Thursday, August 28, 2008

Breaking down last year's picks

In August of last year, I made some selections of NFL players who I thought would either underperform or not have seasons worthy of how high they were being taken in various fantasy football drafts. I never did break those choices down (I made seven), so I'm going to do so now.

The quotes that follow are what I said about the player at the time. I'll then post his statistics from 2006 and 2007 and figure out if I was right or wrong.

Shaun Alexander

In an auction league last year, I spent a significant chunk of my money on Alexander, and I don't think I'll ever do that again. While this choice may be more of a personal one, I'm still a little bitter about it. I'm not a big believer of spending more than half of your cap space or money on one guy, and that plan really backfired on me last year after Alexander broke his leg. The Madden Curse may have played a large part in Alexander's downfall last season, but he just absolutely killed my team. That won't happen again, unless, of course, I face a team who has him and he rattled off 200 yards and 5 TDs. Now that's possible.

2006: 10 games, 896 yards, 7 TDs
2007: 10 games, 716 yards, 4 TDs

Needless to say, Alexander didn't rattle off 200 yards or 5 TDs on anyone last season. Injuries obviously played a role since he only played in 10 games, but he also missed time in 2006 and had a slightly better season. Many people figured that Alexander would bounce back; he did not. He's also currently searching for a team, but his career may be close to over.

Verdict: Right

Randy Moss

Many people are completely sold that Moss will magically return to form this year just because he's playing with Tom Brady and a solid New England Patriots team. But how is this choice a good fantasy decision, especially if he's taken in the first few rounds? Moss has, in previous seasons, admitted to taking downs off and giving less than 100% effort. Not only that, but he's playing on a team that spreads the ball around to all receivers and throws TD passes to LINEBACKERS in the red zone. Count me out.

2006: 13 games, 553 yards, 3 TDs
2007: 16 games, 1,493 yards, 23 TDs

I wasn't just wrong about Moss last year; I was wrong in a HUGE way. Moss went on to break Jerry Rice's 1987 record of 22 touchdown receptions in a single season. Moss enabled Tom Brady to throw 50 touchdown passes, breaking Peyton Manning's record of 49 in 2004. He also helped the New England offense to break plenty of offensive records, including most touchdowns in a single season with 75.

Verdict: (Very) Wrong

Clinton Portis

I hate to say it, but something just seems wrong with Portis. I don't know if he's become injury prone or what, but I'm not sure if he's a reliable selection anymore. He's also stopped dressing up before games in ridiculous outfits, which is also a real shame. And to top that all off, his Vick remarks during the off season were, in a few words, confusing and stupid. Ladell Betts, who will get a share of the workload and also serves as the 3rd down back frequently, may end up with the bulk of the carries before the year is over.

2006: 8 games, 523 yards, 7 TDs
2007: 16 games, 1,262 yards, 11 TDs

For an offense with a makeshift offensive line because of injuries, Portis had a pretty solid season in 2007. He finished with the sixth-best season among running backs (fantasy football wise) and played in all 16 games. His 3.9 YPC (yards per carry) average was a little low, but he produced well consdering the team's circumstances.

Verdict: Wrong

Frank Gore

The addition of Gore may be confusing to some people. I think Gore is a great player, and he was outstanding last year, but Norv Turner is no longer the 49ers offensive coordinator, and I expect the offense to regress a bit. Gore may put up decent numbers, but I doubt he'll repeat what he did last season. Currently he's dealing with a fractured hand, which may also hurt him somewhere down the road this year.

2006: 16 games, 1,695 yards, 8 TDs
2007: 15 games, 1,102 yards, 5 TDs

For the most part, Gore was a top-5 selection in drafts last season for many people. Unfortunately, he just didn't have that great of a season. Even though he played in all but one of his team's games, Gore finished just 13th among running backs in total fantasy points.

Verdict: Right

Matt Hasselbeck

I've been waiting for a few years now to see Hasselbeck move to the elite quarterback level, but it never happens. Hasselbeck has the weapons around him to put up huge numbers, but inconsistency and injury concerns always seem to surround his output. I think he's a good quarterback, sure, but a great quarterback? Not really. If he stays healthy, he can put up decent numbers but nothing spectacular.

2006: 12 games, 2,442 yards, 18 TDs
2007: 16 games, 3,966 yards, 28 TDs

Apparently I should have waited just one more year. Hasselbeck had a solid season by spreading the ball around to all of his receivers and picking apart opposing defenses. He also threw just 12 interceptions. Hasselbeck had better numbers last season than Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers.

Verdict: Wrong

Eli Manning

Eli Manning has never really been one of my favorite players, and actually, he might be my least favorite player. Out of all the charades the Giants went through to get Manning a few years ago, he's really failed to live up to the hype. He has the talent, I guess, but I doubt he'll ever be anything like his brother. Anyway, with the loss of Tiki Barber, the backbone of the Giants offense is gone. Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns will try to save the running game, but Barber meant so much more. He not only ran well, but he caught dump passes and screens out of the backfield to present a whole other dimension for that offense. Without Barber there as a safety net for Manning, it's time for him to put up or shut up.

2006: 16 games, 3,244 yards, 24 TDs
2007: 16 games, 3,336 yards, 23 TDs

First of all, I was wrong about Manning not being able to live up to his brother. He doesn't have as much talent as Peyton or the ability to put up the same kinds of numbers, but he still led his team to a huge Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. Second, the Giants didn't need Barber, and his absence may have actually helped the team.

But as far as numbers go, Manning didn't make a significant leap. Actually, he threw more interceptions in 2007 (20) than in 2006 (18). He was a clutch performer in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean much for fantasy football.

Verdict: Right

Antonio Gates

I know, surprising, right? Here's my problem with Gates -- he's the best tight end in the NFL, hands down. But is he that much better to be taking him so much earlier than the rest of the tight end crop? I don't think so. Last year Gates had 924 receiving yards and 9 TDs. Those are the best numbers for tight ends, but he's not really that far away from several others. In a standard scoring league, Gates accumulated 139 fantasy points. The next five closest were Alge Crumper with 118, Tony Gonzalez with 115, Todd Heap with 105, Chris Cooley with 104, and Kellen Winslow with 99. That's not a huge difference. When you consider that Gates is usually picked up by the 3rd or 4th round, the value doesn't always fit. And with Tomlinson scoring so many touchdowns and getting so many carries inside the red zone, Gates may not eclipse 10 TDs again this season. He's the best TE, but I think owners may just be better off going with a later TE choice and picking up another position earlier.

2006: 16 games, 924 yards, 9 TDs
2007: 16 games, 984 yards, 9 TDs

Sorry, but I was spot-on with this selection. For many people last year, Gates was a top-30 choice, which only would have made sense if he was just that much better than the rest of the tight end options. In 2007 he was not; in fact, Jason Witten (1,145 yards, 7 TDs) had a slightly better scoring season. Four other tight ends (Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Kellen Winslow, Chris Cooley) also had very good seasons and provided a reason to not pick a tight end so early. Gates still may be the most gifted tight end in the NFL, but it's just not worth it to select him so early in a draft.

Verdict: Right

Final tally: 4 correct choices and 3 incorrect ones. Not too bad. Alexander and Gore were first round picks, and I successfully avoided them in drafts. Unfortunately, I was way off on the Moss prediction.

I'll post a 2008 list of players I don't like at some point in the next few days. Feel free to agree/disagree or offer your own opinions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How important are closers and saves?

I meant to post this great article by Jim Caple a while back, but I forgot to do so.

His piece dissects the use of closers in baseball and even goes so far as to say the closer is "the most overrated position in sports." I don't know if I agree with that, but the article is extremely interesting nonetheless. And his description of how certain closers act or are welcomed into the game is spot on.

We have hyped the closer into a ridiculously over-the-top role. They enter games to fanfare normally reserved for Oprah and pro wrestlers -- heavy metal entrance music is such a clich├ęd prerequisite that controversies arise over who has the more legitimate claim to a particular song (see Mariano Rivera v. Billy Wagner). When J.J. Putz still was regularly closing games for Seattle, the Mariners played AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" over the loudspeakers while the scoreboard flashed menacing lightning graphics and displayed the current time as "10:03 PDT, Putz Domination Time."

First of all, he's right. Second, I had no idea about the whole "Putz Domination Time" thing, and that makes the Mariners' collapse this season a little funnier.

Besides pointing out the obvious humor when some closers enter the game, Caple, in my view, brought up two other strong points.

[#1] The save is the only situation in which a manager makes his decisions based on a statistic rather than what makes the most competitive sense for his team. ...

[And #2] The restricted role of closers not only is an inefficient use of their talent, it renders them useless during a prolonged losing streak because the team never has a lead in the ninth inning to protect. Putz "saved" 40 games last year with a 1.38 ERA, was named the team's best pitcher by the local writers and the reliever of the year by the league. Yet when Seattle was in the midst of losing 13 of 14 games in late August and early September to tumble from the wild-card lead to hopelessly out of playoff contention, Putz pitched only twice. So when the team was floundering at a make-or-break point of the season, its supposed best pitcher -- the league's alleged best reliever -- was of no help because the Mariners were not in official and proper "save situations."

The article brings up very valid questions. Should the closer be the best reliever on the team? Shouldn't a team's best reliever pitch the most? Should a team's best reliever be brought in when his team needs him the most, even if it happens to be the sixth or seventh inning? And, possibly most importantly, does having a dominant closer give a team a better chance to win the World Series?

Some of those questions may not have definitive answers, but I did look at the last 10 World Series champions and the stats of their closers in the regular season and the World Series.

First, here are the teams that won and their closer's numbers during the season.

1998 New York Yankees (4-0) -- Mariano Rivera (1.91 ERA, 36 saves)
1999 New York Yankees (4-0) -- Mariano Rivera (1.83 ERA, 45 saves)
2000 New York Yankees (4-1) -- Mariano Rivera (2.85 ERA, 36 saves)
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (4-3) -- Byung-Hyun Kim (2.94 ERA, 19 saves)
2002 Anaheim Angels (4-3) -- Troy Percival (1.92 ERA, 40 saves)
2003 Florida Marlins (4-2) -- Braden Looper (3.68 ERA, 28 saves)
2004 Boston Red Sox (4-0) -- Keith Foulke (2.17 ERA, 32 saves)
2005 Chicago White Sox (4-0) -- Dustin Hermanson (2.04 ERA, 34 saves)
2006 St. Louis Cardinals (4-1) -- Jason Isringhausen (3.55 ERA, 33 saves)
2007 Boston Red Sox (4-0) -- Jonathan Papelbon (1.85 ERA, 37 saves)

Out of these 10, no reliever really had a bad season. Again, if the closer is supposed to be a team's best reliever, then all of these guys got plenty of chances to save games for their teams. Also, it's important to note that only 2 of the last 10 WS have gone 7 games. Seven out of the 10 have also been decided in 4 or 5 games, which is pretty bad.

Now, here are the same stats for these closers in the World Series in their own respective years.

1998, Rivera -- 4.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 saves
1999, Rivera -- 4.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 saves
2000, Rivera -- 6.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2 saves
2001, Kim -- 3.1 IP, 13.50 ERA, 0 saves
2002, Percival -- 3.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3 saves
2003, Looper -- 3.2 IP, 9.82 ERA, 0 saves
2004, Foulke -- 5.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1 save
2005, Hermanson -- 0.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 saves
2006, Isringhausen -- 2.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 saves
2007, Papelbon -- 4.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 saves

The most glaring number in there is the one-third inning pitched by Hermanson in 2005, even if the White Sox did sweep the Astros. Hermanson was trusted to save 34 games that season, and in four games, he was used to retire just one batter? Also, Kim and Looper were bombed in their WS appearances (both against the Yankees), but their teams still went on to win.

In the end, even though the debate is far from over, having a solid closer like Rivera or Papelbon is certainly a big lift for a bullpen and an entire team; however, having a "dominant" closer may not really be necessary. Kim, Looper, and Hermanson didn't have extended roles as closers for very long in their careers, but they were still able to rack up a bunch of saves in those seasons.

How overrated is the save? I guess each fan has to decide that for his or her own self.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

O's offense still producing

The Orioles put up 16 runs against the Detroit Tigers today to take the third game of the series and two out of three. The O's (60-63) went 4-3 on their most recent road trip which included four games in Cleveland.

With so much unexpected production from Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Adam Jones (before his injury), and Luke Scott, the Orioles' offense is in some pretty impressive company at this point in the season. The offense is fourth in MLB in runs scored with 618 -- 32 more than the Yankees have scored. The O's are also 10th in HRs (138), tied for 11th in on-base percentage (.336), 7th in slugging percentage (.438), and 6th in OPS (.780).

The O's can attribute their offensive explosion to very strong post-All Star break numbers. Since the break, the O's rank first in MLB in the following categories: runs (179), OPS (.864), batting average (.304), RBI (172), total bases (514), and extra base hits (115). They're also fourth in home runs with 37.

The significant amount of home runs is especially shocking since many of the same players in the lineup last season have already eclipsed their 2007 power numbers with 39 games still left to play this season.

Here are the numbers for part of the current lineup with their home run numbers from 2007 and so far in 2008. Remember, Luke Scott played with the Astros last year.

Brian Roberts -- 12/8/-4
Nick Markakis -- 23/17/-6
Melvin Mora -- 14/20/+6
Aubrey Huff -- 15/26/+11
Luke Scott -- 18/21/+3
Kevin Millar -- 17/18/+1
Ramon Hernandez -- 9/12/+3

These seven players have combined to hit 14 more home runs than they did last year. Roberts and Markakis haven't hit as many HRs, but they're also both having better seasons. Roberts is stealing fewer bases -- 30, compared to 50 in 2007 -- but his OPS is 38 points higher, and he's also hitting more doubles (44 up to this point). Markakis is also playing very well with an .894 OPS, which is 46 points higher than in 2007. He's also drawing tons of walks -- 76 so far -- and has a very impressive .401 OBP.

Mora's amazing post-All Star break numbers also deserve to be recognized. After a 5-6 day against the Tigers today, Mora is hitting an astounding .432 in 28 games and has a .461 OBP and a .780 SLG. That's right, Mora has a 1.241 OPS after the break. Even in 28 games, that's extremely impressive. Other notable stats during his superb run: 51 hits, 22 runs, 9 HRs, 43 RBI, and 92 total bases.

No one knows for sure what the future will bring for the O's. Some of these players may be traded before the start of next season, and all of them probably won't be back. But as a unit, they've all worked hard to put up plenty of runs and prove a lot of people wrong on how the Orioles would fare this season.

If they can do it for a little while longer, the O's may actually end up at .500 this season -- a task few people figured the Orioles could accomplish this season.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scoop Jackson: Team USA isn't intimidating enough

In a recent column on ESPN.com, Scoop Jackson wrote the following:

But what's missing is ... Amare Stoudemire. Even though Chris Anstey of Australia believes the fear factor is still there ("I think a lot of teams get intimidated by that [U.S.] team"), the truth is, if the intimidation factor was there, none of us would have that feeling in our stomach.

Confused?

Let me first say this: I think the U.S. team will win the gold this year. Now, with that out of the way, I have no idea what Scoop Jackson is talking about. I know he mentions this in the article, but Stoudemire declined the opportunity to be on the 2008 team. So did Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett; Stoudemire isn't as good as Duncan or Garnett, and I'm sure that Stoudemire is nowhere near as mean or crazy as KG. Wouldn't the team be better off with one of them instead?

I'm fine with the reasoning that the team could use another big man, but really, the team needs Stoudemire to help intimidate other teams more? Granted, the U.S. men's basketball team has always had great athletes who can dunk over the competition. After all, who could forget this dunk? But the U.S. teams of the last few years have lost because they didn't shoot well, play well together, or play any kind of solid defense -- not because they didn't dunk or weren't mean enough.

How about this: the "Redeem Team" needs to play better pick-and-roll defense and hit open jump shots and they'll be just fine. (Just ask the Chinese team.) I'm pretty sure that they have the whole intimidation factor and dunking on opponents' heads thing down pat with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony on the team.

But two more dunks a game by Stoudemire would definitely bring the gold home. Right. His amazing presence really helped the team win bronze in Athens in 2004. Come on, Scoop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Arenas wouldn't mind the return of Juan Dixon

Arenas, who updated his NBA.com blog yesterday, wrote that he would welcome Juan Dixon back to the Wizards. He also commented on Dixon's strong ability to put up points.

Juan is one of those players out there that needs a team, because he can really help out with scoring. He needs a team to just let him play. I’ve played with a lot of players in my time in the league, and he has to be one of the top five I’ve played with in terms of points per minute. He’s just a high volume scorer. If you gave him 40-plus minutes of playing time, he’d give you 20-plus points per game average. He’s like a bigger Ben Gordon. We’ll see where he ends up. I’ll take him back in D.C. right now.

Surpringly, Arenas also thinks that Kwame Brown could turn into a decent player now that he's with the Pistons.

He’s in a quieter city now, he’s 26-years old, he’s on a veteran team, he’s growing up. In the past in D.C. and L.A. it was a case of him being a big kid in a big city, now he can settle his career down. You know that Sheed and McDyess and those other bigs will help him develop and this should be the best time of his career because in Detroit, the bigs get touches in the offense.

Or, if he doesn't show improvement, things like this could just keep happening repeatedly...

Breaking News: Favre considering breakfast

Brett Favre plans on eating breakfast tomorrow morning. Shockingly, he hasn't made a definitive choice yet.

John Clayton is reporting the possible (and delicious) combination of pancakes and bacon, but Michael Smith thinks a bagel of some sort could be involved.

Upon hearing the possible choices and hearing that oatmeal was not included, Skip Bayless decided to weigh in on Favre's decision-making.

"Really, I'm not surprised with Favre at this point," Bayless said. "Everyone thought he was retired and out of the game for good, and now he's back and not even taking the most important meal of the day seriously. I mean, come on, pancakes and bacon? Where's the oatmeal, Brett? Just more of the same from Favre, and now the Packers have to deal with this for another season."

Estimated time of breakfast arrival for Favre, according to ESPN, is 7:30 a.m. More details as this story develops.