“When I Was A Boy…”

“When I was a boy…”

I remember this phrase distinctly. My dad would say it all the time to me when I complained of kid problems, such as rain preventing me from playing baseball or having a single assignment for homework. He would say it, then quickly follow-up with a ridiculous thing he allegedly did as a child.

“When I was a boy, we had to walk to school – uphill both ways!” or, the more original of the two was from his winters in northern Maine, “When I was a boy, I baked a potato, carried it to school, holding it to keep my hands warm, then ate it at lunch and walked home cold!” He seemed so old then.

I didn’t really think about it until a few weeks ago, when I explained to my sister, who is now a Freshman in High School, that when my first “girlfriend” – that 7th-grade term connotes sitting together at lunch – and I broke up, I had to call her on the phone. “When I was a boy, we didn’t have texting!” This was the first time I’d ever used the phrase. I caught myself in the midst of saying it, but finished anyway, because it was true. She seemed relatively shocked that there was no texting when I was 12. Now, I’m 18. It seems that the Age of Information was all there ever was, and how could anything be any different? What did we do before?

It’s the same way with games. I love baseball; if I wasn’t playing it, I was either reading about it or playing a baseball video game. MVP Baseball 2005 – the best baseball video game of all-time – was one my friends and I played tirelessly. When I played it by myself, I was weird in the way that I hated using good teams, and preferred to set-up a team and sim. I didn’t like playing the actual game. I’d select a woeful franchise and pick someone like the Kansas City Royals or the Detroit Tigers (they were terrible back then) and try to trade and draft them into relevance. As computers became faster and able to handle bigger data, I discovered a whole genre of games called “baseball sims”. Recently, I bought the fantastic baseball simulation game “Out of the Park Baseball ’15”. It’s a lot of fun, and I enjoy it a lot, but it lacked something. On their Twitter account, they recently proclaimed that, had the 1994 baseball season not stopped due to labor discord, then the ill-destined Montreal Expos would have captured the World Series crown.

“How can they know that?” I wondered. Obviously they run a simulation something like 1000 times and see what the average is, or what happens most of the time, but how do they know? I just didn’t get the sense they accounted for any luck. If Bucky Bleepin’ Dent, he of the 40 career home-runs over a 12-year career, can hit a home-run when the Yankees needed it the most because it’s against the Sox, then luck needs to be pulled into it.

And there was one game that blended managerial strategy, baseball acumen, real-life performance, and luck, it was Strat-O-Matic. Truly the greatest baseball game – regardless of genre – ever.

(How curmudgeonly can I get? I’m ripping computers while purporting an old dice-and-card game. “When I was a boy…”)

As a child, I can very vividly recall sitting down to the old, wooden table in my Aunt’s kitchen where my Uncle and I would shuffle the cards, create line-ups, and roll dice to play this great tribute to the great American past-time.

What brings this all on is that today, just a few hours ago exactly, I attended my first college class ever. It makes me feel old. It makes me slightly sad that those games I played with my Uncle and my friends isn’t played as much anymore. Maybe in 30 years, with the hipsters of that generation, it can make a come-back as retro, but for now I believe it has been forgotten, and disappointingly so.

-By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve wistfully looked back at the past, you can check out my thoughts on childhood heroes here.-

Pre College 195But at the same time, the game won’t be forgotten by those who have been able to play it, because they know how much fun it is. Another reason I decided to write this post is because my good friend Andy agreed to sit down and play with me for one, final time before we both headed off to college. Even the teams we used were old, the 2006 squads of the Marlins and Red Sox. (Jonathan Papelbon was still trying to become a Starting Pitcher for the BoSox and Miguel Cabrera was just 24, not yet the beast he is today.)

We split two games, and then work prevented us from a tie-breaker, which is kind of symbolic, showing how we’ve grown up. We can’t devote entire afternoons to playing out a series. We’re not boys anymore. But as we were playing, and eventually tying the series (my least favorite outcome in any sports game ever), I had a really good time. It was so nice to, if only for an hour, go back and remember what it was like to be a kid.

So even though we can’t be kids anymore, and even though Strat-O-Matic is fading out of popularity, it was still enjoyable to go back. And every once in a while, I know I can go back, sit down, roll the dice, and re-live “When I was a boy…”

Sam Fortier is a Freshman Journalism Major at Syracuse University. He enjoys kayaking, writing, and eating bratwurst. However, he does not like Pina Coladas (or being caught in the rain). You can read him here every Monday.

 

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The case for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Before you close out this tab, before you never read anything written by me again, hear me out.

The Jacksonville Jaguars of 2014 are absolutely nothing like what we think they are. They are not a bottom-feeding team with no talent, they are nowhere close to that. They have the pieces needed to compete for a playoff spot and move towards a bright future.

Entering his second season as the Jaguars head coach, Gus Bradley is a strong motivator and a defensive minded coach. He built up the defense which know as the Legion of Boom out in Seattle and he has 25 years of coaching experience. As linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he coached up Barrett Ruud to the award of NFC defensive player of the month in September of 2007. He know has the job of coaching up an underrated defense with a lot of potential in Jacksonville. He is beginning to craft another Legion of Boom.

The Jaguars bolstered their defensive line this offseason with the additions of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, both former Seahawks who are familiar with Bradley’s defensive scheme. The Jaguars also signed Ziggy Hood a menacing defender and they return Tyson Aluala.

It doesn’t stop on the defensive line. The Jaguars still have Paul Posluszny at linebacker leading the defense. They also have Telvin Smith, an under the radar rookie out of Florida State who was selected in the fifth round and has showed flashes in the preseason, while competing for a starting job, which he may very well earn.

In the secondary, cornerback Alan Ball was sixth in the NFL in deflected passes last season. It was the best year of his career and he is primed for improvement this season. Safety Winston Guy, another former Seahawk is in his third year and quietly having a nice preseason, while fellow safety Jonathan Cyprien has a chance to take a big step forward from his rookie year.

In addition to their ready to breakout defense, the Jaguars have a face of the franchise in top pick Blake Bortles. Pinned as the second coming of Ben Roethlisberger, Bortles has looked great in the preseason. He has the ability to extend plays and the zip on his ball is phenomenal, hitting 56 MPH. Starting Bortles over Henne would be a tremendous decision, abandoning their disastrous past few years. This year will be a learning process for Bortles, and you never know what can happen.

Bortles will be handing the ball of to Toby Gerhart. Another free agency edition, Gerhart never disappointed in relief of Adrian Peterson for the Vikings. He will be a given a much larger role this season and has the hard-nosed ability to fight for yards. The rest of the Jaguars offense is headlined by youth weapon Denard Robinson, running back Jordan Todman and receivers Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Cecil Shorts is only 26. If Justin Blackmon ever gets back on the field this team could be even better.

Inexperience and a weak offensive line could ultimately keep the Jaguars out of the playoffs. However, a motivating coach, a defense primed to breakout and an offense full of young talent, makes an 8-8 season seem pretty realistic and a playoff appearance in the near future even more possible.

Observations: New England Patriots Mini-Camp

Last Tuesday, I went down to Gillette Stadium to watch the New England Patriots joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles.

I made the trek with the NFL Rundown crew, a weekly podcast I’m on which covers the Shield, as well as weekly pick ‘ems. Kyle Stevens and Justin Demers are my co-hosts, and Andy Woodward of the statistic department provided some fantastic input during the pod. You can find that here.

But this is not (just) a shameless self-promotion!

I made some observations at camp, beginning with a surprise.

Jimmy Garoppolo impressed me. Coming from a college team at Eastern Illinios University, I focused on one stat about this small-school guy. He lost to a team (Towson) that lost to the University of New Hampshire in the 2013 regular season. The, kindly-put, sub-par UNH squad beating a team which beat an NFL Quarterback made me queasy. Turns out I shouldn’t have been worried. He looked confident, poised. He floated balls over Linebackers in pursuit and flung missiles into tight-windows past the defense of an over-bearing ballhawk safety. Garoppolo even showed great command of the hurry up offense and appeared to be a field general, showing promise for a rookie.

The special teams units did not. The kickoff coverage team did not do a great job in bottling up the returners of the Eagles. Brandon Boykin and Darren Sproles took turns fielding Gostowski’s kicks. Once, Sproles took the ball from the back of the endzone and gashed up the seam. He seemed to be breaking off a big run, possibly taking the kick all the way back. Then, almost by mistake, Danny Aiken, the Patriots Long Snapper, plowed over Sproles. It was a jarring, surprising hit and the large crowd took notice with a collective “Oh!” followed by laughter. But the special teams were not a laughing matter as Sproles’ run was not atypical, many of the kicks were returned to the 35 or deeper.

O.K. – with one exception. The only thing I liked about the ST was, during an attempt of a 35-yard Field Goal, the Patriots faked it. The holder (Garoppolo) rolled out and hit #62, down lineman Ryan Wendell, in-stride and Wendell waddled (sorry, I couldn’t write gallop and the consonance was too much) all the way inside the five-yard line before he was brought down.

Nate Solder is big. Like really big. I know he’s listed at 6-foot-8, 320lbs, but he is much, much bigger in person. He could eat me. As an appetizer.

Patriots fans clap for anything. Really anything. Gassers? Why not? Brady-Gronk pitch and catch on the sidelines? Of course. Semi-decent player walks by? Endless applause.

It got chippy. On one of the kickoffs, an Eagle took exception to the roughhousing of the Patriots and burst into the pile with a shove. Patriots rookie Corner Back Shamiel Gary responded to Eagles’ five-year veteran Safety Chris Maragos. The two started jawing and shoving until there was a solid group of ten other players/agitators standing by. It was great to see the fire in training camp.

Slice and dice, moves cool as ice. Henry Josey of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rookie out of Mizzou, was on fire. LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy showed flashes, and back-up Darren Sproles broke some loose, but no one had sharper cuts and better instincts whether to bounce the ball outside or stay in than Josey. He chewed up the Patriots lousy run defense. The defense couldn’t stop the rush.

Or the pass, for a matter of fact. Darelle Revis was burned deep – twice. Both times by Jeremy Maclin. Of course, this set off the disapproving twitters (both literally and metaphorically) for the disgruntled fan-base. To be fair to them, the Patriots are paying him $12 million this upcoming season. To be fair to him, it’s mini-camp and he was jogging on the latter half of the first burn deep, essentially a straight-line route towards the goal-line.

Cary Williams got it from the crowd. After calling the Patriots “cheaters” last week, he got toasted by both Brandon LaFell and Develin.

By the way, chicks dig James Develin. The Fullback of the New England Patriots made ladies swoon and opposing Linebackers grumble this past week. He caught EVERYTHING. He made the catches he was supposed to, as well those which he wasn’t supposed to. James Develin, former back-up FB, lighted it up on the field for more than five thousand dollars.

Then the cool stuff.

A very affable Riley Cooper paused to snap a photo and shake hands with the NFL Rundown crew.

RileyCooper

Then Matt Barkley walked past, shook mine and Kyle’s hands, and didn’t respond to Kyle’s USC mantra of “Fight On!” which was hilarious. (Seriously, he said it about five time to no avail.)

Something that impressed me was Mark Sanchez’s focus. His concentration was unmatched at camp; he did not look up or acknowledge Kyle when he called three times in a row, “Sign my butt, Mark!” of course referencing the infamous Buttfumble.

So as Patriots camp draws to a close, that’s what you need to know.

Sam Fortier is an official Freshman (MOO!) at Syracuse University as of this Wednesday. He wants you to know he is the unofficial president of the Chase Wright fanclub, as well as a consumer of bratwurst. 

NBA Offseason Power Rankings

Post by Alex Flum

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have made the playoffs the past five seasons, yet they have no rings to show for it. If they want Kevin Durant to stick around after his contract expires in 2016, it would be best for them to win a championship. The Thunder added a shooter that can hopefully provide something close to what James Harden did before he was traded away. They still have a solid frontcourt rotation of Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams. They also have a healthy Russell Westbrook. The Thunder appear primed to once again contend for a championship.

2. San Antonio Spurs

We were all dazzled by the amazing championship performance Greg Popovich’s Spurs displayed. This offseason, the Spurs didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. This season’s roster is almost identical to last season’s. They drafted Kyle Anderson out of UCLA who can play almost any position on the court. It remains to be seen if Tim Duncan can continue to play his best basketball, but he’s silenced critics every year, I have a feeling he’ll be good still this season. Finally, Kawhi Leonard broke out as the finals MVP and should become the star of this team alongside Tony Parker. The Spurs should have another shot a championship.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

Now that Kevin Love has been traded to this team, they’re even scarier. I think trading Wiggins is a mistake but that is another story. Lebron is back in town and the Cavaliers are certainly the story of the offseason. The Cavaliers now led by Lebron should be in for a strong season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. A Kyrie Irving breakout could elevate them to NBA champions.

4. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have pieced together one of the most underratedly talented teams I have seen in a while. The lone question mark is Derrick Rose’s bill of health. If Rose returns to his pre-injuries self the Bulls will no doubt be the ones hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of this season. What many keep forgetting is that defense always the key to a strong sports team. Do the Cavs have defense?

5. Portland Trail Blazers

Last season I correctly predicted that the Blazers would burst out onto the scene and contend in the West. This season, they will take another step forward and contend for the top spot. The Blazers are the real deal. Damian Lillard is a top three if not top two point guard in the NBA, Lamarcus Aldridge is a dominating presence in the paint, while the rest of the team provides strong support. The next player to breakout? CJ McCollum. He was sidelined for the early part of last season with an injury and it slowed his development, but I think he can crack his way into the starting lineup by the end of this season and provide offensive firepower. The Blazers have a legitimate chance at making it to the finals this season.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

It seems that the Clippers have finally rid of their owner and are ready to shift their focus on to the court. The Clippers addressed their big man depth problem by adding Spencer Hawes, he should be able to provide relief late in games when Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan foul out. They also whisked assistant coach Sam Cassell away from the Wizards, he will help the team tremendously. With Paul still in his prime, and Griffin well into his prime already, the Clippers could have a real shot at the title this year.    

7. Golden State Warriors

I was not a big fan of the move to fire Mark Jackson, but I liked their rebound hire of Steve Kerr. The Warriors won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Steph Curry is the best shooter in the NBA, if not in the history of the NBA, while they still have their nucleus of Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut. They also boast Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green coming off the bench. The Warriors could be a real threat come playoff time. I do have trouble seeing them competing for a title though.

8. Washington Wizards

Last year was a liberating season for the Wizards franchise and their fans (me). After six years of atrocious playofless basketball the Wizards returned to the big stage and advanced to the second round. The team meshed well, while John Wall burst out onto the scene. This offseason the Wizards added NBA veteran Paul Pierce after the departure of Trevor Ariza to Houston. Pierce will fit into a good mix of veterans and young developing stars, he will also play a major role in mentoring former third overall pick Otto Porter. Look for the Wizards to return to the playoffs again this year.

9. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors were the surprise of the NBA last season, hushing all their critics and finishing third in a weak eastern conference. The Raptors return an almost identical roster from last season. They added Louis Williams to bolster the bench, which I think was a great move. With familiarity and a playoff appearance under their belt, there is no reason to believe this Raptors team won’t return to the playoffs this season.

10. Miami Heat

They lost Lebron. Well, what can you do, he wanted to go home. Pat Riley did an excellent job of putting together a backup plan. The Heat vastly overpaid Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, but they managed to keep them around. They brought in Jameer Nelson, Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts; all strong signings. The Heat won’t be the same superpower they have been the past four years, but they will play some good basketball.

11. Charlotte Hornets

The Bobcats, who were once the laughing stock of the NBA, have now transformed into the Hornets, who are now a formidable playoff contender in the eastern conference. They signed Lance Stephenson to start in the backcourt next to Kemba Walker. Stephenson does have character concerns, but Michael Jordan should be able to get him in line. They also drafted Noah Vonleh, a supreme prospect who should be able to contribute off the bench immediately.

12. Phoenix Suns

The Suns surprised everyone last season by posting 48 wins and nearly making the playoffs. The addition of Isaiah Thomas gives them a triumvirate of guards in him, Eric Bledsoe (assuming he signs) and Goran Dragic. They still lack a strong big man since they traded Marcin Gortat to the Wizards but Morris and Plumlee are fine for now and they will continue to develop Alex Len. The Suns should take the step up from last year and make the playoffs.

13. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are one of the most underrated teams in the West. Marc Gasol has often times been overshadowed by his brother and overlooked as one of the better big men in this league. Tony Allen is a phenomenal perimeter defender. Mike Conley, one of the most underrated players in the NBA, could be this year’s surprise player. Bold prediction: Mike Conley will be an all-star and the Grizzlies will play a team close in the first round.

14. Houston Rockets

Poor Houston, this team has just been stuck in mediocre land for years. They managed to finish fourth in the conference last year but I think they will take a step back. The additions of Trevor Ariza is solid, but they lost Jeremy Lin, they lost Chandler Parsons and they whiffed on every major free agent they targeted. The Rockets did nothing to improve their team and in a tough conference like the West, if your team makes no strides in the offseason you may fall.

15. Dallas Mavericks

I know that some people have picked the Mavericks to get the fourth/fifth seed or even contend for a title, but I just don’t see that happen. I don’t believe in Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki’s is clearly in decline. They are good enough to win 45 games, but that may not be good enough to make the playoffs. It could be an underachieving year in Dallas for the Mavs.  

16. Denver Nuggets

This is probably the last team in the West that would make the playoffs in the East. Kenneth Faried is a budding star in this league and getting Arron Afflalo back for his second stint in Denver was big. Ty Lawson can run the floor and should be a key piece for this team. They also boast a solid amount of depth. They’ll compete for one of the final playoff spots for sure, but in a tough conference when it comes to the last month they will be on the outside looking in.  

17. New York Knicks

Somehow, Phil Jackson managed to get Carmelo Anthony to return to this team. Chicago, Dallas and Houston all would have given Carmelo a better chance of winning a ring. The Knicks aren’t exactly talentless. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a rising sharp shooter, Iman Shumpert is a defensive maniac, they acquired Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert from Dallas and they still have Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith. The Knicks aren’t exactly a contender for the championship, or even the conference finals, but they should make the playoffs.

18. Brooklyn Nets

The best thing that happened to the Nets this offseason was trading head coach Jason Kidd to the Bucks. Out went an unqualified, inexperienced, simply bad coach and in came Lionel Hollins, a qualified, experienced wise coach, who should not have been fired by the Grizzlies a year ago. Hollins is a perfect fit for this team, he’ll be able to coach up a team that shouldn’t necessarily be a playoff team into the playoffs. Brook Lopez, a top five center, will be back from injury which should be a big boost for this team.

19. New Orleans Pelicans

Think this year’s Timberwolves. The Pelicans have all the pieces and the star in Anthony Davis to be flashy this year but miss out on the playoffs. Davis resembles Kevin Love’s situations early in his career as he has the potential to rise to elite status and he will need a year of competitive basketball to help him take another step towards that. Best case scenario is 40 wins for this team.

20. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are a team that has a lot of talented players that don’t exactly mesh so well together. I’m going to assume that Greg Monroe resigns with Detroit. With Monroe back, they have an excellent frontcourt of Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond who has a chance to become one of the premier defensive centers in the league. If Monroe for some reason doesn’t return, this team could plummet to somewhere between 12-15 place in the conference. The Pistons have a shot at the playoffs but it won’t be anything close to easy.

21. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks will take a step back this season, despite the fact that Al Horford will be back healthy. I just simply can’t see a team on which Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll start are a lock in the playoffs. The Hawks could surprise some people and make it, but I don’t think they will in the end. They will at least compete for the seventh and eighth seed.

22. Boston Celtics

The Celtics enter this season with an average front court and a logjam of talent in the backcourt. This will most certainly be the end of the Rondo era as the Marcus Smart one is ushered in. They’ll probably struggle early and trade Jeff Green away by the deadline. With a high draft pick next year and another shot at free agency, the Celtics will have a lot of optimism going into the 2015-16 season.

23. Orlando Magic

I really like the young talent on this team. They won’t rise into the playoffs this season, but they will definitely be competing for a spot in the following year. I think that Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon both have a chance to compete for rookie of the year. It should be a fun season in Orlando.

24. Los Angeles Lakers

I want to say that this team is going to make its way back into the playoffs this year but that simply isn’t going to happen. Grandpa Kobe Bryant is not nearly the same he used to be, Julius Randle hasn’t played a second of professional basketball, while Nick “Swaggy P” Young, has much as I love him is, always was and always will be a role player. Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin should both have solid seasons, but this team is clearly waiting for free agency in the coming years. If they were in the East we’d be discussing them as a contender for the last two spots, but they’re in the West.

25. Indiana Pacers

The Paul George injury may hit team USA hard, but it is a major setback for the Pacers, especially since they just lost Lance Stephenson in free agency. Rodney Stuckey, Evan Turner and Chris Copeland will fill in on the wings but they just simply won’t do the same job. Roy Hibbert’s career has clearly flopped and David West may begin to decline. It will take a miracle for the Pacers to make the playoffs in the upcoming season.

26. Utah Jazz

The Jazz have stockpiled a phenomenal group of youngsters and should be a major threat in the west two or three years from now. They drafted Dante Exum and Rodney Hood who will both be their key pieces in the future. They matched Gordon Hayward’s contract to keep him and they still have Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert. They also added Trevor Booker to the mix of frontcourt depth. The Jazz won’t be anything special this year, but they have a bright future.

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

Head coach, President of Basketball Operations and part-owner has a done a tremendous job building for the future this offseason. He knew Kevin Love was never going to resign with the Timberwolves and traded him for a future star in Andrew Wiggins and a future first round pick. They also acquired a stretch four in Thaddeus Young through the deal. The Timberwolves will become Andrew Wiggins’ team and that is the way it should be.

28. Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Jabari Parker, one of the most NBA ready players in the draft with the second pick. Parker will dazzle fans in his rookie season. The Bucks have plenty of young talent but not nearly enough to compete. They remind me a lot of the Wizards from the first couple years of John Wall’s career. I think that with a good coach this team could develop their young talent, but hiring Jason Kidd was a terrible decision. Kidd is not qualified, not ready and certainly not the right person to be the head coach of any team at the moment.

29. Sacramento Kings

I don’t understand this team at all. It’s 100% shooters and DeMarcus Cousins clearly doesn’t want to be there. Unfortunately for them, he was injured during Team USA’s practice this week. They also lost Isaiah Thomas, their brightest spot from last season in a sign-and-trade with Phoenix. The Kings are a mess and they are not improving any time soon.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

I’m not sure if the Philadelphia 76ers are done tanking yet, but they certainly have a bright future. Their nucleus of youngsters Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid now is solid. Thaddeus Young is a strong stretch four and K.J. McDaniels is a rookie who will contribute immediately defensively. I don’t the Sixers are anywhere close to playoff contention as of now, but they will be in the not so distant future.  

The $100 Million Man

The issue of years and dollars is one which every baseball team must deal with, but it’s been especially poignant in Boston since April. The internal narrative reads, “Should our team sign this player, at this age, for at least five years and over $100 million?” which is what Bean Town faces with Jon Lester. He was shipped to Oakland, along with Jonny Gomes, for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, but there’s still a real possibility he could return – the only question is, at what price?

The Red Sox don’t want to change their pay-plan of over-paying players to sign for fewer years, allowing for roster flexibility. It brought them a trophy last season, so a desire to remain in adherence to the principle is understandable for Boston. The biggest issue for Boston, where Lester is concerned, is the money and the years. Mammoth contracts don’t always work out, i.e. Carl Crawford, Ryan Howard, etc. And yes, some players have sat down before they’ve hit free agency and signed below-market deals to remain with their hometown teams (Dustin Pedroia), but not many people have looked at the sheet of offers they receive in the off-season and turn down the one with the most moola. The one exception I can recall is Cliff Lee rejecting the New York Yankees offer in favor of the Phillies, for $14 million less.

So, I wanted to evaluate the baseball market and figure out how much return on investment a team gets, and how long that asset remains a valuable commodity. In Major League Baseball history, there have been 50 deals inked worth north of $100 million. 48 different players have signed them (Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez twice). For my study, in order to properly evaluate how a player has done in the first, legitimate “half” of his deal, the pact must have been signed in 2011 or earlier. That means only 20 contracts of the 50 are eligible in our study.

For these contracts, the average starting average for a position player is 28.9 and the ending, 36. Likewise, for a Pitcher, the average starting age is older, 29.6, while the ending age is the same at 36. To draw back to our Lester example from earlier, he is on average with most other pitchers, as he will be 30, very near that 29.6 mark.

Here is the list of contracts we can examine. There are five pitchers and fifteen position players.Initial list of Contracts - Copy

As we can see, these are mega-deals for a lot of years. Now, when ball-clubs sign these commitments, they’re not rewarding a player for the incredible production generated a season, or five, previous. They are paying for the future. They know that, inevitably, production will decline, but they overpay in the present to win the players’ services for that year, and sacrifice in the long-run.

What do ball teams look for in players they may spend a lot of money on? I asked New York Mets minor league scout Shawn McNamara at a AA ballgame earlier this spring, and the consensus, he felt, was around three years of the player’s previous production.

The first criterion for value within a player is Games Played. Since we have used the Woody Allen Line in the past to delineate how often a player should appear on the field per season, the acceptable percentage is 80%.

Games Played Improved

 

We see the average change from the GP average for three years before the deal to the first half of the deal for a position player is minus-6.0%, for a Pitcher is minus-9.0%. Those are acceptable numbers, on average. The exception to both rules being Ken Griffey, Jr. who was oft-injured for the Reds after they signed him away from the Mariners, and Kevin Brown, who swindled the Dodgers at 34 for his $105 million, 7 year deal. (Seriously, at 34 he gets 7 years?! #BlameBoras)

The second-half of the deal is really where we see the decline set in. Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, and Mike Hampton are the leading faces for not appearing in games as their percentages plummeted over 50%. Then there’s Johan Santana, who didn’t even meet the minimum to qualify for the list because the second-half of his deal he missed two seasons.

One telling sign, though, is that Derek Jeter is the only defensively-demanding player not to decrease in games played. (I know Manny Ramirez increased by 2.9%, but I concluded after watching him in Boston from 2003 to 2008 that his Left Field is not defense.) It makes you wonder what the contracts for defensively-demanding players (i.e. Robinson Cano, 2B; Buster Posey, C; Dustin Pedroia, 2B) will look like over the life of their deals.

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox (signed 7yrs/$100mil in 2012) already looks like a club-unfriendly deal as he blocks uber-prospect Mookie Betts, and it appears his power has been zapped – his Slugging Pct. has fallen by 20-30 points every year since 2010.

As for pitchers, well, they don’t age well. Four of the five didn’t make over 22 starts on average of their second-half deals, while the only one that did (C.C. Sabathia) is now suspected to have a career-ending right knee injury.

O.K., so you’re probably thinking, Fine, they don’t play as much, they probably get rest days. That leads to how well they do on the field, not just if they show up.

Since no Relief Pitcher has ever signed a $100mil+ deal, I feel comfortable using WHIP to define their performance. For batters, OPS.

OPS WHIP

Once again, for the principle of consistency, 80% is used as the threshold for acceptable performance.

For hitters, it appears that they hold on to their power for a bit longer than their means to get on the field. Todd Helton was one who had trouble keeping up his power numbers, but he can be forgiven because his three-year pre-deal average included 2000 Coors Field – documented to be power-pumping, stat-inflating paradise. Injuries largely contribute to the limited effectiveness of many players as well, namely Teixeira (wrist), Rodriguez (wrist, again), and Howard (leg).

For all of these players, you could argue steroid abuse claimed their inevitable victims (Giambi, for example) but many of these players are suspected to have used, so operating under the theory that by “inclusion-of-all, exemption-likewise” can be reasoned in this case.

WHIP, for the pitchers, is more telling. Anything near 1.000 will likely lead the league, while 1.400 is roughly a 12-6 season with a 4.50 ERA.

Three of the five pitchers remained elite in their first-half deals, but two fell short. Mike Hampton imploded as his WHIP increased 15.5%. It definitely has something to do with the Coors Field atmosphere, but that’s not too much of an excuse. He pitched 15 home games with a WHIP at 1.698, while hurling a pedestrian 1.469 on the road in 17 games.

Then there was Barry Zito, which is curious because he transitioned from the power-heavy AL West to the light-hitting NL West. Actually, the NL West had some fearsome hitters in it (ahem, Barry Bonds!) but he was on the same team/never had to face him. It indicates that Zito was just tremendously over-valued initially rather than meeting catastrophe after three brilliant seasons. His three-year average before of 1.330 is only slightly better than average. (Good choice, Billy Beane.)

That contrasts directly with Kevin Brown, because the conditional formatting in his spreadsheet highlights his 20.3% increase as a significant drop-off in performance quality from the three-year average before they signed him. However, his second-half WHIP clocked in at 1.280, which is better than Zito’s ERA from before he got signed! So, as always, the conditions point out some interesting points, but don’t solely rely on conditions over interpretation.

WAR

Now, if you’re a GM that believes in the all-encompassing baseball statistic of WAR, this is the section that you’d want to pay most attention to. Because you’re about to be alarmed. Here’s a chart to help you understand WAR.

WAR, if you don’t know, is the holistic baseball statistic. There are two main strands of WAR; one by baseball-reference and another from FanGraphs. I used baseball-reference for my study.

For WAR, it takes into account running, hitting, and fielding for a positional player. Therefore, as the years move past and the deal progresses, often-times the player’s WAR will lessen because age and speed are inversely proportional.

As you can see for both positional players and pitchers, down the roster, is that all of them lose their value. Some may retain it for the first-half, or not teeter too much, but in the end every player decreases dramatically, as is to be expected. You’re not paying for the last two years, you’re trying to get the first four. Some players – like Vernon Wells, Mike Hampton, and Ryan Howard – decrease quicker, though, so that they become harms rather than helps. They produced lower WAR than a minor-league call-up would.

The only four players to increase in WAR during the first half of their deals were Alex Rodriguez (the first time), Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, and CC Sabathia. And we can see now in A-Rod (steroid abuse breakdown), Sabathia (not in-shape), and Beltran (formerly of speed) that every aspect of the game diminishes. Even Derek Jeter is mortal, falling to natural aging and decline. (All four of those guys are currently wearing pinstripes – save for A-Rod, who probably wears Yankee pajamas during his suspension.)

The scariest numbers in this study belong in this section as well. The average loss of WAR for a position player in the first-half of his contract is a whopping 25%, for a pitcher it’s an entire third! That’s a lot of value lost for such a great amount of money. Those number reach staggering proportions when the average hitter loses half of their value in the second-half of the deal and a pitcher loses 93%. That’s an astonishing amount.

Also, I want to note the errors in my study, as well. I realize it’s not faultless and I took introductory Chemistry and Physics, there’s always something you (lab speak: one) can do about improving the study. First, I could include age. Kevin Brown’s deal at 34 for 7 years is not equivalent to Miguel Cabrera’s deal at 25 for 7 years. There not in comparable stages of their career. Furthermore, I could have waited until all the deals had expired to truly capture the length of a contract. I could have included more pitchers (five is a small sample size), but alas, there weren’t enough and this study is pertinent now.

So those WAR numbers are something the Boston Red Sox should note when considering whether or not to re-sign Jon Lester. He will be 30 this next upcoming season, and while the Sox pore over all the numbers and see how significant the regression is, they will wonder is it worth it?

In terms of fan sentiment and nostalgia, absolutely. But when it comes down to it, baseball is a game of money and years plotted upon spreadsheets to determine on-field performance.

And that’s all it will ever be.

 

 

 

NFL needs shorter preseason, less meaningless football

Post by Alex Flum

To avid National Football League fans like myself, a year consists of two seasons as opposed to the normal four. We don’t have winter, spring, summer and fall; there’s football season, and not football season. (Note: I still love basketball also, just so everyone knows. And yes, hockey and baseball are good too. And soccer…)

For sixth months we are forced to seek out other hobbies, actually do our jobs, do our schoolwork, etc. Also, we get the draft and free agency which makes things easier. When August arrives, we get excited because our teams play four or five preseason games.

Preseason is spectacular — if you are a player trying to prove that you deserve a spot on an NFL roster. Otherwise, it is a tease. Just as much of a tease as when I was in a mall in Israel and I saw taco bell and pillsbury logos in a food court and they both turned out to be shawarma restaurants (for those of you who don’t know what shawarma is, it’s a tasty Middle Eastern gyro like shaved meat that consists of chicken and other meats).

The preseason may be dull and meaningless, but it does have a purpose. The first game usually lets players and coaches shake off their dust, the second game gives players chances to earn their right, the third game usually let’s starters play a full half, while the fourth game gives guys one more chance before final roster cuts.

It simply doesn’t make sense for the NFL to play four meaningless games and risk guys getting hurt to accomplish all this when they can do it all in two games. Let guys shake off their dust and fight for a roster spot in game one; let your starters play the first half in game two and in the second half let guys fight for a roster spot. Cutting two games from the preseason, would make training camp and practices all the more interesting. The regular season can also be started at some point during August, shortening the offseason. A shorter preseason could open the door for the NFL to expand the playoffs and get a head start against bad weather.

When you’re sitting on your couch watching a meaningless football game at some point this month, think to yourself, ‘how nice would it be if there were more football games that actually counted for something.’

Follow Alex on twitter @flumdognosebest for his insightful tweets on the next four games played by the Washington Redskins, all of which have no playoff or really any implications. 

 

 

Media Pundits Full List

This summer, my car began with a little over 144,000 miles on it. As of now, in two months and three days, I have north of 147,400. It’s a lot of time to spend in the car. My one saving grace is the podcast. No, not my own that I run, but the many multitudes of the programs I enjoy listening. That, coupled with the fact that I work at a radio station and love to read – especially sports periodicals, ad nauseum – made me the perfect candidate to compile this list.

These are the national sports media pundits who occupy our precious sports world every day (you know, the ones we all think we know more than). And this is based off a criteria of how much you enjoy listening/reading/watching this persons work, how much information you learn, and how well they lay it out. As well as their approach. Softballers not allowed.

Here’s a list of the candidates. Must be national media. How would you rank them?

Jonah Keri – Baseball Analyst/Author

Tony Kornheiser – Television show co-host/columnist

Michael Wilbon – Washington Post columnist/Television show co-host

Wright Thompson – magazine features

Lee Jenkins – Magazine Features

Bill Simmons – Everything

Rick Reilly – Columnist

Chris Jones – Columnist

Zach Lowe – Podcaster/Analyst

Steve Rushin – Columnist

Michael Rosenberg – Columnist

David Simon – Orioles columnist

David Jacoby – Podcaster about basketball/reality TV

Jalen Rose – Basketball podcaster

Pablo S. Torre – Magazine Feature Author

Keith Olbermann – Television host, writer

Skip Bayless – Talk-show personality

Stephen A. Smith – Basketball analyst/Talk-show personality

Gary Parrish – College Basketball podcaster

Jeff Borzello – College Basketball podcaster

Matt Norlander – College Basketball podcaster

Bill Barnwell

Ben Lindbergh

Sam Miller

Jake Mintz/

Jason Whitlock

Chris Berman

Darren Rovell

Howard Bryant

Peter King

Buster Olney

Robert May

Grant Brisbee

Mike Golic

Mike Greenberg

Scott Van Pelt

Gregg Doyel

Felger

Mazz

Mark Fainaru-Wada

Tim Kurkjian

John Clayton

Ramona Shelburn

Peter Gammons

Barry Melrose

Jay Bilas

Tim Legler

Todd McShay

Charles Barkley

Jeff Passan

Joe Posnanski

Robert Lipsyte

Dan Patrick

Gus Johnson

Mike “Doc” Emrick

Tom Verducci

Frank Deford

Paul Finebaum

Adrian Wojnarowski

Bill Plaschke

Jackie MacMullen

Tony Reali

Dan Le Batard

Kevin Blackistone

Bomani Jones

Bob Ryan