Friday, December 7, 2012

A Social Media Rant

Social media has exploded in the last decade, there's no arguing that. It's boomed because we live in a very narcissistic society; as time goes on, we forget that we specifically aren't the center of the universe. Everybody wants to talk about themselves; Twitter and Facebook is everyone's version of their own reality TV show.

First, I'll cover some Twitter issues. If you're one of those people who's constantly asking celebrities to retweet you, or follow you, do the world a favor and delete your Twitter. Ignoring the fact that a celebrity following you on Twitter will not change your life in any meaningful way, it's even more annoying to simply ask for a retweet. "Hey, I'm your biggest fan, RT?" or things along those lines are more common than "follow me!" in my opinion. Again, I will ask: What good does your favorite celebrity retweeting a completely worthless tweet ASKING TO BE RETWEETED do anyone? Is your life truly sad enough that knowing a celebrity simply saw your tweet and clicked a button is enough to make your day? It shouldn't be. Now, if you get excited because you had a funny tweet or a useful tweet that went viral, and a celebrity happened to help with that, it's different. But there's something incredibly sad about one human being begging another human being to click a button on their computer for them.

We live in a culture that is very celebrity based. If people aren't obsessing over the latest celebrity gossip (William and Kate are having a baby... whoop-de-fucking-do.) they're obsessing over ways they can become famous. And then there's the group of people who aren't trying to become famous, but that's because they just act like they already are. Posting 500 pictures of their pets, their dinners, or themselves, just to see how many people will "like" or "favorite" them and they can get a small but necessary ego boost.

Sadly, Facebook's even worse. There is really no real benefit to it. One may argue that it allows us to keep in touch with our friends in a much more convenient way than in the past, but the problem is that it's not hard to stay in touch with people you actually want to stay in touch with. Everyone owns a cell phone, and almost everyone has text messaging. Facebook allows us to know what's going on with our friends without having to ask them, and while that may seem convenient, it's unfortunate. There's something warm about being asked how your day was, how everything's going; to know that someone else might actually care what's going on in your life.

Facebook also brings out the sketchyness in a lot of people. Oh, that girl's single now? 28 likes in under an hour... which means 28 people are liking the fact that this girl's heart is probably broken, and the likes are for their own gain. Guys like it because they find her attractive, girls like it because they either 1) didn't like her boyfriend 2) think they have to pick sides. There's no reason to like it. Not one.

At least Facebook has created a whole new generation of models and photographers. Creepy 40-year-old men everywhere are buying cameras and telling girls they're photographers, these girls get half naked and pose, the creepy men post the pictures on Facebook with some bullshit photography company name (Creepy-40-year-old man's name photography, for example) and now a 20 or 21 year old girl has a plethora of half naked pictures on a PUBLIC WEBSITE because she thinks this creep is going to help her get started in the business and build her portfolio.

Now, I use both Facebook and Twitter, so obviously they have some benefits. Facebook is fairly worthless, but people post events and lost cell phones and phone number changes there so it made no sense not to have one. Twitter is much more useful, as mentioned above, but people are also much much more annoying, as some people will tweet, literally, 100 times a day. You don't need to tweet 5 different songs you're listening to over a 20 minute time period. The solution to these obnoxious social media "friends" we all have is generally to unfollow them, or unsubscribe, and for the most part, that's what I do. But just because I can ignore the idiots doesn't mean they don't exist. So please, if you love social media, at least act like you're thinking about other people once in a while.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Minnesotans, Vote No on Nov 6

On November 6, 2012, anyone voting in Minnesota will be able to choose if they want to vote yes or no on a new marriage amendment. A "yes" vote means you are voting to constitutionally exclude same-sex marriage. A "no" vote doesn't mean you are voting to make same-sex marriage legal, it simply means you are voting no against a constitutional amendment that is, in itself, discriminatory. It's a vote to make something illegal, or not illegal, but NOT legal. The Minnesota legislative body is basically asking a loaded question.

When it comes to political issues, of any magnitude, most people's decisions are clouded by biased beliefs. Most of us don't realize how biased our viewpoints can get at times, and that's seen more in political arguments than anything else. The easiest way to get passed these biases is to change your viewpoint. Before you vote yes or no this November, ask yourself one question: If your son or daughter (present or in the future) was gay, and wanted to marry the person they loved, what would you tell them? If your voting yes this November, would you, honestly, disown your own child because of their sexual preference? I'll assume you wouldn't disown your child, because you have a heart.

If you can't imagine how you'd react to your children's questions, there's other ways around the biases. For instance, try imagining a world in which heterosexuals are the minority and homosexuals are the majority. If you were a heterosexual male, absolutely in love with the woman of your dreams, wouldn't it bother you if a bunch of people who have no business being in your personal life were able to decide you and this woman can't get married? And, without any real reason? I would venture to guess most people would be outraged.

Those who plan to vote yes often argue that allowing same-sex marriages isn't good for our children, because it's unfair for a child to have to grow up in a home without a mother or a father. Many people cling onto that argument when they claim they'll vote yes; the only problem is it's not based on factual evidence. Any Google search will reveal piles and piles of studies that prove a child growing up in a steady, two-parent home, regardless if it's two dads, two moms or one each, is a good thing for children. Here's a recent article on adoptions by The Atlantic, for example.

Another common argument is cited around religion; which makes me sad. Someone who truly believes in their religion and the real point of it would understand religion is important to help people become better people. Whether you become a more spiritual person, or you believe you need to do good on this planet to serve someone, or whatever, the point of religion, for everyone, at it's core should be to become a better person. And the sins that come from the homosexual acts in the Bible are sins because of the physical acts; just like pre-marital sex is a sin between two heterosexuals. Wouldn't allowing them to get married, therefore, eliminate the sin that the physical act creates before marriage?

America is a great country because our founders understood from day one that while religion has it's values, no doubt, it can have it's drawbacks as well. If you are using your religious beliefs to take away an opportunity from someone else, you're not using your time on this planet correctly. Once you understand that most wars are propagated by religious issues between factions, you'll see that as great as organized religion can be in the right hands, it can be equally as dangerous in the wrong hands. If you think it's a sin to marry someone of the same-sex, the solution is simple: don't do it.

If you're planning to vote yes, please, try to think of a legitimate reason to ban two people who are in love, who can already live together, get a civil union, and adopt a child together from getting married.

"Yeah, but if they can do all of that, why do they need to get married?" you might ask.

And again, I will direct you to look at a heterosexual marriage. Why do most heterosexual people choose to get married instead of simply going through with a civil union? Because it means something in our society. Obviously people get marriage benefits, tax exemptions and other things, but that's not the reason most people get married. In our society, marriage is the ultimate symbol of love.

It's like saying "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I'm willing to bet half my shit that I'm right." To deny this gratifying moment from any two people seems ridiculously unfair, and I believe most people in their heart agree with this sentiment.

It's my belief that we should let people live their lives however they choose, as long as they aren't harming others. And by voting No this November, I will be putting my vote where my mouth is. If you want to vote yes, it's obviously your right, but before you do, find one good reason to do it. That's how I changed my mind. Instead of fearing what we don't understand, take a few minutes to learn that what someone does sexually in the privacy of their own home doesn't make them good or bad parents, and it certainly doesn't make them sinners damned for eternity.

From one Minnesotan to another, please, do the right thing. If you care about your neighbors and your families, vote No.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sell High: Josh Willingham and Target Field

Last off-season, the Twins correctly allowed Michael Cuddyer to leave via free agency, and signed outfielder Josh Willingham to take his place. Willingham was signed for $21MM over 3 years while Cuddyer signed with Colorado for $30MM over 3 years.

Willingham didn't disappoint in his first season as a Twin. He hit .260/.366/.524, adding 35 home runs in 145 games. It was the best season of Willingham's career, but at 33-years-old, it seems unlikely he'll repeat his 2012 season next year.

A career .261/.362/.483 hitter, Willingham has been a solid offensive player for most of his career. A spike in his slugging percentage at such a late age is pretty rare, which is why the Twins should not expect Willingham to hit as well next season as he did this year. Willingham's offensive boost, believe it or not, came from playing more games at Target Field. His home/road splits in 2012 were pretty extreme. Willingham hit a ridiculous and likely unsustainable .293/.407/.610 at Target Field in 2012, compared to just .230/.326/.444 on the road. Why did his numbers spike so much at Target Field? I'm glad you asked. In 2011, Willingham played in Oakland where according to ESPN's park factor stat, the A's scored .947 runs, or about 94% of the runs scored in a neutral park. (Target Field ranked just below Oakland, .944 to .947 last season) In 2012, however, Target Field became much more of a hitter's ballpark. Target Field was the 10th most hitter friendly ballpark in baseball in 2012, after ranking 10th last in 2011. The Twins scored 1.04 runs, or 104% of what would've been scored in a neutral park.

The problem with Willingham's breakout being tied to Target Field becoming a much more hitter friendly park is that there simply isn't enough data yet to know what kind of park Target Field truly is. A look at the numbers since Target Field opened gives us a grand total of 3 years of information. In a league that has kept data for over a century, 3 years is far too small of a number to get a true reading on the park. Park Factor, by year:

2010 - .962 (96% of the runs scored in a neutral park)
2011 - .944
2012 - 1.044

Clearly, the numbers don't paint really any kind of picture. It's been random the first 3 years. However, if Target Field plays like a pitchers park next season, as it has for 2/3 of Target Field's existence, Willingham could see a considerable dip in his power numbers, as suggested.

 He might hit 30 home runs again, and he might hit .260 with a .360 on base percentage. But expecting Willingham's slugging percentage to stay near his 2012 production is simply a wish. In a best-case scenario, which would assume Target Field continues to play as a hitter's park, I'd say Willingham hits around .265/.370/.500, which is very good still. But that's a best-case scenario; a more likely line would be .255/.355/.490 or so, factoring in last season's numbers as well as his career numbers and expected declines with age. If Target Field goes back to a pitcher-friendly park, Willingham's numbers should be worse than they were his final season in Oakland, when he hit .246/.332/.477, again because of park-factors and the fact that he'll be 2 years older than he was in Oakland.

Trying to predict what a player could get in a trade, though, is almost impossible to gauge as an outsider. However, it seems likely that several contending teams would be very interested in adding a veteran outfielder coming off a monster season, especially since the money isn't bad at $14MM over 2 years. Acquiring a solid package of prospects, or even one major league ready starting pitcher, seems possible. So here's to hoping the Twins make Willingham available, and accept the fact that they're going to need to build for a 2014 core if they want to truly get back into the division race. One year quick fixes don't work unless you have a blank check. Trading Willingham when his value is at an all-time high is simple economics, and I'm sure the Twins realize that.

So please, fellow Twins fans, when the team announces in November that they've traded Josh Willingham, don't complain that the team is too cheap. Applaud the move for what it is; selling high on a player who can't possibly duplicate his 2012 season. That's what I'll be doing, at least.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Time Gets Us All, Even A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez will go down as one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. I repeat, Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players EVER, in the history of the game. I realize most people understand that, but it seems to have been forgotten over the past few days.

Donald Trump, for example, the king of idiots, has tweeted several things about A-Rod. First he suggested the Yankees should renegotiate A-Rod's contract because he hasn't earned his money, clearly ignoring the fact that MLB contracts are fully guaranteed, and the last time A-Rod tried to renegotiate a contract to take less money the Players Association denied it. (Before getting traded to the Yankees, A-Rod was headed to Boston, pending a contract restructuring. The MLBPA told A-Rod forfeiting money for no real reason was a dangerous precedent, and a month later A-Rod was a Yankee)

Trump also suggested A-Rod was only good because of his steroid use, which is completely false. At a time when the majority of the league was taking steroids, A-Rod was emerging as the league's best player. Yes, he was on them too, but it's not like he was a small guy. Even without steroid use, it's hard to imagine A-Rod not being a superstar. But again, Trump and logic fail to meet.

A-Rod's OPS since September 3, when he came off the DL, is an absolutely atrocious .478, so a benching certainly seemed fair based on production. However, the Yankees didn't bench A-Rod and start a solid player, they started Eric Chavez. Chavez's 2012 season was his best in almost 5 years, and giving him a chance in games against right handers seemed logical with all of A-Rod's struggles. But Chavez finished the ALCS 0-16.

Unfortunately, the whole Yankees lineup had trouble hitting the ball, so Girardi singling out A-Rod seems to suggest there's more to the story than just this season. As has been mentioned in other places, the Marlins and Yankees likely will discuss an Alex Rodriguez trade this off-season. That hardly guarantees that he'll be traded, but if the Yankees are willing to pay a portion of his contract to unload him, his hometown of Miami seems like his one of his only possible destinations thanks to his no-trade clause.

It's worth noting that Alex Rodriguez seems like an odd man. He seems to care what people think a great deal, but despite being in the public eye for almost 20 years, he doesn't seem to have any people skills. Kissing himself in the mirror, always looking like he's going to cry, allegedly hitting on women behind the dugout while sitting on the bench... the list could be much much longer with all of A-Rod's strange instances. However, his off-field personality is of no interest to me. He's not marrying my sister. 

Drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993, Rodriguez made his Major League Debut in August of 1994 when he was just 18-years-old. He played in 17 games before the strike ended the season, and then in 1995 he spent time bouncing between AAA and the big leagues. 

But in 1996, the greatness of A-Rod was born. Playing in 146 games, Rodriguez hit .358/.414/.631, while adding 36 home runs, 123 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He was 20-years-old, playing shortstop, a historically weak offensive position, and putting up numbers nobody had ever seen before. For comparison's sake, Bryce Harper hit .270/.340/.477 as a 19-year-old this season, and as impressive as his season was, it'd be surprising if Harper came anywhere close to A-Rod's 1996 season next year. Harper is widely considered the best hitting prospect to come into the league in a long, long time, and there's no doubting that. But A-Rod was Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper.

From 1997-2000, he wasn't quite as good as he was in 1996, but he was still unbelievable. He hit .304/.372/.560 with 148 home runs over that time. He averaged 37 home runs and 28 steals a season during that stretch. He was 21, 22, 23 and 24-years-old.  Now, the offensive numbers seem inflated by the rampant steroid use* but thankfully we have statistics to see if that's actually true. In 1997, the average American League team hit .271/.340/.428. In comparison, the average AL team in 2012 hit .255/.320/.411, which means offense in 2012 was about 5% worse overall.  So, if A-Rod's numbers were to be adjusted for a "steroid free (or as steroid free as it can be)" era, such as today, over that same time frame he still would have hit .289/.353/.532. 

*A-Rod's admission to using Steroids was that he took them between 2001 and 2003 while in Texas. That seems completely untrue, considering A-Rod grew up in both the Dominican Republic and Miami. Two places where finding steroids are not difficult; and as I said, it's not like he was unknown in high school. He was the greatest high school baseball player most people had ever seen. It's likely he started taking them in high school.

Almost everyone understands how good A-Rod was in Seattle, or at least has some idea. But to put it in perspective, A-Rod's OPS+ from the time he was 20 until he was 24 was 143. Only a handful of players have posted an OPS+ over 140 between their 20th and 24th birthdays. A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr, John Olerud, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews and Willie Mays. That's some pretty remarkable company, especially if you're named John Olerud.

Other players have done it up to their 24th birthday, although they didn't get their big league start at 20. Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, Don Mattingly, Daryl Strawberry, Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen and Rocky Colavito all posted OPS+ above 140 from 21-24. 

Now, many players have had great five year stretches. Most of them don't start careers that way, though, which was the point. After the 2000 season Rodriguez left Seattle and signed, at that point the richest contract in baseball history. 10 years, $252MM to play for the division rival Texas Rangers.

Despite the general consensus being that A-Rod wasn't quite as good in Texas as he had been in Seattle, mainly because the Rangers were never in playoff contention, he was in fact even better. The Rangers gave up on their A-Rod experiment after just three seasons, but over those three years Rodriguez hit .305/.395/.615, played in all but 1 game, and he averaged 52 home runs and 131 RBI a season. His OPS+ was 155.** Texas couldn't win even with A-Rod putting up those numbers, so on February 15, 2004, just weeks after Aaron Boone suffered a season-ending knee injury playing pickup basketball, the Yankees and Rangers agreed on a trade. Rodriguez was going to New York along with $67MM in cash (although not all of that money ended up being owed to New York, because A-Rod opted out of his original deal in 2007) for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. The Rangers would later choose Joaquin Arias as the PTBNL, who was a solid prospect at the time. Unfortunately, the Rangers also reportedly could've chosen a different young middle infield prospect at the time. His name was Robinson Cano.

**Rodriguez's numbers spiking in Texas would, at first glance, appear to prove A-Rod's assertion that he did in fact take Steroids during his time in Texas. The problem, however, is that A-Rod was entering the prime of his career, so his power numbers were likely going to increase considerably regardless, even if he'd been on steroids for years. The Rangers home ball park also helped his power numbers, but his OPS+, which adjusts for ballparks, was still considerably higher in Texas. He was, of course, 25, 26 and 27, which is among the prime of your career.

From 2004-2007, before Rodriguez chose to opt out of his contract, he played in 629 out of a possible 648 games, he hit .303/.403/.573 and averaged 43 home runs a season. His OPS+ was 153. At the time he chose to opt out of his contract, he was 32 years old and was passing on 3-years and about $80MM. But his numbers were so remarkable, even at 32 years old, that there seemed little doubt the Yankees would give him a monster contract. After Scott Boras almost fumbled the situation, Rodriguez went directly to the Yankees and eventually re-signed with the team for $275MM over 10 years. The contract was rightfully mocked at the time. 

Rodriguez was worth $252MM with his prime still to come when he signed with Texas. Now, on the back end of his prime, the Yankees felt the need to pay him $27.5MM a season, on average, for 10 years? Until he was 42? Didn't they know players don't play nearly as long as they did with steroids? There would not be a Barry Bonds type season from A-Rod at 39 or 40. This was going to end badly, everyone said.

Everyone was right. From 2008-2012, Rodriguez hit .282/.370/.503, but he played in just an average of 124 games a season. His age and steroid use seemed to be catching up to him, one injury at a time. As is often the case with great players, they don't know when to quit. For Rodriguez, he's got a lot of money to make still, so his decline might become one of the worst we've seen. Rodriguez has been steadily declining each season since signing his new 10-year-deal, and that slide should continue next season. But even as he begins to look like a shell of his former self, it's important to remember just how great Alex Rodriguez the baseball player really was. He's truly a once in a generation talent. An offensive juggernaut at shortstop? It was rare in 1996, and sadly, Alex Rodriguez as an offensive juggernaut is even rarer today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Say Goodnight Kevin, Goodnight Kevin

Man oh man. The Timberpuppies just can't seem to catch a break. In case you missed it, Wolves superstar Kevin Love will miss 6-8 weeks after breaking his right hand at his home on Wednesday. I'd blame all of the team's recent bad luck on some sort of KG curse, but that's not even logical.

The Wolves failures and string of bad luck has existed basically since the first day they came into existence. Even the best team in history, the Cassell/Spreewell/KG tandem in '03, lost Cassell and then a red-hot Troy Hudson for the majority of the Western Conference Finals against a Lakers team that had Shaq, Kobe, Malone and The Glove.

This coming season was going to be different. It was like the team was getting to re-do all of their past mistakes, in this one season. Kevin Love is the new superstar Kevin, after evil Kevin (McHale) traded star Kevin to Boston. Ricky Rubio is everything Stephon Marbury was supposed to be--with the exact opposite attitude. Nikola Pekovic, in half a season, may have been the greatest center in franchise history.* If he continues it this season, the Wolves are not only star heavy at the top, but filled with solid contributing players throughout the roster.

*That's admittedly a horrible, horrible list of players, so it's not really an accomplishment. But still true.

Andrei Kirilenko is a much better, less selfish version of Tom Gugliotta, and not just because they're both tall white guys. Brandon Roy is the shooting guard who's career was cut short despite loads of talent; he's JR Rider with knee problems instead of gun problems. Luke Ridnour is what Troy Hudson was supposed to be; a solid backup who can get hot for stretches. Rick Adelman has forgotten more about the game of basketball than every other Wolves coach in history has ever known. Chase Budinger is Wally Szcerbiak's evil twin. Budinger is ugly, Wally was not. But both can shoot 3's. Chase plays solid D and can jump out of the gym, which Wally couldn't do. And, well, Derrick Williams gets to be Christian Laettner, because some draft busts will always exist.

This was the team that was going to surprise everyone. I wasn't predicting a 42 win season and sneaking into the playoffs; no, this team was built to win 50-55 games, AT LEAST, if everyone was healthy. Even if just Rubio missed the first month, a 47-50 win season still didn't seem out of reach.

Now, with both Rubio and Love expected to miss at least the first month of the season, someone, or multiple someones are going to need to step up. If Brandon Roy can somehow return to his old self, he could help offset the losses of Love and Rubio at least slightly. What I think a lot of people are underestimating, though, is just how good Andrei Kirilenko really is. He doesn't do anything at an elite level, but he does pretty much everything at a good or very good level. A healthy Roy combined with Kirilenko could keep the Wolves afloat for the first month or so.

Unfortunately, Love's injury seems to have killed any hopes of the team winning 50 games this season. He's quite simply a top 5 player in the NBA, so naturally losing him for an extended period will damper the team's chances at having a great season. Some fans are hopeful Derrick Williams will step up in Love's absence, and while a player breaking out in his second year is quite common, Williams rookie season was abysmal. I've said it before, but I truly believe in 3 years Jared Sullinger will be a better player than Derrick Williams. I would love to be wrong.

At this point, a 43 or 44 win season might be the best case scenario, which makes the playoffs hardly a guarantee, but they'd be within reach. And for a team that has struggled so mightily over the last 24 years, even playoff contention into the last week of the season would be a welcomed change. Of course, as is always the case with Minnesota sports, come playoff time, the fans will almost certainly be left wondering "what might have been."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong and PEDs

In case you've been living under a rock the last few days, 11 cyclists that were members of Lance Armstrong's team confirmed that Lance Armstrong was doping during his seven Tour De France wins. I've seen some people comment the past couple of days that who cares if he used Performance Enhancing Drugs? Why does it matter? It's his body, he should be able to do what he wants to it.

In general, I agree Lance Armstrong is free to do whatever he wants to his body. However, once he starts competing against other people, what he puts into his body is an issue. Every cyclist in the world shouldn't be forced to take the same performance enhancing drugs Lance Armstrong took just to keep up with him; the possible long-term side effects are at best unknown and at worst very very dangerous. To expect others to keep up with a "cheater" isn't realistic, and it's the same reason MLB finally cracked down on Steroid use.

Now, Congress getting involved in the discussion was ridiculous. John McCain and company didn't ask the right questions when they had the MLB players in front of them, and they shouldn't have spent any of their time trying to get steroids out of professional baseball. It just shows how congressman are far more interested in getting a little publicity from the American Public rather than actually doing something useful for said public.

The issue with trying to stop performance enhancing drugs completely is that the science is always ahead of the testing. The people that can develop the kinds of undetectable steroids, such as BALCO about 15 years ago, are specifically trying to create drugs that can bypass the drug tests. The reason steroid use was so rampant in MLB for a decade was because BALCO was completely undetectable. Once the federal government raided the BALCO lab, they were able to see how it was made and, obviously create a new drug test that could show if someone was taking this new steroid.

If someone was able to create a "super-steroid" that was undetectable for almost a decade, it's not out of the question that other labs across the country are doing the same thing today. And while attributing PED use to a player without any evidence is probably unfair, I'd be legitimately surprised if Jose Bautista isn't taking the newest undetectable drug. It's just hard for me to believe someone goes from terrible at 28 to a monster home run hitter at 29 without any PEDs.

Baseball and cycling and all other competitive entities are doing a good thing by keeping PEDs banned, no doubt. But as long as there are millions and sometimes billions of dollars to be made by the creation of a PED, competitive sports leagues will not have the resources to prevent the labs from developing these drugs. Expecting the federal government to keep a watchful eye on these people is even more laughable.

Anyway, back to Lance.

Lance Armstrong cheated, but that's not what most people are so upset about. Andy Pettite admitted he used HGH illegally, and nobody cares. Several football players have tested positive for steroids, but I can't remember anyone other than Shawne Merriman off the top of my head. People will always remember Lance cheated not only because he's a star, but also because of how vehemently he denied ever doping. He pulled a Pete Rose. Everyone had a hunch Armstrong cheated; nobody had ever done what he did, and he was doing it (or some of it, at least) while battling Testicular Cancer. It was a motivational story to see a cancer survivor compete in one of the most physically grueling competitions in the world; unfortunately it wasn't completely natural.

That said, I need to make a point quickly: What Lance Armstrong accomplished is still amazing. His teammates admitted they were also doping with him; nobody was able to catch Lance, even the cheaters on his own team. But that doesn't change the fact that he cheated. Without the doping, it seems unlikely Lance Armstrong would have won nearly as many Tour De France titles. And the saddest part about that, is we'll simply never know.

Monday, October 15, 2012

For Vikings, Ponder Not The Answer

The Minnesota Vikings have been a fairly surprising team to this point in the season. Even after getting RGIII'd yesterday in the Nation's Capital, the Vikings are 4-2 and just half a game behind the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North.

The reason for the team's surprising start, other than a weak early schedule, can be attributed to the offense finally using Percy Harvin as much as possible, but a lot of local fans and NFL analysts have been giving a lot of credit to Christian Ponder. If you look at Ponder's traditional stats (completion percentage, TD:INT ratio, yards, QB rating) he's having a good season. He's posted a completion percentage just under 69% thus far, has thrown 8 TD and 4 INT, and he's on pace to throw for more than 3,500 yards. His QB rating is a very respectable 92.8.

However, those stats are extremely misleading. Stats are very useful, but only if you know what stats to look for. All stats are is a number representing a VERY SPECIFIC part of the football game. What helps Ponder's completion percentage? Is he throwing the ball downfield less than other quarterbacks? Some fans will INSIST they can determine these things over the course of the season by just watching the team play; these fans are wrong. They might have an idea that Ponder's arm strength isn't great; but looking at statistics and how he's performed will give a better idea on Ponder's arm than simply watching every game. Nothing is more correct than the stats; as long as we understand that each stat only tells a small part of the story. You need to combine the right statistical analysis to get a real picture of how a player is performing.

Air Yards Per Attempt, or AYPA, is a good statistic that measures the average distance a quarterback throws each pass. It's a better statistic to use than Yards Per Attempt, because Percy Harvin turning a 2 yard screen pass into a 70-yard touchdown would be a 2-yard pass on AYPA and a 70-yard pass according to YPA. Obviously, it's important to know that Percy caught the pass and did most of the work so we aren't overstating Ponder's throwing ability.

Ponder's AYPA is 5.4, which is right in the middle of the pack among starting quarterbacks. For comparison's sake, RGIII leads the league at 6.7 AYPA, while Blaine Gabbert is dead last at 3.5 AYPA. Arm strength plays a big part in this number, but so does the play-calling, so it's not a be all-end all for QB arm strength. Not even close.

While being in the middle of the pack is hardly a bad thing, especially when compared with Ponder's ability early in the season to not turn the ball over, it simply shows that the Vikings are generally throwing check-downs and screens. Even more proof of that exists in Ponder's deep ball %, which measures what percent of Ponder's throws have been more than 15 yards.

Ponder ranks 28th in this statistic, with just 15.7% of his throws being deep passes. Interestingly, RGIII is currently dead last at just 12.5%, although that shows how conservative Washington continues to be with their rookie. Jay Cutler leads the league at 30.8%. The Bears are throwing deep passes almost twice as often as the Vikings. Is it really possible I miss Mike Tice?

The Vikings offense has been one of the most conservative offenses in football, but thanks to the explosiveness of both Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, the team's 7th-grade level offense has been fairly successful. The issue is that once the Vikings begin to play better opponents, they'll have trouble moving the ball consistently. Even the Redskins defense was able to adjust after the first quarter and shut down a predictable and simple offense, at least until they started playing prevent with a 19-point lead.

Ponder's arm strength is seriously limiting the play-calling, although the Vikings specifically try to run a west coast system that plays to Ponder's strengths; short accurate throws and solid mobility. The issue that Ponder's arm strength creates is when the team is trailing by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. Ponder is unable to throw a ball between two defenders 15 yards down the field, and when teams are playing a soft zone to prevent long touchdowns with a big lead, it means the Vikings will almost always run out of time when trying to make a comeback. Six and seven yard passes are effective and important; no doubt. But when you need to score quickly, you need a quarterback that has the arm strength to fit the ball into tiny windows. Christian Ponder doesn't have that arm strength.

Ponder ranks 14th in the league in Success Rate, a stat that measures how often a player was involved in a play and it was deemed a successful play. Ponder's success rate is 49.6%, and while being slightly above average is a good thing, it should be higher. For someone with such a low deep ball %, more of Ponder's passes are going to be complete. On average, a 5-yard completion will be a successful play, unless it's 3rd down and 6 or longer. And because it's obviously easier to complete a 5-yard pass than a 20-yard pass, Ponder's success rate SHOULD be higher than a lot of quarterbacks. Of course, it could be worse. Blaine Gabbert is last in the league in AYPA, second to last in deep ball %, and dead last in Success Rate. Blaine Gabbert was taken three spots ahead of Christian Ponder, so it absolutely could have been worse.

But again, it's very difficult to win a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback. Ponder could develop into an elite game manager, which would put him at least in the argument for top 12 or so in the league. But he's not quite there yet, and I'm afraid if the Vikings decide to take the kiddy gloves off of the offense and start throwing the ball down field more, the results will be very poor.

Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave deserve credit for doing their best to game plan around Ponder's weaknesses and for accentuating his positives. But unfortunately, Frazier had some say in taking Ponder 12th overall, and his throwing numbers just don't suggest he'll be a star at any point in this league. If Ponder continues to play like he has as the Vikings schedule gets tougher, he's a solid NFL starter, no question, at least with the right play-calling. I would be shocked if he continues to play as well as he has, though, mainly because teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville are no longer on the team's schedule. But even if he does, the offensive game-planning is going to limit the team's ability to score points.

Despite having two dynamic offensive playmakers in AP and Percy, the Vikings have scored touchdowns on just 50% of their red-zone possessions, 18th in the league. For comparison, last season's 3-13 Vikings team converted almost 57% of their red-zone possessions into touchdowns. Obviously this team is 4-2 because they have a lot more red zone opportunities this year, but it's worrisome nonetheless. If they're converting just 50% into touchdowns when they've really only played one good defense (San Francisco) it doesn't bode well for the rest of the season.

That, again, is a sign of Ponder's lack of arm strength. Red zone touchdown passes generally have to be thrown into the end zone; screens and checkdowns get less and less yards as the field shortens up and the defenders have far less ground to cover. Ponder's arm strength doesn't allow him to fit the ball into tight windows consistently, or really at all. The Vikings have tried to counteract this by simply throwing jump balls to Kyle Rudolph; if Ponder can't fit a ball in a tight spot, just have him throw it high and let the receiver make a play.

In theory, it's a decent idea. In actuality, it's worked once or twice. Rudolph might have great hands, but he hasn't shown it yet. When he's wide open, he's very useful. He can jump high, and his 2-point conversion catch was very nice. He's good at catching a checkdown and turning it into a 12-yard gain. But he's shown all season that he has trouble catching balls in traffic, which was supposed to be one of his strengths. He's a physical specimen and he's taller than most linebackers and corners; if he could catch a ball while jumping in traffic he'd be a deadly red zone target. As it is now, he's a solid red zone player, because he's one of only three real options the team has. Hopefully his hands will improve over the course of the season and the Vikings will go into 2013 with an elite tight end, but to be honest, I don't see that happening.

Unless Ponder completely falls apart between now and the end of the season there's really no way the team will give up on him, which is too bad. If Ponder has a solid season, the team could potentially get good value for him in terms of draft picks. It shouldn't be too hard to sell a 24-year-old QB with a year and a half of experience coming off a a 93 QB rating season; there undoubtedly are general managers and whole organizations who would look only at Ponder's traditional stats and listen to their scouts. That's fine, and it bodes well for the Vikings to continue to baby Ponder and throw short passes, to try and keep his QB rating high. It will improve his value, make him look better, and at this point it's the best chance the Vikings have to win. But come next season, it'd be nice if the team had a quarterback that had the skill set to possibly develop into a top 3 QB in football. Unless Ponder breaks his arm and has a Rookie of the Year type healing, he's not likely to ever get into the conversation of elite quarterbacks, strictly because of his arm strength. Which means we'll continue to watch our Vikings not win the Super Bowl.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera: The AL MVP

As the baseball season finally winds down, the last week and a half of the season should be quite exciting. There are teams battling for playoff spots and playoff positioning, and both MVP awards are still up in the air. The final 10 games or so will play a major part in deciding the 10 playoff teams and both MVPs, so despite the NFL being a lot more fun to watch, don't forget about baseball. This is the time of the year it's the best.

Anyway, the biggest debate seems to be about Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera for the AL MVP. First, I need to make a point. To me, how your team does over the course of the season should mean basically nothing in the MVP voting. Baseball is more of a team game than any sport there is. In basketball, a player like LeBron James could potentially turn the league's worst team into a playoff team all by himself, or turn one of the league's best teams into the league's worst team simply by leaving. (Sorry Cleveland) Basketball is an individual sport at the NBA level; players work together at times but generally the best player on the team takes the majority of the shots, and therefore has the greatest outcome on the game. The only player in baseball that can possibly impact the game in that same way is a dominating starting pitcher; but even guys like Justin Verlander and King Felix only play, at best, about 20% of the team's games.

If you were to place baseball's best player in any given season onto the league's worst team in the same season, not one of those teams would make the playoffs. Think about that for a moment: sports writers, the ones who vote for the MVP, have basically decided that the team you play for matters a great deal in post-season awards. That is ridiculous in a sport that relies so much on so many different teammates succeeding. Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham are all having great seasons this year. The Twins are one of the worst teams in baseball, because the team is full of junk in other places.

Last season Dodgers' outfielder Matt Kemp nearly won the triple crown, when he posted a WAR* of 7.8. His Dodgers failed to make the playoffs, though, and Ryan Braun helped "carry" the Brewers to the post-season, so he won the MVP award. His WAR was 7.7, so he was very similar to Kemp, and most people felt since the Brewers made the playoffs Braun was more deserving. The only issue is that if you were to put Kemp on the Brewers and Braun on the Dodgers, based on WAR, both teams records would have stayed exactly the same. But Kemp would've undoubtedly won the award if the players teams were switched. I don't like that.

*I understand WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is not the be all end all of player value. If you're unsure what it is, it's basically just how many wins that player is worth over the course of a season, compared to an average player readily available in AAA, or a "replacement player". The defensive issues aren't perfect, I'll admit that, but it is considerably better than any other stat available because it actually factors in defense.

It was important to make that point, because it needs to be emphasized that what happens over the next week and a half really should have no bearing on the outcome of the AL MVP. Sports writers will undoubtedly be waiting to see if Cabrera wins the triple crown or if the Angels or Tigers make the playoffs before casting their votes; they will continue to be blinded by "tradition" instead of simply using common sense.

Miguel Cabrera has had a great season. Nobody in their right mind would argue otherwise. If the season ended today, Miggy would be the first triple crown winner since 1967. His WAR is a very good 6.8. He's hitting .331/.396/.614 with 42 home runs and 133 RBI.** Despite Cabrera's monster offensive season, though, the Tigers have failed to secure a playoff birth despite being heavy preseason favorites to win the division after adding Prince Fielder. That obviously is not Cabrera's fault, but since voters seem to care about wins, it might become an issue. More so if he doesn't hold onto the triple crown. Cabrera's defense at third base has been poor, as expected, but he's been so great offensively nobody seems to care. Defense may not be equally as important as offense, as some suggest, but it's certainly still important. Cabrera is one of the league's worst defensive third baseman, and when paired with other terrible defensive players in Detroit, it's easy to see why they haven't quite lived up to expectations.

**Quick rant: Can we please stop writing and saying "RBIs" for the sake of everyone? Runs Batted In is already plural; RBI. By calling it RBIs you're saying Runs Batted Ins.

However, despite Cabrera's potential triple crown, he's not deserving of the MVP award, and it's really not close. And that's not a knock on Cabrera, because 20-year-old phenom Mike Trout has put together one of the greatest all-around seasons in baseball history. Trout didn't get called up until the end of April, but his WAR is a ridiculous 10.4. For comparison's sake, in 1967 when Yaz won the triple crown, his WAR would've been 12.0, considerably higher than Trout's and almost double what Cabrera has put up this season in his triple crown trek. Trout's hit ..323/.394/.554 in 130 games, adding 28 home runs, 78 RBI and he's stolen 46 of 50 bases. Offensively, his numbers don't quite match up to Cabrera's, but center field is a weaker offensive position than third base. That's important, because if we are to truly find the "most valuable" player, we need to compare players at the same position. Trout also plays outstanding defense while Cabrera's defense, as mentioned above, is poor. 

In other words, as good of a season as Miguel Cabrera's had, Trout has been worth 4 more wins this season; when factoring in that Trout didn't even play in April, it makes one realize just how good of a season Mr. Trout has had. The gap in WAR is so large that even a continued slump from Trout over the final 10 games won't be enough to allow Miggy to catch him. WAR might not be perfect, but it's definitely a far better tool to use than RBI and HR and team wins to determine a players "value" in today's MLB. And despite being 100% sure that Mike Trout deserves to win this award, probably unanimously, I'm about as sure that Cabrera will actually win the award unless he struggles badly in these final 10 games. 

Miguel Cabrera is a great player who, one day, may be deserving of an MVP award. He's the best hitter on the planet in my opinion. But simply put, Mike Trout was considerably better and should be the AL MVP this season when it's all said and done. Which is why he won't be.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Barry Bonds Belongs in the Hall

Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player of all-time. I truly believe that. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Cy Young and anyone else that played during that era did so against all white people. Could you imagine how much worse most teams in baseball would be if they were made up of strictly white people? So yes, all of their accomplishments are note-worthy and they were great players. But they didn't compete against the best of the best, so it would be wrong to suggest any of them are the greatest players of all-time. For all we know, Ruth might not have even been the greatest hitter of his era, but because Josh Gibson was black and unable to play Major League Baseball, we'll never truly know.

As strongly as I believe Bonds is the greatest player of all-time (and I'll get into why shortly) I'm even more sure that Bonds will not be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Bonds has been linked to steroid use, says he never "knowingly" took them, although nobody believes that. Bonds' career peak is so abnormal everyone loves to point to his career taking off at 36 years old as proof he took steroids. That's a valid point, because Bonds best seasons did occur in his twilight years. But rather than believing that proves Bonds is a cheater, it really just further proves how great Bonds truly was.

We know, unequivocally, that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro all took steroids. They were all MVP candidates throughout the 90's. The years involved in the "steroid era" aren't perfect, as nobody knows for sure when people started seeing the results of their use, but a general guess would be 1993-2003. Steroids were certainly around long before 1993, but I don't think they were commonly used until the mid 90's.

The way McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro's careers all ended are in sharp contrast to Bonds' career, at least from a production level. After McGwire hit 70 and 65 home runs in back to back seasons, he fell off considerably. McGwire's final 2 seasons, when he was 36 and 37, he still posted an OPS of .998. However, he missed more than 120 games over those 2 seasons, and he hit just .187 in his final season. Again, he was 36 years old, 2 years removed from breaking the all-time HR record, and he appeared to be done. McGwire retired following his .187 season.

Sosa's final 2 seasons were much like McGwire's. Sosa was 35 and 36 years old in his final two seasons, with his final season being considerably worse than any season prior. Sosa hit .221/.295/.376 for Baltimore in 2005 as a 36-year-old, and he was done.

Rafael Palmeiro, the only player I've mentioned that actually tested positive for steroids, had a more gradual decline than Sosa and McGwire* but he still struggled over his final two seasons. After posting an OPS north of .900 every season but one from 1993 to 2002, Palmeiro failed to reach that bench mark over his final 3 seasons. Palmeiro's final season he was 40 years old, and he hit .266/.339/.447, good for an OPS of .786. That's not bad, but for a DH at that point in his career, it wasn't good.

*Palmeiro was, simply put, a better hitter than Sosa and McGwire, which is why it's not surprising to see his numbers gradually go down while Sosa and McGwire just fell off a cliff. Palmeiro had a better natural swing, so when the extra strength the steroids provided disappeared, he was able to still play at a decent level. Sosa and McGwire were not able to, in my opinion.

Now let's take a look at Mr. Bonds. To me, there's no doubt he took steroids. His body changed a ton from the time he was 25 until he was 40, and not in the same way most people's do. Even more obvious, Bonds today looks a lot more like the 25-year-old kid than the 40-year-old home run king. But almost everyone was taking steroids at this time. The only team that seemed to be in the dark about steroid use was the Twins, or else they were just giving it to the wrong players. The Twins didn't have a single player hit 30 home runs or more during the steroid era. That's shocking. Did the Twins suck so bad because they were one of the few teams not taking steroids in the 90's? I don't know. But it's not as much of a long-shot as people would like you to believe.

While most players have their worst years as their career winds down, Bonds was a notable exception. His two best seasons came when he was 36 and 37 years old, and his four-year stretch from 2001-2004, when he was 36-39 years old, is the greatest 4 year stretch in baseball history.

Over that time frame, Bonds hit .349/.559/.809, 209 home runs, 755 walks and just 239 strikeouts. He was intentionally walked 284 times during that period. He also broke the single-season home run record and posted the highest on base percentage in one season in MLB history. During that four year stretch, Bonds posted 3 of the top 4 OPS' in a single season, and his 4th best season in that stretch is 8th all time.

Of course, anyone can break down a career into a great 4 year stretch. Four great seasons don't automatically qualify you for the Hall of Fame, although I would argue having four seasons as great as Bonds'  would be enough to get you into the Hall of Fame. But what truly separates Bonds from almost every other star of this era is that he was a Hall of Famer even before he went on a historical late-career terror.

Every account of Bonds' steroid use says he started taking it following the 1998 season, because he was annoyed by all the attention Sosa and McGwire were getting. Bonds knew he was leaps and bounds more talented than both players, and once he got the same advantages they had, he showed just how much better. That 4 year stretch moved Bonds from one of the all-time greats into the greatest player of all-time.

From 1986-1998, Bonds averaged a .290/.411/.556 line, averaged 32 home runs, stole 34 bases a season, and he walked 300 more times than he struck out. And while steroid Barry was a liability defensively, pre-steroid Bonds was a gold glove caliber defender, winning 8 gold gloves over those 13 seasons. There is no doubt in my mind that Barry Bonds would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer had he never taken steroids.

Now, to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame, even if it's just not as a first ballot Hall of Famer, is just wrong. These aging, out of touch baseball writers' have decided not to vote for steroid users. Mark McGwire hasn't been close to getting in, despite being arguably the most famous baseball player ever in the 1990's. It's a shame.

Every single era over the history of baseball has major issues. As mentioned above, it was an all-white league for basically half of the 20th century, and even once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it was still mostly white players because several scouts and league executives at that time were still racist assholes. It took decades to immerse major league baseball with not only black players but Latin Americans as well, which means up until about 1960 it's safe to say most Major League Baseball players didn't play against the best talent possible. I don't think anyone would say that about the 1990's.

And from 1960 or so until 1977, while the best players were getting to play in the league regardless of color, there was no free agency. So, again, it's not even a stretch to suggest the best players weren't all playing major league baseball. Teams like the Yankees undoubtedly had better players in the minor leagues than some major league teams were using on a daily basis. The farm system wasn't all that similar to how it is today, but teams were still able to control players as long as they wanted. Without the ability to change teams, players were at the mercy of their GM. If he was unable to acquire talented players, you were going to play for a bad team for your whole career.

Once free agency began, teams improved, but again, things don't get better over night. Players were given the ability to play for teams that fit them better, after accruing enough service time with their first team. So it still took a few years for the best young players to test free agency. Most of the older players weren't as good as they used to be, so the immediate effect free agency had on the game was minimal.

The worst thing that happened between about 1984 and 1993 was that Pete Rose bet on baseball. That had no effect on the players, but it was related to the Hall of Fame because Rose was banned from baseball. The all-time hits leader wasn't going to ever be in the Hall of Fame. Rose's Hall credentials are bloated and overrated anyways because he played for so many years. Anyways, the biggest thing in the 80's that was effecting player performance were Methamphetamines, but those had been around since at least the late 60's and possibly before. However, the inventions of bullpens around that time gave Methamphetamines a whole new purpose. While every day players undoubtedly got some kind of benefit from using them, the buzz it would give you would not last a full game. It would help the players get into the game when they were exhausted after playing a day game after a night game. But for a reliever who's only going to pitch one inning and doesn't need to get ready until about the 5th inning at the earliest, getting a short, quick boost from a Methamphetamine has more benefit for a reliever than anyone else.

And, as mentioned above, from 1993-2003 or so was the steroid era. Literally from the time this game was started, there's been a considerable issue with every era. However, out of touch and aging sports writers have decided that taking steroids taints the game in a way that NOT ALLOWING COLORED PEOPLE to play somehow didn't. If we are going to say as a culture we don't want to put any possible steroid users into the Hall because it's a bad time in baseball history, then why the Hell is anyone before 1947 in the Hall of Fame? Isn't not allowing people to do something because of the color of their skin a million times worse than rubbing cream on your body and taking pills, and then working out twice a day? I would say yes, and I think everyone would agree.

So as long as Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ty Cobb and company are allowed to be in the Hall of Fame, it's simply ridiculous to suggest that Barry Bonds is not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He's the greatest player of all-time, and as McGwire and Sosa proved, taking steroids doesn't guarantee a long, dominating career into your 40's.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Narratives in Sports

Everyone has their pet peeves. Whether it be that you hate nails on a chalkboard, a fork on a plate, or just that annoying noise your significant other makes when  they sleep, we all have them. For me, one of the most annoying things in sports are the narratives that come along with it, mostly because they're wrong.

Now, the word narrative is defined as a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. (Emphasis added)

So technically speaking, narratives in sports don't even have to be true to be a narrative, but the issue I have with them is that people begin to accept the narrative as fact. "Kobe Bryant is so clutch!" is a common narrative, because every basketball fan remembers multiple games that Kobe hit the game winning jump shot as time expired. Now, what people don't remember as frequently, regardless of what they'll tell you, is how often he missed those shots. Conversely, people love to talk about how poor LeBron James is in clutch situations, and that's entirely based on his final playoff series in Cleveland in 2010 and his poor finals performance in 2011. Based on the narrative, at the end of a close game you would undoubtedly choose Kobe taking the final shot over LeBron, right? Well, the facts don't exactly match up to that belief. Here's a thorough study that was done by, and has been updated through May of 2012. The study only covers game-tying/game-winning shots, and while Kobe has taken considerably more shots, LeBron has been successful at a far higher rate.

Is that surprising to you? That statistically LeBron is actually more likely to make the game-tying or game-winning shot than Kobe? It shouldn't be. If it wasn't for silly narratives, common sense would prevail. LeBron doesn't have the shooting range that Kobe does, but he's far better at creating his own shot, and at getting to the rim. If people didn't have ESPN and Sports Illustrated and whatnot telling them everyday that Kobe Bryant is the most clutch player since Jordan, they might actually use common sense to come to a conclusion. LeBron is bigger, faster and stronger than Kobe. It is not surprising that LeBron is a more efficient scorer late in the game because LeBron is a more efficient scorer during the rest of the game as well.

Despite the narrative that people play better or worse under clutch situations, the fact is the sample size is small so really anything can happen. One poor post-season in any sport doesn't mean you aren't clutch, but the way narratives take over the sports world, in today's media-frenzied culture, if you drop the snap on a game-winning field goal attempt, you will be considered someone who chokes. Who cares if Tony Romo's QB rating is almost 100 over his career, or that Dallas hasn't had nearly the talent the Giants have had over the last 5 seasons, the reason Dallas can't win the Super Bowl is because Tony Romo chokes! Obviously, that's sarcasm.

On a more local level, casual Twins fans weren't too pleased with Joe Mauer being the Twins all-star selection. A twitter search of Joe Mauer at the time the rosters were announced would have resulted in a ton of negative tweets, talking about his lack of home runs and his injuries. Of course, Mauer is hitting .326/.417/.452, has played in 76 of the team's 82 games, and that .417 on base percentage leads the American League. If Joe Mauer wasn't an all-star, then there's really no point in having the game. If anything, Mike Napoli getting voted in over Mauer is more of a tragedy than Mauer being selected, but since all-star fan voting has a ton of flaws anyways, it's not worth getting into.

So please, the next time you think you know something about a specific athlete, take the time to verify it. Don't be that idiot in the bar who's telling everyone that Michael Beasley is going to be a star in Phoenix, when he's declined every year since he was drafted.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rangers Sign Roy Oswalt, Will He Help?

Yesterday Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers had signed starting pitcher Roy Oswalt for about $4.25MM for the rest of the season. It had been reported for months that Oswalt really wanted to play for Texas, as he wanted to stay close to home but also play for a contender, which is undoubtedly why he preferred the Rangers to the Astros.

Oswalt reportedly has told the Rangers he'll be ready to go in a month, which means the Rangers should get anywhere from 10-15 starts from him if he can remain healthy and effective. Adding a quality pitcher mid-season is almost never a bad idea, and when it involves giving up nothing, as it does in this case, it's never a bad idea. More importantly, though, can Oswalt still provide value as a starting pitcher? Let's take a look.

Before getting into any stats, simply put, Oswalt is still a stud. Over the last three seasons, Oswalt's ERA is 3.47, his K:BB ratio is just under 4:1, and despite battling some injuries he's still averaged 177 innings a season during that time. He'll be 35-years-old at the end of August, so his age is somewhat of a concern, and he was considerably worse last season than the previous two. However, his 3.69 ERA was still very good, and while his 2.82 K:BB ratio isn't all that close to his career average of 3.52, it's not terrible. Oswalt also missed a month in July with injury issues, and they may have plagued him all season. I fully expect Oswalt to show he's still one of the league's better pitchers for Texas once he's ready.

And while some people will express concern about Oswalt never pitching in the American League, his stuff has always been good enough to dominate either league. He's no longer quite as dominating as he once was, but he should continue to be an asset for Texas in basically every game he starts. The quicker he can get ready, the sooner Texas will have another arm for the race out West this summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos in Review

After suggesting the Twins look into trading Denard Span this summer because his power has largely disappeared, Span naturally got hot this weekend and saw his slugging percentage rise from .359 when the week began to .408 before Monday's game. Span's now hitting .307/.364/.408, and if he can match that line for the remainder of the season trading him would likely be a huge mistake, despite what I wrote on Monday. If the Twins do indeed decide to move Span, and the Nationals come calling again, the Twins need to be sure not to get fleeced by them again.

Two seasons ago, Joe Nathan went down in Spring Training and the Twins were forced to find a closer from within their organization. They chose Jon Rauch, and from opening day until July 30, Rauch was 21/25 on save attempts with a 3.05 ERA. Now, Rauch didn't fit the closer mold, as he no longer had elite stuff, but he was clearly getting the job done. However, since the Twins organization has long valued scouting over stats* it wasn't surprising to find out that they were looking for closer help at the deadline.

*In recent years the Twins have began hiring front office executives with advanced stats backgrounds, which is a good thing. No matter how much people want to insist they can see things stats don't show, the truth is stats are far more accurate than the human eye. It's not surprising that the Twins were one of the last teams to join the advanced stats craze, and they're one of the league's worst teams at the moment. You simply can't evaluate players as well without advanced stats.

Unfortunately, the Twins decided on Nationals closer Matt Capps to replace Jon Rauch. On July 30, the Twins announced that they had traded one of their top prospects, major league ready catcher Wilson Ramos, along with a minor league reliever, for Matt Capps. The early reaction from even common Twins fans wasn't a good one, and that instant reaction was backed up by local and national baseball analysts. What were the Twins doing?

Matt Capps was available as a free agent the prior off-season, and he wasn't considered an elite reliever. The Pirates had non-tendered him, and prior to signing with Washington in 2010 Capps had a career 3.61 ERA since debuting in 2005. In comparison, from 2005-2009, Rauch posted a 3.65 ERA. Both players were used as setup men at times, which screws up their save percentage, but Capps had 67 saves while Rauch had 59 over that time frame.

Capps was certainly slightly better, but the upgrade wasn't worth giving up any kind of prospect in my opinion, let alone a major-league ready catching prospect like Wilson Ramos.

And despite Capps being very good in 2010, he's been considerably worse in 2011 and 2012, making the Ramos-Capps trade just another mistake by the Twins front office. After posting an ERA of 2.00 and going 16/18 on save opportunities in 2010, Capps was just 15/24 on saves in 2011 while posting an ERA of 4.25.  So far this season, his ERA is 4.00 and he's 9/10 on saves, after blowing his first save of the season on Sunday against Detroit.

Based on WAR, which calulates Wins Above Replacement, Matt Capps was worth -1.4 wins in 2011 and has been worth 0.0 wins this season. Relievers WAR numbers are generally lower than position players or starters, because their workloads are much less. Capps throwing 60 innings in a season is far less valuable than a catcher playing 135 games a season at an above-average level. When you add in the fact that the Twins could have signed almost any free agent reliever to match Capps production over the last two years, it makes the trade look like even more of a laughingstock.

Ramos played in 113 games in 2011 for Washington, hitting .267/.334/.445. Fan Graphs pegged Ramos WAR at 3.3, which means Ramos was worth about 5 more wins than Matt Capps in 2011. Ramos also made the league minimum while Capps made over $7MM.

This season, Ramos was hitting .265/.354/.398 in 25 games before he tore his ACL. Ramos only played in 25 games, yet his WAR is 0.7. Not a great number by any means, but considering Capps is at 0.0 this season, Ramos has been better.

The Twins undoubtedly would say they didn't have a spot for Ramos because they signed Joe Mauer to his mammoth extension with the expectation being he'd be able to stay at catcher. Whether Mauer can stay there or not, the simple fact is had the Twins decided to keep Ramos and just let Jon Rauch close games in 2010, moving Mauer to a new position wouldn't be such a big deal anymore. If the team had a productive, young catcher waiting in the wings, Joe Mauer could've filled a huge hole at third base. But instead, the team will have no catcher, no third baseman and no closer when Mauer moves to first base permanently in 2014. Hopefully the organization can make some good decisions between now and then, or we could be watching a team as bad as the mid-90's Twins for the next handful of seasons.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Weekly Links

Lots of links this week, so let's just get right to it...
  • Somebody actually did a study on this. In related news, the sky is blue, dogs are great pets and pizza is good. I could've told you those results in 30 seconds without any studying necessary. 
  • Congrats to Kevin Love for being named to the all-NBA second team.
  • Whoever is behind the Social Media for the LA Kings is a genius. 
  • Joe Posnanski debunked the myth that the last three outs of the game are the "three toughest outs" in baseball.
  • Rich Thompson, I'm rooting for ya.
  • Owned.
  • Wanetta Gibson, I hope you enjoy Hell.
  • I'd like to thank The Sports Blitz for syndicating my blog and getting my writing out to even more viewers. Check them out, they have a lot of interesting blog posts daily.
  • Ted Kacyznski, still crazy.
  • Perfect, I was hoping to workout and charge my phone at the same time.
  • The UNC baseball team has an interesting modification to bat-"boy".
  • The Wild signed their 9th overall pick from the 2010 draft, Mikael Granlund, about a week before they would have lost his rights. With a ton of young talent and the possibility of New Jersey Devils star Zach Parise coming home to Minnesota this off-season, the future looks bright for the Wild.
  • The Orlando Magic fired Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith, despite having a .653 winning percentage together, so naturally they're targeting Shaquille O'Neal as their GM. That franchise is an embarrassment, and that comes from a Minnesota sports fan.
  • However, Shaq thankfully declined the chance to interview, saving the Magic a ton of criticism and punchlines.
  • Despite being required to read The Great Gatsby by three different teachers in high school, I never actually read it until last year. I'm reading it again, because Leonardo DiCaprio headlines a star-studded cast for the movie, and the trailer looks fantastic, although I pictured both Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchanan considerably better looking than the actresses playing them.
  • This is my favorite piece of artwork so far this year.
  • And finally, check out my posts from this week:
           - Joe Mauer should move to Third
           - What to do with Denard Span
           - Twins Notes: Devries, Mauer, etc.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Twins Notes: DeVries, Mauer, etc.

- After thankfully designating Jason Marquis for assignment, the Twins decided to promote formerly undrafted Cole DeVries from AAA. DeVries attended the University of Minnesota and Eden Prairie High School before that, so he's a local kid. As Aaron Gleeman noted, DeVries is unlikely to have any kind of sustained success in the big leagues, but just getting to the show is a huge accomplishment and I would imagine today will be the most exciting day of his life.

- Speaking of Marquis, he allowed 32 runs in 34 innings while in the Twins rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Brandon Beachy and Johnny Cueto have allowed 38 runs COMBINED in 182 innings pitched. Marquis should give his agent half of his $3MM salary, because he fleeced the Twins.

- Joe Mauer grounded into his 9th double play last night, and he's currently on pace to hit into 37 for the season. The record is 36, by Jim Rice, and despite Mauer's pace I highly doubt he comes close to it. The injury concerns could keep his at bats down, but even if he plays a full season I'd be surprised if that number was any higher than 30. Still ridiculously high, but grounding into double plays should be one of the least concerning issues with Mauer at this point, especially since his .810 OPS is a huge improvement from last season.

- At 15-28, the Twins are no longer the league's worst team, thanks to a 9-game losing streak by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are 15-29, so it's not like the Twins are a lot better, and the battle for the number 1 pick will likely include these two teams, among others, for the remainder of the season.

- 38-year-old Jamey Carroll, who the Twins foolishly gave a two-year contract to, is hitting just .229/.319/.268 through 42 games. In fairness, the guy I wanted the Twins to target, Ramon Santiago, is hitting an even worse .188/.264/.250, so I can't criticize the Twins too much. We'll see where Carroll's numbers end up at the end of the year.

- Drew Butera currently leads all Twins pitchers in ERA, and he's second on the team with a .909 OPS. Of course, he's pitched just 1 inning and he's gotten only 25 at bats, so don't expect the reincarnation of Babe Ruth anytime soon.

- With the Rule 4 draft coming up on June 4 (better known as the amateur draft) and the Twins selecting 2nd overall, the team appears set to choose between Mark Appel, the hard-throwing right-hander from Stanford, or Byron Buxton, the toolsy outfielder who's drawn comparisons to Justin Upton. There's been some talk that the Twins would pass on Buxton if the Astros select Appel first overall, but considering the team has taken toolsy high-school outfielders in the first round basically every year since I was born (that's a slight exaggeration) Buxton seems to fit the Twins mold perfectly. We'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The 2009 NBA lottery, redrafted

Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and James Harden all correctly went in the top 5 in 2009, but Hasheem Thabeet at #2 overall is one of the worst draft picks in NBA history. With the value of hindsight, here's how the draft would look today, with who they actually took in parenthesis:

1. Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin, PF (Blake Griffin)

He's been a human highlight reel since returning from his knee injury his rookie season, and there's little doubt the future is very bright for Griffin in LA. Kevin Love is more effective, although not nearly as flashy, but Griffin is certainly in the discussion for being the best power forward, even if he isn't quite there yet.

2. Memphis Grizzlies - James Harden, SG (Hasheem Thabeet, C)

OJ Mayo has fallen out of favor over the last few seasons in Memphis, and at this point he's nothing more than instant offense off the bench. Harden would give Memphis a great backcourt partner to pair with Mike Conley, and Harden would fit in better with Rudy Gay as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - Steph Curry, PG (James Harden)

This was a tough choice between both Rubio and Curry, but since Russell Westbrook came out before the draft saying he'd be upset if the team took a point guard, Curry would be an easier pick to spin. Curry could play the 2 guard at times with Westbrook running the point, although the defensive issues would likely mean they couldn't play together for extended stretches.

4. Sacramento Kings - Ricky Rubio, PG (Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF)

The Kings selected Tyreke Evans, who has regressed considerably since his rookie of the year campaign. Rubio's playmaking ability wouldn't mask all of the Kings problems, but his knack for sharing the basketball and always finding the open man would likely help clear up some of the chemistry issues this team has had over the years.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Jennings, PG (Ricky Rubio)

Jennings jumped onto the NBA scene after a 50-point outburst his rookie season. He's only improved since his rookie season, and the playmaking ability that scouts raved about before he headed to Europe is obvious. 

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - DeMar Derozan, SG (Jonny Flynn, PG)

While the Wolves undoubtedly were thrilled when Rubio fell to them at #5, they certainly wish they could redo the sixth pick. Based on how everything fell the team could have selected Steph Curry (who seemed to be the obvious pick) or Derozan, because there was simply no need for another point guard after drafting Rubio.

DeRozan has been solid to this point, and while he doesn't look like a future star he should be a quality starting wing, which is something the Wolves were in dire need of this past season.

7. Golden State Warriors - Ty Lawson, PG (Steph Curry, PG)

Lawson has been efficient and solid since entering the league, which is what most people expected out of him. He's had stretches where he's looked even better than advertised, and considering Curry's health issues to this point I'm not even sure Golden State wouldn't prefer Lawson if given the choice today.

8. New York Knicks - Jrue Holiday, PG (Jordan Hill, PF)

Holiday hasn't been great to this point, but he's had flashes of brilliance early in his career. He's unlikely to ever be the kind of player that will turn around a franchise, but he's going to be a good starting point guard in this league. Linsanity took over New York shortly, but Holiday is a considerably better all-around player at this point.

9. Toronto Raptors - Tyreke Evans, SG (Demar DeRozan)

Evans looked lost this past season playing without the ball in his hands, and he simply doesn't have the instincts necessary to play the point, so he looks like a classic tweener. He has the size to play the small forward, which is where the Kings tried him for extended minutes this season, but he doesn't move well without the ball and it's a big enough concern that I think he'd fall this far.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - Taj Gibson, PF (Brandon Jennings)

With no elite guards left, Gibson would be a steal at this point for how well he's played thus far. He's not a future star but he's been a key contributor for the Bulls each of the past two seasons. A perfect rotation player that doesn't need the offense run through him to contribute.

11. New Jersey Nets - DeJuan Blair, PF (Terrence Williams, SG)

Blair slipped into the second round because of issues in both ACL's, but his production to this point has been great. Gibson is slightly taller so he went a slot ahead, but they've been about equally as productive per minute since joining the league.

12. Charlotte Bobcats - Marcus Thornton, SG (Gerald Henderson, SG)

Thornton has bounced around but he's been a solid player at each stop. He's been considerably more effective than Henderson, who's really only getting playing time because the Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history.

13. Indiana Pacers - Tyler Hansbrough, PF (Tyler Hansbrough)

Hansbrough has been exactly what people expected him to be: efficient, hard-working, and ultimately a starting caliber big in the NBA. The Pacers made a good selection; no point in trying to fix something that isn't broken.

14. Phoenix Suns - Danny Green, SF (Earl Clark, SF)

Danny Green has been fantastic as a 3-point shooter for the Spurs this season. He shot nearly 44% and his improvement over the last 3 years has been remarkable. The Suns, who still love to shoot the 3-pointer, would have loved to have someone like Green launching treys consistently. Green is just another example of the Spurs identifying a player that could fit in their system perfectly, and acquiring him on the cheap. They are an amazing organization to watch, no doubt about it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What To Do With Denard Span

When the Twins used the 20th overall pick of the 2002 draft on Denard Span, a lot of the draft analysts were surprised and felt the Twins had reached for him. For years, that analysis seemed to be spot on, because Span continued to struggle year after year offensively in the minors. Even the Twins had ultimately given up on him becoming an every day player in 2007, when they decided they needed to get a center fielder back in any Johan Santana trade (good thing they chose Carlos Gomez).

After injuries forced the Twins to simply give Span a shot at the major league level, he surprised everyone by hitting .294/.387/.432 in 93 games, with his plate discipline improving substantially at the big league level. In 2009 he quieted any "fluke" talk by hitting .311/.392/.415 in 145 games, and it appeared the Twins had found their lead-off hitter for years to come. The Twins were impressed and decided to lock Span up long-term, and he's making $3MM this year, $4.75MM next season and $6MM in 2014, with a $9MM team option for 2015. That's a very team friendly deal for the kind of outfielder Span was his first two seasons in the majors. 

However, Span's offensive contributions have largely disappeared dating back to 2010. He hit just .264/.331/.348 in 153 games that year, and then basically matched that line in half as many games last season when he hit .264/.328/.359. He's been a little better this season, as he's hitting .291/.359/.358, but the fact that his power is largely disappearing is a cause for concern. His slugging percentage is down more than 20% since his 93-game rookie campaign, and has been trending downward each year.

It's hard to know for sure which Span the Twins will have for the next few seasons, although it would appear he's trending in the wrong direction. His walk rate and line drive percentage has been basically the same dating back to 2010, so it's unlikely that he's dealing with simply bad luck. Whatever it was that made Span so effective for his first two seasons in the big leagues seems to be missing from his game these days.

Last season while Span was dealing with a potentially serious concussion, the Washington Nationals still expressed interested in adding Denard. The rumored deal was centered around closer Drew Storen and apparently fell apart when the Twins asked for infielder Steve Lombardozzi as well. That interest suggests that Span still will have some suitors if the Twins do indeed decide to trade him.

Considering the team is 14-27 and has a lot of young outfielders that need to be given a shot, I think it's in the team's best long-term interests to trade Span. While I would prefer the team get more than an overvalued late-inning reliever for him, I certainly wouldn't complain if that's the deal they ultimately made. Storen for Span might be discussed again this summer, as Storen's coming back from surgery himself and the Twins will undoubtedly want to see him throw again before pulling the trigger on any kind of deal.

If both players can remain healthy through June, don't be surprised to see discussions heat up once again. That would allow the Nationals to play Bryce Harper at one of the corner outfield positions, where they feel more comfortable with him. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mauer Should Move to Third

For years, fans and media alike have argued whether the Twins would benefit more by moving "injury-prone" Joe Mauer to a less taxing position than catcher. For years, I've been arguing that Mauer is most valuable as a catcher, by a wide-margin, and for the team to get fair value from his enormous contract they need him to catch as long as possible.

While all of that remains true, the fact is the Twins don't have a short-term or long-term solution at third base. Prospect Miguel Sano is killing the ball for Beloit as one of the league's youngest players, but as he continues to fill out there's no guarantee he'll remain at third base long-term.

This season is clearly a rebuilding season for the Twins. Currently they're a major league worst 10-24 so any hopes of making the playoffs should probably be tossed out the window. If the team were to move Mauer to third base for the remainder of this season and allow him to get acclimated with the position, it would help the team more long-term. Ryan Doumit isn't a great defensive catcher and certainly isn't someone the team will want to rely on into the future, but he's decent enough as a one-year stop gap for the rest of this season.

Now, it may seem odd that I'm suggesting Mauer change positions this season, considering he's been as durable as ever. He's played in 33 of the team's 34 games. However, he's only caught in 16 of those games, while spending the other 17 games between first base and designated hitter.

Mauer's .286/.406/.387 line this season is good for an OPS of .792. The average AL catcher this season is hitting .240/.310/.394, or a .704 OPS, which makes Mauer's OPS about 10% higher than the average catcher. However, Mauer has only caught in about half of his 33 games. That makes his bat less valuable, because generally 1B and DH are the two best offensive positions in the league.

First baseman this season, though, are hitting even worse than catchers. The average AL first baseman is hitting just .235/.309/.387, which is good for just a .696 OPS. That number will almost certainly improve over the season, but as it is now Mauer has outproduced the average first baseman by even more than he has outproduced the average catcher.

So in 25 of Mauer's 33 games this season, he's been well above average offensively for the defensive position he's playing. Why even bother moving him?

The issue is that everyone seems convinced Mauer will eventually have to move from behind the plate. While even the most informed people may disagree just how long he can catch for, I don't think anybody realistically expects Mauer to catch through the 2018 season (when his contract runs out).

If Mauer were to suffer another knee injury next season, while still catching, he'd also have no experience at third base. What worries me is that the Twins will keep Mauer at catcher for the remainder of this season, and then have to move him sometime next season after an injury. If they keep Mauer at catcher and he does indeed get hurt, the team is much more likely to keep him at first base and designated hitter than try to teach him a more valuable position.

For example, let's look at last season's numbers by position, in the AL:
C: .238/.305/.391 (.696 OPS)
1B: .271/.340/.452 (.792 OPS)
2B: .263/.321/.400 (.721 OPS)
SS:  .266/.321/.387 (.708 OPS)
3B: .247/.316/.394 (.709 OPS)
LF: .251/.311/.393 (.704 OPS)
CF: .259/.317/.410 (.727 OPS)
RF: .267/.337/.431 (.768 OPS)
DH: .266/.341/.430 (.770 OPS)

So, as I mentioned earlier, 1B and DH were indeed the two highest OPS' by position. That's to be expected because those positions have low defensive value (1B) or no defensive value (DH) so the player is expected to contribute more with his bat.

If Mauer is moved to strictly 1B/DH full-time, his $23,000,000 a year contract is even more of a burden for a mid-market team.* If Mauer were to simply match his current stat line for the remainder of his contract (.286/.406/.387), he'd be above the league average OPS from 2011 at every position. Of course, because 1B and DH-types are generally easier to find than any other position, the Twins would be wise to use their $23,000,000 player at a position that has been an Achilles heel for the team since 2003, third base.

*Following the opening of Target Field, many fans incorrectly assumed the Twins would now be able to spend considerably more money. However, as great as a new stadium is, the real revenue comes from media contracts. The Twins local TV deal is something like $30 or $40MM a year. That's not a bad number by any means, but teams like the Yankees (close to $400MM) and the Angels (close to $150MM) make so much more per year that the Twins will simply always be a mid-market team, fancy new stadium or not.

Mauer seems to be athletic enough to make the move, although it is worth noting that his move to third base wouldn't be guaranteed to work. There's always a chance he'd be so bad at third that they couldn't justify playing him there, but the general sense among those close to the Twins is that Mauer would have no problem making the switch.

As you see in 2011, the average first baseman was more than 10% better offensively than third baseman, and DH's weren't much worse than first baseman. The team will give themselves a better opportunity to win into the future if they realize Mauer is much more valuable at a position that is not first base or designated hitter. The Twins have been unable to find even a league average third baseman in almost a decade, and with Mauer's contract basically unmovable for it's entirety, they might as well move him this season and let him deal with his growing pains defensively in a rebuilding season.

So, if the team were to move Mauer to third, who becomes the long-term catcher? Obviously, it would have been ideal if the team still had Wilson Ramos (torn ACL or not) but since they foolishly traded him for Matt Craps (I think I spelled that right) they need a new long-term catcher.

Remember, though, that Mauer wasn't likely the Twins long-term plan at catcher either, so by moving Mauer to third they aren't really creating a hole in the future. All they'd be doing is solidifying a different position of need while they try to find a catcher of the future over the next season or two.

The easiest solution would be to draft the best catcher in the draft, Mike Zunino, who's a draft eligible junior from Florida. He's considered a future franchise backstop, and in a draft that doesn't really have a clear cut top tier, taking a highly productive college bat with lots of upside makes plenty of sense. Zunino could potentially see the bigs as soon as mid-2013 if he develops quickly, but since the Twins have generally been conservative with their prospects, I'd say a 2014 debut would be more likely.

The team is lacking high-impact offensive players that are close to major league ready, and Zunino certainly wouldn't be a reach at #2 overall anyways. It's not a necessity to have an elite catcher, but by having one that is elite it can mask deficiencies elsewhere. If your catcher is 25% better than the average catcher, you could theoretically have a few slightly below average players and still finish above .500.

The Twins have never been accused of being a forward-thinking organization, but in a rebuilding season it's time to look toward the future. Move Mauer to third base, permanently, and effective immediately. Besides, it'd give the Twins a reason to let Drew Butera continue to sit on the roster despite being the worst offensive major leaguer in almost 100 years.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Around the Web

  • Ricky Williams wrote an exceptionally enlightening piece on 4/20, a holiday that is widely celebrated by "potheads" as Ricky used to be.
  • The Vikings announced if they don't trade out of the #3 pick on Thursday, they'll select either LT Matt Kalil, CB Morris Claiborne or WR Justin Blackmon.
  • In my most recent mock draft, I have the Vikings selecting CB Morris Claiborne.
  • Starting pitcher Philip Humber, acquired by the Twins in the Johan Santana trade, pitched the 21st perfect game in MLB history on Saturday for the White Sox.
  • I spent the weekend on a road trip, which I'll cover later this week, but I was at this game.
  • Dwayne Johnson, better known as the Rock, proved via Twitter that's exactly what's inside his head: rocks.
  • I know guys say they like girls who look like Barbie... but this is just creepy.
  • This was 8 hours before Rubio began signing. Kind of popular, no?
  • The 21 worst things in the world.
  • Dumb and Dumber 2 will begin filming in September. Both Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are back, which means I will probably see it on opening night.
  • A baseball should not move this way when thrown by a human. Then again, King Felix is probably an alien. As Aaron Gleeman said, from now on, Bugs Bunny throws a Felix Hernandez changeup.
  • This is Ryan Tannehill's wife. No commentary necessary.
  • And finally, with the Vikings looming stadium still in limbo, check out my thoughts last season. Just switch the 2012 to 2013 and it still rings true.



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