (Schilling, Wagner) and young guys with high-risk projections (Bush, Reyes). These guys ate me up, while the more-intelligent risks of buying low on Penny and Escobar worked masterfully and carried my team through most of the season (along with Randy Wolf's first half).

The lesson is easy: work harder to diversify, and keep a solid selection of pitching around. There's no reason to overpay for a mid-range guy (even Dan Haren counts here this year), but while there's no need to be a risk-adverse pussy, it is important to keep some reliable guys on hand and dodge an entirely youth-oriented team because of the dangers of pitching projection in general.

The "closing off the closers" strategy worked exceptionally poorly, as most teams were unwilling to trade even bottom-end starters for closers, and the point in which such trades make the most sense (at the first half of the season) for you are the times when people are most adverse to trades (because of waiver-wire enticement). It's kind of like dominating the Golden Tee machine at the bar - it's a great idea for what it's worth, but you can't parlay it into getting laid, so you have to make sure your priorities are actually aligning with your strategy. As it ended, I wound up with a great closer system (with 4 guys), including exactly one of the closers (Wagner) that I started with, and missed a LOT of potential value guys at the bottom of the draft (FUCK YOU BRANDON PHILLIPS-SLASH-FRANCHISE). I will likely avoid this strategy, even if I get as much cooperation as I did in that draft.

One other quick point: while it's easy to play for guys moving positions to try to capitalize on hard-to-fill positional eligibility, these guys often have an adjustment period. Hall killed me here, even being SS-eligible. BJ Upton appears to be the exception here, but it's worth noting going forward.

Essentially, I completely mismanaged risk in this draft, and left myself open to exactly what happened: injuries decimating my team in places where I could not handle them. I thought I had a nice balance of risk and upside, but that could not have been further from the truth in hindsight. Boo fucking hoo.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Awkward Search for the Truth

As most of you know, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee, along with their entourage of attorneys and advisors, were the focus of a Congressional Hearing this past Wednesday. Carried by the full range of ESPN networks, C-Span, and countless other media outlets, the supposed aim of the hearings was to flush out the truth about the Clemens/McNamee accusations, and take another step forward in ridding sports of steroids. While apparently there is some regret regarding the hearing (see, that can't change the fact that it has happened.

The question then becomes, what did the hearing produce? A lot of he-said/he-said, accusations thrown back and forth, possible witness tampering, and an interesting display of lawyering. While that may make for great TV, it really didn't get anyone any closer to the truth.

So, with this hearing joining the Barry Bonds situation, the previous Congressional hearings (Selig/Fehr, McGwire/Palmeiro/Sosa, etc.) and the Mitchell Report, are we any closer to solving the problem? And, if we are, what is the solution?

I don't have quite as much of an issue as some people with Congressmen (and women) spending time, and thus taxpayers' money, on this, if the aim is true. People claim that this is a public health issue, and if it that is the true impetus behind the hearings, then so be it.

Yet, there are some aspects of this that don't make sense. If you're going to call in Clemens and Petitte, why not call in Adam Piatt, Jack Cust, and the others who were named in the Report? Of course, we all know that putting Adam Piatt before Congress doesn't have quite the same flair as Roger Clemens.

Also, if the talking heads at ESPN are going to give their spins on the testimony and developments, why not leave that to the experts? Bring on someone with a sports medicine background (Will Carroll for instance), or people with legal experience, and leave the analysis to them. No offense to John Seibel, Stephen A. Smith, or any one of the other anchors or commentators on the network, but most of them have no relevant experience, besides covering the athletes who are involved. The opinions of Smith, Colin Cowherd, and a number of others have little to no value, if for no other reason than they don't have the professional or educational background to comment intelligently on the issues. This isn't a rehash of a baseball game; it's a moderately complex situation involving the worlds of sports, law and medicine.

Do we know anything more than we did a year ago? When I ask that, I don't mean just the names that have been released, but do we know more about the problem itself. Do we know about how to get effective testing in place? Do we know how to put out education programs to schools, so that young athletes don't start using steroids, HGH, or other performance enhancers that could endanger their health? Do we know how to improve the next 30 years, rather than how to rehash the last 20? Do we know how much of a problem steroids are in all sports, at all levels, from youth leagues to professionals?

These public displays may be good fodder for the evening news, but whether they get us any closer to answers depends a great deal on the questions we are asking.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We ain't worried 'bout nothing/ Hakuna Ma Tata

It's that time, boys and girls - Clipse (along with sidecars Ad Libba and Sandman, cumulatively the Re-Up Gang), fresh off a new record deal, have released We Got It For Cheap v.3 - an obvious must-have at the cost (free, obv).

A cursory listening agrees with the Pitchfork review - it's not nearly the same level of legendary as vol. 2 (which included "Zen," one of the best songs of 2005) or Hell Hath No Fury, which was a top-5 album of 2006. Still, living up to those lofty expectations would likely prove impossible - what you do have is a great album of rips and punchlines, mostly based around slangin' rock. Nothing wrong with that shit.

A cursory listen puts this album in a MUCH more relaxed vibe - the angry snarls and shunting of other rappers has largely disappeared, as is wont to happen when you've blown out just about every other mainstream rapper not named Kanye in the past few months (and, even then, I mean . . . dorks like me love Clipse, and Kanye didn't even make my list).

Genuine introspection is difficult territory for the Re-Up boys - there are some legit stumbles where the lyrical content reaches too far, or inadequately describes just why it sucks to be rich and respected. Still, though, it's legit growth, and the majority of the first listen proved beyond satisfactory and head-nod-able. It's 100% worth the download, and should likely get spins in the car or on the subway - it seems perfectly situated for people-watching or observing in those types of situations.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Dangers of Pretty Things

One of the most bizarrely difficult issues for sports fans to agree about or reconcile comes in that grand issue of "clutch" - and, while I won't open that can of worms today, it is certainly part of a larger intangible issue that fascinates people in general: response to difficult circumstances. From US Magazine to The Hills to news reports about surviving attempted decapitation, people love to see others cope - even if the coping strategy results in dismal, bloody, excruciating failure. Shit, some would say especially when it ends in massive, bowel-clearing failure.

One of the best illustrations in recent memory came in Juno - while a well-done movie by almost any regard, one scene stands head and shoulders above the rest. After Jason Bateman's character completes the 90' turn into creepdom and Juno realizes the shit just hit the fan, she drives down the road, ultimately pulling the minivan over to break down and cry on the side of the road. Basically, the cut-and-dried, simple, perfect solution she crafted to escape her shitshow pregnancy has just disintegrated into disaster.

Really, this is a great point - we often become enamored with things that are easy or "perfect" solutions to existing problems. This can lead to sloth. Think of how many times you've seen someone select the least-horrible of a series of shitty options, only to work hard and find that the results far outpaced anyone's expectations. Now, think of how many times slam-dunk setups have failed miserably, only to result in black tar heroin and concomitant residency under bridges or in bus station men's rooms (or, like, just bad stuff happening).

After last week's revelation that Curt Schilling's biceps tendon looks like "three strands of spaghetti" there is a small chance that the Boston Red Sox have fallen for The Danger of Pretty Things - that solution that seems so easy that it's a no-brainer, although the fallout of its failure would be much more drastic than the solution's elegance would let on.

The Sox starting rotation would have set up beautifully - run out Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Lester and Wakefield, most of whom will need at least a few weeks on the DL. Keep Buchholz in Pawtucket, on a strict innings limit of 5IP/start, ready to fill gaps as needed. Get Buchholz ~120 IP in the majors, keeping him around his 180IP limit for the season (and, hopefully, keep him in AAA until mid-May, so his service clock gains another year before free agency).

Now, though, there's a problem - either Buchholz starts the year with the big club, which would give the team the best pitcher in the group but one with a strict innings limit because he is still right within the injury nexus, or you run out there with Julian Tavarez, who put up as heroic a season of 5.25 ERA ball as has ever come from a man in such dire need of plastic surgery. There are external options, but given there are about 5 days before pitchers and catchers report, that field is winnowed to the bloated corpse of Bartolo Colon (who reportedly couldn't hit 90 in winter ball, and was making the 6th inning look as impossible as scaling K2), the consistent mediocrity of Kyle Lohse (who is certainly no solid bet to perform better than Tavarez), or paying Billy Beane's mortgage for Joe Blanton, a 200IP workhorse who looks oddly like John Daly.

The rotation solution was so elegant that its downsides become almost stark in contrast - and while the "problems" are really pretty nice to have (the Sox still have one of, if not the best, rotations in baseball), the current scenario is simply way worse for the team. Interestingly, there are other places where this might even be more true - any injury to Lowell or Youkilis will give a couple hundred ABs to Sean Casey, who should be good for an OPS+ of about 92, and corner-outfield issues would immediately either force Bobby Kielty into the lineup, or require an unreal LF/CF combo of Ellsbury and Crisp, turning the Red Sox into some bizarre version of the '86 Cardinals. The bullpen isn't really set up for losing Papelbon for any amount of time, unless Manny Delcarmen continues to make strides - and I say this as someone who wholeheartedly rejects the myth of the closer.

Now, I don't mean this to be a doomsday-scenario, chicken-little'ing of the Sox this season. Indeed, the Red Sox are still the likely favorites to win the AL, and should be considered such by a fairly good margin. While Lowell will likely never repeat his BABIP/LD%-increase-fueled career year, and while Pedroia and Youkilis have likely shown near-peak capability already, a moderate rebound from Manny and Drew would more than offset this, and getting an .800 OPS from CF while staying within -5 of Crisp's defense would be a remarkable upgrade. It's an incredibly well-rounded squad, one which is built to survive through many different styles of baseball, and built to win both in the regular season (with power bats and lineup depth) and post season (the "secret sauce", run prevention, very strong front-end starters).

No, let's not lament or cry for the Sox just yet - while losing a legit hero in Schilling, his PECOTA projection was for 125IP at 4.18 ERA, which passes the smell test - but it seemed worth noting that the ultimate failure of the Schilling scenario, at least to this point, really indicated a "Pretty Things" problem to the best possible effect. Interestingly, if Schilling's rehab actually works (and Dr. Morgan obviously thinks that will not be the case), he can come back after the All-Star Break and contribute important innings down the stretch, resting all of the pitchers for a few weeks. This, my friends, is pretty much the definition of the tantalizing idea that might just be too seductive for its own good. Once again, I've fallen for the Danger.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I can't believe my favorite team won the Super Bowl

I wish I could put into words the feelings I'm having right now. All I can say is this: tonight goes up there with the first World Series of the Joe Torre era and UConn beating Duke in the NCAA Tournament as the happiest I have been as a sports fan. I can't accurately describe how loud I started yelling when Plaxico caught the winning touchdown.

Holy cow. Go Giants!

Friday, February 1, 2008

My team is in the Super Bowl? Seriously?

If you had told me at the beginning of the season that my beloved Giants would be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, I would have laughed. A lot. Then I would have called you a liar and berated you for getting my hopes up. Now, in a mere matter of days, the team I have followed since the days of LT and Mark Bavaro will be facing the Pats. To say I am shocked would be an understatement.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge Giants fan and have been for a number of years. Besides the Yankees, there is no team that I follow more closely. However, being a Giants fan is like driving 100 miles to a really nice dinner, only to find out the dinner has been cancelled. Since the Parcells years, the team's history has been filled with play-off collapses or mediocre regular seasons, save for a shocking trip to the Super Bowl against the Ravens. Of course, Kerry Collins played a terrible game, the Ravens defense locked down, and there was no shot.

There were unfortunate draft picks (Derek Brown, Tyrone Wheatley, Thomas Lewis, Dave Brown in the supplemental draft), horrid coaching changes (Ray Handley anyone?), uninspired quarterback play (Dave Brown, Kent Graham), and a number of other times when we as Giant fans held our head in shame.

This year feels differently though, and not because I think they have any more chance of winning. As someone who has become more and more interested in the statistical analysis of sports, there are still moments when I just let the emotion of the moment fall over me and wash away all rational thought. This playoff run has been one of those times.

Watching this team go into Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay, and come out of all three with victories, has been unreal. The shock won't have worn off by the time the team runs onto the field on Sunday, and no matter what happens against the Pats, this has been a tremendous season to be a Giants fan.