Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bashing the NFL for fun, if not profit

On the eve of yet another Roman-numeraled Super Bowl and a rescheduled Pro Bowl, herewith are one sports fan's gripes about football:

I guess on a basic level I don't really understand the appeal of football. It's not that I don't like sports. I'm a huge fan of sports that have an element of real competition.

It's just that professional football is a charade, as a competitive enterprise. There's so much national TV money, equally divided among the teams, that the notion that these teams compete with each other is silly. Each team makes huge profits, regardless of whether they go 0-16 or 16-0. And that's why the NFL Players' Association is so weak-putting together a good team is largely irrelevant to profitability, so the players have no leverage over management. It's hard to charge a premium for athletic talent when acquiring more talent doesn't significantly affect whether you make money. This isn't so with real sports.

I have a lot of other problems with football, but, to single out one more, as with all other sports with a clock, a decisive lead late in the game settles the issue. What could be more anti-climatic than the last few minutes of a football game when one team has a big lead? If they're ahead, they run out the clock, culminating with the thrilling walk off the field before the clock has even run out. If they're behind, they take a bunch of timeouts to organize hopeless plays, and two minutes of clock time can take 25 of real time. Dull as dishwater.

As George Will wrote, football features two of the worst aspects of contemporary American culture-violence interspersed with committee meetings (huddles.)
I'll add that the NFL also has a shameful record when it comes to taking care of its retired players with medical issues-which is most of them.

This isn't surprising, though, when you consider that history doesn't matter in the NFL. There was a poll in the Philadelphia Inquirer today asking if the current Patriots are the best team of all time. None of the other choices go back farther than 1962. Imagine a poll like that in baseball, or even basketball. Fans of other sports realize that their sports' history didn't begin with national television contracts, but nobody cared about football before the early '60's.

This was originally posted on my other blog, Rene's Apple, on Feb. 3, 2008.

No one can "buy" a World Series

Ask a simple question, get an annoying answer:

Why are so many people saying the Yankees bought the World Series "yankees buy world series" gets 11,600,000 Google results) ? Just about any story on the 2009 season heavily features this mindless assertion. Since the Bombers have the highest payroll pretty much every year, but hadn't won the big enchilada since 2000, to say they can simply buy anything is a little silly.

In fact, the correlation between payroll and winning isn't nearly as strong as you might think. Yes, the no.1 payroll team, the Yanks, at $201.4 million, won the World Series. But several of the top ten payroll teams missed the playoffs entirely, including the second ranked Mets ($149.4 mill.), the third ranked Cubs ($134.8 mill.), no. 5 Detroit ( $115.1), no. 9 Seattle ($ 98.9), and no. 10 Atlanta ($ 96.7).
This was originally posted on my other blog, Rene's Apple, on Nov. 25 of last year.
Payroll info from the Biz of Baseball.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Favorite Yogiism

Yes, I love the numbers of the sport...but I also love the look of the game-the geometric precision of the layout of the diamond, the sheer speed of fastballs, the grace of a Cole Hamels delivery-and the game's personalities.

Baseball has always been home to out-sized personalities, whether of an ugly sort-think Ty Cobb or Rogers Hornsby-or lovable-think Babe Ruth, or Yogi Berra.

Yogi was famous for "malaprops", as it's often said, but what he actually did is reduce the language to its most direct form. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." "You can't think and hit at the same time." Direct, and true.

Plus, of course, like Lincoln (another deep thinker), a lot of what's been attributed to Berra he never actually uttered. Yogi even "wrote" a book called "I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said!", which is a fun read, by the way.

So Berra may never have actually said the following, but it's so perfect, I've got to quote it: When told Dublin had elected its first Jewish Mayor (Robert Briscoe, in 1956), Berra said, "Only in America!".

Thus extolling truths about America, as every good American should, even when America's not actually involved.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pujols, Dunn, pitchers' stat variation, etc.

Albert does his thing.

Whoa-I'd better post something if I want to get this blog going.

Just a few thoughts as I cruise through Baseball Reference...

Does the average baseball fan, or stat-head for that mattter, realize just how good Adam Dunn is?  Despite just one All-Star pick (2002), Dunn hit forty dingers five straight years, from 2004-2008, and just missed 40 last year, with a 38 HR campaign. And he doesn't "just" smack longballs-Adam's career OBA is .383, with seven 100 BB seasons so far. Last winter more than a few pople wondered why the Phillies wanted Raul Ibanez instead of the much younger, much better Dunn-Raul will be 38 this year, Dunn 31; Raul's career OPS+ is 115, Adam's 132. They're both lousy outfielders. I'm still wondering, especially since Ibanez cratered in the second half of '09.

Interestingly enough, despite four previous 40 HR seasons, 2009 was the first time Albert Pujols led the NL in that category. His 47 last year was the second highest total of his career-he hit 49 in '06 but lost out to Ryan Howard's 58 dingers.

Sudden thought-everybody wonders why pitchers' stats show more variability than hitter's stats. It's not sample size-for starters, anyway. In 2009, for example, Justin Verlander led the AL with 982 BFP, while Aaron Hill led with 734 PA. But with only 30-34 starts, even guys who take every turn see a less complete sampling of the league's teams, especially with the unbalanced schedule.

You know, it's become almost obligatory to say BA doesn't mean anything, but obviously that's not true. Look at Jason Giambi's 2009 season. He had 14 doubles and 13 HR in 293 AB, with 57 walks. Pretty decent totals. But with a .201 BA, his OPS was only .725, with an OPS+ of just 92. You do need to hit for a semi-respectable average even if your other numbers are strong.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just for fun, ma'am

I love numbers!

And so, as a baseball fan, I of course love the figures of this sport, the most number-driven of all.

And I love using numbers to explode fallacies about the  game, something I hope to do a fair amount of here.

Hope you enjoy it!