Monday, November 14, 2011

Pacquiao-Marquez III, Mayweather on Line One

Boxing Pay-Per-Views so often turn out to be massive disappointments—none more obvious than the recent Mayweather-Ortiz debacle that ended with controversial cheap shots.  I knew, absolutely KNEW, that Pacquiao-Marquez III stood no chance of disappointing, and I was right.

The risk was that what a lot of professionals were saying about Marquez would be true—that he’d be past his prime, and that he couldn’t handle the extra weight it would take to get up to welterweight, and that Manny would walk over him.  That all turned out to be complete nonsense.

I never thought the size would be an issue, and in fact, Marquez took much better care to put on real muscle this time than he did when he fought Mayweather at welter a couple years back.  It was almost as if he had returning to lightweight on his mind back then, rather than becoming a true welter.  Pacquiao has always been basically a lightweight choosing to fight up in size anyway.  Marquez, to me, looked much, much bigger than Manny in the upper body, and in fact, outweighed Pacquiao by 2 pounds on the unofficial fight night scale (most of Manny’s weight gain over the years has been in added muscle his massive, tree trunk legs).

It was simply a case of two men whose styles all but cancel each other out.  Manny is the consummate aggressor, and Marquez is the expert counterpuncher.  People have talked about Manny looking more confused than usual in this fight.  I don’t think it was confusion at all—it’s just that he’s eaten a ton of Marquez leather over the past seven years, and he knows exactly what’s NOT going to work.  So he took more time and more caution in deciding when to attack.

At the end of the day, judges (rightly, in my view) favor the aggressor in close rounds.  When in doubt, I think you should ALWAYS give the nod to the guy forcing the action.  When the counterpuncher has clearly landed the more clean, effective blows, give him the round.  But the benefit of the doubt SHOULD go to the guy who makes the fight.  Manny out-threw and out-landed Marquez, and short of knock downs, that’s going to give him most of the close rounds.

I love Marquez—I’m a fan, I’ll always be a fan.  But I think if he goes back and watches it again, he’ll stop whining about getting robbed.  I thought he might have won four rounds, MAYBE five.  I won’t argue long with someone who gave him six and the draw.  You would be very hard-pressed to find seven Marquez rounds.  He has no right to complain.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE FUTURE….Actually, I think this couldn’t have worked out any better, in terms of the possibilities of FINALLY putting together the fight that EVERYONE wants to see—Mayweather-Pacquiao.  Manny’s relatively pedestrian performance has to at least ease some of Floyd’s fears of fighting him.  Floyd is more interested in protecting his unbeaten record than anything else, which is the only reason he’s ducked Pacquiao this long.

A lot of the experts took Manny’s performance on Saturday as proof that he is not in Mayweather’s class—after all, Floyd had absolutely no trouble in dispensing with Marquez, and Manny has struggled toe-to-toe with him three times now.  On the one hand, I understand that argument, and you’d have to make Floyd the slight favorite because he’s an even better defensive fighter and counterpuncher than Marquez.

ON THE OTHER HAND…by the same logic, Pacquiao has actually looked BETTER than Floyd against their other three recent common opponents.  Floyd won a competitive split decision against Oscar De La Hoya, while Manny nearly killed him.  Floyd scored a late knockout win over Ricky Hatton—Manny put him to sleep in 2 rounds.  And Manny didn’t lose a second (except for a bogus fake knockdown called late in the fight) against Shane Mosley, while Floyd nearly got knocked out by Shane in the 2nd round before recovering to win a blowout decision.

STYLES MAKE FIGHTS.  Plain and simple.  There’s something about Manny and Marquez that make them a tough match for each other.  It would be that way if they fought 10 times.  It takes nothing away from the fact that Floyd and Manny would STILL be an extremely compelling match-up in their own right.

Manny would force Floyd to fight more than he ever has before.  He may well knock Manny senseless, but it would be a FIGHT—an absolute war.  Floyd’s never had a war.  It would be fun to see how he reacts to getting into one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rest in Peace, Smokin' Joe

Last night, the sporting world lost one of its all-time greats with the passing of Joe Frazier, who had been suffering with liver cancer.  Joe fought in the golden age of heavyweights, which was the late 1960s through the 1970s.  It sounds like he was able to have peace late in his life, which is good to know.

Joe lived most of his retirement as an angry and bitter man who was unable to let certain parts of his past go.  Specifically, he couldn’t let go of the way he was shamefully treated by Muhammad Ali.  After Ali was stripped of his titles for dodging the draft, it was Frazier who came to his defense to convince the boxing world that Ali deserved another chance.  After Ali (foolishly) squandered his fortune away, it was Joe that loaned “the Greatest” enough to get by until he got back on his feet.

And then when the fight was finally made, Ali turned to the most ruthless and personal forms of insults to promote the fight, and it was completely unnecessary.  Everyone wanted to see the fight anyway—half the country wanted to see the draft dodger knocked out, and the other half cheered him as a hero of the hippie causes and black power.  But he verbally reduced Joe to the role of the “Uncle Tom,” and the uneducated backwoods N-word. 

It initially backfired.  Joe took it to heart and unleashed all of his fury on Ali in their first epic battle in 1971, which he won by unanimous decision, nearly knocking Ali out in the 15th.  But the fight nearly killed both men, and Joe was the worse for wear of the two.  He truly was never the same.  He was beaten to a pulp by a young George Foreman in 1973, and lost his rematch to Ali not long after.

1975 saw the third installment of the Ali-Frazier rivalry, and it was easily the most brutal of the three fights.  Joe was very much in it till the end, but both men were near the point of death.  Ali was clearly inflicting the most punishment in the later rounds, and Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to let his man fight the 15th and final round.

I CONTEND TO THIS DAY that Futch should have let him continue.  Ali had demeaned him and reduced him to garbage in the eyes of many, when all he ever did was try to help his friend out.  Frazier should have been allowed to have that last round to go out there and knock Ali out, or die trying.  He deserved that right as a warrior.

But the stoppage stayed with him for the rest of his life, and bitterness consumed him.  In 1996, Joe commented on watching a shaking and quivering Ali light the Olympic torch for the Atlanta games.  Frazier said that if he had been there, he would have just pushed Ali into the fire.

But from what I understand, within the last year or so, he forgave Ali.  I only hope he died in peace.

God bless you, Joe.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bye Bye Mizzou

I really hate to say all of this, because Kansas and Missouri have one of the longest standing rivalries in the country—goes back to a time where some of the fans in the stands were old enough to remember people who were killed in the border wars.  If KU and Missouri do go their separate conference ways, it will truly be a sad, sad day.  Some of my best friends are Mizzou faithful, and getting the chance to banter back and forth about the rivalry is something I truly look forward to every year.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably has to happen.  I don’t blame Missouri for annually looking towards greener conference pastures.  They are blessed to have landed in a state where two large metros bloomed to their east and west, and one in which no second major athletics player ever materialized.  They continue to be in a better situation to be successful in athletics than nearly any school in the union, and they SHOULD feel like they have a valuable commodity.

But as some have questioned how the Big 12 conference can go on if Missouri leaves, I think the question that has to be asked is how can conference stability be gained if Missouri STAYS.

Now, if the “super conference” model ever really does come to pass, with the four 16-team leagues going off on their own to have their own college football empire and all, I think we’re going to all look foolish for ever trying to keep the Big 12 together in the first place.  In that sense, and in the sense that Missouri has real, natural options, I seriously would hold no animosity towards Missouri if they were to leave at this time.  Perhaps they’d be the only wise one in the bunch—at least amongst those with options (and I really don’t know if anyone else DOES at this point, although I suspect that OU could call the SEC today and be admitted ahead of Missouri, if they were willing to leave Oklahoma State behind).

But if the league goes forward WITH Missouri, you know that this cycle will never end.  Every year, it’s going to come up again.  Where does Missouri want to go now?  If they finally catch on somewhere else, will everybody be scrambling to find a new home (again)?

I hope the reports of Missouri’s offer from the SEC are real, and frankly, I kind of hope they take it ASAP.  Time for the remaining eight to sign on four committed replacements to get the league back to 12.  If the era of the super conference comes, and Kansas gets left out in the cold later, so be it.  In a sense, we’ll be no worse off than we are today.  Football is already sub-par, and it will take a lot more than an inferior conference alignment to kill what KU has in basketball.

In a sense, Kansas has already thrived in an inferior basketball league.  Not that Big 12 basketball is awful, by any means.  But any league that allows one school to win seven conference basketball titles in a row (and nine of the last 10) can’t REALLY be taking the sport all that seriously, anyway.

Time to roll the dice with those who want to be here, and move on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Power of One Pitcher

The Royals might be looking to trade to get a #1 or #2 type pitcher, and you have to ask the question what difference that one pitcher could make for a team currently sitting at 71-89.  Well, when you break it down……quite a bit, actually.

You have to start with the premise that the Royals are a pretty GOOD offensive team.  They are, and they are getting better all the time.  They appear set to finish 6th in the AL in runs scored at 726—and their run differential is actually good for 8th in the league, despite their 11th-place record overall in the AL.  They actually have the second-best run differential in the Central at -28.  Despite their respective 80 and 78 wins, both Cleveland and Chicago have a run differential of -52.  For how the Royals score in relation to the runs they give up, they SHOULD have more wins than they do.  The Pythagorean W-L formula says they should be 77-83 right now—6 more wins than they actually were able to achieve.

So you can start to hypothesize that one or two disproportionately bad starters just MIGHT be throwing a monkey wrench into what might otherwise be a .500 or so ball club (give or take a few games).


The Royals dedicated a combined 44 starts to Kyle Davies and Jeff Francis this year.  Now, Francis wasn’t awful, I guess—but aside from rookie Danny Duffy, he had the worst ERA of any Royals starter with at least 10 starts this year (4.8).

In the 44 starts (over 25% of the season) by Davies and Francis, the Royals were a combined 13-31

That means in the 116 starts so far by ALL OTHER PITCHERS, the Royals are 58-58—a .500 ball club

Let’s break it down further.  Danny Duffy made his major league debut this season, and got 20 starts.  Let’s be honest….he had some nice work, but the overall majority of his first stint in the Majors was sub-par.  WE KNOW THE TALENT IS THERE, and we have every reason to expect improvement.  But the Royals were just 6-14 in the games started by Duffy.

SO….minus the 64 starts made by Francis, Davies and Duffy, the Royals had 96 games started by other pitchers, and in those 96 games the Royals are 52-44

THE THREE MEN WHO ABSOLUTELY SHOULD BE IN THE ROTATION NEXT YEAR are Chen, Paulino and Hochevar.  Those three combined for 75 starts this year, and the Royals were 41-34 in those starts.  That includes the 9-11 the Royals went when Paulino was on the hill, but he suffered a little from some poor run support earlier in the year.  He had some nice support late, which came close to evening it up for him on the season (not quite, but close).


The one guy that might be available for trade that appears to be the best option available is James Shields, at least according to Buster Olney and others.  Can the Royals get him?  Who knows, but let’s assume he’s THE GUY the Royals get.

The Rays are 20-13 in the 33 games Shields has started this year, and that’s with a far WORSE run support than the average Royals game.  The Royals average 4.54 runs per game, while Shields got only 3.91 a game from the Rays this year—about two-thirds of a run less a game.  So it’s reasonable to believe that the Royals may have a similar record (or better) with Shields pitching for Kansas City as what he got for Tampa.

So let’s assume he enters the rotation, and the Royals duplicate the 20-13 in his starts from a year ago.  Again, I think that’s conservative, because he’s shown himself to be extremely durable, AND the Royals score better than the Rays did for Shields.  But we’ll leave it at that.

And let’s make some assumptions about Chen, Paulino and Hochevar.  Hoch, I’m going to leave exactly the same.  If he pitches like he did in the 2nd half of 2011, he might be a 17 or 18 game winner by himself, but we’ll assume no improvement.  We’ll also give Chen the exact same 15-9 in 24 starts, because he will be 34, and there’s always a chance he could end up on the DL again.

As for Paulino, I’m going to cheat him up a little to 30 starts (since we’ll have him from the beginning of the year), and have the Royals go 15-15 in games he starts.  I think this is reasonable to expect, and maybe we should expect just a bit more.  He had some pretty bad run support for the first half of his time here.  The better support towards the end helped even it out some, but he still finished about a quarter of a run worse for run support than the average Royals game.

So here you go for the top 4 in your rotation, with the projected number of starts, and the Royals’ record in their games (not their win-loss records, but the Royals’ records in games they start):

Shields:  33, 20-13
Chen:  24, 15-9
Hochevar:  31, 17-14
Paulino:  30, 15-15

Totals:  118 games, 67 wins, 51 losses.

That leaves 44 starts to be covered by your 5th starter (Duffy?), and whoever gets spot starts to fill in for Chen on the DL and what not.

FOR THE ROYALS TO HIT .500….the Royals would only need to go 14-30 in the 44 starts by Duffy and the spot starters for the club to be .500. 

BRINGING THAT BACK AROUND TO THE BEGINNING….you’ll recall that Davies and Francis COMBINED to go 13-31 in 44 starts this year, or almost exactly the same number that Duffy and spot starters would have to go to make the Royals a .400 team in 2012.  In other words, they don’t have to be that good for the Royals to hit .500.  You could add Shields and bring Davies and Francis back, give them 44 starts again, and you’re probably a .500 team.

If Duffy makes even a SMALL improvement in 2012, the Royals could easily sneak several games above .500.

It’s all so elementary, when you break it down.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ah, When Mike was Healthy.......

With the forthcoming promotion of Moose Tacos, who (if he stayed with the Royals for his career, which he will not, so this is a moot point) has the potential to hit for more power than any Royal in history, I’ve been playing around with a few stats over lunch.

Man, is it easy to forget how good of a hitter Mike Sweeney was, before he was reduced to a huddled mass on a gurney.  In fact, this may sound ludicrous, but from 1999 to 2005 (his only quasi-healthy-to-healthy seasons), he had the most offensively-productive seven-year period in the history of Royals’ baseball.

Granted, he wasn’t even completely healthy during that period, missing about 30 games a year on average.  But the MOST productive offensive player (George Brett) was also prone to the same kind of health outages throughout his career.

I scoured Brett’s stats to see if I could find what his MOST productive seven-year period was.  There’s some room for debate in there—Brett had periods where he hit for great average, but not much in terms of power, for example.  BY A SLIM MARGIN, I picked the period starting in 1982 over the period starting in 1980.  The period starting in 1982 was his best “power” period of seven seasons, with five of his top eight dong years, three of his top seven OPS years (including two of his top three), and four of his top nine RBI years.  Brett’s batting average for that period is nearly identical to his career average (.304, compared to .305 for his career).  I think it’s a fair period to look at.

Plus, it just so happens that Brett and Sweeney had nearly an identical number of games (922 and 918, respectively) and at bats (3,400 and 3,496) for the periods, so it works out very nicely.

BY THE WAY….I’d like to apologize to all of my stat geek friends.  I did not calculate OBP for this model.  I thought about doing it, but didn’t have the time.  Besides, I eye-balled it, and my educated guess is that Brett trended slightly higher, but not by a whole lot.  Brett’s OBP for the period floated between a low of .344 and a high of .436, while Sweeney went between .347 and .417.  All solidly within the range of what you’d take for guys hitting with the kind of power they did in their respective 7-year periods.

OK, so here’s your comparison.  Enjoy!

Mike Sweeney, 1999 through 2005 (age 25 to 31)

Games = 918
Hits = 1095
Batting Average = .313
Homeruns = 163
Doubles = 231
Triples = 4
Slugging Percentage = .521
RBIs = 697

George Brett, 1982 through 1988 (age 29 to 35)

Games = 922
Hits = 1033
Batting Average = .304
Homeruns = 151
Doubles = 217
Triples = 28
Slugging Percentage = .517
RBIs = 610

Friday, June 3, 2011

Give Wilson a Chance

Rany’s article from June 2 was very entertaining.  Provided some info that supported his thoughts that Gordon is for real and Francoeur’s resurgence is not.  Also pointed out that, at least to this point in the season, Gordon is the undisputed best left fielder in the American League.  In a sense, that’s a back-handed compliment, because the quality of left fielders in the AL is not what it once was.  NEVERTHELESS….if you would have told me 5 years ago that, in 2011, the Royals would have exactly one player on their roster who was the best player at his position in the league, Alex Gordon might have been the guy I guessed.  Only that I wouldn’t have guessed the position to be left field, and no one could have predicted the ride it took to get him there.

Rany, by the way, is also an advocate of signing him up long-term, if things continue this way.

BUT….now for a couple of my own thoughts on the Royals….

Remember last year, when Moose got promoted to AAA?  He struggled for a while, then got RED HOT for the last part of the season and finished with a respectable AAA line.  HOWEVER…success towards the end of the AAA season has to be taken somewhat with a grain of salt.  As the season goes on a lot of the better talent gets moved up to the MLB level, and it’s harder to tell what caliber of pitchers you’re seeing.

So it made sense to see how Moose did over a more meaningful portion of an AAA season before getting two worked up over his 2010 performance in Omaha.  And once again, he got off to a dreadfully slow start at that level this year, but turned it around in dramatic fashion.  We’re within about two games worth of plate appearances (just 9 fewer at this point) from the number he got in 2010 in AAA, so I thought it would be a good time to see where he is.

The first point that sticks out is that his batting averages (.292 this year, .293 last) and OPS (.865, .878) are practically identical.  But how he got there tells a lot more of the story.  Last year, Moose could not be categorized as anything resembling a patient hitter.  He was all about fining the first ball he could hit and putting it into play.  In 236 AAA PAs, he struck out just 25 times, but also walked a mere 8 times. 

In 2011, it’s clear that he’s making a concerted effort to see more pitches and be more patient at the plate.  On the one hand, it’s probably put him into more difficult counts than he’s used to hitting out of, which probably accounts for the fact that his strike outs are up 15 in close to the same number of PAs (227).  HOWEVER, his walks are also up 10 to this point, which has had a net effect of raising his OBP from .314 to a highly respectable .356.

The other side of the coin that’s gone into his OPS being flat from a year ago is a slight drop in power.  At this point, he’s four doubles and five dongs off his 2010 mark (he has 9 PAs to catch up), but does have a triple.  So the SLG is down to .510 from .564, but it’s nothing to worry about.  .510 is STILL very good.

All in all, Moose has shown that his 2010 work in AAA was NOT a fluke, and he’s probably ready for the promotion any time the Royals see fit.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY LAST POINT:  How would you fit him into the lineup, when Wilson Betemit is having a highly-acceptable offensive season, while playing defense that is not GREAT (or even really good), but certainly better than what Moose is gonna give you with the glove?

Well, the easy answer is to trade Wilson away, and that’s fine and good.  Might I suggest an alternative, though?  Why not give Betemit a tryout at second base?

I know, I know.  You don’t usually take a below average 3rd baseman and move him to second.  But hear me out.  Whatever we have in the system for future second basemen, I find them unlikely to be offensive improvements over Betemit.  While Wilson has been a utility infielder for the majority of his career, he’s shown through nearly 1800 career MLB plate appearances (or the equivalent of three years or so) that he’s an above-average major league hitter.

Betemit has a career OPS of .784 and an OPS + of 105—or for simplicity sake, 5% beyond an average major league hitter.  For comparison, in about 100 fewer PAs, Alex Gordon has a career OPS of .747 and an OPS+ of 100, or smack-dab at average for an MLB hitter (we know that more has gone into Alex’ numbers, but it’s just for comparison sake).

It’s not just that Betemit had a nice 2010 (which he did).  But in every season in which he’s been allowed to have at least 274 PAs, he’s had an OPS+ of over 100:

‘05 = 107
’06 = 101
’07 = 102
’10 = 143

So far this year, he’s hitting at an OPS+ of 126.  There’s no reason to believe that Wilson’s stick isn’t for real, and it would be HIGHLY RESPECABLE for an everyday second baseman.

So there’s the question:  Can Betemit play second?

The answer probably is:  Yes, but not terribly well.  Wilson has played 98 games in the middle infield in his career, the majority of which has been at shortstop.  He’s REALLY big for a second baseman, and his range would be fairly limited.

ON THE OTHER HAND…..the Royals MIGHT have both the best defensive shortstop AND the best defensive first baseman in the league.  Might Hosmer’s insanely above average range at first help cover the gap that Wilson would have?  Might Escobar’s wizardry in all aspects of defensive play help alleviate some of the stress of wondering if Wilson’s going to make good stars on double plays and whatnot?

Who knows?  Certainly not me, but I do think the Royals are a far better team with offensive players like Betemit in the lineup, and good pros like Aviles or Getz being available as utility infielders.