Thursday, November 25, 2004
Worlds CollidingJohn Bonnes is one of the first bloggers I can remember reading, and though perhaps not directly, his blog, TwinsGeek.com, is one of the reasons why this blog exists. John's blog moved to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website in April, where he provided the same great daily Twins content that he provided before that, but for a much bigger audience. It was, I think, a very important step for the local mainstream media to take, as well as a very good addition to the paper's online baseball coverage.
Sadly, John's final column at StarTribune.com was posted Monday, and his blog has moved back to its old address. I've had the pleasure of hanging out with John several times and I've also spoken to a few other people involved with the Star Tribune, and I always got the sense that the relationship between the paper's "traditional" journalists and John wasn't great. As John said in his "goodbye" column: "The most serious criticism was from journalists who felt that the weblog was an end-around of their union, providing additional sports coverage without paying the dictated wage to a member of the writer's guild."
John is trying to be civil and respectful, of course, but I think what it boils down to is the fact that many journalists, just like people from all sorts of other walks of life, don't take kindly to an "outsider" invading their turf. Unlike some bloggers I know, John was rarely critical of the local media and was never disrespectful to anyone, but the problem goes beyond that. Quite simply, John is just some guy.
He didn't go to journalism school, he didn't spend years covering high school football for a small-town paper so he could work his way up the ranks, he didn't break any big news stories or use any inside sources, and he didn't rely on a paycheck from the newspaper to pay his bills. He is just some guy who likes to write about the Twins and, for whatever reason, there are a lot of people who enjoy reading what he has to say.
The same is true about myself and hundreds of other people out there writing blogs, whether about sports or politics or just random events in life. Just people with voices and keyboards, nothing else. And while there are many members of the mainstream media who react well to this relatively new writing phenomenon, the overwhelming majority have, at the very least, some resentment.
As a 21-year-old who grew up reading things online and rarely looks at an actual newspaper, I love the fact that there are now an incredible amount of outlets for content on just about any subject you can think of. Rather than rely on my local newspaper to fulfill my Twins-related reading needs, I can head to any number of websites devoted to the team. However, I can certainly see how a 50-year-old journalism veteran with 25 years of reporting experience might not be so excited about the change in the landscape.
You can look throughout history and find countless examples of one group feeling threatened by another group who, whether through technology or something else, appeared to be challenging their livelihood. Just as a network executive probably ridiculed the idea of people actually paying for television back when cable was born, I think it is natural for someone who has been reading newspapers all their life and writing hard news stories for decades to say, essentially, "Who the hell is this blogger guy and why the hell are we taking him seriously?"
The mainstream media members who don't react that way -- and there are some, though not as many as there should be -- are the ones who realize that bloggers are not trying to replace them. I didn't start this blog because I thought I could do a better job covering Twins games than the guys at the Star Tribune or the Pioneer Press. In fact, I don't think I've ever written something that fits the description of a "game story" that appears in newspapers after each game. You can get that every day in the newspaper, from trained, skilled writers with unique access to players and coaches, so why in the world would you want to read the same thing from "some guy" with a computer?
No, I started this blog because I wanted more. I watch nearly every Twins game, from start to finish, and because of that I don't feel as though I need to be told what happened the next day. I have no interest in reading a recap of the game, because I saw it with my own eyes, but what I do want, and what I wasn't getting, was information about how things happened, why things happened, and what might happen in the future.
If the Twins make a trade, the newspaper will have an article telling you who was traded away and who the Twins got, and they'll have thoughts from players, coaches and front office members. But that's not enough for me. After reading a story like that, I want to know who got the better end of the deal, why the deal was made, what the deal means for the future, what deals might still be made, and on and on and on. In other words, I want some opinion and analysis along with my news. And sometimes I want some opinion and analysis without any news at all.
That is what bloggers provide. John Bonnes' value is not from recapping what happened in last night's game, because he assumes you watched it, just like he did, or at least read the game story in the paper. His value is the next step beyond that -- like an editorial, but with a little more personality, a little more freedom.
Journalism is, in my opinion, an incredibly important and honorable field. There is value in knowing someone is reporting the facts and only the facts, and there is value in knowing their sources are trustworthy and their reporting is in-depth and accurate. There is value in the inverted pyramid and the nut graph, and there is value in the game story. But that doesn't mean there isn't value in other things too.
This is, to use a tired cliche that is nonetheless true, the information age. If you want to know what happened in the Twins game, there are a million different places for you to get that information. Along with that comes a desire for more information and for different types of information, and for the most part newspapers do not provide that. The Star Tribune bringing John Bonnes aboard was a step in that direction, a move to expand their baseball coverage beyond who, what, when, where and how. At the same time, letting him go after a season in which I'm sure he had to face undeserved hostility from people who make their living writing for paper is just as clearly a step back.
John will no doubt keep plugging along, whether he's at StarTribune.com, TwinsGeek.com or just sending e-mails to his buddies, because that's what he's interested in doing. And people will continue to read him, but not because he went to a good journalism school or spent 15 years climbing the ladder at papers across the country or is affiliated with the Star Tribune. People will continue to read him because he's good at what he does -- he is interesting and unique and he fills a void that the newspaper does not.
When the Twins begin their 2005 season against the Mariners on April 4, there are two things I am certain of. One is that I'll be watching, as always. The other is that the first Twins-related thing I read the next morning sure as hell won't be a newspaper recap of the game I just watched, it'll be a blog.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
NBA Notes (and Juan Castro)I keep promising to write more about the NBA without actually doing it, so today I'm going to finally pretend to be a basketball blogger. Plus, I have a few choice words about the Twins' big free agent signing.
Philadelphia swingman Kyle Korver -- who looks amazingly like "Theo" from the Real World/Road Rules Challenges on MTV -- has one of the more interesting stat lines of the young season. Korver has played 10 games for a total of 281 minutes and has attempted 84 shots -- 67 of them from three-point land. The ratio was even more lopsided before his last two games, when "only" 11 of his 21 shots were from long range. In his first eight games, 56 of Korver's 63 shots (88.9%) were three-pointers.
I know a lot of people like to talk about the three-pointer as something negative, but I've always been of the belief that teams with good shooters need to shot more threes. It is difficult for a team to shoot 50% from two-point range, but it's not all that tough for them to shoot the equivalent of that -- 33.3% -- from three-point range. All of which is why I love the way Phoenix and Seattle are playing so far this year, hoisting up 22 three-pointers per game. Their offenses look an awful lot like what you'd see if you were watching me play NBA Live 2005.
I am clearly no expert on basketball strategy or coaching, but what seems obvious to me is that teams should eschew difficult two-point shots in favor of three-pointers. I'm all for dunks, layups and uncontested mid-range jumpers, but if you're going to shoot a 20-footer with a hand in your face, you might as well step back a few feet and at least make it worth 50% more. Plus, you can typically get a decent look at a three-pointer at any point during a possession, giving a team more time to run their offense in an effort to get an easy shot. And when you miss a three-pointer, there's usually more of an opportunity for an offensive rebound.
On that same sort of note, I have sung the praises of a stat called "Adjusted Field Goal Percentage" in this space before. It basically accounts for the fact that a guy who goes 4-for-10 from three-point land has actually scored 12 points, compared to a guy who goes 4-for-10 on two-pointers only coming up with eight points. That's a huge difference and something that isn't accurately portrayed in simple field goal percentage. There are better stats for measuring this sort of thing than adjFG%, but it is easy to calculate -- ((PTS-FTM)/FGA)/2 -- and readily available at ESPN.com.
So far this season, Korver is leading the world in adjFG%, thanks to shooting a remarkable 70.6% on two-pointers and 44.8% on three-pointers. All of which adds up to an adjFG% of 67.9%, efficiency Shaquille O'Neal can't even come close to matching while staying three feet from the basket at all times. I have only seen the 76ers play once so far this year, so I can't say for sure, but it seems obvious that Korver is either throwing up three-pointers or nailing easy two-pointers, with nothing in between.
In other words, 20-footers are for suckers.
UPDATE: Here's a great e-mail I got from longtime reader Kevin Pelton, over at HoopsWorld.com:
We're truly watching history in the making here with Korver. Here's where he'd rank amongst the most three-heavy players of all time, minimum 500 FGAs:Fifteen-FootersPlayer Year 3A/FGAThat group essentially features guys, like Korver, who were key players for their team. If you cut down to 250 FGAs, there is one bigger specialist.
One trend that I've noticed so far this year is that teams are going to the free throw line a lot more than they have in past seasons. The average NBA team attempted 23.8 free throws per game in 2001-02, 24.4 per game in 2002-03, and 24.2 per game last season. So far this year, teams are averaging 26.9 free throw attempts per game. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it is an 11.1% increase over last season and last year only three teams -- the Lakers, Clippers, and Wizards -- averaged that many.
As you might guess, the extra team free throws are mostly trickling down to star players. Right now there are five different players averaging 10+ free throw attempts per game, 12 players averaging 8+, and a total of 30 players attempting at least six per game. Compare those numbers to years past:
FT ATTEMPTS / GThe only player to average more than 10 free throw attempts per game in any of the past three seasons is O'Neal, who did so each year (averaging 10.7, 10.8, and 10.1). He is once again attempting 10+ this season with 11.7 per game (also up, just like everyone else), but ranks just third in the league, behind Dwyane Wade (12.3/G) and Kobe Bryant (12.1). It's still very early in the season and the sample-sizes are small enough that things could go back to normal pretty easily, but it'll be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the year.
I've read and heard that the NBA has instructed officials to crack down on calling fouls in various circumstances and this is certainly an interesting way to deal with the decreased scoring problem. However, I don't think the fact that scores have been down over the past several years is really the actual issue, but rather a result of a change in the overall style of play that has people disinterested. Sending teams to the line a few extra times per game so they can get an easy couple points, while upping the scoring, isn't fixing much of anything. (Although I could see where calling things closer may eventually lead to more free-flowing offense.)
The Minnesota Twins signed Juan Castro yesterday. Before I complain about this, I just want to make it very clear that I have no problem with signing Castro, at least in theory. Every team needs bench players and the Twins in particular have never been deep in middle infielders. Plus, if this means the Twins are less likely to bring Luis Rivas back next season, I'm all for it. I never even thought to discuss Castro when I wrote a few thousand words on the available free agents at each position earlier this month, but adding some punchless utility infielder is never a particularly big deal.
However, what strikes me as problematic are the terms of the deal. First, the Twins gave him a two-year contract with an option for a third season. I can't for the life of me think of a reason to give a player like Castro two guaranteed years, let alone a third year that you have to spend money to buy him out of. He is the type of player -- a good defender with zero offensive skills -- who is available every single year, and usually for no more than a minor-league, non-guaranteed contract.
The Twins signed a nearly identical utility infielder, Augie Ojeda, to a typical minor-league deal last year and he ended up doing very well for them in 30 late-season games, after spending most of the season in the minors. But why two guaranteed years for a guy who in no way differentiates himself from the deep pool of potential backup infielders like Ojeda that are available each offseason?
Beyond that, not only is Castro guaranteed money over the next two years, he's guaranteed a relatively large amount of money. Castro will make $1 million in both 2005 and 2006, and then the Twins will decide if they'd rather pay him another $1 million to play in 2007 or buy him out for $50,000. That means, at the very least, a team that figures to have a payroll of around $55 million in each of the next two years just committed to paying a run-of-the-mill utility infielder three times the minimum salary ... for two seasons!
I just can't wrap my head around this deal. It's not a horrible, franchise-crippling move by any means, but it is one of those things that sort of shakes your belief system. With most deals I think are bad ones, there is at least a discernible "logic" behind them; with this deal I can't see one at all. There is no way the market for Castro forced Terry Ryan to give him two guaranteed years to secure his services, and even if it did, who cares? There are plenty of guys just like him who will play for a one-year deal.
And if for some reason you feel the need to lock up your utility infielder for more than a year and you're going to give him a million bucks per season, why not at least try to sign someone with a little value? You're telling me none of Jose Vizcaino, Pokey Reese, Craig Counsell, Jose Valentin, Chris Gomez, Barry Larkin, Jose Hernandez or Ramon Martinez could have been had for $2 million over two years?
Every year, every team in the majors signs a handful of guys like Castro to either fill bench roles in the big leagues or provide insurance at Triple-A. It's almost as if Ryan just decided to pick one of those guys at random and hand him this contract. I can't even begin to imagine the sales pitch Castro's agent gave to the Twins. "Listen Terry, he's just an useless as Rivas, but he'll only cost you one-third as much!"
Oh, and here's a little stat I stumbled across while trying to find something to explain this deal: During Castro's 10-year career (1995-2004), no hitter in all of baseball has had a worse on-base percentage (.269) or OPS (.600) in as many plate appearances (1,742). Chew on that for a while, and then think about the fact that he'll make about three times as much as Justin Morneau over the life of his contract.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- About Those Predictions ... (by Aaron Gleeman)
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
My S--- Doesn't Work in the World Series
Before the series, Joe told me, "It's going to take a miracle for me to beat you." Some miracle. My defense was as bad as a defense could possibly be, booting routine grounders, throwing balls into the stands, dropping fly balls, botching double plays, and overthrowing all sorts of cutoff men. It was a mess, although I suppose that's what I get for having an Aubrey Huff-Derek Jeter-Alfonso Soriano-Richie Sexson infield, along with Sammy Sosa in right field. Much like the idiot who threw a full beverage at Ron Artest in Detroit, I was asking for it (although unlike the guy in Detroit, I actually got it).
It's back to the drawing board for next year. I am blowing up my team in one league, trading away all of my veteran players (Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, Brad Radke, etc.) and rebuilding on the fly. In the other league, I'm not planning on any huge changes, but it could be a sub par year thanks to guys like Barry Zito, Derek Lowe, Sexson and Sosa having rough seasons (Diamond-Mind replays the previous year, so "next year" will be 2004).
The good news is that I have now played five full seasons of Diamond-Mind, three years in one league and two years in another. I have made the playoffs in all five seasons and have been to the World Series four times, which sounds really impressive. The bad news is that I have just one championship to show for it, with little hope of another next year.
So there I was watching Elf, a very solid, entertaining movie starring Will Ferrell and James Caan. Right in the middle of it, I saw a familiar face on the screen -- Artie Lange from The Howard Stern Show, who was playing a mall Santa Claus. From the moment I saw Artie until the moment his scene was over, I couldn't concentrate on the movie or suspend reality for even a second. In fact, I literally yelled out, "Artie!" when he popped up on screen. Luckily for Artie his one memorable role is playing himself on a radio show.
Speaking of Howard Stern, he had a funny bit on this very subject a few years ago. He was talking about the difficulty some actors have getting past their one famous role and he brought up Fred Gwynne from The Munsters as an example. Gwynne was an actor for 40 years and appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, but as Howard said, when he saw Gwynne playing the role of "Judge Chamberlain Haller" in My Cousin Vinny, the only thing he could think of was, "Hey, Herman Munster is a judge!"
Her character is one of those girls you can't help but have a crush on, like Elisha Cuthbert's "Danielle" in The Girl Next Door and Scarlett Johansson's "Charlotte" in Lost in Translation. I wasn't a big Portman fan before this, but I have a newfound respect for her now. Either that or I just wish I could pick up a cute girl who is a pathological liar and has to wear a helmet at the doctor's office.
What I will always remember Tapeh for is a game he had in high school against my alma mater, Highland Park. Tapeh rushed for a state-record 385 yards with me in attendance back in 1997. It was easily one of the most remarkable athletic feats I have ever seen, as Tapeh looked not totally unlike a pinball all night long. I would guess he was actually tackled no more than two or three times, either scoring a touchdown or mercifully running out of bounds every other time he touched the ball.
I remember going to the concession stand near one end zone at some point in the second half, with Tapeh's team (Johnson) winning by multiple touchdowns. The play was at the other end of the field, at least 80 yards away, and all of a sudden I saw this lone player running towards me, getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer. Needless to say it was the longest of six touchdowns he scored that night. He also kicked an extra-point just for good measure and even lined up at quarterback a few times, just to screw with our minds a little bit.
Tapeh is a guy to root for. He has a pretty intriguing personal story (grew up in Liberia, struggled to pass entrance exams to get into school) and is an example of an incredible talent who had a number of major setbacks and still persevered. He was a burner in high school, a guy who was a stud halfback and track star, and then had to completely change his body and his game because he kept breaking his feet in college (first he'd break one and recover, then he'd break the other one). And now he's an NFL fullback.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Of Fades, and Flops, and Zoilo (by Steve Treder)
- The Free Agent Win Shares Chart (by Studes)
Monday, November 22, 2004
Notes From the Weekend
It is strange trying to explain why someone like James is important when you associate yourself with a community of people who just sort of take for granted that everyone knows how great he is. Imagine trying to explain to people why Al Pacino is so great, except they've never seen him act in anything and they keep referring to him as "Andy" or "Alex" just to remind you that they don't have a clue about him.
We went to my favorite Chinese buffet, in my old neighborhood, and as we were walking in I saw my dad inside. I told my mom he was in there and she asked, "Are you sure it's not someone who just looks like your dad?" To which I responded, "Who looks like dad?" and then, "That would be one poor son of a bitch." (I kid because I care, really.)
Turns out my dad has become such a big fan of the restaurant as a result of being forced to take me there all the time that he and my stepmom went on their own. The place isn't exactly fine dining, so that's noteworthy. They said they had just gotten there, so we sat down to eat with them. The only thing I'll say about the experience is that you haven't lived until you've eaten dinner at a Chinese buffet with your father, mother, and stepmother.
My mom showed it to my grandmother, whose one major comment was that my bio in the back of the book wasn't very good. It is the one I have on THT's website, which basically just says I'm a journalism student and lists some of the places I've written for. Some of the other guys thanked friends and family members in their in bio, which my grandma obviously would have preferred. I'm just surprised she got all the way to the back of the book, considering she's not real big on strikeout rates and on-base percentages.
That leaves my first-round pick, Ray Allen, to defend my hard-earned league title with the likes of Grant Hill (who will no doubt join Davis and Marshall on the injured list soon), Rafer Alston, Theo "What's a rebound?" Ratliff, and my two sets of teammates -- Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler from the Bulls and Zydrunas Illgauskas, Jeff McInnis and Drew Gooden from the Cavs. You know things are not great when you've got three different Cleveland players on your team and none of them are named LeBron.
Curry and Chandler have proven to be complete wastes of time for fantasy teams over the past couple years, but they are also incredible teases, which is why I'm wasting two roster spots on them. Chandler was so upset about being benched by Scott Skiles during the second half of Chicago's game against Denver on Friday night that he committed five fouls in nine minutes last night against the Lakers. All together, of the 13 guys currently on my roster, two are on the injured list and four were picked up off the waiver wire. In other words, there are houses of cards built in the middle of monsoons that don't come crashing down as fast as my fantasy basketball team.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Benson and Rusch Gambles, Er, Contracts (by Studes)