Monday, February 2, 2015

Good call, Seahawks!

It's the morning after Super Bowl XLIX, and all anyone is talking about is what a monstrously bad call the Seahawks made in throwing a pass, when they could have handed the ball to the best running back on the planet, Marshawn Lynch.  Malcolm Butler intercepts, Patriots win.  It was a shocking moment, and everybody was immediately wondering why Lynch didn't get the ball.

That was my initial reaction, too.  We have this human tendency to judge decisions based on results, but that's not always the right way to look at things.  The easy way, yes, but not necessarily the best way.

The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that the play they called was a great call!

Consider the situation:  2nd and goal on the 1, 26 seconds left, one time out.  If you run Lynch on the first play, you have to call time out to run another play.  If you run him again, either time runs out, or you have to rush to the line so quickly that you give yourself scant chance of executing perfectly.

And let's not assume that he'd make it in.  Vince Wilfork is a great run stuffer, and if the rest of the Patriots are lined up in the box waiting for Lynch to run, they might very easily stop him.  As good as he is, he's sometimes stopped for no gain, or even for a loss.  In this situation, where everyone expects him to run and you have an outstanding defense committed to stopping it, there's a very good chance that he wouldn't have made it in.

Sure, he's good enough that he might make it, especially given two tries, but he coulda/woulda/shoulda gotten two tries anyway!  A run on the first try might very easily have resulted in a two yard loss, in which case Seattle would have to burn their timeout and would have 3rd and 3 with something like 11 seconds left.  In which case they might have to throw anyway, but would lose the element of surprise.

You're throwing a very short, crisp pass on a pick play into single coverage against an undrafted rookie, when nobody is expecting it.  This wasn't a floater into double coverage in the back of the end zone.  This play very often works.  If it had worked this time, everyone would be hailing Carroll as a genius for defying expectations.  And we would have been talking about what stones he had for making the call.  Ask Packer fans what they think of coaches who always go with the obvious, conservative call.

When a play like this doesn't work, it's usually an incompletion, in which case the Seahawks get two more tries with Lynch anyway.  The only reasons it didn't:  (1) the ball was just a hair high and wide, which was the only place it could have gone where Butler would have a play on it, and (2) Butler did a terrific job of recognizing the play, breaking decisively and immediately, and somehow holding on to the ball.

If the ball were anywhere else, or Butler hadn't made such a fantastic play, we wouldn't be having this conversation.  In all probability, Seattle would have won its second consecutive Lombardi Trophy.

Let's not sell Butler short. That play should have worked just fine.  It didn't, thanks to Butler's individual brilliance and things going just right, or just wrong, depending on your perspective.

Let me put it this way:  if were somehow able to simulate this game effectively, and run this pass play a thousand times and an initial run to Lynch a thousand times, I'd bet that the pass play would work out better more of the time.

That's where I'd actually put my money.  You might be regretting that you can't take that bet, but from where I sit, I think the Seahawks made a great call.

Fortune does what it does.  It burned New England in its two previous Super Bowls with miraculous catches by David Tyree and Mario Manningham, and it seemed like it was somehow happening again with that crazy catch by Jermaine Kearse.  Only this time, fortune turned the tables, and the Patriots caught the break.




Sunday, June 6, 2010

Joyce had it right!

Wowwww. In my last post I complained that everyone had thrown Jim Joyce under the bus when he made an understandable mistake in the near-perfect game of Armando Galarraga. But this evening, for the first time, I saw the replay from the right angle in real time. Most of the real-time replays have obscured Galarraga's mitt behind his body. And the slow-motion shots that showed him snow-coning the ball also made it look as though he'd held it long enough for it to be an out. But watching it in real time, I now think it was a good old-fashioned bobble. Runner safe!

Maybe that's just me. But it's honestly what it looked like to me, and it absolutely deserved discussion. We didn't get that. In their haste to jump on the bandwagon, the baseball media seems not to want to discuss it. Could they at least have considered the issue, and allowed viewers to decide for themselves whether it was or wasn't a bobble? Nope. They continue to pretend that it never existed.

And I think this explains why Galarraga didn't argue, not his purported good nature. He was aware he'd bobbled it. But he, like everyone else, was content to let Joyce be demonized. Everyone is acting like Galarraga is nobility personified. But now I think just the opposite.

Wow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Imperfect

We're not a third of the way through it, and this season has already seen two perfect games, one each by Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay. There have only ever been 20 perfect games in baseball history, and never two in one season. Ubaldo Jimenez' regular old no-hitter is an afterthought by comparison.

But things got weirder last night. Armando Galarraga, freshly returned from the minors after a lousy season last year, was throwing what coulda/woulda/shoulda been the third perfect game of 2010. Only umpire Jim Joyce thought otherwise. With two out in the ninth inning, the first baseman went to his right to make a play on a ground ball, and threw back to Galarraga, who collected it and touched first with a grin to complete the perfect game!

Only not.

Jim Joyce called the runner safe, even though the replay clearly showed that he was out. The Tigers were horrified, the announcers were horrified, all of baseball was horrified, and every couch potato like me was horrified. An ump takes a perfect game away from a pitcher? How could he? How could he?

He could, and he did. The only guy who wasn't horrified was Galarraga himself, who remained calm while the rest of his team was losing it. He proceeded to get the next hitter to complete the now one-hit shutout.

Joyce actually apologized to Galaragga for blowing the call (which never happens between umpire and player). Everybody tried to rationalize Joyce's human imperfection, but they certainly haven't let go of it. What not a single announcer has said is that Joyce actually made a perfectly reasonable call. From one angle the result seemed obvious. But from the other, there was room for reasonable doubt. While the replay from the second angle still showed the runner was out, Galaragga had snow-coned the ball (holding it out at the end of his glove), and then snatched it into the middle of his glove after the runner went by. In real time, in which Joyce made the call, it had to look like he had never controlled the ball. In which case Joyce did exactly the right thing. But that doesn't make as good a story.

People are talking about the incident today, and will continue to talk about it for a very long time. But not a peep about the apparent bobble. The press seems content to leave Joyce hanging out to dry. Everyone seems to agree that Jim Joyce is a fine umpire, but this is what he will be remembered for. It will haunt him and cast a shadow over his time in baseball.

Pretty good call, Jim. It's just a damn shame for Armando, and a bigger shame for you that it turned out not to be right.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What's your deal with Favre?

I notice that a lot of my sports posts have a grumpy, almost curmudgeonly tone. At the very least, argumentative. Hmmm. Just noting the fact, not analyzing it.

Anyway, I've come to argue with those of you who have issues with Brett Favre. You are angry. You're calling Favre names. You're impugning his character. Frankly, I don't get it.

I do get why Favre waffles.

On the one hand, when he plays, he gets the shit kicked out of his 40-year-old body every week. Every professional football player has to deal with this, but most of them are long gone by 40. It hurts. I remember how backyard football hurt the next day when I was 15, playing against guys who weighed 120 pounds. What Favre is doing hurts a lot. And it keeps hurting when the season is over. He's proven himself, and isn't that likely to get any further in football than he's already gotten. And I'm sure there are times he'd like to just kick back and forget about the NFL.

On the other hand, he gets paid 10 million dollars a year! Sure, he doesn't need it, but it's 10 million dollars a year! When do you stop providing for your family, or your descendants? Or have too much land, or too much to give to charity. There's always room for another 10 million dollars, isn't there? And he's playing in the N freaking FL! What a rush it has to be to hear those roars, to get all of that adulation, to matter to people. And while it still hurts in the offseason, it hurts somewhat less after a while.

So it's no surprise that he has mixed feelings, and has changed his mind several times. But everyone seems to think that he's changed it too many times, and that he should stop jerking everyone around, and make up his damn mind. But why, exactly? Is this really a problem for you or me? I can tell you that it hasn't affected my life one iota. My wife still loves me, I'm still employed, I have my health -- Brett Favre just isn't a problem for me. But he seems to be for you.

Are you worried about the teams that he might or might not play for? Guess what -- it's their demand for his services that's driving the whole thing! If they didn't want to employ him, and didn't keep dangling money in front of him, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Does he owe them a decision? No! It's supply and demand. If they don't want to wait around for an answer, they don't have to. They do wait around because he's good, and because he can put butts in the seats. They're waiting around to serve their best interests. So do me a favor and don't worry about the teams. They can take care of themselves.

Are you just plain tired of hearing about it? Bullshit! You click link after link about this subject, and read story after story about it, and watch segment after segment on television, and complain bitterly every time you do. Which is why they keep writing and producing all of these stories.

So it looks to me like you're complicit with the media and the teams and Favre himself for keeping this story going. As tired as you are of seeing Favre waffle, I can promise you that you're no more tired than I am of hearing you complain about it all.

Feel free to root for or against Favre this fall. But somebody has to play quarterback for the Vikings, and you can bet it will be the best guy that the Vikings can find for the job. And isn't that sort of the idea?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Plax

Am I missing something here? Plaxico Burress has been sentenced to two years of prison for carrying an unregistered firearm. Two years out of his life because he shot himself in the foot. Mind you, nobody ever said he was threatening anybody, or intended to do anybody any harm. It's just that real criminals carry unregistered firearms, and Mayor Bloomberg and whatever that dipshit D.A.'s name is had a burr in their saddle about cracking down on this stuff.

So they took it out on a guy who shot himself in the foot. You can't really call it a victimless crime, because Plax victimized himself. But you can say that he didn't hurt anybody else.

This is your basic perversion of justice, in the interest of either politics, or precedent-setting, or I'm not sure what. But it has nothing to do with the spirit of the law.

I frankly don't blame Plaxico Burress for carrying a gun. Personally, I think it's a bit foolish, but he has seen multiple professional athletes, including a guy who played his own position on his own team, get shot at and in several instances killed by lowlifes who basically wanted their stuff. Given that backdrop, he had every reason to be fearful if not paranoid about being shot. I'm not in his situation, so I can't say exactly what I'd do. But I'd sure as hell be aware of the threat. Plax chose to protect himself with a gun.

No question Plax should have registered it. But he did register a gun in another state in the relatively recent past, so it's not like he has contempt for the law. He screwed up. He actually does a fair amount of screwing up. But he also seems like a decent guy to the people around him.

I can see punishing him for his mistake, especially since there is a real need to have handguns registered. But nowhere in this did I see a hint of common sense when considering Plax's character or his motivations. It was all about the mayor and the D.A. getting their pound of flesh.

So Plax shoots himself in the foot and hurts nobody else. Politicos throw their weight around and trash lives for no good reason. That's the real crime.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why doesn't Pete Rose belong in the Hall? Because he wasn't that good!

If you're reading this, you've likely also read the recent discussion of whether Pete Rose should be reinstated and allowed into the Hall of Fame.

Most such discussions center around what a sleazebag he was, how he gambled on baseball, jeopardized the game, slandered decent people, lied his face off, and waited until he could turn a profit from it to finally tell the truth. Among other things. It's pretty clear that he's not a good guy, and this is more than enough reason for lots of people to be against him ever seeing the inside of the Hall.

But what rarely gets discussed is a simple truth that, thanks to his talent for self-promotion, is not widely understood. The fact is that Pete Rose wasn't a great ballplayer.

He was a remarkable ballplayer in many ways, and unquestionably a very good one, but he wasn't a great one. Consider:

He wasn't a great defender at any position. He didn't have great speed, or great hands, or a great arm. He could do a passable job at several positions, for which we must give him credit, but then so could Lee Lacy. Rose couldn't play shortstop or catcher, and spent most of his career at what are generally understood to be offensive positions, where you expect to have better-than-average hitters.

He earned a reputation as Charlie Hustle. What was that based on? Well, he did hustle, to be sure. But much of the fuss was about his habit of running to first on a walk. The fans loved it, and Rose loved the attention, but you get the same result whether you sprint or amble to first base on a walk. It didn't help his team, but it helped his reputation.

Another thing he got credit for was baserunning: he wasn't afraid to steal a base. Problem is, he should have been. He stole 198 bases, but was caught 149 times, giving him one of the worst success rates in the history of baseball among players who frequently tried to steal. The records were murky in the early part of the previous century, but if you look at records after World War II, I don't think you'll find another player with a worse percentage in as many attempts. (I couldn't find anyone with fewer stolen bases that was caught so many times.) This is worse than running out walks, which at least is harmless. By "hustling" on the bases, Rose was actively hurting his team. But again, the public loved it, and the legend grew. Helping your reputation at the expense of your team is not my idea of greatness.

By now, Rose backers are screaming about all of his hits. Of course, this is where he shines. He had lots of advantages, that helped him get far more chances at the plate than any other player in history -- he stayed healthy, he hit at the top of the order on some very good offensive teams, meaning that he got lots of at-bats (he led the league in plate appearances several times), and he didn't draw a large number of walks, which gave him more opportunity to pad his hit totals. He also played well into his mid-40s, long after he was helpful to his team. His production at offensive positions was downright poor for his last five seasons, so he never should have gotten the opportunity to reach 4000 hits, much less the record. We won't discuss the fact that many of those hits came when Rose was player/manager and was inserting himself into the lineup. But he sure did get a lot of hits.

Let's not forget that hits alone are a poor measure of offensive production. A relatively quick and dirty method for measuring offensive performance is OPS, or on-base plus slugging, which combines slugging percentage (bases per at bat, where a single is one base and a home run is four bases) and on-base percentage (roughly the number of times you get on by hit, walk, or hit by pitch divided by the number of plate appearances).

By this measure, Rose is 525th in the history of baseball as of this writing, according to Basebal-reference.com. Not far behind Jason Varitek. I came up with a count of 108 Hall of Famers among those ahead of him in that category, which means that there are 416 guys with a better career OPS who are not in the Hall of Fame. 416. And that's not counting the guys who hit almost as well as he did who were superior defenders. Get in line, Pete.

The argument will be made by many that Rose played in an era that was not conducive to hitting. He was active in 1968 (one of his two legitimately great seasons, by the way), which was possibly the worst year to be a hitter in the history of baseball. So let's consider only players who were active in 1968. By my count, Rose ranks 49th in career OPS among such players. Behind Mack Jones and Don Mincher, if those names mean anything to you. And far behind guys like Dick Allen, Reggie Smith, and Ron Santo, none of whom are in the Hall.

Of course, he gets credit for longevity (though not too much credit, for the aforementioned reason that he extended his career far beyond what it should have been), and you probably can't fairly say that he was only the 49th best player among his contemporaries. Or maybe you can, because we're ignoring defensive standouts like Brooks Robinson and Bill Mazeroski, to say nothing of pitchers.

What you can say is that when you add up hitting, fielding, and base-running, Rose was not among the very best players of his own time. And he is certainly not among the best players of all time.

He had many interesting records, and there's no doubt that he was good, but he just wasn't a great player in terms of productivity on the field. What makes Rose a Hall of Fame candidate in the first place is his fame, not his excellence. But if you want to consider him based on reputation, you have to consider all of the nastier sides of his character.

If you want to consider Pete Rose purely as a ballplayer, you don't have to consider him at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now *that* was a play!

Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game today! That's quite a story in itself, but the part I liked best was the play within the play.

Going into the ninth inning, the Sox brought in Dewayne Wise as a defensive replacement in center field. Of course, everyone was on edge, wondering if Buehrle could pull it off, and when you're a defensive replacement in such a situation...well, that's a lot of pressure. You just cannot, can not, can not do anything but field perfectly if the ball is hit your way.

The ball was hit Wise's way.

What he did was not only a great play, it might have been the play of the year. Contrast this one with Jeter's play that I discussed in the previous post. The main problems with the Jeter play were that it involved questionable decision-making and ordinary physical feats. Here's what Wise's play involved:

(1) He had to get a great jump. No sooner was the ball off the bat and the camera got onto Wise than he was flying -- he clearly must have gotten a great jump.

(2) He had to take the right line. Nothing special for a defensive specialist, but he did take the perfect line, which is important when you have no time to spare.

(3) He had to run really, really fast. Wise ran really, really fast, faster than all but a very few human beings can. If he doesn't, he doesn't get to the ball.

(4) He had to take his eye off the ball to take a peek at where the wall was. Check.

(5) He had to pick up the ball again and find it, without hesitation. Check.

(6) He had to slow just a touch and gather himself for the jump so that he could arrive when the ball did. Check.

(7) He had to time his leap perfectly. Check.

(8) He had to do all that while maintaining concentration, knowing full well that he was going to hit the wall. Hard. He hit the wall. Hard. He maintained concentration.

(9) He had to catch the ball. Check.

(10) The ball arrived in his glove just as his body arrived at the wall, and the impact jostled the ball loose. Wise kept his eye on the ball, stayed with it, and gathered it in.

One out. Two batters later, and President Obama was making a congratulatory phone call to Buehrle.

Now that, my friends, was a play.