Tuesday, March 31, 2009

College coaches and commitment to their schools

John Chaney at Temple. Lute Olson at Arizona. Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Jim Calhoun at UConn. Most great college basketball head coaches are historically considered synonymous with their school, spending the length of their career zenith under that one roof and leaving only via retirement. Even Bob Knight at Indiana and Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV departed their schools after many years due to scandal, rather than what leads coaches away from their alma maters now.

Tony Bennett takes over for his father at Washington State… and three years later jumps ship to coach at Virginia. John Calipari, the morally questionable college coach of great success at UMass who recently built a juggernaut program at Memphis… has now agreed to coach at Kentucky. When the Kentucky opening emerged, the media immediately jumped on UCLA coach Ben Howland (who himself took that job after jumping from Pittsburgh) to ask if HE would jump ship to take the Kentucky job.

College coaches used to seek glory by presiding over a winning program, and some still do. Despite his meandering career as a successful coach, it doesn’t appear Rick Pitino is leaving his successful Louisville program anytime soon (though I suppose we can check back in a year). Roy Williams jumped ship from his successful career at Kansas only because his current job at North Carolina, his alma mater, was his dream job. He’s not going anywhere. I mentioned Boeheim, Coach K and Calhoun.

But still we see a growing trend of hit and run repair jobs at college programs by successful coaches who commit long enough to recruit and coach middling teams into winners, and either get quickly bored or see fool’s gold when a high profile coaching opening comes along. My hometown school, UNLV, has a basketball coach who was the king of hit and run program building: Lon Kruger. Krueger presided over rebuilds in: Texas Pan-American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and now (following an ill-advised NBA coaching job with the Atlanta Hawks) UNLV. Despite watching the Runnin’ Rebels stumble into the NIT this season, Kruger had to fend off rumors that he considered jumping ship to yet another program. To his credit, this was his 5th season at UNLV, the 2nd longest tenure he’s spent at any one program in his 23 year coaching career (to his six years in Florida), so maybe he’s settled down. Maybe.

How must a recruit feel about signing up to play for a coach that might not be around next season if an attractive coaching vacancy opens up? How do the kids at Memphis feel about their coach jumping ship? How about the Cougs at Washington State? No, I’m not talking about the one and done high school superstars who jerk around in class and score 20 points a game as hired guns until they can enter the NBA draft… but the honest to goodness talents a step or two down that are probably going to get an actual degree and stay all four years. I know 18 year old kids recruited for their basketball skills aren’t the most forward thinking, prescient individuals, and that in itself is probably why a Calipari, a Billy Donovan or Lon Kruger can get away with promises of commitment in exchange for the player’s four year commitment despite the coach’s track record for jumping ship.

If not for that, I would think the careers of these coaches would eventually dry up, as top recruits looking for a commitment wouldn’t commit to a non-committal coach, and recruiting top talent is (sadly) a large part of the battle in NCAA Division I college basketball. But since most kids are just looking for a place to play, where they have a chance to get significant minutes in important games and maybe play on a winning team, and many top recruits aren’t planning to commit for more than 1-2 years anyway, the trend of big coach hopping will likely continue in earnest unabated, since kids will continue to place their trust in these hired guns posing as mentors.

The Green Death was ironically the death of this girl’s soccer coach


The e-mail linked above got Michael Kinahan, a girl's soccer coach, forced out of his job as a hard-nosed coach of a team he dubbed "Green Death", before the season began. Key text from the e-mail below:

The kids will run, they will fall, get bumps, bruises and even bleed a little. Big deal, it’s good for them (but I do hope the other team is the one bleeding). If the refs can’t handle a little criticism, then they should turn in their whistle. The sooner they figure out how to make a decision and live with the consequences the better. My heckling of the refs is actually helping them develop as people. The political correctness police are not welcome on my sidelines. America’s youth is becoming fat, lazy and non-competitive because competition is viewed as “bad”. I argue that competition is good and is important to the evolution of our species and our survival in what has become an increasingly competitive global economy and dangerous world. Second place trophies are nothing to be proud of as they serve only as a reminder that you missed your goal; their only useful purpose is as an inspiration to do that next set of reps. Do you go to a job interview and not care about winning? Don’t animals eat what they kill (and yes, someone actually kills the meat we eat too – it isn’t grown in plastic wrap)? And speaking of meat, I expect that the ladies be put on a diet of fish, undercooked red meat and lots of veggies. No junk food. Protein shakes are encouraged, and while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy. And at the risk of stating the obvious, blue slushies are for winners.

These are my views and not necessarily the views of the league (but they should be). I recognize that my school of thought may be an ideological shift from conventional norms. But it is imperative that we all fight the good fight, get involved now and resist the urge to become sweat-xedo-wearing yuppies who sit on the sidelines in their LL Bean chairs sipping mocha-latte-half-caf-chinos while discussing reality TV and home decorating with other feeble-minded folks. I want to hear cheering, I want to hear encouragement, I want to get the team pumped up at each and every game and know they are playing for something.

I think a) he took it too far without any sort of wink/nudge and b) the sort of soft, comfort-zone driven mentality that led to the hearty backlash is one of the reasons why the United States gets their asses kicked at World Cup soccer every four years.

(No, I’m not counting the fledgling women’s world cup because the U.S. is the only country whose nation’s girls and women seriously participate in the sport en masse, and therefore own a massive advantage. The WWC is a glorified exhibition designed to put the U.S. women over and will be for at least the next 20 years.)

Also, the guy may have helped his case with a few extra paragraph breaks. Holy manifesto, Batman.

The Detroit Tigers have a conspiracy against old, bad baseball players

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Tigers released designated hitter Gary Sheffield this morning, a startling development since the team had already guaranteed him $14 million this season. It's the second-highest amount owed to a released player in club history, behind Damion Easley's $14.3 million in 2003.

“It’s one of those things where you move on, you know?” Sheffield said, remaining remarkably composed as he discussed the move. “I was surprised. I thought I was getting ready for the season. I never thought that I wasn’t going to be playing with the Detroit Tigers this year. It’s probably a blessing.”

Dombrowski confirmed that the decision means outfielder Marcus Thames will make the team. Thames will likely get a percentage of at-bats as the DH. Manager Jim Leyland can also use Magglio OrdoƱez, Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera at DH, which would allow him to have better defensive teams on certain days.

The Tigers clearly released the struggling Sheffield, who hit .176 in Spring, to better modularize their roster and to fit their overall goal to get younger. Young hitter Jeff Larish is a likely replacement on the 25 man for Sheffield.

Gary Sheffield’s famous quote from 2007 on a perceived MLB preference of Black Latinos over Black Americans:

“What I said is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English going to be coming out. ... (It’s about) being able to tell (Latin players) what to do — being able to control them. Where I’m from, you can’t control us. They have more to lose than we do. You can send them back across the island. You can’t send us back. We’re already here.”

This, rather than his 499 career home runs, could likely be his longest lasting legacy.

Sheffield’s career is likely over, whether he wants it to be or not. Sheffield wants to try and catch on with Tampa Bay’s Rays, which play near his home in Florida, but given they signed Pat Burrell to DH and the rest of their lineup is essentially set, with boatloads of talent waiting in the minors… I’m not sure he’ll find a market for his services near home. Given he flatlined in Spring Training this year and hit 225/326/400 as the full time DH in Detroit last season… I don’t see a market for Sheffield’s services emerging at all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

More on Jeff Clement to AAA

Jeff Clement gets sent to AAA Tacoma for the 3rd straight year, as his catching defense still needs significant work, and it appears the struggles were beginning to affect his hitting. Saberheads wanted Clement to start everyday over ownership darling Kenji Johjima and work out the kinks at the MLB level.

One problem with learning how to catch by playing everyday in MLB is that any problems Clement has with catching (receiving pitches, calling games, setting fielding positions, managing pitchers) also becomes a problem for every pitcher he works with, and for his fellow fielders. This in turn hinders the development process for the team's young pitchers, and can hinder the performance of the veterans in their walk years, which could hurt the team's chances of increasing their trade value for a midseason deal. And this never minds any possible negative effects his struggles have on the team's performance as a whole, though this is generally considered a rebuilding year and the team's ceiling may not be too high.

His bat has potential, but with his catching playing enough games with his head to affect his hitting, better to have him get things back together in a lower pressure environment (Tacoma) than to keep him in the bigs, continue to watch him sputter and end up with a whiter, more talented Miguel Olivo-like head case who needs to get away from Seattle to figure things out. That sort of stuff does leak towards other men on the roster, and you don't want that. Maybe by May, the bat turns around and, even if his catching still isn't quite working, if the team's having problems at 1B or DH, or if Johjima's career fails to reanimate, you can bring him up and give him some sort of everyday role.

A demotion can be good if, while jacking around with his catching in Tacoma, they give him some quality time at 1B, LF, RF or DH. They could prepare him for either a possible conversion away from catcher, or help expand his potential roles so that the Mariners can better find regular lineup time for him.

Or at the least, he mashes in Tacoma and the team finds a trade partner willing to offer some useful talent in return. Teams that could use a catcher that doesn’t suck at hitting include:

- The Padres, because right now they’re planning on playing something called Nick Hundley at catcher every day
- The Astros if Pudge fails to rebound
- The Blue Jays if Rod Barajas flatlines
- The Marlins, who have yet to find a regular catcher that can perform more than a step above useless
- The Phillies if they get nothing out of their old man backstop rotation (Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste)
- Or maybe even the Red Sox if Jason Varitek finally falls apart.

In terms of self-actualizing Jeff Clement, demoting him may not be the optimal move from a philosophical standpoint. But who is to say that this move is permanent? Things can change rapidly in a month in MLB. And even if the 25 year old may not have a future with the Mariners, that’s not to say he can’t help the team by restoring any lost value in Tacoma and delivering some return value in a trade.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The folly of inflated expectations for the Mariners domestic draft picks

Hardcore Mariners fans are dooming and glooming over two pieces of news:

One, via Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times:

Big news out of camp. Moments ago, I spoke to Brandon Morrow after he'd thrown a bullpen session and he told me (and Shannon Drayer and Tim Booth of AP) that he plans to be a full-time closer from now on. Not just this month, not just this season. For good.

"I feel good about it," he said. "I feel back home."

Wow. This is a major development. As if to hammer that home, the M's just released relief pitcher Tyler Walker. Walker had been one of the guys vying for the closer's job.

Apparently, Morrow made the decision more than a week ago.

Two, also via Geoff Baker:

We've been hinting at this for a while now and today, it became official. Mariners catcher Jeff Clement will start this season in Class AAA. He has some defensive issues to work on, notably, his throws to second base. But also his all-around game-calling. He'll get that chance playing every day down in Tacoma. Should spur some season-ticket sales there.

The Mariners bloggers are practically howling over this. After months of verbal fellatio for the job new GM Jack Zduriencik has done to recompose the Mariners roster, making astute pickups and the like... now they have angrily dismissed these two decisions as grave mistakes, with the classic (and at times hysterical) despair of diehard Mariners fans.

However, consider the following:

- Despite some impressive flashes as a starting pitcher, including a no hitter he took into the 8th inning of his first major league start, Brandon Morrow has yet to show that he can handle a regular starting pitcher's workload over a full season, let alone pitch effectively over a full season. Even among the starts he made, Morrow peppered his outings with walks and stretches of hard-hit frustration, plus he frequently struggled to go deep into ballgames and tended to fade quickly as he tired.

- Brandon Morrow is a diabetic. MLB does have a few diabetics, but diabetics who have successfully managed careers as regular starting pitchers include Jason Johnson... and... well, that's it. Yes, the Mariners drafted Morrow with the #5 pick in 2006 knowing he was a diabetic, and knowing he hadn't pitched more than once a week as a starter in college with Cal. The jury was out on whether Brandon Morrow could pitch every five days in MLB without being a liability in any significant way, such as only being a 5 inning starter (overtaxing the bullpen), or a season long workload eventually causing him health problems....

- ... or, to a more game-related extent, being able to keep his walks down and mix his pitches enough not to consistently fool MLB batters. As a reliever, he only had to throw hard and hit the strike zone enough times to get 3-4 batters out, but a starter has to be able to withstand an entire lineup at least three times, without telegraphing his next pitch or tiring to the point of becoming too hittable.

- Morrow's value as a starter is a question mark as a result. However, we know his value as a reliever: he is a lights out flamethrower that most times is unhittable, and a perfect candidate to close. Morrow and the team may have made this decision to maximize his potential value. Yes, top SPs get paid more than top closers, but you also have to consider expected value. Morrow's chances of becoming a quality starter are at this stage fairly remote for all the reasons stated. However, his chances of being a star closer are far higher.

As Brandon Morrow, do you take a longshot at a 10 out of 10 payout, or do you take a very high chance at a 6-8 out of 10 payout?

As the Seattle Mariners, do you take a longshot at developing a guy at a position where he is a huge question mark, or do you put him in a key position where you know he helps you win tight ballgames right now and likely for years to come? Let's say the M's consider dealing him down the road: do you take the risk of diminishing his current value and perhaps seeing a dim chance at ever maximizing his potential trade value... or do you take his current high value as a reliever and try to maximize that?

- Blogger and fan anger stems not so much from the prospects themselves, as many top prospects never reach their absolute ceiling, but from the fact that these were the team's top domestic draft picks in 2005 and 2006. Clement was picked 3rd overall in 2005 and Morrow was selected 5th overall in 2006. Compounding Morrow's selection is the fact that the Mariners passed on local UW star Tim Lincecum, who would go out to become arguably the top pitcher in the NL for the San Francisco Giants... and on North Carolina product Andrew Miller, who was arguably the top prospect in the 2006 draft but was passed over due to signability concerns.

Jeff Clement still has a long way to go with his defensive mechanics and game calling as a catcher. He has hit fairly well in AAA, though his hot bat has yet to translate to the big league level, and word on the street is that he has yet to make some necessary adjustments as a hitter that the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League has allowed him to overlook. His demotion to AAA isn't necessarily to work on his hitting (though he can certainly learn a few things), but to work on his defense, which presumably he'll get a chance to do full time for the first time since the low minors (he has shared catching duties with Rob Johnson the last couple season in Tacoma).


Many fans inflated their expectations for these guys and how the team has handled them, because they were top picks and because top picks such as Evan Longoria, Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Justin Verlander panned out and quickly became top contributors for their teams. There's a bit of fan-related envy of those other top picks, and fans want to see the Mariners top picks materialize into similar stars. Thus, outrage results when personnel moves that otherwise may be for the best indicate that they won't become those stars.

Bill Bavasi and his top assistants made a lot of personnel mistakes. But scouting director Bob Fontaine worked magic in the middle rounds to draft several potentially useful parts, plus international scouting director Bob Engle has brought in hordes of Latin American talent such as Felix Hernandez, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt (well, before he got lazy) and many other top prospects currently working their way up the system.

The Bavasi era is over, and the healthy thing to do would be to make peace with the fact that some of the team's previous personnel moves and draft picks just aren't going to pan out as hoped. But Mariners fans were bred on misanthropy, with 22 losing seasons in 32 years, and since misanthropy comes most comfortably, the reaction is understandable.

But nothing has been destroyed. Jack Zduriencik has made many smart decisions in rebuilding this team, and the new front office didn't suddenly turn stupid before they made these moves.

Jeff Clement could still become a regular catcher, or a contributor at a different position. He could be traded for contributing talent. Brandon Morrow can be a lights out closer, and even if you say he has no future here, many teams still place significant value in a 98 mph flamethrower that can mow down hitters in the 9th and could offer the Mariners contributing talent. And that belies the point that, once his forearm strain heals, Brandon Morrow can help the Mariners right now. As a starter, there was doubt he could have helped the team in that role at all over the long term.

You may not like these two personnel moves, but they are neither inherently horrible moves given the context, nor have they ruined any serious long term prospects for the team's future. The team is on the same track to rebuilding for the future as they have always been... and as they are currently composed, given the AL West's weakness they could even contend this season with a little good fortune. Relax.

Anxiety caused by a team's fear of their pitcher sucking

The Detroit Tigers place embattled pitcher Dontrelle Willis on the 15 day disabled list with "an anxiety disorder".

But Willis said he has been feeling well on and off the mound.

“I have no idea, but (the doctors) didn’t like what they saw in the blood,” Willis said. “This is not something where I’m too amped up and I don’t know where I’m at, and I’m running sprints up and down the parking lot.”

General manager Dave Dombrowski said he could not provide details about Willis’ medical condition or treatment because of privacy regulations.

There is nothing physically, mentally or emotionally wrong with Dontrelle Willis, and if anything it's a surprise that the team would make up such a dubious, character disparaging ailment as an anxiety disorder, especially when Dontrelle and team sources gave absolutely no indication that he was emotionally distressed, as an excuse to place him on the 15 day DL. Dontrelle's remark about the team telling him they "didn’t like what they saw in the blood" confirms this is a phantom excuse to stash the struggling Willis, who got demoted last year due to getting hammered by AL hitting and had struggled during this spring training, on the DL.

An unspoken secret in MLB is that teams will often sneak a struggling veteran onto the DL with a phantom injury, such as a strained forearm/back/calf/face. They can't or don't want to send the player to the minors, so instead they make up an injury (that can't be confirmed or denied due to HIPAA medical privacy laws) for the player and place that player on the DL until the player stops sucking or they need that player to replace a departed or (actually) injured player.

MLB generally looks the other way because a) who cares and b) this allows teams to field better teams, which helps improve the overall MLB product.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A look at the 2009 NCAA Tournament South region

South region:
(1) North Carolina vs (16) Radford
(8) LSU vs (9) Butler
(5) Illinois vs (12) Western Kentucky
(4) Gonzaga vs (13) Akron
(6) Arizona State vs (11) Temple
(3) Syracuse vs (14) Stephen F Austin
(7) Clemson vs (10) Michigan
(2) Oklahoma vs (15) Morgan State

Thanks to some treacherous underseeding, worthy top seed North Carolina could run into trouble in the Sweet Sixteen: Gonzaga deserves a 2 seed, but instead gets a 4, setting up a Sweet Sixteen tilt with Tyler Hansbrough. The Zags could be the toughest challenge the Tarheels see before the Final Four, because of the other end of the bracket is packed with mis-seed 4 and 5 seeds.

Butler is seeding fine but LSU is a bit overseeded at 8. Expect Butler to pull off another quality 1st round victory before succumbing to the Tarheels.

Oklahoma and Gonzaga should switch seeds, because the Sooners' 2 seed is an absolute gift. Too bad it slots them with two other similarly capable teams in Arizona State (a bit underseeded) and Syracuse (a bit overseeded). Clemson can also put up a fight if they hold serve against Michigan. That "gift" may have earned Oklahomaa spot in a 2nd and 3rd round dogfight for the right to job in the Elite Eight.

Of course, as always, all teams involved have to get there first, and anything can happen.

A look at the 2009 NCAA Tournament East region

East region:
(1) Pittsburgh vs (16) East Tennessee State
(8) Oklahoma State vs (9) Tennessee
(5) Florida State vs (12) Wisconsin
(4) Xavier vs (13) Portland State
(6) UCLA vs (11) Va. Commonwealth
(3) Villanova vs (14) American
(7) Texas vs (10) Minnesota
(2) Duke vs (15) Binghamton


Piitsburgh gets the biggest gift in the tournament: arguably the easiest regional en route to the Elite Eight. Nobody else in their end of the bracket deserves better than a 6 seed, and that's an overseeded Xavier team at 4.

Pitt's 16 seed matchup is probably the most talented 16 seed in East Tennessee State. Binghamton and ETSU should swap seeds.

Or maybe ETSU can swap with Portland State, bafflingly overseeded at 13. The end result is a far easier 1st round game than Xavier deserves.

Oklahoma State and Tennessee are fine where they are, but the 5-12 matchup features two teams that deserved 8-9 seeds in Florida State and Wisconsin. The Seminoles are way overseeded at 5 and Wisconsin got the shaft in their 12 seed. Believe it or not, expect the Badgers to provide the offense in this matchup, and probably score the "upset".

More inequities abound on the other side, though not as bad. UCLA gets seeded a bit low at 6: their potent offense probably provides the biggest obstacle for Duke (who is seeded fine) in their end of the regional. Good luck with that, Virginia Commonwealth.

Villanova is seeded very high at 3: they're more of a low 5 and you could argue they're a 6. American ends up with an easier 1st round matchup than a 14 seed should expect and should make a game of it.

But really, Pittsburgh has a easy shot at the Elite Eight, and while Duke or UCLA might give them a fight, they have an inside track on a spot in the Final Four thanks to this easy slate.

Of course, as always, all teams involved have to get there first, and anything can happen.

A look at the 2009 NCAA Tournament West region

West Regional:
(1) Connecticut vs (16) Chattanooga
(8) BYU vs (9) Texas A&M
(5) Purdue vs (12) Northern Iowa
(4) Washington vs (13) Mississippi State
(6) Marquette vs (11) Utah State
(3) Missouri vs (14) Cornell
(7) California vs (10) Maryland
(2) Memphis vs (15) CSU Northridge

Strangely enough, this subregional has some good fits in the seeding. UConn is definitely a 1 seed, and the 6-11, 4-13 and 3-14 matchups fit with where I'd generally have those teams seeded.

However, it has some bad fits. BYU, likely gerrymandered to avoid playing them on Sunday per their Mormon code, gets an 8 seed while they probably deserved a 5 or 6. Thankfully, they get a gift 9 seed in Texas A&M, whose inclusion in the tourney is a bit dubious, not to mention their seeding is a bit high... but a win means getting force-fed to UConn in round two. Purdue is also a bit underseeded at 5, and the likely end result is a close 2nd round matchup with Washington that could end in a quick demise for the Big Ten champs.

Maryland's inclusion is borderline, and a 10 seed is a bit too rewarding, but it's not a huge deal. This bracket features two of my dubious three at-large teams (Maryland and Texas A&M, with the 3rd being Boston College).

Memphis could have made an argument for a 1 seed, making them probably the toughest 2 seed in the field. Their stifling defense makes them a commanding favorite to get to the Elite Eight, and the likely matchup with UConn is like a Final Four matchup one round early. Memphis could well be the favorite in such a game.

Of course, as always, all teams involved have to get there first, and anything can happen. But this is not a particularly strong region, and UConn and Memphis could likely see minimal resistance en route to an Elite Eight clash.

A look at the 2009 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region

Midwest Region:
(1) Louisville vs (16) winner of Alabama State vs Morehead State
(8) Ohio State vs (9) Siena
(5) Utah vs (12) Arizona
(4) Wake Forest vs (13) Cleveland State
(3) Kansas vs (14) North Dakota State
(6) West Virginia vs (11) Dayton
(7) Boston College vs (10) USC
(2) Michigan State vs (15) Robert Morris

Louisville's gift for winning the big east is a fairly weak subregional. Siena is probably an 11 seed: the 8-9 and 5-12 matchups, in fact, could be flip flopped entirely. Utah and Ohio State both fit better as 7-8 seeds, while Arizona, despite their late collapse and a general consensus that they were the "last" at-large team, makes a case for a 9 due to their general resilience over a strong schedule, plus their top player, Jordan Hill, is a prime talent.

You could make an argument for Chattanooga in the play-in game instead of Morehead State, but it's a minor gripe as Morehead's probably the 3rd weakest team in the 65 team field. They will likely win Tuesday's play-in game and give Louisville next to no challenge two days later.

Siena got overseeded, and while their reward is a lower seeded opponent, Ohio State is a bad fit that will outplay them on both ends of the floor.

Wake Forest, a former #1 ranked team in 2009, is the only team Louisville will see before the Elite Eight that can give them a serious challenge.

However, the other subregion is pretty top-heavy thanks to West Virginia's underseeding at 6: they really are a 3, and the likely 2nd round matchup with Kansas (which is seeded just right as a 3) will be a close one.

As mentioned, Boston College's inclusion in this tournament was a mistake in light of San Diego State's exclusion, and they are way overseeded at 7. Ironically, their opponent, USC, was considered a non-factor that many believed would not have made the tournament had they not won the Pac 10, but their record and schedule not only makes them an 8 seed, but they are very likely to knock off BC in the 1st round, as they are far superior defensively.

But aside from that, Michigan State had an easy sub-regional, and should only run into trouble once they reach the Sweet Sixteen and have to play one of Kansas or West Virginia, as both teams have superior offensive weapons and could outplay them on a neutral floor.

Any of these three power teams, Michigan State, West Virginia or Kansas, can bring more offense than Louisville, and whether they can upend the Cardinals will come down to how well they pierce Louisville's top flight defense.

Of course, as always, all teams involved have to get there first, and anything can happen.

Where I would have (roughly) seeded them

1. North Carolina, Connecticut, Memphis, Louisville
2. Pittsburgh, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan State
3. Missouri, West Virginia, Kansas, Purdue
4. UCLA, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Wake Forest
5. Arizona State, Washington, Villanova, BYU
6. Clemson, Marquette, Illinois, Xavier
7. Utah, California, Texas, Ohio State
8. USC, Florida State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State
9. Tennessee, San Diego State, Butler, Minnesota
10. Arizona, Michigan, LSU, Utah State
11. Texas A&M, Maryland, Temple, Siena
12. Va. Commonwealth, Mississippi State, Cleveland State, Dayton
13. North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, Akron
14. Stephen F Austin, Cornell, American, CSU Northridge
15. Portland State, E. Tennessee State, Robert Morris, Morgan State
16. Binghamton, Radford, Morehead State, Alabama State, Chattanooga
Play In: Alabama State vs Chattanooga

Obviously, teams could shift up and down as needed to make the regions work: conference mates should not meet before a regional final (Elite Eight), and BYU cannot play on Sundays.

As you noticed, I replaced Boston College with San Diego State. Of the aforementioned at-large bubble teams, BC is probably the most grossly underqualified.

Of course, as I mentioned before, if I had my way I would actually have LSU play Texas A&M in Dayton for the last at-large spot and a 10 seed matchup with the best 7 seed possible. I would just let all the bottom teams in since they all have winning records. I would bump Maryland entirely.

NCAA Tournament: Questionable bubble teams, and a notable tournament snub

The annual bubble complaints get stemmed by the rash of weekend tournament upsets that got some otherwise disposable teams in: USC, Cleveland State, Mississippi State.

Usually, the bubble teams land in the 12 seed, but with the rash of tourney upsets, it appears the bubble starts at 11, fairly high. That said, these teams got in despite questionable track records:

Boston College: Sagarin ranks their schedule 53rd (40ish is bubble worthy) while ranking them 48th overall, behind six teams that didn't get in. Pomeroy also has their schedule strength 53rd, but ranks them even lower in 59th, way below the 40ish bubble territory. They're obviously getting Big East brownie points from the committee, but they built up a 22-10 record against cupcake garbage like Loyola-MD, Bryant, South Carolina Upstate (?!), Maine and Sacred Heart. That ain't exactly Gonzaga's non-conference schedule: Pomeroy rated their non-conference state a dismal 244th.

They did go 9-7 in a tough ACC, though an ACC that features five good teams and six meh ones, and even a couple of the good ones (Wake Forest, Florida State) may be a touch overrated. And those 9 wins came mostly against the meh teams: Before sneaking in upset wins over Duke and Florida State this past month, they were 1-4 against the top 25. Sagarin had them 4-7 against his top 50. The ACC already had five bids and probably didn't need a 6th or 7th. This probably wouldn't have happened had Miami-Fla, a better ACC team, not melted down the stretch.

Texas A&M: They finished in a clowncar tie for 4th in a weaker Big 12 with a 9-7 conference record. Oklahoma and Texas got in worse overall records, so it appears that's the committee's justification. But they built that 23-9 record on a cupcake non-conference schedule that Pomeroy has rated 261st.

The Aggies loaded up on wins off Arkansas Pine Bluff, curent 14 seed Stephen F Austin, Jackson State, UNC Wilmington, SMU, Sam Houston State, Rice, McNeese State and North Dakota. They also suffered an early season 11 point loss to Tulsa. They faced a stretch through January with four top 25 teams, beat the one pretender among them in Baylor, and dropped games to the other three. They closed the season with their only big win, against eventual Big 12 champ Missouri, before jobbing to lowly Texas Tech in the 1st round of the Big 12 Tournament. They finished the regular season hot with six straight wins, but aside from Missouri and Texas, their opponents in that slate featured Big 12 bottom feeders. Their resume is a fake, albeit one that the committee bought into.

Sagarin ranks their overall schedule 67th. They did finish a respectable 6-7 against Sagarin's Top 50, to their credit (his ratings have eight Big 12 teams in his top 50, though five of the teams are in the bottom half). They only played four games against his top 25 and won one of them. Pomeroy has them off the bubble at 52nd and Sagarin has them on the dim end of the bubble at 46th. The power ratings tell the story, while it appears the committee bought into the surface numbers. If they went 20-12 against a real non-con schedule, they probably deserve to get in more than they do with this schedule and a 23-9 record.

Maryland: Like BC, they're getting an ACC bonus that they arguably don't deserve, though they did play a much tougher schedule. However, their ACC record is worse at 7-9, and BC's inclusion reeks of a logistical committee excuse to include Maryland. Pomeroy had their strength of schedule 124th, while ranking them 54th, well below bubble territory.

Sagarin did have Maryland's SoS 23rd, but they went 5-11 vs his top 50 and 3-7 vs his top 25, leaving them 44th in his ratings. That's bubble territory, but also behind several teams that didn't get in, including one I'll mention below.

Maryland also went 2-7 against the official Top 25, their only wins being an early season rout of Michigan State and a late season upset against UNC. They also lost to unranked Virginia, Boston College, Florida State, Miami-Fla and current 15 seed Morgan State. The Terps lost 4 of their last 6 in the regular season and scored an uncomfortably tight ACC tournament win over lowly NC State before their upset win over Wake Forest preceded their eventual elimination to ACC Champion Duke. They had some big wins, but the resume just has too many holes.

At the same time, there weren't a ton of other alternatives. Georgetown and Note Dame had stronger schedules, but also had 14 losses and near-.500 records, which would have sent everyone howling had they gotten in. Plus, Notre Dame finished 8-10 in the Big East, below undeserving Providence, who was rightfully left out at 10-8. And we can argue that the Big East got more than enough from the selection committee. However, there was ONE team that deserved to get in yet got the snub:

San Diego State: The Mountain West probably deserves more credit than it gets as a mid-major, and Sagarin agrees, rating SDSU 39th and probably in over some of the teams. While the MWC has a weak bottom end, UNLV and New Mexico are NIT-level teams, and of course BYU and Utah are top 30 squads. SDSU was not far behind tourney entries BYU and Utah in terms of performance level, though their schedule was understandably light, going 2-7 against Sagarin's top 50.

Their three home losses came against tourney teams Arizona State and BYU, plus a hot St. Mary's team with their star Patty Mills at full strength. They held serve with an 11-5 MWC record, about what you'd expect from the conference's 3rd best team with two competitive squads beneath them. They knocked off tourney host UNLV and top seed BYU in the MWC Tournament before falling in a close final to Utah. The high altitude of the Rocky Mountains makes most MWC venues a difficult place to play no matter who you are, so road losses to Wyoming and New Mexico aren't as embarrassing as they seem.

Perhaps those conference road losses and their lack of big wins on the schedule did them in according to the committee. But SDSU didn't have the glaring holes in their track record that the above teams had.

Actually, now that I look at the bubble teams... maybe it's a good thing a lot of upsets happened, because chances are if that hadn't happened, a lot of undeserving teams, such as the hollow St. Mary's or a weaker Providence squad, might have gotten in... though without the upsets, they probably could have snuck Notre Dame in, record and all, as long as they got San Diego State in as well.

Initial NCAA Tournament thoughts

- Two helpful barometers based on complex computer rankings:

1) Ken Pomeroy's rankings, probably the closest thing college basketball has to baseball-style Pythagorean judgment, i.e. weighing a team based on its actual performance level.

2) Jeff Sagarin's ratings, derived from a convoluted analysis of statistical performance and the strength of teams that you won and lost to.

- St. Mary's did not deserve to get in, Patty Mills or not, and it showed when he went down with an injury and the team just fell apart. Statistically, Sagarin had them below the bubble (pre-upsets) and Pomeroy had them nowhere in sight of the bubble. The pop bloggers can stop complaining.

26 wins or not, St. Mary's has to learn that you can't pump your schedule full of easy opponents, win a bunch of games and expect the NCAA to care when you don't earn an automatic bid. Quantity does not equal quality. Gonzaga has learned this and gets respect despite playing in a weak conference thanks to a litany of big non-conference foes, many of which Gonzaga beats.

- I want to howl and scream, but when you look at the power ratings, all three Big East #1 seeds have a real case for a 1 seed. UConn is a definite 1-seed. Pittsburgh MIGHT be a 2 (and Pomeroy thinks they are) but they were the top team in the country for a spell, and Sagarin says they're a 1. And while Louisville is ideally a high 2 seed, they DID win the Big East tournament, and to win a tournament with two other one seeds involved has to count. It's top heavy and lacks equity, but I can't really get mad about it. All those teams could destroy 90% of the field. They are legit 1-seeds.

And yes, UNC is a legit 1-seed too and had a real case to play the play-in winner, but I can see Louisville getting that for winning the Big East. So enjoy it while you can, Tyler Hansbrough, because the NBA is going to collectively mug you and take your wallet once you go pro.

Much more later.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Where experience doesn't pay

Several name QBs in the NFL with a track record of experience don't have jobs right now, guys like Jeff Garcia, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich and Chicago's favorite instant turnover device, Rex Grossman. Meanwhile, inexperienced no names like J.T. O'Sullivan and Dan Orlovsky have jobs with teams.

First of all, this belies a common paradox: young players under contract, such as backup QBs, often remain under team control for a few years at a low cost. Even if their contracts expire, they usually hit a period of restricted free agency, where they can't leave without costing their new team draft picks, before they become unrestricted free agents and can demand large sums of money. Young players are easier for teams to keep around because they're cheap and easy to retain.

So you usually see points in the offseason where veteran QBs don't have jobs, but inexperienced young backup QBs do. That's just the way contracts shake out. Veterans' contracts expire and teams aren't quick to snap them up, especially when they already have a capable starter and 2-3 backups in house.

Tucker speculates that teams don't want to bring in a proven starter, make him a backup and risk creating a clubhouse cancer situation where the veteran gets disgruntled with his backup role.

I'm not sure that's the case with these QBs.

- Garcia took on backup roles with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay without much fuss, and that he eventually ended up starting was purely a product of circumstance: the guys ahead of him got injured or didn't perform.
- Leftwich took on a backup role in Pittsburgh and Atlanta without much fuss after washing out with Jacksonville.
- Boller and Grossman are at this point washouts and would probably have no problem as backups. Boller, in fact, has spent most of his career as a backup or transition starter at QB.

The only player among that list that might pitch a hissy over holding a clipboard on Sunday is Grossman, and honestly he's probably the least qualified of all of them given his interception fetish.

Now, this assumes that these guys won't just sign late in the offseason as many veterans do, but even then it holds: The real reason teams aren't in a hurry to sign veterans is because veterans cost more money than younger players, and every NFL team is under a salary cap.

Most teams have their starting spots accounted for, and the offseason began this way. Few teams had a need for a starting QB, and basically all of them quickly met the need (with the notable exception of the Jets, who watched Brett Favre retire for the umpteenth time). All these other teams have incumbent QBs, and to upgrade not only gets into the issue of unceremoniously dumping the incumbent, but now you have to add several million dollars to a payroll that likely is already fairly close to the salary cap, which hinders your ability to build an effective 53 man roster.

Now, why go through that just to add marginal depth at QB from a middling veteran, when you could just add a young QB at the league minimum instead? Even if he could be all that much worse than the veteran, the guy's probably going to spend most of the year on the bench or running the practice squad offense anyway.

So really, the Garcias and Bollers and Grossmans of the world aren't a victim of a complacent status quo, but caught in the no man's land of NFL economics. That gets into the whole salary cap debate, and that's where I'm going to leave this subject behind.

(Don't worry. They'll land somewhere before August.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Intentional Walkoff

The following video is from the independent Atlantic League in 2007 and features an intentional walk gone wrong. Needless to say, pitcher Lance Odom hasn't pitched since this fateful year.

Since the names sound similar, I must clarify that Lance Odom is not to be confused with John Odom, the pitcher that I previously mentioned had died from drugs after getting traded for ten wooden bats. The pitcher in this video is a completely different pitcher.

However, a fun fact: In the linked John Odom entry, I mentioned having two high school classmates who toiled in the minors and never made it. One of them, Russ Cleveland, is the catcher in this video.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jarrod Washburn is already in midseason form

And it's only Spring Training!

Washburn allowed one hit in his first three innings using nothing but fastballs. He started mixing in his other pitches and the results were a little different.

“I don’t think it was as bad as it looked,” Washburn said. “It still wasn’t one of my better games. Things like this get you ready for the season when you have to make adjustments on the fly and figure out what is wrong. It gets your mind working again.”

Melting down in the final innings of a start? Brushing your eventual poor outing off with incidental excuses? Jarrod Washburn is just one catcher scapegoating from being ready to go, and Opening Day is still three weeks away!

Well, then again, Kenji Johjima IS playing for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. Perhaps that too will fall into place once he returns.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Time Out, T.O.

So it appears the Dallas Cowboys had enough of star receiver Terrell Owens, releasing him this morning. Really, between Jerry Jones and Tony Romo, there was more than enough drama on the Cowboys clown car before you added in the always contentious Owens. Now T.O. goes looking for his 4th team, needing to convince a team that either a) his talent warrants his perpetual drama-friendly ways or that b) he will change for real and THIS TIME he will mellow out and produce consistently without causing any trouble… just like he said he would with the Eagles and Cowboys.
In seeking a new employer, two things work against T.O. besides the whole ‘looking for his 4th team after getting run from three others’ thing:

His age. T.O. is 35, not a young talent and not in the prime of his career. If anything, his talent combined with the perpetual interruptions to his career as a result of the continued spats of drama are the only reasons he hasn’t washed out of the league by now. The interruptions and physical talent have preserved his health. Most receivers call it a career by 32 or 33, whether they want to or not, due to wear, tear and the aging process. T.O., meanwhile, can still help a team, but at 35 his skills may begin to diminish, if they haven’t already.

One indication that they have….

Dropped passes. A big problem that plagues T.O. on the field comes from the catchable passes he drops each game. Whether they come from lapses in focus or diminishing physical abilities, T.O. is not a guaranteed top talent these days as a result. He is very talented, of course, but his penchant for dropping passes is a huge flaw that kills drives.

Three to five years ago, T.O. could head to a new team under the pretense of being a prime talent at wide receiver. However, now he is merely a good but flawed receiver with significant baggage. Already there is a sizable list of teams that have confirmed they want nothing to do with T.O.

Such is the peril of producing drama where ever you go. It doesn’t hurt you in your 20’s when you have top talent. But it does hurt you later in your career when your skills diminish and you need to find someone willing to employ you despite your growing pool of flaws.

Now... who out there needs a wide receiver? How badly?

0-4 IN SUPER BOWLS EDIT: Apparently, the Buffalo Bills do.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Two brief examples of Chicken Little Sports Media and a Lack of Foresight In the Name of Sensationalism

1. Manny Ramirez has re-signed with the Dodgers. Despite the media hysteria when both sides balked at the other’s respective offer, there was never any doubt he would re-sign.

Where else was he going to go? Who else was going to pay more money for a productive but aging slugger with no defensive range in LF? Who had the money? Who among those who had the money was going to scrap their incumbent lineup and game plan in the middle of Spring Training to pay out the nose for a defensive liability with attitude issues, just for the added offense that may or may not be in age-related decline? Where else was Manny shopping his trade besides Los Angeles?

Ned Colletti loves veteran stars and the Dodgers have plenty of money to burn. The two sides were close on a deal before the media hysteria. There was no way Manny was going anywhere else.

2. Kurt Warner re-signed with the Arizona Cardinals, and despite the media hysteria when Warner turned down the Cards’ initial offer and entertained an offer from the San Francisco 49ers, there was never any real doubt that he would return.

The Cards just came off an incredible Super Bowl run and still retain many of the parts they would need to repeat that run. The 49ers, despite some solid player development by new coach Mike Singletary, have a long way to go before they field a competitive unit. Why would Warner, chasing one more ring before retirement, jump ship from a team that can get him there and take a couple extra million dollars just to run for his life around a patchwork, fledgling offensive unit, on a team that could go 8-8 with some breaks? And who else needs a starting quarterback besides the 49ers and Cardinals? Pretty much every team has the position accounted for. The two sides were close on a deal before Warner went fishing, the only real difference being Warner wanting an extra year, and the Cards’ only other alternative at QB was young party animal Matt Leinart, who is rapidly approaching Bust status. There was no way a deal wasn’t getting done.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Spirit of Ten Broken Bats

Recall the story of John Odom, the Golden Baseball League player who was traded for ten maple bats during last season.

However, little was said of the following: Odom died in November from a drug overdose.

Some investigative reporting discovers that while Odom claimed to the media that the trade was no big deal, it broke him up inside.

It became a big joke last May when word of the unusual swap jumped off the sports pages, and the former San Francisco Giants prospect went from pitcher to punch line.

"People are like, 'I'd kill myself' and stuff," Odom said at the time, dismissing any such notion.

Three weeks after the trade, he abruptly left the team.

Six months after the trade, he was dead.

The medical examiner said Odom's death in Georgia on Nov. 5 at age 26 was an accidental overdose from heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol.

The life of a pro baseball prospect is rough. I had two high school classmates who took a stab at the pros. Neither one made it to a regular role past A ball. My father had a friend whose son pitched for years in the independent leagues and with the Brewers organization. After years of AA and indy ball, he got just a handful of games in AAA before washing out.

Lost in the feel good stories of baseball are the stories of thousands of prospects and minor leaguers who never get beyond the obscurity of half empty baseball fields out in the middle of nowhere, playing other teams from the middle of nowhere. Nobody comes to these teams with visions of being a Class A tomato can with a 6.00 ERA, spending their careers in dusty farm towns being the backup catcher behind prospect after prospect on the depth chart, or finishing a futile minor league career by hitting .184 in the Southern League.

The harsh reality of life in minor league baseball for a washed up prospect was hard enough for John Odom, never minding his regular battles with depression, drugs and alcohol. But then he got traded for ten maple bats, and everyone in America found out. He got singled out from a crowd of nobodies for exactly the wrong reason.

"He came in and said, 'Skip, I'm going home. I just can't take it. I've got some things to take care of. I've got to get my life straightened out,'" (manager Dan) Shwam recalled.

And with that, Odom disappeared.

Several baseball people tried calling him, but got no answer.

In January, Shwam called Odom's cell phone, seeing if he wanted to pitch this year for a team in Alexandria, La., but got only his voice mail. A few weeks later, Shwam learned that Odom was dead.

"I was shocked," he said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me."

Let them play... IN the NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament Play-In Game, designed to reward one of two 16th seeded small school conference champions with a win, can also be interpreted as a slap in the face. After the formation of another conference left the NCAA with 65 entries into the tournament, the NCAA elected not to scrap one of the at-large bids, but to make the two lowest schools play a neutral-site game two days before the start of the tournament to determine which team got to face the top #1 seed.

In effect, the NCAA tells two small conference champions that giving another spot to a middling power conference team is more important than allowing both champions to experience playing the actual NCAA Tournament, and that the two teams must scrap like dogs in a fieldhouse in Dayton, OH for the right to get force fed to the #1 team in the country.

There are three arguments for the Play-In game:

It allows one of the small schools the chance to win a tournament game. Granted, if both teams played #1 seeds as 16 seeds, both would probably lose, and badly. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed in Men’s Division I NCAA Tournament history, and only a handful of 16 seeds in the last 20+ years have even come close. Meanwhile, having two of the 16 seeds play it out in Dayton gives one of them a chance to salvage some dignity with a postseason win before their likely loss on Thursday.

It improves the level of competition in the main tournament by supplanting one of the smaller schools with a better at-large team. Two of the smallest schools play it out in Dayton, one disappears and the other gets fed to the Minotaur. In return, a middling but competitive power conference team, or a worthy mid-major team, gets a 12 seed and strengthens the tournament field.

It decreases the chance of soiling the tournament field by letting in a conference champ with a losing record. As recently as last year with 20-loss Coppin State, we’ve seen lesser teams make surprising runs in their conference tournament to steal the conference’s tournament bid. Sometimes these teams have losing records, and nothing weakens the credibility of a championship tournament like one of the representatives sporting a sub-.500 record. However, usually only one of the 16 seeds holds a weak record, and putting that team in the Play-In Game gives the NCAA a chance to clean that team off the books by having them face a better 16 seed. Typically, the losing team’s run ends in Dayton and the other 16 seed, typically sporting a winning record, moves ahead to the tournament.

Marginally speaking, the difference in overall competition with an extra at-large team is negligible. Teams that win the play-in game typically gain little consolation from the victory, especially after the subsequent blowout loss to the #1 seed two days later. But one can make an argument that the Thursday field of 64 ought not to include a team with a losing record.

Here’s a suggestion: Keep the play-in game, but don’t necessarily match up the 16 seeds. If any conference champion has a losing record, then sure, have that losing team play another 16 seed in Dayton, with the winner facing the #1 seed. But if all conference champions have a winning record, then have the play-in game feature the last two at-large teams. The winner gets the #12 seed, and a chance to play the strongest #5 seed in the field on Thursday. And the folks in Dayton get the added bonus of seeing power conference teams or a quality mid-major… rather than two random small conference teams.

Sure, the #5 seed gets a bit of an advantage in facing a team that had to play an extra game. But conference champs often have to play extra games to get in: they had to win a tournament. And conference champs compose about half of the field, many of which are the lowest seeds, since those consist of weaker conference champs that wouldn't have otherwise qualified.

So the top 3-4 seeds already face this advantage of playing a team that had to win 3-4 games over the last few days to get in. The 5 seed would simply possess a similar advantage. Keep in mind that most at-large play-in winners would not come off of a full slate of conference tournament games, as they didn’t win their conference tournaments. This play-in would likely feature teams that took 1st or 2nd round conference tournament exits.

If anything, small conference schools ought to get the chance to experience the real NCAA Tournament… rather than have to earn their way in just days after allegedly earning their way in by winning their conference tournament.