Friday, July 29, 2005

Some early lines

Here are the early lines on some of the bigger games early in the college football season. While there is a school of thought that it's foolish to bet on games months in advance without knowing who the starters are and who's injured, there's also a school that says that you can get great lines months in advance before the rest of the public has come to their senses on certain picks. With that statement out of the way, here are the lines that jump out at me:

Ohio State (+1) vs. Texas - The Bucks are overrated and all, but at home at night against a one-dimensional offense? Their linebackers and defensive braintrust are much, much better than Michigan's, so using the Rose Bowl as a measuring stick for what Vince Young can do is a bad idea. The only question is whether Texas' defense, which is talented and should be very good under Gene Chizik, will eat up a Tressel-Bollman offense. Still, I'd feel pretty comfortable taking the Bucks in this one.

Miami (-3) at Florida State - I originally thought that the line was even, in which case I would have recommended betting the farm on the Canes, given that FSU is going to be starting a redshirt freshman quarterback who was prepared all summer by Jeff Bowden. (Incidentally, one nugget from Bruce Feldman's blog from the ACC meeting was that Leon Washington said that Florida State never adjusted to Miami blitzing Antrell Rolle off the edge, so he was repeatedly unblocked. Good work, Jeff.) At -3, though, I would stay clear. These games are usually close.

Florida (-3) vs. Tennessee - My thoughts on this one have already been made clear: Urban Meyer vs. John Chavis. Take the Gators.

Purdue (+2) at Arizona - Is this a sucker bet? Phil Steele's pre-season #3 is a dog at Arizona? Too good to be true? Probably.

Revisiting Biggie and Tupac...

we're going to get all "East Coast-West Coast" with College Football Resource, with whom we've rumbled for his Boise State-Georgia "Georgia has never seen an innovative offense, I guess because Bobby Petrino wasn't innovative when he was at Auburn" pick. Now, he's defending John Walters' whining about SEC teams not wanting to get on airplanes. He makes a few good points, but I'm not buying:

1. As an initial matter, Pac Ten fans crowing about their teams' trips out of their time zone is a little like Bill Clinton taking credit for coming clean about Monica Lewinsky after he found out that Kenneth Starr had his DNA on Monica's blue dress: it's taking credit for necessity. Pac Ten teams have to travel to play high quality out-of-conference opponents because there isn't another major conference in the Pacific time zone and because they need to sign deals with name opponents to put butts in the seats of their stadia. If Pac Ten teams could schedule out-of-conference games without having to give return trips, they would, but they can't because the home gate at Pac Ten stadia is significantly less than the home gate in SEC stadia. Oregon State has a small home stadium in the middle of nowhere; LSU has a massive stadium that's always filled. Of course it makes sense that the teams would play in Baton Rouge and not Corvallis, given the economics of the situation. Louisiana is also a terrific recruiting area, so it makes sense for the Beavers to go there, especially since they can't fill all of their recruiting needs at home; the reverse is not true for LSU.

2. CFR makes a good point when he says that out-of-conference scheduling is done years in advance, which makes the whole process of measuring teams based on the pre-season rankings a little silly. That said, there are "name" opponents who can reasonably be expected to be good in the future. All of the top 30 teams the SEC is playing, with the exception of Boise State, could be expected to be good at the time the game was scheduled. On the other hand, over half of the Pac Ten's games are against upstarts Fresno State, Utah, and Boise State that aren't "name" opponents and couldn't be expected to be this good when they were scheduled. (Maybe that isn't true for Fresno or Boise if the games were scheduled this century, as both were good by about 2000. Utah was on Ron McBride mediocrity until Pope Urban.)

3. And then we get to the inevitable "it's hard to get on a plane and fly five hours" argument. There is a little merit to this; there are physiological effects of traveling a distance to a new climate, as any fan of Brazil or Argentina would tell you from their teams' performances in World Cups in Europe. However, when you're talking about two or three time zones, the effects aren't that great. However, I think that just about any coach in America would rather travel two time zones to play Missouri than travel 90 miles to play Florida State. By far, the most important factor in evaluating the strength of non-conference schedules is the quality of the opponent. Everything else is atmospherics.

CFR points out that Michigan sucks every time they play a road game at a Pac Ten stadium and that's true, but Michigan also sucks every time they play at Notre Dame and South Bend is a four-hour bus trip from Ann Arbor. Unless there is some magical effect that hits Michigan players when they cross into Central time (and doesn't effect them in Big Ten road games,) then I think the conclusion should simply be that Lloyd Carr, for whatever reason, nuts up on the road in non-conference games, regardless of the time zone.

4. And this point was wholly unconvincing: "But keep in mind the Big Twelve doesn't have its butt kissed by the national media, and doesn't self-appoint as the best conference in all the land, no matter the year." Ever meet a Texan? Ever hear Trev Alberts talk? Ever notice that every Big XII team in a close call for a spot in the BCS Title Game (Nebraska in '01, Oklahoma in '03 and '04) gets the nod and then loses? (Hell, there was serious talk in '99 of one-loss Nebraska getting the Sugar Bowl spot opposite Florida State in place on unbeaten Virginia Tech.) The only way to fairly judge the SEC's scheduling is to compare it to the other major conferences. Why is this so complicated?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Our first warning sign on Vick

For those of you with ESPN Insider, click on the link above to read Len Pasquarelli's negative take on Michael Vick's performance at the practice that he attended. For those of you without Insider, take my word for it that Big Len was not impressed with the accuracy or footwork of our franchise quarterback. At this stage, I feel like a child in a storm, huddling under a blanket and muttering over and over the mantra: "The team wins with him and not without him." All of the evidence, from Pasquarelli's observations (and the article shows why I like Len; he's not afraid of whacking sacred cows, such that compliments that come from him actually mean something) to the analysis by film watchers like K.C. Joyner to statistical analysis from Football Outsiders to Ron Jaworski's purported off-camera comments that Vick won't be a quarterback in three years points to one conclusion: Vick is not a good passer. I'm at a loss to jibe all of those assessments with the fact that the Falcons have had very good seasons in Vick's two years as a starter.

An add-on to the John Walters evisceration

(By the way, am I the only one who thinks of REM Green when using the word "eviscerate"? You know, the line "Eviscerate your memory/here's a scene/you're in the backseat laying down/the windows wrap around to the sound of the travel and the engine." Here's the song if you want it. Green was one of the first rock albums I bought when I started to flower as a music fan in 1989 at the age of 14. We can now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)

I did a little grunt work and, using Stassen's composite pre-season rankings, measure the number of out-of-conference games major conference teams play against pre-season top 30 teams. Here are the results:

Pac Ten - 7 (ASU @ LSU, UCLA vs. Oklahoma, USC vs. Fresno State, Oregon vs. Fresno State, Boise State @ Oregon State, Oregon State @ L'ville, Arizona @ Utah)

SEC - 7 (Ark @ USC, Florida vs. FSU, Kentucky vs. L'ville, LSU vs. ASU, Georgia vs. Boise State, Auburn vs. Georgia Tech, Georgia @ Georgia Tech)

ACC - 5 (FSU @ Florida, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, Georgia Tech @ Auburn, Clemson vs. Texas A&M, UNC vs. Utah)

Big Ten - 4 (Ohio State vs. Texas, Northwestern @ Arizona State, Illinois @ Cal, Bowling Green @ Wisconsin)

Big XII - 4 (Texas @ Ohio State, Iowa vs. Iowa State, Nebraska vs. Pitt, Colorado vs. Miami)

As expected, the Pac Ten comes our in front, given their smaller size, but lo and behold, the SEC, that stereotypical collection of teams who refuse to play anyone good outside of the league, is right behind them. The Big XII being last is no shock; the exalted Big Ten coming in next-to-last is something of a surprise, although in their defense, if Notre Dame is a top 30 team, then their total shoots up. In any event, the point is that Walters' criticism is unfounded: the SEC's out-of-conference menu is just as good (if not better) than that of the rest of major college football.

Dear Washington...

And the fact that the kings of the one-run wins were swept in three one-runs games is delicious. Welcome to reality, Expos.

One other note: these "Soriano to the Mets" rumors scare me. Long-term, it will probably be a bad trade for the Mets since Alfonso will be a free agent at the end of the year, but in terms of this year, he could be the juice to get the Mets into the playoffs. I've thought for a couple weeks that the pennant race will end up being with the Mets and that trade would cement that fact. Between the Mets getting stronger and the Astros playing out of their minds, the Braves are going to have to hit better to make the playoffs again. Either that or Jeff Francoeur is going to have to continue his "Gregg Jefferies in 1988" run.

One reason to root for the Mets: the ideal conclusion to the season would be the Braves winning the division and the Mets winning the Wild Card because then the Braves would get the winner of the dreadful West and the Cards and Mets could bludgeon one another to death.

This has gone too far

We're up 5-4 on the Nats in the 8th with a chance to sweep and Bobby calls on Dan Kolb again? The same guy who blew a two-run lead in the 8th last night and a one-run lead in the 8th on Saturday night? Is the thinking that he can't possibly blow three appearances in a row? Is this like doubling your bet in blackjack after a run of bad luck? Usually when I do that, I end up in my room ten minutes later, muttering and deciding "well, I've already lost a bunch; what's another eight dollars on a bottle of water?" Oh, and Danny boy is facing the meat of the Nats' lineup, such as that may be.

Update: Kolb miraculously gets the first out, then remembers that he's Dan Kolb and allows consecutive singles. With runners on the corners, two outs, and his former four-run lead about to evaporate, Bobby summons Macay McBride, who pitches Dan out of his latest blunder. I'm interested to see who pitches the 9th, since Reitsma has been used for the last two nights. Blaine Brower, possibly?

John Walters makes me grumpy

Whomever had July 28 in the "which national columnist will make the first ill-reasoned crack about SEC teams not playing challenging non-conference games" pool wins a prize thanks to John Walters.

Specifically, how in the world does he get off making this statement: "Shame on Auburn, Florida and LSU for playing it safe." Yeah, Florida, with Florida State, Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU - four perennial top 15 teams - on the schedule on an annual basis needs to be traveling to Columbus or Norman. LSU plays Arizona State; what's not intersectional about that? (If they don't return the trip, then maybe he has a point, although I'm sure that Tiger fans would retort that they are still waiting for Virginia Tech to appear in Baton Rouge after the Tigers made an unsuccessful trip to Blacksburg on my wedding day.) Auburn plays Georgia Tech, which is a perfectly reasonable non-conference challenge.

Generally, Walters simply doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are plenty of good out-of-conference match-ups within the Southeast BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY REGION IN THE COUNTRY WITH TWO HIGH-QUALITY CONFERENCES. Why should Auburn get on a plane and travel thousands of miles when they can play Georgia Tech and make a 90-mile bus ride? Ditto for Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, all of whom have in-state rivals that occupy their non-conference attention. Would Walters be upset if Tennessee dropped Notre Dame and picked up Louisville because that wouldn't be intersectional? (I just noticed this, but how is Kentucky-Indiana intersectional, but Auburn-Georgia Tech isn't? Does Walters need a map?)

And why is the SEC to blame for this trend? Let's take a look at the Big XII, shall we? Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, and Nebraska each play one cool intersectional game, but then you have such slates as the following:

Baylor - SMU, Samford, Army
Kansas - Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State, Louisiana Tech
Kansas State - Florida International, Marshall, North Texas
Missouri - Arkansas State, New Mexico, Troy
Oklahoma State - Montana State, Florida Atlantic, and Arkansas State
Texas Tech - Florida International, Sam Houston State, and Indiana State

Gee, that's only half the conference, why would we ever make fun of the Big XII for scheduling directional Florida schools as fast as they can? I wonder why Walters would make fun of the SEC despite the fact that the Big XII plays an objectively easier out-of-conference slate?

In an ideal world, teams would play more than one challenging non-conference game and maybe when we go back to 12-game schedules, they will. However, the norm right now for major conference teams seems to be one challenging game outside of the league and the SEC hews to that norm. The Pac Ten deserves a little credit for more challenging out-of-conference schedules, but let's face it: they have to do anything they can to get butts in the seats. UCLA isn't going to sell out the Rose Bowl unless they are playing an Oklahoma; Tennessee will sell out Neyland Stadium if they're playing Yale Law School.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Stop worrying about the Nationals...

and start worrying about the rest of the division. All of the focus in this city has been on the fact that the Braves are tied for first in the division despite an anemic offensive performance this weekend in Arizona and that the series against the Nats this week should propel the Braves into first place (although with the Braves' current hitting and the Nats' still-strong pitching, nothing is certain.) However, while the Braves are entering the easy part of their schedule (19 of 25 at home, 12 of which are against the weak NL West,) the other teams in the division are also playing games against the West and they are getting fat on those teams. The Marlins, Phillies, and Mets all played Western opponents last week and went a combined 13-5 while the Braves were going 3-3. In the Braves' defense, they were on the road for those games and it's always easier to play Western teams at home, as the Phillies and Mets did, than it is to travel three time zones and play. Anyway, my point is that the Braves' lead over the rest of the division is narrow, those other teams all played well last week, and the Braves' offense needs to pick up for a bunch of very winnable games in August so the team can get fat against the easy part of the schedule.

A few other thoughts:

1. I'm going to try not to read too much into yesterday's game, since the Braves have never hit Javier Vazquez well, dating back to his days with the Expos. That said, six baserunners all day?

2. Did Marcus Giles give us anything on the entire road trip? Between him and Kelly Johnson slumping, it's no wonder that Andruw hit five homers and came away with a whopping 9 RBI last week.

3. I don't want to jinx him, but Horacio Ramirez has been good in four straight starts and six of his last seven. Again, with all of the pitching injuries, he needs to get some credit for staying healthy and keeping the rotation afloat.

4. How is Tony Clark, with a 1.024 OPS and 15 homers and 51 RBI in 185 at-bats, not playing every day? There isn't even a platoon excuse because he's a switch-hitter.

"There's something wrong with his Medulla Oblongata"

Am I the only one who read about Tavares Kearney's run-in with a TA and immediately thought about the Waterboy annihilating Colonel Sanders? It's too bad that Georgia is past the Jan Kemp era. Otherwise, they could keep Kearney on the team and be locks for the Bourbon Bowl at the end of the year.

One other thought: who feels compelled to cheat on a Nutrition exam?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Last night as a microcosm of the Braves' season

Three reasons:

1. Andruw Jones was the hero. The fact that he homered on a fastball at shoulder height only adds to the representative quality of the game. Do the D-Backs not have scouts? How do you throw three pitches to Jones in the 9th inning of a tie game and none of them are off-speed?

2. Dan Kolb blew a late lead. He saw three batters and gave up a fly ball to the warning track in center, a walk to punch-and-judy Quinton McCracken, and then a laced double to Tony Clark. Bobby had little patience for Dan's fine work and lifted him for Chris Reitsma, who bailed Danny Boy out of another loss.

3. The Braves' staff didn't do a good job of keeping the opponent off base (15 snakes reached base in nine innings, ten by the free pass variety, and a 3-2 game took over three hours as a result,) but they didn't allow any big hits (only one extra base hit allowed: Clark's double off of Dan Doodie) and therefore, they didn't allow many runs. For the past two years, the strength of the Braves' staff has been not giving up extra base hits. They're 5th in the NL in SLG allowed, but only 9th in OBP allowed; last year, they were 2nd in the NL in SLG allowed and 8th in OBP allowed.

Other thoughts on the game:

1. Jorge Sosa is incredibly consistent. He throws about five innings every start, given up very few runs, strikes out a fair number, and the only bad thing you can say about him is that his control isn't very good and that runs his pitch counts up so he can't last longer into the game. Once he learns to actually pitch, he'll be a real asset.

2. Watching Jeff Francoeur hit, you can't help but notice how the ball jumps off of his bat. The guy has real power. I've been more impressed with him than I was with Andy Marte, which is a bit of a surprise since Marte was thought of as more major league ready prior to the season.

3. Chipper and Hampton's struggles to get healthy illustrate the dangers of committing a lot of money to older players. They've given the Braves almost nothing since May and they suffer regular set-backs in their efforts to get healthy. At this stage, anything we get from either player has to be considered a bonus. I'm just hoping that one of Hampton or Thomson are healthy and effective by September. At this stage, Thomson seems like the more likely bet, but that's probably only because he hasn't tried to come back yet and we haven't been subjected to the "Thomson scratched after injuring shoulder removing carry-on bag from overhead bin" stories.

4. Rafael Furcal was clearly unable to figure out Brad Halsey's move to the plate last night because he was on base twice and never attempted to steal, despite the fact that the patient Kelly Johnson was at the dish. Furcal needed to be running more, given the Braves' struggles against Halsey, especially because Chris Snyder behind the plate has only thrown out 27.5% of the runners attempting to steal against him.

5. My G-d does the Snakes' bullpen suck.

Barnhart on the ACC

Since we had such a good time playing armchair college football journalist this week with CFN's tepid SEC preview, let's not have some fun with Tony Barnhart's ACC column. I expect a little better from the college football expert for the paper that covers Dixie like dew.

1. He lists the top three coaches on hot seats and Chan Gailey isn't one of the three? Way to be kind to the local guy, Tony. Generally, when your AD has already stated that a certain number of wins are necessary this season, it's a good sign that you're on thin ice. I can't fathom why Chuck Amato would be on the hot seat and Gailey wouldn't. Here's an easy illustration for why that is:

NC State in five seasons with Amato - 39-23
NC State in five season prior to Amato - 25-32

Georgia Tech in three seasons with Gailey - 21-17
Georgia Tech in five seasons before Gailey - 42-19

Now admittedly, Gailey faces tougher schedules than Amato because Georgia Tech plays better out-of-conference foes, but the fact of the matter is that Amato has surpassed his program's prior results, but Gailey has fared worse than his predecessor. As a result, Gailey is on a hotter seat and that's with some justification. If you polled ACC fans as to whether they would want Gailey or Amato coaching their program, what percentage would Amato get? 80%? Would it be like a Soviet election? Probably.

That said, Gailey's seat isn't any hotter than those of John Bunting (although Carolina people don't really put too much pressure on their football program, especially when the hoops program is doing well) or Tommy Bowden. (Clemson people do put pressure on their coaches because, like Alabama fans, they have an inflated sense of how good their program should be, given their recruiting base. Bama fans have an inflated sense of self because they were coached for two decades by the best coach in modern college football history; Clemson fans have an inflated sense of self because they forget how easy it was to beat up on the pre-Florida State ACC, especially when Danny Ford was permitted to view NCAA rules as mere suggestions.)

2. Virginia Tech beat Virginia 24-10, not 16-10. Do they not have fact-checkers at the AJC? I didn't even have to look that up.

3. Way to go to an unbiased source to get a read on whether Florida State's bad off-season will affect their team next year. I'm shocked like Captain Renault that Lee Corso thinks that Florida State will be fine despite losing their starting QB (and FSU did so well the last time they started a redshirt freshman QB,) their best corner, their best defensive tackle, and one or two linebackers (although I suspect that Bobby's famously strict punishment system will keep A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims out for a good play or two.) Was Burt Reynolds not available for comment on the Noles? How about Deion Sanders?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Bob Klapisch: A Modern-Day Peter Vescey

One of my favorite bits from Sports Guy's Draft diaries was a line about Peter Vescey being shaken by...something (I can't remember what) and then immediately making up a trade rumor on the spot. His time as a studio analyst for NBC's NBA coverage was marked by a neverending barrage of trade rumors, almost all of which turned out to be baseless. Now, Bob Klapisch has taken his mantle and run with it.

Klapisch, for those of you who don't know him, writes for the Bergen [N.J.] Record (translation: not talented enough to get a job with one of the major dailies in New York City) and also writes for exclusively about the Yankees and Mets. The last time he crossed my attention, he was writing a piece that can only be described as fellatio on Derek Jeter as the best player in baseball and the heart of the Yankees. Since then, I have occasionally read his pieces on, which typify the worst of the Northeastern media, namely prone to wild sweeps of mindless emotion. When the Yankees are winning, they're the best team ever and the personification of King George's ruthless desire to conquer. When they're losing, it's a crisis and the Boss is about to clean house.

Anyway, he apparently wrote a piece for his local rag on Leo Mazzone wanting to come to the Yankees. Needless to say, Leo was unimpressed by the rumor. The hubris it takes to assume "Mazzone MUST want to come to the Yankees, since they are the epicenter of baseball and New York is the epicenter of Western civilization and everything else is just a crude backwater" is stunning. Doesn't the fact that Mazzone has stayed in Atlanta for 14 years mean that, G-d forbid, he actually likes it here? Maybe he enjoys working for ownership that aren't constantly summoning their personnel to Tampa for harangues. Maybe he'd rather not be covered every day by ten newspapers, each of which have to make up more elaborate rumors than the next to get oxygen in a media circus. Maybe he enjoys sitting next to Bobby Cox every night. Maybe he'd prefer not to spend 81 nights per year in a shithole in the Bronx? I don't know. Only Leo knows.

By the way, this rumor is classic Yankees in another sense. If they indeed have interest in Mazzone, then they are doing what they always do: linearly look at a weakness and then identify the highest-profile, most obvious target to fill the weakness. That's why they've been in decline over the past several years. Weak starting pitching? Sign the free agent starters who had the best year last year. Holes in the lineup? Mortgage any prospects in the system to get them. That's great long-term thinking.

NHL Rules Changes

I was going to post the description of the changes on the Thrashers' web site, but this summary and analysis to be much better. Scott Burnside wrote some good material during the lockout and the fact that he's a terrific hockey writer based in Atlanta only increases his appeal.

Overall, I'm happy with the changes, since they are all changes that have been bandied about for several years, but the NHL, seemingly oblivious to its decline in popularity and captured by its purist elements, never had the guts to go with them. As a great man sings, when you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose.
The reduction of goalies' equipment is the most important change, in my mind, because save percentages have gotten completely out of whack and shooters have almost no net to shoot at, not through any skill of the goalie, but rather because they look like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. The expansion of the offensive zone will also make offense a little easier.

I'm skeptical about two of the changes. First, I agree with the idea of calling hooking and obstruction as they are defined in the rule book, but I've heard the claim that those penalties are going to be called dozens of times now and the fact that the NHL is still having to emphasize a crackdown to its officials should tell you how effective those previous efforts have been. I can't wait for Pat Quinn, the Canadian Ted Kennedy, to start launching whiny fusillades every time one of the dinosaurs on the Maple Leafs tries to play defense the "old-fashioned" way and gets called for muggery. The fact that obstruction/hooking crackdowns tend to occur at the start of the season and are forgotten by the playoffs, the time when interest in the NHL is at its highest, only increases my skepticism that the emphasis will help with the NHL's popularity. One factor that does make me mildly optimistic is the fact that the NHL is going to more form-fitting uniforms, which will make obstruction a little harder.

I'm also not overly happy with the restrictions on goalies playing the puck because it will increase the incentive for teams to play Philly-style dump and chase, which isn't aesthetically pleasing at all. Call me crazy, but I much prefer a rush through the neutral zone than the pattern of cross the red-line, dump the puck in, mug the opposing defenseman behind the net, throw the puck in front, and pray that one of your teammates is there to bludgeon the puck into the net.

I am happy with the changes that weren't made, namely expanding the size of the nets, which seems to me to be a cheap way to increase scoring without requiring more skill on the part of the players, and expanding the playoffs, since 16 is a nice number and there's no reason to go higher in a 30-team league.

One other point: the new schedules will increase games against divisional opponents, which should help the Thrashers somewhat since they aren't in a strong division. On the other hand, I'm sure that fans of Tampa, Florida, Carolina, and Washington are all saying the same things.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Do we want TO?

That was the discussion on Mayhem this morning. To me, that's like discussing whether I'd want Charles Woodson and Ian Gold to play on this year's Michigan defense or whether I'd want Salma Hayek and Catherine Zeta Jones to play on my...nevermind, I'm married. Anyway, the point is that it isn't going to happen. Philly isn't going to trade him to the team they just played in the NFC Title Game, TO probably isn't going to want to play for a team that doesn't throw that much and a quarterback with questionable passing skills (remember his aversion to Kyle Boller?), and the Falcons have shown an aversion to signing players like Owens. Additionally, the Falcons are already paying Peerless Price a boatload of money and they have spent their last two first round picks on receivers. Who do we think we are, the Detroit Lions? (Ugh.)

If I were Rich McKay, I'd make this deal in a second because players like Owens don't come along very often. For one thing, the discussion about having to trade a player like Keith Brooking is ludicrous because stars are traded all the time in the NFL for bupkes. Travis Henry, a 1,400-yard back, just went for a third round pick. Owens went to Philly for what, a third round pick and Brandon Whiting? Corey Dillon was worth what, a low first round pick? A second-rounder? The NFL is this bizarro world where, despite all of the empirical evidence that draft picks aren't worth the value to which teams assign them, stars are traded all the time for picks (and not especially high ones, at that.)

The key with Owens is to approach trading for him the way one would approach dating Angelina Jolie. You go into the relationship knowing that you'll have fun, but ultimately, your target is bat-shit crazy and you can't let yourself get committed to a wack-job. In the NFL world, that means not signing him to a deal that you can't get out of. When he gets mad at Mike Vick, just as he has with every other pro quarterback with whom he's played, you need to be able to get rid of him with a minimum of fuss. That means that the contract cannot have prohibitive up-front money. Come to think of it, this is another reason why a deal for Owens won't happen: Drew Rosenhaus is not going to let Owens sign another idiotic deal like the one he signed with Philly. Owens is in the prime of his career and is looking to max out his income, guaranteed, in the next few years. Those goals are inconsistent with those of any smart team that is going to avoid a long-term commitment to an inherently unstable player.

My feelings on TO are these: I hope that he sits out for the whole year and ends up discrediting himself and Rosenhaus, who is another prominent sports figure who's not winning any image awards for my tribe. (Why can't they all be like lovely David Stern?) I don't root for Philly teams on principle because a group of fans who revel in their own negativity should not be rewarded with championships (and karma being what it is, they haven't,) but I would root for the Eagles this year if they took a stand against TO just to make him look dumb.

Gryboski Raus!

Kevin Gryboski is no longer a Brave. On first glance, trading a reliever with a sub-three ERA for a single-A prospect seems like a mistake, but Gryboski is an illustration of the fact that relievers' ERAs can be deceiving. He has a giant 1.69 WHIP, he strikes out relatively few batters, and opponents have an enormous .396 OBP against him. His value was primarily found in his ability to induce groundball double plays, but even that has gone by the wayside this year, as his groundball/flyball ratio has fallen to 1.59, his lowest mark of his tenure in Atlanta. I'll miss him because he was the last remnant in the pen from that awe-inspiring 2002 bullpen that should have led the Braves to a winnable World Series against the Angels. (We lost that Series against the Giants solely because Cox started Glavine in games one and four instead of using Kevin Millwood, his best pitcher, in games one and five. Glavine made two dreadful starts, thus taking the Braves' biggest strength - a deep, unhittable pen - out of the picture. I will now commit hari kiri with my letter opener.)

I'm interested to see Macay McBride pitch. He's supposed to be even better than Blaine Boyer, who has pitched quite well for the Braves. And over the horizon is first round pick Joey Devine, who was featured on Comcast SportsNight last night and is apparently a week away from being called up to Richmond. I'm holding out hope that he's lights out in the majors when the rosters expand in September and Bobby has confidence in him to be the 8th inning guy in the playoffs. Right now, set-up man is the biggest team need.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

CFN's SEC Preview

I love the site, but I found this and this a little underwhelming. If you don't want to click through, here's a summary: everyone in the SEC is great! Georgia's as good as Auburn, who's as good as Florida, who's as good as Tennessee. I guess LSU is a little better since they are picked to win the SEC, but they probably got a 10-1 pick instead of a 9-2 pick because they have every other SEC contender at home. Way to go out on a limb. Me, I tend to be a little bit more negative. For instance:

1. I don't see Auburn replacing their backfield adequately. CFN sets up a straw man by saying that their offensive production will hardly "fall off the map," but the fact is that they are replacing three first round picks and they're replacing them with a sophomore, a guy who transferred because he was buried on the depth chart at South Carolina, and a guy who was judged by the Auburn coaches to be so inferior to Caddy and Brown that he changed positions. Yeah, no drop off there. Their defense should still be very good, but there are two major concerns:

a. They are going from one of the best defensive coordinators to a guy who was in charge of Minnesota's consistently underwhelming defenses, but coordinators don't matter, right Hugh Nall and Steve Ensminger?

b. They have to replace a shut-down corner who allowed them to do all sorts of things on defense. Again, replacing starters is one thing; replacing stars is something else.

I'm not saying that Auburn won't be a solid 7-4 or 8-3 team, but to write-off their losses as easily replaced is ignorant.

2. I loved this bit: "Southern Miss is one of the nation's most fearless mid-majors and won't be the slightest bit intimidated by playing at Bama." Mike Shula's two Bama teams have beaten Southern Miss by a combined 44-6. Over the past four years, the score is 92-28. Gosh, I'd be scared of playing Bama if I put up those numbers over the past four years against them.

3. Or how about this: "Fans of the non-automatic BCS conferences have this one circled. Arguably, this will be the biggest game ever for Boise State as a win would finally bring the respect it has so desperately wanted." Gee, you think after reading that that Boise State has never gotten a shot at a major SEC opponent. Did you know that Boise went 12-1 in 2002? And you know why you never heard about them? Possibly because of that 41-14 loss in the opener at Arkansas. They've been down this road before and the results were not pretty.

4. Tennessee should take UAB more seriously than Notre Dame in South Bend? I know it's cool to tout the mid-majors as being tricky opponents, just like touting an eclectic, unknown band was a great way in college to show off, but shouldn't Tennessee fans be a bit more worried about taking their suspect pass defense and average defensive braintrust on the road in November to play a successful NFL offensive coordinator who has nine returning starters on that side of the ball, almost all of whom were high school All-Americans? How can that possibly compare to facing the immortal Darrell Hackney at Neyland, stripped of his go-to target from last year?

And this statement just doesn't work: "The secondary finished last in the SEC last year, but there will be a big turnaround with the freshmen starters of last year now seasoned veterans. The cornerbacks will be outstanding with former safety Jason Allen a sure Thorpe Award candidate." Georgia went through the same issues in '03-'04. They had a green line in '03 and everyone assumed that the line would be much better in '04, but the fact was that they still had fairly young players on the line and one year of starting experience doesn't turn a player from average to very good.

5. Proving the rule that every new defensive regime must be described as "more aggressive," here's the description of Florida's new defense: "Attack, attack, attack. Co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong are going to bring the noise from all angles in an aggressive scheme to better utilize the great overall team speed." One problem: Charlie Strong was in charge of the last two Florida defenses, which were presumably read-and-react, if this statement is to be believed. The better way to evaluate Florida's defense is not the bullshit "more aggressive" canard, but rather to point to the fact that the key to good defense is a dominant defensive line and they have 1) a bunch of blue chip recruits there who are starting to mature and 2) Greg Mattison, who is a very good defensive line coach.

6. How do you describe South Carolina's '04 defense as "generally strong"? They allowed 31 points to Ole Miss (Ole Miss? At home?), 43 to Tennessee, 32 to Arkansas, 48 to Florida, and 29 to Clemson. Not exactly a murderer's row of offenses there and they only return four starters. I guess Steve Spurrier's formidable defensive knowledge will save them. (In fairness, CFN does say that USC is going to have a rough year and finish 5-6.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Go Noles!

This article describing the likely dismissal of charges against Ernie Sims for allegedly attacking his girlfriend in the parking lot of a Florida State dorm was fairly average until this closing flourish:

"Clifton Alexander, the security guard who called TPD, wrote in a letter to the Florida State student newspaper apologizing, if tongue-in-cheek, for his role in inflating the incident.

"'Whenever I see a large man carrying a female across a parking lot as she is screaming 'Stop' and 'Get off me' at 3 a.m., I feel that it is my responsibility to help,' he wrote. 'I'm sure most females at FSU would greatly appreciate any assistance if faced with a similar situation. So again, I am sorry for 'butting in.''"

Something tells me that this quote won't be in the Florida State media guide any time soon. Reading between the lines, you think that this poor guy has gotten a little flak in Tally for arresting the star linebacker? And since when did security guards have such a healthy sense of irony and sarcastic wit?

I'm also amused by the thought that Sims' misfortunes were probably roundly mocked on Miami message boards, even though the Canes' will be starting this solid citizen this year at linebacker. Florida fans? They have every right to make fun of Sims' issues since Channing Crowder is no longer on the team. (Heavy, heavy, heavy tongue in cheek there.)

A few more headlines like this would be much appreciated


Short of "Hayek Desperate for Role as Seductee of Gina Gershon in Bound II: We Know What You Want", this is as good as it gets. I need to start working now on my pretextual excuse for wanting to see Ms. Gellar's product. I did a lousy job trying to convince the wife that I had noble intentions for seeing My Summer of Love, so there's clearly some improvement needed on my part. The "It got great buzz at Cannes!" didn't work so well and probably won't even be applicable for the Gellar vehicle.

This article also reminds me of one of my favorite Ranier Wolfcastle moments from The Simpsons: he shows up to a movie premiere looking disheveled (this was during Schwarzenegger's fallow period in between his T2/True Lies winning streak and becoming governor of the largest state in the Union,) looks at the camera, and says "I need work. I do nude scene...I play nerd...DON'T MAKE ME PUNCH YOUR THROAT!!!"

Just because I'm starting to get excited for college football...

The Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes: We Got Screwed!

Per E.J. Hradek on, here is the lottery format for the NHL Draft:

"The lottery format is a pretty simple one. There will be 48 ping-pong balls. The Rangers, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Sabres each have three balls. The Ducks, Thrashers, Flames, 'Canes, Hawks, Oilers, Kings, Wild, Predators and Coyotes each have two balls. The remaining 16 teams have only one ball."

How the hell are the Thrashers not in the category of teams getting three balls? (Insert Dr. Evil "three ball" joke here.) They're the only team in the two-ball category that has not made the playoffs over the past three seasons. I thought that the lottery was weighted on the last three years results. If so, explain this:

Points in the last three years

Columbus - 188
Pittsburgh - 192
Atlanta - 206
N.Y. Rangers - 226
Buffalo - 239

Now, if the lottery balls are based on previous lottery success or there are other complications in the formula, then that's one thing. Regardless of my ability to read and comprehend legalese (hereinafter, "legal comprehension"), I don't have the time to read the 800-page labor agreement. That said, if it was strictly weighted on on-ice results, what are the Rangers and Sabres doing in the lucky category in place of the Thrashers? Why not just have a category for teams that haven't made the playoffs over the past three years? And how do you justify excluding Atlanta for the benefit of two teams that have been demonstrably better over the past three years? Is the NHL giving a nod to the fact that they need to reinvigorate their rust belt franchises? Are they admitting that they overexpanded? Is this all just a cheap ploy to get Sidney Crosby to New York? As a hockey fan, as well as an Atlanta partisan, shouldn't I be happy for that if it makes the League stronger? Is Blogspot paying me based on question mark usage?

Update: here's the formula for how the lottery was weighted. That explains why the Thrashers only have two chances our of 48 instead of three. To me, this sounds like the NHL trying to get to a result where their biggest market has the best shot possible. This is what happens when you have to make the rules as you go along.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Evaluating the Hawks' Free Agent Center Prospects

Let's have a pleasant little daydream for a moment and assume that the Hawks had their pick of Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, and Sam Dalembert, either because they are going to acquire one via a sign-and-trade using Al Harrington as the bait, or they are going to take advantage of the cheapness of the Bulls (never a bad bet when Jerry Reinsdorf is involved; he won't exactly be appearing in the Anti-Defamation League's "Breaking Stereotypes" issue like the Beastie Boys should have been) and 76ers. How do I rank the three prospects? I'm glad you asked:

I eliminate Eddy Curry off the bat as the weakest of the three options. The more digging I do, the less I like him. Forget the irregular heart beat, a condition that stays with you like herpes. Forget the alleged attitude issues that retarded his performance for several years. Forget the weight problem that will surely get worse once he's set for life with a five year, $70M contract. Check this out. In a nutshell, the Bulls were better when Tyson Chandler was on the floor and significantly worse when Curry was huffing and puffing up and down the court. I suspected that this would be the case, given the way they players are described - Chandler as a rebounding fiend and terrific defensive player (both undervalued skills) and Curry as a back-to-the-basket scorer (an overrated skill, especially if the scorer can't pass) and disappointing rebounder and shot-blocker. I lived through three years of Maurice Taylor at Michigan; I don't want his slightly better doppelganger pulling down a ten-digit salary in my first year as a season ticket holder. (Yes, I took the $199 plunge. At $5 per game, I won't exactly be doing a lot to play for Curry's curry.)

That leaves us Chandler vs. Dalembert.

The case for Sam:

1. Players who are freed from Allen Iverson's clutches tend to do well in liberated form. Sam has likely never had a chance to develop a real offensive game because every possession involves watching AI either shoot or dish off if he determines that the five guys in between him and the basket might be a little too formidable. Take Larry Hughes for instance. He's been much, much better in every stop other than his time in Philly. Ditto for Jerry Stackhouse. Dalembert is not a perimeter player like Hughes or Stackhouse and he's a better fit for Iverson in that he simply looks to rebound and play defense, but there may be offensive skills there that will blossom in a new environment. The Sixers are also apparently low-balling him, although that might just be posturing from his agent.

OK< that was all I could come up with. Now, the case for Tyson:

1. He was the #1 high school player in the country, which, more often than not, means something. There's no doubt that he has prodigious talent. Hell, Dalembert never averaged double digit points in college.

2. Much of Dalembert's value is found in his strong performance in the playoffs against the Pistons, but it would be a huge mistake to build too much value into a five-game sample, especially when there is recency involved. And Chandler averaged 12 and 10 with two blocks in the playoffs, so it isn't as if he was chopped liver in the post-season.

3. Chandler had a higher efficiency rating last year. (The NBA's efficiency stat, by the way, was developed in 2002 and is calculated using the following formula: ((pts + reb + stls + asts + blk) - ((fga - fgm) + (fta - ftm) + to))/g. In fact, his efficiency rating "indicates a definite All-Star who is a marginal MVP candidate." He also had the 7th best rebound rate (percentage of rebounds collected while on the floor) in the NBA. Of all of the Hawks' weaknesses last year, rebounding was one of the most prominent.

4. I could play "Straight Outta Compton" on the way to the arena every night in honor of the Hawks' center. You know of any good songs about Haiti? That's what I thought. (On the other hand, think about the arguments these two could have if they were teammates about who came from a rougher place? Compton vs. Haiti could be in the Mays vs. Mantle pantheon.)

In case you couldn't tell, I'm going Chandler, then Dalembert, then Curry. That said, any of the three would be the Hawks's best center since Dikembe and would mean the end of Ja-ja-ja-jason Collier and Obinna "It's too easy for" Ekezie getting schooled on every screen-and-roll run by an opponent.

Is it unhealthy to be so excited for a team that just lost 69 games?

I'm going to do something I never thought I'd do...

I'm going to say a few nice things about the Mets.

The prevailing national wisdom, as expressed by Tim Kurkjian last night on ESPN Radio, seems to have conceded the NL East to the Braves. At present, that seem like a reasonable guess, since the Braves are playing better than anyone else in the division, they'll only get better as they get healthier, and they are starting with a five-game headstart on everyone other than the fading Nationals. That said, I had a strange sensation watching games this weekend: the Mets could conceivably make a run. I doubt that they can win the division, but is the Wild Card an unreasonable goal? Bear with me for a moment:

1. They're six games out of the Wild Card right now, but assuming a Washington fade, they're only 1.5 games behind Philly and a game behind the Cubs. In other words, they don't need to get that hot to win the division.

2. They have very good starting pitching. We all know about Pedro, but the rest of the rotation is surprisingly good. They're #2 and #3 starters - Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson - both have ERAs that start with 3.5, which leaves Tom Glavine as a perfectly competent #4 starter. They also have a defined 8th and 9th inning combo in Roberto Hernandez and Braden Looper, although Looper has been somewhat underwhelming. In short, they have the best pitching of any of the wild card contenders, assuming that the Nats' pitching returns to reality and the Cubs a) don't figure out their bullpen woes and b) can't keep Wood and Prior healthy for an entire half season, which is an empirically solid bet.

3. A Cameron-Beltran-Floyd-Wright string in the order would produce a fair number of runs. Cliff Floyd is likely to slow down a little, although his performance this year has reminded me that at one point, before he got hurt with the frequency of Ronaldo in his Inter Milan days, that he was a very good hitter. That said, Carlos Beltran is likely to hit better in the second half as he gets healthy and remembers that he isn't being paid the GNP of Burkina Faso for a .766 OPS. If the Mets figure out to bury the decomposing corpse that is Mike Piazza lower in the lineup and threaten Jose Reyes with a "stop swinging at everything or you're going down in the order to play with the closeted crypt keeper" order, they might score enough runs to see October.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Closing in on first

The Braves are 1.5 games behind the swiftly returning to reality Washington Nationals this morning, thanks to a typical effort from John Smoltz (7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks) and an atypical outing from the bullpen (2 IP, 0 ER). Bobby has clearly decided that Dan Kolb can be trusted again. He was going to close on Thursday night if the bullpen wouldn't have imploded in the 8th and he came on as the set-up man in a tight game in the 9th last night. He even pitched competently against the top of the Mets order, although he was a little lucky to get a double play and then a liner to short. Chris Reitsma pitched a good 9th, although David Wright came awfully close to tying the game. Wright has become the anti-Glavine: he kills the Braves and is only decent against the rest of baseball. (Six of his 14 homers this year have come against the Braves.)

The Braves didn't hit Glavine very well last night, probably because he started throwing his curveball and pitching inside regularly. The Braves couldn't sit on his off-speed stuff on the outside corner, which must have baffled them. Glavine's actually in a pretty good stretch right now, which must make the Mets happy since they're on the hook for another year with Tom at $10M next year. When they signed him to a deal back in 2003, the concern was that he would get hurt as he aged, but he's been very durable and reasonably competent as a pitcher when not facing the Braves. Unfortunately, the Mets play the Braves for almost 1/8th of their schedule, the Braves usually treat him like a comfort girl, and as a result, the Mets have been paying through the nose for a mediocre pitcher, not that they aren't used to that.

Other thoughts:

1. I know it's a ridiculously small sample size (17 at-bats) and he's only hitting lefties right now, but Jeff Francoeur is hitting better now than he was in Double-A. Something tells me Brian Jordan has taken his last swings in a Braves uniform. Francoeur is one homer behind Jordan in a mere 192 fewer at-bats.

2. My concern about this road trip is that I have a slight sense of deja vu. The Braves' previous high point of the season was May 8, when they finished off a sweep of the Astros and moved their record to 20-11. They then went 4-8 on a 12-game road trip that took them west. I'm not comforted by the fact that the Braves aren't playing any good teams on this trip, since they managed to drop two of three to the worst team in the NL on that previous 12-game roadie. Now, this Braves team is significantly better than the Braves of May, since they have upgraded the outfield and Furcal is starting to hit, but my point is simply that this team has seen a reversal of fortune before after a strong stretch of play. They haven't been hitting much so far in New York, which is a concern, especially with Zambrano and Pedro due to pitch the next two games for the Mets.

3. I'll be interested to see what Bobby does with Wilson Betemit once Chipper returns from the DL. Betemit has been one of the Braves' best hitters for the past month and he needs to keep getting playing time. No one in the line-up is playing badly enough to justify getting their at-bats reduced, so does Wilson just linger as a pinch-hitter? And what happens to Pete Orr? Does he become a pinch-runner and nothing more? Depth creates welcome dilemmas and Bobby faces one now.

Way to go, Rod!

"Do you know who I am? I play for the Falcons!"

Years ago, that would have been grounds for a beat-down from Atlanta police, along with enhanced sentencing under Georgia law. Now that our NFL team isn't an embarrassment, it's merely poor form by the Falcons' star defensive tackle. (Seriously, has "do you know who I am?" ever worked for anybody? Ask Gary Moeller how it worked for him at the Excalibur in Detroit.) Generally, I've found that screaming at the police isn't a very good way to get out of a ticket, but maybe Rod's experiences in Oakland and Philly lead him to a difference conclusion. I'm sure that he's carefully weighed the pros and cons and concluded that police officers usually respond to profane outbursts by saying "You're right. I am a motherf***er. Sorry to have bothered you. Please continue exceeding the speed limit and have a great evening."

That said, the article makes the conduct of the police sound a little fishy. Coleman produced a valid insurance card and then the driver was still issued a ticket for driving without insurance? How does that work?

All things considered, the local media will make a mountain out of this molehill, but Coleman's run-in doesn't matter. Yes, it's not good for a star player to be shouting at the cops, but he wasn't violent with them, so this isn't the end of the world. His judgment was questionable, but there was no real harm done, so life can go on. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking "this sort of hyper-aggressive guy is exactly the type of character I want on my defense."

And did the AJC writers miss the fact that the driver is Dennis Johnson, possibly the Dennis Johnson who was the #1 recruit in all of high school football in the late 90s, made the mistake of going to Kentucky to turn that program around, had 12 sacks as a junior in 2001, went pro, and has not been heard from again. If the Dennis Johnson driving wildly on 285 is indeed the Dennis Johnson of Kentucky football fame, then welcome back! Good to see you're still in the news!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stupid things said on radio

Heard this gem this morning from USA Today's hocket beat writer regarding the NHL lockout: "The fans, as always, are the biggest losers."

Really? A slew of individuals employed by NHL teams lost their jobs and health insurance. A number of other classes of employees (arena workers, waitstaff and bartenders at bars and restaurants near arenas, etc.) lost a good chunk of their income. We as fans lost the ability to spend $50 per ticket to watch games and spend $7 for beer. Who really lost more?

Evaluating Florida (or Michael plays Wedding Counselor)

A Florida booster friend of mine is apparently having last-minute wedding jitters about Urban Meyer. I'm playing the role of wedding counselor, assuring him that he has picked the right woman to father his children (i.e. beat Georgia and Florida State) and keep him satisfied with tasty food (i.e. win the SEC) and crazy sex (i.e. win the national title). Here's the exchange:

I can't believe that I'm the one that has to convince you of the merits of your new coach, but here it goes:

The Florida fan writes:

Unlike you, I think Florida needs to be ranked about #15 until they prove they can win the close game. Since when has Chris Leak played well enough on a consistent basis to be considered a "David Greene" type of QB? I'm also somewhat concerned about the co-defensive coordinator roles for Mattison and Strong. Charlie didn't get it done the last two years and I don't remember Notre Dame being that great a defensive team either when Greg was the coordinator for Bob Davie. This will also be the first time that Dan Mullen has been the offensive coordinator and QB coach in this offense (other than the Fiesta Bowl). I remember Randy Sanders making his debut
against FSU in the '99 Fiesta Bowl and he struggled somewhat the next couple of years. The bottom line is that there are questions regarding Florida's program that it is entirely too difficult to answer without seeing them in the heat of battle, and those questions include Meyer's abilities as well.

In regards to Meyer, no coach except for Charley Pell ever fired up the Gator Nation like he has. We needed that after the Zook fiasco and I think it will pay dividends in fund raising and recruiting for years to come. What concerns me about Urban is that this is a big step up for him in competition. When you scrutinize his record you come away concerned as well. Consider this:

In the regular season, he has ONE win against a team with fewer than 4 losses (Toledo 2001) in his entire career. He has ELEVEN wins against teams with winning records (8 of those 11 lost 5+ >games) in his career. In the 38 Div.I football games his teams have won, the combined record of the teams he's beaten is 190-257. So, the team's he's beaten are playing .425 football in awful conferences.

Frankly Michael, this scares me. Urban has never faced a league of coaches so determined to literally destroy him (SEC plus FSU). I just hope he is ready for the big-time because they have been preparing for him since the day he was announced as the 40th coach in UF football history.

And here's my response:

1. Good point that his teams have never played very good opponents, but that it almost invariably going to be true in lower level conferences. The key fact to look at, in my mind, is the margin of victory. Utah was the first mid-major that I genuinely respected because they didn't just squeak by other average teams, they dominated them. They put up the kind of scores against their opponents that you would expect Oklahoma or USC to put up. That makes them different from Boise State, '98 Tulane, '99 Marshall, etc. It's more fair to say that there are unknowns about Meyer than it is to say that you should be concerned that he hasn't played that many good teams.

2. They did play a couple good opponents last year and they beat the ever-living piss out of them. They beat A&M worse than either Texas or Oklahoma did. They clobbered a UNC team that ended up beating Miami and playing in a bowl game. They annihilated a decent Pitt team. We'll never know how they would have done against another top five team, but we know that they beat decent teams by margins consistent with a top five team.

3. Yes, there are going to be a lot of smart coaches looking to teach Urban Meyer a lesson. The same was true with Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, and every other touted coach who came into the SEC from the outside. Meyer developed his own offense, so it's not unreasonable to think that he can't tweak it based on his talent, so that Tennessee's summer of studying Utah tape will be mostly useless. He's not a one-trick pony who had a great idea for an offense and will be exposed when opposing defenses catch up to it. He's tweaked it enough over the years to create the impression that he's genuinely smart, not unlike Spurrier or Friedgen.

4. Don't underestimate the bounce that Florida will get going from a poor coach who tried to be the players' friends to a smart coach who cracks the whip on them. Meyer will get far more out of these players than Zook did.

5. Don't fret too much about Greg Mattison. He did great work at Michigan in the mid-90s. Most discerning Michigan fans give him a lot of credit for laying the groundwork for the record-setting, national title-winning '97 defense. He's especially good teaching defensive line technique, so expect immediate improvement there. Charlie Strong, I can agree with you there. He didn't do very good work after being hired by Zook, which makes me think that he was a one-trick pony with that 3-3-5 at South Carolina that was eventually decoded by SEC defensive coordinators. Maybe he was kept for recruiting reasons? Maybe Meyer wanted a little continuity and he was the most likely bet? Maybe Zook interfered with his defensive preparations and he's actually better than the Florida defenses of the past two years reflected? All interesting questions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Great article on the Hawks on Sports Guy's page...

but naturally, it's not by the page's namesake, who can't say anything about the local basketball collective without bitching about the fact that Hawks fans don't sell the place out to see a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since the time that Britney Spears was a cute popster dancing around in a Catholic school girl's outfit and longingly looking into the camera, wondering what it would be like to take a boy's pants off. Instead, his intern, Kevin Cott, comes through with this strong piece, written before the Draft, about his evolution as a Hawks fan.

Mine was fairly similar. I had a love affair with the 'Nique teams of the late 80s because they were the only good team in Atlanta and they were so much fun to watch. I disagree, though, on the 'Nique trade. In retrospect, it didn't work out because the team lost to the Pacers in six and didn't play up to their #1 seed. However, 'Nique was starting to show signs of decline, and it's likely that the team wasn't going to the Finals with him, either. He was shooting 43.2% from the field in '94, the lowest FG% of his career. He had a negative assist/turnover ratio for the first time since the '85-'86 season. Manning was a more efficient player and was motivated by being in the last year of his deal. What ultimately did that '94 team in was their inability to score and that was true with 'Nique or Manning playing at the three. And giving up the first round pick didn't matter because it ended up being one of the last picks in the first round and the Clippers used it to take the immortal Greg Minor.

I agree with the rest of the piece. Pete Babcock's drafts were beyond inept (and apparently, the other NBA GM apple from the Babcock tree is also infested with "make you draft bad players" worms. Enjoy, Toronto, and f*** you for the '92 World Series.) Babcock did a decent job at assembling the Mutombo-Blaylock-Smith team, but his terrible drafting prevented that team from integrating fresh blood, so when they finally got old, the rebuilding was rough and made worse by the decision to go for broke with Shareef, Ratliff, and Glenn Robinson, rather than building the right way. Billy Knight has done a good job so far. I hold Josh Childress in slightly higher regard than Cott does, although I'm assuming that he'll learn to shoot at some point so he can be a good shooting guard. His drafting has been fairly good so far and he's resisted the urge to take shortcuts by taking overpriced vets. He's after the right guys right now - Tyson Chandler, Sam Dalembert, and Eddy Curry, hopefully in that order - and his solid drafting has made the team a more attractive option.

I reserve the right to take this all back and call Billy the worst Knight since Michael if he blows the Al Harrington chip on someone like Stephon Marbury. He tried to blow the Hawks' cap space on Erick Dampier last summer, so it isn't like Billy is incapable of committing resources on flawed players.

Today's the day

There are two days that serve as the unofficial kickoff to college football season in my world. One is the day that the wife goes to Borders and buys Phil Steele for me. The other is the day I go to Best Buy and pick up this gem. I was driving up to Charlotte yesterday for a deposition and was remembering in my head every exit that has a Best Buy for the trip back today. Yes, I'm pathetic.

I'm actually not overly excited about any of the new features of the game this year. The Heisman mode doesn't wow me because I'm not much on individual role playing. It seems like a nod to the modern generation, weaned on Grand Theft Auto. I am, however, looking forward to new game play after pretty much mastering NCAA '05. Having receivers who don't "catch" the ball like Jackie Smith in Super Bowl XIII will be a nice addition. Plus, the process of having to master a new playbook and find those 4-5 plays that always work is always entertaining.

On second thought, maybe I gave Heisman mode a raw deal, since they apparently used my freshman dorm room for a screen shot. All it's missing is the Sega Genesis with Bill Walsh College Football, a Hebrew textbook, my sweet-ass Brazil '94 cap, a stack of Dylan CDs to scare away all the women, my Brother word processor, the poster of Tyrone Wheatley breaking away in the 1/1/93 Rose Bowl, and the dorky pre-meds outside the room breaking down the pros and cons of lunch in excrutiating detail. Otherwise, it's a dead ringer for 5120 Mary Markley

Monday, July 11, 2005

"You spent $300...and it was really just a massage?"

I spent this past weekend in Vegas for a bachelor party, which meant spending a fair amount of money (I find that Vegas completely destroys one's sense of time and money, even a cheap-ass like myself, such that by the end of the weekend, a $25 cover to go into a bar makes perfect sense), getting little sleep (thank goodness I'm cheap and don't gamble much or else I would have gotten absolutely no sleep), and watching a bunch of single compatriots (and a few not-single friends) make new friends. The supply of women in that town is off the charts, which is a testament to the fact that the town has turned itself from a macho place to gamble into a party place like South Beach that attracts bachelorette parties by the bushel. Good thing, too, because with the rise of Biloxi-type places and Indian casinos, Vegas doesn't have the gambling monopoly that it used to.

Anyway, since this blog is ostensibly about sports, I suppose I should mention my trip to the Sports Book at Bally's, which was populated with the one form of life even lower than the sad oldies who sit sullen at the slot machines for hours at a time, playing a "game" that entails absolutely no skill or independent thought: horse racing addicts. Vegas is the only place you see these guys, who look like they haven't seen the sun or had human interaction since 1972. They shout at horses on TV screens, as if that will make them run faster. I know I do the same thing with Michigan safeties, but they're human beings with free will, so in the fictional world in which they can hear me, they can respond to my pleas to "tackle somebody for once." What's a horse going to do if it hears you yell "Faster, you tub of glue!"?

I'm digressing in a major way. What I was trying to say was that I found the odds on the college football national title to be unhinged from reality, mainly in the sense that they clearly reflect the economics of the situation. Ohio State (8:1) and Michigan (9:1) were the third and fourth favorites (USC and Texas are #1 and #2), which is amusing to me since Big Ten teams rarely win (or even contend for) the national title, a fact that wouldn't be lost on the knowledgeable gambler, but the hordes of Michigan and OSU fans streaming into Vegas from Kalamazoo and Upper Sandusky can't be described as such. Me? I'm a knowledgeable gambler in my imagination. In reality, I'm just knowledgeable, which is why I staked a whopping $10 on LSU at 20:1. Their odds are more than twice as long as the cream of the Big Ten, despite the fact that they don't play a tough road game and were better than both last year. Knowing my luck, they'll run the table and then tumble in the SEC Title Game or the Rose Bowl. The Tigers were the one objective bet that I made. I also plunked down $10 on the Braves to win the NL and Holland to win the World Cup, or, as I described it to my brother, I took $20 and lit it on fire, betting on two two teams notorious for failing once in sight of a championship.

Interestingly, Georgia was 40:1, which seemed awfully long odds, but then I remembered that the odds are nothing more than a reflection of the market's perception and the market is hung up on the fact that Georgia is replacing their quarterback and star defensive players (ignoring the fact that they return almost everything on the lines,) as well as the fact that Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina have received all of the hype in the division this off-season. Georgia's odds were only marginally better than those of Wisconsin, a plodding Big Ten squad that lost almost every major contributor from the defense that was the sole quality unit on the team in 2004. Then again, that's because there are a lot more mindless homers from Kenosha wandering around Bally's than there are mindless homers from Macon like me.

One other note from the Sports Book: I watched the first five innings of the Braves game on Saturday night and came away with the impression that Kyle Davies is doing a very poor job of locating his pitches. He was right down the middle for the whole first inning, then he was wild thereafter. Leo needs to settle him down a little and remind him that 89 and on the corners with movement is better than a straight 92 over the middle.

Friday, July 08, 2005

And have I mentioned, by the way, that the Braves are on F***ING FIRE!?!

The Braves' sweep of the Cubs this week puts them at 16-5 in their last 21 games and gives them their second five-game winning streak in the last two weeks. Sticking up the Cubs' doodiemaker (and specifically those of Wood and Prior) was especially nice as revenge for 2003, which remains one of the most painful series losses for the Braves in recent years because that Braves team was better than that Cubs team.

Last night's capper after allowing one run in the first three games was beautiful. First, Andruw "He'll never hit in the clutch say the middle-aged dumpy sportscasters of the city" Jones hit an absolute rocket to put the Braves up 5-4 and then uber-prospect Jeff Francoeur unloaded on a Glendon Rusch offering to put the game away. If that hit was any indication of Francoeur's future, he has some serious power because he didn't hit the ball that well and yet it left the yard in centerfield. You would have to be Attila the Hun (or a miserable Cubs fan) not to be emotional about a young guy from the area hitting a homer in his first game in the bigs and then TBS cutting to his parents going crazy. (I was a little annoyed that they didn't include his girlfriend in the shot. TBS' recent focus on titillation apparently doesn't extend to their baseball coverage. Too bad.)

Francoeur's call-up brings up an interesting problem for the Braves. Assuming there are no significant changes in baseball's labor structure in the next six years, they are going to have an enormous crop of good players hitting free agency after the 2011 season because they have brought up so many major prospects in one year. Think about how much they'll have to pay Francoeur, Andy Marte, Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Kyle Davies, and Ryan Langerhans when they all become free agents at once. On second thought, it's likely that they'll have traded about half of them by that time, so the effect won't be huge, but even if the Braves only keep the top three on that list, that's still a significant future commitment that will have to be factored into their financial decisions in the latter years of this decade.

And now, for something completely new, I'm going to bitch about overexposure of the Yanks and Sox

I was reminded this morning why I've gradually divorced SportsCenter from my life, along with Baked Cool Ranch Doritos and sanity. The lead story was about the Yankees' reaction to the London subway bombings. It was very reassuring to find out what Derek Jeter had to say about them, since I was wondering incessantly yesterday about what the implications of the attack are for the War on al Qaeda (I've always found the phrase "War on Terror" to be useless; how does one fight an ephemeral concept?) and English domestic politics and then I said to myself "it would sure help if I knew what Derek Jeter thought."

SportsCenter's flimsy pretense for involving the Yankees was that al Qaeda attacked subways in London and there is a subway that runs by Yankee Stadium. That's a strong connection. Terrorists attacked a subway a continent away, so Yankee Stadium must be the next target. Did I miss the SportsCenter after the Bali nightclub bombing in which Jeremy Schaap sat down with Derek Jeter and asked him about how he felt about that bombing on the other side of the globe so Jeter could explain how it gives him pause before going into whatever overpriced club he frequents in Manhattan?

SportsCenter then veered strangely into actual baseball highlights, showing the Yankees-Indians and Mets-Nationals packages, then came back from break to slobber all over the Red Sox, which is surely something new for them. One feature on Johnny Damon's comments on Curt Schilling pitching from the bullpen, followed by another in-depth report on Curt's one inning with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Hell, they even worked in highlights of the Sox' actual game in Baltimore. Who's making the programming decisions for them, Bill Simmons?

And speaking of Herr SportsGuy, I and the rest of the sports blogosphere owe him a debt of gratitude for essentially creating and perfecting this format, but he is insufferable when discussing baseball or football because his teams are on top of those hills and he reflects everything through their prism. Today's effort is no exception. When I saw that he was giving out Midseason Baseball Awards, I vainly hoped that he might say something nice about the Braves for the first time ever, with the team 12 games over .500 despite missing 60% of the starting rotation and fielding a line-up half of which was in the minors last year. Nope, these are strictly AL-only awards. What kind of sports fan only pays attention to half a league? Heck, even provincial SEC fans watch enough of other conferences to proclaim them vastly inferior to Southern Speed.

Then, he proclaims the following 13 players to be the biggest stars in baseball who ought to be in every All-Star Game: "Tejada, Guerrero, Manny, Jeter, A-Rod, Big Papi, Rivera, Clemens, Pedro, Ichiro, Schilling, Big Unit and Pujols". Notice something about this list? Over half of those players play for the Yanks or Red Sox. Two more - Clemens and Pedro - used to play for the Sox. Two more - Tejada and Vlad - are the best players on key AL rivals of the Yanks and Sox. Then, we throw the most popular player from Japan and the token NL star in and we have the list. Nothing provincial about that. I guess Barry Bonds isn't a star because he's never played the Red Sox or Yankees in the playoffs before.

This is what I get for investing too much emotional energy in an unabashed homer. Caveat emptor.

Cox on Lineups

I implore you to get ESPN Insider if you don't have it. That way, when I link to articles like this one, I won't feel like I'm talking in a vacuum. Anyway, a few thoughts on Cox's comments:

1. His justification for batting Furcal in the lead-off spot is that he's too important to let slide. Bobby echoes Charlie Manuel's statement that Furcal is the key to the Braves' lineup (and possibly to the entire team.) Bobby looks at the potential reward of Furcal hitting in the lead-off spot, which is significant, and weighs that against risk of him continuing to eat up at-bats while getting on base fewer than three times out of ten. I was fully in the "move Furcal down" camp, but I see Bobby's reasoning and it makes sense to me. He certainly comes across as unafraid to step on toes by moving players down in the lineup, which is interesting since I assumed that he didn't want to hurt Furcal's feelings by demoting him to 7th. Chipper certainly moans about not hitting third when he gets moved to clean-up and Bobby might be thinking out loud in advance of hitting him lower when he comes back, given the way that Johnson and Giles are hitting in the two and three spots. It's hard not to read this paragraph and not think that it is a shot across the bow of the S.S. Larry Wayne (not that Chipper probably has ESPN Insider or anything):

"You know what I think? You ought to be happy to have a uniform on, and if you're in the lineup, you should be thrilled and you shouldn't worry about where the manager hits you. That's my philosophy. Because we're not trying to lose the game. We're trying to put a lineup out that wins."

Chipper's always been a good guy in the clubhouse and loves Bobby, so I'd imagine that he'll fall in line if and when he returns.

2. Bobby apparently shares my affection about Kelly (who desperately needs a nickname, by the way,) since he mentions him four times in the article. He also shows that he has thought about batting him lead-off because of his ability to get on base, which shows that Bobby isn't entirely a slave to the "must have a fast guy hitting first" mistake.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Comparing the NHLPA and the Post-WWII German Volk

Here is the rumored final deal between the NHL's owners and players. Often, when a labor deal is struck in the sports context, there is some debate as to whether the players or owners "won." You don't need to be a Charlie Weis (or at least the Charlie Weis of Charlie Weis' imagination) to figure out that the owners won this dispute, getting everything they wanted, most significantly a hard cap at a fairly low number tied to league revenues.

The silver lining to losing an entire season is this: conflicts that are resolved with one side coming out as the clear victor, leaving the other side no way to save face or claim victory, often lead to a lasting peace. This is a pet historical theory of mine and it has led to disagreement on the part of others, so take it with a grain of salt, but I usually use Germany after WWI and WWII as the example. Because the Germans surrendered in WWI when they still had troops on the ground in France, Hitler had room in the 30s to argue that Germany hadn't really been defeated, but instead, had been stabbed in the back by Jews, Bolsheviks, and other enemies of the state. As a result, the peace after WWI was short-lived. Conversely, after WWII, when the war ended with the Allies razing Germany to the ground and exposing the facts of the Holocaust to the German citizenry, Germany was forced to reckon with its own culpability and reform itself. Now, there were certainly intervening factors, namely the Depression following WWI, as compared to the Cold War and Marshall Plan following WWII, but I'm fairly certain that the fact that there was a final, complete defeat for Germany in 1945 played a role in their transition to a stable, progressive country.

As applied to the NHL, the players cannot view the final result of their labor impasse as anything but a complete defeat. Gary Bettman is hanging his hammer and sickle from the top of their Reichstag while Bob Goodenow is contemplating the pros and cons of cyanide as opposed to a bullet in the brain. The players have probably realized at this stage that they aren't the NBA. Their league's revenues are significantly lower, mainly because of a non-existent national TV market, and their rosters are twice the size of NBA rosters. As a result, they can't use NBA (or NFL or MLB) players as a benchmark. The labor stoppage has almost certainly forced them to reckon with the fact that their league's popularity has been declining over several years and they are now going to feel that in their pocketbooks. They now have the incentive to work like hell to increase the league's revenues, which will mean less griping when the NHL makes changes to increase scoring and game flow. (For G-d sakes, could they start with the size of the goalies' pads? I was watching some old Gretzky highlights last night. It's no wonder that 215 points in a season was possible when goalies wore half the padding and therefore had to be able to skate to cut down angles, as opposed to sitting in the crease and letting shots hit them. He routinely skated around goalies and shot into empty nets, which you NEVER see anymore.)

A couple other thoughts:

1. I can't figure out why every team is going to have an equal shot at Sidney Crosby. Why wouldn't there be a weighted lottery? In any event, if there was ever a situation where a league had an incentive to play with a lottery, this is it. The immediate thought is that the NHL would prefer to send Crosby to the Rangers, knowing that the league was at its height in 1994 when the Rangers were good. On the other hand, the NHL has a huge dormant market in Chicago that could be reinvigorated with a new young star and a "spend or sell" order to Miserly Bill Wirtz. Finally, Crosby could be very useful in a place like Los Angeles or Boston. Basically, if the NHL is going to pick where he goes, they need to send him somewhere where he'll have maximum impact on their US television revenues.

On the other hand, maybe he won't be coming out at all. This could just be posturing by his agent, but if not, that #1 pick won't be worth nearly as much.

2. Overall, the new NHL landscape will favor a team like the Thrashers slightly because they will never be a high revenue team and the cap will therefore protect them. It will put a premium on quality drafting and player development, just as it does in the NFL, and Don Waddell has proven to be fairly good in that area, although it's hard to screw up when you have so many high first round picks. More importantly, a more open league with increased offense will favor an offensive team like the Thrashers. The question is whether they'll be able to keep Heatley and Kovalchuk under the cap while still preserving some quality depth.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Great Italian Thinkers: Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Mazzone

When Hudson, Hampton, and Thomson went down, I was pretty certain that the Braves' season was over. Never in a million years did I think I would be making the following comparison:

Hampton/Hudson/Thomson - 13-8, 194.2 IP, 187 H, 69 BB, 67 ER, 105 K, 14 HR, 3.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.84 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, .64 HR/9

Davies/Sosa/Colon - 7-4, 99 IP, 101 H, 41 BB, 39 ER, 69 K, 12 HR, 3.55 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 6.27 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9

Admittedly, this is a small sample size of innings pitched and the numbers could skew dramatically in favor of the injured starters when opposing hitters have seen more of Sosa and Colon, as was the case with Kyle Davies. That said, this comparison is startling. The youngsters, consisting of a prospect who was thought to be 1-2 years away from the majors and two converted relievers, have come close to the production levels of three veteran, highly-compensated starters who were pitching very well when they were hurt. The youngsters have a significantly better strikeout rate, although they walk a few more hitters and are definitely not as good at keeping the ball in the park.

A couple other notes:

1. You know you suck when four scoreless innings, half of which took place when the game was no longer in doubt, are cause for a Kolb Regaining Confidence article. After he clearly couldn't handle the pressure of pitching in a key role for a team that expects to win, it's highly unlikely that I'll feel good with Kolb on the mound again.

2. It's always fun to look at the standings when your team is on a winning streak and today, when the Braves have the 7th best record in baseball, is no exception.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Speed Blogging from Cactus Car Wash

The wife and I just ran 6.2 miles with the rest of the city and are now waiting for Guderian (my car) to get cleaned. Thus, I will blog as many thoughts as I can in the next few minutes. Enjoy.

1. It occurred to me the other day that I listed Buddy Teevens on the worst coaches list and Stanford apparently agreed with me, since they fired him last year. Oops. I'm going to have to think about a new option.

2. Great win for the Braves last night, which they needed since the Nationals are apparently not going to lose for the next month. (That team has such an '02 Notre Dame vibe. I can't wait for them to get their 28-6 beating from NC State.) It's funny how one game, the difference between a winning and losing road trip, can mean so much to my mental outlook of the team. Or maybe that's just an indictment of me. Andruw continues to get the big hits that all the naysayers said he would never get and the makeshift rotation has been quite effective. Although the Braves are actually farther from first than they were last week, they've at least put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the division and they're in good shape for the Wild Card. Incidentally, this week, SI picks the Braves to finish second in the division to the Marlins and win the wild card.

3. I read SI's cover story on Michael Vick this weekend, but I didn't get anything out of it other than that Michael is defensive about his criticisms from pundits as a poor passer. (Gee, could it be because you have a disturbing number of 110-yard passing days? Remember your last game?) Vick points out that he tends to win and he's absolutely right about that. I remain conflicted. The Falcons are much better when he plays, but he's not very good at what quarterbacks are measured by.

Per the article, he's also a good guy who plays with children at his football camp, although I felt the disturbing gnaw of his publicists behind the scenes on the article. Or maybe the NFL wanted their marketing golden goose to look better after the Ron Mexico stories hit this spring.

4. If there's a better feeling in the world than turning the corner from Peachtree onto 10th Street and seeing that the remaining .6 mile is downhill, I'd like to know what it is.

5. Spike TV has a Bondathon today, which might keep me in front of the TV all day. On the other hand, they started with The Living Daylights and Never Say Never Again, so maybe I won't have to worry about watching much. Is On Her Majesty's Secret Service next? Do they have an aversion to showing Connery or Moore? (No, I don't consider Connery's comeback effort to be real Connery. It didn't start with the signature gunsight shot, there was an impostor Q and M, and they couldn't even come up with a new plot line.)

And my car is ready. Have a great 4th!