Week of September 17, 2021


Where Have All the RBIs Gones?

Phil and I were at the Giants game on Wednesday. Brandon Belt, in the midst of the best season of his career, was at bat. Phil noticed that Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio was very low – with 25 dingers and just 52 RBI, it’s barely 2:1. And this got me thinking: how low is it in today’s game? Are RBIs down relative to home runs and hits? 

In Moneyball, the book, Michael Lewis called the “fetish” of the RBI a “good example of the general madness” of “perverse incentives” created by various statistics. He explained:

“RBI had had come to be treated by people as an individual achievement – free agents were paid for their reputation as RBI machines when clearly they were not. Big league players routinely swung at pitches they shouldn’t to lard their RBI count. Why did they get so much credit for this? To knock runners in, runners needed to be on base when you came to bat. There was a huge element of luck in even having the opportunity, and what wasn’t luck was, partly, the achievement of others.” 

As Lewis relayed, Bill James once wrote, “The problem is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.”

Moneyball was published nearly twenty years ago. But that quote from Bill James was published in 1977, nearly 50 years ago. So we are well into the era where the people who are paid to think about baseball have devalued the RBI. And as the RBI has been devalued, I wondered – have RBIs gone down? And, is Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio that far out of whack? If so, why?

The answer to the second question is yes. As Phil and I talked, I guessed that no or very few guys have 100+ RBI this year, with just two weeks left in the season. That was pretty close. As it turns out, just 7 guys have 100 RBI so far. Those 7 have the following RBI:HR ratio.

Salvador Perez: 2.5

Jose Abreu: 3.6

Vlad Guerrero: 2.3

Rafael Devers: 3.0

Teoscar Hernández: 3.8

Adam Duvall: 2.9

League average RBI:HR ratio is 3.5 (5,373 HRs vs 18,887 RBI). So Belt’s 2.1 is pretty low. At league average you’d expect him to have 88 RBI, not 52.

However, the Giants have a ratio of 2.85 and they lead the league in home runs with 222. So my theory is that because they hit so many dingers there are fewer people on base to hit in. As Bill James said, the RBI is the “accomplishment of men in combination with their circumstances.” Belt just gets fewer RBI opportunities. 

But I think, for Belt, it’s also that he’s playing out of his mind this year. The league average hit to homer ratio is 6.6. The Giants are just 5.5. Belt’s is just 3.0! One out of every three of his hits is a home run. Similarly, his home run rate is 7.4%, which is WAY over league average of 2.9%. 

So what’s really going on with Belt is that he’s crushing a LOT of dingers – 25 in just 289 at bats. If he had a full season of 500 at bats, he’d be on a 50 home run pace. 

But what of the first question? Are RBIs down relative to other baseball events? Yes. 

First, I charted the RBI:HR and HIT:HR ratios over time for 1971, 1980 (1981 was a strike year), 1991, 2001, 2011, and 2021. 

The HR:Hit rate has dropped a great deal over time – from one home run every 14.5 hits in 1991 to one home run in just 6.6 hits in 2021. This is important in considering my question about Belt – it does seem that RBI opportunities are down. We’ve written before about how strikeouts are up, batting average is down, and home runs are up. There are simply fewer people on the base path, so fewer opportunities to hit someone in. The RBI:HR rate has also dropped, from a peak of 5.5 in 1980 to just 3.5 in 2021. In other words, a greater share of RBI in today’s game (28%) come from a home run hitter scoring himself, as compared to 1991 (18%). So while Belt’s 2.1 is low, it’s a lot less low now than it would have been in 1991. -TOB


We Were This Close To A Legendary Clip

Who’s looking for a laugh? This is a great catch by Defector’s Tom Ley. Gavin Newsom, riding high after surviving the recall (the CA recall rules are bananas, by the way, regardless of your party preference), and so – while visiting a school in my neck of the woods here in Oakland – the governor decided to flex with a little basketball skill: 

Not bad, Gov. He even put a little stank on the pass back to the kid. But that’s when Tom Ley earns his pay for the day. 

What’s important about this video is what it doesn’t show, which are the moments following what sure looks like Newsom getting his damn ankles recalled by a young lad. I spent a good chunk of today looking for more complete footage, and came up empty.

Now, go back and watch the video again, and you’ll see that this kid put the fear of God in Newsom. The kid had Newsom skating, and how great would it have been if this kid actually took it to him, made him fall over, then place the ball on the stomach of the leader of the fifth largest economy in the world and walked away. 

I echo Ley’s demand: release the rest of the footage! – PAL 

Source: Release The Footage,” Tom Ley, Defector (09/16/21)


A Take: A Combined No-Hitter is Not Worth Celebrating

A combined no-hitter is, by definition, a no-hitter. But it’s not worth celebrating.  

No, Milwaukee. That celebration is bush league. Stop it. -TOB


Worst of the Week: The Clemente Option

I’ve always appreciated MLB’s Jackie Robinson tribute on April 15 – especially the tradition of everyone on all teams wearing number 42 to honor Robinson’s legacy. Everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, shares that gesture of respect.

At the same Giants game TOB referenced earlier, we noticed some players wearing the number 21 with no name on the back. It was Roberto Clemente Day in MLB. Clemente was a fantastic all-around player for the Pirates. 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, World Series MVP, National League MVP. He’s also the first Latin player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clemente died in a plane crash when he was on a cargo plane flying supplies and aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake in 1972. The Roberto Clemente Award is given out annually to a player who makes a major impact in their communities. 

Instead of taking the same approach as they do for Robinson and have everyone wear Clemente’s number 21, the rules dictating who can honor Clemente’s contributions seem needlessly complicated. 

Per Marly Rivera:

MLB has extended the honor to all uniformed personnel of Puerto Rican descent this year for the 20th annual Roberto Clemente Day. In addition, all 2021 Roberto Clemente Award nominees, as well as the six active players who are Roberto Clemente Award recipients, can also wear the No. 21, sources told ESPN.

So players of Puerto Rican descent, coaches of Puerto Rican descent, past Clemente award winners, and 2021 Clemente award nominees, and the entire Pirates team. Got it. Not sure why the source couldn’t be revealed on this bit of info, but OK. 

But later in the story, I became confused: 

This year, it will also be possible for any player, regardless of heritage or place of birth, to request to wear No. 21, as long as the club is given enough notice to create the uniform.

So, all of the above, and—ya know—any other player (but not coaches) that wants to rock the 21 can do so. 

Feels convoluted, and it takes away from the honor.  People spend time trying to understand why some players wear 21 while others don’t. Just have all the players rock the 21 on Clemente Day in recognition of his contributions on and off the field. 

Why didn’t Rivera follow-up with someone with MLB for an explanation for all the rules around this? And then I start to wonder if Rivera talked to anyone for this story. The Yadier Molina quote is attributed as him “telling ESPN”. The MLB quotes aren’t attributed to anyone, and the quotes around the Clemente award look like they were pulled from an “about” page on MLB.  We can do a little better than this, right? – PAL

Source:MLB expands list of who can wear No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente on Sept. 15,”Marly Rivera, ESPN (09/14/21)


What’s it Like to be Sportswriter?

Recently, the Athletic’s beat writer for the Warriors, Ethan Strauss, resigned his position and started his own Substack. This has become a popular move for journalists with a big enough following to make financial sense. When he did so, Strauss talked about how he had become burned out by the beat writing job. This week, he wrote a bit more – about how he fell into the beat writing gig and what that job entails these days.

On his first job out of college, working for the NBA:

Every day, seven days a week, I’d wake up at 3:30 AM to beat the news cycle. Still in bed, I’d read literally everything written about the NBA in every major outlet. From there, I would send a summarizing memo to commissioner David Stern and others. You know, just notes on who to kill, who to shake from a balcony, etc. Simple stuff. 

This was a miserable gig, and its seven-day requirement was perhaps legal only for the following technical reason: Back then, it was actually possible to read everything written about the NBA in a span that qualified as “part-time.” I’m still not sure why they gave no days off, but the short answer is probably just because the NBA could. If I didn’t want my job, some other early 20s kid would pop up and take it, if only to be associated with big-time sports. That was especially true after the 2008 financial crash bludgeoned New York City, something that happened concurrent with my arrival. Roughly a month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the NBA would lay off nine percent of its workforce. I survived, however. I was too little to fail. 

And so I kept going, despite the lack of sleep and other problems. The issue wasn’t any one morning, but the cumulative effect of never getting a day off and never visiting an office. I was a zombie, ambling outside life’s rhythms as I watched my good buddy Matt live out a fuller existence, with his girlfriend and his hobbies. In contrast, I’d take a late afternoon nap and then just walk the streets of New York alone. In the winter I’d trudge through the living history shtetl of Hasidic Borough Park, wafting through the snow like an aimless dybbuk, disconnected from all around me. 

Every now and again, I’d attempt to steal joy out from under the schedule. I’d try to push it, try to go out, try to drink. My body would rebel every time. I have memories of waking up in a blizzard at the Coney Island station because I’d passed out on the N train. I vaguely recall vomiting on a brick wall, in the dark, about 30 minutes before I had to punch in for more Media Monitoring. 

And on how the job of a beat writer has gotten infinitely worse in the age of Twitter:

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

It’s an improvement that writers weren’t punching each other over a lone phone line like back in the early 2000s, but new efficiencies tended to create more work faster than they relieved you of stressors. 

In the end, it’s the accumulation that kills. You go from simply having to file a Notes Column and a Game Column to whatever the hell Twitter is. Fast forward. Now you’re constantly watching the players and being watched yourself. You’d better keep checking your emails and your Slack channels; you’re expected to monitor both. Oh, and now welcome to the Zoom era, and all the digital meetings it can spawn. It’s a wonder your laptop doesn’t simply explode. 

Whether you’re a beat writer, national media, or a team blogger, you’re constantly looking into your phone and over your shoulder. There’s a paranoid sense of responsibility, a duty to get stories or to comment on whatever story just happened. And then there’s another aspect of the ennui, what my well wisher referred to when lamenting, “Working sources for months on end, doing honest, diligent reporting work during the process — only to see folks get handed layups and praised for it.”

In this era, many media members are highly incentivized to keep pace with Twitter’s demand for “breaking news,” but the game is rigged in a manner nobody can admit publicly. Certain big-time newsbreakers are represented by the same agencies as the players and GMs, so there’s a self-dealing aspect to how information gets out. Not that those premier newsbreakers are living the easy life, either. The ones at the top are often fighting one another, viciously, in a grand game of power and influence. The Athletic’s newsbreaker Shams Charania gave up pickup basketball, lest he miss a phone call. Marc Stein once mentioned to me that he hadn’t watched a movie in over a decade. I hope he’s found more balance since starting this Substack. When we were both at ESPN I knew the mandate was to live a life free of pauses. It’s probably only gotten worse for those who remain. 

How life on the road isn’t as glamorous as it might seem:

The road felt like something between Almost Famous and Primary Colors, but with acid-trip nightmarish qualities thrown in. Every day was an assault on the senses, a real-life walk through animalistic screaming hordes, followed by an evening of editors’ ravenous demands for more more more Warriors stories. Anything would do. What, Klay said he liked Harry Potter? Write it up goddammit how could you miss that?! And then the ESPN news editor would be on my ass. 

It’s well worth your time. -TOB

Source: Is Sportswriting a Fun Job?Ethan Strauss, House of Strauss (09/16/2021)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Stevie Wonder – “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”


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You know, with Hitler, the more I learn about that guy, the more I don’t care for him.

Norm Macdonald

Week of September 10, 2021


“This Is What It’s Supposed to Be Like”

Usually we make our own story titles, but this one was too perfect not to use: This is what it’s supposed to be like. Here, the “This” is massive college football grounds jumping around dumbly to old songs and having an absolute blast while doing so, not worried about this god damn pandemic and COVID-19 and the Delta variant or anything else. I should backup.

Last weekend was the start of the college football season. On Friday night, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina. At kickoff, Virginia Tech did its traditional go-buck-wild dance to Enter Sandman, like so:

The student section was packed in and screaming, as you can see. Looks awesome, doesn’t it? But watching it that night I also thought, “Ugh, how many students are going to get COVID from this?” I wasn’t alone. MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan tweeted the following:

His tweet went viral, as did other similar sentiments that night and the following day when, for example, the students at Wisconsin began the 4th by jumping around to Jump Around.

But Defector’s David Roth didn’t exactly see it the same way as Mehdi, and as I read it, I realized Roth is right. Roth helpfully pointed out that “Virginia Tech mandate[s] vaccinations among its students, and went so far as to unenroll 134 students who declined to comply with those requirements; 95 percent of the student body and 88 percent of school employees are vaccinated.” Or that while “[t]he University of Wisconsin does not have a vaccine mandate for students, [] the school announced last week that 91 percent of its students had received at least one dose, and that 92 percent of campus employees and 99 percent of faculty were fully vaccinated.” Well, shoot. That’s great!

Roth effectively explains many of our initial reactions:

What is most jarring about all this, more than the heavy respect that Gus Johnson put on Everlast’s name or the very concept of a “Jump Around Tradition,” finally has to do with the context—the fact that this is all happening, more or less as normal, after this last stupid, brutal, squashed-flat plague year and in this furious and infuriatingly stalled out present in which the pandemic has been permitted to persist. This state of affairs owes in various measures and to various degrees to some other otherwise incomprehensible American traditions—wild and self-wounding intransigence; the invasive bloom of an unreasoning and recursive spite in the wreckage left by a willed and willful collapse of civic faith; listless cringing state incapacity and abandonment; that sort of thing. But it is at this point in many ways a choice.

But then Roth explains that those students at Virginia Tech and Wisconsin earned the right to jump around like idiots because the got the damn vaccine:

Another way of saying this is that the shared joy in Camp Randall Stadium, which may or may not be your personal thing, is now right there to win. If it looks strange, it is in large part because it feels a little strange to see tens of thousands of people celebrating together after so much time spent so warily apart. But there is also a sense in which the people in that stadium are celebrating something that they have earned—by taking care when that was all there was to do, and then by continuing to make (really pretty easy) decisions that do right by the other people who would eventually fill the stadium around them.

Roth, of course, then turns his attention to the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated, who in doing so perpetuate this pandemic, keeping it into, as Roth puts it, an “endless end.” And then, as Roth so eloquently closes:

It is not the point, or anyway not the most interesting point, that a stadium full of overwhelmingly vaccinated twentysomethings wilding out to a Metallica song from 1991 is far from the reason Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. It might be more useful, I think, to understand all that strange and giddy closeness as something like the Nice Thing itself—an experience that could be had again, something strange but also safe and silly and shared, if only everyone loved it enough to fight for it.

Damn. Amen. -TOB

Source: This Is What It’s Supposed To Be Like,” David Roth, Defector (09/05/2021)


Fluffy Balls

Believe me when I say Kelsey McKinney hits this one pure. The premise of her story is the following: sports commentators need to spend more time explaining the specifics of the game for which they provide insights. She used the U.S. Open (tennis) as her initial example. McKinney likes tennis, but doesn’t know much about the game. She watches along at a bar with her friend, who knows a lot about tennis. In a short time, McKinney learns why serves are overhand (angles and power while keeping the ball in…maybe you knew the answer to that one) and what players are doing when they examine the balls from the ball boy/girl (the more tennis balls are hit, the fluffier the felt gets, making them more difficult to hit hard,nand that fact was new info to me). 

As McKinney points out: commentary has gone too far away from the specifics of a game.

Rarely are these basic pieces of knowledge that enrich the viewing experience offered by announcers. There are plenty of rule analyses and personal backstories and over-inflations of rivalries and past meetings. But there’s very little substance to the commentary that actually improves viewer’s understandings of the sports they love to watch but do not play. 

Since, as established, I know very little about tennis, let’s pivot to football. Here is a clip of Tom Brady that went viral late last week talking about how offensive mistakes are resulting in defensive penalties:

How much more interesting is the explanation of why a tennis player takes such care in selecting the ball he wants to play, or Tom Brady providing a really interesting take on the impact defensive penalties have on the quality of the game? I’m a sports nut, and I’ve learned two sports-related tidbits from McKinney’s story. As McKinney writes, “The nuts and bolts are what’s interesting.”

I love it!

Of course, the magic lies in finding the right line for the viewers—what deserves explanation, and what is obvious to viewers? In a baseball game broadcast locally, would the commentators feel the need to explain the infield fly rule (and then debate about such rule), or would that induce eyerolls from baseball fans who are big enough fans to be watching a Tuesday night, regular season game? What about explaining WAR — is this closer to something that might be valuable to regular viewers? 

Attracting new fans while not alienating existing fans of a sport is harder than perhaps McKinney calls out in this story, but she’s 100% about there being an imbalance of commentary focused on backstories and other fluff, and the opportunities to highlight really fascinating elements of the game are missed. 

Excellent read, and I hope some network takes McKinney up on this idea. – PAL 

Source: “I Am Begging Sports Commentators To Teach Me The Nuts And Bolts Of The Game,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (09/09/21)


The Soto Shuffle: A Statistical Breakdown

If you watched the 2019 MLB Playoffs, you probably saw then-20-year old Juan Soto perform what has been called the Soto Shuffle. To wit:

If you haven’t caught a Nats game the last two seasons, you might not know that he still does it, although he sadly dropped the crotch grab. But he doesn’t do it every time he takes a pitch. He picks his spots. And, in fact, he’s put some variations on the Shuffle, as the Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh breaks down. Thanksfully, the variations are all so funny. For example, the one this one made me laugh the most.

Lindbergh calls it the Ollie and I can’t not laugh every time I watch it. It’s so outrageous. 

Or the one where he shakes his butt.

Or the one where he does a deep lunge.

Seriously, is it just me or is this hilarious? But Lindbergh doesn’t stop with showing you how Soto does the Shuffle, he dives deeeeeeeeeeeeep into when. And here’s a graphical representation:

But Lindbergh doesn’t stop there, either. He also breaks down when Soto does the Shuffle by count and pitch type… and more. It’s such a fun, goofy read on an unimportant but interesting topic. These are the kinds of articles I wish I had the time to research and write. Great stuff. -TOB

Source: Fancy Footwork: A Complete Breakdown of the Soto Shuffle,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/07/2021)

PAL: The depth of this story is bananas. It would’ve been so easy for Lindbergh to make this a fluff story about The Shuffle, to stop at “the most exciting take in baseball” type of thing and show clips on the variations of The Shuffle. Lindbergh goes to incredible lengths to find some substance by way of explanation or patterns. The dude put together a 20+ minute supercut of all The Shuffles for chrissake.  

Above all, the most incredible bit of info from this story is the following: “He Shuffled (or appeared to start Shuffling) on only 10 called strikes”. Now that’s a guy that knows the strike zone, and that’s a dude, as Lindbergh points out, that doesn’t fail 7/10 times, as is the old adage in baseball; Soto’s on-base percentage .446. If that holds, that would put Soto above Barry Bonds’ best season, and good enough for the seventh highest all-time, right behind Gehrig, Ruth, and Williams.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Jason Isbell – “24 Frames”


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Week of September 3, 2021


New Faces, Same Mets

A few new Mets (Javy Baez, acquired at the deadline; Francisco Lindor, acquired on the eve of this season; Kevin Pillar – same) players got in some hot water this week. After big plays, they had begun to give a thumbs down to their dugout.

These on-base gestures are getting really old, but this one was sort of amusing. There was no controversy, until a reporter asked Baez what it meant: 

Well, Javy. I don’t disagree with you. But as Michael Baumann says in the first sentence of this article: All you had to do was lie. That’s it! Make up some dumb reason, like Lindor did. But Baez told the truth and the New York media ate it up. Team President Sandy Alderson ripped Baez and the other players:

The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.

Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.

Then the players had to apologize. And I’m like – why? If the fans can voice their displeasure, shouldn’t the players be able to dish it out a bit? But I like Baumann’s take here. He defends the fans’ right to voice their displeasure, but also points out:

The thing is, as pissed off as Dan from Staten Island is that the Mets are four games under .500, Báez must be all the more frustrated. It’s not like he doesn’t know he has a .258 OBP since being traded to New York, or that he doesn’t appreciate the impact that performance has had on the team. If there was something he could do to turn his fortunes around in time to save the Mets’ season, you have to think he would do it. Because a slump must be even more soul-sapping to live through than it is to watch from the stands.

In that respect, I understand why Báez, Francisco Lindor, and Kevin Pillar would get upset when their own fans get on their case, and why they would want to slyly vent some of their frustration. Getting booed or criticized sucks, even when it’s justified by performance. Maybe it was a petty act, but Alderson’s characterization of it as “unprofessional” is a little precious. If it had remained an inside joke, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I think he’s right. I don’t know if I’d ever boo my team, but if I did it would be if I thought they weren’t trying or didn’t care. But this is Javy Baez. It’s not like he doesn’t care or loafs it. Man, that dude cares

Ultimately, Baumann blames the Mets’ front office leadership for allowing a series of mishaps similar to this one that have left the team’s fans unable to trust the team they love. Which makes sense – if the team didn’t have such a long history of failure, the fans wouldn’t be so quick to boo. Well, maybe. It is New York, after all. -TOB

Source: The Thumb of All Jeers,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/31/2021)

PAL: It’s such a bad look from Baez, Lindor, and Pillar. And while I understand Baumann’s point about Báez knowing as well as anyone that he’s playing poorly and the team is choking, the most important point in the article comes just before the ‘Dan from Staten Island’ section:

Professional sports occupies an unusual place in the American cultural environment, in that it’s a consumer good that gets baked into people’s identity. If the neighborhood doughnut shop starts putting out an inferior product, customers will go somewhere else. But if the local baseball team stinks, most fans will continue to support it.

Báez can go elsewhere, but fandom is a bit harder to leave behind. I should know; I’m a Twins fan.


Credit Where Credit Is Due: Bailey Johnson

By now you’ve likely heard of Bishop Sycamore, the “school” at the center of a sports story that became the talk of the sports world this week. If you haven’t heard about it, here are the bullet points: 

  • Bishop Sycamore played the national powerhouse IMG Academy in a high school football game last Sunday
  • ESPN broadcast the game, which was set up by a marketing firm
  • IMG is basically a feeder school to big-time college programs
  • Bishop Sycamore claimed to have several D-I prospects as well
  • Mid-broadcast, with IMG destroying Bishop Sycamore, ESPN announcers put Bishop Sycamore on blast, saying that none of its “prospects” showed up on ESPN’s scouting list…or any of the other scouting services
  • It became pretty clear pretty quickly that Bishop Sycamore isn’t even a school, and many of the players are older than high school age

When stories catch fire like this one it becomes a topic for sports radio, debate shows,  podcasts, other websites, and so on. Scores of other stories are written on it, some of which is good work and some of which is more of an aggregation play. Here are the top news results from my search:

Considering the popularity of the story, I think it’s worthwhile to share the original story from the person who actually broke it, but even that can be a bit challenging. 

During the game (August 29), the announcers started to question Bishop Sycamore’s credentials, which led to a bunch of social media posts about what was going on. Then there was a summary of what happened during the game from Mary Smith (forthewin.com), which led to more social media posts and stats about Bishop Sycamore. 

As you can tell, the wheel is turning on this story, but I think Bailey Johnson, who writes for the Columbus Dispatch, broke the real story: Bishop Sycamore isn’t a school, many of the players are older than 18, and the team is leaving unpaid bills in its wake everywhere it goes.

Here’s just a bit of sample of Johnson’s reporting:

Non-chartered, non-tax supported schools must report their students’ participation and attendance to their local school district treasurer, which for Bishop Sycamore the state lists as Columbus City Schools.

Jacqueline Bryant, Columbus City Schools spokeswoman, said Tuesday the district has no record that Bishop Sycamore submitted any reports to it, nor could it locate Bishop Sycamore in a directory of schools maintained by the state.

The state lists Bishop Sycamore’s mailing address as a post office box, and its “physical address” as 3599 Chiller Lane in Columbus — the address of Resolute Athletic Complex, an indoor sports facility near Easton Town Center.

What about 1-2-3 Sports!, you might ask. Where does this humble outfit fit into all of this? We share the best of what we find every week and tell you why we think it’s worth your time, and we share the link to the actual piece. Johnson reporting on Bishop Sycamore is a great reminder to try clicking on that actual story link we add at the end of each summary. -PAL 

Source: What is Bishop Sycamore? What we know about mysterious football team on ESPN,” Bailey Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch (08/20/21)


An Interesting Theory About the 49ers’ QB Situation

I am, in my own mind at least, notoriously down on 49ers QB James Garoppolo (I stopped call him Jimmy G long ago; he’s gonna have to earn that nickname back). And it’s not his injury history; in my opinion he is a very average to perhaps slightly above average starting QB in the intermediate range, but has absolutely no deep ball. 

Still makes me mad. A Pro QB has to make that throw. But I didn’t love him even before that, so I was very happy when the Niners took Trey Lance in this year’s draft, even if I had never seen Lance play. I don’t know if he’ll be good, but he seems talented and exciting – and talent and excitement gives hope, something I do not get from James. 

So I’ve been eating up the practice reports – praising the reporters who are hyping up Lance, like Dieter Kurtenbach in a since deleted tweet saying that Lance’s early camp performance had James “shook” and cursing the ones who claim James is in the lead for the job. And salivating over throws like this:

But this week I read a theory of how this could play out, and it will sound very familiar to 49ers fans:

Alex Smith was the starting QB, and—like Garoppolo in 2021—he wasn’t far removed from leading San Francisco on a deep playoff run. But sitting on the bench was a young, athletic quarterback with the ability to supercharge the offense. Today, it’s Lance in that role. Nine years ago, it was Colin Kaepernick.

As is expected this year, that 49ers team installed a small package of plays that featured the mobile backup in cameo roles early in the season. Kaepernick got to throw some passes in these appearances, but he was mostly used as a runner. The team’s Week 4 win over the Jets was a breakout of sorts for the second-year quarterback. He was given three designed run attempts that went for 41 yards and a touchdown. The next week against the Bills, he got three more designed carries, two of which were zone read plays that gained 31 yards and another touchdown. It was clear Harbaugh and his staff were onto something. The only question: When would Kaepernick be ready to do it full time?

The 49ers dialed back Kaepernick’s usage over the next few weeks, perhaps to keep defenses from catching on, but he was thrust into action again after Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams in Week 10. You know how the rest of this goes. Kaepernick’s mobility added another dimension to the offense, as did his willingness to push the ball downfield. Smith was cleared to play two weeks later, but Harbaugh knew that to get to the Super Bowl, he had to go with the younger quarterback. 

This theory is particularly interesting given the fact that, in their final preseason game, the Niners were switching between James and Trey mid-series. So, yeah, that does sound like what happened during the Niners’ 2012 season. I hope this one looks the same. Basically, this tweet is me:

#TeamTrey. Also, enjoy this incredible highlight of Kapernick eating up the Packers in the playoffs that year. 

Man, he was awesome. -TOB

Source: Could the 49ers Use a Decade-Old Idea to Get Back to the Super Bowl?Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (08/31/2021)


Getting to Know the New USMNT

The US Men’s National Team infamously missed the last World Cup. As a fan, it sucked. But there have been rumblings for the last half decade that the U.S. Soccer Federations investments at the youth level would soon be paying off, and it appears that day is here. Or near. Or maybe not at all. But while we may not know if this new generation will bring the U.S. to a credible international level, it sure feels like it right now, which in itself is very exciting. And it’s not just the golden boy, Christian Pulisic. It’s a big group! 

But a new crop of youngsters also raises a lot of questions, and one in particular – as best illustrated by this classic clip from Major League:

Enter: Patrick Redford, a guy with a remarkably similar background to me: Kings fan, Cal grad, lives in SF. I loved Deadspin, he wrote for it. I even saw him at the climbing gym once, in his Deadspin shirt!, but I thought it was too weird to approach him.

Anyways, enter Redford. Who, in the leadup to Thursday night’s World Cup Qualifier opener for the USMNT vs El Salvador has been profiling the names to know. It’s been super fun! It tells their background, including how they came to choose the USMNT if they are a dual-national; he has fun clips of cool stuff they’ve done on the field; and he includes some fun features like non-American fans of the player’s club team tweeting excitement about the player in their native language, and the prospect the player will eventually end up on the USMNT starting eleven. 

This week he featured 18-year old Richard Pepi, a striker for FC Dallas, who chose the U.S. over Mexico. Previously, he profiled Josh Sargent, Konrad de la Fuente, and Antonee Robinson. If you’re getting psyched for World Cup qualifying, check it out. It’s a fun way to get to know the young squad. -TOB

Source: What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Ricardo Pepi,” Patrick Redford, Defector (09/02/2021)


How Much More We Know Due to Analytics

In the first half of this season, Kevin Gausman was a serious contender for the NL Cy Young Award. His ERA of 1.73 over 114 innings. He was lights out. And then the second half started and he’s been a different dude: In 31 innings, his ERA is 5.17. He’s not going as deep into games. He’s striking out more batters (1.4 more per 9 IP), but walking way more (doubling his rate from 2.3 per 9 IP to 4.6). His BABIP is also way up – from .213 to .384. 

So, what changed? Well, Gausman is essentially a two-pitch guy – he uses his splitter and his fastball a combined 90% of the time. As Eno Sarris explains, this allows teams to key on one pitch – sit on it – and do greater damage. And when his splitter is not hitting the strike zone, he runs into trouble. 

But all of that’s always been true, and Eno shows how a minor change for Gausman has caused a lot of his problem. His four seam fastball is not getting as much ride (which makes the ball appear higher to hitters). And the reason? His release point:

“Getting square behind the ball on both the four-seam and the splitter is super important, so if he starts to trend towards pronate or supinate, that’s where he gets into trouble,” Martinez said. “When we start to see the fastball lose its standard profile is when we see the split slip a little too. Some of that has to do with extension and horizontal release.”

In this case, it looks like extension is the key factor for Gausman. Extension is how far from the rubber the pitcher releases the ball, and Gausman — already a taller dude at 6-foot-2 — usually gets excellent extension. Right now, it’s not at peak form.

Two or three inches, that’s what separates Gausman from having his fastball of earlier this season.

The Giants seem to be aware, which is good because this seems fixable? 

After a recent game in which he struck out seven Mets against two walks, with three earned runs in five innings, his manager even specifically called out this aspect of the pitcher’s game.

“I think the fastball velocity and carry has been better, and he’s commanding the ball better at the top of the zone,” Gabe Kapler said that day. “I really thought he was excellent.”

And that’s the real story here. Despite being largely a two-pitch pitcher, Kevin Gausman has been excellent in San Francisco. He probably doesn’t need a better slider — he’s got the meat and potatoes, the splitter and the fastball. It just takes a few tweaks from time to time to keep the whole package humming.

Eno is one of my favorite writers because of the way he is able to break down complicated data in a very digestible form. -TOB

Source: A Familiar Question for a Slumping Kevin Gausman — Are Two Pitches Enough, Even if They’re Great?Eno Sarris (09/02/2021)


Other Good Stuff

Song of the Week

Bob Dylan – “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (take 2)”

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Can we all be brave adults and admit that babies don’t need yoga?

Anne Carlson