Thursday, October 25, 2007

Your Mind is Filled with Big Ideas, Images and Distorted Facts

In advance of the turdocaust of triumphalism that is likely on its way from Bill Simmons, I have a couple bones to pick with him:

Bill should stop picking on the outfielder from my state.

You would think that, after killing J.D. Drew for the entire season as being a choker, Simmons would write something containing the words "I was wrong" after Drew hit a clutch grand slam to put the Red Sox on their way to a critical win in game six of the ALCS. Or that maybe he would acknowledge that Drew didn't only hit that grand slam, but he went five for ten with six RBI during the three games in which Boston rallied from a 3-1 deficit. If he was really self-aware, Simmons would question the assumption that girds so much of his writing that certain players are chokers and certain players are clutch. After all, if Peyton Manning can lead an epic comeback in the AFC Championship Game against his bete noire and J.D. Drew can perform at a top level in crunch ALCS games, then maybe this notion of certain players being clutch is vastly overblown and the result of unreliably small sample sizes.

Predictably, Simmons doesn't engage in any approaching a mea culpa, but instead blathers on about how shocked he was and then adds in a bevy of e-mails from his Red Sox herd parroting the same line. File this under the heading of "no shit, Sherlock. You killed the guy all year and then he came up huge. I'm shocked that you were shocked."

A couple other notes on Drew:

1. His overall post-season numbers aren't outstanding, but here are his OPSs for the three Championship Series in which he's played: .750, 1.044, and .905.

2. Simmons made Drew out to be the worst player in recorded history this year, but he ended up with a 105 OPS+ and a .373 OBP. Admittedly, he didn't play like a $14M player, but he wasn't terrible or anything. Of course, I'm sure all those hits and walks were in "non-clutch" situations.

Bill should stop picking on the quarterback from my alma mater.

This passage bothered me when Simmons wrote it a few weeks ago:

Put it this way: When your own fans are chanting "Griese! Griese!" for your backup, only it's 2007 and they're chanting for Brian instead of Bob, then you know you've colossally failed as a starting QB. Is Brian Griese the worst athlete who ever had his name chanted at a professional sporting event? He has to be right up there, correct? This was like 19,000 NBA fans chanting "Madsen! Madsen!" at the same time. Anyway, you beat this Lions team by throwing the ball on them and outscoring them ... and I'm not backing Brian Griese in a shootout. No, thanks.

The Mark Madsen comparison annoyed me, starting with the fact that Griese has made the Pro Bowl, whereas Madsen has never been on the periphery of the periphery of considering for the NBA All-Star Game. Griese has a career passer rating of 84.6. For context, here are the career passer ratings of some other prominent NFL quarterbacks:

Peyton Manning - 94.7
Tom Brady - 91.8
Carson Palmer - 91.2
Ben Roethlisberger - 89.7
Chad Pennington - 89.3
Mark Bulger - 88.8
Drew Brees - 85.8
Matt Hasselbeck - 85.4
Donovan McNabb - 85.4
Jake Delhomme - 85.2
Brett Favre - 85.1
Brad Johnson - 83.1
Steve McNair - 83.1
Michael Vick - 75.7
Eli Manning - 74.6
Trent Dilfer - 70.8
Rex Grossman - 69.3

I'll concede that passer rating isn't a perfect way to judge a quarterback, but it's the most easily accessible. I doubt that different measures would lead to a different result than the obvious conclusion that Griese is a good quarterback. His numbers sit in the Hasselbeck-McNabb-McNair zone and most fans would conclude that those three are good quarterbacks. His numbers are miles better than Rex Grossman, the guy he replaced, and Trent Dilfer, the model for a game managing quarterback. The rap on Griese is that he struggles to stay healthy and that he was a questionable on and off the field when he played in Denver as Elway's replacement. Neither of those criticisms would lead one to believe that he's a bad quarterback.

In looking at these numbers, my primary reaction after "Bill Simmons' beliefs are refuted by the numbers, yet again" is that I would be royally pissed at Lovie Smith if I were a Bears fan. The Bears blew a shot at winning the Super Bowl last year because Smith was totally committed to Grossman as a starter, against all evidence. He stuck with Grossman in a way that he never would have stuck with an underperforming player at another position. Most damningly, Smith did so with a very viable option on the bench, an accurate passer who makes relatively few mistakes and who would have been perfect paired with the Bears defense. Griese would have been especially useful in the Super Bowl because the Bears' offense was going after a relatively conservative cover-two defense that puts a premium on accurate passes underneath and penalizes quarterbacks who take reckless risks down the field. Because of injuries and salary cap issues, last year might have been the extent of the Bears' window to win a Super Bowl with their dominant defense and they blew it with the "equivalent of Mark Madsen" sitting on the bench.

See, I made it through an entire post about Griese without mentioning the '97 Wolverines. Give me a sticker!


Anonymous said...

Another one:

Bill should stop picking on my team's (well, my #2 team's) general manager.

OK, Joe Dumars screwed up when he drafted Darko Milicic, I think we can all acknowledge that in the same way we can all acknowledge that 2+2 equals 4. It was one huge mistake balanced against 10+ great moves and showing himself to be the best salary cap manager in the league.

In addition to amassing a bunch of castoffs and square pegs into a championship team (with 4-5 more championship-competitive seasons), he's also well underway on the hardest thing to do in general managing--rebuilding on the fly. They still have enough to compete in the Eastern Conference, but have also managed to add a bunch of promising young players in Amir Johnson, Maxiell, Stuckey & Affalo.

I wouldn't trade Joe Dumars for any GM in basketball, period.

Anonymous said...

Simmons has never gotten over the Pistons' win over the Celtics in 1988. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

As a Bears fan, I have to disagree with your take that Lovie Smith stuck with Grossman last year against all evidence. It's easy to forget now since he had a bad Super Bowl and was demoted this year, but he had a great September last year and was being talked about as an early MVP candidate. You also have to remember that the Bears have not had a long-term answer at quarterback since Sid Luckman, so when someone shows the potential Grossman did to start last season, of course you're going to give him as much of a chance to develop as possible.

Yes, he had some absolutely horrible games last year, but it was his first full year as a starter, and he still finished with 7 games of a 100+ passer rating, which was the second most in the league to Bulger. In the first two playoff games, he connected on some critical throws on critical drives to lead the team, not just win in spite of him.

As for Griese, the evidence shows that has been cut from two teams, and he has never led his team to a playoff win. His only significant playing time last year came in the second half of the season-ending game against the Packers, and he looked horrible (granted, the whole team looked horrible because it was a meaningless game for the Bears).

It's easy to look back after what has happened this year and say "what if?" But where in the 2006 season or playoffs would you have thought the evidence dictacted that Smith should have started Griese over Grossman?

Fox said...

Mikey, are you seriously debating the notion that some players are clutch and others are not? Isn't that basic human psychology? Some people are good test takers because they stay calm under pressure and some people flunk tests they should ace because they freak out. The same thing happens in sports and it's absurd to think otherwise.

I have no idea what Drew's deal is since I don't watch baseball and certainly don't watch the Sox but I think you are reading too much into the facts on Peyton. Yes, he came through in the clutch last year in a big way. But that just shows that he got over his unquestionable tendency to press at the end of close, meaningful games last year.

Michael said...

JJ, I agree totally on Dumars. Simmons is good when he doesn't have an agenda and he clearly has one for the Pistons.

Andy, Grossman had good games last year against terrible defenses. Against good defenses, he was beyond useless. There was enough evidence as of November and December that a change needed to be made. As for Griese being cut, that doesn't change the fact that he is statistically a good quarterback.

Fox, I'm sure that there are some people who are better under pressure than others, but the extent to which professional athletes vary is greatly overstated. If you choked under pressure, you wouldn't make it out of Single A. You certainly wouldn't succeed in college football. Additionally, the sample sizes upon which the clutch/choker decisions are made are ridiculously small. Thus, there may be athletes who respond to pressure better than others, but we're fooling ourselves if we think we know who they are based on 25 post-season at-bats. Finally, people see what they want to see regarding players. Jeter is labeled as clutch even though his career postseason BA is the same as his regular season BA. He was branded Mr. November in the WS against the Diamondbacks, but he was 4/27 in that series. Manning is labeled as a choker even though he has had some epic playoff games. He's also blamed for Indy losing when other players on their offense fail.

Anonymous said...

I'm not arguing that Griese is a bad quarterback. He is what the Bears signed him to be - a legitimate (though not great) quarterback to have as an insurance policy. But after spending a first round pick on Grossman, and seeing that his natural talent was greater than any quarterback the Bears have had in recent (or not so recent) memory, I can't fault Smith or the Bears management for not pulling the plug on him in his first full season as a starter.

Their best chance to win the Super Bowl last year was if Grossman was good. Obviously, that didn't pan out (though he did respond with a couple of good games late in the year after when you said a change was obvious, plus the winning performances in two playoff games). But I don't think you can rely on a game-manager to win you a championship, even if it has happened before. If they had switched to Griese late in the year there's no guarantee they would have even beaten Seattle and New Orleans to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. And overlooked as everyone gets in line to pound Grossman is that the Bears defense really didn't play all that well in the Super Bowl either, so it's really a stretch to think Griese under center would have turned that game the other way.

Daniel S. Whitman said...

So you are a Dylan fan? If you haven't heard the "Blood on the Tapes" version of Idiot Wind (the one he did acoustically in NYC, before changing it on the album version) then you should get it right now. It's even better than the Blood on the Tracks version.