Saturday, March 31, 2007

Trying to Think of Another Moronic Way to Use "Brave New World" in a Title...

One trip to the in-laws + two boring Final Four games + one sleeping baby + one sleeping wife = your 2007 B&B Braves Preview. This year, I've decided to group the Braves into players who will exceed expectations and players whom I fear will let us down.

(By the way, if I use any fancy-pants statistical terms like VORP or BABIP and you want an explanation as to what I mean, try here or, if you like a little comedy at the expense of John Kruk, here.)

Michael Feels Huggy about:

Brian McCann - As Chipper starts to fade into the twilight of his career and Andruw is almost certain to be wearing a new uniform in 12 months, if not sooner, this is going to be McCann's team. It's unfortunate for him that a truly outstanding 2006 season (54.8 VORP, .320 EQA, .333 BA with 24 homers and 93 RBI if you're old-fashioned) was a footnote to the "the Braves have fallen and they can't get up!" Gotterdamerung.

Chipper - The narrative on him has been "still a quality hitter, but brittle as age catches up with him" for the past several years. Call this a straight from the recesses of my colon hunch, but I think Chipper will be relatively healthy this year. Maybe I'm comparing him to Junior Griffey in my head and assuming that he'll have a similar "remember me?" year this season. Maybe I'm assuming that he's pissed that the Braves didn't win the division last year and is going to punish the rest of the division for their sins. Maybe I'm a hopeless homer. I just have a sense that he's going to provide his .400+ OBP this year over 600 plate appearances instead of 450.

Andruw - One of the topics on which I remain a luddite despite research to the contrary is that of the contract year effect. I suffered through the Jeff Blauser era for far too long to not believe that players play harder and often better when money is at stake. (If I were a pure free market believer, this sense would be even stronger.) Andruw is in a contract year, he saw what is available with baseball's increased revenue this past off-season, and Beelzebub is his agent. Prepare for a big year.

The Bullpen (other than Wickman) - By mid-season, the Braves are going to have a bullpen similar to that of the Detroit Tigers: a portly, shaky, goateed closer fronting for a bunch of young, flame-throwing studs who should be getting higher-leverage innings. Mike Gonzalez's numbers were simply ridiculous in Pittsburgh last year. Ditto for Rafael Soriano before he was brained by Vlad the Impaler. I also liked what I saw from Blaine Boyer and Macay McBride over the past two years; they are a step above the normal reclamation projects that populate most bullpens. Finally, I'm still holding out hope that Roger McDowell, who was an excellent reliever in his day, will produce an excellent bullpen. Does that seem unreasonable?

Kelly Johnson - I love the idea of a patient hitter leading off. I also like that the Braves thought outside the box when they dumped Marcus Giles and moved Johnson to second base. They're also thinking outside the box by putting a guy with average speed in the leadoff spot.

Scott Thorman - BP is not very high on him, but there's an encouraging pattern to his numbers. Upon promotion to AA, AAA, and then the majors, he struggled in each instance. In the case of AA and AAA, he came back the following year and posted excellent numbers. Last year, he struggled when he was called up to the big league team. I know that mastering major league pitching is a different animal to mastering the AA and AAA levels, but if Thorman shows the same progress, then the Braves are going to make out like bandits on the LaRoche deal. I don't see Thorman setting the world on fire, but I do feel like he'll give the team good enough production that we won't have a gnawing feeling of 'yes, but..." when Mike Gonzalez is flaming through the 8th inning.

Bobby Cox - It's hard to imagine a Braves team without him, but we should appreciate him for the next two years, because we're going to miss the hell out of him when he's gone.

Michael Feels Anxious about:

The Starting Rotation - Last year, this was the true weakness of the team. Yes, the bullpen was also atrocious, but the 'pen was bad for about three innings every game and it was supposed to be the weak link of the team since there was so little invested into it. For G-d sakes, what did we expect when we went into the season with Chris Reitsma as the closer? In the final months of the season, the Braves were not out of the running for a wild card spot, but there was no way they were going to get hot enough to make a run with only Smoltz and Chuck James providing anything close to reliable pitching. The staff simply had too many injuries and disappointments to keep the team afloat.

This year, I would like to think that the staff will be better. After all, we're coming out of spring training with six starters after Lance Cormier pitched so well all spring, Kyle Davies found the flaw in his delivery, and Mark Redman appears set to provide solidly average pitching as the #5 starter. When Mike Hampton returns, the Braves will go seven deep at starting pitcher, which is a real luxury and a surprise for a team with a static payroll. However, when you dig a little deeper, the Braves have a ton of question marks after Smoltz (and that assumes that John stays healthy).

Tim Hudson, as has been noted in this space, has seen his peripherals decline in his two years in Atlanta and is dependent on infield defense, but the Braves' infield defense is likely to take a step back this year with an untested youngster at first, a converted outfielder at second, and two guys who are one year older at short and third. Like Cormier and Davies, Hudson allegedly found the magic bullet in Florida: the splitter that he used so effectively in Oakland. If the net result is that Hudson becomes a good pitcher again but misses time by putting more stress on his body, then we'll take that trade, but it's not ideal.

Mike Hampton, assuming he can be healthy and avoid risky activities like swinging a bat or throwing a ball, couldn't strike out '92 NLCS Barry Bonds when last he had a tomahawk on his chest. He is going to have to have pinpoint control when he returns from his latest injury to have a good shot at retiring major league hitters. Is anyone else nervous that someone who hasn't pitched in two years is going to struggle to hit his spots when he comes back?

Chuck James is being counted on by many Braves fans because when we last saw this team, he was 50% of its decent starting pitching. However, he has problems keeping the ball in the park and his success last year was bound up in a .250 BABIP, a number that is unlikely to repeat itself. James did have an almost 2/1 K/BB ratio last year and he's only 25, so we can assume that he'll get better over the next 2-3 years, but he's going to have to be very lucky again to duplicate his 11-4, 3.78 season last year.

Lance Cormier had an almost 1:1 K/BB ratio last year operating predominantly out of the bullpen. I'd like to believe that his new curveball has unlocked vast, heretofore unseen potential, just like I'd like to believe that Jeff Francoeur has a new, more patient approach to hitting, and just like I'd like a toilet made of solid gold. When Leo Mazzone was the pitching coach, I believed in irrational miracles like a previously average pitcher suddenly found a new pitch that will make him an above-average starting pitcher, but my inner skeptic doesn't allow those sorts of flights of fancy anymore. Similarly, I'd like to believe that Kyle Davies's new delivery is going to allow him to fulfill the vast potential that the Braves see for him. In Davies's case, there's a tad more reason for optimism because he does have an excellent arm and he's young, but the guy has been a batting practice pitcher ever since major league hitters started to figure him out after ten starts or so in 2005. I'd like to think that the difference between his 8.39 ERA last year and success this year is a healthy groin and a tweak in his delivery, but...this is getting repetitive.

Mark Redman reminds me way too much of Horacio Ramirez: a lefty who can't strike anyone out, but still gives up a fair number of homers. Anything south of a 4.75 ERA from Redman will be a massive boost.

Overall, I'd much rather have one excellent starter and six ifs than one excellent starter and four ifs. That said, I'd also rather not have so many junk-ballers who can't force swings-and-misses on my team's pitching staff. The starters are going to be the team's achilles heel; it's a matter of whether the bullpen and offense can compensate.

Bob Wickman - There's simply no way he's going to pitch as well as he did after the Braves acquired him last year. The only question is how steep the decline will be. Fortunately, the Braves have Soriano and Gonzalez waiting in the wings.

Jeff Francoeur - Anyone want to re-read the section of Moneyball that describes how a batting eye is typically unchanging; either a hitter has it or he doesn't? (Michael, did you perhaps miss Jose Reyes's career? - ed.) Francoeur is the Braves's Michael Vick: he has all the physical tools to be a star and if you look at the wrong numbers, it's possible to conclude that he is a star. However, he lacks an intuitive skill that is underrated by scouts, but that is critical to success as a ballplayer. Francoeur will have a better average this year because he isn't a .260 hitter, but even if he hits .285, he'll still be nothing more than a .320 OBP guy unless he gets a lot better at working counts.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Fate Worse than Death

OK, I exaggerate slightly, but the thought of watching a Michigan or Georgia game with Joe Theismann in the booth frightens me. Hell, the thought of watching an LSU-Mississippi State game with Theismann in the booth is revolting. Joe Theismann having anything to do with college football is a terrible, terrible idea. So naturally, ESPN has made just that offer to Joe and he's mulling it over right now. In other words, he's probably waiting for a better offer and when Adam Smith's faith in efficient free markets is confirmed by the fact that no such offer is coming, Theismann will take the offer from ESPN and we'll therefore be subjected to a Musberger-Theismann booth for major games, a veritable Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of evil entities joining forces to screw the Poles/college football fans' psyches.

When Theismann was covering Monday Night Football, I didn't mind so much because, contrary to ESPN's annoying ad campaign, I don't view college football as an hors d'oerve for Monday night and I can live without MNF. Now, to quote George, the evil sheriff/interim coach from Hoosiers:

Look, mister, there's... two kinds of dumb, uh... guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don't matter, the second one you're kinda forced to deal with.

George will personally hide-strap your ass to a pine rail and send you up the Monon Line!

What's frustrating, but not surprising about this move is that college football is yet again the red-headed stepchild for ESPN. I know that the NFL is more popular and it makes sense for ESPN to pair its best talent with its highest-rated property. That said, ESPN is surely motivated in this instance by the epic amount of bile slung at Theismann by non-functionally retarded football fans, so why is it passing Theismann off on college football fans? Do we not have feelings? Do we have a burning desire to be told over and over "you know, I talked with coach so-and-so and he told me..." unlike NFL fans? Are we to play the role of altar boys at parishes to which the molesting priest has been transferred instead of being unfrocked?

In the realm of Bill Simmons's good ideas, the iPod mix to replace commentary during sporting events is looking like a better and better idea.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This Would Not Be a Problem Here

Partially because we don't have crocs here and partially because there is no such thing as "strangely fat":

"A woman with three crocodiles strapped to her waist was stopped at the Gaza-Egypt border crossing after guards noticed that she looked 'strangely fat,' officials said yesterday."


In case the cheering from the Phoenix area confused you, the Hawks have lost six of seven and are now 6-14 since the All-Star Break. I want to love this team, but at this stage, my prevailing emotion is "baseball can't get here soon enough."

There Was Precious Little of This over the Weekend

Israel 0 England 0. Netherlands 0 Romania 0. Lithuania 0 France 1. Notice a trend? The only good things to come from the weekend are that I was - gasp - productive around the house because there was no good footie on (Fox Soccer Channel offered up Russia-Estonia and Norway-Bosnia; GolTV offered up exciting action from the Honduran third division) and that Sunday and Monday mornings brought an outpouring of contempt directed at many of Europe's major powers:

"The Orange machine has temporarily stuttered to a halt." "I didn't like Spain at all." A "mediocre, toothless performance" from England. And just like May 1940, the Germans are the only ones in Europe who seem at all pleased, as their side beat the Czech Republic in Prague and now look to be the favorites for Euro '08, especially with the tournament being played in their backyard in the Osterreich.

Unfortunately, the mediocre football being produced by most of Europe's name countries is entirely consistent with what we saw at the World Cup, where the teams and managers were so frightened by the prospect of conceding goals that the semis and finals produced a whopping three goals in regulation, one from a dubious penalty, one from a legitimate penalty, and one from a corner. Italy was the only team at that stage that could produce a goal from the run of play and it took them 117 minutes to do so. The tournament was summed up for me by the Portugal-Holland game, which featured a ridiculous amount of attacking talent and yet finished 1-0 and was notable only for the copious cards and faux tough guy posturing. Qualifying for Euro '08 has picked up right where Germany '06 left off. There are a few problems at work here:

1. The players are overworked.

2. The players spend precious little time playing together and they do so on a haphazard basis, as they are thrown together for a few days, they play a match or two, and then they go back to their clubs for two months.

3. Players are rated based on their workrate instead of their skill on the ball.

4. Because of overwhelming scrutiny, the managers don't feel comfortable committing to the attack, as the upside for scoring goals is smaller than the downside for conceding them.

Problem #3 seems to be beyond the ability of UEFA to solve. Problems #1 and #2, however, can be fixed by a unified schedule. The solution would be to shorten the club seasons so international teams played together more. If FIFA limited all top divisions to 16 teams and did away with internationals during the club season, then you could have an eight-month club season, a two-month international season, and a two-month break for the players. That would reduce the haphazard way in which international teams are thrown together and it would make qualifying more exciting as it would be in one solid block, rather than spread out over years. A round-robin qualifying tournament over a 4-6 week period would be interesting and the football would be much better, as the teams would have two weeks to prepare and would conceivably get better as the tournament went on (except for my beloved Dutch, who would use the time to develop a series of feuds that would almost certainly result in the modern-day Ruud Gullit packing his bags and leaving). Additionally, the break, which would include a flat ban on matches or training until the final two weeks, would allow players to recharge their batteries so we wouldn't be confronted with players like Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho looking like shells of their former selves.

The trick would be convincing the major clubs to reduce their number of matches in the interests of improving international football and preventing their players from being ground into rubble. Few will miss the bottom four teams lopped off of the EPL or Primera, especially with the stratification in those leagues. 30 domestic matches instead of 38 would be better for the players, but it would decrease revenues, which means it will never happen short of some sort of edict from Brussels. The entrenched interests at play here are no different than those preventing a college football playoff, with the difference being that a playoff would generate more revenue, whereas shortened domestic league seasons would decrease it.

In terms of the incentives for managers to go for goals, maybe the solution would be to award points for goals as well as the result? It seems like the sort of hokey solution that would come from Gary Bettman's marketing department, but imagine the improved quality of play if a 3-3 draw was worth significantly more than a 0-0 draw. Say the system was five points for a win, three for a draw, and then a point for each goal you score up to three (to prevent teams running up the score on Macedonia, not that this is a problem for England). It's a more radical change than the move in the early 90s to three points for a win instead of two, but something should be done to convince managers to try to score.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Drafting Wide Receivers is Opposed to Drafting any other Position?

I'm normally a big fan of Len Pasquarelli's work, but this piece on the risks involved in drafting a wide receiver with the #1 pick just isn't very well thought out. Len's makes a couple arguments, all of which can be dismissed with a "and the alternatives are...?" response:

1. Mike Furrey was an undrafted free agent and finished second in the NFL in catches last year.

Yes, and you can make the same arguments about quarterbacks. Peyton Manning led the NFL in passer rating, but #2 was Damon Huard, who was undrafted when he came out of Washington. The #5 quarterback in terms of passer rating was Tony Romo, who was also undrafted coming out of college. If the Raiders take Jamarcus Russell over Calvin Johnson because good wide receivers can be found later in the Draft, then they are making a huge mistake. In other words, they are just being the Raiders.

One other point: why focus on the number of catches as the measure of a receiver's merit? Do we evaluate running backs on their number of carries? A system like that run by Mike Martz can ring up huge reception totals for its wide receivers, regardless of whether those receivers are actually good. Wouldn't it be better to look at, say, Pro Bowl berths? did the heavy lifting for us by analyzing the 2005 Pro Bowl rosters and lo and behold, of the eight Pro Bowl wide receivers that year, four were first round picks, two were second round picks, one was a third round pick, and one was an undrafted free agent. The interesting conclusion from that article, by the way, is that teams should spend their first round picks on running backs and offensive tackles. Defensive tackles and cornerbacks also look like solid bets.

2. Lots of wide receivers drafted in the first rounds between 1997 and 2003 flamed out.

This argument is meaningless without comparing wide receivers to other positions. Again, since the unstated implication from Pasquarelli's piece is that the Raiders should take Jamarcus Russell instead of Calvin Johnson with the #1 pick, let's look at first round quarterbacks over the same time frame:

2003 - Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman

2002 - David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey

2001 - Michael Vick

2000 - Chad Pennington

1999 - Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown

1998 - Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf

1997 - Jim Druckenmiller

It would be pretty fair to conclude that more than half of the quarterbacks on that list have never been or will never be productive starters in the NFL. Druckenmiller, Leaf, Couch, Smith, and McNown are confirmed busts. Carr, Harrington, Ramsey, Boller, and Grossman are either en route to being busts or at least have bust potential.

3. Only two receivers have been taken with the #1 pick and neither of them are going to the Hall of Fame.

Wow, a sample size of two! We can make TONS of legitimate inferences from that!

4. "Because of the rules changes that have opened up the passing game and turned ordinary receivers into players capable of snagging 60 balls per season, it's not necessary to have Hall of Fame-caliber players at the position."

So if the rules favor the receivers, doesn't that make a superlative receiver even more important because defensive backs can do relatively little to stop them?

Incidentally, I have a theory on why wide receivers sometimes flake out in the NFL when they play the position that should be the simplest to evaluate for scouts. (OK, I cribbed the theory from a 2002 article.) The position tends to collect the biggest head cases, players with flashy athleticism and a desire to be isolated into one-on-one encounters where teamwork is unnecessary. Thus, wide receivers are more likely to flame out in the NFL than players at any other position because they are the most likely players to go nuts once they are lavished with money and attention. This is my theory as to why Charles Rogers, for example, was an NFL bust despite physical skills and a college pedigree that seemed to guarantee NFL success. Anyway, coming back to Calvin Johnson for a moment, CJ is universally described as terrific individual, so the normal skepticism that NFL types have about top wide receivers do not apply.

I'm Feeling Socratic this Morning

Peter King spent years extolling just about anything that the New England Patriots did, but he had a specific affection for their low-budget approach to free agency, where they eschewed signing big-ticket free agents and instead looked for bargains that would improve their depth. He also babbled on endlessly about how the Patriots would only bring in character guys. So now that New England is on a free agent spending spree and have gone after a collection of former Tennessee Vol receivers with demons (Donte Stallworth and Kelley Washington), what's King's reaction? Brilliant! Not a hint of acknowledgment that all of his former praise might have been flawed. Scott Pioli could form a group of Patriot Ultras to pay homage to Arkan and Peter King would hail the move as a visionary step to mimic the best traditions of European fandom.

Meanwhile, Tom Verducci is busy castigating the Yankees for taking a flawed approach to team development. This article would have made sense about four years ago when the Yankees were busy trading prospects every year for mediocre, "proven" veterans, but Verducci is completely behind the times. I am loathe to praise the Yankees in any respect, but they've done a commendable job in the past couple years of not mortgaging their future and of looking to their farm system to plug holes instead of signing the Gary Sheffields and Randy Johnsons of the world. As a result, the Yankees have, gasp, an honest-to-g-d good young player in Robinson Cano and another one in the pipeline in Philip Hughes.

The major problem that I have with Verducci's piece is that he contradicts himself. He argues (correctly, in my opinion) that the baseball playoff are a complete crapshoot and he cites some truly startling numbers:

In all postseason series from 1995 (the start of the wild-card era) through 1999, the team that won the greater number of regular-season games came out on top 52.5 percent of the time (21-19). But from 2000 to '06, the team with more regular-season victories won only 36.2 percent of postseason series (17-30).

Then, instead of simply concluding that the Yankees are, barring an unforeseen disaster, going to be in the playoffs and they'll have a 1/8 chance of winning the World Series once they're there, Verducci goes on to make the claim that teams with older players are at a disadvantage in the playoffs. If the playoffs are random, then it shouldn't help or hurt having older players, right? It has to be one or the other, but it can't be both.

Looking more closely at the Yankees' exit last year against the Tigers, there is no rational way to conclude that the Yankees were done in by their older players. Look at the OPSs for their position players:

Abreu - .812
Cano - .266
Damon - .690
Giambi - .800
Jeter - 1.467
Matsui - .562
Posada - 1.348
A-Rod - .142
Sheffield - .166

Yes, a couple of the Yankees' older players were dreadful, but their best hitters in the series were 32-year old Derek Jeter and 35-year old Jorge Posada. Conversely, their one young player (Cano) did nothing for them. The age factor that Verducci likes to tout doesn't prove much at all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Highway Robbery

Referencing the Rafael Soriano/Horacio Ramirez heist, Baseball Prospectus's one-sentence description for the Braves in 2007 is "Three or four more deals with the Mariners and the Braves can start a new dynasty." That's a little how I feel about the news that the Falcons landed two second-round picks and moved up two spots in the Draft in return for Matt Schaub.

As an initial matter, Schaub was of little value to the Falcons. Yes, a good back-up is important, but the Falcons were going to lose him at the end of the year, anyway. Additionally, you don't want your back-up to be too good because he's never going to play unless the starter gets hurt and Michael Vick has been healthy for the past two seasons. Schaub was never really an option to start, given tbe amount of money that the Falcons are paying to Vick, and his value went down when the team fired Jim Mora and transitioned away from the West Coast offense. This move is better for Schaub and better for the Falcons. (If Schaub does better than Vick next year, that will not mean that the trade was a bad idea, but rather that paying Michael Vick the GNP of Ecuador was a bad idea.)

As for the picks, the Falcons really need them because they have made relatively few picks in the last several drafts and the team is top-heavy. It has a number of high-salary players, but not much behind them. Now, the Falcons will have three picks in the top 44 this year and they're deeper in terms of picks in 2008, as well. Additionally, moving up two spots virtually ensures that they'll get one of Levi Brown, Laron Landry, Gaines Adams, or Jammal Anderson and it puts them in better position to trade down if a player like Brady Quinn or Adrian Peterson slide down the board and a team up above them gets excited about nabbing them, in which case the Falcons would further stockpile picks.

In short, with smart drafting, the Falcons turned Matt Schaub into two cheap, productive starters. I'd say I was surprised, but we have to remember that this is the Texans we're dealing with.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Do I Feel a Draft in Here? Or Just Some Dreadful Puns?

Four questions for this week:

1. Who’s your favorite, non-obvious pick in the draft this year who you actually watched play?

I'm inclined to say Patrick Willis, even though he's generally rated as one of the top linebacker prospects. He's the perfect combination of terrific measureables in terms of speed and strength and great on-field production. The gulf between Willis and the other linebackers in the Draft is significant. If you're a team picking in the top ten (like, say, the Falcons) and you've had problems stopping the run and you're watching the Tampa Two, a defense that puts great pressure on the middle linebacker, take over the NFL, wouldn't you want to take a player who is clearly the best at his position? Willis isn't a lock for the top ten for the sole reason that he played at Ole Miss instead of Ohio State. His college choice is hampering him Draft status, which screams UNDERVALUED!!! to me. Or maybe I'm hearing the voices again and should have that checked out.

Another guy who is undervalued is Michael Bush, who would be the #2 running back in the Draft if not for a broken leg last year. If he had shredded his knee or exploded his Achilles Tendon, then I'd understand his third round grade, but he broke his leg and that's an injury that generally doesn't leave nasty lingering effects, nor is there an elevated risk of the injury happening again. How many 250-pound running backs are floating around with pretty good speed, good vision, and quick feet? That's what I thought.

One other guy floating around who would be a nifty pick in the middle or late rounds is Lorenzo Booker because he's hella fast and will be productive the moment he's placed in an offense not run by a walking, talking poster child for anti-nepotism policies. At a minimum, he should be a good returner. Remember the value the Jets got with Leon Washington? Booker is faster and was a bigger recruit before he was mangled by the Jeff Bowden JumpBallORama.

On a related note, two other guys are underrated because of the coaching they received in college. One is Trent Edwards, who was a big-name quarterback coming out of high school and looked good at times at Stanford before the Walt Harris disaster dragged him down. The other is Steve Breaston, who isn't very good as a receiver, but will be an outstanding return specialist in the NFL once he's playing for coaches who are not paralyzed by risk-aversion and who therefore recognize that it is in fact legal and rational to block punt coverage gunners.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Sidney Rice is going to be taken too low because of the Troy Williamson experience, with NFL types conveniently forgetting that Williamson caught about nine passes in his last year in Columbia while playing in Lou Holtz's offense, whereas Rice played in a sophisticated offense in which he caught 142 passes for 23 touchdowns as a reshirt freshman and sophomore. Call me crazy, but I'd have him as my top receiver in the Draft (other than that guy from the Flats).

2. Who’s your RADIOACTIVE BIOHAZARD DO NOT TOUCH AAAIIIIGGGHHH pick to avoid in this draft?

For the amount of hype he's getting, as well as the money that the Raiders are going to pay him, Jamarcus Russell has to be on this list. I liked him at LSU and this might be the contrarian in me leading me astray, but there are all sorts of signs that he's overrated in his capacity as the top pick in the Draft. First, any quarterback whose weaknesses section leads off with "needs to improve his decision-making process" is a red flag. That's not unlike a porn star whose first weakness is "not very attractive." Russell is exactly the sort of quarterback that scouts fall in love with because of his physical tools and forget that those tools are all secondary to the importance of decision-making and accuracy. Russell's decision-making problems showed up against every good defense he faced. Riddle me this: should the #1 pick in the Draft throw for 5.5 yards per attempt and three picks in his team's biggest game of the year? Should his biggest throw of the year - the winning score at Tennessee - have ended up in the hands of someone other than his intended receiver (and LSU only needed that score because Russell had been a turnover machine all game and kept Tennessee in the game)? And that's before we discuss 2005, when Russell didn't break 100 in QB rating for any game other than his efforts against Appalachian State, North Texas, Mississippi State, and Vandy.

Second, there is a major recency issue going on with Russell because of his performance against Notre Dame, but everyone seems to forget that Notre Dame hasn't had competent defensive backs since, well, since they last won a bowl game? Name me a semi-competent quarterback who hasn't looked good against Notre Dame's secondary in the past two years, and most of those guys didn't have the luxury of throwing to Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis.

Third, Russell has great physical tools, but he's still developing as a passer, so being sent to Oakland will retard his career in a major way. The Raiders would be much better off drafting a finished product like Calvin Johnson or Gaines Adams who won't need functional coaching to develop as a player. To put this in the legal context, if you were starting a firm and knew nothing about how to train a lawyer, you'd much rather take an associate with average intellectual ability and experience in the litigation process over a brilliant Yale grad who has no practical knowledge of how the law works and is noted for a searing analysis of Bruce Ackerman's Constitutional Moments.

I'm also not a fan of Paul Posluzny, mainly because the profile of "white tackling machine from the Big Ten with 'adequate speed'" hasn't exactly been consistent with rip-roaring NFL success. As much has Patrick Willis is underrated because he played at Ole Miss, Posluzny is overrated because he played at Penn State and people think that Shane Conlan is still kicking around.

You would think that I would be excited about Leon Hall being listed as the top corner prospect in the Draft, but he never wowed me in college. If a team is going to spend a top 15 pick on a corner, then shouldn't that corner be described as something other than "solid" and "lacking top-end speed?" Hall had a good 40 time at the combine, but I'm not sold on his acceleration, or maybe I just can't get the images of Dwayne Jarrett running past him in the Rose Bowl out of my head. Some team that is drafting for need instead of talent is going to reach for Hall and regret their decision.

Drew Stanton: Couldn't stay healthy, wildly inconsistent, played almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college...third quarterback taken? Makes perfect sense to me.

3. Who’s your favorite college stud who failed to find success in the pros?

Will Carr. Michigan fans unfortunately remember him for fumbling at the goal line in a revolting 9-3 loss at pre-Tiller Purdue that knocked Michigan out of the running for the Big Ten title, but Carr was a dominating defensive tackle, as evidenced by 128 tackles and 29 tackles for loss in his last two years. (By way of comparison, Alan Branch had 56 tackles and 9 TFLs in the last two years and he's ranked as one of the top two defensive tackles on the board.) I was sure that Carr was going to be the first Michigan DT to do something in the pros, but he went out with a whimper.

4. In the big draft board of life, where were you?

Coming out of Michigan, I was the proverbial player who had put up great numbers for three-and-a-half years before slacking off at the end of his senior year, leading scouts to wonder "how much does he want it?" Also, tendencies to burn roommate's new pots and pans while attempting to cook mashed potatoes or having meltdown in parking lot in Evanston led to concerns about the effects that this player would have on team chemistry.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Everyone Pile on Duke Today

As a soccer fan, I ought to appreciate a good dive more...

The Baseball Prospectus Book Report on Tim Hudson

We're hoping for less of the "Tim Hudson beleaguered" look this year.

I try not to get too caught up in the "_____ is the key to a good season" line of thinking. For instance, I would like to proclaim that Tim Hudson is the key to the Braves' season because their starting pitching was a major weakness last year and Hudson's disappointing campaign was a large reason why. That said, if Hudson returns to his Oakland form, but the team finishes 78-84 because they get no production from the first and second base spots, then what have I really proved? I'm comfortable saying that Hudson is important to the Braves because they need him to be a reliable starter and they are paying him lots of money to be one when their payroll isn't big enough to weather a non-producing, big money guy.

It's with that intro in mind that I link the Baseball Prospectus's Player Profile for Hudson. Unfortunately, there isn't much cause for optimism there. The gist of the article is that Hudson thrived, despite a low strikeout rate, because of significant groundball tendencies paired with a sterling defensive infield in Oakland. This is a major concern for Hudson in '07 because it's likely that the Braves' infield will be worse defensively this year than it has been in the past two years. Edgar Renteria and Chipper Jones are both a year older and the latter has never been much with the glove. On the right side, the Braves will likely see a decline in defensive performance from the first base spot when they go from Scott Thorman to Adam Laroche. Ditto for the second base spot, where the Braves go from Marcus Giles to a converted outfielder who once made 45 errors at Class A Macon and is coming off of Tommy John surgery.

The most disturbing trends for Hudson since he's come to Atlanta are increases in his home run and walk rates. Over his last four years in Oakland, Hudson's home run rate decreased each year, from .8 HR/9 in 2001 to .7, .6, and then .4 in 2004, his last year in Oakland. Since he's come to Atlanta, those rates have jumped up to .9 and then 1.0 last year. Ditto for his walk rate, which declined in each of his last four years in Oakland and then has jumped up in his two years in Atlanta. Is Hudson trying to hard to strike batters out in Atlanta because he has less faith in his defense? Is he declining because of natural aging? The Braves need Hudson to pitch well, but I fear that I'm hoping against hope that he'll magically reverse a two-year trend and improve his peripherals. Those walk and home run rates should receive some close scrutiny this year in April and May.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Should the Hawks Be Tanking?

The Hawks' four-game winning streak and the resulting appearance of articles like this one from John Hollinger entitled "Look Who's Contending Now" (a statement that hasn't been made about the Hawks this century, but it now creeping out of the keyboards of writers without full frontal lobotomies) has caused us ton examine the question of whether the Hawks should be winning at this stage.

In a comment to my post yesterday about the Hawks, LD opines that the Hawks should not be winning right now:

Count me among those who think the Hawks' winning streak is a bad thing. It's not lottery position they're costing themselves, it's having a lottery pick at all. They lose their own pick to Phoenix if it's not in the top 3. With Indiana looking like they'll make the playoffs, that means the Hawks only pick in the top 14 will be their own, and they'll only keep it if their ping pong balls put them in the top three. From the results of the last week or so, they've gone from having a 12% chance at the top pick to less than 8%. While that seems like a de minimis shift, the chances of getting the 2nd or 3rd pick also drop. A week ago, the Hawks were tied with the Bucks, Bobcats and Sixers with for the third worst record, and only a game or so behind the Celtics. Now, they're behind two of those teams (Praise Iguodala). So their chances of having no pick at all in the lottery have increased from somewhere around 60% to closer to 80%. I think when the issue isn't having "a worse pick" but rather having "any pick", winning meaningless games late in the year is even worse. Now would be a good time for a Pacers collapse though - so the Hawks could snag Acie Law with the 14th pick.

I am certainly not one of those people who is averse to rooting against my favorite teams. I've been rooting against Michigan's basketball team for just about this entire season because I didn't want them to get a meaningless #10 seed in the tournament, a result that would have been a failure when the program was living up to expectations, but would now be treated as the equivalent of UCLA winning eight straight titles because of the depths to which Michigan has fallen as the result of bad coaching. Tommy Amaker's resume going into this year made it abundantly clear that he is a below-average basketball coach and Michigan will never win consistently with him. Thus, for the long-term health of the program, Michigan needed a bad enough season that Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman would be forced to fire him. Hopefully, 8-8 in a lousy Big Ten and not even being on the bubble will be sufficient, but you never know. I digress.

With that background out of the way, I am decidedly in favor of the Hawks continuing to win games, even if that decreases the chances of the team retaining its first round pick. If you assume counter-factually that the Hawks would have lost the last four games instead of winning them, they would have a 13.75% chance of winning the lottery, whereas right now they have a 4.3% chance of winning it. Thus, their winning streak has cut their chance of winning the lottery significantly, but keep in mind that their chances of winning the lottery were very small to begin with, even if they kept losing and finished with the third-worst record in the NBA. The NBA structures the lottery odds in such a way that the incentives to tank a season are not that great. Also, with four additional losses, the Hawks still would only be 1.5 games worse than Milwaukee or Charlotte, so their margin for error in retaining the 13.75% chance would be minimal.

More importantly, the Hawks are currently at a stage of rebuilding in which they don't really need more young players. I'd be an idiot to say that they couldn't use Greg Oden or Kevin Durant (although the latter would force them to deal Marvin Williams or Josh Childress at a cut rate, not that this would be a terrible problem to have, given Durant's talent). That said, the rest of the players in the Draft are good, but not so wonderful that they would change the Hawks' fortunes significantly. This is all about Oden and Durant and the Hawks' shot at either of them goes from long to longer by virtue of the recent winning streak.

Set against that marginal change in the odds is the fact that the Hawks' young players need to learn how to win. The young nucleus of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, Marvin Williams, and Josh Childress needs to develop confidence. Johnson's calf injury has turned out to be a blessing because the other young players are forced into greater roles with Johnson out and they're learning that they are capable of filling those roles quite well. This is a significant development for the team. With the teams in front of them all in various stages of free fall, a playoff bid isn't out of the question and that would be a major development for these players and this franchise. It's been so long since the Hawks were on top of the sports radar in this town for anything good. A strong finish to the season would change that. A strong finish would also make the team more attractive to players on other teams in the NBA, so the Hawks wouldn't have to overpay dramatically to acquire future Joe Johnsons. The team needs 1-2 established players more than it needs talented 19-year olds.

In the end, this is really more of an emotional issue for me than anything else. I went to ten games in 2004-5 when the Hawks won 13 all year. I went to 19 games in 2005-6 the Hawks won 26. I've lived through the never-ending rebuilding process. Now that the process is finally starting to bear fruit, I'm simply incapable of not enjoying the team playing well. Maybe that means that I'm being irrational about the negatives of the Hawks winning four in a row, but I'm having a hard time divorcing myself from the excitement of a bunch of young players maturing into the sort of players that we all hoped they could be. (I'm really thinking of Josh Smith here.)

All that said, my experience as a Hawks fan requires me to recite one of my favorite exchanges from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at this stage:

Walter Donovan: As you can now see, Dr. Jones, we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago. We're just one step away.

Indiana Jones: That's usually when the ground falls out from underneath your feet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

While I Was Out

Trying to actually live up to the title of this here blog:


Far be it from me to be melodramatic, but last week might have saved the Hawks' season. After a 1-8 start to the second half, the team eked out three wins over Washington, Memphis, and Minnesota to halt their collapse. 35 wins, which was my goal for the season, is still attainable, although it will require an 10-8 finish and this club has shown an ability to tread water, but not much of an ability to get over .500 for an extended stretch. The interesting aspect of the three-game winning streak is that the Hawks accomplished it with Joe Johnson on the sidelines, which clearly indicates that the team had grown stagnant and dependent on its star player. While some have said that the Hawks' winning streak is a bad thing because it damages their lottery position, that claim doesn't really ring true to me because this team has plenty of young talent and it's more important at this stage that they learn how to win and play with one another. Durant or Oden sure wouldn't hurt and the winning streak only marginally decreases the chances of the Hawks landing one of them. The team is four and a half games out of a playoff spot, but they're also six games out of last place in the East. After 64 games, the Hawks are probably where they're going to end up. Whether they play well in the final 18 games will determine the future of Mike Woodson and possibly Billy Knight. OK, that and a law clerk for the Maryland Court of Appeals.


En Fuego! The team is 6-1 since acquiring Zhitnik and Tkachuk and there is a decent case for causation here outside of the usual platitudes of "Waddell showed the team that he cares" (although there might be something to that). Zhitnik has eight assists and is +7 since coming over, while Tkachuk has four goals and is +7. Add in Eric Belanger's 11 points and +1 in his 13 games since joining the team and you have good evidence that Waddell's efforts to improve the team's depth have been successful. Interestingly, the one area in which Tkachuk and Zhitnik were supposed to provide the greatest impact - the power play - has not been affected substantially, as the team is only 6/34 on the power play (17.6%) since the trades. That said, we do have sample size issues here, so insert customary caveats about how we would know more if Zhitnik and Tkachuk had been with the team for 5,000 games.


Mike Hampton is hurt again and Chipper injured his ankle yesterday, although the latter injury is relatively meaningless. I put almost no stock in spring stats, at least until the end of spring when there is a month's worth of data and the teams are playing a little harder by late March. I just want the team to be healthy when they emerge from the Magic Kingdom and Hampton's injury is problematic. I would be more excited about Mark Redman if Leo Mazzone was still rocking in the dugout, but he's a decent option for the fourth or fifth starter spot, especially since I don't have much faith in Kyle Davies based on what I've seen from him so far. The Braves' rotation doesn't look much better than it did last year, but then again, the Mets' rotation looks worse. Speaking of which, I found this snippet ($) from the Baseball Prospectus to be interesting:

Consider that 2006 Mets starters threw the third-fewest innings in the National League. If you think it’s counter-intuitive for a good team to be among the leaders in relief innings pitched, you’re right. Looking at innings pitched by starters over the past five seasons (2002-2006), the top 10 National League teams in that category averaged a 92-70 record, while the bottom 10 averaged 74-88. (For comparison, the 10 teams clustered around the average of 951 innings were right in between with their average won-loss as well, going 83-79.)

Much as we all fetishize the 1990 Reds and imagine that Gonzalez, Soriano, and Wickman can be our Nasty Boys (just like Texas fans are probably fetishizing Danny and the Miracles right now), good teams tend to have starting pitchers who shoulder most of the pitching load. The Braves' rotation, after Smoltz, is a series of question marks and the margin for error is going to be lower this year because of presumed offensive decreases from the first and second base spots.

Messi's Hat Trick

It's amazing what a last-minute equalizer and Sevilla's loss at bottom-dwelling 'Nastic does for the ol' outlook:




Saturday, March 10, 2007

Barca-Real, the Liveblog

YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE at the Nou Camp where the recently defrocked champions of Europe will meet up with the artists formerly known as Real Madrid. Pacing the sidelines will be Frank Rijkaard, who's been rumored to be on his way to Milan in the summer, and Fabio Capello, who's been rumored to be on his way by the Ides of March. This ought to be fun, as both teams desperately need this game.

I have not seen the Liverpool second leg. I was working ludicrous hours this week and DVRed the game, but after reading write-ups like this one that make it sound as if Barca were mostly toothless at Anfield, I deleted that one quickly.

4:02 - The Barca anthem is being sung. BARCA! BARCA! BARRRR-CA! At the end, the camera finds a very angry Catalan, followed by the Phil Schoen referencing Franco and the Spanish Civil War. Dammit, he beat me to the first reference to Madrid's fascist heritage. I feel shame.

4:05 - Barca's lineup seems a little unbalanced. They have three attackers - Messi, Ronaldinho, and Eto'o - and three relatively offensive midfielders - Xavi, Deco, and Iniesta - with three defenders at the back and Marquez presumably as the shield. The good news is Thuram and Deco are back. Thuram was poor at the Bernabeu, but he's the best option at centerback right now.

4:10 - Barca have the ball for the first five minues or so. Real take their first attack and score, as Barca are exposed at the back on the counter (hard to believe with only three defenders and six attacking players) and Thuram hits a dreadful clearance of a Higuain cross right to Van Nistlerooy, who buries it past Valdes. Just what the struggling Blaugrana needed.

4:19 - Flea! 1-1 as Messi is unmarked on the right side and slots it right past Casillas. Real come right back and the clumsy Oleguer sticks a leg out and trips Guti in the box. Brilliant. Guti stuck his leg out to ensure contact, but this was a good call and Oleguer's fault. Van Nistlerooy sends Valdes the wrong way and it's 2-1. Barca's defense is, to use Seamus Malin's term, shambolic. They have combined slumping defenders and a lack of numbers at the back. There is a vortex of tactical and personnel failings going on right now.

4:24 - Eto'o is sent free on goal and is thwarted by Casillas for the second time. Barca is throwing everything forward and creating chances on both ends. Messi set up the chance. Leo showing the goods today.

4:30 - There's been more action in the first 24 minutes than there was in 90 minutes of Man United-Liverpool. Then again, this is because of the insanity of Barca's deployment and the inability of any Barca defender not named Puyol to perform basic defensive tasks.

4:32 - Eto'o is set up by Ronaldinho at the penalty spot and scuffs the shot. Three good chances and he hasn't scored. His movement is excellent and it was his pass that set up the Barca equalizer, but the finishing is dull. And as soon as I type that, Ronaldinho jinks into the box (how many other players "jink?"), plays a great one-two with Eto'o and forces an amazing save by Casillas, but Messi nails the rebound into the roof of the net as Casillas narrowly misses making the double-save of the decade and three Real players on the line look on helplessly. This is electric stuff.

4:38 - Barca create two more great chances. Ronaldinho gets set up in the box, but can't control it, followed by Messi being sent free by Xavi and hits the side netting. Cue Alabama's PA announcer: this is Barcelona football.

4:44 - Every time Real come forward, it's four-on-four. On this instance, Higuain causes Marquez to fall over and whistles a shot just wide. He also had Guti open on the left side. Barca then come down to the other end and Ronaldinho gets to the byline and crosses, but Salgado clears just before Eto'o can tip the ball into the open net. I'm really not exaggerating here; there are more good chances at both ends than there were in the World Cup semis and finals combined. This is the '66 World Cup Final all over again.

4:50 - The Real defenders are just traffic cones for the Barca players. Eto'o slaloms past two from the left before getting stopped by the third. Deco then beats one on the right and sets up Iniesta for a shot from 23 meters that Casillas saves nicely. This is like a hockey game at this point, minus the sticks swung at heads.

4:52 - Oleguer picks a second yellow for a reckless challenge in the Real half. No one will notice his absence, although it might force Barca to play more defensively and decrease their numbers at the offensive end.

4:54 - Halftime. Ray Hudson is breathless. He might deplete his arsenal of metaphors by the time we reach 90 minutes. In the realm of amusing ads, if I text "Win B" for Barca to some number, I can win a five-day vacation to Orlando...the city in which I just spent five days billing a century. Personally, I'd prefer it if GolTV ran one of the Spanish-language infomercials for sex enhancement pills that they usually run during the morning and could double as soft-core porn. Mas Sexo!

5:10 - Eto'o off for Silvinho. Barca needed a defender after Oleguer's madness and Eto'o probably can't play for the full 90, but why not take off one of the offensive midfielders and retain the attacking three? Eto'o's passing and movement were terrific in the first half and Barca will now lack a true striker.

5:17 - We're seven minutes into the second half and the big highlight so far has been a dreadful "clearance" by Marquez (who has had a Spears-ian devolution this year) directly to a Real player on the left wing. The cross comes in and Puyol, the one Barca defender who hasn't embarrassed himself, forces the shot wide.

5:21 - I've been impressed by Guti, which is something new. Real have suffered this year because they've had no one to replace Zidane as an offensive midfielder to set up the frontline and Guti is doing a good job in that role today. I'm also impressed by Higuain. He looks like Real's first good purchase in ages.

5:25 - Ray Hudson has figured out that Barca have no protection for the back four and they are exposed as a result. This is what happens when Iniesta, Deco, and Xavi all play at the same time. Rijkaard made the same mistake at the Bernabeu and hasn't learned that he needs to play Edmilson or Motta in front of the defense.

5:27 - Robinho on for Raul, who has been anonymous despite Barca's frailty. The Madrid team on the pitch really worries me.

5:32 - Van Nistlerooy has had three great shots and Valdes has answered all three times. The first comes off a move started by Robinho taking the ball off Ronaldinho in his back right corner, then Higuain sends Ruud clear on goal and Valdes makes an epic save when Ruud tries to chip him. Valdes either guessed that Ruud would try to chip him or he has the quickest reflexes ever. The next two saves weren't quite as great, but they're still impressive. It's all Real now. The red card and resulting withdrawing of Eto'o have castrated Barca. As usual this season, Rijkaard has gotten his tactics and subs wrong and Barca have been toothless in the second half.

5:37 - Belletti on for Deco. This is a good move. Barca can now have four in the back with Marquez as the screen. Plus, Deco had a yellow and was throwing himself around recklessly, so this will prevent Barca from having to play with nine.

5:38 - And as soon as I say that, Guti serves up a free kick from the right and Sergio Ramos heads it in. Barca's defense on a set piece lets them down again, although in this instance, there's almost nothing that can be done on a glancing header this good. Real have dominated the second half and they deserve the lead. That was a great goal.

5:49 - Casillas just beats Ronaldinho to a loose ball after Gudjohnsen heads a free kick towards goal. Casillas has been excellent, as usual.

5:53 - This is the same game I've been watching for the past month. Barca play well in the first half, something goes against them late in the first or early in the second, and then they get dominated in the second half. It happened against Valencia (sorta), Liverpool, and Sevilla.

5:55 - REVERSE JINX!!! FLEA, MUTHAF***ER!!! Messi is an absolute magician, taking a pass from Ronaldinho (that was probably intended for Gudjohnsen), beating Helguera, and then slotting in at the far post past Casillas at full stretch as Ramos came over. And he kisses the team crest for good measure. Ramos's was a great goal, but that was even better. And then Ronaldinho gets run over in a dangerous position in the box by Diarra in a moment of stupidity, but the ref swallows his whistle. Why didn't you swallow your whistle when you were sending Oleguer off, you Francoist Puta!?! (I doubt that's a good Spanish construction, but I'm mad and can't be expected to make proper grammar.) And he gives a foul against Ronaldinho for good measure.

3-3 at the final whistle. The Catalan white hankies are out for the ref. A terrific game, marked by great play from Barca in the first half and Real in the second. Barca will be three points down tomorrow if they don't get any help from 'Nastic, but they've finished their murderer's row of Valencia, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Liverpool twice in the Champions League, and Zaragoza on the road in the King's Cup. The schedule is more manageable the rest of the way and as Eto'o and Thuram round back into form and Sevilla feels the pressure of going for a title they haven't won in ages, Barca still have a great shot at a third straight Liga title. If Rijkaard goes back to last year's structure (with more protection for the defense) and gets better with his in-game tactics, the season is salvageable. It would have been hard to get back up without that strike from Leo.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Light Posting this Week

Just so you know, my usual brain-to-keyboard-to-cyberspace diarrhea will be limited this week because of work. So if you're looking for more wringing of garments over the Hawks or the Blaugrana's impending doom at Anfield, you'll probably have to look elsewhere.

I Don't Want to Talk about This

The Hawks are 1-7 coming out of the All-Star break. In the deep corners of my mind, I have a gnawing suspicion that the team really isn't as good as I had hoped and their inability to win games in the later stages of the season when opponents are bringing their "A" games is evidence of that fact. I hope I'm wrong.

I Don't Want to Talk about This, Either


Barca gave the lead in Spain away yesterday to a Sevilla side who deserved all three points. El Mundo Deportivo gives the ref some stick and the red card he gave to Ludovic Giuly was inexplicable, but by that point, Sevilla had already taken the lead, so it was somewhat pointless. The game was a lot like the Liverpool match: Barca played great for the first half hour or so, allowed an equalizer at the end of the half, and then sleep-walked through the second half. Daniel Alves is simply outstanding and Sevilla deserved to win because of him.

A few other thoughts:

1. Ray Hudson went wild for Barca's opener because of the quality of the cross from the right, but never noticed that it was Zambrotta who crossed, not Giuly. And the initial pass came from Oleguer in midfield. Barca's defenders might struggle with that whole "defending" thing, but they sure can pass.

2. Rafa Marquez remains crap. He got turned by Kerzhakov for the equalizer and nearly gifted Kanoute a winner early in the second half by tripping on the ball six yards from goal. Victor Valdes bailed him out there, but seemed to misjudge Alves's free kick for the winner.

3. Ronaldinho is quite good as a central forward. His play to draw the red card/penalty was sublime and would have ended the game and given Barca a five-point lead in the Primera if not for Palop's feet saving a penalty that was struck right down the middle. The match swung immediately after the saved penalty. If Barca lose the title to Sevilla, that'll be where they blew it.

4. Rijkaard's subs made no sense. He pulled off Ronaldinho for little apparent reason (unless Ronnie is really getting tubby). He brought on Eto'o and Saviola and left them with no wingers for support. Rijkaard's bad subs are why Barca struggle in second halves. They badly miss Henk Ten Cate, as without him, Rijkaard has been revealed to be a bit of a Don Shula: good strategy and no tactics.