Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stewart Mandel on Best and Worst Coaches

Mandel has a fairly solid effort at ranking the top coaches in college football here. My thoughts:

1. Are Lloyd Carr, Mack Brown, and Jim Tressel distinguishable at all? All three are winning at major programs that have natural advantages and are winning at levels roughly consistent with their programs' histories. Mack had to do more of a rebuilding job after the mess that John Mackovic left and he's doing much better than Texas did after Darrell Royal retired in a fit of "Barry Switzer is a sonofabitch" anger, but on the other hand, he doesn't have a single conference title to his name and that's often the best measure of a college football coach. Do we really want to credit Mack because Texas made dreadful hiring decisions before bringing him over from Chapel Hill?

Carr has more conference titles than either of the other two, but he has a slightly lower winning percentage. Michigan fans don't love him, other than the ones who desperately need to ingratiate themselves to him to maintain access to the program (read: Michigan.Rivals.Com writers), and they don't hate him, other than the emotional idiots who think that Michigan would never lose a game if only it had a competent coach because there is no other program in the country that can possibly compete. Carr wins, but he doesn't win big, mainly because of his pig-headed refusal to make significant changes on defense.

Tressel has won at an almost 80% clip, which is better than Lloyd, but his first four years are almost the same as Lloyd's and the seeds of his potential downfall - inherent conservatism on offense - have been evident for several years. How would he be viewed differently if not for that pass interference call on Glenn Sharpe in the first overtime of the Fiesta Bowl?

1a. And while we're at it, how is Mark Richt not ahead of (or at least equal to)Mack Brown, since he's won a conference title and has a similar winning percentage despite playing a tougher schedule? In defense of Mandel, Richt has coached during a period when Florida and Tennessee have both been down. Mack, on the other hand, has coached during a period when Oklahoma has been up. Change that one fact and Mack probably has several conference titles. Still, Richt has done just as well as Mack. This year, with Tennessee and Florida both up and Brian VanGorder gone, we'll learn a lot about Richt.

2. How is Jeff Tedford not in the top ten? He's given Cal their best period in eons. If all ten of the coaches on the list were free agents, along with Tedford, would you take Fulmer to run your program over Tedford? Or Dan Hawkins, who has essentially extended what Dirk Koetter started at Boise State (and Koetter probably didn't enter Mandel's mind when he was composing the list.) Why is Petrino better than Tedford? Is 10-1 at Louisville a bigger accomplishment than 10-1 at Cal with the loss on the road to the eventual national champions?

3. Amen to including Paterno on the worst coaches list. Mandel is absolutely right: there's no reason for a program with Penn State's natural advantages to have a losing record in four out of five seasons under the same coach. Their player development record is absolutely abysmal.

Not that you asked, but here's my list. I give the most credit to coaches who win at greater levels than their program has in recent years.

1. Pete Carroll - As much as the jury can be out on a guy who has won back-to-back national titles, I'm waiting to see if he can win without the best offensive coordinator in college football. Still, he knows defense and can recruit, which are the two most important qualities for a national championship program.

2. Bob Stoops - There's no reason to apologize for consistently great teams. He did seem to miss his brother last year as OU's defense regressed, but his good work in putting together a good offensive braintrust made up for that.

3. Urban Meyer - He won far more at Utah and BGSU than those programs had in recent memory. It's hard to argue with instant five-game improvements in two different places. Thank G-d he's not in South Bend.

4. Kirk Ferentz - He built Iowa the right way, focusing on the offensive and defensive lines. On the other hand, the same things were said about Barry Alvarez around the turn of the century and that was clearly his plateau. I'll be very interested to see how he does once he's deploying four- and five-star recruits instead of the high school tight ends that he turned into monster linemen.

5. Jeff Tedford - Last year's Cal team was the best I can remember seeing. Plus, Oregon's nosedive since Tedford left shows that he was largely responsible for that program's best period.

6. Frank Beamer - It is not easy to win in Blacksburg and he has alternated between good and great teams for a decade now. He had been somewhat forgotten until last year, when he reminded everyone that he created a very good program before Michael Vick became a Hokie in a pique because Virginia recruited Ronald Curry instead of him.

7. Ralph Friedgen - Has one year made everyone forget that he won ten games three straight years? And at Maryland, for G-d sakes. Ask George O'Leary about his talents.

8. Bobby Petrino - I'm waiting to see how he does when he steps up to a major program. Would LSU be pre-season #1 if they would have hired Petrino and also brought in Bo Pelini to run the defense?

9. Steve Spurrier - Last I checked, he is coaching this year. Do we need to be reminded that he won seven SEC titles in 12 years when he was the head man in Gainesville.

10. Mike Leach - Has Texas Tech ever been this consistently good? He's in a division with three programs that ought to eat TT's lunch every year and yet he still turns out good seasons. I suspect that he gets pigeon-holed as an offensive guru because of his crazy offense.

10a. Mike Price - He won at Washington State and UTEP, for G-d sakes! He ought to be higher on this list. Alabama going from Price to Mike Shula was like, oh, I don't know, Alabama going from Gene Stallings to Mike DuBose?

And here is the worst of the bunch:

1. Joe Paterno - As stated above, he's turned a great program into one of the worst in the Big Ten. Penn State shouldn't be having a good season every 3-4 years, nor should they be pointing at Northwestern as their big game this year or any year.

2. Rich Brooks - A completely inexplicable hire. Mel Brooks could achieve the same results. UK fans who renewed their season tickets this year are saints...or masochists.

3. Ron Zook - Any Gator fans want to back me up on this? He is supposed to be a defensive mind, but his defenses were all significantly worse than those of Steve Spurrier. He's also supposed to be a special teams ace, but his teams were a disaster in that department. Great hire, Illinois. Was Lou Tepper busy?

4. Buddy Teevens - Stanford is not bereft of talent and he's managed to put bad teams out every year. I have it on good authority that he was a complete joke at Tulane, as well, right down to dreadful pre-game speeches delivered in an amusing New England twang.

5. Bobby Bowden - Yes, FSU wins every year and Bobby deserves some credit for being a great closer in recruiting, but the guy routinely gives answers to sideline reporters that reflect that he doesn't know what's going on in the game. Plus, his refusal to demote his son for rank incompetence ought to be held against him. (In fact, it reminds me of Joe Paterno's loyalty to his son Jay, who must be the worst quarterbacks coach in the history of Western Civilization.) At this point, Papa Bowden is like Reagan in his second term. His country is prospering in spite of him.

Wading into the Blogpoll

In an effort to draw together the disparate fringes of college football blogosphere, the fine gents from Every Day Should Be Saturday are running a regular blog poll. After I got over the shock that a bunch of jean short wearers from Ocala have access to the internet for purposes other than googling digitally altered pictures of LeAnn Rimes, I was more than happy to join. Anyway, on with the show:

1. What's THE critical game of the season on the national scene?

My initial inclination is to say Oklahoma-Texas, both because the winner of that game will have relatively clear sailing to the national title game (especially if no one emerges from the Big XII North) and because this year is absolutely critical for Mack Brown in the Rabbi Hillel sense: if not now, when? Then again, I suspect that Texas will not be unbeaten by the time they get to the Red River Shootout.

LSU-Florida gets my vote, although I feel a little queasy about it because the two teams are likely going to meet again in December in Atlanta. There are few, if any, teams in the country that have recruited as well as these two over the past three years. Florida is getting a massive coaching upgrade, while LSU's coaching change isn't going to hurt them much because they are getting an offensive upgrade by adding Les Miles to Jimbo Fisher and the defense shouldn't drop off much with Bo Pelini calling the shots. Florida will take care of Tennessee (Urban Meyer against John Chavis? Please.), as will LSU and they'll meet in a battle of top five teams on October 15 in Baton Rouge.

2. What's the most critical matchup for your team?

Since I'm defining "my team" as the entire SEC, I think I answered this question above. However, if you must pigeon hole me as a Georgia fan, the most critical game for the Dawgs this year is the Auburn game. Losses to Tennessee and Florida can be stomached. Those teams are both top ten caliber and losing to them is no great shame, especially since one game is on the road and the other is in Georgia's house of horrors. A loss to Auburn, on the other hand, would be hard to take because it would firmly place Georgia back in the middle class behind LSU, Florida, and Tennessee. Auburn is rebuilding this year and the Dawgs owe them after getting abused on the Plains. If they don't win this one, then Georgia fans are going to start to question how much of Mark Richt's success was the result of his now departed defensive coordinator.

3. What's your wingnut upset prediction of year?

Remember when Nebraska had won two national titles in a row? Remember where their winning streak ended? Right, Sun Devil Stadium. Give me Arizona State over USC. The Trojans are going to miss their defensive tackles from last year, but more importantly, they are going to miss Norm Chow in a big way. Pete Carroll is a great defensive mind, but he needs a smart guy to handle his offense and he just lost the smartest guy in college football. Everyone is tagging USC's trip to Oregon as the upset game, but Autzen has been overrated for the past few years and USC is going to be paying attention for that one. The trip to Tempe, on the other hand, will be the second of two straight road games, it's against a team that the Trojans blew out last year so their guard will be down, and Dirk Koetter ought to be able to scheme some points against the USC defense. ASU will be battle-tested after their trip to Baton Rouge and won't be shocked by USC's speed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Hawks' Draft: a Heel, a Headcase, and a Guy Named Cenk

I can't hope to do a Draft Diary quite like Sports Guy and won't bother to try. In the back of my mind, I was happy that the Hawks weren't going to get a chance to draft Andrew Bogut because I didn't want our team to be on the receiving end of Sports Guy's barbs about the pick and how the franchise should move to Las Vegas. In the front of my mind, I was happy that the Hawks weren't going to take Bogut because he is nothing more than an average NBA center who will be viewed as a failure if he's anything less than an all-star. For confirmation of this fact, one needed look no further than the tepid highlight package that ESPN had for him. How is anyone supposed to be excited about a player whose college highlights apparently consisted of receiving lobbed entry passes and then laying in awkward shots over hopelessly overmatched MWC foes. 2005 will be remembered as the year of the Utah bust. (If I knew of a famous, voluptuous woman from Utah, I'd throw in a joke and a picture here, but I don't, so I won't.)

I remain excited about Marvin Williams. He's the best player in the Draft and the worst team in the league cannot do anything other than take the best player available. Sports Guy's criticism is that he didn't start for UNC, but that's simply a pro sports fan showing his ignorance of North Carolina basketball. Evidently, he's never heard the maxim that the only person who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points per game is Dean Smith. UNC values seniority and there's no way they were going to start a freshman when they had two seniors and three junior first round picks in their lineup. Williams was on the floor at crunch time of their big games, which is what matters.

Mark Bradley had a couple interesting criticisms of the Williams pick:

a. "He's basically Shareef Abdur-Rahim." An interesting point, but wrong on a couple levels. Williams is much more athletic than Rahim. Shareef's drawback was that he was a skilled offensive player without great athleticism who couldn't play defense. Williams is a better jumper and a better defender. He also comes from North Carolina, which almost never produces a bust from a high pick. On the other hand, Williams only played there for one year, so it might not be fair to compare him to all the players who learned under Dean Smith for multiple seasons.

b. "The team still needs a point guard and a center." This is true, but misplaced for several reasons. First, the pick makes Al Harrington a potential trade commodity. Could the Hawks not get, say, Jarrett Jack for Harrington? (Of course, they would have to take some salary from Portland, probably in the form of registered sex offender Ruben Patterson and the Hawks would need to waive him immediately to protect their young players and local babysitters.) Even if they don't make the trade now, when some team feels they're one player away next January, Harrington will command an excellent price. Second, the Hawks can take a crack at addressing their problems at the one and five in free agency and they made themselves a lot more attractive by adding the best, most marketable player in the Draft. Third, even if they don't solve their problems next year, the Hawks aren't going to completely rebuild in a year. They probably won't make the playoffs next year, so they'll have another lottery pick to address the one and the five. Finally, positions are overrated. The Bulls won three titles with Steve Kerr at the point and Luc Longley in the pivot. Great players at the other three positions can cover for a lot of mistakes.

You'll notice that I'm not listing Salim Stoudemire as one of the potential solutions at the point. I know I supported him as a second round pick yesterday, but I started to re-evaluate. The stories about him being a headcase are worrisome, although Lute Olson seems to like him. The bigger concern is that I can't differentiate him from Shawn Respert, Randolph Childress, or the other littany of great college shooters who were too small to play the two and lacked the requisite passing and dribbling skills to play the one. Stoudemire probably can't create his own shot and, as his negative assist/turnover ratio last year shows, he doesn't do a very good job of creating shots for others. If Marvin Williams becomes a great scorer and forces double-teams, then Stoudemire will be the perfect guy to rain from behind the arc. Otherwise, the Hawks missed a chance. Chad Ford is very high on Roko Ukic as a point guard; we'll see if he's right that he would have been a better pick. Ronny Turiaf was also available and could possibly play center for the Hawks. (He has to be better than Jason Collier and Obinna Ekezie.)

Other thoughts from a Tuesday night at Philips Arena:

1. I found myself excited on the way down to the Arena, hoping desperately that the NHL solves their labor issues and I'm making the same walk in early October in the Thrashers jersey and the USA Hockey hat. Am I a complete sucker because I'll be even more excited than I was before when the team finally takes the ice? Most fans tend to respond to major labor imbroglios the way that wives respond to their husbands when they return from bachelor parties.

2. For a great illustration of Old School/Nu Skool, you should have seen the live war room cam shots last night. Billy Knight was sitting at the end of the table. Former Stanford student Josh Childress was crouched behind him, engaged in constant discussion about something. Too cool for school Josh Smith was sitting to Knight's left, playing a hand-held video game.

3. I'm not saying that Bob Rathbun is out of shape or anything, but when he was on the stage giving out signed bobbleheads and Tony Hawk tickets (yes, the Hawks didn't exactly behave like the Fat Girl last night; maybe the Williams pick has functioned like a drunken hook-up and convinced the team that they don't need to go the extra mile anymore) with a Hawks dancer assisting him, there was a certain unshakeable image in my head:

4. I couldn't tell what the crowd's reaction to Andrew Bogut going #1 was because I was too busy cheering my head off and humming "Ode to Joy." The crowd was educated enough to look bewildered when the Velociraptors took Charlie Villenueva.

Remember us?

You may have forgotten in light of the local basketball collective's big night assembling talent, but we just beat a division rival 9-1 for our fifth win in a row and we did it against the best pitcher in baseball, who happened to shut us out a few days ago.

A few thoughts from the game:

1. You'll have to trust me on this one, but I was going to predict that the Braves would do better against the D-Train after having seen him five days earlier, just like they got progressively better against Kris Benson last year over the course of a month, in which they saw him three times. Of course, predicting that the Braves would score more than zero runs is not unlike predicting that Phil Fulmer will wear something orange next year.

2. I keep fixating on the Braves' injured starters, but how much are they really being missed, given the way the fill-ins are pitching. Leo Mazzone has managed to turn Roman Colon, Jorge Sosa, and Kyle Davies into decent major league starters. Forget genius, Leo is approaching "Norman Einstein" levels. (I'm sure I just jinxed Roman for his start tomorrow by saying that.) Sosa has given the Braves a quality start every time out. The Sosa-Green trade appears to be a win-win for all involved. The Braves got a quality starter and freed up playing time for Wilson Betemit and Pete Orr, while Green got a starting gig and has given Tampa Bay some solid play (.749 OPS).

3. Is Florida the biggest fuck-up franchise in the NL? Aside from their two World Series titles (admittedly, nothing for the Braves or most of the rest of baseball to sneeze at,) they don't draw dick despite consistently good teams, they play in a dreadful stadium, they can't get their pro-business legislature to fork over any money for a new stadium, and for the crowning insult, their ground crew can't get a tarp onto the field properly, despite the fact that they ought to have more practice doing so than anyone else in baseball.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Now I know what it's like to be an Arizona Cardinals fan

It's Draft day for the Hawks, a.k.a. the most exciting day of the year. The consensus seems to be that the Bucks are going to take Andrew Bogut, leaving Marvin Williams to the Hawks. Chad Ford is reporting that the Hawks are having second thoughts and are considering Deron Williams and Chris Paul, but I suspect that the team is so divided between which point guard to pick that they'll likely split the difference and take Williams. I haven't changed my mind that that's the right thing to do because he's the best player in the Draft and also seems to be a humble, coachable, rootable guy, not unlike Josh Childress. That said, if the Hawks trade down and take Paul or Williams, that's fine too. Each player would serve a need and the team could get an extra first rounder for moving down a couple spots. I have a slight preference for Williams over Paul because after seeing Jason Terry and Tyronn Lue, I'm ready for a point guard who can keep the opposing point guard in front of him on defense.

The montage on Mayhem this morning of disastrous #2 picks (Sam Bowie, Len Bias, Shawn Bradley, Jay Williams, and Darko Mlicic) confirmed two things:

1. Don't draft a player who likes cocaine or motorcycles; and

2. Don't reach for a player because he's tall. (See: Bogut, Andrew.)

Part of the fun will also be waiting to see what the Hawks do with their second round pick. This is a very deep Draft and they ought to be able to find someone to go into their eight-man rotation with the #31 pick. Right now, I have my heart set on Randolph Morris: local kid, serves a major need at center, highly touted coming out of high school, and likely to be an NBA starter within three years. That said, there should be a number of interesting point guard prospects at #31. Nate Robinson, for instance, interests me, mainly because he was the key player in Washington going from a dreadful basketball program to a #1 seed in a matter of years. Salim Stoudamire is another interesting option, mainly because he can play some point, he can shoot (unlike just about anyone else on the roster,) and he could fill a Microwave role as the scorer off the bench.

Anyway, the wife and I will be hanging with Boris Diaw tonight when all the drama unfolds. G-d willing, I'll be linking this post in a few years when the Hawks are back in the playoffs and looking back at the night when the project took a giant step forward. If not, at least the wife and I will have the chance to overpay for chicken fingers and ask Royal Ivey how many "Royale with cheese" jokes he gets.

While we're naming streets after Andruw and Smoltz...

for coming through when the Braves needed them the most, how about a little alley for Horacio Ramirez, who has pitched well since he became the second-most senior pitcher on the staff. Last night's 1 ER, 7 IP performance was Glavine-esque: 14 of 21 outs were ground balls that the Braves' infield ate up. Horacio was living on the outside corner and didn't relocate to the middle of the plate when behind in the count. The fact that he did so after injuring his groin on Wednesday night was even more impressive.

And don't look now, but we could be seeing the beginning of a stirring from Furcal, who had a double, a triple, and a run-saving gem of a play in the hole to end the 7th inning last night. He has 13 hits in his past ten games, although he's only added three walks to that total. Maybe a .340 OBP over a ten-game stretch isn't anything to cause parades down Peachtree Street, but from a guy who looked completely lost at the plate when the Braves were suffering in May and early June, it's something. Jack McKeon has identified Furcal as the key to the Braves' offense; a summer run from the lead-off hitter would be critical (and further evidence that Bobby Cox is smarter than I am, since I wanted Furcal moved from the lead-off spot a week ago.

One other note: the Braves have won eight out of ten and in many of those wins, including the last two, the pattern has been to get a small lead, hold it with good pitching, and then feast offensively when the opposing starter comes out of the game. The '98 Yankees would be so proud.

Monday, June 27, 2005

What does Curacao's flag look like?

And can I bring it to a game to cheer for the Braves' centerfielder? Will a Johan Cruyff t-shirt suffice for a native of the Dutch Antilles? Or would I have to go all out with the Dutch decoration and dress a blow-up doll in the opposing team's jersey and then bat it around. (I kid you not, the Dutch love to do that. Imagine the faces of the ushers at the Ted if I showed up with a treat from Cheshire Bridge Road.)

Not a bad weekend, all things considered, for the Braves. They swept the Orioles, knocking Charm City's team from a half-game lead into a 2.5 game deficit behind the streaking Red Sox, a deficit that promises to only grow larger as the disparities between the starting rotations of the two teams play themselves out. Andruw is unconscionably hot right now, which is fun for all of us who defended him against the "unclutch" label he was stuck with in recent years. (I suppose that the "underachiever" label might have some merit after all, since he's so good now when the team really needs him, but I don't think it's fair to say that any time a player starts playing better, that means that he was underachieving before.) Smoltz is torrid as well, although I still can't figure out the rationale for leaving him in the game in the 9th inning yesterday when he was over 100 pitches and the team had a seven-run lead.

The crowds were also great this weekend, slightly better than the crowds that the team draws for its weekday afternoon playoff games. (Imagine that. If the games are played at a reasonable hour for people who actually have to work, fans in the "worst sports town in America" will turn out en masse to see the team.) Friday night was an excited, large crowd that reaffirmed for me how much I enjoy going to Braves games.

Other thoughts from Friday night:

1. Chris Reitsma was terrific, closing out the game with a strikeout and three weak grounders. As such, I was able to forgive his meltdown on Saturday, although the meltdown was a further reminder that he's brittle and can't be used too much. Ideally, the Braves will get their starting pitchers back from the DL and they can try Jorge Sosa as a spot-closer instead of a spot-starter. Back to Reitsma on Friday night, he induced two grounders to short in the 9th inning. Up to that point, Baltimore had not hit a single ball to the shortstop. Someone ask the Elias researchers how often a team goes eight innings without a groundball to short.

2. And back to getting pitchers healthy, good news from the invaluable Baseball Prospectus:

"Three Braves pitchers all threw on the side Sunday and all had positive results. Tim Hudson was able to throw without pain. The current plan is for another side session, a sim game, and a return just before the All-Star break. Mike Hampton also had a good side session. There's no timetable yet for his return. All signs now point to a rehab stint being needed before his return, putting him right back around the break, though he has more of a chance of recurrence than Hudson. The Braves are going to put Horacio Ramirez on the mound on Monday; his session must have been short. His groin is "100 percent," according to Ramirez, but watch the start closely."

Maybe a week and a half of very good play has caused me to go all loco, but the idea of Hudson, Thomson, and Hampton returning to a team with productive corner outfielders and a deeper bullpen (deeper largely as a result of their absence forcing pitchers like Sosa and Colon to grow up in a hurry) is downright tittilating to me.

3. The difference between Kyle Davies having a very good start and him having a bad start that the Braves survived because of their offensive outburst off of Hayden Penn was simply his inability to get Chris Gomez or Larry Bigbie for the final out in the 4th inning. If he does that, then his line would have been 6 IP, 2 ER instead of 6 IP, 5 ER.

Boise State-Georgia: Do we really have to wait 68 days?

I'm generally a fan of unconventional thinking; it's a quality too scarce in the media, let alone the oft-conservative, lower brain power college football media. However, there's still such a thing as "too cute" and this uninformed prediction of doom for Georgia against Boise State definitely qualifies. Why uninformed? I'm glad you asked:

1. While Jerry Maguire was had at hello, I was had with this poor argument:

"Georgia is a fairly low-tech outfit, but one blessed with outstanding athletic and talented personnel."

That might not be a bad description of Tennessee, a defense with great athletes that isn't coached especially well, but it certainly does not describe Georgia's defense. As has been pointed out in this space, Georgia has been extremely effective under Mark Richt at slowing just about every offense that it has faced. That includes holding Florida's outstanding 2001 offense, which College Football Resource dubs "high tech," to 24 points, 20.8 points below their average. Or how about shutting out a 2003 Clemson team that averaged over 28 points per game, on the road, no less. (I'd be willing to bet that College Football Resource would have dubbed Tommy Bowden's Tulane offense as "high tech." Funny what happened to him when he moved to a major conference.) Or how about holding national title-winning LSU to half their scoring average? How about Georgia holding Auburn scoreless and first downless in the second half of their 2002 game. That Auburn offense was coached by Bobby Petrino, who took his trade to a lower level (Conference USA) and all of a sudden became "high tech" according to CFR. CFR alleges that "Georgia under coach Mark Richt has never really been exposed to the kind of offense Boise State plays," but they have been exposed and done quite well against another of the offenses that CFR states are too sophisticated for poor, dumb Georgia.

There's a reason why the NFL was so interested in Brian VanGorder. The argument could be made that Georgia will suffer without VanGorder, but that's not the argument that CFR is making. And as Boise State shows, some coaches are replaceable...

2. If Boise State's offensive is so "high tech" and unstoppable, even to a team with far, far greater talent, then explain why Dirk Koetter, who developed the offense at Boise State and then imported it to the mostly defensively challenged Pac Ten, has only had good, but not spectacular results. Is it a coincidence that the Boise State offense is suddenly lower tech when employed against better coaches and defensive talent?

3. It fails to take into account the disadvantages that teams face in crossing multiple time zones. East coast teams often struggle on the West coast and vice versa. The factor will be even more significant for Boise State because the heat they'll encounter in the Deep South a few days removed from August will be something new, although the 7:15 ESPN kickoff will ameliorate that factor. The road disadvantage is especially important for Boise State, as one of the comments to CFR's post made clear:

"Boise dropped considerably last year relative to their form the two years prior--a quick look at their 2004 games away from the Smurf Turf shows this:

"@UTEP: 47-31 (was 41-31 before Hawkins, inexplicably, had the QB run a TD in on the last play of the game--and keep in mind this was before UTEP had any sort of self-confidence)
@Tulsa: 45-42
@San Jose St: 56-49 (2 OT)
@Nevada: 58-21

"Yes, Boise only played 4 road games last year, a schedule that would make HeismanPundit oh so proud.

"For the record, that's an average of 34 ppg against (not including OT), against a relatively weak slate of offenses--by which, I mean these four teams managed a total of 70 pts in 6 games against BCS opponents last season (though their production fattened up while playing WAC opposition)."

4. Then there's this gem of an argument:

"As for the Georgia offense---despite his acclaim as a quarterback and offensive guru, Mark Richt's only been so-so offensively at Georgia. His squads have put up decent but unexplosive averages of 27.6PPG, 32.1PPG, 26.5PPG and 27.9PPG. In four seasons the Bulldogs have cracked the 30 PPG barrier just once! Yet this outfit is annually regarded as one of the nation's elite offenses. The talent is there, but the production less so. But look at Boise State in that same time period; 34.3PPG, 45.6 PPG, 43.0 PPG and 48.9 PPG. Mind you, many would argue those points came against inferior defensive opposition, but two valid counter-arguments are that their league mates are also more accustomed to facing some kind of sophisticated offense in any given season, thus making them more prepared to face such an offense (yet judging by Boise's totals remaining high, completely incapable of stopping said offense). The other argument is that regardless of conference, any team that has a truly balanced offense (Hawai'i need not apply) and is putting up those kinds of numbers should reasonably be expected to put up similar totals in any other conference."

CFR is absolutely right about Mark Richt not being a great offensive coordinator. His skills as a head coach lie more in the underrated aspects of the position - hiring and maintaining a good staff, recruiting, etc. - and less in x's and o's. However, when CFR tries to justify Boise's offensive numbers as somehow not tainted by the fact that they play in the WAC, a conference that he later concedes is "offensive," his argument that Boise could score just as much on Georgia or against other SEC opponents borders on idiotic. Aside from the Tommy Bowden/Bobby Petrino/Dirk Koetter examples above, I can't fathom how CFR misses a simple point: Georgia is a lot more talented than Boise State. All the pretty schemes in the world don't matter if you can't block an opponent's pass rush. Man on man, Boise's offensive linemen will not be able to handle Georgia's defensive line. Steve Spurrier would have learned the same lesson if he would have taken Duke linemen into the SEC. With Florida talent, it was a different story.

All of this, by the way, is causing me to examine my belief that Urban Meyer's offense is going to take the SEC by storm. I think that Meyer's offense is better than Hawkins', but I need to think longer about this.

Friday, June 24, 2005

It's Chinese New Year in the Football Recruiting Blogosphere!

Nothing excites a subculture quite like mainstream attention. Witness the release of Bruce Feldman's piece on uber-recruit Myron Rolle and the attention it has received among football recruitniks. (The article is available only to ESPN Insiders, but an amusing take on it from a Michigan perspective, i.e. a smarter, more ironic and detached perspective, can be found here.)

The best part of the imbroglio, other than the fact that it has confirmed Lorenzo Booker's allegations that Tom Lemming is an Irish shill who tried to sway him from Florida State to Notre Dame (a choice that's eerily reminiscent of the "Hitler was worse!" "No, Stalin was worse!" debates that often roil politically motivated amateur history fans), has been to watch the reaction on the Michigan Rivals board. Initially, when the allegations solely concerned Lemming/ND and Oklahoma, the denizens on that board reacted with "I always knew it" and "the NCAA really ought to do something about those jerks." Today, it's become apparent that Michigan's Rivals moderators also get their ox gored in the article, which has led to "I don't believe the article" and "those Ohio State fans were right about ESPN the Magazine.

(Incidentally, ESPN the Magazine does, for the most part, suck, but mainly because it spends too much time on fawning puff pieces on (oft-misunderstood) athletes and not enough time making actual investigatory news, such as the Ohio State expose that quoted former Buckeye Sam Maldonado as asking "what kind of degree could I get from Ohio State if none of their credits are honored anywhere else?" [That's a paraphrase.])

Interestingly, the article was written by Bruce Feldman, who is generally seen as being in the corner of the Florida programs (especially Miami, hence his passionate defense of Miami for taking Willie Williams) and USC. Those programs are in the running for Rolle, the top corner/safety prospect in the Class of '06, but he is thought at this stage to be favoring Oklahoma and Michigan. The article doesn't say boo about the Trojans, Noles, Gators, or 'Canes, but then again, even if it did, that wouldn't make Rolle any more likely to choose those schools.

Sadly, is there anyone who believes that the allegations against Lemming would have been printed if he was still working for ESPN? Then again, maybe they cut him loose because of his Notre Dame lust.

As 8-0 losses go, this wasn't a bad one

I can't get too upset at the Braves for getting shut out last night because of the way Dontrelle Willis was pitching. There cannot be a better pitcher in baseball right now. Aside from his distracting delivery, he was locating his pitches perfectly and he was in command of every pitch in his arsenal. Barry Bonds would have struggled to hit him last night. The game further indicated how important it was for the Braves to win the first two games of the series so they didn't have to beat Willis.

The encouraging news last night was a third straight good start from Jorge Sosa, who went six innings and allowed three runs on two Miguel Cabrera homers. I suspect that Carlos Delgado's presence behind Cabrera was the root cause in the two homers. Delgado came into last night with an OPS over 2.000 against Sosa and at one stage had homered off of him in five straight at-bats. Sosa was probably distracted by his presence and desperate to throw strikes to Cabrera so there wouldn't be anyone on base when Delgado arrived. Other than his Delgado issues, Sosa was very good last night, allowing only six baseunners in six innings.

Adam Bernero blew up for his second straight appearance and the third in his last five. He now has an ERA of 11.91 for the month and 6.25 for the season. I suspect that he's a couple appearances from being pushed to Kolb-world at the end of the bullpen bench, especially if Blaine Boyer continues to pitch well and Cox and Mazzone develop some trust in him. Incidentally, Bernero's line would have been even worse if not for a truly terrific catch by Brian Jordan in the right-center field gap with the bases loaded and no one out. The fact that the blast to the alley came off the bat of punch-and-judy Juan Pierre tells you all you need to know about Bernero's effectiveness last night.

I love soccer, part two

Fans and police in Sao Paulo, not wanting to be outdone by rioting Argentine Boca Juniors fans last week, took matters into their own hands last night and upped the ante with the following actions against Argentine River Plate supporters:

1. Stoning the River Plate buses on their way into the stadium.

2. Police brutality in the form of an attack with truncheons, but naturally not before the police tore down the River Plate fans' banner. To their credit, the resourceful River Plate fans responded by tearing up the wooden bleachers on which they were being attacked and using them as weapons against the policia. (You aren't a true fan until you've used the seat for which you paid good money as a weapon against rampaging law enforcement personnel.)

3. Throwing cups of water "and other liquids" at the River Plate fans from the upper tier. (This resolves the problem I always have at college football games: I drink a lot at a tailgate and then have to go to the bathroom, but the lines are always long and I don't want to miss any of the game. It turns out that the solution is the "LSU Molotov Cocktail": pee in a cup and throw it at opposing fans.)

I can't wait for the return leg. You know you're in for a good match when the visiting team's director says "The best would be to arrive by helicopter just before kick-off."

Two personal notes on this story:

1. I wrote a paper in college for a Latin American History class on stereotypes of Latin football in the European media. Got an "A" on it, to boot, although I got a bunch of strange looks from other people in the class after they had written papers on trade and illegal immigration. Anyway, the point was that the European media always plays up stories like the one I just linked because they essentially view Latin Americans as one step removed from savages. The question becomes "what would happen if the same violence took place in Europe"?

2. The Argentina-Brazil rivalry has always been near and dear to my heart because I rooted for Brazil as a youngster, while my brother Dan rooted for Argentina. This sibling rivalry, stoked by Argentina's 1-0 win over Brazil in the 1990 World Cup in which Brazil squandered chance after chance and lost when Argentina scored on their only shot of the game, found an outlet in a lengthy Super Nintendo Super Soccer rivalry, in which we created a detailed backstory about a stadium that straddled the Brazil/Argentina border and death camps throughout Argentina for Brazilians and anyone who came into physical contact with Brazilians. There was even a backstory for fictional Brazilian sub Gasar, relating to his propensity for flatulence. I guess you had to be there. (PS - I usually lost.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Billy Knight gets it

I really buy this reasoning:

"A lot of people have it etched in stone that everybody has to be a certain position - you have to fit into a mold, but that really isn't the way that I look at it. If you had him, Josh Smith, Al Harrington, all those guys to me are forwards. They can play some at either position and I think that's a positive for your team and for those players, so it gives them another opportunity to get on the floor. If you say he's a power forward, he's got to play the power forward spot only. You say he's a forward, maybe you're going to go with three forwards, so he can get on the floor at any time. . . . There's such a thing as him being a basketball player."

Positions are mostly overrated in basketball these days. Hell, if you look at the Eastern Conference, are there that many centers that would present a match-up problem for Al Harrington or Marvin Williams? The two-time Eastern Conference champions play a 6'9 power forward at center and they seem to do OK. Admittedly, a frontline of Harrington, Williams, and Josh Smith would be a rebounding liability because none of them can board like Ben Wallace, but if they committed to rebounding, there's no reason why they couldn't play together on the floor, especially with a strong rebounding guard like Josh Childress.

This whole "must have a seven-footer to play center" reasoning reminds me of a dilemma that Michigan has coming into this year. They have a deep receiving corps full of high school All-Americans, as well as two quality tight ends. They also have a major problem in that they lost their fullback from the past two years and don't have a ready replacement. Given that, why would they play a fullback when they would simply be taking snaps away from a better wide receiver or tight end? Why would the Hawks give an Obinna Ekezie major minutes when they can get a better player on the floor, even if that player isn't a true center?

Since when did pitching become more dangerous than U-Boat duty?

(Note for those not historically inclined: U-Boat duty was possibly the most dangerous position in World War II, with the exception of just about every infantry position in the Red Army in 1941.)

What is it with pitchers that they cannot stay healthy and then when they get hurt, it takes them obscene amounts of time to come back? At some stage, the Yankees and Red Sox are going to figure this out and develop eight-man rotations so they can be prepared for the inevitable maladies that strike hurlers. The Braves don't have their revenue, so they are vulnerable to instances like last night when Horacio Ramirez strained his groin scoring from third in the 5th inning. I played in a softball game with a collection of out of shape lawyers last night, there were 21 runs scored, and everyone managed to round third without putting him/herself on the 15-day DL (which is not to say that that's where Horacio is going to end up.) And the sad thing is that Ramirez was pitching very well last night when he got hurt.

At least Horacio's injury appears to be minor. Listen to Mike Hampton discuss his mysterious strained forearm in today's AJC:

"I don’t think it’s anything minor,” said Hampton, who has pitched once in five weeks and not since May 31. “I’m frustrated. I guess I’ll just hang out, do what they tell me to do. They can keep paying me not to play, I guess.”

The left-hander is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in nine starts this season. He’s scheduled to begin light throwing today, but didn’t sound confident.

“It ain’t no better,” he said of his forearm, which hasn’t responded to rest and extensive treatments, first prescribed by Braves doctors and reiterated by noted orthopedist James Andrews.

“We won’t know until he throws,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Andrews told him “at least” two more weeks of rest on June 8.

“And if it don’t work, wait another two weeks,” Hampton said. “So that’s where we’re at now.”

That's encouraging. If this was the NBA, I'd automatically be suspicious that this is another gambling ban on the sly, like the one that David Stern purportedly handed down to Michael Jordan after the '93 season. Bud Selig isn't nearly competent enough to pull that off.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A little-known anniversary

I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else, so here's your reward for visiting this remote redoubt of sports speculation (William Safire, eat your heart out with that alliteration):

It was 15 years ago today that Bobby Cox fired Russ Nixon, assumed managerial duties for the Braves, and made Leo Mazzone his pitching coach.

That move has worked out O.K.

Bobby Cox channels Dusty Baker

Last night was a good illustration of the precept that obsession with the "Moneyball" approach to baseball can sap the fun out of the game. The game was played on a picture-perfect summer night in Atlanta. The Braves played smart baseball (for the most part) against A.J. Burnett, working counts to get his pitch count up and to force him to throw them strikes. They chased him from the game after six innings and then Andruw Jones pounced on their bullpen. John Smoltz was completely dominant, allowing five hits and two walks over nine shutout innings. Hell, there was even a babe sitting in front of us, baring her thong every time she leaned forward.

And despite all of this, I was grumbling on the way home that Cox and Mazzone left Smoltz in for the 9th inning with a five-run lead after he had already thrown 110 pitches. For G-d sakes, the guy is 37 years old and has a history of elbow problems. You have a lead so big that even Dan Kolb would struggle to blow it. (Wait, let me think about that for a second.) Yes, Smoltz had a shutout going, but Cox is famous for thinking about the long-term and pitches 111 through 123 are not good for your only healthy, quality starter's arm. Yes, I'm sure that Smoltz said he was fine to throw the 9th and would have been angry if he would have been taken out. You're the manager, Grady Little, er, I mean Bobby Cox. Take him out! If the Baseball Prospectus' approach to pitcher abuse is right, then expect Smoltz to have trouble in upcoming starts after bearing such a workload in this one, especially if the Braves bring him back on three days rest against the Orioles on Saturday.

On the other hand, maybe Cox and Mazzone know a little more about Smoltz and pitching than I do.

Other thoughts:

1. I'm getting close to having a man-crush on Kelly Johnson. I've waited so long for the Braves' farm system to produce another hitter like Chipper who can lay off of crap and then whack good pitches to all fields. Last night, he turned on a Burnett fastball in the first inning, showing terrific bat speed, and got a double that led to the Braves' first run. He then drew a walk in the third to set up a potential rally that was squelched by a truly dreadful LaRoche at-bat (swinging at two pitches in the dirt from a hurler who had walked three batters in a row, then watching called strike three) and an unlucky instance in which Wilson Betemit hit a screamer right at Alex Gonzalez, who made a nifty play on the ball. Johnson then had a nice RBI chopper in the 5th for the Braves' second run. Johnson and Pete Orr were terrific last night, getting on base five out of six times against Burnett, working the count almost every time. Orr did get charged with two errors, although one was harsh, since it was on an absolute laser from the bat of Carlos Delgado. (The official scorer was in bizarro world last night. He gave the Marlins a hit on a soft liner that Furcal could have easily caught, then he tagged Orr and Betemit with errors on very difficult plays.)

2. Andruw continued to carry the team offensively. Orr and Johnson kept getting on base and Andruw kept moving them along or bringing them in. His Katyusha shot off of Chad Bentz put the game away and was a proper reward for the team's good job driving up Burnett's pitch count. He also did a good job in the first inning putting the ball in play to score Orr after falling behind 0-2 with runners in scoring position and one out.

3. Maybe I'm a nerd (wait, don't answer that,) but I highly recommend ESPN's Stat Pack when going to a baseball game. It's an easily printable score sheet (that allowed me to play Joe Simpson and Don Sutton during the game - "you can close the book on Burnett, six innings...") and complete batting and pitching stats for the teams. Without it, I wouldn't have known that Cox was playing Orr in place of Giles because Giles is 0/8 in his career against Burnett, or that A.J. Burnett's control is actually pretty good this year. Bore your companions at games; use the Stat Pack!

4. Why are the Marlins at .500 despite a seemingly very good roster? If last night's game is any indication:

a. They have dreadful Mike Lowell batting behind Cabrera and Delgado, which allows opposing pitchers to be careful with the Marlins' best two hitters. They also have Juan Pierre and his poor OBP in the lead-off spot, which means that their three best hitters - Castillo, Cabrera, and Delgado - typically come up with one out and no one on. In other words, they have a spotty lineup. Of course, that lineup will look a lot better against Horacio Ramirez than it did against John Smoltz.

b. Their bullpen outside of Todd Jones is dreadful, so when the Braves got past Burnett, they could feast Chad Bentz (31.50 ERA) and Travis Smith (7.20 ERA).

5. I love the way that Smoltz responds to a challenge. He decided that he needed to get back at the Marlins for tagging him on Opening Day, so what does he do? He twirls a shutout at them. Mazzone should get in his ear right now: "John, your challenge is to make it through the season without missing a start. Your detractors say you can't do it."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Braves Notes

1. This little nugget escaped me, but if you scroll down the page, you'll see that John Thomson is throwing again. Notice, he's throwing and not pitching, but he seemed to be the starter who would be out the longest because his injury - a torn ligament in a pitching finger - sounds worse than forearm tightness or a strained oblique, so sounds of progress are very encouraging. As I've said before, Thomson is one underrated pitcher. His return would be a major boost for the team.

2. Buster Olney, whose baseball blog is outstanding and worth the $4.95 I pay every month for ESPN Insider (the fact that ESPN the Magazine shows up in my mailbox every two weeks and gives me spare paper for tasks around the condo is another perk,) seems bullish on the Braves' chances of winning the division:

"Some predictions I wouldn't take back:

"1. The Braves winning the NL East. Right now, it looks like the Braves might actually finish out of the top stop in their division. They've been ravaged by injuries, from Mike Hampton to John Thomson to Chipper Jones, and you can't feel bad about giving the benefit of the doubt to Bobby Cox and Co."

Actually, upon reading that again, it looks like he's saying that the Braves aren't going to win the division, but he has a good excuse for picking them to win. Never mind.

3. The more I think about it, the more moving Rafael Furcal out of the lead-off spot makes sense. Right now, he has the most at-bats on the team, but he has the lowest on-base percentage of any player on the roster. Whether his shoulder is killing him or he has just forgotten how to hit, he needs to be moved down so if he continues to struggle, he'll have less of an impact.

4. When I look at the pitchers that the Marlins are throwing in this three-game series against the Braves - A.J. Burnett, Brian Moehler (and his 2.70 ERA,) and Dontrelle Willis - I am completely mystified that this team is behind the Braves in the standings. How is this possible for a team that has Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado in the middle of its lineup? Is it their bullpen, which has only one reliever with over 15 innings pitched and an ERA below four? Is it Al Leiter, eating up 63 innings with a 6.39 ERA? Is it Jack McKeon making the same mistake that Bobby Cox makes with Rafael Furcal and putting the light-hitting Juan Pierre (OBP of .300) in the lead-off role so he has the most at-bats on the team? Is it Mike Lowell, who has fallen off a cliff this year? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Let's not start sucking each other's....

With apologies to the Wolf, that's my take on the Braves' 4-3 road trip. Yes, it was nice to see a team that had been playing poor baseball win four out of six at a stretch. Yes, it's nice that they are staying within striking distance of the top of the division. That said, the team's offense came alive in two of the most hitter-friendly stadia in baseball against the following motley crew of starters:

RHP Pedro Astacio (2-7, 5.60)
RHP Ramon Ortiz (2-4, 6.10)
LHP Eric Milton (3-8, 7.97)
RHP Luke Hudson (1-1, 6.55)

Hopefully, the experience of hitting against these weak pitchers will give the bats some confidence, but it's a waste of time trying to read too much into an offensive outburst against those guys. If the Braves have solid performances against A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis this week, then we'll know that the team is officially playing better. Incidentally, the Braves go up against Dontrelle on June 23, the anniversary of their low-point in 2004: a 6-0 shutout loss to the Marlins and Brad Penny that represented their third loss in a row and dropped the team to six games under .500.

Other thoughts from the weekend:

1. I'm willing to accept Kelly Johnson's excellent performance with the bat as being more than just feasting on bad pitching. Even when he was 1-30, I liked watching him hit because he has terrific plate discipline and he tends to hit line drives. It was a matter of time before he started to hit and you'll have to take my word that I thought as much before he doubled his OPS in the space of a week. Maybe I'm crazy, but he reminds me of Chipper at the plate with his stance, his selectivity, and his swing. He doesn't have Chipper's power, but watching him hit makes me wonder why the Braves were fooling with Mondsi and Jordan for two months. His 12 walks equal Mondesi's total in 88 fewer at-bats. Right now, I feel far more comfortable with him in the lead-off role than I do with Furcal, whose shoulder apparently prevents him from hitting competently. I suspect that we'll see a lot of Betemit in place of Furcal in the coming months, especially if Wilson keeps hitting at a .330/.412/.636 clip. Now I'm channeling Lou Brown from Major League: there's two or three potential all-stars there.

1a. Incidentally, Johnson's .737 OPS, which is admittedly inflated by a small sample size and his torrid week, is .039 points higher than that of Aubrey Huff, the player whom the Braves were supposedly trying to acquire to solve their leftfield problem. The more I look at the mid-season trading market, the more I see overrated closers and otherwise average hitters whom the media in various cities are going to clamor for and then bitch when their hometown team shows that they "don't care about winning" by not mortgaging the future for them.

2. What in the name of Tom Browning has happened to the Reds' pitchers? How can a team assemble a good lineup with Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sean Casey, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Joe Randa and then let them die on the vine with a dreadful starting pitching staff? That's a wild card capable lineup and a Double-A pitching staff. Speaking of which, have the Reds produced a competent starting pitcher from their farm system in the past five years? Ten years? I'm not counting Brandon Claussen because he was already a prospect when they acquired him for Aaron F***ing Boone. Ditto for Aaron Harang from Oakland. If Reds fans want to know why their team sucks, it's because they can't produce starters from the minors, despite the fact that they draft high every year. As a result, they have to overpay for whiplash candidates like Eric Milton. That said, how are the Reds not electing to trade some of their glut of offense for competent pitching?

3. I worry for the Braves' bullpen. Because of the injuries to the starting staff, they are going with a four-man rotation right now. Of those pitchers, Jorge Sosa can't throw more than five innings because he's just come from the bullpen, Kyle Davies can't last into the later innings because opposing teams are figuring him out, and Horacio Ramirez can't go deep because his weak three true outcome (HR/K/BB)numbers have finally caught up with him. John Smoltz is the only reliable starter right now. If his elbow starts to act up, then we might as well light the 2005 team on fire and throw the ashes into the Ganges. On the other hand, if Hampton, Thomson, and Hudson get healthy, they'll come back to a deeper team with a better offense, plus they won't have too many innings on their odometer.

3a. Speaking of my favorite Braves this year, how about a shout-out for Jorge Sosa. If the past week ends up being a turning point or simply a stage that the Braves survived en route to later success, Sosa's two good starts (and the bullpen's shut-out work behind him) will be a forgotten reason why. Sosa has terrific stuff that again makes me wonder why he wasn't used more as a reliever earlier in the year. Plus, he has an Alfonseca-like flourish after strikeouts that makes me smile and miss EL PULPO!!!

4. On the Braves' stat sheet for 2005, three pitchers have ERAs over six:

Tom Martin - CUT!!!
Roman Colon - SENT DOWN!!!
Dan Kolb - ???

5. Please tell me you saw Adam Dunn's home run off of Smoltz on Thursday night. Wow. Moon shot doesn't do it justice; Probe to Pluto might be more apt. And the best part about it was that Dunn and Smoltz were yukking it up at first base later in the game after Smoltz singled. I get the sense that Smoltz likes to challenge great hitters when he has a lead and isn't miffed when they hit him. He gave up a cannon shot to Barry Bonds in the 2002 NLDS when pitching with a three-run lead and no one on base. Alternatively, Smoltz might be pulling a Maddux and setting Dunn up for an at-bat later this year. (Thankfully, the Braves see the Reds seven more times.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Thoughts from today's "Ask CFN"

1. I strongly recommend Phil Steele. Unlike most other previews, he gets outside of the usual cliches and actually analyzes stats and schedules critically. His predictions are routinely more accurate than those of the other magazines, which tend to echo one another. Fiutak's criticism of most previews as out-of-date by the time the games roll around is misplaced. If the only purpose of a pre-season preview was to provide a depth chart, then he would have a point. However, Phil Steele provides a ton of information, such as stats on programs for the past five years and consensus recruiting rankings for players on the three-deep. That kid of stuff is useful throughout the season. Maybe this is the Moneyball fan in me peeking through, but I have a whole lot more respect for someone who has data to support his predictions than someone who just says "Tennessee looked great in their bowl game, so pencil them in for the top five," which is essentially what most previews do. Speaking of whichÂ…

2. I strongly disagree with ranking Tennessee in the top five defenses for 2005. They return nine starters from a defense that finished 9th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense, 7th in total defense, and 7th in scoring defense. Forget the 72 points they allowed in two games against Auburn or the 30 first downs they allowed against South Carolina. How does a good defense allow Vandy and Kentucky to go over 30 points? I'd take Auburn, LSU, or Georgia over Tennessee defensively. Tennessee still has an image of being a fast, effective defense, just like Michigan has an image of being a dominant running team, but both programs have shed those positive attributes over the past several years.

3. Is it a coincidence that Penn State and Alabama both had great defenses "despite" having terrible offenses last year? Is it possible that opposing offenses played very close to the vest, knowing that they didn't need to score more than 17 points to win? I'm not sure about the answer, but I think there's evidence that the "good defense/bad offense" phenomenon cuts both ways. I'd be interested in taking a look at other teams that finished in the top ten in total defense with bad offenses and how those defenses did the next year. I'd bet that their defenses tended to regress.

Evidence that Atlanta doesn't suck as a sports town

For all the guff that Atlanta fans take (and specifically Hawks fans,) this fact is pretty impressive, especially in light of the fact that the Finals involve no transcendent personalities (read: stars from major markets) and the games have been that deadly combination of uncompetitive and overly defensive. G-d bless fans in this town for watching the Finals; they're better basketball fans than I am. If the Hawks could just show something of a pulse, there would be loads of excitement here. I'm channeling William Wallace's speech to Robert the Bruce: "There is strength in you, I have felt it. And if you would just LE-EE-AD you r people to freedom, they would follow you. And so would I."

Post-script: thanks to, here's the actual quote: "Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I" It appears that I was channeling Luke Skywalker as well as William Wallace. Oops.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Why I love soccer

Think that the Swamp is a hostile venue? Think that Philly fans are rough for cheering when players are paralyzed? Boca Juniors fans laugh in your face and pull up your skirt. Can you imagine the media reaction in the U.S. if the following happened at a sporting event:

1. Several players head-butted one another;

2. A fan ran onto the field, punched a visiting player, and then scurried back into the stands;

3. A number of players were pelted with missiles from the crowd; and

4. The game was called when a mass of fans assembled and led a visiting player to show abject terror as he headed back to his area of the field.

Can you imagine "Old School/Nu Skool" after an episode like that. Skip Bayless' head would explode like the Death Star. Stephen A. Smith's saliva would coat the camera. In short, it would be the first installment of "Old School/Nu Skool" worth watching. And the number of overwrought "fans are over the line" pieces from typical, white, middle-aged, sports writers (TWMASWs) would be off the charts. Couldn't we send the Red Sox to play Boca Juniors in ping pong at the Bombonera?

Seven Strikeouts, No Walks

That sums up Jorge Sosa's night in Texas last night. Sosa has borderline electric stuff and has always had high strikeout rates, but the reason why he was available from Tampa for a utility infielder and why Cox and Mazzone didn't trust him even as the rest of the bullpen was imploding was his inability to avoid walks. Last night, he got ahead of just about every hitter and then punched them out once he had the upper hand. David Dellucci is probably still wondering what Sosa was throwing him. And let's not forget that Sosa was pitching to one of the best lineups in baseball in their home stadium, which is an offensive park. It's never a good idea to draw too many conclusions from one start, especially a start that only went five innings, but Sosa's performance was encouraging last night.

As usual, one good Braves performance has me thinking all sorts of optimstic thoughts. If this team can stay in striking distance of the top of the division, then some combination of the following might boost them into another hot July and August:

1. Chipper returns and bolsters a lineup that clearly misses him;

2. Giles and Furcal (especially Furcal) play up to their potential and allow the middle of the order to hit with runners on;

3. Adam LaRoche starts to hit like he did in the second half of last season;

4. Kelly Johnson, Andy Marte, and Ryan Langerhans all follow LaRoche's pattern from last year and hit better and better as they see more major league pitching; and/or

5. Thomson and Hampton return healthy and the Braves again have the best starting rotation in the division.

And now, to bring the room down for a moment, let's consider the implications of Tim Hudson's recent struggles and the rumors that he has oblique problems again. Assuming that this condition will only get worse as he ages, the Braves will face a future where roughly half of their payroll will be consumed by Hudson, Chipper Jones, and Mike Hampton, all of whom are aging, oft-injured, and on the downward slopes of their careers. There's a pleasant thought.

Great post on schedule strength since 1993

This post is from my favorite Michigan board and, unfortunately, it omits Georgia, but it's pretty interesting for some of the major powers in college football:

"I looked at 14 Division 1-A programs using Sorenson's rating system and data base to compare them in terms of schedule strength and their relative success against Top 10, Top 25 and Top 50 teams for each season between 1993 (when Penn State joins the conference and the 85-scholarship limit is implemented) and 2004. I picked marquee named teams from the different BCS conferences and Notre Dame for the comparison. All these rankings include bowl games as well as the regular season.

Here's the won-loss rankings of these teams during the 1993-2004 time period from the highest to the lowest winning percentage:

1. Florida State (124-25-1)
2. Nebraska (124-28)
3. Tennessee (119-31)
4. Miami-FL (114-31)
5. Ohio State (116-33-1)
6. Florida (117-34-1)
7. Michigan (111-37)
8. Texas (108-39-2)
9. Oklahoma (100-47-1)
10. Southern Cal (98-48-2)
11. Penn State (96-49)
12t. Louisiana State (90-53-1)
12t. Notre Dame (90-53-1)
14. Alabama (82-65)

Sorenson gives each team a strength-of-schedule raking for each season. Here's the average SOS ranking for these teams over the 12-year period with the programs ranked highest to lowest:

1. Florida State - 13.3
2. Florida - 14.7
3t. Miami FL - 17.7
3t. Notre Dame - 17.7
5. Southern Cal - 18.4
6. Michigan - 21.5
7. Ohio State - 23.3
8. Alabama - 25.3
9. Tennessee - 25.7
10. Penn State - 27.8
11. Nebraska - 29.8
12. Louisiana State - 31.3
13. Oklahoma - 32.3
14. Texas - 41.2

Using Sorenson's power rankings, here's the number of Top 10 teams each program has faced during this period with the won-loss record:

1. Florida - 37 (14-22-1)
2. Tennessee - 29 (11-18)
3. Florida State - 28 (12-15-1)
4. Michigan - 26 (11-15)
5. Nebraska - 25 (12-13)
6. Louisiana State - 24 (6-18)
7t. Southern Cal - 23 (6-17)
7t. Oklahoma - 23 (8-15)
7t. Notre Dame - 23 (2-21)
10t. Texas - 22 (6-16)
10t. Ohio State - 22 (10-11-1)
12t. Alabama - 21 (1-20)
12t. Miami-FL - 21 (9-12)
14. Penn State - 17 (1-16)

Here's the listings for Top 25 teams that each school has played:

1. Florida - 68 (37-30-1)
2t. Ohio State - 60 (32-37-1)
2t. Florida State - 60 (39-20-1)
4. Michigan - 56 (31-25)
5t.Tennessee - 55 (29-25-1)
5t. Notre Dame - 55 (31-33-1)
7t. Alabama - 53 (17-35-1)
7t. Louisiana State - 53 (19-34)
9. Penn State - 52 (20-32)
10. Southern Cal - 49 (21-27-1)
11. Oklahoma - 48 (22-25-1)
12. Miami-FL - 47 (27-20)
13. Nebraska - 46 (26-20)
14. Texas - 45 (18-27)

Here's the listing of the Top 50 teams played by each program:

1. Southern Cal - 100 (57-41-2)
2. Florida State - 99 (74-24-1)
3. Florida - 97 (63-33-1)
4t. Michigan - 95 (61-34)
4t. Notre Dame - 95 (44-50-1)
6t. Tennessee - 91 (60-30-1)
6t. Alabama - 91 (39-51-1)
8. Ohio State - 90 (58-31-1)
9. Penn State - 87 (44-43)
10t. Oklahoma - 85 (46-38-1)
10t. Nebraska - 85 (59-26)
12. Miami-FL - 82 (54-28)
13. Louisiana State - 84 (37-47)
14. Texas - 80 (41-37-2)

There's been discussion on this board regarding Michigan's non-conference schedule, etc., but when you look at the numbers, UM does pretty well against a number of its contemporaries. Not quite at the level of a Florida or Florida State, but certainly in the upper third of the 14 teams that were researched."

My thoughts:

1. I always ripped on Florida State for joining the ACC and playing a sub-standard schedule, but these computer ratings clearly debunk that myth. Playing Florida, Miami, and a major bowl opponent every year did wonders for their strength of schedule and makes their streak of top four finishes even more impressive, especially since pollsters are not noted for taking strength of schedule into account.

1a. As I would have expected, Florida has played the most top ten and top 25 teams. There's no way to escape the fact that they have the toughest schedule set-up in the country, since they play Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia every year. No one else plays a foursome of similar power. How dominant did Spurrier's teams have to be to play for the national title in consecutive years against that level of opposition? (I suppose that LSU and Georgia being down in 95-96 helped.)

2. On the other end, Texas has the weakest schedule by a significant margin and also has the worst record against top 25 and top 50 opponents. I was going to write a lot of that off as a function of playing in the Southwest Conference, but the Horns were in the Big XII for all but three of the years measures. I was also going to write their numbers against quality opponents off as a function of David McWilliams and John Mackovic, but Mack Brown has been the head man in Austin for seven of the 12 years covered in this study. Texas has two major rivals - Oklahoma and Texas A&M - and they haven't been up at the same time, so they've typically only played one top team a year. You combine that with a game against Baylor, 1-2 games against Missouri, Iowa State, or Kansas, and a typically weak non-conference schedule, and you have a recipe for an average schedule. Their weak numbers against top 25 teams ought to give us major pause before anointing them #2 in the country this year.

2a. Three of the bottom four teams in the strength of schedule rankings are Big XII teams. Toughest conference in the country, my ass.

3. Penn State's strength of schedule is lower than either Michigan or Ohio State's, which is probably a function of their weak non-conference schedule. Their 1-16 record against top ten teams is abysmal, topped only by Alabama's 1-20. I suppose that Notre Dame's 2-21 record is also in the same ballpark. Fans have been wondering over the past couple years what happened to these three major powers, probably not realizing that their decline has been a long-term phenomenon.

3a. And speaking of the Irish, these numbers debunk the notion that their schedule is tougher than anyone else's and is therefore the reason why they have struggled over the past decade. They are middle of the pack in terms of top ten and top 25 opponents. If Florida and Florida State can win against tough schedules, then why can't the Irish? Probably because they ran off their Bowden/Spurrier and replaced him with Bob Davie and Ty Willingham.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No, I'm pretty sure that you aren't G-d, Wyatt

File this under "truth is stranger than fiction." There has to be a mad rush on Florida Gator message boards right now to come up with the best one-liner to describe Florida State's starting quarterback proclaiming himself to be "G-d" or the "Son of G-d." Initially, I would say that he's simply trying to get in good with Saint Bowden and his on-going religious war against the government to let Fisher DeBerry rename his team "Christ's Air Force." Upon further examination, the Bonnaroo reference makes it pretty clear that Wyatt got his hands on some truly powerful shrooms and they knocked him into the sort of place The Beatles were in when they wrote "Sargeant Pepper." (By the way, it's clear that Ivan Maisel has no idea what Bonnaroo is, based on his description in the article.) Sexton's performance in the middle of the street isn't quite the menace to society that we've come to expect from Florida State players, but if he really responded to the pressure of being the FSU starter by going insane, then he's certainly not the right guy to lead an alleged top ten team.

And on a related note, Miami becomes a smidge more likely to win the national title now that their trip to Lower Alabama will entail facing either a redshirt freshman or a guy who had a psychotic break 12 weeks before the opener.

The Top 25, according to compulsive gamblers

Based on the odds in Vegas, here's the Top 25 for next season in college football:

1. USC
2. Texas
3. Miami
4. (tie) Tennessee, Oklahoma
6. (tie) Florida, FSU, Michigan, Ohio State
10. (tie) Iowa, LSU
12. Virginia Tech
13. (tie) Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M
16. Louisville
17. (tie) Alabama, Boston College, K-State, Nebraska, Wisconsin
23. (tie) Arizona State, Cal, Texas Tech

A few thoughts:

1. There is (or at least oughta be) a slight difference between ranking the Top 25 and ranking teams based on their likelihood of winning the national title. The former should solely be a measure of which teams are better than the teams ranked below them; the latter combines an evaluation of a team's merits with the ease of their schedule.

2. The rankings reflect the gambling public's view of the hierarchy in college football this year (or the casinos' views of the gambling public's views.) Thus, in a way, this is nothing more than a public poll, although the public in question is generally very knowledgeable, especially the gamblers who put down the most money and therefore weight the rankings the most.

3. USC is an obvious #1, but I'm not sold on any of the next three. Texas is overrated because of their performance in the Rose Bowl last year, but we'll see how Vince Young does without Cedric Benson in the backfield to take pressure off. On the other hand, they did hire former Auburn DC Gene Chizik, so an offensive regression could be paired with defensive improvement. Miami has major questions. Aside from their QB issues, they haven't run the ball well in several years and they are replacing a lot of talent. Additionally, their two toughest games - FSU and Virginia Tech - are on the road. Tennessee is overrated because their defense was dreck last year and I'm not buying their hype until they come close to showing a national title caliber defense. Plus, they go to Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Notre Dame. Good luck running that gauntlet.

4. LSU presents great value at #10. They have as much talent as any team in the country and their schedule is very favorable. Plus, Les Miles is at least as qualified for that job as Nick Saban was when he arrived from Michigan State. Miles is an offensive guy, which LSU needed, and he adds a great defensive coordinator in Bo Pelini, who is coaching for a major head coaching gig. I'm also surprised that Virginia Tech is behind Miami and FSU, since the Hokies return more starters from a team that was better last year and their schedule is more favorable.

5. How is Louisville so low, given their returning starters and weak schedule. On the other hand, maybe Vegas is telling us something about them. Mid-majors rarely live up to high rankings.

6. How is Wisconsin on the list, given that they were overrated last year, they lose all the good parts of their 2004 team, and their schedule is tougher? And Purdue isn't on the list with 18 returning starters and a schedule that omits Ohio State and Michigan and sees Iowa and Notre Dame come to West Lafayette.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Great article from Peter Gammons on bullpen problems

And speaking of bullpens, the Braves aren't the only team in search of help in that area. To me, the article highlights that trading for new relievers won't necessarily be a panacea because those guys have often over-performed early in the season in a small sample-size of innings and their teams have often overused them. Internal solutions or waiver-wire pick-ups (see: Wright, Jaret) are the best solution.

And then there's this problem with assembling a bullpen:

"If teams like the Yankees and Red Sox can develop some of their own power arms, they wouldn't have to spend $6 million a year for pitchers like Steve Karsay. It would also allow them to avoid a major problem: Do they know that even if a Mesa or Grabow performs in Pittsburgh that he can pitch in a pennant race in one of the tough cities? See Hawkins. Or the Jay Witasick/Mark Wohlers experiment in New York in 2002. Or Sauerbeck, Jones and Jeff Suppan in Boston in 2003. Or, for now, Kolb in Atlanta."

The fact that bullpen success is so variable from year to year highlights the impressiveness of the Braves' streak of divisional titles. They've been able to win consistently despite the fact that they, like the rest of the teams in baseball, can't count of consistent performances from relievers (with limited exceptions for great pitchers like John Smoltz) from year to year. A lot of credit should also go to Leo Mazzone for consistently doing a good job with the pen, although the current crop don't seem to be responding to him.

Where is Rick Luecken when we need him?

For those who weren't watching the Braves during their seven years of famine, Luecken was a disaster of a middle reliever for the Braves during the 1990 season. My brother and I would joke about seeing him on the Arsenio Hall Show some day, after his third straight 60-save, Cy Young award-winning season and the thought of this guy emerging to a studio full of woofing fans before doing a seven-step hug with Arsenio was the height of comedy. I don't know what dates me more: the reference to the Braves as one of the worst teams in baseball or the Arsenio Hall Show fantasy. I digress.

The point is that Luecken would fit right in with the Braves' current bullpen. They went 2-4 on their homestand, including losing two of three to an Oakland team that had lost eleven in a row on the road coming in. In all four losses, the Braves' bullpen was a chief culprit:

Monday night - Cox is forced to leave Smoltz in in the 8th inning when it's clear that he's out of gas and as a result, a 2-1 lead becomes a 4-2 loss.

Wednesday night - Tim Hudson exits a 4-4 game and the bullpen proceeds to turn that situation into an 8-4 loss.

Friday night - Kyle Davies exits a 4-4 game and Roman Colon's fine pitching turns that into a 6-4 loss.

Sunday afternoon - Horacio Ramirez exits a 4-4 game and the bullpen completely implodes, led by the rapidly decomposing Adam Bernero. Final score: 11-5.

Part of the problem is the offense, which can't hit opposing bullpens. (Notice how the Braves' score didn't increase in the late innings of each loss? Think the pressure of an extended dry spell is getting to the hitters in the late innings of close games?) However, the Braves could stomach a below-average offense because of their "strong to...quite strong" starting pitching, but only if they had a bullpen that could get anyone out. To their credit, the organization isn't standing pat, as they made a series of moves, including the much anticipated demotion of Colon. They also demoted Brayan Pena, who demonstrated no plate discipline or power during his brief stint in Atlanta (23 at-bats, three singles, one walk, five strikeouts, no extra-base hits). Blaine Boyer didn't look like much of a solution yesterday, as he allowed one run and would have allowed more if not for great plays in the field by Andruw and Giles. (That reminds me: the defense was outstanding yesterday. Giles, Furcal, Langerhans, and Andruw all made great plays to support the Braves' sub-standard pitching. Andruw generally had a terrific weekend, but the bullpen has ensured that he'll get little credit.) Jorge Vasquez had great stats for Mississippi, but we'll see how he does when he's pitching against the Rangers instead of the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.

Aside from the Braves' poor pitching and the fact that they essentially had three pitchers in the batting line-up (Ramirez, Pena, and Brian Jordan), yesterday wasn't a great day at the park for other reasons. I got a sunburn in a game that featured a rain delay, which was really the worst of all possible worlds. When we moved under an overhang and then tried out new seats down the rightfield line in a virtually empty section, we were ejected by an usher. Apparently, our "these seats are worse than the ones for which we actually have tickets and this section is almost completely empty" reasoning doesn't work with people who have no ability for abstract thought. The upshot was that my psychologist wife got to explain that whole brain principle as the bullpen collapsed, so the game wasn't a total loss.

A couple other thoughts:

1. Horacio did not look good yesterday. Most annoyingly, he walked the lead-off hitter in each of the first three innings. For an alleged contact pitcher who doesn't strike many batters out, this was a disturbing sign. I predicted that he would have problems in the 5th, based on the fact that he'd struggled through four and his luck was likely to run out against the top of the A's order, not that one had to be a rocket scientist to see trouble coming.

2. The home runs that Adam Bernero surrendered yesterday were not cheap. Chavez's blast was to the spacious right-center alley and Kotsay's shot was a line drive scorched right down the line. I predicted his bad inning as well, but still had to go fishing for compliments from the wife.

3. The combination of Barry Zito pitching and Jason Kendall catching deterred Furcal from trying to steal second. Zito, by the way, was unimpressive. His velocity isn't especially good, which forces him to constantly nibble. He had to throw 80 pitches through the first three innings and barely averted a disaster when Andruw just missed a three-run homer in the first.

Friday, June 10, 2005


I'm at a firm retreat near Dulles Airport with no Braves game to discuss, so here are the odds and ends going through my mind right now:

1. On the plane ride up here yesterday, it seemed as if half the men onboard were either wearing Nationals caps or were discussing the team. Their season must be like what the Braves' '91 season was like for us...except for the fact that we had lived through seven years of terrible baseball, whereas DC is getting a winner in their first season. I know that deserve's got nothing to do with it, but does a city really deserve a winner in their first year of having a team? It was bad enough that the Marlins won in year seven and the D-Backs won in year four, but what about a team winning in year one?

1a. On the other hand, I prefer the Nats to the obnoxious Mets, the unsupported Marlins, or the Phillies and their "abuse makes us good fans" support.

2. More signs of my decline as a sports fan: last night, I could have watched the Finals, but I preferred to drink and schmooze. (About what? I'm a little hazy on those details. I think I made fun of transactional lawyers.) I was also talking to a couple Texas grads and when the topic of the Rose Bowl came up, I changed the subject so the woman sitting with us could talk about her high school sorority in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. What the hell happened to me? I used to revel in Michigan's losses as something fun to complain about. Now, I change the subject. I liked the old me better.

3. We just had a seminar on visualizations to use at cocktail parties to aid in interacting with new people. I'm apparently supposed to think of a house with kids and pets and a palm tree and remember what they represent. In my own mind, I just think about one thing: a football helmet. At cocktail parties, my sole motivation is to turn the topic to sports (except when painful Michigan losses are involved) and talk about that until I decide that the talkee doesn't like the subject. Then, I sputter around like the T-1000 in the vat of molten metal at the end of Terminator 2. I am figuring out that most people like to talk about their kids, but is marketing success really worth constant boredom on my part?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Boooo! Boooooo!!! BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, it was just a reflex from last night. I was praying that there wouldn't be any little children around us last night so I can harangue Darrin Erstad with "I hope you get Syphilis!" and "Did you learn to hit like that from Christian Peter? Or maybe Lawrence Phillips?" Unfortunately, there were kids around and the experience of being reprimanded by an angry parent at a Michigan-Michigan State game for adding a string of obscenities to MSU's fight song stays with me to this day. (If I had a pair, I would have reminded this guy that he brought his child, in a Michigan State jacket, into the Michigan student section and he would have to live with my filthy mouth.) The sad thing last night is that the kid was with his Dad and Dad's two friends, both of whom were about as weathered and red as two people could be and they were double fisting $6.25 beers for the whole game. What a glorious example to set. It did lead to a nice discussion between my brother Dan and I, playing the "guess which suburb they're from" game. He went with Villa Rica; I commended him for the 20 West/85 South decision and then went with Carrollton. Oh, about the game:

1. A surprisingly strong outing from Horacio Ramirez, who gave the Braves eight strong innings. That said, he wasn't especially strong on his three true outcomes - one homer allowed, two walks, three strikeouts - and was lucky in a couple instances that line drives were hit at people. (On the other hand, Bengie Molina's homer looked like an opposite-field pop-up.) He was also very lucky in the 8th inning that Darrin Erstad's towering blast that would have put the Angels ahead hooked foul, although I would have attributed that disaster to Cox and Mazzone for leaving Ramirez in after getting tagged by Robb Quinlan (who was hitting .164) and Chone "What the hell is wrong with nice, normal Sean?" Figgins for extra base hits. The last two nights have illustrated one of two things: 1) Cox, for all of his strategic success, is not a good tactician in some areas and one of those areas is pulling pitchers, since he's left tired starters in in the 8th inning of the past two games; or 2) Cox has no faith in his bullpen, other than Chris Reitsma right now. Last night, though, the Angels' 2-3-4 hitters were all lefties and Cox had John Foster available, having only thrown 1.2 innings in the past six games and still not having allowed an earned run this year.

2. Celebrity sightings at Hawks games: Jamie Foxx, Michael Vick, Samuel L. Jackson, Terrell Owens, Ludacris, Lil' Jon, Big Boi. Celebrity sighting at the Braves game last night: Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. Big ovation.

3. Andy Marte's debut was pretty good. For all the hype, I expected four homers and several Caminiti-esque throws across the diamond. Instead, Marte went 0-3 with an RBI and a fly-out to the wall in left. He also made a beautiful defensive play on a bunt. The most encouraging sign from him was that he got ahead of Byrd in his first two at-bats, which allowed him to take some cracks at swinging for power.

4. Aside from Ramirez, the hero last night was Ryan Langerhans, who had three singles and made a terrific throw from the wall in left to almost nail Figgins at second in the 8th. Furcal also played a pretty good game. He was very unlucky not to knock in a run in the second when he hit a screamer at Adam Kennedy at second with two on. He made up for it with a homer in the 7th and he used his normal, short swing to hit the ball out, which means that he won't necessarily change his swing after showing a little power. He also got to show off his arm for the final out, which is always a treat.

5. The Angels miss Vlad Guerrero in a big way. Not only is he their best hitter, but he leaves them very vulnerable to left-handed pitching. They also aren't a very deep team, as evidenced by the fact that their two pinch hitters last night were Quinlan (542 OPS) and Jeff DaVanon (573 OPS). You know you're in a world of hurt when a Braves fan is mocking your offensive stats.

6. I don't put that much stock into batting orders, but batting Brian Jordan, the weakest hitter in the line-up, other than Brayan Pena and the pitcher, clean-up doesn't make much sense. I guess he can handle the "pressure" better than Andruw or one of the youngsters, but the guy has no power anymore.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Renegade Program?

The discussion on Mayhem this morning was about the latest "black eye" for the Georgia football program: Derrick White's dismissal for a DUI. The conclusion seemed to be that Georgia gets a pass because Richt wins games and is a personally upstanding guy. Personally, I think that's unfair. Georgia certainly hasn't been taking questionable characters into their program. Look at the rejection of Michael Grant last year for comparatively minor offenses as an example. When the players have arrived in Athens, Richt certainly hasn't been lax in punishing them. He hasn't invoked the "Warsaw Rules" to keep his kicker eligible or given light punishment to players like a forgiving New Testament G-d. (Incidentally, the dichotomy between a wrathful Old Testament G-d and a forgiving New Testament G-d is a bunch of BS, but that might be a little far afield for this Blog.) Finally, most of the offenses committed by Georgia players have been weed, which is harmless, and driving while impaired, which is bad, but is still non-violent. (Negligent is the best way to describe it.)

If Richt isn't bringing in bad characters, he's disciplining them when they arrive, and the players aren't raping and pillaging Clarke County, then what else is the coach supposed to do? What, pray-tell, is the solution? (How childish of me to actually ask for solutions.)

We're F***ed

Let's see:

40% of the pitching rotation from the start of the season is on the DL for the foreseeable future. Another 40% of the rotation is a serious injury risk. The final 20% can't get anyone out.

Chipper Jones is on the disabled list and possibly out for the entire season with an injured toe, thus illustrating why teams don't give out seven-year contracts anymore such that they're paying them big dollars in their late 30s. Well, teams other than the Mets.

The four players that I identified as the key to the season were Giles, Furcal, Andruw, and LaRoche. None of them currently have an OPS above .800, led by Furcal, a lead-off hitter with a microscopic .278 OBP and a bad shoulder. (Actually, this point is a cause for optimism. There's no way that these four will play as badly for the rest of the season as they have for the first two months. If the Braves get torrid in the summer as they've been wan to do over the past several years, then these guys will be the reason, along with the starting pitching, of course.)

The bullpen is listing like the Lusitania. The closer from April has been demoted and is probably a couple bad performances from getting axed from the team entirely. The current closer is pitching well, but has a history of burning out when he has to throw too many innings. The rest of the pen is dicey, with the exception of John Foster, who apparently won't give up an earned run all season.

On the bright side, we have enough injuries now to make me feel good about the end of the 13-year streak of divisional titles. (Actually, the bright side is bigger than that. We're getting a look at the future with Davies, Langerhans, Johnson, Marte, and possibly Francoeur in a couple months. Plus, the defense has been generally solid.)

I hope that I look back on this post in September and laugh at the pessimism, but it's hard seeing this team win with such a wrecthed offense and unhealthy pitchers.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

We're all Chowderheads now

Fortunately, I was out of town this weekend and unable to partake in the sweet nectar that was the Braves amassing four runs in three games against the mighty Pirates. Instead, I was in Boston, visiting my best friend from college, Josh. As I sit and swelter in an apartment without air conditioning in 85 degree heat, here are my observations:

1. People in this town LOVE the Red Sox. I've never seen a city where the local baseball cap is more ubiquitous. Maybe Alabama football and the Packers in the NFL are in the same league, but the rest of the list is pretty short. How much do people here love this team? There was a guy on the T today with a Doug Mirabelli t-shirt. Yes, that's right, the Sox' back-up catcher. There was an elderly woman on the train talking in Italian with her husband and then talking about the Sox. Josh's roommate has no fewer than three DVDs from the Sox' '04 season, which probably isn't abnormal. At a bookstore in Brookline, there was virtually an entire shelf on the Red Sox. Interestingly, there was nothing on the Patriots (or the sport of football,) which means that either football fans are illiterate or people in Brookline just like the Sox more than the Pats.

Generally speaking, there was one Pats reminder for every ten of the Sox. To a certain extent, that's understandable because of the season, but Josh confirmed that the Sox are just more popular than the Pats. I got to thinking about why that is. Part of the reason is the same as why college sports in the South are bigger than pro sports: deeper roots. The Sox date back to the turn of the century, while the Pats are an invention of the 60s. The Sox have a great, traditional home; the Pats played in a dump outside of town and then threatened to move to Hartford. The Sox found noble, excrutiating ways to lose. The Pats, for the most part, just sucked. The Sox had Ted Williams. The Pats had...Steve Grogan?

In short, I was annoyed by the excessive love-in that the media had with the Red Sox last year when they finally won the World Series, but putting that aside, their fans truly treat the team as a religion and it was nice for them to win. I've always been a believer that, in the sports world, Clint Eastwood put it best in "Unforgiven": "deserve's got nothing to do with it." However, if anyone deserved to win a World Series, it was the Red Sox.

2. We took a tour of JFK's birth home and managed to avoid asking pointed questions about "is this where Jack first learned to charm a woman?" and "was Joe Sr. a Nazi sympathizer at this point or was that later?" I did buy a JFK bookmark to mark my place in "The Best and the Birghtest", which is about how his administration full of accomplished intellectuals managed to make the Vietnam mistake. Jack alwasy did appreciate irony.

3. I had to restrain my laughter when listening to some of the accents, which I guess most Northerners have to do when they come down South. It was amazing how many women actually talk like Rachel Dratch's Zazu character from Saturday Night Live.