Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five reasons why I don't like listening to Gary Thorne

If you don't watch the Orioles or like baseball, you may not know who Gary Thorne is. Thorne is currently the play-by-play announcer for the Orioles, and according to his Wikipedia page, he still calls some baseball, college football, and hockey games for ESPN and ABC. I'm not sure if that's completely up to date because I can only recall hearing him during O's games, but I'm sure he calls more than just O's games.

For the most part, I don't have any problems with the O's announcers/broadcasters. The radio announcing team of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra is pretty solid, and the O's analysts alongside Thorne on MASN -- either Jim Palmer or Mike Flanagan -- are very good and have no problem breaking the game down. That doesn't mean all of those guys are perfect, but I can't recall ever having a serious issue with something they said. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to Thorne, who, while skilled at calling some of the basic parts of games and talented enough to sound excited/enthusiastic at the right times, doesn't seem to understand a few things that most announcers calling MLB games should. That also doesn't mean that he's the only one out there either who has similar issues.

Here are some of my complaints:

1) He's obsessed with runs and RBI

Thorne refuses to stop throwing out run and RBI numbers like they mean everything. If a hitter has a high RBI total, Thorne believes he's having a great season. If he has a low RBI number, he'll mention that that hitter is not getting the job done. Really, he mainly likes to mention a lot of the counting numbers -- runs, RBI, home runs -- and batting average. I believe I've heard Thorne talk about on-base percentage and slugging percentage a few times, but mostly that's something Palmer (or Flanagan) will discuss instead. Still, Thorne is hardly the only announcer who does this sort of thing, but baseball announcers in general have started to improve in this area.

2) His love of "At 'em ball"

This inclusion is more of a pet peeve than anything, but I'm still going to include it. I don't have an accurate tally, but I believe Thorne says "At 'em ball" 50 times a game. He particularly likes to use this phrase when the ball is hit to Adam Jones or someone else named Adam (for obvious reasons). If he sprinkled the phrase in a few times here or there, that's one thing, but he says it so much that it's definitely gotten under my skin. This irritating habit is probably the least worst of the five.

3) His over-usage of season splits and split stats

Some split stats can be helpful. Jake Fox, for instance, is a better hitter in his career against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching (it's not a huge sample size, but it's not insignificant either). I finally heard Palmer mention this last night, though it's possible someone else mentioned it in a previous game and I missed it. But instead of using career splits or numbers with a larger sample size, Thorne likes to mention when, for example, a hitter is 0-2 against a certain reliever who just entered the game. That information can occassionally be useful, but for the most part it's not. Does a hitter being 0-2, or even 3-5 (etc.), against a single pitcher really tell you much of anything? No. Then again, some managers might make decisions based on similar limited information, and Thorne is hardly the only announcer giving out these stats, particularly late in games. Still, it would be nice to hear Thorne offering more concrete career splits or something a little more in-depth.

4) His pitch recognition is terrible

In the long run, a play-by-play announcer calling a fastball a breaking ball, a change-up a fastball, or whatever here or there doesn't mean a whole lot. Color analysts are normally better at recognizing certain pitches anyway. But this happens to Thorne multiple times a game, and it's not too difficult to distinguish a slider or curveball from a low- to mid-90s fastball. That doesn't mean he has to know every pitcher's full repertoire, but he should at least be aware enough to notice the radar gun or at least turn to Palmer or Flanagan and figure out what the pitcher is throwing. Either that, or just stick to calling something a strike or a ball.

5) Pitcher wins

I'm not going to lie: Most of this post stems from Thorne's idiotic statement last night regarding Felix Hernandez and pitcher wins. He said that he didn't support Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award because he only had 13 wins last season. He said the point of the game is to win, and he added that he'd take a pitcher with a bunch of wins over someone with "a zero ERA." Don't think about that too long, because your head might explode. Thorne is hardly the only person with a similar opinion (though maybe not as extreme); other old-school baseball types or writers have been defending pitcher wins, a stat that has been under assault from the sabermetric community for a while (for good reason). To Thorne, a pitcher's win total means everything, and that's something that's difficult to listen to.


If it weren't for Palmer or Flanagan, O's telecasts would be even more onerous to listen to. Then again, when Palmer starts going off on tangents and trying to make jokes, he can be just as annoying and quirky (though funny too, for some reason).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Maryland hires Mark Turgeon

The Maryland basketball coaching search to replace Gary Williams started with names like Sean Miller, Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon, Brad Stevens, and others, in some order. Miller considered taking the job, though the others never really did. In the end, Maryland offered the job to Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon, who accepted and is officially coming to College Park.

Turgeon isn't considered to be the home-run hire that Miller, Wright, or Stevens (etc.) would have been. He also doesn't have many ties to the East Coast. Take a look:

1987–1992 Kansas (asst.)
1992–1997 Oregon (asst.)
1997–1998 Philadelphia 76ers (asst.)
1998–2000 Jacksonville State
2000–2007 Wichita State
2007–2011 Texas A&M

He was an assistant under Larry Brown at Kansas for several seasons and with the 76ers for one season. He also helped to turn around the programs at Jacksonville State, Wichita State, and Texas A&M in varying amounts of time. By all accounts, he's a hard worker, a solid coach, a family man, and someone who wants to be at a place that cares immensely about basketball. Oh, and he wins games -- he has a career record of 250-159.

Here's a great take on the move by ESPN's Eamonn Brennan:
It's fair to say those excited Terrapins fans, who spent the last week hearing their program described as a sleeping giant by every anonymous source in the country -- not to mention followed as their AD met with Miller in Las Vegas Saturday -- might have hoped for something a bit more, well, exciting.

By all the barometers we usually associate with that word, Turgeon doesn't qualify. To date, he hasn't regularly recruited blue-chip prospects; more often, his players are unheralded workers who develop throughout their multi-year careers. Texas A&M plays a slow, deliberate style. Turgeon's press conference demeanor can be rather like his teams: quiet, sparse and even downright boring.

To be clear, those aren't bugs or features. They're just who Turgeon is.

The important thing here, the one that really matters, is this: At the bottom of it all, Maryland fans are like any other. They want to win basketball games. Mark Turgeon wins basketball games, and he does so at places with far fewer institutional advantages than Maryland. It's really just that simple.

And so a new era begins in College Park -- not with a bang, necessarily, but certainly not with a whimper. Maryland fans be forgiven if they need a moment to get to know Turgeon, but the more they see of him, the more they'll grow to appreciate the coach's clinical solidity and drama-free approach. They'll appreciate [Maryland athletic director Kevin] Anderson's efforts in making this hire.
Following Gary Williams won't be easy, but Turgeon knows how to build a program the right way and win games. That's all fans can ask for.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A truly sad day: Gary Williams is retiring

For the past few hours, I've been trying to come up with an original take on the news of Gary Williams's retirement. But really, I can't say that I have one. Unlike many stories that quickly become stale because they turn into long, drawn-out sagas, the retirement news was sudden, harsh, and seemingly came out of nowhere.

But maybe it's better that way. Does Gary Williams seem like the type of guy who would leave hints of his retirement scattered about until finally going on some sort of farewell tour? No way. That's more of a Coach K-type thing to do. Maybe.

Frankly, Gary Williams is Maryland basketball. He always will be. He turned the program around, made it respectable again, and put an exclamation point on that turnaround with the national championship in 2002. He worked his tail off for 22 seasons to get the Maryland program to where it is today, a feat that arguably only a handful of coaches -- ever -- could have duplicated.

But he did have to retire from coaching at some point, and maybe this isn't such a bad time to walk away. Without much of a frontcourt, the Terps will face an uphill battle all season in a league that doesn't have a problem coming up with talented forwards and centers.

Then again, that's also what made Williams special to most Maryland fans: that superior level of coaching and a stubborn refusal to give in, even against insurmountable odds. The biggest knock on Williams -- his lack of desire to dabble in the shady dealings of the recruiting world -- is (was, now, I guess) also his biggest strength. It was frequently apparent that Maryland, especially in ACC play, was facing teams with better talent, and yet there was Gary Williams, constantly barking out orders and frustrations to both players and coaches while routinely getting his players great scoring opportunities with his patented flex offense.

Was it frustrating to watch several Maryland teams that should have been more talented and had better players? Definitely. But what I'll remember the most about Gary Williams is that his teams were always prepared and that he never made excuses for what happened on the court. He would show up with a group of players who were willing to work as hard as possible for him, and he returned the favor by giving everything he had on the sidelines every night to put his players in the best possible position to win. He wasn't always successful in doing that, and the Terps had their fair share of embarrassing moments. But what Gary Williams accomplished in his time at Maryland can never be replaced; real fans won't forget that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Looking at some early season numbers by the O's

The Orioles lost to the White Sox 6-2 last night, again failing to provide Jeremy Guthrie with any kind of run support. Still, despite that loss, the O's (13-14) took three of four from the (currently struggling) White Sox, and they've won five of their last seven. They're now in Kansas City for three games against the Royals before heading back to Baltimore for a six-game homestand.

As a 13-14 team should, the O's have various strengths and weaknesses, though not all of them are currently defined since the first full month of the MLB season just ended. Let's examine some individual and team stats (numbers are taken from before last night's game):

- The O's have an MLB-worst on-base percentage of .290.
- They have been slugging the ball though: They have a .381 slugging percentage -- not great, but not near the bottom either.
- As a team, the O's are tied for second to last in walk percentage (7.0%).
- The O's have been the second-most unluckiest team (.259 team BABIP).

- O's starters have a 3.93 ERA. O's relievers have a 5.34 ERA -- third worst in baseball.
- The bullpen is walking 4.60 batters per nine innings. The starters? 2.82 BB/9.
- O's relievers have a collective WAR of -0.8. The starters? 1.9 WAR.
- I understand the O's don't have a ton of effective relievers at the moment, but Josh Rupe has to go. In 10.2 innings, he's allowed nine earned runs while striking out five and walking five. Oh, and he's already allowed five home runs. When Brian Matusz comes back, why don't they just move Brad Bergesen to the bullpen and insert Matusz into the rotation? That has to be much better than relying on Rupe to retire opposing batters, even in non-leverage situations.
- Pedro Beato, a Rule 5 draft pick by the Mets from the O's, still has yet to give up a run in 17 innings this season out of the bullpen.

- Zach Britton is 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA despite only striking out 4.78 batters per nine and walking 3.58 per nine. However, he's posting a 54.5 groundball percentage and is allowing only 0.72 HR/9. He's been somewhat lucky (.241 BABIP), so he may run into some trouble in the near future if he doesn't strike out more batters or cut down on the walks a bit. Then again, he's doing a fantastic job for a rookie with just six career starts under his belt. He's been impressive.

- Matt Wieters leads the team with a 0.8 WAR. Robert Andino (!) and Luke Scott are right behind him at 0.7.
- Wieters is hitting .247/.318/.468 and has four homers. His slugging percentage is currently fourth best among qualified catchers.
- Only five Orioles have OBPs over .300. The not-list includes Nick Markakis (.274), Vladimir Guerrero (.269), Mark Reynolds (.253), and Adam Jones (.250).
- Mainly because of those poor offensive numbers, four O's regulars are currently boasting negative WARs: Reynolds (-0.5), Derrek Lee (-0.3), Markakis (-0.3), and Guerrero (-0.2).