Friday, February 10, 2006

Sans Stats

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to Sans Stats, the only weekly website column that should have its own theme music. Busy week in sports, as we’ve got plenty of dunderhead moves to cover. The only question is, where do we start?

How about in the attention-starved NHL, where New Jersey police uncovered a nationwide sports gambling ring, allegedly headed by Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rich Tochett. Police discovered the ring via an undercover investigation they called “Operation Slap Shot.” Twelve NHL related personalities are being implicated in the ring in addition to Tochett, one of whom is Janet Jones, wife of Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky.

The message is clear: NHL players are feeling the brunt of the payroll cuts mandated by their new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They’re living so far below their standards that they have to resort to betting on other sports in order to recoup their lost income. Can you blame them? How would you feel if your $3.5 million salary was rolled back to $2.8 million?

Law enforcement authorities didn’t see it the same way, however. Tochett is being charged with conspiring with another to commit promoting gambling and money laundering (the “commit promoting gambling” bit was taken right from the complaint). If only they knew the plight of the NHL employee, maybe they wouldn’t be levying such harsh charges. Maybe if the State of New Jersey rolled back their salaries 20 percent, the State Police would let this one slide. Come on! It was ONLY $1.7 million spread over 1,000 wagers in a 40-day span. What’s next, busting a guy for scalping his Super Bowl tickets?

Let it be known that this is the only NHL story that will be covered here at the Sporting Brews. Quite honestly, we embraced their lockout last season, since it meant more programming time for college basketball, a sport of kings. It’s a shame that I don’t have an NCAA segue right here. In fact, I was about to transition into some football. Yeah, football!

The Oakland Raiders remain the sole coachless team, as Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino declined a 5-year, $18 million offer to relocate out west. This comes on the heels of Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt’s statement that he will remain with his team through the 2006 season. Former Giants coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel has been linked to the job, though he has not formally interviewed. The frontrunner: former Raiders coach Art Shell. Hopefully all you Yankees fans out there can make this connection, but I’ll come out with it anyway. Al Davis is to Art Shell as George Steinbrenner is to Billy Martin. This could become quite the running story line in the years to come.

While we’re talking about the NFL, it would be blasphemy if I didn’t bring up the Al Michaels issue. Last week, I covered the Michaels contract issue. Apparently, he doesn’t think his signature is worth the paper it’s printed on, and was working behind the scenes to get out of his ESPN broadcasting contract. The issue came to fruition this week, as Disney traded Al Michaels for a few sports broadcasting rights and Oswald the Lucky Bunny, a Disney creation from the 1930s.

Personally, I would have forced Michaels to honor his contract. Maybe he’s unhappy, but what is he going to do, tank a broadcast? Yeah, like he’d be willing to taint his resume like that. In fact, the best course of action would be to force Michaels into the booth for Monday Night Football and have his color commentator impersonate John Madden. Come on, people. Michaels has a visibly open wound. Let’s get the salt truck and start pouring it in.

Adding to the list of people I find horribly ridiculous, Bengie Molina sounded off this week, slamming the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (yes, a jury decided that will be their official moniker, so get those scoreboards geared up with “LAA” for years to come) for not contacting him before declining to offer him salary arbitration. Listen, Bengie, and listen good. First off, you have the name of a dog, which gives you exactly zero leverage in any situation. Second, you were involved in free agent rumors all winter. There were no media reports of Molina returning to LA, but only of him heading to New York, Toronto, or San Diego.

Molina obviously doesn’t understand the definition of the term “double standard.” Maybe the Angels didn’t contact you, sir, but you clearly didn’t make re-signing with them a priority. No, you mulled offers like the 3-year, $18 million one from the Mets, but for some reason you forgot one major fact. You’re a 30-something catcher who has had exactly one good year in his career. And that was THIS year.

Personally, I can’t wait for the 2006-2007 off-season, when Molina is seeking another $5 mil. I just have this feeling that he won’t have as much to back it up this time around.

What better place to wrap up this week’s edition of Sans Stats than with Isiah Thomas? Rumor has it that he’s looking into trading expiring contract Penny Hardaway and rookie surprise Channing Frye to Denver for Kenyon Martin and Earl Watson.

Okay, I’m going to be very very serious for a minute. Thomas is an idiot. He has no clue as to how to build or run an NBA franchise. If he wants to beat me up over that statement, fine. But I have plenty of evidence in my corner, including the requisite “look at what you’ve done and look at the results” argument. The only thing he has done right in the past two years is the 2005 draft, and now he’s looking to throw that away by dealing Frye. And who is he going to get in exchange? A mediocre point guard and a guy with creaky knees.

The problem is that Thomas is averse to learning. He continues to make terrible moves because he does not recognize that his previous moves were terrible. How many times can an owner apologize for a GM who overhauls the roster multiple times in one tenure? I could do a better job as the Knicks GM, and I say that will full confidence. The Knicks have won 14 goddamn games this year, so the season is all but officially over. Why dish expiring contracts and take on ones that don’t expire until 2011? Why further cripple the team? How is he getting away with this?

With all the draft picks he’s dealt and the enormity and length of the contracts he’s acquired, Thomas has ensured that the Knicks will not be competitive until 2010 at the earliest. Yes, you heard me, we’re in for another four years of last place finishes and no draft picks as compensation.

But you know what? I’m not going to launch into a diatribe about firing Isiah. Rather, I am officially leading a coup to depose the Dolans as owners of the team. They’re the ones that allow Thomas carte blanche to be a nincompoop, and we must attack the problem at its source. Leave a comment if you’re with me!

That’ll just about do it for this week’s edition of Sans Stats. And remember, if you’re a fan of the Knicks, you’re better off boycotting them.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Question No. 8: Will Sheff's Decline Continue in 2006?

It’s tough to levy criticism upon Gary Sheffield. Sure, he’s got a short fuse and a questionable character, but for the most part he’s kept that separate from his on field affairs. Unfortunately, those on field affairs have seen a relative decline since his arrival in the Bronx. This makes sense, since he is 37 years old and all. But one look at his ferocious demeanor and equally intimidating stance/swing has everyone thinking, “wow, this guy probably isn’t going to slow up, even in old age.”

Sheffield could probably continue hitting singles until he’s 50. His penchant for solid contact isn’t in question, but rather his power and discipline. Have a looksee at his isolated numbers in 2003 with Atlanta compared with those from the past two years with New York.

2003 Atlanta
Iso-DIso-PK:BB
.089.2740.64


2004 Yankees
Iso-D%Iso-P%K:BB%
.103+14.244-110.90+29


2005 Yankees
Iso-D%Iso-P&K:BB%
.088-14.221-90.97+8


Even though his isolated discipline increased in 2004, his strikeouts did as well. Maybe it’s the American League, but pitchers have been having a relatively easier time missing Sheffield’s bat in the Bronx. I theorize that this is in direct relation to his declining power numbers. If he’s not hitting the ball as hard as in the recent past, he’s probably overswinging to compensate, thus missing more pitches. He’s also probably swinging at more borderline pitches because he wants to smash the ball. He has no such problem proving his discipline, since we all know he can draw a walk.

Considering these relatively consistent trends and his age, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Sheff may lose even more off his game in 2006. We as Yankees fans may not want to admit it, because these have been a fun two years. Just don’t be shocked in August if you see a .285/.355/.445 mark.

Then again, this is technically a contract year for Sheffield should he wish to continue playing in 2007. The Yankees have a $13 million option for him next year, and it’s quite possible that Sheff will step it up as to make the decision easy for Brian Cashman.

Here’s the conundrum, though. Realistically, if Sheff wants to play next year, it will be with the Yankees. No team out there is going to dole out $13 mil for a 39-year-old loose cannon. Ain’t happenin’. If Cashman picks up Sheff’s option early on, he may not be playing with the fury of a guy in a contract year. On the other hand, if Sheff’s option isn’t exercised early in the year, he may begin mailing in games out of spite. After threatening to “not show up” if traded last season, anything’s possible for this guy when he doesn’t get his way.

All of this does not make forecasting Sheffield’s 2006 performance easy. That is, unless you think that punching numbers into a computer is an adequate tool. I’ll likely end up revisiting this topic sometime in March, after the media has daily access to Sheffield and he has a chance to speak his oh so provocative mind. That actually gives me a good idea: the Sheffield quote of the week. Sam Borden (of the Daily News), I’m counting on you to deliver me some juicy Sheffield material.

(I would just like to note that I don’t have anything against ZiPS and PECOTA forecasts in a professional sense. If guys get their jollies off by trying to use past numbers to predict the future, then that’s their thing. And if they command respect for it, even better. However, I still liken baseball forecasters to weathermen, however, whom I don’t usually trust until the day before.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Only 22 Points???

Something is rotten in the county of Los Angeles. It seems that Kobe Bryant has lost control of the Lakers, as he was outscored by teammate Brian Cook last night, 28-24. As a direct result, the Lakers toppled at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, 102-87.

Mr. Cook needs to step back and realize his role on this team: spectator. Last time the Lakers played Dallas, Black Mamba erupted for 63 points in three quarters, more than the entire Dallas team to that point. And, of course, the Lakers emerged victorious, despite Kobe riding the pine for the fourth.

The stage was set for Kobe to pull an encore on Tuesday night. Sure, Dallas is probably the hottest team in the NBA at this point, but Kobe has a penchant for exploiting shaky defensive teams. But instead of letting Kobe run wild, Cook hogged the ball all game, lobbing up 16 shots to Kobe’s mere 22. Only 22 shots? Come on, fellows. If the Lakers are going to win, Kobe needs to be chucking at least 35 a game. That way, when he shoots 22 percent, he’ll still score a good 30, 35 points.

Cook also recorded zero assists to Kobe’s four, which is further cause for concern. If Kobe had four assists, it simply means that he was passing when he should have been shooting. Cook had zero, which means he was shooting when he should have been passing. Combine the two, and it’s a sure recipe for a blowout.

You know who gets his role on the Lakers? Kwame Brown. He launched only one shot in his 14 minutes on Tuesday night, and managed to nab four rebounds (.30 per minute compared to Cook’s .09). To boot, none of them were offensive, mainly because he knows that with Kobe on the floor, there’s no need for offensive rebounding. Just let Kobe shoot, and you just run around the floor pretending to run a play. That’s the Lakers M.O., and I’m glad that at least one guy can stick to the game plan.

So how does Phil Jackson adequately solve this problem? Well, for starters, I think it would only be appropriate to bench Cook for the next game and throw a youngster like Andrew Bynum out in his place. He’s so eager for playing time that he won’t explore his selfish desires to throw up shots. That’s Kobe’s job. Just feed him the ball and let him play.

From Pinstripes to Zebra Stripes

I had written a few paragraphs for the next of the 12 Questions series regarding A-Rod, but decided to scrap them. It seems pointless to attempt analysis on him. Sure, I could find some forecasted stats and talk about them, but that’s SG’s job. Me, I’m content simply stating that due to historical precedent, I think A-Rod will top a .390 OBP and .600 slugging. As long as he sticks to that, we’ll be just fine.

That leaves open the matter of today’s discussion. Plenty to talk about, baseball and otherwise, but I just want a second to share something with you, my loyal readers. I love getting plugs from the crew at Deadspin. It’s always nice to see a massive traffic spike for a day and the lesser effects on the following days. As it turns out, they only link to me when my post is humorous or topical. Since I’m rarely humorous, I guess I should go with the topical route.

(Note to the guys at Deadspin: thanks in advance for the link.)

It took me a few days, but I’m finally getting to this Super Bowl controversy thing. Let’s get one thing straight: I really didn’t care who won the game. I was routing for the Steelers merely because Ben Roethlisburger looks a little bit like my buddy Andy. That said, the officiating crew was rather embarrassing. Original opinion, I know. The zebras, however, were trumped by the league.

“The game was properly officiated, including, as in most NFL games, some tight plays that produced disagreement about the calls made by the officials," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Yes, the league is defending the obvious blunders and implied bias of the referees Sunday night. This makes plenty of sense, though, and makes me think that Mr. Aiello doesn’t truly believe in his statement. See, the Super Bowl officials are chosen based on their ratings during the regular season. So the top-rated Umpire, the top-rated Back Judge (heh, Back Judge), etc. call the game. Why then would the NFL throw that crew under Jerome Bettis? How would that benefit them in any way?

These poor calls extend beyond the media-hyped pass-interference, holding, and chop-block calls. I wish I was taking notes on the game because I seriously remember saying, “flag” a few times when I thought I saw a Steelers lineman holding, only to see the field absent a yellow handkerchief. While it seems reasonable that a team commits a lot of penalties, I found it befuddling that every time the Seahawks were driving, I’d look down to gnaw on some wings and return to see them pushed back and attempting a field goal. It seems there were biases all around.

For once, I’d like to see the NFL take an actual position on some of these rulings. For example, the NFL can hide behind their rules when it comes to the Darrell Jackson pass interference call, because the rule allows for referee interpretation. Why can’t they tell the officials, “look, the rule is there so a receiver can’t push off a defender with the intention of creating separation. Don’t be a stickler for it, but look for blatant cases.” When Jackson “pushed off” Chris Hope, he was actually changing directions to get to the ball. It was incidental contact, and it didn’t look like Hope knew where the ball was anyway. Why make that call, and make it as decisively as the referee did – he threw the flag before even considering signaling touchdown.

And how doesn’t the NFL criticize the Line Judge for his flip-flopping on the Ben Roethlisburger TD. More importantly, why isn’t Mark Perlman (the Line Judge) being wire-tapped by the Republican party for this flip-flopping? After Ben hurtled towards the plane of the end zone, Perlman clearly put one hand in the air and ran towards midfield, the international sign for “no touchdown.” But after Ben fumbled with the ball after the play was dead, Perlman raised his arms as to say “hallelujah praise the Lord!” Where’s the explanation?

I consider myself rather old school. With sports, it always seems like times were better in the good old days. It worked then, so why are we working so hard to change it now? That’s how I roll. But in regards to the NFL, I’m beginning to think along the lines of Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Technology needs to he implemented so the NFL can further assure fair games. Why now, you ask?

Other than this technology being newly available, there is another reason why new methods of officiating need implementing. We as a country have more invested in football – both emotionally and monetarily – than we ever have. It’s a big part of many people’s lives, and whether their motive is the love of the game or a few extra bucks from their bookie, the fans deserve a fairly officiated game. To deny referee bias becomes more ridiculous with each passing season.

Let’s start small with sensors in the end zones. Then the NFL can take further steps to implement digital, unbiased officiating aids.

I know there are plenty of purists out there who decry such an idea, since it would “take away the soul of the game.” Folks, let’s get this straight: the referees are less than a sideshow. Nobody cares about what they do as long as they call a fair game. Problem is, they haven't been calling fair games. Man has abused his power, and now man must suffer the consequences. By not utilizing state of the art technology, the NFL is playing right into the referees’ game. If, however, the NFL begins pursuing alternate routes, maybe the officials will wise up and realize that they’re not the attraction and should stick to doing their job correctly and intelligently.

Besides, computers were bound to take over some day anyway.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Now for A Break in Your Yankees Coverage

Read it and rejoice: Terry Bradway has stepped down as General Manager of the New York Jets.

Any regular reader of this site knows my opinion of Bradway. I don't know what motivated him to step down, but it was certainly the right move (though he'll stay on as a consultant).

Taking his place is Assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum, a guy I think I could grow warm to. Apparently the Mangini signing was much his doing.

This move is timely with the approach of free agency, an area in which Bradway can claim little success. Tannenbaum first has to clean up the existing roster mess, however, before he can think about importing players from around the league.

I'll reiterate my positions, just in case Tannenbaum finds my opinions worthwhile.

Cut David Barrett, Eric Barton, Jason Fabini, Curtis Martin, Ty Law.
Draft A.J. Hawk in the first round and use the remaining picks to help bolster the offensive line.
Sign John Abraham long term. How many times are you going to see a d-lineman like this on a Jets roster? If that's not possible, please don't trade him for Philip Rivers unless the deal includes a package of draft picks as well.
Use Jerricho Cotchery more, Justin McCariens less.

The future is looking a bit less bleak for the Jets.

Question No. 6: What Will J-Wright's Role Be?

I really did myself a favor here by scheduling analyses of Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright on back to back days. But before I launch into my J-Wright banter, please allow me to explain a matter involving bias.

I think that Jaret Wright is an idiot, and not in the Kevin Millar/Johnny Damon, “we act like a bunch of bozos who are having fun” kind of idiot. My 3-year-old cousin has more intellectual prowess then Wright. Evidence comes right from the beginning of 2005, when he once again re-injured his pitching shoulder (some of you may note the redundancy in saying “once again re-injured,” but Wright has hurt the damn thing so many times that redundancy is the only way to accurately describe it).

Apparently, ”Wright felt tightness in the shoulder during his pregame warmups but didn't tell anyone (Source: ESPN.com).” Wright also "kind of felt it in the second inning and it gradually got worse (Source: St. Petersburg Times)."

To that point, Wright had been on the DL five times for complications with his pitching shoulder, including season-ending stints in 2000 and 2001. So here he is, feeling tight in warm-ups, and then feeling it worsen from the second inning on. And he didn’t allow Torre to take him out. I’m sorry, but that’s just plain lunacy. So by clinging to his personal pride, Wright compromised the Yankees season and lost himself out on $4 million (the whole 75 days on the DL clause in his contract). S-m-r-t.

Here’s some advice for Wright: just take a look at your career. Before an amazing year with Atlanta in 2004, Wright had never topped a 110 ERA+ (which, in case you are confused, is basically a measure of a pitcher’s ERA against the league average, with 100 as average). Better yet, he had pitched 155.1 innings from 2000 through 2003, mainly because of that pesky shoulder. Obviously, he did something different in 2004.

I realize that Leo Mazzone is one helluva pitching coach, but I’m sure his methods aren’t protected under U.S. Patent laws. Why, therefore, wouldn’t Wright go to Mel last year and say, “hey, coach, this is what Leo had me doing last year, and it really worked.” Instead, J-Wright listened to his coach without saying anything (as far as we know), and befell a familiar fate.

Jaret, if you’re out there reading, please oh please go back to doing whatever it was you did in 2004. I realize that the pitching coach is supposed to guide you along and not vice versa, but you have a rookie pitching coach. He doesn’t know how your body works, but as the proprietor, you’re supposed to. Repeat the steps to success and you’re bound to repeat that success.

Of course, I don’t expect this from Wright, given his history of bonehead moves. And as such, I expect him to miss about two months to the DL this season if he doesn’t completely destroy his shoulder. Finally we can get to the question of what part he’ll play during the four months he’ll possibly be on the active roster.

Talk has been running rampant about J-Wright this off-season, mainly because of the Yankees glut of starting arms. With Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Pavano, Chein-Ming Wang, and Shawn Chacon topping him on the Fan’s Depth Chart, it has been widely speculated that he’ll be the long arm out of the bullpen to start the season. But remember, Joe Torre is at the helm, and he very well may opt to use Wright in the rotation and send Chacon to the bullpen. That would spell more than disaster.

It also means that if he does start the season in the bullpen – where he belongs – he’ll be the first name on the short list of spot-starters. Nevermind Aaron Small, the hero of 2005. He’ll have to wait for J-Wright’s DL stint before he gets a chance to prove he wasn’t a fluke. He might not be waiting that long, however.

Wright has made 52 relief appearances in his career, 50 of which came during the 2003 season, mainly with San Diego though he was shipped to Atlanta at the end of the season. His vitals: 76 hits over 56.1 innings, 50 strikeouts to 31 walks, and nine homers allowed. For the sake of having a table,

IPK/9BB/9HR/9K:BBERA
56.17.994.951.451.617.35


The only redeeming number is his strikeouts per nine, which is partially negated by his crappy strikeouts to walks ratio. But the most concerning factor is his near 5 walks per nine innings.

We all remember Wright’s return in August, and how he always seemed to get into trouble in the first inning via walks. This was cause for concern, but usually he settled down and pitched a decent game in the anteceding innings. As a reliever he wouldn’t have that kind of time to settle into the game. As a reliever he’s more prone to walks – though he’s always been known as a guy with little control. In fact, one of the biggest keys to his 2004 season was his lowered walk rate.

So he walks a lot of guys as a starter and more as a reliever. He has a penchant for walking guys early in the game. He has a terrible history pitching out of the bullpen. His only success has come when he’s not walking guys. Yeah, this is a wonderful formula the Yankees have going here. Thankfully, he can be bought out at year’s end and not eat up another roster spot in 2007. Because in 2006, that’s all he’s going do.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Question No. 5: How WIll Carl Pavano Factor In?

There’s a reason I left Carl Pavano off the list of pitchers analyzed last week: he presents the most definitive question mark heading into 2006. No PECOTA or ZiPS projections could possibly predict how Pavano will hurl this year. So the question I face now is, how do we figure this guy out?

Obviously, his shoulder is of the utmost concern. After tweaking his back in spring training, Pavs altered his pitching motion, which always spells trouble for a pitcher. After a few months of inconsistent mediocrity, he hit the DL, never to return. This leaves plenty of room for concern heading into 2006, though Carl purports to be fully recovered.

My concerns concern both his physical and mental state. Physically, I’m not sure what to expect. He pitched half a season with various injuries, so the full extent of the damage done is completely unknown. Shoulder tendonitis is also rather uncommon, which is further troubling. Finally, who knows how hard the guy is working out over the off-season? I haven’t read reports of him starting some Clemens-esque training program or even participating in any off-season workouts. How can we have faith in a guy who was mediocre for half a season, injured the other half, and has not reported any increased physical activity in preparation for the season?

If the physical problem is intricate, the mental one is downright impossible to figure out. Last year, Pavano was the money free agent, and basically had his pick of the litter, among Detroit, New York, Boston, Seattle, Baltimore, Toronto, or even Florida. Wherever he went, he was going to get paid. So he chooses New York, ostensibly because he knows it was his best shot to win a World Series. Then he comes in, doesn’t live up to expectations, and all the sudden there are rumors abound about his unhappiness in New York. Now he’s changed his tune again, and has told the media that he wants to succeed in New York.

Excuse me for not buying into this load of BS. Have you ever been guilted into doing something you don’t want to do? Say, moving a couch at grandma’s house. But then you get the guilt trip for not wanting to help grams out, so you go and move it anyway. And, of course, you tell grandma just how happy you are to be helping her out. Well, Pavano was guilted into saying that he wants to succeed with the Yankees. He was no longer happy in New York, and when the fans/media got on him about it, he quickly changed his tune. I don’t believe for a second that Pavano truly wants to be with the Yankees.

Now he’s heading into Spring Training having to rediscover his true pitching motion, and with a rookie pitching coach no less (though Mel will supposedly be around during Spring Training, which I think is a huge relief). He hasn’t said anything publicly about his workout regimen, which is troubling.

Though I can’t predict exactly how he’ll pitch, I think this analysis helps prove at least one thing: he’s not going to pitch better than he did in 2004. How can he be expected to? He hasn’t stepped up the physical work, he missed half a year, and he’s obviously not happy in New York. For him to top an 18-8, 3.00 ERA season, he’d have to be extra motivated and in practice. So while that’s his actual ceiling, his reasonable ceiling would be somewhere around 15-5, 3.80 ERA. Remember, folks, these are ceiling numbers, not what I’m predicting he’ll do.

Really, that’s all I have on him. Pavano is such a wild card that it’s tough even to break him down. But, since I love pitching peripherals so much, I’ll end today’s post by charting his numbers in 2003 and 2004.

YearIPK/9BB/9HR/9K:BBGB:FBERA
2003201.05.962.190.852.711.104.30
2004222.15.631.980.652.841.433.00


The only difference is him keeping the ball more on the ground in 2004, which he also did in 2005 with little to show for it. None of this is inspiring confidence in Carl Pavano.