Monthly archives: March 2006
I don't know who coined the phrase, but every year it seems there's a columnist who makes "The Leap." It's often a maturation process, and can usually be seen coming, though I certainly have no skills at predicting exactly who will make that leap. A couple years back it was Eric Neel, cementing it with an amazing, personal piece at The Baseball Analysts. Last year it was Buster Olney, finding his stride with the blog/link format. This year, our early contender is Jeff Passan.
I'll be up front. I know Jeff and like him a great deal. That said, this article alone should convince everyone that we've found a Leaper. Since moving from the Kansas City Star to Yahoo! Sports, Passan's been at the top of his game and then some.
Of course, I'm sure you guys have ideas about writers who have made The Leap, or are about to. Suggest, in comments.
Most Important Players Under the Radar
To begin my preview of the upcoming season, I wanted to start with the one player on each team who gets overlooked, but just might be the make the biggest difference between his team succeeding or failing.
Today we will cover the American League.
Chicago White Sox: Neal Cotts
While a lot of the focus will be on new arrivals Jim Thome and Javier Vasquez, the bullpen is where the defending champs have the biggest question marks. To think at this point last season I pointed out the incredible depth of their pen, with Takatsu, Politte, Hermanson, and Marte all with closer experience. This depth was vital, as Takatsu flamed out and Hermanson filled in until his back gave out. To fill the void, the Sox brought up a kid who wasn't even on the radar screen at the beginning of 2005, Bobby Jenks, who just might have been the biggest miracle of the team's miracle season. With Jenks struggling this spring training, Marte traded, and Hermanson on the DL, the best pitcher in the pen is now lefty Neal Cotts. Cotts was sensational last season, with a 2/1 K/BB ratio and an ERA of 1.94. Considered an afterthought in the Koch for Foulke trade, Cotts just might be the best left-handed reliever in the league.
Cleveland Indians: Cliff Lee
Sure, C.C. Sabathia is the opening day starter for the Tribe, but the best pitcher on the staff is Cliff Lee. His record over the past 2 years is 32-13, with last year having finishing in the AL Top 20 in WHIP (10th) and ERA (18th). At 28, he should be at his peak -- and with Sabathia, Westbrook, Byrd, and Jason Johnson, the Indians have the most underrated staff in all of baseball.
Minnesota Twins: Carlos Silva
How can a starting pitcher who only strikes out 71 batters all year finish with an ERA of 3.44 and a WHIP of 1.17? The best answer for that is to follow the Silva Method, by only giving out nine free passes in 188 innings. With the Twins deciding to follow the same early bullpen route with Francisco Liriano that they did with a younger Johan Santana, they will need Silva to continue to work his magic. I suspect that Silva, Colon, Garland, and Millwood are the four pitchers most likely to have a major slide from their 2005 levels. If I was a Twins fan, I would want Liriano hitting the bump every fifth day, instead of Lohse or Baker, but as a Sox fan, I think it's a great idea.
Detroit Tigers: Carlos Guillen
Check back to 2004, when the most important off-season pickup for the Tigers wasn't Pudge, but Guillen who posted a OPS of .921. Battling injuries in 2005, Guillen was limited to only 87 games, which was a devastating blow to their offense, as his replacement, Omar Infante (.621 OPS) slaps at the ball with all the force of Lamar Latrell. When healthy, he's the Tigers' best player.
Kansas City Royals: Ambiorix Burgos
For many years now, the Royals have struggled to find someone to finish games. I can't even remember a good closer in KC since Jeff Montgomery's 1993 season. The 22-year-old Burgos has great stuff, which his 65 Ks in 63 innings point to. On a team that continues to go nowhere, maybe the Royals can point to a quality closer they will have for the next six years, which means he should share the roster with Alex Gordon for awhile.
Oakland A's: Mark Ellis
With an OPS of .861, Ellis was behind only Brian Roberts in this category. It's hard to imagine either one of these players ever eclipsing this output, as both look to be wind-aided by career years around the time of their 27th birthday. While Swisher and Johnson are the young hitters the A's are hoping will continue to develop, they really need Ellis to keep his OPS over .800 to make up for some of the lack of power at other positions.
The Whatever Angels: Kelvim Escobar
While everyone seems to have knighted the A's as AL West champs, the Angels seem to be just as talented. The health of Escobar is the most important variable I see the Angels facing. Escobar has been excellent for the Angels when he's actually taken the rubber, with a 2.5/1 K/BB ratio. Last year, in 59 innings, batters hit a measly .207 against him, while his ERA and WHIP were 3.02 and 1.11, respectively. If Escobar and Santana pitch to their capabilities, I suspect Oakland will finish just short again.
Texas Rangers: The Outfield
Is there a more underrated outfield offensively than the one in Arlington. Over the past two years, both Kevin Mench (.874 in 2004) and David Delucci (.879 in 2005) have had a season with an OPS over .870. Add to this the talents of Brad Wilkerson, who has a career OPS of .817 despite playing in two pitcher-friendly parks. While it's hard to see Delucci coming anywhere close to his career year of 2005, Wilkerson and Mench should have monster years.
Seattle Mariners: Joel Pineiro
Just when he should be hitting his prime, Pineiro doesn't seem to be the same guy who just might have been the second best young pitcher in the AL behind only Johan Santana just three seasons ago. If Pineiro can come back from his injuries, the Mariners might be more competitive than expected.
New York Yankees: Shawon Chacon
Hard to consider anyone on the Yankees as being under the radar, when even the bullpen catcher gets more national pub than a starter on the Royals does. Chacon was part of the mid-season pitching miracle that Small Wang helped with. While Wang doesn't appear to be a fluke, the success of Chacon might be the difference between making the playoffs or not. Of course, if he fails, the Yankees can survive it by getting some of their money's worth from Pavano and Wright. Is there any pitching staff which has a bigger variable of success/failure than the Yankees?
Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis
Sure, the performance of new hires Matt Clement and Josh Beckett are vital to what happens to the Red Sox, but the one player that has escaped national attention is Youkilis. Considering he plays first base, a position where power hitting is generally the norm, his career slugging percentage of .411 needs to make an uptick. Combine this with Mike Lowell on the other side of the diamond, plummeting in 2005 to a OPS of .658 and the Red Sox really are expecting a lot out of Ramirez and Ortiz. Don't be surprised if there isn't some kind of platoon set up between Youkilis, Lowell, and the recently acquired Hee Seop Choi.
Toronto Blue Jays: The other three starting pitchers
We all know that Roy Halladay is a stud and Burnett can be just as good when healthy, but the difference between fiinishing in third again and actually being in the playoffs will be determined by the guys in the 3, 4, and 5 slots. Josh Towers and Gustavo Cacin were pleasant surprises in 2005, but both pitchers had high opponent batting averages against them. (.274 and .285, respectively). Towers has great control, with a nearly 4/1 K/BB rate, so I suspect he will be somewhere close to his 2005 stats, but Cacin seems to be a candidate for a severe drop-off. The other starter, Ted Lilly, continues to be inconsistent and the Blue Jays really need for him to bounce back from last year's abysmal season.
Baltimore Orioles: Corey Patterson
Remember when Patterson used to be seen as a future superstar? Well, he's still only 26 and is only two seasons removed from an OPS of .865. In a lineup loaded with big boppers, the pressure will be off. If he can play closer to his 2002 year, the Orioles will challenge the Yankees for the best offense in baseball.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Bullpen
While the regular lineup is filled with exciting young players and the starting pitching looks better than it has in the past, who are these guys in the bullpen? The D-Rays look like a team that will lose a lot of games in the 8th and 9th inning, as no one seems to be a major league closer. When journeyman pitcher Dan Miceli looks to be your most capable guy to end games with, it might be time to search the Triple-A rosters for closers to trade for. How you can go into the season thinking Chad Orvella is the answer is pretty hard to understand. Oh yeah, they're the Devil Rays.
The Center Cannot Hold
This is not a political piece. It's not intended to be another of my meta-blogging entries. Somehow, it will come out as both.
Point one: The Washington Post attempts to go "fair and balanced," hiring a conservative blogger, Ben Domenech of RedState. Said blogger is a serial plagiarist and gets nabbed in a typical Googletrail from the opposition. It's seen more as a political attack than a plagiarist getting his just due, nor is it noted that open-sourcing the investigation makes this all but inevitable. Try as some might, there's always a trail.
Point two: Colin Cowherd picks up a piece and goes with it on air. He doesn't credit the web site that originated it, likely because he didn't bother to check. That's ignorance, but understandable. He's sent notice, asked to give credit, and here's where he went off the rails: Cowherd sent an email saying that he refused to give credit. That's not just ignorance or even plagiarism. It's willful plagiarism. He deserves the same fate as Domenech.
Point three: Newspapers are blogging. I can't find any major newspaper that doesn't have some form. ESPN is "blogging" as well. Most of these attempts at co-opting are more in name than in spirit. Buster Olney's blog is not a blog; it's a daily feature and linkfest. Calling it a blog is an answer to the zeitgeist; it's marketing.
Point four: I've done a lot of interviews surrounding the Team Health Reports and, to a man, I see in the comments that people say "Cool! Do more interviews!" Funny. Doesn't that require access (for the most part) and doesn't that mean doing business more like the mainstream than a blog?
Point five: Major baseball websites (ESPN, Yahoo) have gotten around the "we don't credential websites" issue by hiring writers who already carry the all-powerful BBWAA card. MLB.com has done this some, though they don't have the problem. Sure, most online writers don't care about access and even disdain it, but as some of the blogs begin moving from community to beat, that will change.
Point six: I read a lot of newspaper writers. The aforementioned Buster Olney does a great job on his daily pointing to some great pieces. He links them and I click and read. All over the internet. I don't get the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, or San Francisco Chronicle delivered to my door. I read on the internet. All baseball writers are now internet writers, like it or not. At the World Series, Jim Caple pointed out that "The writers that don't want to give access to guys like us are the same ones that bitch when the wireless is slow."
Point seven: As the mainstream tries to co-opt blogging into its process, the next logical step is to cheaply bring in some bloggers rather than converting its writers into bloggers. It's happening in news and sports.
Point eight: As bloggers attempt to disintermediate mainstream from its normal revenue streams, they're more likely to partner in some way with an established monetization vehicle. Conglomerations have value, but thus far, they haven't reached the proper scale, apart from Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc. It's also likely that once those conglomerations (or, concievably single entities) reach a proper scale or notice that they'll monetize. For examples of this, see the sale of Weblogs Inc. to AOL, MySpace to Fox, and Ana Marie Cox leaving Wonkette for Time and books.
Point nine: We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who bring a brighter day, so let's start giving. There's a choice we're making. We're saving our own lives. It's true we'll make a better day, just you and me.
Point ten: The center cannot hold. America loves its extremes, and compromise is not something that works. Mainstream media might be overtaken by blogs or co-opt them. What we are not likely to find is a middle ground.
Set Your TiVos or DVRs
Tonight on C-SPAN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, the White House Correspondents Dinner will air. Almost all the Washington heavy hitters will be there, including the Vice President. (The President was a late scratch; he probably feared Helen Thomas would interrupt him with questions.)
I mention this because my friend, Frank Caliendo, will be the featured entertainment. I have written some material for his appearance, so I have a vested interest in Frank's performance. I don't know what time he goes on or how much of my stuff he will be doing, but as people who have seen Frank before can attest, you can expect it to be funny.
On the Frank Caliendo front, I highly recommend checking out his website, frankcaliendo.com, as it has lots of great video, including the segments we've done for the NFL Sunday Pregame Show on Fox. I would also suggest going to YouTube and punching up his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, as it's one of the best stand-up segments I've ever seen on network TV.
In other news, catch me at the Comedy Forum this weekend in St. Louis or next week at The Improv in Washington, D.C. with Frank. The Chicago Improv shows fell through for the first week of May, but has been replaced with a week at the Fort Lauderdale Improv. I'm headlining the Thursday show and will be with Frank over the weekend.
I promise baseball posts are just about to happen around here on a regular basis. I really mean it.
Fantasy Baseball Tips
I have been playing in fantasy leagues for the past 10 years and have been pretty successful winning about half the leagues I've been involved in. Last year, I could not rise above second all year, as one of our readers, Brent Everson had the best fantasy team I've ever competed against. I thought it would be illuminating to pick his brain about how he goes about running a fantasy team.
Scott: Where do you live and what is your profession?
Brent: I grew up in a small town called Valley City, North Dakota. I work in Fargo, ND for Microsoft supporting a financial software package.
Scott: What was the key to your fantasy success in 2005?
Scott: Do you have a basic strategy when drafting?
Brent: I like to draft durable, young guys when possible. For instance, our first pick last year was Tejada, because he was still relatively young and has a habit of playing 162 games/year. How can you go wrong? In the later rounds you can definitely take a few more chances, especially in a league like this where pickups are a free for all.
The afforementioned spreadsheets focus on guys that will give good overall value in as many categories as possible, keeping relative value because of the position they play in mind as well.
I also think it's important to not just take the next guy off the list on your spreadsheet. Look at the top 10 guys or so and pick the guy that is the biggest lock out of the bunch since you probably won't get them in the next round. For instance, last year for our second pick we took Miguel Cabrera even though it was about 10 spots earlier than he was projected. We knew he wouldn't fall to our next pick and thought he was the safest guy available so we nabbed him.
Scott: How long have you been playing fantasy baseball?
Brent: I have been playing a 5X5 money league since 2002, and I was in a free Sandbox league with some work guys from '99-'01.
Scott: Who is your favorite team and why?
Brent: I've been an Angels fan since I was 6 years old. I moved from Satan's team (the Yankees) to the Angels in 1982 when they signed my favorite player at the time, Reggie Jackson. Thank goodness I didn't know anything about loyalty back then, I don't think I could have lived with myself being a Yankee fan.
Scott: Which type of style do you like to play in fantasy baseball: SABR, 5x5,
Brent: I started playing fantasy baseball in a 5X5 format and not league exclusive, and since you always remember your first, that what I'm partial to. I do despise the average category, since a guy like Ichiro can be considered more valuable in average than a guy like Pujols. In my mind, the best case scenario for a league would have OBP, R, RBI, SB, HR, W, S, ERA, WHIP, and Ks. I enjoy overall stats leagues because that's what I'm used to, and I think they're less work. I do enjoy the ability to change the lineup daily and to be able to pickup players at will. Daily to me is actually easier than weekly because it becomes a routine. (take a shower, brush your teeth, set your lineup, etc)
Scott: What specific things do you remember about last year's juiceblog.com league?
Brent: Last year was a fun fantasy year, highlighted by the final day where we started every pitcher we could get our hands on because we wanted to catch the guys ahead of us in the wins category. Worked out pretty well.
The year was definitely not without faults, though. Here are some examples:
1. Drafted the wrong Luis Gonzalez.
2. Dropped Utley because he was getting sat occasionally against RIGHTIES in favor of Polanco. We knew he was a stud, just didn't want to wait for them to possibly trade Placido and waste a spot on our lineup. oooooops
3. Dropped the oft injured Geoff Jenkins, right before he went on his summer long tear of all tears.
Scott's Postnote: Finding out that Brent has a team partner and uses spreadsheets to help plot things out, definitely made me feel better about my feeble attempts at trying to catch him in 2005. I'm a solo guy and the only spreadsheets I have any experience with are one's located in the pages of Swank magazine. I should add that I met Brent at a comedy show recently and he's a really good guy, which dissipated much of the anger I had built up for him. (It could be said I'm a bit too competitive.) Considering that Darrin Erstad is from nearby Jamestown, North Dakota, I thought that might be why he was such a big Angels fan, but Brent claims that his love of the team came back in 1982. Hopefully, you gained some insight into what one fanatical fantasy basebll player does to be successful. Good luck to everyone who signed up for thejuiceblog.com fantasy leagues, even though I hope to crush you all. Now I need to get back to my um, spreadsheets.
Since everyone enjoyed the last one -- and the winner is Ken Arneson, not that I'm biased that he runs the site ... -- how about another?
Your assignment is to listen to this week's BP Radio. Sure, I know you were going to do that anyway, but go with it. You'll notice that Brad is doing a lot more production work to BP Radio, including new "bumpers." Bumpers are the intro/outro work that helps make a show's transitions a bit more smooth and fun.
In addition to the new opening, we have two bumpers in there this week. They're short, hopefully witty, and help anchor the theme or mission of the show in the listeners mind. Your assignment is to write a bumper. Did I mention they're short - under 50 words and 25 is better.
The best ones *will* be produced and one of those will win an appearance on BP Radio for its writer. Please, I don't want to put Ken on the radio, so enter early and often.
Reviews: Writing the Unwritten
One of the best things about having a radio show is getting on publishers' lists. I seldom do written reviews, but there are two books that I feel are worth commenting on: Baseball Between the Numbers by the writers of Baseball Prospectus and The Book by Mitchel Lichtman, Tom Tango, and Andy Dolphin.
Okay, stop -- there's already a conflict here, right? BP puts out a book and I'm sure to give it a good review. Not so fast, my friend. I had almost nothing to do with this book and have no financial stake in it at all.
Let's start with BBTN. It's a very solid book, organized to be read in chunks. I think the structure of the book, broken down into "innings" with "three outs" (chapters), is a gimmick that doesn't really work. What counts though is the content, not the structure. There, the authors hit a home run. The book is well done, complete, and for the most part, easy to understand. The book falters when it gets too chart- or math-heavy, but we'll discuss that more later. Sometimes BBTN gets a bit wordy or fails to come to a real conclusion, but like the best of BP writing, it's always thought provoking.
The book, when first discussed, sounded like an update to one of my favorites, Tom House and Craig Wright's The Diamond Appraised. That book is referenced a couple times, but it isn't really along those lines. Instead, BBTN recalls another of my favorite books, Bernard Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Given that editor Jonah Keri is a financial writer by day, that might come as little surprise -- but he's never read ARWDWS! Now that's a shocker. BBTN, at its best, does what Random Walk did -- questions prevailing wisdom with entertaining and enlightening anecdotes, providing enough evidence for most and whetting the appetite for those who want more.
The book is not an introduction to performance analysis. It could be subtitled "Sabermetrics 201" rather than the problematic subtitle it has now, "Why Everything You Know About Baseball is Wrong." It requires a basic knowledge of the game, and at the very least, a solid read of the introduction. If a reader comes to BBTN after the gateway drug of Rob Neyer, Moneyball, or BP itself, they'll have a better understanding of what awaits them. This book is recommended highly.
But what if "Sabermetrics 201" isn't enough? What if reading BBTN leaves the reader wanting more -- much more -- and wanting to roll their own stats? That's where The Book comes in. If details are what you want, you'll get them in spades reading Lichtman, Tango, and Dolphin's work. Written with an almost unheard-of level of depth and expertise, The Book is more like "Sabermetrics 401," or even a grad level course. There's an unbelievable wealth of information on topics here, if only you can get to it. Most of the content is significantly above my head, and the math loses me at even the most basic levels.
The authors weren't looking to write an accessible bestseller with The Book. Instead, it's more like a record of what they've learned. For someone like me who writes a trivial column that's old news the same day, I admire someone who can put something so solid down with every inch of evidence. Beyond the heavy math, the writing is pretty dry, more like a textbook than a baseball book. But again, that's what the authors intended -- it isn't a bug, it's a feature.
My one complaint with the book -- or is it The Book? -- is that I didn't feel like it gave me conclusions. Often, all the evidence is laid out and the authors either feel things are self-evident with so much proof or that they leave it open, letting those readers that can grasp the material reach their own conclusion. Asking the authors to bring it down a notch is counterproductive; these guys do what they do and are among the best in their niche. It just reminds me of the theme of Gary Huckabay's essay in BP 2006: The lack of accessibility is one reason why analysts like Lichtman and Tango are, unfortunately, still on the outside.
Both books are good reads and well worth the time and effort, not to mention your money. Instead of being Moneyball, these books reach for a higher level. Both should be essential reference works for any serious baseball analyst or high-minded fan, alongside Total Baseball, The Diamond Appraised, and full sets of Abstracts and BP annuals. I'm still hoping that someone writes "Sabermetrics 101," the book that takes performance analysis to the masses in a clear, easy-to-read way, along the lines of Moneyball, but without the controversy. There's a bestseller out there, waiting to be written -- and a book I hope to read, maybe next year.
The Juice Blog's Fantasy League Number 2
In case you missed the first sign-up, I've opened up a second Fantasy Baseball Challenge for readers of The Juice. The live draft will take place on March 28 at 10:30 EST. (Sorry to those of you on the east coast, but this was the only time I had available.)
This league is a rotissiere model, with the same categories as League No. 1: OBP, SLG, R, RBI, W, S, WHIP, ERA.
Sign up by going to Yahoo! Sports' free fantasy baseball section.
League ID: 259627
Fantasy Baseball Challenge for Our Readers
I have opened up our second annual Fantasy Baseball Challenge. The name of the league is called Legally Juiced? It's a 16 team league. SABR-type stats. (OBP, SLG, R, RBI, W, S, WHIP, ERA) The live draft will happen on Monday March 27 at 8:30 PM EST. If it closes up too fast, I will consider opening more leagues.
I used Yahoo's Free Fantasy Baseball League. http://baseball.fantasysports.yahoo.com/b1/244994
League ID: 244994 Password: thejuice
I will be on the road all weekend, so I won't be able to get back to any questions or opening up a second league until Monday. Sorry.
Oh and by the way, I sit atop the NCAA Tourney after the first day, getting 15 out of 16 right. Of course, since none of my final 4 teams played on Thursday, it doesn't mean a lot.
Schizo Scott on Media Wars, WBC, NCAA, and AI
I'm a grown man. I should be above it. But I just love when media figures take each other on like professional wrestlers.
If you haven't paid attention, Keith Olbermann has spent the past couple of years trying to get under Bill O'Reilly's very thin skin -- and it has worked. The latest incident had a caller to the "The Factor" radio show mention Olbermann's name, which caused O'Reilly to go off. The coffee-cup peddler finished by saying that he would contact the local authorities to tell them he was being harassed by the caller. He also mentioned that Fox security would get a hold of the guy (which they subsequently did).
So I guess the rule is that if a radio talk show host doesn't like the caller, it's harassment and should be dealt with by some security goon. Nice. We Report. You Decide. Well I've decided this is disgusting behavior by O'Reilly. Billy should stick to his TV show where he can control the content. Oh yeah -- he gives the guest the last word. My bad.
In another media slugfest, Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony morning shows have been going at it. O&A have hated Stern ever since Infinity Broadcasting (both shows were with the company at the time) told them they couldn't bring up Stern's name on-air, because Howard didn't want them to. (Mr. Freedom of speech?)
Now the word is that Opie and Anthony might become CBS/Infinity's new choice to fill the Howard Stern void. While I'm not sure how their XM show will be cut down for the broadcast airwaves, it's a lot better choice than hiring David Lee Roth. Both O&A and Howard discuss each other on their shows now, generally making for good radio.
Let me say that the best show on satellite radio is the one that follows O&A, Ron and Fez. Host Ron Bennington is the smartest, funniest host I've heard in this type of format, plus sidekick Fez Whatley is a great sidekick for him to play off.
I know that many here have enjoyed the World Baseball Classic, but it just hasn't captured me. I can't wait for the real game to begin in a couple of weeks. I actually think that the WBC has taken away from the natural build-up for Opening Day that Spring Training usually brings. I was for the idea, initially, but I would shed no tears if it ends after its initial year.
One thing that kills the WBC is that college basketball is at its peak when it's going on. By the way, I hate my tourney bracket picks this year and there is no way I'm ever going to win. I know I will be branded as a homer, but I can honestly say I've never chosen Iowa to make it past the second round since 1987. You can't pick Connecticut and Duke for the final game and expect to win the pool. Here is my Final Four:
Memphis over Iowa
National Champ: Connecticut
The Old Adventures of New Christine is the worst name ever for a sitcom. It's confusing, hard to say, plus the word Old is not something you want to put in your title when you're trying reach younger viewers. Ah, network programmers. What a bunch of net-wits.
American Idol is down to three people who can win the thing: Chris, Paris, and Katherine. Paris is a little dynamo and could wind up the best in a few years, but she's 17 and I think she's a bit too immature to win the whole thing. It's a lot of fun to watch Chris belt out his album rock, week after week, but I just don't see the Idol part of his talent. If the show was called Rock God he would have already wrapped it up, but I just don't think he's teenie-bopper material. Katherine was great last night and has a real charm to her. She has the pipes and it doesn't hurt that she is sexy as hell. Take her out of the hippie dress from last night and put her in something a bit slinkier and that could be the final step on her way to being the newest AI.
Previewing the NCAA Tourney
With the NCAA tourney just around the corner, thejuiceblog.com wants to help you with your bracket(s). Below are rankings of the best and worst seedings, plus the most interesting stories going into the first weekend of play. After reading this, let me recommend going to deadspin.com to further your education. The site's grand poobah, Will Leitch, may be a complete Illinois homer (I bet he wore his hair like Lou Henson when he was in school at Champaign), but his site has the most interesting previews on each school.
While I offer up no guarantees, I have won a few pools in the past, and would have won another if Villanova hadn't shot 89 percent in the first half versus Georgetown in '85.
Why Air Force deserves to be in over Cincinnati.
The Bearcats are the superior team with the superior schedule, but the Falcons win all of the other categories. The biggest one is that Air Force is filled with student-athletes, where Cincy has been the biggest academic embarrassment in college basketball over the past 10 years. There has been talk that the NCAA would begin to do something about this issue. Maybe academics have become a new feature of the selection committee's process for teams on the bubble. Personally, I could vote against Cincinnati just because I've never liked the Reds and the only good three-way is with two women, not a version of chili. The biggest argument for the Bearcats is how Seton Hall could be a 10 seed, while a fellow Big East team winds up outside the loop.
I'm not saying the committe did a good job, though.
The regions are very unbalanced, with the Oakland bracket filled with a bunch of inexperienced, physically soft teams. The Minneapolis bracket is the least talented region. The Atlanta bracket is the best from 1-10. In the D.C. bracket, Connecticut is one of four teams that have won a national championship during the past 10 years, and Illinois was the runner-up last year.
Are the top-two teams the best bet?
If you look at the past few years, one of the consensus top-two favorites have won the tourney. Last year, they even matched up in the final game (UNC and Illinois). Connecticut is clearly the best team this year, but they've gone through the motions a lot and are in arguably the toughest bracket. Duke is good, but has a freshman point guard and some defensive deficiencies. For the first time in a while, I would take the field over getting to pick between just two teams. I'm going with Connecticut, but I'm not as confident about them making it there as usual.
Best first round match-ups.
Thursday: UW-Milwaukee vs. Oklahoma. The Sooners have been a disappointment all season, as most experts had them rated in the preseason top 10. The Panthers were the Cinderella team of 2005 and should have beaten Notre Dame in the first round of the 2003 tourney. UWM's pressing style has been kept by new coach Rob Jeter, which, combined with so much experience returing from last year, makes them a real bitch to face. Remember, OU--only a month from spring football practice.
Friday: Northern Iowa vs. Georgetown. Both teams play solid defense and run very structured offenses, but the athletic abilities of the players are extremely different. What helps the Panthers make up for this deficiency is that all five starters can shoot the three, plus they are the more veteran team.
Who is the best bet in a 5 vs. 12 match-up?
One of the most consistent occurences in the opening round is that at least one 5-seed will beat a 12-seed. Considering how most 5-seeds in 2006 should be lower, it would set up for a good opportunity to add more to the list, but the 12 seeds are that strong this year. I would take Kent State to beat Washington or Nevada, but they were unlucky in catching a strong Pittsburgh team. I would lean towards Texas A&M, as they are streaking, have one of the best young coaches in the nation (Gillespie), and Boeheim has a history of losing to lower seeds early.
Best second round potential match-ups.
Pittsburgh vs. Kansas. I'm not sure these teams are the two best in the Oakland region. The Panthers have the most veteran point, Carl Krauser, in the West, while the Jayhawks have been the hottest team in the region since February.
West Virginia vs. Iowa. Disappointed to see these two squads facing each other in round two, as I thought both of them had the chance to be Elite Eight teams if put in the right bracket. The Mountaineers shoot the three as well as anyone, with five of their six main players shooting above 30 percent. The Hawkeyes don't look athletic, but that is somewhat deceptive, as they are one of the best defensive teams in the field. They also have four seniors and two juniors in their top-six rotation. This game will feature players so pigmentally challenged that you will think for a minute it's a scrimmage game being run by the ghost of Adolph Rupp.
Michigan State vs. North Carolina. Are you kidding me? This is a second round match-up? The Spartans have been a huge disappointment this year, given their top-five preseason ranking, but they still have as good of a threesome (Davis, Agee, Brown) as anyone in the tourney. North Carolina is really young and really good. Hansborough versus Davis should be a great match-up, with both of them likely ending up as lottery picks this summer. The difference will come at the point, as the Spartans' Neitzel dribbles the ball waaay too much, keeping his team's offensive efficency from reaching its potential. Izzo versus Williams in the second round; good stuff.
Top No. 1 Seed: Connecticut
Top No. 2 Seed: Texas
Top No. 3 Seed: North Carolina
Top No. 4 Seed: Illinois
Top No. 5 Seed: Pittsburgh
Top No. 6 Seed: West Virginia
Top No. 7 Seed: Georgetown
Top No. 8 Seed: George Washington
Top No. 9 Seed: UAB
Top No. 10 Seed: Northern Iowa
Top No. 11 Seed: Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Top No. 12 Seed: Texas A&M
Top No. 13 Seed: Pacific
Top No. 14 Seed: Xavier
Top No. 15 Seed: Davidson
Top No. 16 Seed: Oral Roberts
Two facts that jump out from these ratings is that the Big East is really good, and that the SEC is really overrated. Judging how a conference does overall involves noting how many teams outperformed their seedings. We will see.
Sure, I'm sitting next to him as I type this, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo has done the best job explaining the gyroball that I've seen. His article is a great piece of baseball detective work and includes video of both Daisuke Matsuzaka and Joey Niezer.
Finding out that Matsuzaka doesn't throw the gyro is a bit disheartening, but I still think he'd succeed. Maybe he and I could get together and give him the pitch he wants.
To all those new people that might be checking out the Toaster for the first time, hope you like. Be sure to check out the other great blogs here, featuring the work of a team of great writers that write not only here, but places like Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus.
2006 NCAA Tourney Pool
Here is your chance to have bragging rights at the thejuiceblog.com, so go to Yahoo Sports and sign-up. Last year I finished second, so I'm hoping I can move up a slot.
The Group ID: 79444
Bill James in Esquire Magazine
In the April edition of Esquire, Chris Jones (who replaced Charles Pierce at the magazine) has an interesting piece on Bill James. Jones gives as good of a behind-the-scenes look at the enigmatic sabermetrician as I've read. In the story, Jones reveals many tidbits, including facts like Norman Mailer was one of James' first 75 Baseball Abstract subscribers, his other passion is true crime, and that he has 150 new stats that he has devised but still hasn't found the time to write about.
In case you aren't a reader of Esquire, you are missing out, as it's the best monthly magazine on my list. Esquire's content falls somewhere between The New Yorker and Maxim, with its writing being of the former's quality without the pretension while providing provacative photos of beautiful women, like the latter -- only these women are not posed for a 14-year-old boy's taste.
The April cover-shot of Rosario Dawson is a picture I can't seem to take my eyes off. Unlike every fashion magazine, which sports an anorexic model, this issue of Esquire portrays Dawson at her most thick and juicy. I'm not trying to say she is just a piece of meat, but if she was on the menu at Morton's, there would be a line around the block to get in. Sadly, the magazine does have a short piece celebrating the female body part of the month, the hipbone. I've been with women who are so skinny that they've had exposed hipbones, and let me say that I'm no fan, as bodies rubbing together are not aided by this protrusion. I doubt it's a coincidence that the piece was written by a woman, as other women are the biggest perpetuators of skinny chic. Give me Rosario Dawson, with her Vanessa Del Rio charms.
The stars of Esquire are the writers. The best pop-culture columnist, Chuck Klosterman, weighs in every issue. Writers-at-large Tom Junod, Tom Chiarella, Mike Sager, Cal Fussman, Scott Raab, and A.J. Jacobs are tops in their field. I should note that Raab was my freshman rhetoric teacher at the University of Iowa, but I can guarantee you that I'm not biased toward him. He was a lousy teacher who would give better grades out to 18-year-old sorority girls than other students who had a talent for writing. (Hm, who do you think I'm talking about?) He was your typical graduate student in the Writer's Workshop, filled with an unhealthy sense of self-worth. I really wanted to hate Raab when he was hired at Esquire, but the guy is very talented. Between 2002 and 2004, I doubt there was a better feature writer than Raab.
While I appreciate the opportunities that the web offers for writers like myself, the death of newspapers and magazines is far away, as most good bloggers only make money if we get hired by the print media. While it's easier to click around the web reading for pleasure, I highly recommend checking out Esquire, as it features the quality and storytelling generally missing from the Net.
I'm no poet and I'm no comedy writer, nor am I some great stylist or critic, so I'll aim lower. Since everyone here seems to like our music posts and loves baseball, let's combine them -- what band is like a baseball player?
For instance, Bob Hamelin is Hootie & The Blowfish. Came on really strong, never reached the same heights and couldn't be accepted for what he was.
Best answer, as selected by me, will win a signed book, of some sort. I have some of mine and some others we've gotten at the radio station. We'll work something out.
Who Is Your Least Favorite MLB Player?
I'm going to be appearing on AOL's Sports Bloggers on Thursday and I need your help. I was asked to get from The Juice readers who they thought was their least favorite player in baseball. Just to make it interesting, Barry Bonds should not be placed on your list. Maybe he won't be a first ballot hall of famer now, but in the dickhead HOF, Bonds sits on a throne next to Ty Cobb. Please fill-in the comments section or send an email to email@example.com, so your vote can be counted.
A follow-up with the Last Comic Standing auditions. The weather was awful, but should make for good television. There were hundreds of people who showed up and the judges ended up looking at somewhere between 100 and 150 people. Out of this group around 20 people were chosen for the Chicago finals, which took place in front of a live audience at Zanies Comedy Club later that night. I felt good about being chosen for the finals and had as good of a set as I felt I could manage, when considering each of us were given just 2 minutes a piece to perform.
There are 5 other sites that the producers of LCS are visiting and only 3 people from this Chi-town audition were picked. Since I didn't see the other participants, as Zanies is a small club and we were whisked back up to the green room after being on stage, I can't say if I felt the result was fair or unfair. I will say that I thought the production team which ran the auditions did as good of job as possible, under some very difficult logistics. (Weather, small space of the club, many mentally unstable people in line trying to obtain their show-biz break.)
Last Comic Standing will begin to air sometime in June (I think). I have no idea if I will appear in any of the episodes, but they did shoot a decent amount of footage and interviewed me a couple of times. While I would have liked to have been chosen, I felt the process was a lot better than most who discuss Last Comic Standing generally say. As I was mentioning in the green room to a few of the younger comics that were nervously waiting to hit the stage, it's a reality TV show, first and foremost, so the producers need to look at more factors than just who is the funniest person. Demographics factor in, especially after the template that American Idol has set.
Hopefully, for those of you that were curious, this answers some of your questions. It should be interesting seeing how the show changes with Anthony Clark taking over the host duties from Jay Mohr. I thought Mohr was great in the host role and while I'm not a huge fan of Clark, I never thought Last Comic Standing would turn out to be good televsion and I was wrong about that.
One final Chicago comedy note. My week at the Improv in Chicago has been pushed back, as the club fell behind schedule on the building front. My guess is that I will be there sometime in the Fall.
Statement on Bonds
I'm already getting scads of emails on the topic, so I've decided to simply issue a statement here rather than repeat myself:
I have not yet read Game of Shadows, the anticipated book from Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. I did read today's excerpt in Sports Illustrated and was impressed, though not surprised, with the amount of detail the authors acquired. I look forward to reading the book and will likely discuss it at some point at Baseball Prospectus.
If true, the accusations and evidence are certainly damning, though they do not change anything I have stated before in regard to steroids, Bonds, or the effect of performance-enhancing drugs on the game. I would advise everyone to read Keith Scherer's work on the legal ramifications of the BALCO case in The Juice. Those statements were prescient and powerful.
I am available to discuss this in the media. For interview scheduling, contact me through the Baseball Prospectus website.
Anna Benson's Cy Young Award Presentation
While some of you are wasting your time reading the Sporting News or Baseball Prospectus to preview the 2006 season, I've went to the ultimate sports bible, FHM Magazine to get my MLB info. In their latest issue they have a segment on how Johan Santana plays a lot of baseball video games, because he says it helps him "learn what hitting zones hitters have the most trouble in." So kids, don't go outside and play catch and stop sitting in front of the TV watching Tom Emanski instruction tapes, as what you need to win a Cy Young is some quality time on your Gameboy.
If you need some extra motivation to win the Cy Young, check out Anna Benson's comments in the same FHM issue. Anna promised her husband, uber-dork Kris Benson a special treat if he wins the award. Anna waxed poetic to her husband this romantic promise.
If you win (Cy Young award) you can do anything to me. That's at least 50 times up the ass for real.So once again, kids, let me stress it's important to start playing baseball video games, so you can be good enough to win a Cy Young award. I mean with Anna Benson's math, Roger Clemens should be pounding more tail than Rocco Siffredi. I wonder if Anna Benson has some kind of sex points scale, kind of like at Chuck-E-Cheese, where if you accumulate enough points you get a prize off of one of the shelves. Of course, on the top shelf is playing BUTTMAN 50 times.
In a related story, the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine features an article on Utah Jazz star Andre Kirilenko. In it, Kirlilenko's wife, Masha, says she has allowed him to sleep with one groupie per season. While many have made a lot of this deal, in the NBA a player only sleeping with one groupie a year is considered celibate. I'm sure even A.C. Green would have no problem with this arrangement.
While all the media outlets covered Barry Bonds dressing up as Paula Abdul, one important thing was left out about this story. Later that day, Bonds was offered to go on a dinner date with Eddie Murphy. Now that's an episode of Barry's new reality show I want to see.
The New BP Is Here!
My copy showed up at my doorstep about noon, a couple hours after I got quizzed on it by a national radio show. I'm digging through it just like you are, but want to hear your thoughts.
So it's like an open thread.
(REMINDER: It's okay to be critical. It's not okay to be an asshole. I'm the only one that gets to do that here. And Scott.)
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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