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