Friday, March 30, 2007

New Jork Jan-kees Beisbol

I have been previewing Yankees seasons since the Internet was a few computers linked to Al Gore's hive mind. Indeed, in April of 1996 I wrote that "the departure of Yankee hero Don Mattingly will be eased by the young talent of rookie shortstop Derek Jeter" and that "the Yankees will improve upon their wild card finish in 1995." Pretty good for a sixth grader, eh?

Eleven years later the Yankees have won four world championships, but none in the past six seasons. This caused the front office to open up the franchise's massive wealth (remember, of the title teams, only the 2000 Yankees led the league in payroll). Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and others were signed without regard for expense. The farm system was sacrificed for the likes of Javier Vazquez and Randy Johnson. Then, in the offseason following a disappointing exit at the hands of the Angels in 2005, a change. Brian Cashman was given free reign over the payroll and personnel. Though Johnny Damon was signed to a large contract, it was not the "beat all other offers with more money" kind of signing from years past. During the season, Cashman traded a couple of bags of balls and Matt Smith to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

This off-season, the Yankees conducted three trades involving aging, deteriorating veterans. And they traded them away. While perhaps the bounty could have been more diverse than the six right handed pitchers received in exchange for Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and Jaret Wright, the shift in roster building approach is the most exciting news out of Yankeeland in years. Homegrown talent Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Melky Cabrera joins the core of homegrown talent from the late 90s dynasty (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and the returning Andy Pettitte). It poses a problem for Yankee-haters: while I don't expect them to stop their jealous hate, they will have to change their attacks. Should the Red Sox sign Roger Clemens, they, and not the Yankees, will have the highest payroll in baseball. By June and the likely call-up of phenom Phil Hughes will give the Yanks a roster that is nearly half home-grown. Which other big-market teams can claim that?

Taking off the rose-colored glasses for a minute, there are weaknesses to the 2007 squad. The pitching staff lacks that "ace" that is always treasured- but Wang will return in April to join a strong core of Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. The performance of Japanese import Kei "Quest" Igawa and Carl "I'm not made of glass, I swear" Pavano remains to be seen. I feel that the pitching staff is better than last years', and that staff was far enough above terrible to allow the Yankees offense to slug its way to a tenth consecutive division title.

The lineup, meanwhile, remains largely intact. The futility at the plate of Doug Mientkievicz (almost got it right on the first try. I before e.) will take the role of Bernie Williams' recent futility, or Tony Womacks' before him. Like Williams and Womack, I have a feeling that Mientkievicz will be replaced by midseason, either by Josh Phelps playing full-time or Jason Giambi returning to the field more often. The rest of the lineup is strong, with the typical all-stars at every other position. The bullpen is much stronger than last years', and deeper as well, so when Joe Torre decides to take some right arm hostage (see Proctor, Scott; Sturtze, Tanyon; Quantrill, Paul) there will be adequate replacements.

The biggest threat to the Yankees' AL East streak is injuries in the wrong places. The team would suffer greatly with an injury to Jeter, Rodriguez, or Posada, as there are few replacements in the minors. However, infielders can be had via trade (using the RHP surplus built up by Cashman), which leaves back-up catcher as the primary weakness for the Yankees. So the biggest weakness is a "might/maybe" injury to an aging, but healthy catcher- it sounds like a recipe for a repeat performance as the best team in (regular season) baseball in 2007.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Marlins Season Preview

Perhaps we're a little Marlin heavy recently, and that's just fine by me. I was really looking forward to the Deadspin Marlins season preview, but they got a damn bitter Mets fan to write it. There are certainly some negative things about the Marlins organization but I feel that the good far outweighs the bad.
The Marlins don't have typical baseball fans. We don't pack the stadium but we do watch and listen to the games. I don't want to turn this into a Defend the Marlins Fans post, but here's why actual stadium attendance is low.
1) 1997 firesale
2) 2005 firesale
3) Florida's summer weather consists of really hot broken up by thunderstorms
4) Dolphins Stadium has bad sitelines down the third and first base lines
5) Lack of a strong city identity

The Marlins are an exciting team because they're modern baseball on steroids(pun intended). They can start young, develop, win a World Series, sell off the players, rebuild, and win another World Series in the span of 6 years. It's like following a college team. The most important players for the Marlins in the past 10 years have been their scouts and Larry Beinfest. Despite all the heart-rending trades, they keep coming up with gold. The most notable example is of course that Dontrelle Willis was a "player to be named later" when they traded away then-ace Matt Clement. More recently, they got both Anibal Sanchez and 2006 Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez in exchange for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett.

I think they have a reasonable shot of making the playoffs this season. Dontrelle Willis leads the rotation, followed by Scott Olson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco...and some guy who will probably turn out to be awesome, because that's how these things work. If Josh Johnson is able to successfuly return by mid-season, they will have one of the best rotations in the NL. In the bullpen they have Randy Messenger and Taylor Tankersley as the always underrated Middle Relievers(or "set up men"). Tankersley was very solid last season and Messenger did well too. As mehmattski touched on, they aquired Jorge Julio to close, which I'm sure will work out fine.
On the other side of the equation, the offense is lead by Miguel Cabrera. So much has been written about how special a player he is, so I'll only add a little more. He had an off year for home runs last year and "only" hit 26, but that didn't stop him from batting in 114 runs. Also, he hit for .339. The joke at the beginning of last season was that the best hitter after Cabrera was Dontrelle Willis(who hit a disappointing .172, but still hit 3 HRs including a grand slam against the Mets). By the end of the season that was certainly not the case as Hanley Ramirez(.292 119 R 17 HRs), Dan Uggla (.282 27 HR, 90 RBI), Josh Willingham (.277 26 HRs), and Mike Jacobs (.262 20 HRs 77 RBIs) stepped it up.
Everyone is talking about a sophomore slump for the rookies, but if the Marlins keep improving they are certainly a threat to make the playoffs. I predict they'll win around 87 games and flirt with a Wild Card spot. If they make the playoffs, it'll be from their pitching and you do NOT want to bet against the Marlins in the playoffs.

Marlins Closer Rehabilitation Program

Yesterday, the Florida Marlins traded former PCOW winner Yusiermo Petit to the Diamondbacks for closer Jorge Julio. This is significant as it allows us to bring to light a phenomenon that needs explanation. Since the Marlins' World Series title in 2003 (fuck you, Jeff Weaver), the fish have had three different closers- all of whom were years removed from their previous closing experience, all of whom bounced back to have extraordinary years (for them) finishing games in Miami. We at Immaculate Inning are referring to this phenomenon as the Marlins Closer Rehabilitation Program. First, the evidence:

Some explanation: ERA+ is Earned Run Average compared to the league average for that season, adjusted so that 100 is always average. A pitcher who has an ERA+ of 117 is therefore 17% better than the average pitcher that season. RSAR is Runs Saved Above Replacement, taken from It is a measure of the effectiveness of a pitcher over the whole season compared to the theoretical "replacement pitcher." I've also inclduded the RSAR figures for each closers' seasons prior to and following their Marlins stint. Now, on to each player.

Braden Looper took over as closer for Vladamir Nunez halfway through the 2002 season after being a middle releiever since 2000, and improved his numbers dramatically. He was replaced by Ugueth Urbina in September of 2003, but did go on to be very effective closing for the Mets in 2004. Urbina, meanwhile, was in the peak of his career after his best season closing for the Red Sox in 2002, and had similar success in Texas and Florida in 2003; he went on to have a solid season for Detroit in 2004 before his production decreased and personal problems forced him out of baseball.

It is in 2004 that the story gets interesting, when Armando Benitez signed with the Marlins as a free agent. Benitez was traded twice in 2003, first from the Mets team for whom he had closed games for five seasons, and then from the Yankees for no apparent reason other than for losing a game to the Red Sox in mid-July. For whatever reason, it was universally accepted that the 30-year old Benitez was washed up. The Marlins, however, took a chance and were rewarded; as his ERA+ number shows, Benitez wasn't just good, he had one of the best seasons a closer can possibly have (by comparison, Eric Gagne's legendary 2003 season was an ERA+ of 335). Benitez wouldn't hold on to whatever he gained as the Marlins' closer, however, and has battled injuries and ineffectiveness to just 60 innings pitched in the two seasons since.

The Marlins took even bigger fliers on their closers in the next two seasons. Todd Jones (who? TODD JONES!) was a primary closer for the Detroit Tigers in 2000, saving 42 games. In the next seven seasons, he had just 16 combined saves (and 11 of those came in 2001). The Marlins signed him as a free agent before the 2005 season after an unremarkable season as a middle reliever for both the Reds and the Phillies. Jones found his 20th century form and pitched remarkably, and then returned to his career norms when he went back to the Tigers in 2006.

Larry Beinfest replaced Jones with former Cubs closer Joe Borowski(ski). And when I say former, Borowski hadn't closed games since 2003; he was replaced in 2004 (with an ERA above 8.00) by former Marlin closer Antonio Alfonseca. From that point, he bounced to the Devil Rays (where he didn't close) before joining the Marlins. For the third straight year, a struggling relief pitcher turned in a solid performance closing for Florida. Now, Jorge Julio joins the Marlins, after splitting closing duties with Jose Valverde in 2006 with Arizona. Julio hasn't been a primary closer since Baltimore in 2004 (after this he was supplanted by BJ Ryan, who is now closing in Toronto). Julio fits the perfect profile set by Benitez, Jones, and Borowski.

Is there any explanation for sudden resurgency after joining the Marlins? The coaching staff may not be to blame (or credit), since the Marlins have had two different managers (McKeon and Girardi) and two different pitching coaches (Mark Wiley and Rick Kranitz). The place where the Marlins play 81 of their games may have something to do with it: since 2003, Dolphin Stadium/Joe Robbie Stadium/Pro Player Stadium/Ray Lucas Stadium has been in the bottom five baseball parks in terms of Park Factor. What this means is that fewer runs (and Home Runs, among other things) are scored in games played in Miami's spacious football stadium. Surely this has had an effect on all of Florida's pitchers. We can find evidence of this in the relative suckitude of pitchers leaving the Marlins since 2003: Beckett, Burnett, and Pavano have all struggled since leaving the spacious Florida ballpark.

However, it cannot explain all of the discrepancies and why three pitchers have had turnaround seasons closing for the Marlins. In fact, check out the home-away ERA splits for the last three Marlins closers:
Player Home/Away
Benitez 1.53 /1.05
Jones 2.21/1.95
Borowski 3.07/4.71

Only Borowski seems to have been helped by playing his home games in Florida. If we are to go with the instinct that one is random, two is a coincidence, and three is a trend- then there clearly is a trend with closers putting on the teal and black. Nothing in the statistics that is common to the three pitchers points to any reason for this anomaly.

We then have no choice but to suggest a Bogus Theorem. South Florida has warm, humid weather, it has beaches filled with beautiful women, and it has numerous bagel places. The last reason can also explain the success of Braden Looper when he left Florida- for New York, and may also explain most of Mariano Rivera's success. All of these combine to have an effect on a pitchers' confidence and stamina, which manifests itself in extraordinary seasons from otherwise ordinary closers. Jorge Julio, consider yourself lucky to be joining the Marlins Closer Rehabilitation Program.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Look, A Baseball Post!

Now that I've finally recovered from my duel battle with a fever and March Madness (solution: More Cowbell), I can return to making regular posts. Baseball season starts in less than one week, and everyone is wondering who this years' breakout players are. Projection systems such as PECOTA and ZiPS use millions of data points to predict future production based on past results. However, a lot can happen to a baseball player physically and mentally between seasons, and some look towards spring training to get an inkling of who's gonna bust out. Traditionally, spring training results are seen as the combination of small sample size and not caring. Hitters are trying to get their timing back (after all, hitting is timing) and in general swing a lot more than they would in a real game- leading to depressed on base percentages and a lot of strikeouts.

However, a tidbit I picked up reading a Baseball Prospectus article today was that there is some support for spring training results predicting regular season success. Specifically, a high slugging percentage in spring games has some correlation to "breakout seasons" by hitters. So I trotted over to the trusty statistics at to check out who has been slugging up a storm in 2007. I picked an arbitrary cutoff of 45 plate appearances, and here is the Top 15 Sluggiest Players in spring training:

Taking a look at some of these players: Raul Ibanez had a solid yet quiet season for the last place Mariners, hitting 33 homers and 33 doubles. He'll turn 36 this season so I wouldn't expect a huge breakout, but its a good bet he could equal that production this season. Khalil Greene had a fairly average season last year, which follows an equally average season in 2005. I'm doubtful that this strong spring showing indicates a return to the form he showed in his first full season, when he hit .273/.349/.446. Despite the depressed rate stats the last two seasons, Greene has hit exactly 15 home runs in each of his three full seasons, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

Scott Hairston has gotten a lot of at-bats for the Diamondbacks in spring training, and marks the first player on the list that I've never heard of. According to this article, Hairston stands a chance of making the Opening Day roster for the DBacks, after a very strong performance in AAA last season. While his career minor league OPS of .972 would be much more useful at second base, if he can keep up that level of production as a corner outfielder, its good news in Arizona. Derek Lee, Chase Utley, Aramis Ramirez, Vernon Wells, and Adam Dunn aren't really candidates for "breakout seasons" as they are established hitters; however, Lee had a bit of a down year in 2006, so maybe this indicates a turnaround.

Brad Eldred gets the award for the least likely to replicate the numbers in the regular season. Stuck behind Sean Casey and his bellyfullofguts, Eldred likely won't see more than 70 AB in the majors in 2007. And in those 70 AB, Eldred might strike out in 30 of them. Baseball Prospectus notes that Eldred might have a shot with a decent hitting coach as a DH, but in the National League his utility might be in pinch hitting. Yawn.

Ryan Zimmerman and Brad Hawpe are both looking to prove that their rookie and sophomore seasons, respectively, were not flukes. This sort of disqualifies them from the "breakout season" search, as they've already had this- it's unlikely that either player will match his 2006 slugging percentage. This is also sort of true for Ian Kinsler, who wins the "2006 starter I've never heard of" award- if Kinsler can keep up a .800+ OPS as a second baseman, that is very valuable for the Rangers. Michael Cuddyer, in addition to having a funny name, also had a "breakout" season in 2006, increasing his EqA to .296 from .267 in 2005; perhaps the strong spring indicates a continuation of this performance.

This narrows down the "breakout" candidates on this list to Brandon Phillips and Johnny Estrada. At age 34, Estrada is unlikely to refind the power he had in 2004, though a change of scenery to Milwaukee could do the trick. Phillips, meanwhile, could be an interesting case. The Reds' second baseman had an above average campaign in 2006, his first full season in the majors. Nothing in Phillips' past suggests slugging prowess: in seven minor league seasons, he slugged .418, though his best year came at a high level- AAA Buffalo in 2004 (.430). PECOTA thinks that Phillips' 2006 should be a typical level of production for the 24-year-old, but perhaps there is some room for improvement, based on his spring-training numbers.

Congratulations to Brandon Phillips, who shall be The Immaculate Inning's First Annual Breakout Candidate. For winning, Phillips receives a lifetime supply of Clearasil products. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2007

PCOW Winner

Phear my 1337 Microsoft paint skillz! Anyway, this weeks award goes to our fallen Duke brother, Josh McRoberts. There is one word for McRoberts season, exposed, exposed and disappointing. Two words, exposed and disappointing...and timid. Anyway, he quickly went from rookie phenom to meh sophomore. Like Paulus, he no longer thrived once JJ and Shelden graduated. You know, that crazy thing that happens when someone stays all four years.
The difference is, I feel like Paulus got better as the season progressed. He made less mistakes and started taking more shots, whereas McRoberts stagnated.
He's the most dominant force under the board, as long as nobody else is under the board. Sure, he'll throw down some powerful dunks and is good for the Play of the Day reverse alleyoop, but once you throw a decent defender in there he would just pass it out or settle for a hook shot. It's true that both of those skills are useful, but when you're built like McRoberts you should be forcing the issue more. I
f he was coming back for another year, I'd make him watch Clockwork Orange-style Shelden Williams and Dahntay Jones highlites for days at a time. He'd see how they'd punish weaker players by dunking it in their face and either doing pushups on top of their bodies after contact or crotch dunking on them. I really think Duke and McRoberts could've benefited from another year with eachother. McRoberts is still getting used to his body and could use the confidence from playing against smaller competition. Duke could of course use his size and athleticism.

Have fun getting manhandled in the NBA Josh, and here's a cookie.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good Riddance

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Josh. I can't wait to see you try that fruity jump hook in Teh Le4gue, and watch Ben Wallace jam it down your throat like a basketball-sized cough drop. Assuming you ever play, of course.


Friday, March 16, 2007


Well. Umm. Hey- baseball season starts soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

PCOW Winner

Congrats Duke haters, way to hate Duke! Have a cookie. I hope you choke on it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

PCOW Discussion

Sorry for the late post. Still spring training, got the NBA, and of course the upcoming NCAA tournament. Who is worthy of this week's cookie?

Finding A Sleeper

Every year since sixth grade and the vaunted Hardyston Elementary Sports History Club, I've watched the Selection Sunday show and filled out the blank bracket clipped from the Newark Star-Ledger. Then either that night or the day after I would quickly fill up my bracket with what I felt were my "gut" picks to advance. More often than not I'd end up with too many top seeds winning too many games, and later in the week I'd adjust my predictions to include some educated guesses at upsets. I've never won any NCAA pool (for entertainment purposes only) and normally by the first Friday's late games I'm rooting hard for every upset ever, since I'll inevitably have lost a few elite eight teams already.

This year is no different. I look at Duke's bracket (the West) and my "gut" picks had every top seed advancing to the second round. My only regional semifinal team outside the top four is Duke. Outside of the blatant homerism, I don't think the rest of the bracket was too bad: a #1 (Kansas), two #2s (G-town, Wisconsin) and a #3 (Texas A&M) in the Final Four. Since then I've made my usual changes during the week- I'm no longer convinced Wisconsin can beat Florida without Brian Butch. But my Sweet 16 teams have not changed. With that in mind, I'm going to make like a professor during a macroeconomics lecture and find me a sleeper.

There are many definitions for this elusive "sleeper." One is strictly seed-based: if a team seeded eighth or lower wins two games, that's guaranteed narcolepsy. There are a few, however, that defy this defnition, when the mainstream media has annointed its picks for sleepy-head and the higher seeded team comes out and whomps the Cinderella story back to its mid-major roots.

This year the sexy pick is Winthrop, for reasons I'm not sure I understand. I watched exactly one Winthrop game all season, and they were in a tough battle with VMI- the same VMI that is dead last in the nation in scoring defense and defensive efficiency, the same VMI that Winthrop beat 109-96 and 108-76 earlier this season. Judging a team based on one game is dangerous, of course, but many are picking this team to knock off Notre Dame and Oregon. This seems to be based entirely on their strength of schedule, which includes a seven point loss at North Carolina, an eleven point loss at Maryland, a three point loss at Wisconsin, and a twenty point loss at Texas A&M. Kudos to whoever scheduled those games, but in the end you actually have to beat at least one of those teams (the later in the season, the better) to gain my respect. Sure, they shoot the ball well (54.8 eFG) and they grab defensive rebounds well (7th in nation), so anything could happen- but at this point, Notre Dame winning on Friday would be considered an upset to many people. Winthrop is fully awake at this point.

Looking over the other double-digit seeds, Georgia Tech stands out. More semi-homerism, as an ACC fan, but the statistics back me up. Other than Duke (6th seed, 10th overall on Pomeroy), the Yellow Jackets are one of the most underseeded teams according to Pomeroy (10th seed, 14th overall on Pomeroy). Unlike Duke, whose lower seed seems to be the result of streaky performance and godawful defense at the end of the season, Georgia Tech knocked off UNC and Boston College in its final regular season games. There is no overarching trend that suggests that Georgia Tech's Pomeroy rating is inflated due to blowouts early in the season. Once again, any team that shoots like Georgia Tech (54.6 eFG) should not be counted out; unlike Winthrop, Georgia Tech's rebounding strength is on its own glass (41.3 ORB%, 4th in nation). When their defense is clicking (14.1% steal rate, 5th in nation), they can beat anyone. This includes an overrated UNLV team and a wounded Wisconsin.

Yeah, I know. You don't want a BCS conference team to be your Cinderella. You want a George Mason, a Gonzaga circa 1999, a Weber State. Well unfortunately I have some bad news for you in that department: the mid-majors aren't very good this year. They only got six at-large bids from those conferences, a combination of the top teams winning their conference tourneys and the rest of their leagues being awful. Two teams that might get low seeds and surprise people in previous years- Butler and Southern Illinois, were rewarded with high seeds. It will be easier for the Salukis to get past Holy Cross and the VT/Illinois winner than for Butler to get past ODU and Maryland/Davidson.

One pod to perhaps look out for is the one that includes Virignia/Albany and Tennessee/Long Beach State. As Pomeroy pointed out when the brackets were released, no other pod has all four teams so outrageously overseeded. The committee rewarded UVA for its ACC regular season acheivement, but when they said they looked at unbalanced conference schedules, they lied in the Cavaliers' case. UVA played a schedule that was two standard deviations easier than that of Duke and UNC. Tennessee, meanwhile, is your typical underacheiving SEC team. The two lower seeds are two of the worst teams in the tournament. Long Beach State's best wins came in a season sweep over CalTech, ranked 156th overall. Albany wasn't much better, knocking off Bucknell (111th) in its season opener, and then Vermont (151st) in the conference tourney title game, after losing to Vermont twice in the regular season. However, it is entirely possible that one of them upsets a weak UVA or Tennesee team and finds themselves in the sweet sixteen (and a grand old time against Ohio State).

The other media darling I keep hearing about is Oral Roberts. OMG THEY BEAT KANSAS!!!! Yeah. Let's ask Santa Clara's 2005 team what beating a powerhouse (UNC) in November means in the long run. Like Winthrop, their strong strength of schedule is also filled with losses- at Georgetown (73-58), at Arkansas (68-56), at BYU (72-62). Reviewing their Pomeroy stats, I have the following positive things to say about Oral Roberts: they get to the free throw line well (7th in nation, though they only shoot 71% once there), and they avoid getting blocked (5.8% of all offensive possessions, 4th in nation). Well, Washington State (with 6-10/240 Robbie Cowgill) is no Oakland (tallest player- 6-7), so they can expect some blocks in the first round. If you're unconvinced by WSU, perhaps they could sneak by Vanderbilt in the second round, and would probably be favored against a fairly weak GWU.

Getting back to the power conferences, there are some sleepers among the 8-9 teams. Kentucky and Villanova have both been erratic this season, but either of them could take down a strong, yet beatable Kansas team. Arizona is not a team to be counted out of a potential second round matchup with Florida. I can see a lot of brackets going down on Saturday and Sunday night should the top seeds fall- once again, not your typical definition of Sleeper, but they are definitely drowsy, and unexpected.

If I had to make a (vague) prediction, it would be this: of the 16 teams winning both games this weekend, no fewer than 14 will be from BCS conferences. One could come from Maryland's pod, simply because the Terrapins are outnumbered 3-to-1 by mid-majors. After that, SIU has a tough road, and the other mid-majors have two upsets to deal with. Perhaps one could come from the weak UVA pod, or the WSU pod (if the media's enthusiasm of Oral Roberts and George Washington is to be believed) . Still, I would not be surprised if only power conference teams remain after this weekend. So put that in your mid-major pipe and smoke it.

All this sleeper talk makes me want to take a nap.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Dance: Buffalo Sub-Regional

While its impossible to give a complete rundown of all the possibilities in the NCAA tournament, now that the bracket is set, we here at Immaculate Inning will be previewing some interesting match-ups we'll be watching. Whichever subregional got our Duke Blue Devils is of course the main focus, so we'll start there. Sixth seeded Duke takes on eleven seed Virginia Commonwealth, while third seeded Pittsburgh draws Wright State.

#3 Pitt took care of business in the Big East, and finished second in the regular season (and the runner-up in the conference tourney). They split with Georgetown but were swept by Marquette; a loss to Louisville was their only other conference loss. Out of conference, Pitt lost to a couple of big name teams (Wisconsin and OkSt) while the rest of their schedule had plenty of sugar. Statistically, Pitt ranks 10th overall on Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, and has done it with a plodding pace that is one of the slowest in Division 1. This is due to a solid offensive performance, an adjusted 11th at 118.9 points/100 possessions. This is fueled by solid guard play out of 5-10 Soph Levance Fields and 6-3 senior Antiono Graves, who limit Pitt's turnovers and rack up the assists- they're fifth in the nation with 67% of their made buckets having an assist. Seven foot senior Aaron Gray is a high percentage shooter (59.5% EFG) and is one of the twenty best rebounders in the country, on both the offensive and defensive end.

#14 Wright State beat Butler in the Horizon Conference tournament championship game to get in. Their schedule was completely unremarkable, and statistically Wright State backs up the sentiment that they're your typical bubble-bursting team: making a run in a conference tourney means FSU and Syracuse have to play in that other tournament. Wright State is better on defense than offense, raking 72nd in the nation (95.2 points/100 possessions). The go-to guy is 5-10 senior guard Dashaun Wood, who has had a hand in 30.7% of his possessions, which is top 30 in the nation. It is not a very efficient offense- 141st (adjusted), though they are above average in limiting turnovers and in getting to the free throw line. Other than that: meh; a team with no one over 6-8 isn't going to be able to stop Aaron Gray. If you're looking for a NWSt-over-Iowa 14-3 upset, this isn't the place to find it.

#11 VCU won the regular season and conference tournament titles out of the They are a team that leans on its offense- 10th in raw efficiency (114.7, adjusted to 114.8 and 34th overall), while their defense is sub-par (100.2, 130th). The lineup goes eight deep most games, but only six players have played 50% of VCU's minutes. Senior guard B.A. Walker leads the offense with an impressive 124.1 offensive rating, thanks to a high shooting rate and a low turnover rate. Jesse Pellot-Rosa is a 6-4 swingman that also chips in his share, taking the highest percentage of shots per minutes played. None of VCU's regular players are taller than 6-7, though they do have 6-10 freshman Calvan Roland who did not make much of an impact in his reduced minutes. As a whole, the efficient offense is run through dribble-drive guard play, with not many shots coming from beyond the arc. When those long-range shots do come, however, VCU is very effictive- shooting 40% on the season. Their high efficiency typically comes in a slow-pace game- just 65 possessions/game.

There will be a more in-depth look at the matchup with #6 Duke later, but for now it seems apparent that Duke will have to go with a four-guard lineup against VCU. Gerald Henderson should have the emotion pumping after having to sit out the ACC Tourney game, and Marty Pocius should get plenty of minutes off the bench. It could be exciting to see DeMarcus Nelson and Henderson on the court together, with high-efficiency scorers who don't decrease the defensive intensity. If Duke is able to recover its defense they showed earlier in the season, they should be able to shut down the smaller VCU team. If, however, Duke continues to struggle on defense, this could be a very close game.

Duke is a team that has played like a #2 seed at times, and has played like an NIT team at other times. Similarly, I can see Duke doing anything from a first round loss to taking out teams like Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, Indiana, and even UCLA on the way to the Elite Eight. No outcome in between would be terribly surprising.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


When I created this blog I intended it to be not only an outlet for my own need to write, but also as a forum to discuss random sports things. The potential of that second goal has not been realized, and so I decided to make a change. Posts can now receive comments from anybody, not just blogger or gmail users (but you'll now have to do the word-verification thingy). Though every blog I've ever read has had to eventually switch to a registration-only system, for now our traffic is moderate enough that I can delete offensive comments as quick as they come in. And I'll be playing the part of the Thought Police here, so the judgment on what is offensive is mine alone. I realize a lot of people hate Duke and hate the Yankees (our two biggest topics), so please be civil and everything will be fine.

I'm looking forward to everyone's comments.


PS The ACC tourney starts in four hours. How awesome is that?!?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

ACC Tournament Predictions

The ACC tournament starts tomorrow, and many sites are awash with predictions. The best conference in the land is rife with parity, and this weekend will truly be Madness. One way to predict the tournament scientifically is to use the offensive and defensive efficiencies you've read about here all season. Ken Pomeroy has done just that, using the data from each team's entire season of work.

The principle is based on the Pythagorean Winning Percentage. To explain again, each team can be expected to win a certain percentage of games based on its offense and defense. In baseball this is done with runs scored/allowed; here we are using offensive and defensive efficiencies. I wanted to look at whether the results would be different if only ACC games were considered. That data is available here, thanks to the great work of Paul Rugani. After getting each team's Pythag WinPct, we can then predict how team A would fare against team B: (A-AB)/(A+B-2AB). Then based on potential matchups in the ACC tournament, we can calculate the chances that each team reach each round:

Again, this is based entirely on ACC games. Duke's chances of winning the tournament are severely depressed compared to Pomeroy's prediction, due to Duke's relatively worse defense in ACC play. The increased chances of UVA, VT, and Duke compared to the rest of the bracket have to do with how long each team has to wait to play the overwhelming favorite- UNC.

This seems like a good place for my predictions. Maryland is one of the most under-seeded teams in this tournament, and has the best chances of knocking of UNC. I don't see any of the slower-pace, short-bench teams (like FSU, Clemson, or BC) upsetting UNC, so I'll pick Maryland to reach the finals. Duke, meanwhile, is similarly under-seeded, and could make quick work of NCSU before revenging themselves upon UVA. A matchup with either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech likely sits next. If it's Georgia Tech, I like Duke- Virginia Tech is a much tougher game. Duke will have trouble against either UNC or Maryland in the final, and so I think whoever emerges from the 1-4 side of the bracket should win the tournament.

What I think these stats show more than anything is that Duke is not to be counted out of this tournament simply because of a low seed. Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch. Any other predictions?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Publix Cookie of the Week winner

First of all, props to Matt for making a graphic. I hereby owe him one Publix cookie. Lets take a look at this week's nominees.

Roy Williams - He's an asshole for keeping his starters in during a blowout. Say what you will about Coach K, but I challenge you to find a game against UNC in which he had his starters in with 20 seconds left during a blowout. When you leave your starters in, you're sending the message that it still counts. Henderson made a reckless, hard foul, but Hanbrough should've been riding the bench well before that.

Bronson Sardinha - Spring training baseball is great fodder for PCOWs due to the baseball preseason being completely worthless for predicting team success(Matt, please call me out on this if I'm wrong). A walkoff homerun in spring training makes for a very strong case for a cookie, but something else intervened this week.

Yusmeiro Petit - One of today's headlines on was that Daisuke Matsuzaka held the Marlins scoreless in 3 innings. The sub-headline was that he did well in his debut against major league hitters. The article went into intimate detail about Daisuke's outing which consisted of 2 hits, 1 walk, 3 K's after 47 pitches thrown. After paragraphs and paragraphs about Dice-K, the last one says that Petit allowed only 1 hit and struck out 5 batters over his three scoreless innings. DICE-K GOT OUTPITCHED. Aside from getting beaten in the numbers, he did this against the Boston Red Sox who have a much more respectable offense than the Florida Marlins.

There's no international hype surrounding Yusmeiro Petit's season, but he out-dueled Dice-K over 3 innings and deserves a little more than a footnote. Being in Jupiter, Florida you're much closer than I am to Publix, so you're going to have to get it yourself. I remember passing a Publix on the way to a spring training game though, so here's how you get there.

Yusmeiro, drive swiftly and safely to Publix and enjoy your cookie. You held the Red Sox to 3 scoreless innings and pitched better than international obsession. If that's not worth a cookie, I don't know what is.

Monday, March 05, 2007

PCOW Discussion

It's Monday night, and you know what that means, time to figure out who deserves this week Publix Cookie of the Week(not actually sponsored by Publix). The sports world is starting to awaken with the beginning of March. College basketball is building up to its climax and baseball is just getting started. There should be a good amount of candidates, so lets see some nominees.

Spring Training

Today I had the pleasure of watching my very first live action baseball game of 2007 today. Alerted by some commenters on Bronx Banter, I learned that today's Yankees game against the
Tigers would be on ESPN. I rushed home and set the DVR so I could watch the game this evening. We're still in the phase of spring where the the cliche is that the "pitchers are ahead of the hitters," so I'll recap via each pitchers' performance

Starting for the Yankees was their Plan B Japanese Import, Kei "Quest" Igawa. He did his best Nuke Laloosh impression in the first inning. After a single by Pudge Rodriguez, Igawa walked the next two hitters. He then struck out the next two, before walking in a run. He finished the inning on his fortieth pitch, striking out the side. Igawa showed a good change-up, freezing two of his strikeout victims. His fastball registered around the high-80s and was fairly erratic, and got squeezed on a number of occasions, with close pitches called balls. This was probably because his breaking ball was consistently up, and there were at least three "foul home runs" crushed by Gary Sheffield and minor leaguer Ryan Rayburn. Igawa was pulled after Sean Casy singled to start the second.

Justin Verlander started for the Tigers, and set the Yankees (Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Jason "Chumba" Giambi) down in order in the second. His fastball was rated as "most feared" via a players' poll and it had quite a bit of pop in the first. He tried to In the second inning, he tried to incorporate his curveball, and paid dearly. A sharp single by A-Rod was followed by a quick line drive homer by Hideki Matsui, both on the breaking ball. Verlander then was wild with everything the rest of the inning, throwing away a few fastballs.

The Sandman entered early for the Yanks, and struck out the first two hitters (Brent Clevlen and Brandon Inge) swinging, and Sean Casey bounced one back to the mound, breaking his bat. No surprises there from the best closer of all time. There was a rumor that Rivera was going to develop a changeup this year, after it was apparently observed during a side-tossing session. He didn't throw it that inning, serving up a healthy dose of the cutter with a couple two-seam fastballs worked in.

Andrew Miller came in for the third inning. Miller graduated from UNC just six days after I graduated from Duke, which is a weird thing itself. A contract stipulation had Miller in the big leagues in August of last season, and did okay for someone who had been pitching in the College World Series just three months prior (10 innings, 10 walks, 8 hits, 6 strikeouts). The big lefthander showed a sneaky-fast heater (91-92 mph) and a sort of slurve-type breaking ball, which he only threw twice. Chumba showed his typical patience in working a walk in this inning- perhaps the eye for the strike zone doesn't need warmup. A-Rod got a hit and RBI with a man in scoring position (cue sarcastic comment)! Miller continued in the fourth and made quick work of the Yankees, registering a ground out (Posada) a strikeout (Cano) and a popup (Doug Mientkiewicz). I'm not sure what the plan is for Miller this season, but I think remaining in the big leagues is a distinct possibility, based on his outing.

Steven Jackson took the mound for the Yanks in the fourth- part of the Randy Johnson trade, a big right-hander wearing the distinguished #80. Jackson thew mostly sliders to Curtis Granderson and Pudge Rodriguez, but was fairly wild with his 90 mph fastball. He threw more fastballs to Polanco and then to Sheffield, getting the former Yankee to hit another of his famous towering- but foul- flyballs. Carlos Guillen smacked a double and he might be the next big power threat out of shortstop in the coming season. Jackson had been holding his own until the double agaist the big league hitters, but he is clearly a couple of years away. Jackson had been holding his own against the big-league hitters, but the kid is clearly a couple of years away.

Scrub time dawned for the Yankees, with Kevin Thompson taking over in center- he could travel north with the Yanks if Abreu isn't ready for the regular season (he later dropped a pretty bunt single to showcase his speed to Joe Torre). Jackson really started to struggle in the fifth, and was replaced by Chris Britton. Traded in the offseason for Jaret Wright, Britton is battling Brian Bruney for the final righty slot in the Yanks bullpen.

Zach Miner, a swingman out of the bullpen, took over for the Tigers in the fifth. After Thompson's bunt single, Jeter flicked one back up the middle and was replaced by minor leaguer Alberto "The Attorney General" Gonzalez. Jeter's timing looks very good for this early in March- the signs point to a regression this year, but I don't think he will fall far below .320/.380/.450. A-Rod struck out with runners on second/third to end the inning (insert another sarcastic comment).

Tyler "The Yankee" Clippard entered the game in the sixth, and is the main reason I kept watching. Clippard has been mostly overshadowed by the rise of Philip Hughes, and causes much debate among those who follow prospects. The stats are certainly there- in two full big league seasons, Clippard has four times as many strikeouts as walks, a fairly low home run rate, and a good ground-ball frequency. Yet many prospect-predictors, both computers like ZIPS and PECOTA and traditional scouts, have cooled on the tall, skinny 23-year old. In this game Clippard failed to show the control he possessed in a no-hitter last season at Trenton. His breaking ball in particular kept flying out of his hand poorly, whacking Tigers reserve Cleveland in the helmet, and another one slipping out against Inge. He threw a sharper one to get Inge to bounce to the mound to end the sixth, however. It will be interesting to see the rest of the spring from Clippard but he's probably another year away from contributing to the big club; he will most likely anchor the best AAA rotation in Yankees' history.

Notes the rest of the way: Joel Zumaya is pretty spectacular- he had twice as many 100 mph pitches last season (233 pitches) than the rest of the major leagues combined. He had that velocity in early March, which is ridiculous, and then embarrassed the hitters with a looping, 84 mph breaking ball... 23-yr old Cuban defector Juan Miranda looked over-matched against Fransisco Rodney... Buck Martinez and Steve Phillips cancel each other out in the booth- the former talking about how Pudge Rodriguez learning how to walk will help the team "walks mean on base percentage, and on base percentage means runs." Phillips, meanwhile, talked about how the Dodgers "overpaid a little" for Juan Pierre "but he will be a producer, he will produce." Phillips neglected to specify what Pierre produces- outs, lots of them- first or second in the league in making outs each of the last three seasons.... Ron Villone looked pretty wild; unfortunately, without a radical shift in the plan for Igawa, Villone is the best lefty bullpen option for the Yanks.

The DVR cut out with two outs in the top of the ninth- so I wasn't able to witness Bronson Sardinha's game winning homerun. The minor leaguer had an unremarkable game up until that point; however, he still sits lodged uncermoniously between current big-leaguers like Melky Cabrera and phenom Jose Tabata on the Yanks' long term OF plans. Overall, a pleasing return to baseball-watching for me, and showcased in a nutshell what these two teams will be about this season: the Yanks will bat their way past shaky pitching and the Tigers will have pretty dominant pitching, particularly out of the bullpen. Final Score: Yankees 6, Tigers 5.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Duke at UNC Preview

Hell's biggest event of the year is coming up this afternoon (4 PM, CBS). I'm only ten miles from hell, and the heat is intolerable. Luckily my air conditioner is on full blast, allowing me to write this brief preview. As if there weren't inspiration enough, Duke can knock its rivals all the way to a 5 seed (and out of a first round bye) in the upcoming ACC tournament; a loss, and UNC can hang a banner claiming a share of the ACC regular season title.

The first matchup in Cameron Indoor Stadium is an excellent example of how tempo-free stats allow for a clearer picture of what happened in a game. The score was 79-73, and the pace for much of the game was frantic, with fast breaks and layups exchanged constantly. Yet a closer look at what happened in the game shows that this was, surprisingly, a defensive struggle. There were 74 possessions in this game, still most for Duke this season, an average pace for UNC. Within this defensively minded game there were some highlights for Duke, particularly in rebounding. While Duke's 70% defensive rebounding rate was average for the season, it was the lowest percentage of offensive rebounds for Carolina on the season.

Duke's premiere defensive rebounders are Josh McRoberts, Dave McClure, who must continue this in order to hang with the Tar Heels today. On the offensive boards, Lance Thomas has been very effective in ACC play, grabbing one in 11% of his possessions. Unfortunately, the lineup for this game may be influenced by matchups more than anything else. The ability of Lance Thomas or Brian Zoubek to contain Tyler Hansbrough or Brendan Wright is a key facet of this game. On the perimeter, Duke's guards did an excellent job containing long range shooting, limiting Carolina to just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc.

Carolina is coming off of two losses, in two of their worst defensive performances of the year. Duke, meanwhile, has improved its offense lately by pushing the tempo and avoiding prolonged half-court sets. While it would not be advisable to play into Carolina's strength and push the pace, a controlled up-tempo game could be the key for Duke. In addition, look for Duke's full court press to try and limit the Carolina running game. In order to be victorious, Duke needs to overcome its fatigue problems and grab buckets late in the game.

I'm not going to make a prediction this time. So there.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

ACC seeding possibilities

I wanted to figure out what all the possible ACC tournament seedings would be. So, armed with a pen and pad, the ACC standings/results, and the ACC's tiebreakers, I ended up confusing myself to no end. Maryland beating NCSU and Wake beating Virginia make it even more complicated. With only 3 games to play there are still eight different scenarios, including one with FOUR 11-5 teams. In addition, a GT win over BC would give GT the #6 seed paired with a Duke loss would drop Duke all the way to #7. Here's the scenarios:

UNC, VT, and BC all win.
#1: Virginia Tech (4-2 against other 11-5 teams)
#2: UNC (beat BC)
#3: BC
#4: UVA
#5: Maryland v #12 Miami
#6: Duke v #11 Wake
#7: GT v #10 NC State
#8: FSU v #9 Clemson

If UNC and VT win but BC loses to GT:
#1 VT
#2 UNC
#3 UVA
#4 BC
#5 Maryland v #12 Miami
#6 Georgia Tech (0-1 v VT, 1-1 v UNC) v #11 Wake
#7 Duke (0-1 v VT, 0-2 v UNC) v #10 NC State
#8 FSU v #9 Clemson

If VT and BC win, UNC loses:
#1 BC (2-1 v VT and UVA)
#2 VT (2-2 v BC and UVA)
#3 UVA (1-2 v VT and BC)
#4 Maryland
#5 UNC v #12 Miami
#6 Duke v #11 Wake
#7 GT v #10 NCSU
#8 FSU v #9 Clemson

If UNC and BC win, VT loses to Clemson:
#1 UNC
#2 BC
#3 UVA
#4 VT
#5 Maryland v #12 Miami
#6 Duke v #11 Wake
#7 FSU v #10 NCSU
#8 GT v #9 Clemson

If UNC wins, but VT and BC lose:
#1 UNC
#2 UVA
#3 VT
#4 BC
#5 Maryland v #12 Miami
#6 Georgia Tech v #11 Wake
#7 Duke v #10 NCSU
#8 Clemson v #9 FSU

If VT wins, UNC/BC lose:
#1 VT
#2 UVA
#3 BC
#4 Maryland
#5 UNC v #12 Miami
#6 Duke v #11 Wake
#7 GT v #10 NCSU
#8 FSU v #9 Clemson
This one is the most complicated. With two teams at 11-6 (and UVA/VT split their two games) and three teams at 10-5 (who are all 1-1 versus each other), I believe that record within all five of these teams is what matters. UNC's loss to MD places them in the fifth seed.

If BC wins, UNC/VT lose:
#1 UVA
#2 BC
#3 VT
#4 Maryland
#5 UNC v #12 Miami
#6 Duke v #11 Wake
#7 GT v #10 NCSU
#8 FSU v #9 Clemson

If UNC, BC, and VT all lose:
#1 UVA
#2 VT
#3 BC
#4 Maryland
#5 UNC v #12 Miami
#6 Duke v #11 Wake
#7 GT v #10 NCSU
#8 FSU v #9 Clemson

Well, then. That... clears things up? From Duke's perspective, they can only play either Wake or NCSU, who they handled easily back in January. In the next round, the thing to root for sure seems like a third game against Boston College. If so, be sure to root for Virginia Tech in the early game, as wins by VT, GT, and Duke would lead to a #3 seed for the Golden Eagles. If you'd rather face UVA in the second round (my preference- on a neutral court I think Duke wins by ten), root for VT and BC tomorrow. If VT is your target, root for Clemson and BC. (Note: Duke could still face all three of these teams even if they lose tomorrow- but I'm assuming most people reading this will be rooting for Duke tomorrow).

It will be a crazy day of games tomorrow. Some might even call it... madness.

Check back for a UNC game preview tomorrow.