Week of May 31, 2019

He…caught that?


Is “Post-Access Journalism” Coming to American Sports?

In the U.S., we are accustomed to a couple scenes after a game: the first, players/coaches at a podium, often bored out of their minds, answering questions that are rarely interesting and even more rarely results in an interesting answer. The second, players, often half naked and surly, sitting or standing at their locker, microphones stuffed in their faces, while they answer even less interesting questions and give even less interested answers. I have never understood the value of this, personally, because of how rarely we learn anything worth knowing, but the leagues mandate this media access in order to promote the league, its teams, and its players.

As the Ringer’s Bryan Curtis writes, the same is not true in Europe. Soccer leagues and teams do not mandate media availability. Because player discussion with media are not mandated, they are rare, and the results are rather unexpected. When a soccer player or coach does speak to the media, the media companies and reporters realized it was in their collective best interest not to run straight to Twitter with any quotes they might get. Instead they voluntarily agreed to embargo such information. Here’s an example:

After a Saturday soccer match, a club’s manager gives a press conference in front of the TV cameras in the same manner Steve Kerr will this week. What the manager says can be used immediately, on TV or on Twitter. Then, the manager may hold a separate meeting with newspaper writers and answer more questions. What the manager says in that interview is embargoed, by agreement of the writers, until 10:30 p.m. that night. No tweets, no early posts allowed.

Sometimes, the various press conferences contradict one another. As ESPN soccer writer Mark Ogden told me: “The gray area comes when [José] Mourinho says in the open press conference, ‘Paul Pogba isn’t trying hard enough.’ And then in the embargoed section he would go further, saying, ‘Paul Pogba’s not trying hard enough because we’ve had a big row. He hates me.’”

When that happens, a soccer writer has a choice: tell half the story immediately or tell the whole thing at 10:30 p.m. “Embargoes don’t really do any massive harm,” Smith said. “But there are times when you think, ‘Actually, I am almost going to write something that I now know is either incomplete or runs contrary to the full picture, because I have more of the picture.’ That’s a weird thing to do.”

The reasons for the embargoes are many, but the main two are these:

[H]olding news till 10:30 p.m. helps keep the print product alive. If a reader finds a fresh story on the back page of the morning paper, the thinking goes, they’ll be more tempted to buy it. “We willfully function as analog rather than as digital,” Smith said. “But we’re British and we’re a very traditional people.”

Another reason to have embargoes is the idea that readers will drown in the amount of content created by an all-timer like Liverpool-Barcelona. The news and quotes are more likely to be savored if they’re doled out in installments. Yet another reason, Burrows noted, is that holding news gives reporters a chance to write a proper piece instead of a glorified tweet.

As a consumer, some of this I find refreshing. If you check Twitter after a baseball game, the same 4-6 writers all report the same quote from the same players or coaches within seconds of each other. It’s sorta wild. And it makes me wonder if all the Giants beat writers, for example, wouldn’t be better off dividing up the work, so to speak.

But there’s a dark side to all this.

First, the lack of access to players causes reporters to ask questions well ahead of when they normally might, and then ration information they receive. They might not get to speak to that player again for weeks, so they have to get all the answers they can when they can, and then hold that information and slowly divvy it out until the next time they speak.

Second, it has given rise to bad journalism. Players never have to speak to the media, and so they can leverage that power into granting softball interviews, where they (read: their agents/advisors) get to review and edit answers, and where they even get multiple plugs for some god awful product they are endorsing. Instead of an interview, you end up with sponsored content, like this:

First, they might ask for a branded photo to run with the article. Over coffee, Liew pulled out his phone to show me a Daily Telegraph profile he’d written of Manchester United (then Cardiff City) manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2014. The interview had been organized by Barclays, a Premier League sponsor. In the photo, Solskjaer was holding a soccer ball with Barclays’ #YouAreFootball hashtag helpfully pointed at the camera. “This is nice and subtle, isn’t it?” Liew said.

Here’s that photo:

LOLOLOLOL. And the plugs continue:

That’s one plug. Players or manager representatives may also ask for a mention in the text of the story. (“Solskjaer seems relaxed now, having taken some time out to field questions from grassroots coaches as part of a Barclays community event.”) Finally, they ask for the coup de grace: another mention of the product right at the end of the article.

“That’s called a credit,” Liew said.

“A credit?” I said.

“A credit, yeah,” Liew said. “Almost like a shout-out to mom and dad.”

And here’s the “credit”:

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was speaking at a Barclays community event. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation using #YouAreFootball.

Yikes, that’s gross. But what choice do they have?

“That’s why the whole access game is so corrupt, in a way,” said Liew. “It’s vested interests flogging bad copy to extremely pliant sportswriters.”

And I was talking to good writers, who were queasy about these trade-offs, rather than tabloid scufflers, who might accept them without thinking twice. But even the good writers said a level of branding had crept into the paper.

“We would still resist that complete takeover of the copy,” said Northcroft of The Sunday Times. “But realistically we would bend, and certainly articles would have some kind of … branded photo and maybe a mention, either in the copy or at the end.”

Liew said: “If you get an exclusive interview with Messi, and his agents say, ‘Can we look at the quotes before?’—I know we talk about principles, but we’re going to say yes to that. And most people are—and try and keep it quiet. That’s the reality of it.”

So, as little value I had seen in post-game interview, this does sound waaaaaay worse. Curtis writes this as a cautionary tale for American sports, especially as a few NBA players have recently take more agency with regard to that mandated media “availability”. But I’m not so sure, so long as the league mandates remain in place. Still, this was a fascinating read. -TOB

Source: “‘The Bane of My Existence’: U.K. Sportswriting’s Access Crisis”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (05/29/2019)

PAL: This was a depressing read. With so many rules and embargoes, what the hell is the point of covering a team?


The Last 50

Loved this story. In 2012, the Major League draft shrunk from an almost unfathomable 50 rounds down to a still astounding 40 rounds. By comparison, the NFL has 7 rounds, and the NBA only has 2 rounds. A hell of a lot of players are needed to to fill the rosters of all the minor league affiliates. The San Francisco Giants have 8 – count them 8 – minor league teams.

This reduction from 50 to 40 eight years ago might seem insignificant, but for Jarrod Dyson. Giants fans remember him as a Royal, but Dyson is now a bench player for the Diamondbacks. More historically significant, Jarrod Dyson is the last standing active MLB player drafted in the 50th round or later. More than a number, as The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan underscores in his story, Dyson represents a bygone era of scouting (and hiding) a gem.

Brian Rhees was a first year scout in Mississippi. Like a hell of a lot of late-rounders, Dyson was noticed by accident. Once Rhees graded Dyson with 80 speed (scouts rate on a 20-80 scale, which I don’t understand), and once he realized no one else was onto Dyson, Rhees kept his discovery a secret. Dyson really couldn’t hit or really throw all that well, but he could run.

So the 2006 draft begins. In the late rounds of the draft – the real late rounds – where the chances of a player actually making it to the bigs is so slim, teams are really trying to fill roster spots on their various minor league squads. Rhees, who was following along on the computer, noticed the Royals had gone into the roster-filling mode and still hadn’t picked Dyson, his late round sleeper.

What follows is what some folks describe as fate. I describe it as my favorite writing from the story. It just zooms.

Deric Ladnier was going to give the last pick of the 2006 draft to scout Johnny Ramos.

It was going to be some high school pitcher from Puerto Rico, as far as the former Royals and current Diamondbacks amateur scouting director can remember. Named Pérez, maybe? The exact details elude him. After all, there’s not much at stake that late in the draft. “The 50th-round pick in the draft never plays in the big leagues,” Ladnier says. “So, I’m going to do a favor.”

Ladnier had that pitcher’s draft file in his hand, ready to give to Stewart to announce the final pick, when Rhees called into the draft room. The scout was worked up, sounding like a man frantically trying to wake someone asleep inside a burning building. All draft, his nerves had been fraying.

Rhees was following the progress of the draft at home on his computer. With about five rounds to go, Dyson’s name still hadn’t been called. “It just kind of appeared to me that we were drafting for the sake of pulling names out of a hat,” Rhees says. “I know we weren’t, but that was the feeling you got. There were times when you’d hear a name and go, ‘I saw that guy! He’s terrible! What are we doing?’” He bemoaned to his wife what he predicted would be the premature death of his scouting career. “She’s a bench player, so she knows how to rag,” Rhees says. “She just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me and said, ‘There’s always Home Depot.’”

He wouldn’t go so quietly. He picked up the phone and dialed the draft room, alerting them to the fact that Dyson remained on the board. He was given the brush-off. The selections ticked by, the 47th round, the 48th, the 49th. “At this point, I’m mad,” he says. “I’m like, ‘C’mon, that’s the groundkeeper’s nephew. What are we doing here?’” Once again, he dialed the draft room in Kansas City. Vizcaino picked up. “I had a unique relationship with Junior because I could just kind of yell,” Rhees says. “Like, ‘Junior, what the hell are we doing? Dyson! Dyson!’ Then I heard him go, ‘Deric! Eighty tool! Eighty tool!’”

An 80-grade tool was never available that late. Dyson’s speed was special, and it made sense to take a flyer on special. But what also stood out was how much Rhees cared about the pick. Who gets worked up over a 50th-rounder? “Nobody is fighting for their player in the 50th round,” Ladnier says. “Nobody. We’re looking for warm bodies.” So, Ladnier put down the file of that Puerto Rican pitcher, whoever he was, and handed Dyson’s to Stewart.

There are so many reasons why Dyson shouldn’t have made it, including three failed drug tests (it’s not that cut-and-dry, trust me), yet he’s won a World Series and earned nearly $15MM to date. In today’s world, the idea of a guy with an 80-grade skill still being available in the last round is preposterous. Any cursory ‘prospect’ search of Instagram will kick up a wide range of skill levels.

A treat of a story to read. Cheers, to Jarrod Dyson! – PAL

Source:The Unlikely – But Maybe Destined – Career of Jarrod Dyson, the Last 50th-rounder Standing”, Zach Buchanan, The Athletic (05/29/19)

TOB: Really good article, and loved Phil how pulled it all together.


Break the NCAA Wheel

RJ Hampton is ESPN’s #5 ranked basketball recruit in the country. He had offers to just about everywhere, including Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. But when he weighed whether to play for an “education” or go and get paid, my dude chose wisely. Hampton opted out of the NCAA’s ridiculous system and instead chose to sign a one-year contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian pro league, the NBL. I loved that Hampton decided to announce this decision live on ESPN, under the guise of choosing between three colleges. Hah. What a bad ass.

The NBL has wisely positioned itself as an NCAA alternative for would-be-one-and-done players. They recently launched the Next Stars Program, allowing teams to invite top caliber American high school seniors and “sign them to a short-term contract without counting against the team’s quota of three international players.” Players in the Next Stars Program get paid $100,000, and are eligible to enter the NBA Draft after one year.

If the NCAA won’t pay players, or at least allow players to cash in on endorsements, it deserves to die, and I hope this is the first of many players who tells the NCAA to pound sand.

As an aside: it came out Thursday that Hampton knew of his decision for a month, but didn’t tell the coaches recruiting him. I would presume this was to allow the contract to be hammered out with his NBL team. But ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb decided this was the height of offense, and (in a tweet he deleted hours later) called Hampton “classless” and what he did a “DB maneuver”. WHICH IS FUNNY, DOUG. Because I recall when YOU were in college and you stole a teammate’s credit card, racked up a thousand dollars in charges, which is CREDIT CARD FRAUD, DOUG, and got kicked out of school.

Thought we forgot about that one, DOUG? And as I tweeted Thursday to someone who said “it was 20 years ago and it was only $1,000” (LOL): If there’s anyone in college basketball who should be driving the “Kids make mistakes!” train, it’s Doug Friggin Gottlieb. Instead he calls a guy classless and a douchebag.”

You suck, Doug Gottlieb. -TOB

Source: Top Recruit Stiff-Arms the NCAA”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (05/28/2019)

PAL: Yeah, I love how an adult ripped a teenager for being classless while also calling the teenager a douchebag. Also, one does not drive a train.

Also, and completely related to NCAA stuff, did you know the Twins are 19 friggin’ games over .500?

TOB: First of all:

And second of all, don’t go suckin your popsicle just yet. The NL Standings on July 10, 2016:

Giants went 30-42 the rest of the season.


Everest’s Graveyard

The traffic jam at the peak of Mount Everest, captured in what looks like a doctored photograph, has been quite the story this week. A cocktail of a corrupt government handing out permits willy nilly, opportunistic expedition companies, and irrational people thick with cash and thin on mountaineering experience has created a Disney-like line of people waiting to summit Everest. In other words, do the thing they will slip into at every bar, graduation party, and wedding reception encounter for the rest of their respective lives.

While there is altogether too many folks trying to summit during the short, May window when the weather breaks enough for the best chance at the summit; increasingly warm temperatures have also revealed reminders of the risk involved for even the most experienced mountaineers. Several dead bodies from previous failed expeditions are being uncovered. They serve both as landmarks and perhaps ominous indicators of global warming at one of the most extreme places on earth.

In the last few seasons, climbers say they have seen more bodies lying on the icy slopes of Everest than ever before. Both the climbers and the Nepalese government believe this is a grim result of global warming, which is rapidly melting the mountain’s glaciers and in the process exposing bones, old boots and full corpses from doomed missions decades ago.

The Nepalese government is struggling with what to do. More than 100 bodies may be lying on Everest, and there is an open debate about whether to remove them or leave them be. Some climbers believe that fallen comrades have become a part of the mountain and should remain so. A number of the bodies are remarkably well-preserved: Sun-bleached parkas outline faces frozen into the color of charcoal.

Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air was my first exposure to the business end of Everest.  As enthralling as the objective is, it seems the purity of this pursuit was lost long ago, if it existed much at all (I mean, shouldn’t we be remembering the sherpas?). I can’t think of a more appropriate symbol of that commercializing of an ambition than a traffic jam at the top of the world stepping amongst the frozen dead. – PAL

Source: As Everest Melts, Bodies Are Emerging From the Ice”, Bhadra Sharma and Kai Schultz, The New York Times (05/30/19)


The State of the NBA

I’m generally not a fan of the Ringer’s Chris Ryan. He’s grates on every Ringer podcast he appears on – always yes-man-ing Simmons, interrupting people who are far smarter than he is, even while they make an interesting point, and he tried waaaaaaaaay too hard to sound like he know what he’s talking about when discussing basketball by using dumb initials or some other crap.

BUT. This was a really interesting piece by Chris Ryan and Justin Verrier, where the two discuss the state of the NBA, how free agency discussions have taken over the entire league’s discourse and rendered the play on the court an almost after thought, how players over the last decade are treating their careers more like European-based soccer players, and what teams face and how they should react to players taking greater agency over their place of employ (sensing a trend here?). Here’s one passage I especially liked from Verrier:

I feel for Giannis….He and the Bucks smashed preseason expectations, earning the league’s best record and him a spot on the MVP ballot along the way, yet a loss in May 2019 is instantly warped into a footnote for his decision in July 2021. Everything moves too damn fast. But the accelerated timeline is as much a product of his peers’ decisions as it is today’s media culture. Davis can’t become a free agent until July 2020, yet he orchestrated his exit strategy in January 2019; Irving asked out of Cleveland two years before he could enter free agency; and so on. It’s in teams’ best interest to get some sort of payout for their damages, so the process of trading a disgruntled star starts way earlier than you’d think. Next season is the Bucks’ proving grounds, whether they want to admit it or not, and they’re heading into an offseason when almost every helpful player is a free agent. There is a good chance that Milwaukee’s window has closed, just days after we coronated them as the NBA’s next dynasty.

It’s a really good read. -TOB

Source: A Rational Conversation About What Happens When NBA Titles Are Not Enough”, Justin Verrier and Chris Ryan, The Ringer (05/29/2019)


ACHTUNG! NO FUN SHALL BE HAD IN THE NBA FINALS!

During the Eastern Conference Finals, Drake, the rapper (not Drake, the kid from my son’s soccer team who my son and I once saw on BART and tricked my wife into thinking we had seen Drake, the rapper), a Toronto native and Raptors Super Fan, had a lot of fun.

Listen to the announcers enjoy that. It’s fun! What’s wrong with fun! But there will be no joy in the Finals, as Drake has been called to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension for being a very bad boy who has too much fun, young man. Per NBA Commish and hater of fun, Adam Silver:

I think there’s a line too in terms of sitting right on the floor, in terms of engagement whether it’s with the referees and players on other teams. It’s hard to calibrate sometimes exactly where that line is and I think he has a better understanding now of where that line is.

And his manager Future [Adel Nur] who sits with him too, we’ve all talked, all of us together, since then. There’s been conversations that’s taken place. It’s more just, let’s find where that right line is.

Boo. As MLB says: Let the kids play! -TOB

Source: Drake And The Raptors Both Got A Talking-To From The NBA”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (05/30/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Old Crow Medicine Show – “Temporary Like Achilles (Live)”


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“You know? I may have underestimated you. You’re not a total ass.”

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of May 24, 2019

Come on back to where you belong, Philly.


1-2-3-4-5-6-8

It is always a good sign when a story includes a video link to local news coverage. Let’s just start right there. This one comes from Iowa’s state high school track meet. The 3200 meter distance race is eight laps, with a bell rung after the seventh lap reminding the racers that they are on the final lap. One problem: the lady holding the bell lost count of the laps in the finals and rung the bell a lap too soon.

In a race that distance, competitors are holding back just enough to decide when to kick. Getting the wrong lap count threw everything in the trash compactor, with runners starting their kick too soon and stopping after the seventh lap. Joe Anderson was counting his laps, sniffed out what was happening, and kept running after the seventh lap.

The race officials were in a pickle. Did Will Roder, the leader after seven laps win the race, or did Anderson? Who do you think won? It’s important, because twenty years from now both of these guys are going to be telling someone at the bar that they are a state champ, 3200 meters, and one of them, deep down in the dark part of their belly, will know they are still lying to themselves. – PAL

Source: Horribly Botched High School Track Meet Awards, Strips, Then Awards Top Runner”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (5/22/19)

TOB: Let’s pose a hypothetical. You, Phil, Runner of Marathons, are on the 21st mile of your latest marathon, approximately 80% done. You are constantly checking your time throughout the race, and you’re on your expected pace, hoping to beat out your personal best. As you approach what you expect is the 22-mile mark, though, someone tells you it’s the final mile. You think: The final mile? You check your watch. The final mile?? You’re suddenly 20-minutes ahead of your pace. In that moment do you think, “This is correct,” or do you think, “Someone messed up”? As you complete the 23rd mile, 87.5% of the way through a true marathon, there are people gathered. Do you stop running and celebrate? Or do you continue running? If you stop running, do you ask questions? And if you stopped, when everyone realizes that the course got screwed up because a turn was missed, do you from that point claim your time in this race as your personal best? If you do, you’re Will Roder. There’s no way that guy didn’t know he was way ahead of his pace. He deserves nothing!


Smash the Draftiarchy!

The last decade has seen the four major American sports attempt to reel in the amount of money paid to draft picks by setting max or “slot” values for each draft. MLB takes it a step farther – once players do hit the majors, they are not allowed to hit the market for 7 years. In the first few years of after they make the bigs, they are paid the league minimum, or whatever their team wants to pay them. After that, players have a few years of arbitration, where the player and team argue for what the player’s salary should be, and an arbitrator decides (if they don’t come to an agreement).

Although there is zero reason minor leaguers should not be paid a living wage, compensation for MLB prospects is actually difficult. When an MLB team drafts a player, it’s like buying a lotto ticket. Very few draftees become regular major leaguers, let alone stars. So MLB pays prospects very little, relatively speaking. It’s one reason Kyler Murray chose football over baseball: he chose $30 million guaranteed over $4 million guaranteed and no chance to make bigger money for roughly 7 years. But that doesn’t mean players have to accept this arrangement, and one MLB prospect just said, Nah to the whole process.

Carter Stewart was drafted 8th in the MLB draft last year by the Atlanta Braves. But the Braves offered him just a $2 million signing bonus (well under his slot value of $5 million). So he said, “No thanks,” and went to JUCO for a year. Apparently his stock dropped a bit, and he was projected to be a second round pick with a signing bonus expected to be even less than $2 million.

So Carter again said no thanks, but he’s apparently tired of waiting to get paid – so he signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League for a lot more money. Stewart will  be able to come to MLB when he’s 25-years old, as a free agent. As Jeff Passan points out:

Stewart’s decision makes easy sense financially. Say he stayed in the United States and signed for $2 million. Best case, Stewart would have started with a team’s short-season Class A affiliate. In 2020, he would top out at Double-A and make less than $10,000 for the season. And if Stewart is that good, and moving that quickly, his team probably would keep him at scant wages in the minor leagues for all of 2021 too, and promote him around this time in 2022 to ensure it controls him for 6¾ years before free agency. In 2022, 2023 and 2024, Stewart would make the major league minimum — which, being generous and assuming the new collective bargaining agreement gives it a big bump, could be $750,000.

In a near-optimal scenario, Stewart would receive around $4 million for the next six years — and would not reach free agency until after the 2027 season, when he will be 28. His deal with the Hawks would guarantee Stewart $3 million more and potentially allow him to hit free agency three years earlier.

If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win! -TOB

Source: How a 19-Year-Old Prospect is Turning the MLB Draft Upside Down”, Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/22/2019)

PAL: That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense. The counter, I guess, would be he’d be out of sight and away from a MLB franchise infrastructure and preferred player development approach. As you mention, TOB, that really won’t matter if he performs in Japan. Smart idea. I do wonder why more players in basketball and baseball don’t go overseas instead of college. One would have to navigate the rules for each sport, but they can make a fair wage for their skills, and they can learn to be a bit more of an adult while living abroad in a professional setting.


Wait, What?

Here’s a story about a John Wayne Gacy painting of an oriole autographed by Cal Ripken Jr.

You read that correctly.

Serial murderer John Wayne Gacy liked to paint when he wasn’t sexually assaulting and murdering over thirty people in the 70s and 80s. The painting is being sold this week for a shade under $10K.

That factoid was obviously more than enough for me to read Dave McKenna’s most recent story, but it only gets more strange and interesting from there. I started reading, then I scrolled and found I wasn’t even halfway through the story, and I really didn’t know what direction McKenna was going to take me: the odd niche of murder memorabilia, first lady memorabilia, art auctions, or whether or not Ripken actually signed a John Wayne Gacy painting of an Oriole. Spoiler: apparently Cal signs everything, so probably yes.

The sale of this is an odd talisman and reveals a market obsessed with serial murderers. Scroll the top podcasts or Netflix for any additional proof needed. Not only that, but it’s a reminder of how these psychopaths became celebrities that, for a time, profited off their gruesome acts (before the “Son of Sam” laws were enacted).

And while this is the only Ripken item up for sale, it is not the only John Wayne Gacy art signed by baseball legends:

Legit or not, it turns out Ripken wouldn’t be the only baseball all-timer to have his John Hancock on a John Gacy. A collector named Stephen Koschal is currently selling a 16”x 20” painting of baseball’s Hall of Fame logo, from 1990, that he says he’s gotten signed by 46 Cooperstown enshrinees, including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. But not Ripken, oddly enough. (Oh, and noted baseball fan Richard Nixon also signed.) Koschal is asking $27,500 for that definitely one-of-a-kind piece.

Do with that info what you will, but good work by McKenna. I had no goddamn idea where this story was going, and I’m absolutely good with that when he’s writing. – PAL

Source: “Did Cal Ripken Jr. Sign This Painting Of An Oriole By John Wayne Gacy?“, Dave McKenna, Deadpan (05/23/19)


Video(s) of the Week:

Great work, Max:

Brutal:


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”


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Normally, I find Pam to be a comforting, if unarousing, presence around the office. Like a well-watered fern. But, today, she has tapped into this vengeful, violent side. And I’m like, wow, Pam has kind of a good butt.

-D.K. Schrute

 

Week of May 17, 2019

 


Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.

Every so often you read something so great you think, “Man, I wish I had written this.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is a favorite ‘round here, and for good reason, but this might be my favorite article he’s ever written.

First a little background: You probably know that the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, on one the craziest buzzer beaters you may ever see, by Kawhi Leonard.  Note: It is NOT the greatest series winning buzzer beater (as I detailed a few weeks back, there haven’t been many), as I have seen many argue this week. I still give that to Lillard’s step back 37-footer just last round. It’s not the greatest because the shot was kinda terrible – he shot it short, and really had no business making it. But Lillard’s shot was pure, a straight swish – thus the greater shot. But it was the craziest series winning buzzer beater, hitting the front (relative to Leonard) iron, bouncing practically straight up while picking up a top spin, and then slowly bouncing its way down and into the net, hitting the rim a total of four times along the way.

Here’s another cool ass angle:

A lot was written about the game and the shot, as you can imagine, but Petchesky’s stands out for the way he told the story of the shot as it unfolded, bounce by bounce, weaving in images, video, player quotes.

Bounce.

It wasn’t going in. A basketball, at least in the scheme of sports, is relatively predictable. Not like a baseball, which has seams that, in a pitcher’s hand or when deflecting off some imperfection on the infield dirt, can do some pretty wild stuff; not like a football, which is designed to be aerodynamic but when on the ground will bounce maddeningly at random; certainly not like a puck, which when on edge can get weird. A basketball is straightforward. This doesn’t make it any easier for a player to make it do what he wants it to do, but from decades of playing or watching the sport, you generally know where the ball is going. And all that accumulated life evidence was clear: A ball that hits the front of the rim, with that much velocity, bounces out. History and physics overwhelmingly promise it.

“Ah, it doesn’t look too good,” Danny Green remembered thinking from his vantage point on the bench.

So Raptors-Sixers Game 7 was going to head to overtime, and it would have been a fascinating one. The Sixers offense had stalled— they scored five points and just one field goal in the final 5:47 of the game—and Joel Embiid was visibly gassed. Kawhi Leonard had taken 39 shots, the most any player had ever taken in regulation of a Game 7, and for much of the fourth quarter, he was Toronto’s offense. But in the game’s final minute, he had missed a free throw and now looked like he was going to miss a second contested jumper. Overtime would’ve meant redemption for someone, and it would’ve been the second-most dramatic way to wrap up a close game in a close series. The first-most would have been if Leonard’s shot, an attempt at the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, would have gone in. But that didn’t look likely.

Except…

Bounce.

It continues from there, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Kawhi Leonard And A Story Of Four Bounces”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/13/2019)

PAL: It was a sport moment writers drool over (1). All the clichés are on the table (2): time stood still (3), the game hung in the balance (4), a game of inches (5), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good(6). Petchesky described exactly what happened to the ball, why it’s was so incredible (the way the ball bounced, not the circumstance). He smartly kept it very literal, because he knows enough to know that the one thing he doesn’t need to write was the emotion of the moment or the stakes – it was baked in (7).

TOB: Great point, Phil.


Robberies On The Rise

When I think of an outfielder ‘robbing’ a homerun,  I always see Kirby Puckett first. That was his thing back in the 80s and 90s. The fact that one player – even in my biased memory – represented a type of play says a lot about how uncommon the play has been within my lifetime. Now, Ben Lindbergh explains, home run robberies are increasingly more common.

Through Monday’s games, or almost exactly a quarter of the regular season, outfielders had already robbed 21 home runs. That put them on pace for 84 robberies, which would be by far the most since SIS started tracking the event in 2004. A larger sample may slow that pace, but this isn’t a 2019-only phenomenon: Last year’s 65 robberies broke the previous record of 60, which was set in 2017. The first two years of the current high-homer era, 2015 and 2016, featured 50 and 48 robberies, respectively, which were themselves the highest totals of any season since 2004, a high-homer year at the tail end of the somewhat misleadingly labeled steroid era.

The obvious question is why, right? Lindbergh is one of my favorite baseball writers when it comes to explaining cause in an accessible way. Without ruining the article, which is a hell of a fun read with a bunch of links to robberies (this will lead you down a youtube wormhole), here are a handful of factors:

More home runs = more home run robberies

Ballparks have become more homogeneous in terms of dimensions and fence/wall height.

Outfielders play deeper now. I also wonder about the power of familiarity. Most of these centerfielders (yes, centerfielders account for the the most robberies) have grown up seeing guys reaching over the wall to bring one back. They want want to have one, too. Hell, they believe they can do it, and probably practice it.

OK, so with all of this, Lindbergh has done his job in writing an insightful baseball story that feels fresh, but he doesn’t end on the cause. Instead, with the info he’s shared, he brings it back to why robbing a home run matters on an emotional level. He refers to robberies as a kind of alchemy, taking something and turning it into the opposite at the last possible moment.

That’s pretty good stuff, but I prefer the quote Lindbergh pulled from a Sam Miller 2017 article about the problem with the increase in home runs and applied it to home run robberies.

Baseball is best when it sets up an expectation and subverts it: The nasty slider that jags suddenly out of the strike zone, the shortstop who fields a grounder on a dive and flips it to second base with his glove, the three-run comeback against the dominant closer, and now, the home run that doesn’t happen.

Fantastic read. – PAL

Source: Watcher on the Wall: Welcome to the Golden Age of the Home Run Robbery”,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/14/2019)


Two Bad Qualities For a Coach: Thick Headed and Thin Skinned

If you live in a cave: the Warriors closed out the Rockets in Houston last Friday. After scoring zero points in the first half of Game 6, Curry came back in the second half to score 33, including 23 in a supernova 4th, to ice the game. Then, on Sunday, the Blazers overcame a 17-point second quarter deficit and hung on to beat the Nuggets in Denver, in Game 7.

With just one day’s rest, the Blazers opened the Western Conference Finals in Oakland against the Warriors. Things did not go well for Portland, as Steph Curry continued to cook, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 38 points in the Warriors 22-point win.

But, for Portland, it didn’t have to be that way. For the better part of 5 ½ games the Rockets made Curry look old, slow, and unconfident by crowding him at every opportunity. He had so few open looks that when he did get one, he still rushed the shot and never got into a rhythm. The second half outburst in Game 6 was vintage Curry, where he created the tiniest slivers of space and was able to get his shot up and in.

So, did Portland follow suit in Game 1? Did they press and crowd Steph and Klay? Um, no. Instead, the Blazers let Curry cook. When the Warriors ran the high pick and roll with Curry and the Warriors center, the Blazers did not switch and didn’t even have their big show on the screen in an attempt to crowd Curry or get him to give up the ball.

I counted: of his nine made threes, seven came off high pick and rolls where the screener’s man, usually Kanter or Collins, sagged off the screen and allowed Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to step into a wiiiiiiide open three pointer. Here are a few examples (I’ve helpfully circled the screener’s defender and drawn a line between him and Curry at or near the point of release):

I probably don’t need to say this: but this is not ideal for a defense. #analysis

After the third or fourth time the Blazers did this in the first half, I thought maybe Kanter was just being lazy. He’s known as a terrible defender, especially against the pick and roll – perhaps he was tired from the short turnaround after Game 7. Surely they’d make a halftime adjustment! But then it continued in the second half.

Asked about it after the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was defiant and, frankly, rude in response to a reasonable question:

WHOA! So, ignoring the fact they held Steph in check for 5 ½ games by being in his pocket, Stotts is basing his suicidal strategy on the fact that Steph scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston. BUDDY! He did that because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time, and no defense is going to hold him down forever! If Steph scores 33 points against tight defense the answer is not to go the other way and let him step into wide open 3s!

Maybe Stotts is feeling sheepish and didn’t want to admit he made a mistake. But he also said during that press conference that they were within 6 at the end of the third quarter. Which, fine. Let’s ignore the fact that the small deficit was in large part due to a run the Blazers made in the 3rd quarter when Steph was on the bench. And let’s ignore the fact that the Warriors ended up winning by 22. Let’s give him his six point deficit. Imagine what the score might have been if Curry had shot something like 2 for 9 from 3 instead of 8 for 13 in the first three quarters.

Personally, I doubt they will try this strategy again. Blazers players, like Lillard and McCollum, openly questioned the strategy. Lillard said after the game, “That was very poor execution defensively on our part. Having our bigs back that far…We gotta bring our guys up…they were shooting practice shots.” If they don’t do what Lillard suggests, it’s going to be a short series.

Update: The next day, Stotts apologized for being a jerk to the reporter, and also admitted that they may rethink their strategy:

-TOB

Game 2 Update: Steph got 37. The Blazers did try to run him off the three point line, and he responded by breaking down the defense by giving up the ball quickly and working to get it back in a place he could do damage. Silver lining (I guess) is he shot on 4-14 from three. He did a lot more work at the line last night. This kid just might turn out to be pretty good. -PAL


Hockey Expert Offers Critique of Hockey

There is probably nothing worse in sports than when new fans or non-fans tune into a sport and then immediately offer rule changes that they think would improve the game or make the game more watchable, despite the immense popularity of the sport. This happens every World Cup, when fans complain about and offer “solutions” to things like the offsides rule, despite the fact soccer is the most popular sport in the world and does not need fixing. It’s annoying and arrogant and needs to stop. BUT! I’m slightly caught up in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff run right now. Plus, if you read last week’s blog you are aware that I played roller hockey in high school. I am thus highly qualified to opine on what the NHL does, and I have a beef with how hockey does something, so I’m going to rant about it here.

In hockey, as in most American sports, the clock counts down to 00:00. Hockey has three twenty-minute periods, so each period the clock begins at 20:00 and ticks down. Pretty simple. However, when you look at a box score or other record of the game, they mark events (e.g., goals scored, penalties taken) not by the time showing on the clock, but by the time elapsed in the period. IT’S SO STUPID. Let me illustrate. Here’s the scoring summary from Wednesday’s Sharks/Blues game, as taken from NHL.com.

Any normal person looking at that would think the Sharks scored first when the clock read 13:37. But then you notice that listed after that is a goal by Thornton at 16:58. What you will soon realize is that actually Karlsson’s goal came 13:37 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 6:23, and that Thornton’s goal came 16:58 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 3:02. Indeed, you can see it in the play by play side by side on the very same website.

This inconsistency is SO STUPID, I cannot stand it. At all! It must be fixed. Without bothering to research, I am guessing the inconsistency arose because at some point in time they used a watch counting up to keep score, and thus it made sense to record the time of goals as the amount of time into the period. When they changed to counting down, they wanted to be consistent with prior records and didn’t want to go back through old game logs and flip every goal ever scored. Well, I don’t care! This is dumb and must be fixed, hockey!

Please, if you like hockey and like how they do this, offer me a counter argument in the comments. And as the late Charlie Murphy said – make sure your people are around to see it – because you might get embarrassed! -TOB


The Making of a Modern Day Legend  

On Tuesday, The New Orleans Pelicans defied odds and won the NBA Lottery. This is a good year to win the lottery, probably the best year since the Pelicans last won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis with the top pick in 2012. Seven years later, Davis is top 10 player in the NBA (many would say top 5) and is trying to force his way out of New Orleans. A mess for any small market franchize New Orleans; however, there is relief in Zion Williamson.

This story is not about Davis, the draft, or the Pelicans; it’s about the making of a teenage sports legend. In series of short, let’s call them vignettes, various NY Times journalists sit down with the people who were there (or, in LeBron’s case not allowed in) and played a minor role in the his YouTube filmography of highlights.

I’d seen all but one of the videos featured in this story, but to hear the accounts from those on the court or in the gym gives it another layer, because their disbelief is a first-hand account. Two of my favorites:

Zion’s high school teammate, Bishop Richardson, describing the windmill alley-oop that started with a bad lob from Richardson.

On this occasion, Richardson’s toss arrived well below the rim. But that enabled Williamson to do something outrageous: He rose into the air, reached out with two hands to grab the incoming pass at about shoulder height, and — still rising, now high enough to peer inside the rim he was about to shake — used one sweeping, circular motion to bring the ball down to his waist and then back up to the left side of his body before ramming it through the basket with his left hand.

The crowd erupted.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that, let alone be a part of it,’” Richardson said. “People were falling out of the bleachers.”

The dunk made it onto highlight reels and national sports shows within hours, but Richardson did not see a replay until the next day, when he and teammates sneaked a peek in a study hall.

Check-out the teammate, number 24, at 1:24 of the video below. His reaction pretty much sums it up. 

Zion’s Duke teammate describing when the team measured verticals.

Williamson, who went last, was off the charts. On his first attempt, he casually swatted aside the highest measurement. A staff member adjusted the pole to its highest setting and reset the tabs, and Williamson repeated the feat. They put weights under the contraption to lift it a few more inches into the air. Williamson batted the highest measurements aside again.

We are now well into an era where every play – literally every play – of any prospect of note is captured on video. Legends don’t grown by word of mouth; they grow on YouTube channels and IG accounts created specifically to share highlights of prospects. Basketball fans across the world knew Zion before he played a game at Duke as a freshman.

The story of youth, power, and seemingly limitless athleticism never gets old, because we always do. – PAL

Source: The Legend of Zion”, The New York Times (various contributors) (03/31/2019)

TOB: I think Zion will be very good, but people also need to pump the brakes a bit. Isn’t he just pre-injury Larry Johnson, with more hops? An All-Star but not a Hall of Fame player. Is he really a superstar? Can he go get a bucket when you need it? I’m not sure.


Are the Twins For Real?

Lookout! The Twins have the best record in baseball. But are they really good – or are they winning with some smoke and mirrors?

Overall, the Twins rank first in the majors with a 141 OPS+ against sub-.500 teams, but they’re tied for 20th with a 90 OPS+ against teams with a neutral or winning record. That gap is the largest in the majors by a huge margin, and even though it’s still a bit too early to be slicing slivers of batting splits, this detail indicates that Minnesota’s offense might not be as formidable as its surface stats suggest.”

Hmm. Only time will tell! -TOB

Source: “Are the MLB-Leading Minnesota Twins for Real?”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (05/13/2019)

PAL: I hate this goddamn article. I hate the construction of it. Are the Twins for real????? Here are 5,000 stats, some of which indicate the team is for real, and some of which point to the another hot start. Some of the info is good (they have pitchers who can actually strike some dudes out now), and some if it is amusing (they have a catcher off to a Bond-like start at the plate). 

I also hate that it calls attention to the Twins hot start. Everyone be quiet about it! Nothing to see here.

So, if the Twins do surprise folks and win the division about 120 games from now, then this article will be right on. If the Twins come back to earth, finish a respectable .500, then this article will be right.

Most importantly, I hate that TOB is trolling me in our own effin blog. This is the second Twins-related story TOB’s posted in the last three weeks. I know what you’re up to, fella.

TOB:


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground – “Oh Sweet Nuthin’


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You cannot learn from books. Replace these pages with life lessons, and then you will have a book that’s worth its weight in gold.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 10, 2019


There’s No Crying in Basketball. Strike That. Reverse It.

I am writing this the night before Game 3 of the Rockets/Warriors second round series. By the time we post this next Friday, the series might be over, in 4 or 5 games. Or the teams could be preparing for a pivotal Game 6, with one of them looking for the closeout. But as things stand today, the Warriors look like the superior team. (Editor’s Note: About that. We’ll get to what really happened over the next three games, too.)

Here’s a recap of the series so far: The Warriors won a tense Game 1, and the Rockets whined and whined about the officiating afterwards. The next day, they leaked an unsolicited report they created after they lost last year’s Western Conference Finals to the Warriors, where they assigned themselves 18.6 points they claim were lost when the referees missed calls. On that basis, they claimed the Finals were stolen from Houston (ignoring the fact that even if they had won Game 7, they still had to play Cleveland). They were roundly mocked for this, justifiably so, and then lost Game 2.

As Brian Phillips says, the leak of the report is sad and embarrassing. When I first read about it I literally LOL’d, and then wondered how the once revered Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, had done this to himself. As Phillips writes:

After losing to Golden State in three of the past four postseasons, Houston has become so immortally psyched out by Steph Curry and Co. that it would rather poindexter its way into PR humiliation than face the Warriors without a scapegoat. The Rockets apparently thought that penning detailed descriptions of 81 blown calls would create a groundswell of sympathy for their cause and that this groundswell would pressure the league into letting James Harden spend even more time at the free throw line than the 1,000 minutes per game he already spends there. Instead, the internet roasted them for a few days, the NBA shrugged, and the hubbub seemed to fray the team’s already fragile nerves.

The report itself is stupid. As Phillips notes, you can’t take a bad call in a game and say, “That cost us two points, so add two points to our total.” That’s not how basketball works. That’s not how life works. Every action on the court changes the rest of the game. Phillips illustrates:

Say a player travels before a made 3-pointer and the official doesn’t call it. To take three points off the board after the game wouldn’t give you a more accurate result, because if traveling had been called, the rest of the game you saw would never have happened. The next play would have been different. The play after that would have been different. Basketball exists in a state of contingency and flux. You can’t say “a career 66 percent free throw shooter drew an uncalled foul on a 3-pointer, therefore his team should get two points,” because sometimes a career 66 percent free throw shooter makes all three, or misses three in a row, or grabs his own rebound and makes the putback but sprains his ankle on the way down. One thing affects another thing, and statistical tendencies over a very short period of time (a half or a quarter) can’t tell you all that much. For instance, sometimes an excellent shooting team misses 27 3s in a row.

Man, that burn in the end is so good. But as Phillips points out – the Rockets’ crybaby act has, to this point, ruined what should be a great series. We were so excited about this series last year that we wrote up game-by-game reactions. This year? After two games, I didn’t have anything I wanted to say except to laugh at the Rockets. The series feels, to quote Phillips, “weirdly high-strung and legalistic.” Let’s hope it gets better. -TOB

Source: “Only the Rockets Can Save Themselves From Annihilation“, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (05/03/2019)


The Night the Warriors Saved Their Dynasty

Well, for one night at least. Since I wrote the above about the Rockets whining, pulled out Game 3 in overtime, and then won a back and forth Game 4 to even up the series. Game 5, back in Oakland, was going to be pivotal. The Warriors came out on fire, and built a 20-point lead in the second quarter. And then they did what they’ve been doing all year, and instead of stomping on the Rockets’ throats, they let them back in the game. The Rockets cut the lead to 14 at halftime, and kept chipping away in the third quarter.

Late in the third, the Warriors led by just one. Curry was playing like dog crap, again, and I began to seriously wonder if he was just simply on the downside of his career, or if the theories about his deferring to Durant had killed his confidence were correct. I began analyzing his jumper – something seemed off. His release didn’t look the game. He was not getting his legs into it. Was his off-hand getting in the way? He certainly didn’t look confident, and he was missing wide open looks, badly. He was 4 for 14 from the field, 1 for 8 from three, and shooting just 26% from deep for the series.

And then, when things already looked bleak, disaster struck. Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push the lead to three, carrying the team as he had all series. But as he jogged back up court he whipped around, looked at his calf, and then limped off the court. TNT’s crew speculated about a possible achilles tear, and the Warriors dynasty appeared to be up in smoke.

What’s more, suddenly it seemed like Oracle Arena had just 14 minutes to live. If the Warriors lost the game, it seemed unthinkable they could win Game 6 in Houston, meaning this would be the very last Warriors game ever played at Oracle.

Without KD, and with Curry unable to shoot and Klay ice cold since the first, how were the Warriors going to hold off this Rockets team? Players like Kevon Looney was going to need to step up, sure. But the core of Curry, Klay, and Draymond would need to turn back the clock and save their season, their dynasty.

And so it was. Curry suddenly found his confidence and his shot, and hit 5 of his next 6 attempts for 14 points. And then it was Draymond, who after drawing a charge and then picking up a technical, went right down and hit a three to put the Warriors up 5. And then it was Klay, who hit a three to put the team up 8, and then got the layup to seal it after a nice job by Looney to keep the ball alive after Klay nearly threw it away. Others contributed, but the Warriors relied on their old Big 3, and it was fantastic. They hunted for good shots, moved the ball, and took care of it, too, with just one turnover after KD went down.

They recaptured the magic of the pre-KD era, and hung on to win. Oracle lives to see another day, at least. I think Steve Kerr said it best, paraphrasing Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the Champions League the day before:

For one night, they were indeed. But they’ll need to be fucking giants once more to get by the Rockets. -TOB

PAL: The circumstances in which the Warriors go into Game 6 are damn near poetic. The symmetry in this situation to last year, when Houston’s Chris Paul went down at the end of Game 5 (Durant is clearly much better than Paul, but you get it) and hard to ignore. If the Warriors are going to keep the dynasty going, it will in large part up the core players who started the damn thing – Steph, Klay, Draymond, Iggy.

Kevin Durant makes them a better team, but does the Durant injury give the reigning champs an edge that is almost impossible to manufacture now that they’ve been at the top for so long?  If Durant is indeed on his way out of Golden State, and if his teammates know it, wouldn’t a win in Houston tonight be a nice reminder to KD that they won before he came to town?

Does it force the Warriors to try playing that beautiful style of ball movement and not rely on Durant, as has been the case this playoffs? Yep (Strauss does a great breakdown here).

Also, Kevon Looney’s game 5 performance is why the playoffs – in any sport – rule. Ever heard of him? This is a role player that, because of injuries to Durant and Boogie Cousins, will no doubt play a pivotal role in extending the Warriors dynasty or ending it.

TOB: Agree with Phil on Ethan Strauss’ great article on the Warriors going forward without KD. Here’s a key passage:

I asked a few ex-2016 Warriors whether that pre-KD squad exists within the current one, and the answers were somewhere between, “sort of,” and “not really.” To quote Andrew Bogut, “It’s a completely different bench and roster. Half the roster’s different.” Then he started listing: “Harrison, Mo, Festus, Barbosa, Brandon Rush.”

To many viewers, including Kerr, Wednesday night’s crunch time felt like a time machine ride. It looked like that on the floor, save for Kevon Looney’s presence (more on that later). But to the players who were part of the first two Warriors Finals runs, it’s a different experience. The 2015-16 role players might have seemed like guys who got cameos in a show that was all about Steph, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but that’s not quite how players experienced the journey. Guys who might seem peripheral to the viewer are sometimes huge presences in the locker room, on the bus and on the plane. The principals remain, but some of the guys who gave those old squads their esprit de corps are gone.

And yet, the Warriors may have unlocked something on Wednesday, if only for the brief time they need it. They are obviously better with Durant, but, since signing him, have played a style that does not optimize Curry’s talents. That was the trade-off, and it happened to result in two championships.

Now, we will see what happens when the attack optimizes Steph in the way it once did.

I have Phil as my witness. During their 2014 and 2015 seasons, I always said the key to their success was that the bench would turn a 12 point lead into a 20 point lead. When they signed Durant, I wondered if they would be too thin on the bench to win. They weren’t – but you can’t plan for an injury like this, at a time like this, to a player like this.

Btw, since KD joined the team 3 years ago, the Warriors are 22-1 when Steph plays and Durant does not. Hm.


The Ultimate Trail Run

Not a great story because of the writing, but the ambition is worth sharing. One continuous trail across the United States. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (great name) has been working on connecting a network of existing trails across the country. It seems simple enough at first, but then you think about the amount of research that goes into something at this scale, and the amount of organizations from a local level that have to contribute, and you can see why this is such a beast of a dream. While we are still many years away from being able to bike or run across the country on the trail, there’s enough completed to see it on a map, which is pretty excellent.

And I know it’s corny, but I do think there’s power in something as simple as a trail literally connecting a country, even in some small way. – PL

Source: The 4,000-Mile Trail System That Will One Day Connect Both Coasts Is Closer Than Ever Taylor Dutch, Runner’s World, (05/08/2019)

TOB: Not corny, I think it’s sweet.


Hockey Fan Has Great Idea
This had me laughing. Not uncommon for some fans to utilize the brighter of lights of the playoffs to make a statement. Both celebrities and wanna-be celebrities. This week, an ‘influencer’ made her presence known at a Blues-Stars NHL game:

Come on, lady. Really? Look at the meathead and the deep V sitting next to her, too. The best thing to come from it is this moment of pure genius in the following game:

I have nothing more. This was just excellent. – PL

Source: “St. Louis Blues fan has perfect response to Stars fan that went viral for her, well, you know“, Christopher Powers, The Loop (05/8/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘(We’re Not) The Jet Set’ (Bobby Braddock)


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“As a former high school roller hockey player…”

-TOB, discussing NHL strategy

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later, on May 4, 2014. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


“Webster’s Dictionary defines “wedding” as “the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.”

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com