Friday, February 11, 2005
A hard-luck visiting team consisting of mostly inexperienced Hmong players. Among the reserves is a kid with one arm. "They're not really used to playing organized ball," said their coach.There's a lot of other "questionable" details contained in the article and I think it's pretty clear that the motives involved in getting Eggleston the record weren't exactly the greatest. With that said, I'm not as offended by this as a lot of people seem to be. I say if you put together a high school team consisting of players who aren't good or experienced at the sport and you commit to playing a normal schedule, against other high school teams, you should be prepared to deal with things like opposing players trying to break records against you.
At some point I don't think teams can complain about other teams running up the score. I'm not sure exactly where that line is, since every year some college football team wins 70-7 and people get all up in arms, but for me it starts at the high-school level. If you're going to put a team on the field that can't stop an offense from scoring a touchdown every time they have the ball or you're going to put a team on the court that can't stop some kid named Cash Eggleston from hitting 20 three-pointers, then perhaps there is a bigger issue than sportsmanship.
Luft's latest column, ranking the American League starting rotations, includes the following sentence in the intro: "Wins and losses aren't mentioned because they are overrated statistics that depend too much on run support, defense and luck." There's something you won't see Buster Olney or Phil Rogers write anytime soon! Oh, and in case you're wondering, he's got the Twins ranked third.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Parks and Recreation (by Brian Borawski)
- My Big Fat Steroids Column (by John Brattain)
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The Best $5 I've Ever SpentIt is amazing how quickly things can change in sports. Some of you may remember that I wrote an extraordinarily pessimistic column ("A Program in Disarray") about the University of Minnesota men's basketball team back in early December. In it, I essentially said that the Dan Monson Era (and the Rick Rickert and Kris Humphries Eras) has been a relative disaster and that the Gophers' future was no brighter than their recent past (which included a .363 conference winning percentage under Monson). I predicted a second straight finish at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference and said, "I don't see any conceivable way for Monson to successfully rebuild the program at this point."
Fast forward now to this past Saturday. My uncle woke me up at around nine in the morning and asked if I wanted to go with him to the Gophers-Wisconsin game at 11. I said yes, of course, and then watched in complete amazement as the Vincent Grier-led squad beat the 19th-ranked Badgers 60-50. Wisconsin had a two-point halftime lead, but Grier dominated the second half like no player I've ever seen in person. He scored 26 second-half points on 12-for-14 shooting, matching the Badgers' point total all by himself. Grier was also responsible for the spectacular dunk attempt you see pictured below, which had absolutely zero chance of ever going in, but was guaranteed to get me and everyone else in attendance on their feet.
It was a remarkable performance by Grier and the victory felt like the perfect peak in what was looking like an amazing season. After beating Wisconsin on national TV, the Gophers team that I thought would struggle so much was 6-3 in the conference and 16-6 overall. They had made their way up to #34 in the RPI rankings, putting themselves in excellent position to make the NCAA tournament for the first time under Monson. Before the season started, I got into a discussion about the Gophers' chances with my uncle and he felt pretty strongly that they would be much better than I gave them credit for. We made a $5 bet on them winning more than five games in the Big Ten, which he won on Saturday.
When I got home from the game, I was bursting with things to write about the Gophers. I was going to talk about how, while I've been wrong about plenty of things in plenty of ways, I have rarely been as wrong, as immediately as I was about the Gophers this season. I was going to talk about Grier's second-half performance and evoke the name of Bobby Jackson, which is the highest and rarest form of praise I can give a college basketball player. I was going to talk about the surprisingly raucous, sell-out crowd of 14,244 at Williams Arena, about how nice it felt to want to actually watch Gophers games again, and all sorts of other wonderful things.
For some reason -- and I'm really not sure why -- I decided to put those thoughts on hold for a little while. This whole week I've been walking around campus with these thoughts about the Gophers swirling around in my head; my need to publicly eat crow for what I wrote about them only surpassed by my need to put into words just how excited I was about their season. Then last night, as all that swirling was going on, the Gophers played a Northwestern team that was 10-11 overall and just 3-6 in the conference. The game was at home, but just 11,209 fans showed up and it wasn't on television locally or nationally. It was supposed to be the first of a few games down the stretch that the team could use to pad its win total and Grier had another great game, scoring 32 points on 16 shots. The Gophers lost, 55-53.
This Gophers team is just about the greatest example of the unpredictability of sports that you could ever find. No one -- not even my uncle -- expected them to finish near the top of the Big Ten and most people -- including myself -- expected them to finish right at the bottom. After a 2-3 start to the season that included three straight losses, the team basically disappeared from the state's collective mind. Then, almost before anyone could realize it, they were 16-6, beating a very tough Wisconsin team, and actually in the driver's seat for an NCAA bid. And then, just as I was ready to start caring again -- and I mean really caring -- they drop a home game to a completely mediocre Northwestern team that had lost by 15 at Wisconsin a week earlier.
Meanwhile, I'm out $5, an entire state of Gophers fans are thoroughly confused, and the only thing I know about this team that I didn't know when the season started is that they play defense and are actually fun to watch. Next up on the schedule is a road trip with games at Indiana and at Michigan State. I'd try to make some prediction, but there doesn't seem to be much point in that. The beauty of sports is that just when you think you know, you don't. And then when you think you know again, you really don't.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Best and Worst Teams of the Trade (by Studes)
- Fantasy Mailbag: More Keeper Questions (by Ben Jacobs)
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Mailbag (State of the Twins Edition)Note: Sorry about the lack of an entry yesterday, but I was having some major problems with Blogger.
Before continuing with the "State of the Twins" series, let's dip into the old mailbag for an e-mail regarding last week's "State of the Twins: Corner Infielders" installment. From Doug:
Beware of the Cuddyer projections. He was somewhat platooned last season, and his numbers against RHP were only so-so. I haven't looked closely as the game logs to see if Gardenhire protected him from the tougher RHPs, but I'd bet he did, and PECOTA et al aren't smart enough to pick up on what a shrewd manager can do by Earl-Weaverifying a player's stats.Doug's point about Michael Cuddyer's projections being too optimistic because Cuddyer has been used more in certain situations than others is one of those things someone says that sounds right. Like someone saying the Vikings are doomed in the playoffs because they can't stop other teams from running the ball, it's one of those things you hear, agree with on the surface, and could very well just take as fact. Of course, you could also look up a few numbers to check if it's actually true or not ...
Cuddyer had 382 plate appearances last season, 36.9% of which came against left-handed pitching. The Twins, as a team, faced a left-handed pitcher in 30.5% of their plate appearances. In other words, Cuddyer was in fact used a disproportionately high amount against lefties compared to his teammates in 2004. However, it's also worth noting that if a typical right-handed batter is going to be benched against a certain pitcher, it is usually a right-handed one.
Of course, one season and 382 plate appearances isn't exactly the greatest sample size either (and the projections are not based on just one year of data). Over the last three years, 37.6% of Cuddyer's 619 plate appearances have come against left-handed pitching. Meanwhile, the Twins as a team have faced a lefty in 31.4% of their plate appearances over that same span. All of which means that Doug's hypothesis about Cuddyer's usage patterns is absolutely correct.
The way Cuddyer has been used has, at most, given him 20-25 extra plate appearances against left-handed pitchers over the course of three seasons, or about eight "bonus" plate appearances against southpaws per year. Also, from 2002-2004 Cuddyer hit .251/.319/.445 (.255 GPA) against right-handed pitching and .271/.352/.420 (.263 GPA) against left-handed pitching. Studies have shown that the average right-handed batter is approximately 9% better against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching, so Cuddyer (who has been only 3% better) has actually done disproportionately well against righties over the past three seasons.
Considering all of that, along with the fact that Cuddyer is once again likely to ride the bench in favor of a left-handed hitter like Eric Munson more than a couple times against tough right-handed pitchers in 2005, and I just don't see the lefty/righty issue as being powerful enough to skew his entire set of projections for the upcoming season.
Doug also said that the Twins need to "do something to keep the offense off life-support" against right-handed pitching, which is an opinion I haven't heard before. Minnesota has fared significantly worse against lefties than righties over the past few seasons, in part because their lineup has usually been lefty-dominated. That will change a bit this year, as lefty-hitting Corey Koskie has been replaced by Cuddyer and switch-hitting Cristian Guzman has been replaced by -- gulp -- Juan Castro, but it should nonetheless remain true. As long as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jacque Jones are in the lineup every day, I'm guessing the Twins' offense against right-handed pitching won't be the main problem.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Williams-Santo Cubs: 1961-1965 (by Steve Treder)
- Magglio's Millions (by Tom Meagher)
Monday, February 07, 2005
Note to Self: Gambling is BadThings were looking so good with my (purely hypothetical) parlay bet of "New England minus seven" and "under 47." With a little under two minutes left in the game, the Patriots were up by 10 and the total score was just 38. And then Greg Lewis had to go and grab that 30-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb, ruining my whole evening.
All of sudden New England was up by just three and the total score was at 45. In other words, with one play I went from looking like a sure winner to having absolutely no chance. To use a poker term, I was drawing dead. In order for the Patriots to cover the spread, they had to score at least four points. In order for them to score four points, the total score would have to go over 47. Ugh.
As anyone who wasn't living under a rock yesterday knows, the Patriots ended up winning 24-21, losing me my (purely hypothetical) point-spread bet and winning me my (purely hypothetical) over/under bet. However, since a parlay bet forces you to win both of your bets to cash in, I was out of luck. Gambling is bad, kids. Even the purely hypothetical kind.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Magic Twenty (Second Base) (by Aaron Gleeman and Craig Burley)