Thursday, January 11, 2007

CRAZY EIGHTS

I have no desire to break-out sixteen distinct, intelligent and cogent thoughts, so today we play crazy eights:

1. CLOSER
That is closer, as in the bullpen; not closer, as in the Nine Inch Nails tune Closer (to God). Got it? Anyway, the debate that Joel Pineiro can close will not be solved until April at the earliest continues to rage unabated. I found some interesting analysis by ESPN.com Fantasy Guru Eric Karabell:

Pineiro does throw hard, he's still relatively young (only 28), and even if there was room for him in the rotation, does he deserve the chance? He's failed as a starter the last two seasons, and in a sweet pitcher's park and sans pressure. You know who else couldn't hack it every fifth day in nice ballparks? Eric Gagne couldn't stick in the Dodgers' top five, and was moved to the bullpen by necessity, because of health and the fact he was out of chances to start. Joe Nathan was hardly a giant when the Giants asked him to start. He stunk. Then he had one terrific middle relief season there and got thrown into the Francisco Liriano-Boof Bonser-A.J. Pierzynski deal and has been arguably baseball's best closer since then. Nobody thought moving these guys to the ninth inning would make them Cy Young caliber.

Not that anyone believes the Father of Superman (he pronounces his first name as Joe-ell and Supes Dad was Jor-El (remember, Big Old Marlon Brando all tricked-out as the Kryptonian Wonder Dad at the Fortress of Solitude?) is going to walk in and be Gagne or Nathan, but the point is that closer is a difficult position to predict. Keith Foulke was Plan A and no one thought that in 2005-6 he would lose his mojo after his dominating 2004 post-season. Craig Hansen was Plan B, but who would believe his super slider would all-of-a-sudden turn to slop? Plan C was probably Mike Timlin, but he looks like he is slowly winding-down in his forties. Since Plan D, Edgar Martinez, will be in Pawtucket next season, why not take a chance? Grab J.C. Romero, get Brendan Donnelly on the cheap, throw Julian Tavarez back there, and take a flyer on Pineiro. Did anyone truly believe Todd Jones would save 40 games after his disastrous run in 2003 and 2004? Imagine having Derek Turnbow go from All-Star to minor-league chum in front of your eyes (or worse, imagine him on your fantasy baseball team last year!). As Shakespeare would say if he were a fan of Rounders instead of a drama queen: The closer is but a maddening demon wrought upon the psyche of the general manager.

2. CHARR-JAHHS
Suddenly, this is Mike Martz and the Greatest Show on Turf against the sad-sack 2001 Patriots again. The Chargers have great individual performers on offense and defense, and they skated through the regular season at 14-2. There are two things I can identify as significant working against them:
a. Philip Rivers is making his first post-season start; and
b. Marty Schottenheimer may not have the sense to wing the ball around if the Pats can stop LDT early and often in the game, instead going back to the running game again and again in an attempt to try to get the offense in gear.

Both of these points feed off of each other. Really, the Rivers situation is no big deal if he comes out and makes a few plays early on. If I were a Chargers fan I would worry that if Rivers has some jitters and rust early on (which is nothing indicative of anything, Brady usually sails a few throws early on when the adrenaline is up or if they are coming off a bye) Marty will take the ball out of his hands and force-feed Tomlinson into the line, whether the running game is effective or not.

When the Pats got blown out of the water last year by San Diego the game was close early on. Then, without Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi (Remember, the Pats took on San Diego with Chad Brown and Monty Beisel in the middle), and Duane Big Play (for the opposition) Starks out on one of the corners the Pats defense fell apart. Something tells me this unit may be better prepared for the Chargers offensive onslaught. Also, say what you will about the San Diego defense, but it is hardly the Baltimore Ravens D. The Pats should put up 24 to 31 points. The defense shutting down LDT and making Marty sweat bullets will be the determining factor of the game.

3. I LOVE THOSE ANGRY TROLLS

There are very few GREAT football sites. Let me pass on a few that most people already know, and then I will get into the crème-de-la-crème:
a. Football Outsiders: Just a couple of guys at the cutting edge of football statistics. Think of them as the Bill James of Football
b. ProFootballTalk: Breaking news, witty analysis, humorous use of photoshop, and a swagger that allows them to say what they want, when they want, about who they want without fear. The best site for NFL rumors and side-splitting humor.
c. ProFootballWeekly: As they proudly proclaim on their website: the Best Coverage in the NFL. Like the publication, the website delivers.
However, my personal favorite is without doubt Cold Hard Football Facts:
The self-proclaimed Angry Trolls love football, beer, and rubbing the cold hard football facts in the faces of anyone who makes ridiculous comments without the proper back-up. Case in point, check out this recent Patriots-related snippet titled: You read it here first: the Deion Branch debate is officially over (disclaimer: these guys are locals, so when their facts back the dominance of the Patriots it is a double-whammy):

Deion Branch had a perfectly nondescript Deion Branch season with Seattle this
year. He caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 4 TDs. Had he played the first
two games, he might have equaled his career high with 5 TD receptions, which he
set last year with New England. Branch did, however, set one personal record in
Seattle: He caught 2 TDs in a game for the first and only time in his
career. Up in Boston, a city which includes some of the least
knowledgeable sportswriters and personalities in the history of
post-Neanderthalic man, Branch has been made out to be some sort of gridiron
centaur – half Don Hutson, half Jerry Rice – a receiving god who instantly makes
a team better the moment he steps on the field. They insist that the Patriots
should have broken the bank for a guy who held out and refused to honor the last
year of his contract. These people are morons. In Seattle, meanwhile, fans
have a different view of things. They’re wondering how their team got hosed so
bad for a decent mid-tier receiver. The Seahawks handed Branch a $13 million
signing bonus and six-year, $40 million deal – and traded away their No. 1 draft
pick in April – for a guy who’s now caught 18 TDs in five NFL seasons.
When you look at the numbers and the dollars, it's clear that Seattle
wildly overpaid for Branch. He’s certainly been a bit better in the playoffs:
Branch has surpassed the 100-yard mark four times in nine postseason games. This
includes an 11-catch, 133-yard MVP effort in Super Bowl XXXIX with New
England. But even in the playoffs, he’s reached the end zone
just twice through the air: once in Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina and once
in the 2004 AFC title game against Pittsburgh (he scored a second TD that day on
a reverse). Otherwise, he’s been shut out. He was shut out again
yesterday, in Seattle’s improbable 21-20 win over Dallas. Branch caught four
passes for a pedestrian 48 yards and 0 TDs. He may yet light it up
in the postseason, carry Seattle to the Super Bowl and otherwise justify the
resources the Seahawks expended to get him. But we’re not counting on
it.
For the record:
The Patriots went 10-6 last year with Branch and scored 23.7 PPG.
The Patriots went 12-4 this year without Branch and scored 24.1 PPG.
The Seahawks went 13-3 last year without Branch and scored 28.2
PPG.
The Seahawks went 9-7 this year with Branch and scored 20.9 PPG.
Branch seems like a good guy who did what any of us would do: He
parlayed a Super Bowl MVP award into big-time money. More power to him. We're
effin' jealous. But the only other party to make out on the deal was the
one who refused to pay him – let alone trade away their first pick in the draft
to get him. The Seattle organization will wish it had that pick once April
rolls around. Most fans already do.
Let me just say that I am jealous of the Angry Trolls for writing this while I have been thinking about it and too stupid to research and write it.

4. BOLD PATRIOTS PREDICTION FOR 2007

Patriots inside linebacker depth chart looks something like this:
Tedy Bruschi
Junior Seau
London Fletcher
Eric Alexander
Undrafted Rookie/Special Team Player to Be Named Later

5. As Nancy Kerrigan Once Said: WHY?!?!?!?!?!?

I think one reason I am so anxious about the Patriots this post-season is the prospect of nothing in the local sports world filling space between the end of football and March Madness & baseball in April but the hapless Bruins and sickly Celtics.
a. The Bruins are tough to figure out. They have likable players: Muzz. Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Timmy Thomas, Brad Stuart, et al, but they cannot seem to get any consistent scoring or defense to save their lives. Which is to say nothing of their ability to fall apart at the drop of a hat in the third period. Twice in the past week I have turned the game off assured of a victory only to find out they suffered humiliating collapses in the third period.
b. The Celtics have been ravaged by injuries, and since this was to be a building year while integrating Gerald Green into the offense, I think it is best to get all tradeable parts healthy and get the kids some experience for next year. Big Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, and Gerald Green have all looked good. Delonte West has been horrible. Rajon Rondo and Bassy Telfair were brought in to run a running offense, but Doc Rivers has the team setting up the offense in the half-court even though there is no evidence of any plays ever run out of the half-court set. The Celtics were hopefully going to package Wally, Tony Allen, and Delonte into a package for anyone who can score on the frontline, but with Allen injuring his ankle right when his trade value was peaking and Wally looking like Raef LaFrenz Jr. gimping around the court, the Celts seem stuck. One big guy who can either play D or score would do wonders for this team.

6. NFL MVP

Seriously, are the Colts that different a team with Bob Sanders at safety? Quick stat: with Sanders in the line-up, opposing offenses average 141 yards rushing per game against the Colts defense.
Well, that is pretty ordinary.
Without Sanders in the line-up, opposing offenses average 175.6 rushing yards per game against the Colts defense.
Well, that is pretty hideous.

That may not seem like much, but if it gets the defense off the field and gives the Colts offense an extra couple possessions per game, it is HUGE. The Patriots were able to run on the Colts. Sanders made his mark making a couple of big stops that set-up third and long situations. That is his secret value to the Colts.

7. ALL IN THE HALL

Nothing gets me as conflicted or raises my ire quite as much as the voting for the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. At times I feel like the Hall needs three tiers: Hall of Legends; Hall of Great; Hall of Very Good. Certain players like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Christy Mathewson need to be separated from the Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin types. Then, there needs to be a place for the mistakes and whiners: Nellie Fox, Tony Perez, Don Drysdale, et al. Three tiers, separate voting for each, and three separate selectors. First tier of Very Good is for the writers. Second tier eligibility is available for consideration 10 years after election (to let emotion run its course). A special committee of veterans, writers, etc would handle this tier. Finally, the final tier of Greatness. This would have a special committee made up of myself, Bill James, and Bob Costas. We would select up to 20 players for this tier, choosing players only eligible after being in the second-tier for 10 years. This way, we keep everyone happy.

Sidenote: I came up with this idea as a teenager in the late 80s and actually divided all the players into the three categories. Yes, I was that popular with the ladies. Nothing wows them like talking Baseball History let me tell you!

8. GREENIE BONDS

Has there ever been more joyous news on a winter morning than that news had leaked that Barry Bonds had failed an amphetamines test last season and had the team-first spirit to blame it on another teammate. According to the story:

Sweeney learned of the Bonds' positive test from Gene Orza, chief operating
officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Orza told Sweeney, the
paper said, that he should remove any troublesome substances from his locker and
should not share said substances. Sweeney said there was nothing of concern in
his locker, according to the Daily News' sources.
Even better news was the fact that Bonds has not finalized his contract and could still be without a team next year:


The Giants are still working to finalize complicated language in the slugger's
$16 million, one-year contract for next season -- a process that has lasted
almost a month since he agreed to the deal Dec. 7 on the last day of baseball's
winter meetings. The language still being negotiated concerns the left fielder's
compliance with team rules, as well as what would happen if he were to be
indicted or have other legal troubles. Borris has declined to comment on the
negotiations. He didn't immediately return a message from the AP on Wednesday
night.

I am simply giddy with joy! Bring down the cheater.

* * *

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