Week of May 25, 2018

The Newest Front in the Bullpen Revolution: Starting a Reliever

It is well known that a pitcher gets worse as he approaches his third time through the opposing lineup. Per FanGraphs, “a typical starting pitcher’s OPS-against climbs from .705 to .731 to .771,” in the first, second and third times through the order, respectively. That makes sense – the more times a hitter face a pitcher, the better he’s going to see the pitches and understand what the pitcher is trying to do.

The Rays want to avoid this, while allowing the starter to go deeper into the game, and they have a strange plan to do so. Last weekend, they started former Giants Sergio Romo, a career reliever for the 1st inning to work through the #1-3 hitters. Then, they brought in the “starter” in the 2nd. Here’s how this works in theory if the Rays threw a perfect game, facing 27 batters:

Starting a reliever allows the “starter” to finish the game without facing the #1-3 hitters a third time, thus using the “bullpen” for only one inning. In contrast, in a conventional situation, to avoid the starter facing the #1-3 hitters a third time, the starter would have to leave after the 6th, and then you’d need three innings out of your bullpen. Makes sense.

But what if, ya know, you don’t throw a perfect game. This year, the average MLB team is sending around thirty-four players to the plate per game – that’s seven non-outs. I’m going to add one runner per inning in innings 2-8 (of course, that’s not how it usually works, but for the sake of discussion, that’s what I’m using here):

Daggum. Look at that. Using the Rays’ idea, the Rays’ “starter” gets through the 7th, and the bullpen is used for a total of 3 innings (1st, 8th, 9th). But in a traditional setup, the starter only gets through 4 2/3, and the bullpen is used 4 1/3. I see two interesting things to watch here, aside from whether this will catch-on.

First, the “starter” may miss hitters #1-3 a third time, but how much worse is a typical #4-6 lineup than a #1-3 on the third time through the order? In other words, is this sort of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? What actually makes the most sense here is to use your bullpen to get through #1-5 or so (you hope doing so over two innings, and not one), thus having your “starter” avoid the heart of the order, too.

Second, how will opposing teams respond? Will opposing managers rearrange their lineups, moving #7-9 up to the top and pushing everyone else down?


As you can see, for the opposing team, this would add either 1 1/3 or just 1/3 more inning of bullpen work for the Rays, depending on whether the Rays’ start the reliever or the starter in response to the lineup change.  This would negate the Rays’ tactic to a large extent. But then it seems it there’d be a race of lineup cards: who commits and turns in their finished lineup card first? Or would the Rays turn in their card, cause you to turn in your card with #7-9 hitting first, and then simply respond by going ahead and starting their “starter” having successfully moved your worst hitters to the top of the lineup? They’d lose that reliever for the day, but it might be worth the sacrifice.

As for the Rays, they used Romo on Saturday and Sunday last weekend, and he gave them a combined 2 1/3 innings of hitless ball. On Saturday, the tactic worked. Ryan Yarbrough, the “starter”, got to the 8th, having faced the Angels’ #1-3 only twice. He gave up one run in the 8th before leaving. On Sunday, they went further – going to two more relievers for a combined 2 1/3 innings, before turning to “starter” Anthony Banda in 5th to face the #6 hitter. Banda then finished the game, facing the Mike Trout only once (he would have faced him in the bottom of the 9th, but the Angels won 5-2.

Well, hot damn. This didn’t make much sense to me when I first saw the headline, but after charting it out…it makes a lot of sense. I would not be surprised to see other teams follow suit -TOB

Source: The Rays Are Making History With Strange New Pitching Strategies”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (05/20/2018)

PAL: The risk, as I see it, comes in valuing the number of times a starter faces the best hitters in a lineup over the situation a reliever enters. There’s more data in waiting. In the scenario outlined in the story, Romo enters the game before any situation has played out in the game. Nobody on, nobody out, no score. That’s a very different situation than, say, 2 on and 1 out in the 8th inning with a righty coming up. The “starter” might be done, regardless of how many times he’s faced batters 1-3, and now the Rays have already burned their reliever who is the best bet to get a right-hander out in a critical situation. Admittedly, I’m presenting an argument for one game. The Rays are thinking about getting the most out of and managing a pitching staff over the course of a season.

I get the thinking, and I love that they actually tried it, but to me saving options until situations play out is more advantageous than the efficiency of running a reliever out there in the first inning. As always, it comes down to the quality of arms. A good bullpen can makeup for the extra at-bat for the top hitters, even over the course of a season. A bad bullpen can shit the bed in the first inning, too.

Also, I think the cat-and-mouse game of lineups is neutralized by rule 4.03 stating that the home team has to technically submit its lineup first.

TOB: Statheads call that “high leverage situations”, and your point makes sense. The other issue you point out, which I glossed over a bit, is that it’s impossible to know what will happen. In my almost never happening scenario of one base runner per inning for seven innings, this makes sense. But in most other situations (e.g., four base runners in the second) it seems like anything gained from this loses steam. Still, I always like to see teams try to innovate. Also, nice catch on Rule 4.03. I did not know that!

Best Of Warriors-Rockets, Games 3-5

Since this is such a hot series, we wanted to try something a bit different here and create a mini playoff series digest within the weekly digest. Here are the best bits of writing about games 3,4,and 5:

GAME 3 (Warrior W, 126-85)

TOB: I’m just waiting for a good game. 

PAL: It’s over. Steph is back, and there’s nothing Houston can do to stop Golden State when they are right on offense. Harden can average 40 in this series and Golden State wins it. Houston doesn’t have the firepower to hang with this team. That was a beatdown, one that the Warriors hope lingers with the Rockets for Game 4.


Laura Wagner – Deadspin

  • Then the third quarter started, and so did Curry. His dominance isn’t the sort that leans on a team, wearing them out over the course of four full quarters, but the sort that descends, suddenly and without mercy, and wipes opponents away in minutes.
  • TOB: I wondered if Steph had ever shot so poorly (3 for 20 – 15%) over a 3 game stretch in his career. It happened once: February 27 – March 2, 2017: 4/31 (12.9%).

Bruce Jenkins – SF Chronicle

  • And then it happened. Curry produced a stretch of third-quarter magnificence that defined the Warriors’ 126-85 victory over Houston — and an era.

Tom Ley – Deadspin

  • It doesn’t feel like it makes sense that the Rockets, the team getting precisely the match-ups they wants and whose schemes are unfolding without a hitch, are the ones with a 2-1 series deficit and a lot left to figure out. That’s the power of the Warriors, though. You can stake out whatever strategic high ground you’d like, and they’ll just go on soaring over your head.

Ethan Strauss – The Athletic

  • TOB: There’s so much good writing about this series. Read this one – it does a great job showing you what the Warriors tried that didn’t work early, what they switched to and when, and how that improved their defense. Good stuff.

Marcus Thompson II – The Athletic

  • The Warriors turn Paul into a shooting guard. They leave him 1-on-1 with good defenders and force him to score. The Rockets are doing their best to keep Paul away from Thompson, getting him switched onto better matchups. But that matchup — Curry or Looney, mostly — is baiting Paul into being the type of player the Warriors can beat.
  • As long as Paul is trying to get buckets, the Warriors are winning. The Paul the Rockets need is the one who makes average players look better because of how he sets them up. They need the Paul who breaks down defenses and basically makes the help pick the poison. So far in this series, in Game 3 especially, the poison is being consumed by Paul.

GAME 4 (Rockets W, 95-92)

TOB: Man. When Step Curry is on, there’s nothing better in sports, for me. That third quarter run he had was incredible. With six minutes to go in the quarter, the Rockets led by 5. Then Curry went: Deeeeeeep three. Deep step back three. Three. Layup. Warriors up 3 just two minutes later. They pushed it to ten by the end of the third and then…terrible. Horrible. What the HELL was that? The Warriors blew it, and Harden wasn’t even shooting well.

PAL: It’s a good thing I don’t really gamble, because if you would’ve given me a Warriors 10 point lead going into the 4th quarter at home, then I wouldn’t lost my saving account. No ball movement in the 4th quarter. I don’t know how or why the Warriors can get away from that when moving the ball on offense gives them such good looks. I guess they were missing those, too.

Also, don’t tell me Iguodala’s injury is that important to this team. Curry was the key to the Warriors dominance before Game 3. We can’t be switching that title to Iggy now.


Ben Golliver – SI:

  • Complacency, Golden State’s oldest and fiercest nemesis, had returned. The Warriors won Game 3 too easily, beating the Rockets by 41 points. They opened Game 4 too easily, building a 12–0 lead.
  • Golden State’s vaunted offense produced more turnovers (4) than field goals (3) in the final period.

Ramona Shelburne – ESPN:

  • Desperation tends to help in finding a finishing kick, and heading into the fourth quarter, Houston was very much in a desperate place. Whatever fatigue the Rockets might’ve felt had to be conquered.”

Roger Sherman – The Ringer:

  • The Warriors flame-broil opponents alive, torching nets and their opponents’ morale to the tune of 20,000 Bay Area screams. How are opponents supposed to react when Golden State does this? For four years, the answer has been simple: Just accept that there’s nothing that can be done. When they’re this hot, there is no hope. But on Tuesday night, the Rockets stared down Golden State at its hottest and came out with a critical 95-92 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.”

Game 5 (Rockets W, 98-94)

TOB: Again. What the hell was that? Harden again shot terribly – (5 for 21, 0-11 from 3) so many missed shots he usually drains. And the Warriors could not capitalize. And why is Quinn Cook getting crunch time minutes? He went 0-3, all threes, and all wiiiiiide open. I’ve never seen this team play so sloppy. And, I’m just going to say it: Kevin Durant is overrated. I’ve never been a big fan of watching him. But I’m so tired of him pound the ball into the ground and then taking a contested 18 footer from a weird angle. Anyways, the Warriors choked again. E-40 might need to rethink his line: “Do we panic do we flinch? Nope. Because the answer this series is: YUP. The Warriors have one saving grace – Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a hamstring injury suffered in the final moments of Game 5. Harden won’t shoot 0 for 11 from 3 again, though, so the Warriors still have a lot of work to do.

PAL: The Warriors fail to get a good look (or even a shot) at the end of a one possession game for the second game in a row. Really brutal. They are on the ropes, and the air of invincibility is no longer a factor in this series. I’m beginning to wonder if it ever was. But who cares, really.

My biggest takeaway from this game has nothing to do with the result. I don’t want to see any more commemorations to the victims of mass shootings at athletic events. It’s infuriating. No bands on the jersey like the one pictured above, no pre- (Kerr) or post-game questions about it (Harden), no honoring of the “survivors”. While they might be survivors, they are also victims of a heinous and preventable recurring nightmare. It’s going to happen again. We all know it. Another kid is going to walk into a school and shoot teachers and students this year. We’ll all be shocked, albeit for a shorter and shorter amount of time, and then the news cycle will turn over. Conservative, liberal; NRA member or fierce advocate of stricter gun laws – we have to work together to figure this out. 

Yep, I’m on a soap box, but this is my takeaway from the game.


Tom Ley – Deadspin:

  • What we’ve gotten instead has been much worse. The Rockets’ roulette ball has mostly betrayed them, and yet they still lead the series 3-2 because the Warriors seem to have lost themselves. Chris Paul and James Harden shot a combined 11-for-40 last night; the Rockets as a team shot 30 percent from three-point range; James Harden has missed his last 20 three-point attempts (PAL’s emphasis). Somehow that all added up to a 98-94 win. If any team should be a prisoner to its own fluctuating efficiencies, it’s the Rockets, but the Warriors were simply incapable of taking advantage in Game 5.
  • But the thing that made the Warriors The Warriors in the first place was never just the talents of the players on the roster, but their ability to use those talents to complement and lift each other. Tossing the ball to Kevin Durant on the block over and over and over again is something you’d expect the Knicks to do if Durant had the misfortune of playing for the Knicks. The entire point of Durant playing for the Golden State Warriors is to prevent him from ever having to play like an upmarket Carmelo Anthony in the conference finals.
  • Last night’s game featured some of the biggest stars in the NBA and came down to the final possession, and yet it felt like watching a traffic jam.

Anthony Slater – The Athletic

  • But crunch time has become a sudden problem for these Warriors. The NBA defines it as a game that’s within five points in the final five minutes. The Warriors and Rockets faced nearly the same amount of crunch time during the season — 107 such minutes for the Rockets, 110 for the Warriors. Houston was significantly better: +70 to +31.
  • Paul’s injury isn’t the only ailment looming over the remainder of this series. Andre Iguodala’s knee contusion, suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 3, forced him to miss Games 4 and 5 and his status for 6 remains highly questionable.
  • Without Iguodala, the Warriors have failed to find a reliable fifth option in the most important moments of the past two games. Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell continue to get targeted defensively and helped off offensively. Shaun Livingston is in a sudden swoon. Cook bricked the biggest shot of his career.

The Best of Sports: Johnson High School Badminton

This feel-good story hits pretty close to home for me. St. Paul Johnson is less than 5 miles from I grew up, and nowhere in the United States in the Hmong community more prevalent. These were my classmates and neighbors, and this story athletic dynasty is a heartwarming example of the power of community, high school athletics, Title IX, and really impressive young women making progress than will be felt for generations.

First, a little history from Sarah Barker:

Hmong, an ethnic group that lived in the mountains of Laos and assisted the U.S. in fighting its “secret war” in the country during the 1960s and 70s, started arriving in Minnesota in 1975, the same year that badminton was introduced to high schools. Badminton enjoys great popularity in Asia, and Hmong refugees brought that enthusiasm with them. There are now more than 66,000 Hmong in Minnesota, the largest community in the U.S., concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area.

Many Hmong lived as farmers in Laos; some were illiterate in their native language. In 1990, only 19 percent of Hmong women in the U.S. had a high school diploma, and 44 percent of Hmong men. At that time, an estimated 65 percent of Hmong lived in poverty. Hmong women traditionally married young and had large families, limiting their educational and economic outlook. But as of 2010, more Hmong women than men earned bachelor’s degrees, and poverty in the Hmong community dropped to 31 percent (still staggering in real numbers). In 1991, Choua Lee was elected to the St. Paul School Board, the first Hmong elected to any public office in the United States.

Like their east St. Paul neighborhood, Johnson High School’s demographics do not speak to a gilded pathway: Thirty-one percent of students are English learners, and 82 percent are on free or reduced lunch. Fifty-four percent of students are Asian American, 24 percent African American, 10 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white. But 60 percent of this year’s 1,302 students took part in early college programs.

How good in Johnson’s team? Since 1978, the team has won 24 St. Paul City Championships and 9 State titles (I can’t find when the first state badminton tournament was held, and the Minnesota State High School League website archive only goes back to 2003 for all sports).

Barker goes on to profile some of the young women who make up the top-ranked singles and doubles players on the team. This is not AAU basketball factory. While they are planning to go to college next year, none of the seniors on the team see badminton as anything other than a hobby.

Nou Chee Yang, the team’s number 1 singles player is a state champ and also ranked 10 in her class. she’s already taken college courses and will be going to college at Hamline University (St. Paul, MN) next fall. All of this with the responsibilities of a middle child of seven, which means babysitting, cooking, and generally helping out around the house.

And there’s Josepheena “Lala” Thao – captain of the tennis, gymnastics, and badminton teams, ranked #9 in her class academically. Oh, and she has a part-time job, too.

These young women are just ass-kickers, on and off the court. They represent the best of the most popular sport at the school. More students are in the badminton program (over 80) at Johnson than participate in the football program. What may have started as an affordable Title IX adherence has become a point of pride for the community.

I never thought I’d root for Johnson, but this story highlights students that absolutely deserve it. – PAL

Source: How An Inner-City Minnesota High School Built a Girls’ Badminton Dynasty”, Sarah Barker, Deadspin (5/22/18)


Moms are great, but sometimes they just don’t understand.

Steph Curry knows. On Sunday, the Warriors crushed the Rockets in Game 3 by 41 points. Curry finally broke out in the third quarter. He was amazing, and he let the Rockets know:

The crowd at Oracle ate it up, but not everyone was so pleased. Namely, Steph’s mom:

“She already sent me two home videos, showing me the clip and playing it back,” Curry told ESPN. “She was telling me how I need to wash my mouth out, saying to wash it out with soap. It’s a message I’ve heard before.”

Reminds me of the time I ran across the key and tackled a guy about to shoot a free throw, starting a bench-clearing brawl that I punctuated by throwing a folding chair across the court. And my MOM somehow finds this moment, where I was defending her honor, less than savory! MOMS. Geeze. -TOB

Source: Stephen Curry, Amid Breakout Rally, Fails to Hold Tongue: ‘I Blacked Out‘”, Chris Haynes, ESPN (05/20/2018)

A Plea for Patience When an Athlete is Accused of Domestic Abuse

Over the last few years, there has been an increasing demand for teams to cut players involved in domestic violence incidents. Something about it hasn’t sat right with me. Unless the league is going to prevent another team from signing the player, then what’s the point? The team who currently employs the player cuts him, and only for the player to be signed by another team. And while the team signing the player gets some public pushback, it’s nothing compared to the outcry when the originally employing team refuses to cut the player. For example, look at Greg Hardy, who was cut by the Panthers amidst justifiable outrage after horrific domestic abuse at his hands, only to be signed shortly thereafter by the Cowboys.

But in the wake of the Ray Rice abuse a few years back, something has gnawed at me even more: the immediate demand to cut a player upon the allegation of domestic abuse. Now, sports teams are not a court of law. They don’t need to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty. They are businesses and are rightfully concerned with their bottom line. Still, something about this clamoring seems unfair, not only to the accused player, but to the team.

This offseason, we saw an illustration of this in the Reuben Foster saga. Foster, the 49ers 2017 first round pick and a very promising young player, was accused in February by his ex-girlfriend, Elissa Ennis, of domestic abuse. The details were not pretty.

Immediately, fans and sports media called for the 49ers to cut Foster. When the 49ers resisted, people were outraged. This struck me as unfair. The team had invested a lot in Foster and deserve to treat that investment as they see fit. To their credit, the 49ers weren’t suggesting they’d keep Foster no matter what. Said General Manager John Lynch, “If these charges are proven true, if Reuben did hit this young lady, he won’t be a part of this organization going forward.” That seemed like a pretty reasonable position to me. It was not to others. But why not? Shouldn’t the team be allowed to see this out?

As it turns out, the 49ers were wise to wait. Shortly after making the accusations, Foster’s ex-girlfriend recanted the accusations to the District Attorney. Now, victims often falsely recant allegations for a number of reasons, including being paid, being afraid, or simply not wanting their partner to suffer the consequences. Accordingly, the D.A. pushed forward here. But it is clear now the D.A. should not have. Ennis testified at the preliminary hearing last week, and it seems she really did make it up. She testified Foster has never hit her, and that she made false accusations because she was angry at him for breaking up with her, and she wanted to “fuck up his career”. What about the allegation he hit her so hard it broke her ear drum? Turns out she was involved in a road rage incident with another woman a couple days prior and had been injured during that fight. The fight was even caught on video, and the video was provided to the D.A. What about the accusation Forster threw Ennis’ dog against the wall? She said it wasn’t true, and a police officer testified the dog showed no sign of abuse. In fact, Ennis testified that she had abused Foster.

I am not writing this to crap on Ennis. I’m not writing this to suggest that people alleging domestic abuse should not be taken seriously. Stories like this are troubling because of the way they undermine true victims. The vast majority of domestic abuse cases are real, and many go unreported, for a variety of reasons, including fear and shame. But a high profile bogus accusation like this discredits all victims, and causes people not to take accusations seriously. As Katherine Redmond, herself a survivor of abuse and an advocate who trains athletes in violence prevention says:

“Yes, it hurts and this will be placed with Duke Lacrosse. And victims will constantly hear about these two cases when excuses are made for abusive behavior. People who have been abused tend to gravitate towards other abusers if they are not healed. Because that is what they know. They don’t mean to and don’t want to, but abusers find them and they cannot see clearly because of past abuse.”

(Redmond’s reference there to “people who have been abused” is actually about Foster, not Ennis: Foster’s dad was abusive, and shot Foster’s mom in the back while she held Foster, then a baby, in her arms. Foster’s mom survived).

No, the reason I am writing this is for a plea for some patience: if an athlete is accused of a crime, absent clear video like the Ray Rice elevator abuse incident, can we all just let the criminal justice system do its thing before we start calling for suspensions or for a player to be cut? -TOB

Source: After Damaging False Accusations, How Does Reuben Foster Regain His Reputation?”, Lisa Olson, The Athletic (05/20/2018)

PAL:  I just spent some time looking up headlines and articles from April, before Ennis recanted her statements. There are some writers who hit publish too early on this one. And TOB’s absolutely right – this is not about crapping on Ennis or calling our journalists who jumped the gun; rather, it’s about everyone just pumping the brakes between shock and outrage.

Solid NHL Playoff Analysis

It feels like it’s been awhile since we featured Barry Petchesky on the ol’ blog, but he absolutely kills it with this nugget from the Capitals-Lightning series (the Caps ended up winning the series and will face the Vegas Knights – yes, that’s right, the Vegas Knights – in the finals).

As we watch the NBA playoffs and the NHL playoffs, and as TOB gives us weekly updates on Ohtani (still looking good!), there are a couple paragraphs from this story that really highlight just how small the space is for success in professional sports. James Harden or Steph Curry just need a half second of hesitation in order to drill a three right in the defender’s face. Mike Trout needs the pitcher to miss his spot on a slider by half an inch, and that’s the difference between a ground out and a double. Nicklas Backstrom needs the defenders just aware of Ovechkin on the far hash in order to feed T.J. Oshie for a one-timer.

I’ll cede the floor to Petchesky for the deep analysis:

There’s a lot of subtle work going on here in order to give Oshie the “couple feet” of room Backstrom needs:

Ovechkin, in the left circle, doesn’t have to do anything but exist in order to seriously distract Anthony Cirelli, defending in the high slot—look how many times Cirelli looks back over his shoulder. Evgeny Kuznetsov, down low, darts in front of net, not only getting Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh to lean the wrong way for split second, but screening Andrei Vasilevskiy. Even Backstrom is looking off Alex Killorn. “It’s all about, try to look somewhere else,” Backstrom said, “and pass it the other way.”

So, when Cirelli was hanging back, and Stralman and McDonagh were slightly off-balance, and Killorn lifted his stick, then—and not a split second before, or after—did Backstrom make the pass.

Again, look how tight the space is that 10 guys occupy. Even thoughts take up space (Ovechkin stalking on the weak side). The precision is incredible, the misdirection critical, and the hesitation lethal. It’s not a great story, but Petchesky does a great job dissecting a play and showing us just how good these guys are. Love it! – PAL

Source: I’m In Awe Of This Nicklas Backstrom Pass”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (5/22/18)

Video(s) of the Week: 

PAL Song of The Week: Richard Thompson – “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”

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I know a few things about love. Horrible, terrible, awful, awful things. 

-Nard Dog

Week of May 18, 2018

Ben Zobrist was actually threatened a fine if he continued wearing these Sandlot-inspired PF Flyers. Loosen up, Commish.

Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:

Best Of Warriors-Rockets

Since this is such a hot series, we wanted to try something a bit different here and create a mini playoff series digest within the weekly digest. Here are the best bits of writing about games 1 and 2:

Game 1 (Warriors W, 119-106):

PAL: Kevin Durant is 7-feet tall and one of the best shooters ever. Unfair. The Warriors simply have more. Durant, Curry, Klay, Green (who wasn’t a scorer tonight). Mix in a few buckets from role players like Nick Young, and it’s impossible to score at their pace. Harden is incredible, and Paul is real good, but the Warriors are just more.

TOB: Before the series, I figured Warriors in 6. But unlike most, this game did give me a little pause. Curry did not look right, and relying on Durant to hit 18 footers is not what got the Warriors here. The fact they had to do it so often suggests to me that Curry is not out there doing Curry things to get himself and others open. Still, the Rockets looked terrible, and it took an incredible Harden performance, hitting tough shots while well defended, to keep the score respectable. 

Best Stuff:

Source: “Houston’s Risk-Management Basketball Didn’t Work Against the Warriors”, Danny Chau, The Ringer

  • [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey has admittedly been obsessed with beating the Warriors, the NBA’s white whale; this isolation-heavy offense can’t possibly be the answer to Golden State’s riddle, can it?
  • In front of the backdrop of a Golden State offense steered by Stephen Curry’s gyroscopic off-ball play and Kevin Durant’s virtuosity in any sort of space, the Rockets’ offense looks downright ugly.
  • Styles make fights, and no matter how the rest of this series plays out, Houston has at least provided an important intellectual exercise for both Golden State and the league at large. The Rockets don’t have as much talent on their roster as the Warriors do, and they would be fools to consider replicating the Warriors’ style just because it’s en vogue (PAL note: this is exactly what Houston did in game 2 – they increased the ball movement and got role players involved in the offense). Houston is playing risk-management basketball, making sure that its supporting cast isn’t forced to do anything it isn’t comfortable doing; it just so happens that placing all of that pressure on two primary ball handlers also raises their risk profile. It’s a gamble. It always is against the Warriors.

Source: The Warriors Are Better Than The Rockets”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin

  • “That, in turn, partly is due to the fact that the Warriors have Kevin Durant, but more importantly it’s because the Warriors know more ways to score than standing around like fucking idiots while their Designated Ball User dribbles a Morse Code War and Peace into the hardwood in 22-second chapters.”

Source: The Rockets Have Nothing For Kevin Durant”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin

  • Look how many of those buckets are simple isolations; look how mercilessly Durant sizes up and incinerates whichever sack of crap (or two) dares guard him. My favorite is at around 1:25, when Andre Iguodala feeds the ball down to Durant in the mid-post where he’s matched up against P.J. Tucker, and Marv Albert says, “Iguodala for Durant, has a mismatch.” Indeed he did: He had a mismatch against Houston’s best individual defender, the guy designated for the grim job of checking him all night. “Kevin Durant has a mismatch” is the safest thing to say in all the English language. Bark it out the next time you’re wandering the aisles of your local supermarket. The time of day doesn’t even matter. It’s always true. Kevin Durant has a mismatch.

Game 2 (Rockets W, 127-105)

PAL: The Warriors can just drive you nuts. Winning isn’t enough for these basketball artists – they need to make the most beautiful play, even if the degree of difficulty is way high or the margin for error is transparent. The turnovers kill me, because they just seem so careless. How can the same group of dudes make the game look so perfect be the same dudes to make it almost unwatchable?

Tonight was the only recipe for a Rockets win. Combine an off shooting from everyone not named Durant + Rockets role players going crazy. Come on – P.J. Tucker, Ariza, and Gordon aren’t going to score 22, 19, and 28 in the same game again this series. Warriors still take this in 5.

TOB: I still think the Warriors win this series. But Game 2 made me ask myself out loud: When will people stop overreacting to Game 1 of a series? Look at what those writers wrote above after Game 1. Or Charles Barkley joking the Warriors would win in 3 games. It happens all the time. Multiple times per postseason. A team wins Game 1 and suddenly no other result is possible. Basketball doesn’t work like that, especially this deep in the postseason. Teams get here because they’re good and can do good things. The Rockets won 62 games. That’s no fluke. The Warriors got close in the 4th, cutting it to 10, and suddenly the Rockets rained threes on their heads and pushed the lead to almost 30 in just a few minutes.

The Warriors have a real Steph Curry problem, though. I’m guessing he’s hurt, because he looks immobile and not explosive just like in 2016. Not only can he not guard anyone, he can’t get open. He looks lost out there and he needs to start hitting shots or the Warriors will lose. For all the Durant love, no one changes a game like Curry – he opens the floor up for everything the Warriors do, and they cannot win this thing without a major contribution from him. Also, Klay’s inconsistency will never not drive me crazy.

Best Stuff:

Source: Steph Curry Will Have To Take Over At Some Point, Tom Ley, Deadspin

  • You could see Curry outlining a Takeover Game—one of those in which he singlehandedly erases what appeared to be an insurmountable lead through a barrage of threes and floaters that drop perfectly through the net—but he just wasn’t up to filling in the full picture. Your level of concern regarding the Warriors’ chances going forward in this series should directly correlate with how likely you think it is that Curry will continue to sputter in these moments. You have to assume he’s going to keep trying to grab hold of games like he did during that fourth-quarter stretch last night, and at some point the Warriors will need him to find his grip.

Source: “Steph Curry Needs to Get His Mojo Back”, Danny Heifetz, The RInger

  • The biggest obstacle between the Warriors and their dynastic destiny isn’t another team, but Steph’s mojo failing to return, à la the 2016 playoffs. Through two games, the Rockets have thwarted Steph by having their bigs play tight defense when switched onto him, daring him to drive and denying open looks from 3. Whether Steph is unable or unwilling to take what the Rockets are offering him, the plan has thus far worked. His defensive performance added to the frustration, as James Harden constantly targeted Steph in Game 2.
  • In all likelihood, Game 2 was an anomaly. The Warriors let washed Manu Ginobili walk all over them in Game 4 against the Spurs, and the Pelicans crushed Golden State in a similarly sloppy performance by the defending champs two weeks ago. Both opponents were swiftly vanquished in the ensuing games. Odds are the Warriors will win their next two home games, clinch the series in Houston, defeat whatever overachieving Eastern team survives the conference finals, and we’ll remember this game as the last ray of light before the Warriors blotted out the NBA sun for the third time in four seasons. Yet there’s a chance—say, 13.7 percent—that the outcome of these playoffs isn’t prewritten after all.

Robinson Cano: the PED/HOF Debate Rages On

(Forgive me for writing about this topic again, but I love it)

He’s not really going to be a case study in how Hall of Fame voters will treat players with confirmed PED suspensions, because by the time he’s eligible around the year 2040, the question of whether PED guys make the Hall of Fame (Bonds and Clemens chief among them) will have sorted itself out. But Robinson Cano’s suspension this week for taking a diuretic that is often used as a masking agent will still be interesting.

As things stood before this week, Cano had a good chance to make the Hall of Fame if he retired the day before the suspension was announced:

At age 35, Canó is already past many of the standard statistical markers for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. We usually start the Hall of Fame conversation at around 60 bWAR, and Canó’s up to 67.5. JAWS, a Hall of Fame value estimator that balances a player’s career bWAR against his seven-year peak bWAR, rates Canó’s career as already better than that of the average Hall of Fame second baseman. Plus, Canó, who’s still a very good hitter at this stage in his career, has five more seasons left on his current contract in which he can pad his counting stats. He has 2,417 career hits and 305 career home runs.

With a few more years, Cano should get to 3,000 hits and might get to 400 home runs, which would have made him a sure thing before this week. But now that he has this black mark, what will come of his Hall of Fame chances? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann makes a good argument. First, the electorate is changing – younger, more accepting of the fact that PEDs exist in baseball. Cano’s final year on the ballot could be as late as 2040. All of the voters who felt personally fooled by the Steroid Era and refuse to vote for anyone associated at all with PEDs will be long gone – either dead or otherwise not voting. Second, the media likes Cano. This should be a big plus in his favor. And as Baumann points out, the upcoming candidacy of Andy Pettite should tell us a lot about Cano’s chances:

But we should pay attention to what happens to Andy Pettitte, who was named in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using HGH, when he appears on the ballot this year. His case isn’t any more impressive than Gary Sheffield’s, and while Sheffield peaked at 13.3 percent in 2017, I’m confident that Pettitte, with his Baseball Man reputation and clutch postseason record, will blow that number out of the water.

And, I’d point out, it’ll also tell us a lot about the hypocrisy of voters who won’t vote for Bonds or Clemens, two not well-liked guys who are suspected of taking PEDs, but will vote for Pettitte, a well-liked guy who we know took PEDs. -TOB

Source: “Will Robinson Canó’s 80-Game Suspension Affect His Hall of Fame Chances?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/15/2018)

PAL: It matter to me. It’s not about what the Hall of Fame represents, or what we think it should represent; rather; it’s about entitlement.

Bonds, McGuire, Palmero, Cano, Manny, etc. – these guys are/were idolized and catered to and fawned over for playing a game. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones.

I know I sound old and out of touch, and possibly even naive, but whether or not a guy used performance enhancing drugs matters. Should he be able to play again? Yes. Should he be able to continue to make an insane amount of money? Yes. Should he be able to coach after he’s done playing? Of course.

The only part of an illustrious, fruitful life in baseball that these guys are kept out of is the Hall of Fame, voted on by the Baseball Writers of America and the Veterans Committee. If the Hall of Fame is what’s at stake for the greats, I’m good with that being the punishment for taking banned substances. But what about the guys who admitted to taking greenies and all the other unsavory characters with plaques, you ask. I’m not saying it’s perfect solution, and it’s moving the barrier of entry for relatively new generations of players. Again, I think that’s an acceptable consequence to cleaning up the game.

TOB: Isn’t that a little overkill? A little jealous? A little petty? The punishment for taking banned substances is an 80 game suspension. And a lot of money (for Cano around $12M). The HOF is not just an honor for the players – it’s a museum, of baseball history for the fans.

Also, I don’t recall much complaint from you when your boy Pudge got in the HOF. As I’m sure you remember, Pudge came into camp CONSIDERABLY slimmer the year they began testing for steroids. He was also implicated in Canseco’s book, which proved accurate on quite a few other guys. Pudge got in on the first ballot.

We’re gonna ban Cano now because he took a diuretic? Even if I were to agree a HOF ban for use of PEDs was appropriate, I’d need a lot more than the use of something that can be a masking agent.’’’


  1. You say my reaction is overkill, jealous, and petty. In other words, I’m being jealous and petty. I’d say that’s a bit much. Would I like to be a big league baseball player? That would be awesome! Do I walk around constantly jealous of them, and am I happy when they get caught breaking the rules. No, and no. I do think having a game without PEDs is a worthy pursuit, so I wouldn’t call pondering the legacy of a great player who tested positive for a banned substance petty or of little importance. I mean, you wouldn’t love writing about this if it was inconsequential.
  2. A player can be included in the “museum” without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. We’re talking about a plaque and a speech. That’s it. We aren’t using the ctrl-f on their name and deleting it from all records of ever playing the game.
  3. Pudge – yes, there are rumors and weight loss. Obviously, it’s harder to keep someone out when there isn’t a failed test or admission. I concede that this is a fuzzy zone here, as we’re entering that pre-admission, Lance Armstrong territory (never failed a drug test) here.
  4. Dude, baseball players take the diuretic for one reason. Call me jealous and petty, and I’ll call you willfully ignorant on this “diuretic isn’t the PED” take. 

TOB: When you argue, “they earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones,” and this is the one thing they can’t have, then yeah it sounds a little jealous. But there’s a lot more to this.

First, As I noted, the punishment is 80 games, which will cost Cano $12M. Now you want to punish him again, decades from now, by not letting him in the Hall of Fame? That’s too much, for me. Moreover, you argue that this will “clean up the game” presumably because people won’t want to risk their chances for the Hall of Fame. There’s a huge flaw in this logic. How many players playing today do you think have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? Maybe 20? 25? Let’s say 50. That means those 50 guys are subject to a much harsher punishment than everyone else simply because they are better players. Brandon Belt is good. He’s not HOF good. If he gets popped for PEDs, he comes back in August and continues to play. If Kris Bryant gets popped for PEDs, he pays the same price as Belt PLUS he can’t be in the HOF. How is that fair? And how is it a deterrent for the players who have no chance at the HOF?

Second, my argument about diuretics is not willful ignorance. It’s asking for a higher standard of proof than rumors, allegations, and innuendo. Because taking a diuretic is not proof – it’s innuendo. It’s suggestive. Maybe he smoked some weed and wanted to clear that out of his system.

Finally, you make my point for me with Pudge. There was an allegation. There’s circumstantial evidence. And he sails in. For Bonds and Clemens, there were allegations. There was circumstantial evidence. And they may never get in. How is that fair? There should be no “fuzzy zone”. The only fair thing is to let them all in. Have a section in the HOF explaining the steroid era, and note that many players were suspected of using.

Sports Gambling: Coming Soon

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, signed into law in 1992, on federalism grounds. The result? It will likely now be up to each individual state to determine whether sports gambling will be legal within that state. Given the expected revenue, it’s hard to imagine most states won’t move quickly to legalize it. But what of the consequences? The ripple effect is hard to even comprehend. Individual families. The Nevada economy, where sports gambling was already legal. Will teams begin offering in seat real time gambling?

Last month I was in Tahoe for a bachelor party, and we spent one evening at the sportsbook. The real-time gambling on baseball was incredible. With each base runner or out, the odds moved like stock prices. Late in a tied game, the smallest events moved the odds dramatically. It was fun enough just to watch the odds swing. We locked in a bet for the Giants to beat the Dodgers in the 7th, and got a solid +145. Soon after, the Giants’ payoff dropped, and we felt like we had free money with our payoff locked in. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wonders if that will happen pitch by pitch with an app. I can’t see why not – Phil and I do $1 bets on things like that with friends already.

And what about the sports leagues? The NBA and MLB have been openly rooting for this, looking to take a piece of the pie. They are reportedly seeking 1% off the top of all wagers made. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. For decades, MLB has been concerned about how gambling could affect its game (see The 1919 World Series; Pete Rose). But in his article this week, Passan makes an excellent point:

Strong salaries for player tend to be all the integrity they need; the cost of bribery for a millionaire exceeds nearly every gambler’s bankroll. This is nothing more than a cash grab, the leagues calling shotgun on their piece of the pie before others start to understand its enormity. Peel back the lawyer speak and commissioner Rob Manfred’s position always has been clear. He doesn’t see gambling as a panacea but instead an insurance policy. Good economy, bad economy, people gamble. So long as people gamble on baseball, they’ll watch baseball. And the more people watch baseball, the better for the game.

The players make way more money now than gamblers could offer them, so the risk of a player taking cash to throw a game is much lower than it used to be. Passan also suggests the increased money and attention could lead to robot umpires. I dunno. I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, other changes Passan suggests seem likely:

A general manager or head of analytics will leave a team to take a job with a gambling outfit. The Ivy League brains that skipped Wall Street to instead work in sports may now see gambling as the perfect happy medium

As Passan says, “our capacity to gamble is limitless.” It will be fascinating to see where this takes us. -TOB

Source: How Gambling Can Help Make Baseball America’s Pastime Again“, Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports (05/14/2018)

Augie Baseball Update

After winning the NSIC Tourney, the Vikings beat Pitt St. 9-4 in the first game of the Regionals. Four of the nine runs were earned. Today (Friday, 5/18) they play Emporia State. Go Vikes!


We’re about six weeks into the season. Time to check in on Ohtani’s performance.

3.58 ERA and 6 home runs. NOT BAD! A slash line of .321/.360/.617 for an OPS of .977. VERY GOOD! On pace to be at or near Phil’s benchmarks by the All Star Break.

This has been your Ohtani Watch Update. Thank you. -TOB

Videos of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”

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“Close your eyes. Picture a convict. What’s he wearing? Nothing special, baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants. He says something ordinary like, ‘Yo, that’s shizzle.’ Okay. Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? A black man? Wrong. That was a white woman. Surprised? Well, shame on you.”

-Michael Scott

Week of May 11, 2018

Augie sticking it to St. Cloud State in the NSIC Tournament, which I should have seen in person. Instead, I’m in Mesa, AZ writing this blog. American Airlines did not have a good day today. 

The Western Conference Finals: A Clash of Contrasting Styles

The Western Conference Finals kick off on Monday, and it should be a doozy. The Warriors, who have made the Finals each of the last three years, having won two titles, against the Rockets, who have stated they were built to beat the Warriors and come in with home court advantage. The Warriors have been there, and the Rockets are coming.

The matchup has been anticipated all season, but some may be surprised to see two offenses that don’t look very much alike. There is a belief in NBA fan and media circles that the Curry/Kerr era Warriors have led a revolution in NBA offense, valuing the three pointer and avoiding the mid-range jumper like never before. It’s a misconception. The Warriors shot 28.9 three-pointers per game this season, just 17th in the league. As Anthony Slater points out in this article, Kerr is actually old school – tailoring his offense to his personnel on the court at any given time. To illustrate, consider: When Curry is on the floor, 39.9% of the Warriors’ shots are three-pointers, which would be third in the league if they averaged that the entire game. But when Curry is off the floor, that number drops to 29.5%, which would be bottom ten in the league. This is because when Curry is off the floor, Shaun Livingston and David West are on the floor. Unlike Curry, Livingston and West excel in the midrange, and so Kerr lets them do their thing, effectively.

Contrast that with the Houston Rockets, who truly implement a team-wide strategy to shoot threes and layups, and avoid the mid-range. This season, 50.2% of the Rockets’ shots were three-pointers, easily an NBA record. But unlike the Warriors, the personnel on the court doesn’t matter. When James Harden missed seven games earlier this season, the team averaged 44.8 three-point attempts per game, more than they averaged with Harden. To further illustrate this, consider Chris Paul. Last year, with the Clippers, Paul shot 322 mid-range shots to just 302 three-pointers, in line with his career numbers. But this year, his first with Houston, he shot 379 three-pointers and just 180 mid-range shots. As Slater notes, “that’s the system overriding the personnel.”

Kerr believes he’s bridging the gap between his mentor, Phil Jackson, and the Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, who was the coach in Phoenix when Kerr was the General Manager there. I’m not going to look at the series as a referendum on either offensive style. I’m just going to enjoy the hell out of the show. -TOB

Source: The Warriors and Rockets Aren’t as Similar as You Think – It’s a Fascinating Strategic and Stylistic Matchup”, Anthony Slater, The Athletic (05/09/2018)

PAL: Kerr, referring to Curry:

“It reminds me a little bit of (Manu) Ginobili his rookie year with the Spurs. Pop was very disciplined. Ginobili would come down on a 3-on-1 fastbreak, throw a crazy pass out of bounds. Pop would be pulling his hair out. But by the end of the year, Pop got it. For every one of those plays, Ginobili would make five great plays. That 5-to-1 ratio is pretty good. Pop learned to live with Ginobili’s insanity and I quickly learned to live with Steph’s insanity.”

For as blissful as it is to watch Curry play basketball, I’ve witnessed this insanity.

As you can see, that one bad play can be really bad – needlessly difficult, and/or too loose. It would be easy to say that Curry is a basketball genius that shouldn’t be instructed, because what comes naturally to him is better than anything Kerr could teach. That’s not what happened. Kerr will always defer to the player’s talent, but he and the staff worked with Curry on how to move without the ball in order to maximize his awesome shooting talent. Yes, you live with the moments like the one above, but that doesn’t mean the team has sat on its hands with Curry.

TOB covers the really cool breakdown of the differences between the Rockets and the Warriors. I thought Kerr’s insight to fostering Curry’s ability was a fascinating second piece to this story.

TOB: Frankly, Draymond should have caught that pass. And for every Curry play like that, there are five like this:

Ok, maybe not five like that, because that’s incredible.

Actually, Speed Can Be Taught

The secret sauce to being an explosive skater in the NHL just might be figure skating. Like swing coaches for PGA players, many hockey players and NHL teams hire skating coaches like former Canadian figure skating champion Barb Underhill. There’s also Laura Stamm, who worked with the Islanders in the 70s, and Dawn Braid. It’s not just at the NHL level either. Diane Ness has built a small skating empire in Minnesota with Pro Edge Skating.

As Joe Smith writes, Tiger Woods helped Underhill see the potential for her to help hockey players. Aside from being the mother to a couple hockey players, it was seeing a split screen of Tiger Woods and her husband’s respective golf swings.

“I said, ‘Wow, you can see the difference when it’s side by side. I’ve just got to find my Tiger Woods.”

Underhill thought of retired Rangers forward Mike Gartner, long considered among the most gifted skaters in the league. She called Gartner and asked if she could film him skating. He said yes.

While figure skates and hockey skates are very different beasts, the power for each type of skating comes from the same mechanics and efficiencies. By teaching these mechanics and efficiencies, Underhill has helped Brayden Point go from an average skater to an elite skater – one that almost beat the fastest man on skates, Connor McDavid, in a race. Think about that for a second. You are not going to take a football player – either kind of football – with average speed and turn him into a blazer. That just doesn’t happen in other sports. Speed isn’t taught like it can be in hockey. That’s a fascinating distinction! – PAL

Source: The Woman Behind Some of the NHL’s Fastest Teams”, Joe Smith, The Athletic (05/9/2018)

Soulless Surfing  

We’ve got ourselves a real pickle here, folks. Of course, most of us are massive surf fans and watch the pro circuit (I could look up the name, but then I’d lose the sarcastic point I’m trying to make). While most of us aren’t serious surf fans…or even surfers, I think we all can appreciate the sport.

Perhaps unlike any other sport, nature plays a massive role in surfing competitions. Obviously, it determines where competitions are held. It also determines the quality of a competition and even the existence of a competition. No swell = no competition.

That was until the Wayne Gretzky of surfing, Kelly Slater, helped usher us into the future of surfing: a man-made wave created by a 100-ton mass of weight pushing through a 400-yard pool over 100 miles away from the ocean. There have been artificial waves before, but nothing like this:

At first blush, this is all wrong. Is a tube ride at all compelling in a pool? Where is the cerebral part of surfing. A huge part of the sport – whether you’re Slater or a nobody – is being able to read the ocean. It’s not enough to pick a set on the horizon; rather, you gotta know if it’s wave two or three that’s the best wave with the most power. All of this is gone in a wave pool. Don’t even get me started on the conditioning needed in the ocean to paddle out to your wave. Unlike baseball or basketball or hockey, there is a connection to the big, powerful world of nature inherent in the sport of surfing. That does not exist in the pool, and that’s a bummer.

You know what’s not a bummer? Being a surfing fan during a pool competition. You can watch idols not from ½ a mile away through binoculars, but along the length of the wave like fans at a hockey game. What’s more, it’s a hell of a lot more TV friendly (see: reliable). And one could argue that by removing the variable of wave consistency, we actually see skill vs. skill.

And perhaps most important of all is the fact that surfing is an Olympic sport in 2020, for the first time. Japan lacks the consistent natural wave that one might find on the North Shore of Oahu. The stakes might simply be too high for the sport to leave it to nature. In order to showcase the athletes, likely Olympians – even those who are on the fence about the man-made wave – agree that the Olympics should be held on a man-made wave.

At its core, I would suggest that what makes surfing so goddamn cool and appealing is that it doesn’t happen in Nebraska. Surfing only happens is idyllic places, and that’s romantic, that’s its special place in pop culture. And while the growth of the sport no doubt stands to benefit from Slater’s pools (and – my god – he’s going to make so much money on this), the spirit of perhaps the zen sport is being eroded in chlorine. This is a great read. Stop reading what I have to say, and read Brent Rose’s kick-ass story. – PAL

Source: “Is The First Pro Surfing Contest In A Wave Pool The Sport’s Future, Or Its Bastardization?”, Brent Rose, Deadspin (05/9/2018)

TOB: As Phil points out, this is an interesting conundrum: what is lost in the sport of surfing when you take the unpredictability of nature out of it? Anything? Everything? As I read it, I went back and forth on this. Finally I came to a conclusion: surfing stops being zen and loses its romantic connection to nature when you put it in the context of competition. This affects a small number of surfers in the world, and only in the context of competition and winning prize money. But it doesn’t change the sport for the vast majority of surfers who get up before dawn every day to catch some swells, brah.

The Neverending But Fun Debate: Jordan vs. LeBron

As LeBron carries his team to perhaps another NBA Finals appearance, which would be his 8th in a row, the clamor to determine who is better, Jordan or LeBron, continues to rise. I’m not sure there’s a right answer – and I’m not sure I have my own decision, but I did enjoy this article by Kevin Pelton, who attempts to answer the question statistically with a stat he invented a few years back called Championships Added. It’s a bit like WAR in baseball. It’s a fascinating article, and I recommend you read it, but here’s the short of Pelton’s conclusion:

Peak: Jordan’s peak was the best ever: the 1990-91 Season with a 0.70 Championship Added. LeBron’s best comes close, 0.62.

Career: LeBron takes it here, especially when you account for strength of league. Pelton argues the NBA is stronger now, in part due to a much wider pool of players (read: non-American). When not accounting for strength of league, Jordan still holds a slight edge over LeBron, but LeBron could pass him as soon as this season depending on how these playoffs shakeout.

Pelton points out another interesting issue: when you go by the age of each instead of the number of seasons, LeBron is way out in front of Jordan. That, of course, is because LeBron started at 18 while Jordan started at 21.

As Pelton concludes, “A team drafting James’ entire career would assure itself championship contention for more than a decade given his metronomic consistency and ability to avoid injury. Jordan might have been better at his best, but James has already put together the best NBA career we’ve ever seen.”

I find it hard to argue with that conclusion. Jordan at his peak was better, but LeBron did more over the course of his career – and he doesn’t even show any signs of slowing down yet. Jordan fans will argue he went 6-for-6 in the Finals, but that means he didn’t make the Finals 9 times (7 times if you ignore his two seasons with the Wizards). Meanwhile, LeBron has made the finals 8 times in 14 seasons, and could make it 9 in 15 this year. Making the Finals and losing is a lot better than losing before the Finals.

What’s remarkable to me about LeBron is that this debate is even close enough to have. When Jordan retired, people figured we’d never see a player better than him. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long: LeBron’s career began the season after Jordan’s career ended (for good). On top of that is the fact LeBron did it in the face of unbearable expectations:

And LeBron has done it without a sniff of legal or personal trouble. So, I’m with Pelton. Give me Jordan for one year, give me LeBron for his career. -TOB

Source: LeBron or MJ? How the King is Settling the GOAT Debate”, Kevin Pelton, ESPN, (05/10/2018)

PAL: I guess we have to call TOB’s love for James what it is at this point: a LeBoner.

TOB: How dare you.

NBA Player Nicknames in China

The title says it all: the funny nicknames people in China have given to NBA players. This started as a string of tweets. The writer then put a few of them into an article. There are some great ones, and I suggest you check his twitter feed for a lot more, but this is my favorite:

Steph Curry probably has more nicknames than any current NBA player except for LeBron. Many of these nicknames play on his relatively small size for a basketball player, including “The Elementary School Student” (小学生) and 萌神, which literally translates as “Sprout God,” but might more naturally be translated as “Adorable God,” since the Chinese character for “sprout” is a reference to the Japanese concept of “Moe” (萌え), describing feelings of affection and protectiveness for small, cute things.

But Curry’s most interesting Chinese nickname is “Steph Skyfucker” (库昊), which derives from an elaborate series of interlocking visual and verbal puns. It turns out that Chinese also has the phrase “the sky’s the limit” (天空是极限), just like in English. Over time “breaking through the sky” (捅破天) became a way to describe someone who vastly exceeded all expectations. However, in other contexts, the same characters for “breaking through” can be a vulgar slang term for “fuck.” Since Curry defied all expectations to become a superstar, people started saying he had broken through the sky—or fucked it.

Skyfucker it is. -TOB

Source: “Sprout God, Porcelain Mamba, And Six-Step LeBron: The Stories Behind China’s Best NBA Nicknames“, Nick Kapur, Deadspin (05/11/2018)

Videos of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Wings – “Arrow Through Me”

Tweets of the Week

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Week of May 4, 2018

Terry Rozier gets the last word on Eric Bledsoe.

Strength: Analytics. Weakness: How to use a fungo

Photo credit: Michael Starghill

Baseball is measured differently today than it was 20 years ago. Hitting .300 or winning 20 games are not valued in the way they traditionally have been. We all know this. WAR, BABIP, and a parade of new acronyms are taking over. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that  different people – people who understand the new data and how to use it to make better decisions – are more influential within the organization. Typically, these data folks were tucked away in the front office, but the world champ Houston Astros are realizing their analysts might provide more value somewhere less cush than a MLB office.

The Astros and its General Manager Jeff Lunhow are no longer trying to build a winner. They now must sustain excellence with lower draft picks and less money to spend on amatuer talent. As Tyler Kepner learns in his excellent story, Lunhow believes the best way to do that is in making measurable improvements on the field – at all levels of the organization.

“Every team now values advanced metrics. Not every team has sent its top analyst to spend a summer as a first-base coach on the bottom rung of its farm system, as the Astros did with Mejdal last season.”

“Mejdal” is Sig Mejdal, 52. His official title is Special Assistant to Lunhow, but these days you can find him in uniform in the minor league system. He’s riding the bus, he’s shagging balls, and he’s also talking young minor leaguers in the game about pitch usage rate, hitter tendencies, situational data, and other intel that 2016 draft pick Colin McKee describes as “mind-blowing stuff.”

But – again – every team adheres to the importance of new metrics. I mean, have you seen how often teams over-shift these days? What make the Astros different?

Front offices everywhere now teem with well-educated executives who have backgrounds outside baseball. Luhnow, who has an M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, wondered how the Astros could get more from theirs.

“There is an ivory tower effect, if you will, where great ideas are being thought about and discussed at headquarters, but until you roll them out into the field, you don’t realize all the challenges involved,” he said. “Amazing ideas find all kinds of issues when you try to roll them out with human beings because that’s all we are, a collection of human beings trying to do things to help players perform on the field.”

In past years, Luhnow found, it was easy for executives to visit a minor league affiliate for a week but difficult to form more than a surface-level bond with players and staff members. In Mejdal, whom he had first hired with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, he had a trusted confidant with intimate knowledge of the Astros’ culture.

A fun and thought-provoking read. A fresh take on the baseball metrics story. I think you’ll enjoy the read whether you’re into baseball, business, or stories about thinking a little differently. – PAL

Source: A Numbers Guy Left the Front Office to Coach Prospects. Here’s What He Learned.”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (4/30/18)

The Bay Area Sports Mt. Rushmore

I stumbled on an article, which was short and not particularly well thought through, about the Bay Area Mt. Rushmore. It wasn’t great, but it did get me thinking: who are the four greatest athletes in Bay Area sports history. For this argument, I’m choosing player performance in the Bay Area, so performance elsewhere is out and hometown kids (see Tom Brady) who played elsewhere are out.

I’ve put a good deal of thought into it, and here’s what I got:

Joe Montana: Beloved – seriously, people friggin love this guy; I wasn’t around, but I get the sense there was some deep-seated issues for the Bay Area and its wounded civic pride coming out of the 60s and 70s, and Joe provided a chance to be a winner. Speaking of winner, Joe was the winner of four Super Bowls and is generally considered the best ever at the toughest and most important position in sports, or at least was until Tom Brady came along.

Barry Bonds: Quite possibly the greatest baseball player of all time. He never won a World Series, but that’s ok. Did he use PEDs? Maybe. Do I care? Not one iota. In hindsight, he made us not realize how hard it is to hit at ATT Park. He made it look so easy. Was he a jerk? I think it’s extremely overstated, but the reputation is there. However, he was our jerk, and he was nice to us, so GTFO.

Willie Mays: I never saw him play, but his numbers were jaw dropping. Seriously check out his WAR (far right column) during his peak:

That’s just stupid. And, again, he was beloved. He’s probably tops on this list for that category. If you’ve ever been at a Giants game when he’s announced, the reaction is incredible. On the dark day he’s gone, this city will mourn communally in a way I’ve never seen.

Ok. The first three were easy. The fourth took some thought, but I landed on:

Steph Curry: Yes, there’s recency bias here. But he’s a two-time MVP and a two-time champ. He’s universally beloved here, and aside from some petty fools, he’s loved all over the country/world. He’s the greatest shooter of all-time, bar none. It’s not close. His shooting, in volume, off the dribble, closely guarded, is incomparable. But he’s not one-dimensional, as he’s got top notch handles and an incredible knack for making incredible finishes at the rack. His range is so deep, it changes the dynamics on the floor so incredibly that it cannot be overstated. Welcome, Wardell.

And now, the runners-up:

Ricky Henderson: Very good player. Less “beloved” than very well liked and funny. Some demerits because only 14 of his 25 (!!) years were in Oakland, which was a theme when I looked through the greatest A’s.

Ken Stabler: Ehhh. Never saw him play. Old timers love him, but he doesn’t resonate with younger generations.

Jerry Rice: Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time. Certainly the most productive. But I don’t believe he was ever beloved by the Bay Area like Joe.

Tim Brown: Seriously? C’mon.

Steve Young: One Super Bowl vs. four says a lot. Plus, his peak was relatively short. And I think his post-career media has made him a smidge less likable.

Joe Thornton: I dunno, is he the best Shark? Maybe Owen Nolan? Arturs Irbe? Patrick Marleau? I dunno. But whoever it is is not making the Bay Area’s top 4. -TOB

Returning from Tommy John Surgery Takes a Village

Sometimes you read a feel-good sports story and you’re left feeling a little overwhelmed by the saccharine. But The Athletic’s Andrew   nails this one, on Giants reliever Will Smith’s return this week, thirteen months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Smith made his season debut in the 7th, and struck out red-hot Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer (a former teammate) to end the inning.

Look at that smile. If you’ve ever worked really hard for something, you know that smile. All the grueling rehab finally paid off. But what I really like about this story is how Baggarly talks to the training staff who worked so hard go get Smith back here.

Smith received a handshake from Bochy upon reaching the dugout, and then swallowed head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner with a two-armed hug.

Groeschner stopped on his way to the bus, perched his sunglasses on his forehead and revealed a pair of glassy eyes.

“For us, it’s awesome,” [Groeschner] said. “It’s really a great moment for our medical staff just to watch him and how excited he was. It was 13 months of working his ass off. Really, from Day 1, he was ready to work.

“He just went after it hard, and for this day, right here. And it paid off for him. I think that’s why everyone is so happy for him.”

For Smith, as with most individual achievements, there were people in the background providing support. I really liked how Baggarly highlighted that here. -TOB

Source: Giants Face Significant Obstacles, But Will Smith Shows Them the Importance of Turning the Page”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/02/2018)

PAL: 13 months is a long time for a person to not do the thing they are best at and to live the tired, one-day-at-a-time cliche. Aside from the quiet monotony of the drills and exercises contained in those folders, I read about Smith and think about self confidence…even self worth. Being able to contribute at my job is a huge factor in my confidence, even my mood.

At some point, the cliche has to lead to a real payoff, and that was Smith getting on the hill against the Padres. He’s in the box score. Good read!

Hit (and Field) Your Numbers

While I despise the opening line of this story, I enjoyed the hell out of the rest of it, the latest installment of ESPN’s “Radical Ideas Series”. Here’s Sam Miller to frame the discussion:

“The point of ballplayer compensation is to compensate ballplayers, and a good system would fairly and efficiently pay the most valuable ballplayers the most money. The current system does not do this.

“That’s what this system does: It creates a lot of players who are underpaid, whom we take for granted, and some players who are overpaid, whom we grow to hate with every bitter nerve in our body, and we call that an economic wash.”

Both of these guys make a over 25MM a year. One is extremely overpaid, but is it possible that one of them is underpaid?

Setting aside that this is highly unlikely to ever happen, the solution to the problem is to treat baseball players like salespeople and pay them largely on commission (with a base salary of the MLB minimum, which is merely $507,500). Teams would be more than happy with this. No more Barry Zito contract blunders, and Mike Trout will earn what he’s worth based on how he plays on the field.

Of course there are some flaws to this idea (injuries, for one, and how are we measuring success/ranking, The Players Union would never – I mean never ever ever – agree to it), but it’s fun to think about, especially when we consider the fans’ bystander role in the current system.

“We are constantly asking not whether the player is good but whether he is worth it. The player becomes equipment — a depreciating tractor, sputtering. We yell at it when it doesn’t start. We talk about its resale value.”

This story is for you if you have an upcoming date with the relatives and you’re worried you don’t have the small-talk skills to make it through another all-day affair the randos at a barbecue. – PAL

Source: Radical Ideas Series: What if MLB players were paid on commission?, Sam Miller, ESPN (5/2/18)

TOB: As a thought exercise, this is pretty interesting. But in reality? How to deal with injuries? What happens to free agency? I do, however, think it’d be a good way to deal with pre-free agency players. It’s insane that Aaron Judge made $500k last year, when he hit 52 dingers and had an 8.1 WAR (which is MVP-caliber). And it’s insane he won’t be a free agent until 2023. Because Judge was a late bloomer, in 2023 he’ll be 31, the same age as good but past his prime Andrew McCutchen. That is to say, there’s a chance Judge never gets a massive contract and will get paid very little compared to his level of play (Judge will be arbitration eligible in 2020, but the arbitration numbers never come close to fair market value for the best players).

So why not tweak Miller’s plan: pay per WAR for pre-free agency players, so that a guy like Judge gets paid a fair amount when he hits 50 dingers.

Pitching Panda
As a fan, a baseball season is long. Your team plays nearly every day for six months. If your team isn’t good, it’s like being in a torture chamber. The Giants are showing some life, but in good and bad seasons, there are moments that make the grind worth it. Last weekend, Giants fans got one of those.

The Giants were getting smoked in the first game of a double-header Saturday, and so they brought in Pablo Sandoval to pitch. Anytime a position player is forced to pitch, it’s must-see. But something about it being Panda made this even more exciting. And then…the dude pitched. A perfect inning. And not only that, he looked really good. He touched 88 on his fastball, which should make Dan Haren (Twitter handle: IThrow88) blush. He induced weak contact. And best of all, he dropped in this curve ball for a strike.

I couldn’t stop laughing. When he was at bat, Yasmani Grandal couldn’t stop laughing. Throughout the inning, both dugouts couldn’t stop laughing. It was a great moment in an otherwise crappy game. But it wasn’t meaningless. An as always astute Mike Krukow noted, as Panda ran back to the dugout after the inning, that the previously lifeless Giants dugout seemed suddenly energized, and he noted that could bode well for the second game of that double-header. Sure ‘nuff. Giants came out firing in the evening, and then finished off the series win the next day. Again, it was one of those little moments in a baseball season that means so much. I encourage to watch the entire inning here.

What a great sport. -TOB

Source: Pablo Sandoval Pitched A Perfect Inning, And It Was Just Fucking Perfect”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (04/29/2018)

Video(s) of the Week:

Tweet of the Week: As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s fitting that L.A. Clipper Patrick Beverly’s mom dominated on The Price Is Right.

PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “The Carter Baron”

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Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

I feel like Neve Campbell in Scream II. She thinks she can go off to college and be happy and then the murderer comes back and starts killing off all of her friends. I learned a lot of lessons from that movie, this is just one of them.

-M.G. Scott