7.27.2007

The end of the line: Find me now at Seattle Sports Report

That's right: After more than a year and more than 300 posts, Hangin' With The Nuss will be no more.

You can now find my writing at Seattle Sports Report (http://seattlesportsreport.wordpress.com), so update your bookmarks accordingly.

Why did HWTN have to end? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First and foremost, this site began as an outlet for my own personal opinions and desire to write. I had no blogging experience at that time, and I didn't really have a heck of lot of expectations for readership. I figured I would post once or twice a week, and it was more just for me and a few of my friends.

The bottom line is that the site has outgrown that. I've been posting frequently, gained considerable blogging experience and knowledge, found my blogging "voice," and grown a consistent readership that is beyond my original expectations. It was time for the blog to take the next step, and that frankly wasn't going to happen as Hangin' With The Nuss.

What does the next step include? Taking the focus off me and putting it squarely on the teams, for one. Hence the new name of the blog, which is part of a new nation-wide network of city sports blogs called "Behind Enemy Lines." It also includes adding more writers to the fold, so more viewpoints can be heard and discussed.

Additionally, I had grown tired of trying to make the Blogger template work for me and my readers. It just didn't provide a heck of a lot of flexibility, and I've grown tired of the look of the site. Changing it would have been a heck of a lot of work I frankly don't have time for. Wordpress' blog interface allows greater flexibility for communicating information and a simpler, more attractive layout where the emphasis is on the content -- not on colors.

Thanks for taking the time to read me here, whether you've been here since the beginning or more recently, and I sincerely hope you'll join us over at Seattle Sports Report. I think it's going to be a fabulous step forward, and I'm excited to be a part of it.

Thanks,
Jeff

7.25.2007

Innocent until proven guilty?

Whenever an American runs afoul of the law in this country, we have a little saying we like to proudly spout with our chests proudly stuck out for the whole world to see:

Innocent until proven guilty!

Unfortunately, most Americans fail to grasp what it actually means. While it's the cornerstone of the legal system in this country, and it's part of what makes America great, it really is only that -- applicable to the legal system.

It doesn't apply to the private sector, and it most certainly doesn't apply to public perception -- two points that are critical to understand when wondering why Michael Vick has been barred from reporting to training camp for the Falcons and why Americans (and Bud Selig) are having such a difficult time embracing Barry Bonds' imminent setting of the all-time baseball home run record.

People are correct when they point out that not only does an indictment not prove anything, it's not terribly difficult for the government to secure an indictment against an individual.

But those people would be missing the point. Actually, four points.

  1. The NFL is a business;
  2. It's a private business run by extremely wealthy individuals who wish to protect their considerable investments;
  3. Those considerable investments are only such because millions of fans take more than a passing interest in those investments; and
  4. Because it's a private business, those wealthy individuals can do pretty much anything they want to their employees -- within the boundaries of the collective bargaining agreement -- that they think best protects their investment, especially in the eyes of those who make that investment profitable.
Many have cried that we wouldn't want our employers rushing to judgment on us in the face of a legal battle. The response to that is simple: We're not NFL football players. In general, our employers do not need to think the same way about public perception as the NFL does. Usually, they stand to benefit more by keeping us around for productivity purposes (or to avoid union headaches). If you're easy to replace, they'll replace you -- just ask any minimum wage worker who has been fired for a small mistake.

Is it fair to Michael Vick? Absolutely. He knew the rules when he became an NFL football player -- rules that have enabled him to already become wealthy beyond what most of us can comprehend because they protect the profitability of the product for all NFL players.

It's not always great for the individual, but nobody's complaining when they're cashing those million-dollar paychecks.

Beyond that, even our legal system doesn't require a smoking gun to prove guilt; many a criminal has been put away with enough circumstantial evidence.

How much less evidence, then, does a private business require to take action, or the public to reach a conclusion? Maybe it's simply an indictment that cuts to the heart of decent human beings everywhere. Or perhaps it's an exceptionally researched book. Whatever that burden of proof is, it's far less than what the courts require. It doesn't have to be a guilty verdict at the hands of a jury, or an indisputable positive result on a pee test.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Quit being so naive.

Effort to keep Sonics ramping up

The folks over at Save Our Sonics have taken another big step forward in their effort to keep the Sonics in town.

They've stepped up and formed the "A Deal Is A Deal" PAC, which plans to introduce an initiative that would block Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels from negotiating any kind of a buyout to the Sonics' lease with KeyArena which runs through 2010.

From the news release:

“We are confident that this initiative is legally viable and – more importantly – that it will send a clear message to the Mayor’s office that engaging in conversations regarding a lease buyout are against the wishes of his constituency.

“This issue is about more than basketball and we expect it to appeal even to those who are not sports fans. When cities make significant investments in any type of public/private partnership there must be an understanding that both parties, as well as their successors, adhere to the terms of the contract. In the case of the Seattle SuperSonics, that means they should remain in the KeyArena until the completion of the lease in 2010."
And when they say they expect it to appeal to even non-sports fans, they aren't kidding. Chris Van Dyk -- driving force behind "Citizens for More Important Things" and frequent target of sports fans' ire -- is behind the initiative effort.
"We're endorsing it because the principle behind it seems to be that major league sports owners have to stop kicking their fans around and acting like they own the bloody world and can do whatever they want," Van Dyk said. "The Sonics committed to play at KeyArena through 2010, and a lot of businesses made decisions based on that. The Sonics need to pay in full for all the possible impacts they have on the local economy. It seems imminently reasonable and fair to us."
Perhaps in the whole lifetime of the saying "politics makes for strange bedfellows" has it never been more outrageously true.

At any rate, this is a GREAT sign for those of us that want to see the Sonics stay in Seattle. The KeyArena lease appears to be ironclad, except that the mayor has said that a buyout could, technically fulfill the lease. An initiative such as this -- if it can stand up in court -- would give the region some more time to figure out a solution to keep the team here.

Perhaps more importantly, such a mandate could persuade Clay Bennett to sell the team, rather than continue to lose money under the current agreement for an additional three years.

If you want to get more involved, you can find out more about how to do that over at SonicsCentral.com.

7.23.2007

On freeing Adam Jones

I was listening to the Mariners postgame show a few days ago on KOMO, and team reporter Shannon Drayer and host Tom Glasgow were discussing the merits of adding pieces to a team that seemed to be struggling to score runs.

They both agreed that it would be good to add an upgrade somewhere, but then Drayer went where most traditional baseball observers go.

Chemistry.

I'm paraphrasing here because I didn't write down the quote word for word, but her "analysis" went something like this:

"In the four years I've been covering the team, this is by far the best chemistry I've seen out of the Mariners. These guys genuinely like each other and are pulling for each other to succeed, and is a big reason why they're winning," she said.

It got better. Or worse, depending on your perspective.

"I think if this team can add a bat, it definitely should do it, but it should be careful who it adds. If the Mariners can add a proven, veteran bat who's comes to the clubhouse with some respect, I think the guys put on the bench will accept it," she said.

Then, the kicker.

"But I would be careful about adding a bat that's unproven at this level. That really could disrupt what this team's got going. I would be very wary of that."

Of course, that last comment was a not-so-subtle shot at all of us who are clamoring for this team to find space somewhere in the lineup for Adam Jones, far and away the team's best prospect at AAA.

In case you've been in a cave the last three months, Jones is putting up unreal numbers in Tacoma. He's got a .315 average, .382 OBP and .590 slugging percentage, and he has 23 home runs and 79 RBI. Granted it's AAA, but for a little perspective, among the regulars only Ichiro has a higher average and OBP on the big club, and no one is even close to that kind of slugging percentage. Additionally, the defensive transition from shortstop to outfielder appears to be nearly complete, as scouts now characterize him as an above average outfielder.

That he's major league ready is no longer in question. But the Mariners' intelligence is.

There were myriad complaints the past two years that this team lacked a leader in the mold of Jay Buhner or Brett Boone. Chemistry is such a big deal with the M's and their front office that the signings of Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro were characterized as not only upgrades in talent, but "more importantly" adding some veteran leadership to the clubhouse.

Drayer doesn't come up with that kind of bunk -- and it is bunk -- on her own. She's drinking the organizational Kool Aid. My guess is players have expressed reservations privately to Drayer off the record, and also shared their thoughts with decision makers. Thus, Jones rots away in Tacoma, beating the crud out of the PCL.

There's no doubt that leadership matters on a a team -- any team. No matter the organization, having strong leaders does make a difference. But chemistry? Something entirely different and extremely overrated.

"Chemistry" does not breed success, especially in baseball where everyone has their own job to do. Guys hit and pitch well because they have talent, and don't because they don't. I've been around plenty of organizations where everyone liked each other and produced plenty of crappy work. Likewise, I've been around those where few people could stand each other, but everyone did their job well. Why? Because everyone benefits from the organization being successful, and it's stupid to waste time worrying about things like chemistry.

Success breeds chemistry, not the other way around.

This team feels good because it's 13 games over .500 ... not the other way around.

So, back to Jones. He's saying all the right things, but one has to wonder at what point it begins to discourage him. Here's to hoping Bill Bavasi was waiting for a good excuse to bring up Jones, because that time is here. The team has failed to score a run in each of its past two games, and it's heading to the bandbox that is The Ballpark in Arlington.

Where to put him? How about left field, where Raul Ibanez -- bless his heart, he's a nice guy -- has become an embarrassment as one of the worst fielders in baseball. Even if Jones doesn't hit a lick, he's got to be worth some runs for his defensive abilities alone. Additionally, Ibanez has become one of the worst hitters on the team. His line in July? Batting average .147, OBP .202, slugging .232. That is horrific ... and it's WORSE against lefties. AND HE'S BATTING THIRD.

It would be one thing if he's a guy just going through a prolonged slump. But the guy has six home runs. SIX. He's 35 years old. The end is near.

And let's not even start on Jose Vidro, he of the emptiest .299 batting average you'll ever see. Yes, his OBP is a respectable .361. But his slugging percentage is a pathetic .366 -- well below the accepted slugging "Mendoza line" of .400. It's easily the worst slugging percentage of any regular DH in the American League, and let's not forget the guy has grounded into 16 double plays this year -- second in the league.

Oh, and about that myth that Vidro is a patient hitter? He sees just 3.6 pitches per plate appearance, better only than Kenji Johjima and Yuniesky Betancourt (3.3) among Mariners regulars. For perspective, to be among the top 29 in the American League, you need to see at least 4.0 P/PA.

If I hear Rick Rizzs say Jose Vidro is the perfect number two hitter "because he does all the things a number two hitter is supposed to do -- see pitches, handle the bat, put the ball on right side" one more time, I will literally throw up. (And when I say literally, I mean it, as I'm fighting the flu right now. Awesome summer vacation!)

OK, so I started on Vidro. I digress.

I will throw in one caveat regarding Jones. It's possible he's still at AAA because the team is considering trading him and that's the best way to keep his value high. If that's true, I really, really hope Bavasi gets value in return -- not something stupid like Jason Schmidt or Dontrelle Willis. Confidence is not high after his debacle deals this past offseason. How nice would Rafael Soriano be in the 8th inning right now?

So here's to getting Jones to Seattle in what has become a long overdue move. We don't have to make a trade to make our team stronger.

7.22.2007

Happy news, then the joke of the day

On a day when the Mariners lose a series to the Blue Jays after not scoring a run for the second consecutive game, this should make you smile.

BOSTON -- Jon Lester is slated to return to the mound for the Boston Red Sox on Monday, nearly a year after his rookie season was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Lester was scheduled to replace Julian Tavarez for Monday's game at Cleveland, the 23-year-old left-hander's first major league appearance since he beat the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 23 last year. The Red Sox said nine days later that he had a treatable form of lymphoma.
Lester is a native Tacoman who pitched at Bellarmine Prep in high school, so good on him.

Then, there's this little delicious gem.
The club will designate pitcher Joel Pineiro (for assignment) prior to the game on Monday to make room on the roster. Pineiro was 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 games this season.
That's right, folks. After convincing the Red Sox he didn't suck to the tune of $4 million, Boston has confirmed that he does, indeed, suck.

For those of you looking for the joke, is there any bigger joke than Joel Pineiro?

That's what I thought.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Baseball Between The Numbers'

Back in the saddle today with the first HWTN book review!

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with a confession. I did not finish "Baseball Between the Numbers: Why everything you know about the game is wrong" before I had to return it to the public library.

But in not finishing the book, I came to this conclusion: This is not a book that is meant to be finished -- at least not in a couple of weeks. This is a book that is meant to be owned, perused, contemplated, poured over and thought about.

"Baseball Between the Numbers" is a collection of articles written by the experts at Baseball Prospectus, the guys best known for their analytical look at the game through numbers and statistics. And we're not just talking run-of-the-mill statistics like batting average or even OPS; we're talking hardcore sabermetric statistics such as VORP, WARP, and runs created.

In an attempt to keep potential readers from being scared off, editor Jonah Keri writes:

"Since this is a Baseball Prospectus publication, you'll know to expect plenty of numerical analysis in breaking down these debates and finding answers. At the same time, we merely use numbers as our framework for these answers. In a real sense, it's not arriving at those answers that is most important, but the journey, the way of thinking and the process you use to get there that leads to real understanding. It's the process of learning to think critically about the game that defines this book, and in a broader sense defines our experiences as avid fans of the game. It's the baseball between the numbers that we seek."
In my experience, however, most baseball fans fall between these two extremes:
  1. Those who swear by these numbers, believing there's no better way to look at the game and its best practices and strategies than through data and evidence culled over decades of games and seasons. Most of these people fall here because they can actually understand what the BP guys are talking about;

    and

  2. Those who think they're full of crap and that they rob the beauty, aesthetics and human element from the game. Most of these people fall here because they never got past algebra in high school and can't follow the concept of win probability to save their lives.
And that's the main problem with this book, from a widespread appeal standpoint. It still relies heavily on numerical analysis, to the point that even casual fans that are willing to have their preconceived notions about baseball challenged may not always be able to follow the logic, and in turn will be frustrated and turned off.

But since I fall much closer to fan No. 1 than fan No. 2, I enjoyed this book. I was pretty good at math in high school, and can follow (for the most part) what they're talking about. (Although the concept of "regression analysis," used often in the text, still eludes my higher order thinking skills.)

Some of the chapters are a bit tedious and dry, but there were other chapters I found absolutely fascinating, such as "Why is Mario Mendoza So Important?", "Is Alex Rodriguez Overpaid?" and "Do High Salaries Lead To High Ticket Prices?" It's great for reassessing what you think you know about baseball, as each chapter centers around an accessible question and attempts to reason through the answer with available data. You might not always agree with the conclusions -- for example, I think the free agency analysis in the A-Rod chapter ignores some important concepts -- but you can't ever walk away from a chapter without having had to think about why you believe what you believe about that topic.

A word of caution: This is a book that is best bought, put on the shelf, and brought out to read from time to time. I plowed through about 100 pages yesterday, and by the time I was done, my brain hurt. It's just too much to try and digest all of those numbers in such a short amount of time. You're better off reading a chapter here and there, and then taking some time to ponder what you just read. It would even make for a cool "chapter of the week" discussion point for you and your baseball fan friends, if you're (apologies to the ladies) manly enough to do that.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind really thinking while thinking about baseball, and isn't afraid to have what they think they know challenged.

And while you'll never look at a sacrifice bunt the same way again -- you'll think to yourself, "How can they just give away an out there? Don't they know that it drops their chances of scoring more than one run this inning by nearly half?" -- you will be rewarded for your efforts with a more well-rounded view of the game, something I'm enjoying already.

Rating: 4 out of 5; worth your time

7.19.2007

New post to come tomorrow

Thanks for hanging with me during this crazy summer. I'm in Wenatchee right now as I write this, in town to look for a place to live, drop off stuff to my classroom, etc. So, no post today. But I'll have one tomorrow for sure.

Thanks for your patience, and believe me -- we will seriously ramp up as we get close to the trade deadline and the opening of training camp.

7.17.2007

Need a pick me up on a Tuesday morning?

Try Powerburst.

(Be warned: There is one naughty word in the video. But, hey -- Mother Nature had it coming. Also, does it make me a total geek that I know that the sans serif font in this video is Myriad Pro? I think it does.)



Thanks to Gomez, frequent contributor over at Lookout Landing, for digging this one up.

7.15.2007

Eating crow on Ichiro

Way back at the beginning of the season, I devoted an entire post on how overrated Ichiro is -- how he'd never be worth the $16-18 million he'd likely command on the open market, and how the Mariners would be smart to keep their money and let the selfish singles hitter walk.

As the Mariners prepare to pay Ichiro $90 million over the next five years, I just have one thing to say.

I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

I still stand by many of the things I said, put into the context of the post's April 12 date. At the time, he certainly seemed to be in the midst of what could be reasonably interpreted as a statistical decline.

Additionally, my perception that he wasn't contributing as much to the team's success wasn't entirely off base, either. After "creating" 146 runs in 2004 (the year of 262) -- runs created uses batting and baserunning to try to quantify the overall offensive contribution -- he created only 113 and 114 runs the past two years. Still pretty good, but not quintessential Ichiro.

I wondered if the Ichiro of 2001 and 2004 could ever return.

Well, he's returned with a vengeance and is a huge reason why this team seems to be overachieving this year. He's on pace to "create" 140 runs, but if fancy stats don't tickle your fancy, consider that he's on track to post his highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage since 2004, and his highest stolen base total since his rookie year.

Clearly, he still possesses the ability to change games the way he did in the past.

Also, upon reflection, I think I was vastly undervaluing Ichiro's defensive contribution as a centerfielder. When I wrote that original post in April, Ichiro had only played CF for a grand total of two months, and I really was still valuing him as a rightfielder. Playing centerfield everyday this year, Ichiro has proven to be an extremely valuable defensive commodity (two flyballs from Curtis Granderson notwithstanding). Defense matters -- it's the kind of thing that can take a guy from being worth $12 million a year to $18 million a year.

Many wonder if it's wise to give that kind of money to a 33-year-old. Dave Cameron at USS Mariner answers that question here, and I happen to agree with him. His argument is long, so here's the gist: Even if he declines at the expected rate -- no sure thing for a guy who Bill Bavasi said is in better shape at 33 than many players are at 23 -- by advanced statistical measures, he'll still be worth the money. And if you count yourself a person (like many in the mainstream national media and Dave Samson) who think there's no way a singles hitter can be worth that kind of money, check out this post by Cameron; it might cause you to reconsider what his skill set is actually worth.

At any rate, this team simply could not let Ichiro walk away -- not when it's experiencing the turnaround of this season and fans are beginning to flock back to Safeco Field. That's not something to be overlooked, given the downward trend in attendance the team has been experiencing. Ichiro is the main star attraction on a winning team that is winning back its fans. This signing just continues the excitement.

Had the team continued to flounder as it had the past two seasons, I still would have been first in line to say let him walk. Like a lot of leadoff hitters, he's really only as valuable as the guys behind him, and the guys behind him the past three years have been awfully bad.

But this year, he's showing what he can do when he's surrounded by some talent. Once again, he's showing just how valuable he can be on a contending team.

And that makes him worth every penny.

7.14.2007

As promised: The answers you seek

So, many of you -- OK, maybe just Jo-Jo -- have been wondering what I've been up to. No doubt, it's been a conspicuous time to be silent, given the Mariners' play and subsequent signing of Ichiro, Kevin Durant's summer league debut, among other things.

However, I have had my reasons.

Besides the fact that summer's just a time to be outside and not sitting at computers much -- unless you're one of those unlucky folks to work in an office everyday -- you might recall that a little over a month ago, I accepted an offer to become a teacher at Wenatchee High School. Well, a couple of things getting ready for that move have consumed all of my time over the past few weeks.

First, we have purchased this little gem to have some fun with on the east side of the mountains:


No, I did not purchase the girl -- that's my beautiful wife Sarah. I'm talking about the 2000 Jeep Wrangler, which we've already had a considerable amount of fun with in the sun. Joshua loves riding in the back -- very important.

Additionally, for those of you unfamiliar with Washington, Wenatchee is nowhere near where I live. That means we've been getting our house ready to go on the market, and it's taken us the better part of three weeks to get both my old classroom cleaned out and our house cleaned and fixed up.

But, we're there. Observe:







The house is in The Buttes outside of Orting and is being offered at $325,000. You can find a link to the listing here. My wife's the agent, so you can contact me directly here if you're interested or know someone who is.

So, there you go. Hopefully, this will be the end of the silence -- after all, I'm going to need frequent respites while packing stuff up. I'll hopefully have some thoughts on the Mariners (among other things tomorrow.

7.11.2007

Where the heck have I been?

I apologize deeply for the impromptu leave of absence. I'll be able to explain much more tomorrow. Hang with me, because I have a lot of thoughts about the Mariners heading into the second half of the season. It sure is a feel-good time to be an M's fan.

See you tomorrow.

7.05.2007

Reading between Ichiro's lines -- good luck to you!

After the Mariners finally got manager John McLaren his first win yesterday at the helm of the Mariners, Ichiro had some curious comments afterward.

For those of you looking for something "sinister" in the resignation of Mike Hargrove, I imagine you'll feel free to read plenty into these.

First, this one, told to the Japanese media and translated over at Detect-o-vision (courtesy of Enjoy The Enjoyment):

"There was a play (in the game) with a certain intention. A play we did not have for 2 years."
He was speaking, according the site, of a specific play in the game that seemed to be a part of having a plan to win the game -- something Hargrove apparently was lacking.

Then, there is this nugget, courtesy of Larry LaRue at The (Tacoma) News Tribune:
"We don’t know what the future holds for manager John McLaren,” Ichiro said. “But to be part of his first victory was emotional for all of us. I want to help him win a lot of games in his career.”
Wait. Did the guy who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year just say he wants to help the new manager win "a lot of games in his career"? I hope I'm not making too much of an assumption that McLaren's career will last more than half a season ...

Welcome to the world of hanging on every word of your team's superstar, made even more fun by the fact that he's Japanese, won't speak English to the media, and loves to give quotes that are more riddles than answers.

Just one more fun thing to watch for the rest of the season.

7.04.2007

Happy 4th!

I hope you're outside enjoying some sun instead of reading this.

But if you are reading this, perhaps you'd like to ponder how this guy:



Is going to coach this guy.

No, P.J., you will never out live this. Sorry.

We'll be checking in tomorrow. Hopefully the M's will have figured out how to beat the Royals by then.

7.03.2007

P.J. Carlesimo will be Sonics' next head coach

The San Antonio Express-News is reporting tonight what we all widely assumed would happen when Clay Bennett hired Sam Presti as GM: That P.J. Carlesimo will be the next head coach of the SuperSonics.

You know what? I like the move.

While the city (rightly) has sentimental ties to Dwayne Casey, if the organization was looking for a guy to implement the San Antonio philosophy up here, who better to get than a guy who has been an assistant coach in San Antonio for five seasons? Besides, what did Casey do in Minnesota that has inspired you to believe he'd do anything much different as the head man up here?

And I don't view this as the typical retread situation. This guy was a heck of a coach at Seton Hall, and didn't do a half bad job in his three seasons in Portland, where he averaged 45.6 wins and was chased out of town mostly because the Blazers never could get out of the first round of the playoffs. It was that debacle in Golden State that did him in, but, really -- name a coach not named Don Nelson who has had success in the Bay Area in the last 30 years. Better yet, name a coach that didn't have a problem with Latrell Sprewell.

I think Carlesimo, who has been saddled with a bit of unfair criticism, could end up being a great hire. He's going to bring a defense-first mentality and also is a creative offensive mind. He's learned under one of the best in Gregg Popovich, and rather than hanging our hats on some unproven assistant who might or might not be able to handle an NBA team, we get a guy who was a coach for six years and has had some time to reflect on what might not have gone right the first time around and hopefully learn from it.

Then again, isn't that kind of what we all said about Bob Hill? Let's hope coming from a winning organization makes the difference for Carlesimo.

Just how bad have the last 10 years been for the Sonics?

Seth over at Enjoy the Enjoyment reminds us.

Holy crap. We should be a lot more pissed about where this franchise is than we really are. What an unbelievable string of ineptitude.

Hollinger: Sonics unlikely to net much in sign-and-trade for Lewis

ESPN.com's John Hollinger has (by far) this morning's best take on Rashard Lewis' agreement to sign a max contract with the Orlando Magic.

First off, he thinks this is a classic case of a guy being worth more at a certain price to one franchise than he is to another. In this case, it made sense for the Magic -- who believe they can contend quickly in the mediocre East -- to sign Lewis to a max deal, but not the rebuilding Sonics.

(B)y not maxing out Lewis right now, the Sonics are better poised to add players later. Removing Lewis' cap hold puts Seattle $3.8 million under the salary cap right now, if we assume a $56 million cap for this season (again, the final number won't be known until July 11).

But the big splash is two years down the road. At that point, the expiring deals of Wally Szczerbiak and Chris Wilcox will take roughly $20 million off the Sonics' books. While extensions to Robert Swift and Delonte West are likely to eat up a portion of that, it still leaves Seattle with more than enough dough to chase a superstar in the summer of 2009.
Of course, what's unstated there is that the Sonics will be able to spend that $20 million at a time when Durant and Green have two years under their belts, putting Seattle in a position to make the kind of "over-the-top" move that potentially puts them in position to contend for championships.

And as for the possibility of getting something in return for Lewis in a sign-and-trade? Unlikely.
The problem is making it work. Although Seattle and Orlando have eight days to work out a deal, there isn't a great chance of this happening. Seattle reportedly isn't enamored of anyone on the Orlando roster (well, except Howard), so at best it would need to be a three-way deal. Those types of swaps are notoriously complex and difficult to pull off, especially because other teams covet few of Orlando's assets.

He does pose one interesting theory, however.
What Seattle might find more alluring is the prospect of a trade like Indiana made a year ago with the Hornets when Peja Stojakovic left. That swap gave the Pacers a $7.5 million trade exception that they turned around to acquire Al Harrington. In this case, the Sonics would get a $9.35 million trade exception (again, assuming a final cap number of $56 million) if they took nothing back from Orlando.

But this works only if Seattle can offer Orlando a little something for the trouble -- a draft pick being the most likely bait. And the trade exception might not mean as much to the Sonics as a draft choice at this point in their rebuilding process -- especially because trade exceptions can be difficult to use and expire in 12 months.
Let's hope GM Sam Presti can figure out a way to make this happen. Letting Rashard walk doesn't net the Sonics the $15 million or so he would have been making here -- remember, they would have been using their Bird rights to sign him, so it would only leave them $3 million or so under the cap. It's a number unlikely to result in the Sonics landing much help for this upcoming year.

And as for other rumors surrounding the Sonics?

An interesting one being reported by FoxSports.com: Richard Hamilton and Nazr Mohammed for Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox and Damien Wilkins. It's a deal the Sonics should do in a heartbeat, but you probably won't see much come from it until the negotiating window with Lewis has expired on July 11. But who knows? Maybe the Pistons become the third team in the sign-and-trade ...

7.02.2007

ESPN.com says Rashard Lewis is off to Orlando

ESPN.com's Marc Stein is reporting tonight that Rashard Lewis has agreed to a max contract with Orlando and will sign the deal on July 11, the first day free agents can sign new deals.

This doesn't exactly break my heart. I would have liked to keep Lewis, but I'm not convinced he's a max player -- he's got one All-Star selection under his belt, and even that was tenuous, brought about mostly because the team was having success.

He's a nice player, but not a superstar. I don't want to see the Sonics handcuffed by a bad contract, the way the Wolves were when they gave Wally Szczerbiak his fat deal. A max deal to Lewis probably would have done that.

Now, we'll see how good Presti is. The one thing the Sonics had going for them was that they could offer him a six-year contract; the most Orlando can offer is five. Let's see if Presti can really earn his money by negotiating a sign-and-trade with the Magic, where Lewis gets his six-year deal and the Sonics get some kind of return on him. That also would be best for the Magic, who still have designs on signing Darko Milicic. A sign-and-trade would give them enough cap space to still sign him, which they wouldn't be able to do otherwise.

I don't know exactly what the Sonics might get in return, but I know there are other people out there way smarter than me who break that stuff down. When I run across it, I'll pass it along.

McLaren drops debut, torches bullpen in the process

Let's go ahead and begin this conversation with the understanding that John McLaren's managing style will be developed over weeks and months, not three hours, 20 minutes and 11 innings.

That said, I think there are some things worth noting in this, his first game as manager.

The thing that obviously sticks out above all others was his use of the pitching staff tonight, which probably cost the M's the game. It just seemed like a classic case of overmanaging, which might be expected given that the guy hasn't managed his own baseball team in about 20 years.

It started with his decision to pull Felix after eight innings, but just 92 pitches. Following a rocky first inning, Felix was on cruise control most of the rest of the way, and there was no real reason to pull him from a tie game. I haven't seen anything from McLaren yet on his decision to pull Felix, but I presume it was because David DeJesus -- he of the two hits, including a home run, off Hernandez -- was leading off the ninth. (UPDATE: Felix says he was gassed from the humidity.)

But ... who knew how long the game was going to last? Seems logical to ride that horse as long as he'll let you ride him. Especially since pulling Hernandez opened a can of worms McLaren wasn't prepared to deal with. It resulted in him burning through three relievers -- Eric O'Flaherty, Sean Green and George Sherrill -- to get three outs in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Of course, O'Flaherty put him in a bad spot by giving up two quick hits, but turning to Green was a bad option to begin with. McLaren clearly had no intention of letting Green pitch past Emil Brown, given Green's horrendous .364/.511/.455 line against lefties. My guess is McLaren was hoping for a DP out of Green, but when he didn't get it, he was left with no choice but to turn to Sherrill. The better option would have been to turn to Sherrill in the first place -- he's been equally effective against both righties and lefties.

Three relievers. Three outs. A game that could have gone on indefinitely with just three relievers remaining.

Saddled with an offense that couldn't get a hit with runners in scoring position, McLaren had no choice but to turn to Brandon Morrow for as long as he could go, because he only had two other pitchers left: Rookie Ryan Rowland-Smith (he of the 2 1/3 career major league innings) and J.J. Putz (who presumably was being held back for a save situation). (UPDATE: Putz was unavailable tonight.)

It backfired, as Morrow proved once again that his command simply isn't yet good enough for extended appearances.

I won't crucify McLaren for what looks like a pretty bad bit of bullpen management tonight. After all, it was only game one, and one has figure he's going to learn from it. But for those who say managers tend to have a relatively negligent impact on teams, McLaren deserves a fair share of the blame for tonight's loss.

That said, I feel good about the next two days, even if the eight-game winning streak is now over. As Bill Kruger said tonight on FSN, this was the very best the Royals have to throw at us, and you have to believe that a team that has hit nearly .300 with runners in scoring position this year won't be stranding nine runners again.

So, here's to taking the next two from the Royals and moving on to Oakland to finish the first half out strong. Let's hope McLaren's bullpen shenanigans don't have a lasting effect.

7.01.2007

Hargrove resigns as M's manager

I think we all came into this season figuring that Mike Hargrove would lose his job at some point. I just don't think any of us, in our wildest imagination -- with the team 11 games over .500 and riding a seven-game winning streak -- thought it would come like this.

Saying it had become harder and harder to bring daily the effort and energy he demands of his players, Hargrove resigned today as manager of the Mariners, effective after the Sunday matinée with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He insisted the decision was his and his alone.

"There are no dark sinister reasons for this decision," Hargrove said at a hastily called press conference this morning. "This is my decision.

"It’s not a problem with players, not a problem with Bill (Bavasi), not a problem with clubhouse manager, not a problem with my wife. It’s an accumulation of 35 years. That’s a long time. It’s just an accumulation of things. It's not one thing – I was not forced into this decision. There was a strong, credible job done by everyone to talk me out of it.

"But this is the right thing to do for Mike Hargrove and the Seattle Mariners."

Hargrove's always been a straight shooter, as is his nature as a native Texan, so it's hard not to take him at his word. But it's also hard not to wonder if there's another story, although any thoughts along those lines would be pure speculation at this point. And there will be plenty of that over the next 24 hours.

For now, I'll choose to accept his reasons, especially given that so much of what he said seems to be centered around his family. Family is unbelievably important to me, and I can't imagine what it would be like to be away from my wife and child for the extended periods demanded of a major league manager. This is a guy who's done it for 35 years. And when a guy says he's talked more to his wife in the past 10 days than he has in 10 years, well, that's pretty telling to me.

What to think of Hargrove's tenure?

For all the shots the guy has taken about his over reliance on veterans and ridiculous insistence on generally ignoring platoon splits, he did lead the team to heights I don't think any of us expected this year. Raise your hand if you thought this team would be 11 games over .500 at any point in 2007, let alone in June. That's what I thought.

And in many ways, this is the best possible scenario for Hargrove. He leaves with the team probably overachieving a bit, having overseen what appears to be an organization that has turned the corner from irrelevance to relevance once again. Even if interim manager John McLaren -- the guy we wanted to take over a long time ago -- comes in and leads the team to a playoff appearance, Hargrove will get a lot of the credit. If McLaren doesn't? If the team crumbles? It will be on him, even if such a fall would have been inevitable under Hargrove.

Will this team succeed under McLaren? The reality is nobody really knows how he's going to manage. I think we all suspect he'll be a little more prone to do some of the things we criticized Hargrove for not doing, given his seemingly more analytical nature. It'll be interesting to see how he forges out his own managing style, given all the years he spent hanging out with Lou Piniella, a manager notorious for his lack of patience with young players.

Will he be more open to Adam Jones playing everyday, as Jones should be? Will he fight for Jones' call-up if Bavasi doesn't want it? Will he be smart enough to make sure Jose Vidro never sees the top two-thirds of the batting order ever again? Will he have a better relationship with Ichiro, to the point that the team's lone superstar wants to stay in Seattle after this season? How will he manage the bullpen, which is going to have about three guys with arms fall off at this pace? Will he be more or less afraid to step on veterans' toes to make the right moves, given his interim status?

All will be things to keep an eye on, as this team tries to continue its current momentum. And we will keep an eye on it, starting tomorrow at Kansas City.

Until then, let's hope Hargrove goes out with a bang by sweeping the Blue Jays to finish a 10-2 homestand.

6.30.2007

TNT's Hughes gets it with column

My buddy Mike, who works for the Sonics, commented on this post that Seattle was the only place where the Ray Allen trade wasn't being hailed as a success -- that it was roundly being praised around the country.

In my response, I tried to make the argument that it's just not that simple. That people "around the country" aren't worried about losing this team the way we are, and that colors how we see everything. Frank Hughes at The News Tribune gets it.

"(S)adly, nothing can be taken in the context of 'purely basketball' with this organization, not now and probably not for the next nine months to a year.

"There is an overarching fog of uncertainty about the team’s future that never seems to dissipate, infusing itself into any discussion about the team and choking the excitement and optimism out of even the smallest scintilla of hope."
He goes on to tell of why he believes the Allen trade was a smart basketball deal -- a stance I'm beginning to agree with -- and explains that the consensus among NBA writers was that the Sonics got the best of that one.

But that doesn't mean we get the freedom to look at the move independent of the larger issues of the arena and the team potentially leaving town.
"It’s a good start to the reshaping of a roster that doesn’t need to be completely razed to achieve success. ... But how can an increasingly apathetic and alienated fan base generate the type of fervor that usually accompanies such dramatic decisions with the sneaking suspicion that it is intended for the benefit of another community? ...

"It’s a shame, really. These should be the best of times for this organization. New GM. Fresh perspectives. Innovative ideas.

"But there is one idea that never can be forgotten: In its current state, nothing with this franchise is purely basketball."

6.29.2007

Blog on 48-hour break

I'm heading out of town overnight for a retreat with the Washington Journalism Education Association, so I probably won't be able to blog until Sunday. I'll be keeping an eye on the Mariners from afar as they try to continue their winning streak against the Blue Jays, and I'll have some thoughts on that when I return.

In the meantime, enjoy your rainy weekend if you're in the Seattle area, or your sunshine of you're pretty much anywhere else at the end of June.

The day after: Reviews mixed on Sonics draft

Just thought I'd pass along some of the other reaction to last night's draft. Nationally, the Sonics' trade of Ray Allen and drafting of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green is being hailed as a success. Locally, many are left scratching their heads, the way I was last night.

And, by the way: Carl Landry (the second round pick that didn't make any sense whatsoever) was traded to Houston for a future second rounder and cash. So now that makes a lot more sense.

Happy reading.

6.28.2007

Sonics demonstrate uncanny ability to wiz on fans' excitement

This night was supposed to be the night the franchise turned around -- the night we celebrated the next great Seattle superstar's arrival in our town.

It was supposed to be a night of unbridled joy.

Instead, I'm left thinking that if Clay Bennett could send the Mariners on a 10-game losing streak or take a lead pipe to Matt Hasselbeck's kneecap, he would. He's that good at ruining pretty much anything that makes us smile.

On a night that was supposed to be all about Kevin Durant -- the night we dreamed that maybe, with just a little bit of roster tweaking, the Sonics were on their way to being relevant again by building around a new young superstar who would learn from the aging superstar -- we ended up talking all about Ray Allen becoming a Boston Celtic.

It really is amazing that anything could ruin this night, but Bennett and his guys figured out a way to do it.

I had hope that this team might become an instant contender. But it now is abundantly obvious that Bennett is intent on blowing the thing up and starting over, building around Durant. As I wrote earlier, the cynicist in me believes Bennett might just be trying to tank the team for just long enough to get it out of town. Even the most optimistic person would have to agree that losing 50 games again next year is not the way to get an arena deal done, and history tells us this isn't the best way to build to a championship.

Now, it's clear GM Sam Presti isn't done with this roster. He's got a sign-and-trade deal for Rashard Lewis to complete. They're still saying publicly they want Rashard back -- presumably to try and retain some leverage -- but let's get real. There are now three small forwards under contract in Durant, Jeff Green and Wally Szczerbiak, and as Allen said, Rashard is not likely to want to join a youth movement. He's got no scoring punch from the two-guard spot -- unless they're counting on Szczerbiak (who played in 32 games last year) -- and still has huge issues at point guard.

He's obviously got some substantial dealing left to do, so I'll reserve total judgment until I see how this all shakes out. But tonight could hardly have gone worse, from a fan perspective.

I'm not saying I don't totally understand parting with Allen; after all, he plays a position where the drop off in play is generally precipitous at his age. But I don't understand the pick of Jeff Green, a guy I think is really overrated. He's a nice player, but not the kind of guy who's going to pair with Durant to dominate the West for years to come. (And I don't just say that because he traveled against Vandy and ruined my bracket.) And to only get Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West thrown into the deal, while -- oh, by the way -- giving up your No. 35 pick in this draft (which turned out to be Big Baby Davis)? It just doesn't make sense.

And I really don't understand the pick of Carl Landry, rated the 63rd-best prospect by Chad Ford at ESPN.com yet picked by the Sonics at 31. Even if he is your guy, in such a deep draft, the Sonics could have easily traded down and picked up a pick next year or something and still gotten him.

I would much rather have seen the Sonics pick Corey Brewer -- a lockdown perimeter defender and solid shooter -- to play the point at No. 5, then seen them pick up Arizona's Marcus Williams -- a pure scorer at the two-guard -- at No. 31. Both are long and versatile, and fit the mold that apparently Presti is looking for. That would have gotten me excited, as I would have seen how the pieces were fitting together.

Instead, we got a 3/4 tweener without any discernable strengths other than athleticism and yet another undersized power forward, with only the promise that there is more work to be done.

Yippee.

Thanks, Clay, for sucking the life out of Seattle once again.

Sonics make a trade, only not the one we all wanted

The Sonics are blowing it up, and I don't like it. In fact, I smell a rat.

Ray Allen has been shipped to the Boston Celtics, and Rashard Lewis is as good as gone in what likely will have to be a sign-and-trade deal. In return, we get a team that features Kevin Durant (unbelievably awesome), Jeff Green (underwhelming), Wally Szczerbiak (terrifically bad and under contract at $12 million per for the next two seasons) and Delonte West (a crappier version of Earl Watson).

I know we're probably only getting part of the picture right now -- I'm sure GM Sam Presti will be making other moves to remake the roster -- but it sure seems like this is part of a plan to get the team to suck just long enough to get out of town, then blossom into a winner somewhere else.

I hope I'm wrong, but the original talk was that adding Durant to the original cast of characters would catapult the Sonics into playoff relevance.

Now, it's looking like they're following the Portland plan, which sounds nice, until you consider this: How many of the championship teams from the last 20 years built their squad by blowing it up and starting over at some point? None. San Antonio came closest, but their pick of Tim Duncan came after a 60-loss season in which David Robinson and Sean Elliott were hurt.

Yes, Portland has a nice nucleus of players, but there's no guarantee that team is going to become championship caliber. Keeping Ray Allen around -- a guy who's far and away better than anyone on Portland's roster -- would have made a lot of sense to help this team not stay in the 50-loss range. Now, it will be awful difficult to keep that from happening.

And once you start losing, it's awful tough to stop. The NBA is littered with franchises that started losing and are still losing.

Anyway, I'm rambling, so I'll check in later after we see how the rest of the night shapes up.

Latest on Sonic trade rumors

I'll be posting periodically throughout the day on NBA Draft stuff that I come across, but I won't have the time to necessarily be scouring the Internet for the latest on all the trade rumors.

That's why you should visit this thread at SonicsCentral.com. They are doing that dirty work for all of us.

Among the interesting things they've picked up:

  • The News Tribune's Frank Hughes thinks Ray Allen will be traded before next season.
  • The Oregonian's Jason Quick thinks Greg Oden going No. 1 still isn't necessarily a done deal.

6.27.2007

In less than 24 hours, Kevin Durant will be a Sonic

Before we turn in for the night, some developments on the NBA Draft.

  • Greg Oden apparently has been promised by the Trail Blazers that he will be the No. 1 overall pick, according to ESPN.com.
  • No one really knows if the Sonics' on-again-off-again trade with Atlanta, in which Luke Ridnour would be sent to the Hawks in exchange for their No. 11 pick, is on or off at the moment. The News Tribune and the P-I are essentially reporting that the deal is done as long as the Hawks don't get involved in that much-rumored three-way deal that would send Kevin Garnett to Phoenix. ESPN.com is reporting, however, that the Hawks are having second thoughts about Ridnour. That's a bummer, because I can't wait to get Ridnour out of town. It's not personal -- it's just that he's not very good. (Don't tell the Hawks.)
  • If Ridnour is shipped off, expect the Sonics to take Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey, says Gary Washburn of the P-I.
We'll have plenty of draft day/night coverage and analysis here tomorrow.

Mariners sweep away Red Sox

I'm a little speechless right now about what I witnessed this afternoon. Is this team just teasing us? I'm not sure.

What I do know is that they're a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now, and while the Red Sox haven't exactly been the hottest team in baseball over the past month, that's still a darn good team that the M's swept aside by beating Daisuke Matsuzaka.

For all the work they've done this year in improving on last year's record, one can hardly deny that they've seemed to do it by beating up on the weak sisters of the American League. The M's haven't exactly had a lot of success against the likes of the Angels and the Red Sox.

Until this series.

I wish I had more insightful commentary, but I'm not sure I know how this team keeps doing it. Ryan Feierabend had no right to do what he did today -- not after what happened on Friday. They're also winning in different ways, a departure from the Mariners' earlier win streaks.

The M's are now back to nine games over .500 and just two games back in the wild card standings, five back in the AL West as the Angels got swept by the Royals. So far, so good in the start to what was identified as a critical stretch against quality opponents; even our friends over at coolstandings.com have the M's playoff chances off of life support and back up to 20 percent.

Go take two out of three from the Blue Jays and the M's really will have something going.

And one more thing.

J.J. Putz is still the best closer in baseball.

Sonics land Oden with No. 2 pick!

OK, so actually that's only according to ESPN.com's mock draft unveiled today. Usually, I think mock drafts are stupid, if only because they almost always seem to play it safe with conventional wisdom.

Well, conventional wisdom goes out the door when Bill Simmons is involved.

This mock draft is a tag-team effort between Simmons and NBA reporter Chad Ford, and it involves some pretty funny -- and insightful -- running commentary. Simmons was the guy to pick first, and had Portland take Kevin Durant. His reasoning?

(Durant's) a cold-blooded killer. I hate pre-draft workouts, but didn't you find
it interesting that Oden was nervous, awkward and apologetic during his workout
in Portland, but a confident Durant strolled in there two days later and blew
everyone away? You know what's funny about that? I knew that was going to
happen. One guy plays basketball because he was created to play basketball; the
other plays because he was bigger than everyone else and it seemed like the
logical thing to do. If there was a pickup game and Oden was on one side, Durant
was on the other, and your life depended on the game, you'd pick Durant. You
would.
Ergo, the Sonics land Greg Oden with the No. 2 pick. To which Ford says:
Bill, on behalf of the citizens of Seattle, Sam Presti, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis
and all eight remaining Sonics season ticket holders, I want to thank you. Not
only did you pass on the best big man to come in the draft since Tim Duncan in
1997 ... you handed him on a silver platter to your biggest rivals.
It's pretty good stuff. And, if you're curious, Simmons took Texas A&M's Acie Law in that No. 11 spot the Sonics would acquire if they ship Luke Ridnour's sorry butt to Atlanta (more on that later) -- Mike Conley Jr. and Corey Brewer already were off the board. And if you're still curious, Simmons selected Spencer Hawes at No. 13 for the New Orleans Hornets.

On the eve of the draft, a reminder of what once was

With the NBA draft tomorrow night -- and with us reminiscing about the stars of yesteryear -- here's just a little flash back of what once was in Seattle when it came to our SuperSonics.

I had a similar sensation watching the highlight reels of Junior this weekend as I marveled at his bat speed as a young player. Sometimes I forget just how good Shawn Kemp was. Thank goodness we have YouTube to remind us.



Special thanks to Seth over at Enjoy the Enjoyment for digging this up.

What the heck is wrong with Felix?

A lot of people are trying to figure out what's wrong with Felix Hernandez, especially after another thoroughly average performance against the Red Sox which, of course, the M's were able to overcome with some typically stellar work out of the bullpen.

Some thought he was "fixed" after his last outing against the Pirates, but Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing saw things that troubled him even in that performance. It's required reading, and it looks like he was right. There's no doubt that his stuff isn't as good as it was earlier in the year -- the data is there to prove it. (Why it's not as good, who knows. Felix says he's healthy. Sullivan's theory is here.)

But the folks over at USS Mariner have been hammering on Felix's pitch selection for some time, and given the way Jeff Weaver handcuffed the Sox last night with his array of junk, and given the way the Sox hammered away at Hernandez's steady diet of fastballs ... well, I have to believe there's some truth to that theory. (UPDATE: USS Mariner reiterates the point Wednesday.)

My take? He was able to get away with sketchy pitch selection when he was throwing a 94 mph two-seamer down in the zone and painting that 97 mph four seamer on the corners. Now that he's not doing that ... well, you see the results.

The crazy thing is that he's a guy who, for all the strikeouts, is a groundball pitcher. That should result in lower pitch counts. But his insistence on throwing that four-seamer -- which is straight as an arrow and often results in foul balls -- is killing his pitch counts, and keeping him from going deep in games. He needs to get back to focusing on getting outs early in the count, and it's probably well past time that he start using his off speed stuff to set up his fastball to do it.

Other quick observations from the night that was ...

  • What to make of taking the first two from the Red Sox? I'm not sure. After all, they beat up on one mediocre journeyman (Julian Tavarez) and one overmatched rookie who couldn't find the strike zone. Is this team for real? I still can't decide. But I'm enjoying the ride.

  • Mike Hargrove has done a pretty admirable job managing this team this year, but every once in a while, he does something that just leaves you scratching your head. Like batting Jose Vidro in the 3-hole. I thought we established long ago that Vidro is not a good hitter, and putting a not good hitter in the 3-hole is counterproductive -- especially when you have another hitter in your lineup who rakes lefty pitching batting sixth.

    Not to get all sabermetric on you, but there's a theory out there by guys that are good with numbers that you want to get the guys who create more runs more at bats in any given game. Guys with higher OPS create more runs. Vidro's OPS against lefties is .673; Jose Guillen's is 1.079. Seriously, what's so hard to understand here?

  • J.J. Putz is still the best closer in baseball.

  • What is with the Mariners' defense the past two games? The third inning yesterday and various points today -- Jose Lopez's backhand ole of David Ortiz's shot sticking out in my mind -- leave me wondering when it's really going to catch up with this team to the point that it costs them a game. It also leaves me wondering who the bozo official scorer is who keeps calling those things hits. Granted, Lopez made a great diving catch to save a run, but is it too much to ask for these guys to make the routine plays?

  • Why is Willie Freaking Bloomquist playing left field with Raul Ibanez hurt when there's a guy with 17 bombs and a .979 OPS playing in Tacoma? This is seriously reaching comical proportions ... except that letting Adam Jones rot away at AAA is going to start costing the team games at some point, too. And that's not funny.

  • Is this the beginning of the Richie Sexson tear? He's 5 for his past 14 with three homers. If he comes around, this offense gets scary good.

6.26.2007

Reflecting on our weekend with Junior

First off, let me apologize for being so hit-and-miss with posts lately -- I really try to get at least one thing up each day, but when a blog is a one-man show, well, sometimes things like weddings, grading, the end of the school year, packing and moving get in the way of that man writing. Things should be a little clearer here the rest of the summer without having to do something quite so trivial as report to work.

But even as I watch this wild affair of a baseball game between the M's and the Red Sox, I'm reminded that I promised you some thoughts on the return of Junior.

I was on my way out to our fourth 1-year-old birthday party of the month of June on Sunday -- no, I don't know what was going on in September 2005 -- when my phone rang. My dad was on the other end.

"Are you watching the game?"

"I was, but I just left the house. I haven't turned the radio on yet. What's up? Did Junior hit another homer?"

And there was the rub. It wasn't so much that he had, indeed, hit his second homer of the game. It was more that as soon as my dad asked if I was watching the game, I just knew he was calling to tell me that Griffey had done something special yet again.

That's what it was like watching Junior all those years he was here in Seattle, and that's what I'll remember most about his time here. No matter what, you never wanted to leave your seat at a Mariners game because you never knew when Junior was going to do something special.

I remember sitting there as a kid with my bladder about to burst, waiting for that moment in the game when the M's were up to bat and Junior had no chance of coming to the plate so I could finally go to the bathroom. You didn't dare leave when the M's were on defense -- what if Griffey made one of those spectacular catches? No way was I going to miss that.

Leave a blowout early? Please.

And that's what this weekend was all about. It was to remember a time when the first bona fide superstar this town ever had captured our hearts. It was to remember when the Mariners could be exciting even when they were terrible, thanks to sheer magnitude of Junior's talent and charisma.

For just three days, all of that was back. We watched every at bat as if we might recapture just a little of that magic together. We cheered when he succeeded, a well-deserved response to the man who saved baseball in this city.

Much has been made of those cheers; those that objected to it because he plays for the other team are either short-sighted or ignorant, and I have patience for neither. Yes, this is a team in the throws of something resembling a pennant race, but no one is going to make me feel bad for finally getting a chance to properly honor a player who brought so much joy my life, whether he plays for the other team or not.

It wasn't about a win or a loss, especially on Friday night. I could care less that my team got blown out. All I could think about leading up to the game was what I felt like the day he was traded, watching his first news conference with Cincinnati, just hoping he'd say something to those of us in Seattle who stood by him for so long.

Then, I thought about what it was going to be like to finally get to replace that with a proper goodbye. It was everything I could have dreamed of, and more.

And that's what I'll remember now.

Would I love for him to come back, as he suggested he might? Sure I would. But I also know Junior to be a fickle, emotional guy who sometimes says things he doesn't mean. If my last memory is of him telling us how much he missed us, and of him waving to the crowd as he came off the field for the last time on Sunday, well, I'm perfectly OK with that.

6.22.2007

Junior returns tonight -- thoughts later

I wanted to do a full post on the significance of tonight, but it turns out today was a bit emotional saying goodbye to my students, whom I'm leaving behind as I move on to Wenatchee.

I'll be at the game tonight, then I'll be in a wedding on Saturday, so I probably won't have any more thoughts on anything until Sunday.

See you then.

I'm Roger Clemens, dammit!

Roger Clemens 2057

If Roger Clemens is still alive in 2057, this is what it might look like. The ending is a bit lacking, but still pretty darn funny to kick off Ken Griffey Jr. day.

6.21.2007

Mariners get back on winning track in improbable fashion

Since I didn't get to watch the game last night -- I listened to most of it via radio while I was out driving around the greater South Sound region in search of new clothes -- I had this idea in my mind of checking out MLB.com's Gameday data to see if I could figure out how in the heck Jeff Weaver did what he did last night.

Then I got to school, checked in with U.S.S. Mariner and found that Dave Cameron already beat me to the punch.

Seriously, go read it. It's good. And while it might not give any indication that he can even come close to duplicating last night's occurrence, it does at least try to make sense out of how it happened. (Hint: Weaver's stuff was basically the same, he's still a junkballer, but different pitch selection might partly explain the unexplainable.)

Other things I noticed last night ...

  • While listening to the game on the radio last night, I remembered why it is that I love Dave Niehaus so very much, and why I want to punch in the mouth anyone who suggests he should hang it up because he can't keep up with the game. So what if he occasionally thinks an shallow fly ball is a home run, or if he confuses a name here and there? Niehaus is a master story teller, and that's what baseball is all about.

    Last night, he and Rizzs were telling this story about the origin of "uncle charlie" as slang for a curveball. You probably had to be there, but it just cracked me up. It was Niehaus at his finest, and the reason why he's on the short list of people alive I'd love to just sit down and have dinner with. I'll miss him so much the day he decides to hang it up. I hope it's not soon, because the guy is priceless. He belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I hope they figure that out before he dies.

  • Kudos to Mike Hargrove for finally moving Richie Sexson down in the order. Let's hope he resists the urge to quickly move him back up after two consecutive games with a home run.

  • You know, after all the heat Adrian Beltre has taken the past two-plus years from all of us, finding out what life is like without him was not pleasant. I know this still doesn't justify his massive contract, but we all should just get over what he's getting paid. The guy is a great defender and a key component of this offense. I still wish he'd get on base more, and I still wish he'd hit for a little more power, but boy, that offense goes from being pretty good to being pretty mediocre when he's not in there.

  • One last thing about Weaver: I know a lot of fans still are rooting for him to fail so that the team will jettison him with a DFA. But it's in everyone's best interest that Weaver stay in the rotation if he can, and last night gives us hope that it might yet happen. Ryan Feierabend -- who, incidentally, is going to be taking Cha Seung Baek's turn in the rotation next time out, thanks to a combination of a favorable matchup with the Reds and Baek's suckitude last time out -- would be best served to play this year in AAA, and Horacio Ramirez would be best served by never seeing the major league roster again, ever. What does that mean? Weaver pitching well enough to keep heading to the hill every fifth day is what's best for the team, embarrassing Bavasi be darned.

6.20.2007

By the way ... Cougs ranked No. 7

In case you were wondering, the Washington State University men's basketball team is ranked No. 7 in the Andy Katz post-draft-declaration-pre-season rankings.

Strangely, the Spencer Hawes-less Huskies are nowhere to be found.

Actually, they are there ... you just have to look hard at the No. 25 Florida Gators.

The beauty of the Internet, in one post

There are a lot of reasons I love being a Mariners fan. (Yes, you read that right.) One of the big ones is that while I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I have to believe that we have to be the most information savvy bunch in the major leagues.

I love reading other blogs, especially U.S.S. Mariner and Geoff Baker's blog at The Seattle Times. (You can find the others I love on the right hand side.) I love reading them because I know a lot about sports, but I love to learn, and I always become a better-educated fan when I visit these sites. USSM's knowledge of baseball built as sabermetricians and Baker's knowledge of baseball and the Mariners built as a beat writer make for tons of good information.

The two had basically coexisted separately. Until recently, when their respective blogs crossed paths in a very public way.

It's why I love the Internet.

It started with this post by Baker, on the likelihood a team with an ERA higher than 4.50 (read: the Mariners) will make the playoffs.

I received a very interesting email today from a friend of this blog, Jack Lattemann, who has done an exhaustive study of whether teams with an earned run average of 4.50 or higher can even post winning records, let alone contend for a playoff spot. Jack has graciously allowed me to pass on his findings. They don't look good on the Mariners, who have a 4.84 team ERA despite a rock solid bullpen. He found that no team before 1969 had qualified for the playoffs. Not surprising, given the two-league format. There were a few more, post-1969, that made it. During the two-division format (four teams making the playoffs) from 1969-1993, the only playoff team with a 4.50 ERA or higher was the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins, who finished 85-77 with a 4.63 ERA.
Dave Cameron over at U.S.S. Mariner -- after praising Baker for his coverage on the blog and the work he's done to interact with fans and the blogging community -- took exception to this kind of analysis, as did a number of commenters on Baker's blog. And with good reason.
Where to start with this paragraph - how about with the glaring, obvious problem, and one that I’ve been railing on for years here - Earned Run Average, by itself, is not any real indicator of pitching quality. It’s just not. I know it’s commonly accepted as the be-all, end-all pitching statistic, but the reliance on this inherently problematic stat has led to more bad analysis over the years than just about any other statistic out there. Using ERA to draw broad conclusions about pitching ability is a great way to be wrong on a large scale.

In reality, ERA kinda sorta measures the ability of the team’s run prevention skills when a specific pitcher is on the hill. ERA doesn’t attempt to separate responsibility for said run prevention between pitcher and defenders. It doesn’t attempt to take into account the context of the run scoring environment. And, just in case those weren’t big enough problems (they are), it introduces the biases of ballpark specific official scorers by excluding “unearned runs”, which are often classified as such due to arbitrary decisions on what constitutes an error.
Cameron goes on to explain that you have to consider run scoring environments of eras of the game before making any kind of cross-era analysis.
(P)icking a random ERA number that reflects “bad pitching” and applying it to any context is going to result in a list that means absolutely nothing. If you want to use ERA to evaluate a pitching staff, you’d be forced to come to the conclusion that the Washington Nationals currently have a better pitching staff than the Chicago White Sox. After all, they have a lower ERA. Of course, everyone understands that there’s a huge difference between pitching in RFK stadium against National League hitters and not facing the DH and facing American League hitters in New Comiskey park. We wouldn’t expect Mike Bacsik to post a 4.59 ERA if he was traded to the White Sox. No one would.
Baker's response on his blog?
Back to yesterday's post, I actually understated the infrequency with which teams have made the playoffs with an ERA of 4.50 or more. While the number of playoff teams with an ERA that high, since the advent of the wild-card, was 13 out of 96, the number of teams making the playoffs with an ERA that high was just 13 out of 354. One in 27. Is this all just a coincidence, as some suggest? Is there really no direct relation between ERA and making the playoffs? Well, let's just say that the more runs you allow, the more you have to score to win. The more wins, the easier to make the playoffs. Could we get scientifically more precise? Of course.

But I had no problem with Lattemann using an ERA of 4.50 and higher as a measuring stick. The average ERA in baseball last year was 4.44 and it's averaged out to roughly that since this decade began. So, anything 4.50 and worse would generally stand to be below average.

Some people objected to using ERA at all, while others say we should have adjusted it for park factors -- which looks at the difference between runs allowed at home versus the road and adjusts statistics accordingly. Well, park factors may have been needed if, say, we'd used ERA to gauge a Cy Young Award race. But not in this case, since we're merely looking at who made the playoffs. In other words, who won more games by scoring more runs than they allowed (or allowing fewer runs than they scored?) Park factors are irrelevant here. You score (and allow) the runs where the games are played and that alone determines who wins. At the end of a season, all MLB cares about in deciding a winner is who won the most games, not how easy or difficult it was to score runs in those games because of ballpark intangibles.
Finally, Baker relented in his next post.
First, let me deal with the issue of the posts from this morning and yesterday. You know, when enough people tell you you're wrong, you start to think that maybe they're on to something. So, I went back and had another look at those numbers using the suggested ERA+ method to account for park factors. The reasoning I listened to, from "Sammy" in the comments thread, Dave at the USS Mariner site, and others, has convinced me that comparing teams using a statistic that could adapt to changing year-to-year run conditions -- rather than a static number that couldn't change -- was the best way to go. ...

And the park factors do matter. I erred in saying they didn't. After all, you compete for the playoffs with other teams. The ability of those teams to score and prevent runs, based on the factors in the ballparks of the day, will have a bearing on it.
USSM's response? Big time kudos.
Geoff has been paid to write about baseball for a long time. He’s a very smart guy, and he puts a lot of work into what he does. And yet, when some fans challenge a point he made, he’s willing to listen, evaluate what they’re saying, and take another look at his stance. Truth is more important than pride, and Geoff proved that in spades.

Baker deserves a lot of credit for taking the time to dive into the issue. He’s already set the bar for Mariner beat-writers to follow, and now he’s just pushing it even higher.

Congratulations to the Seattle Times - you made a fantastic hire.
It's hard to imagine that there are very many cities where virtual conversations such as this one take place. And that, my friends, is why I consider myself fortunate to be a Mariners fan and why I love the Internet.

ESPN ombudmen hits the mark on 'tyranny of the storyline'

Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones is going to be charged with two felonies.

How do I know this?

  • Because I clicked my way to ESPN.com, and it's the top news story.
  • Then I flipped on ESPN's "Around the Horn" as school dismissed, only to hear Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti arguing about whether Jones would play in the NFL again.
  • Then I watched Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon debate potential punishments on "Pardon The Interruption."
  • Then SportsCenter comes on. Cue the promo. "Pacman Jones faces two felony counts -- Is his NFL career over?"
  • After a brief update on the afternoon baseball results, the next two minutes of the show were dedicated to Jones, including the standard and expected overview of the story, then an opinion on Jones' playing status from John Clayton. Then we're told that later in SportsCenter we'll have more on Jones.
  • Twenty-three minutes later, Clayton is back on, repeating everything he already said about Jones' status as a player. We are told that we'll have even more on Jones later in SportsCenter.
This doesn't even mention all the coverage of the two-week-old Kobe Bryant "trade demand" story, which received only slightly less play on all of ESPN's shows, and immediately followed the Jones story each time.

It's this sort of overkill that has made ESPN virtually unwatchable at times. I tune into SportsCenter to hear the sports news of the day, not to hear 38 different (shouting) opinions on whatever the top story is. It's resulted in the amount of time I watch ESPN having been reduced dramatically over the years, practically down now to just the games the network broadcasts.

It's good to know I'm not the only one who longs for the days when highlights were the centerpiece of the show.

For all the things ESPN does that irritate me to no end, one of the things they do right is employ an ombudsman, currently Le Anne Schreiber. In her latest column, she attacks what she calls the "tyranny of the storyline," in which one supposedly compelling storyline seems to completely take over every arm of the network.
If I were to do a word frequency analysis on the messages I receive about ESPN's coverage, three words at the top of the list would be "Enough," "Stop" and "Way." As in enough Yankees/Red Sox, stop with Roger Clemens, and way too much Barry Bonds, Duke basketball/lacrosse, Brady Quinn, Dice-K and Michael Vick.

In part, these are complaints about the overkill that is an inevitable side effect of 24/7 programming, whether it is CNN and Anna Nicole Smith or ESPN and Clemens. On ESPN, if a story has legs, you will encounter it repeatedly on the daily 12 hours of SportsCenter and on each of the opinion shows that dominate the late afternoon. If you want to avoid redundancy on a given day, the only antidote is to limit your viewing.
The great thing about the ombudsman's role at ESPN is that it gives the network a chance to explain itself. Apparently, ESPN has research that suggests that you only tune in to watch the network occasionally throughout the day -- 49 total minutes, in fact, if you're an 18- to 34-year-old -- necessitating (in their eyes) the incessant overkill coverage of certain stories.

Such as the New York Yankees.
(A)ccording to Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president for news: "We think it's a compelling story. The most successful team in baseball, in the throes of a miserable slump, possibly on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, determines to pay the greatest pitcher of this era a pro-rated $28 million to pitch roughly two-thirds of a season. And in the 22 days since they signed him, they have dropped from 5 1/2 to 13 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. And this is all happening in the heavily populated Northeast corridor, which includes a large number of viewers. People who are not interested in the story may want to characterize it as a last-place team and a minor-league game. I think most reasonable people would see greater news value in the story than that characterization would imply."
I don't disagree with all of this. But does it have to be so much? I know the point of any network is to make money, and I guess the best way to do that is to shoot for the vast majority that doesn't tune in all day long like lots of hardcore fans. But couldn't they do something as a nod to those of us who have an unquenchable thirst for sports, other than repeat the same stuff all day?

Aren't there more compelling sports stories to tell?

Of all the programming on ESPN, perhaps the show I enjoy the most is Outside the Lines. It's broadcast journalism at its finest -- or, at least as fine as sports journalism can get, given the fact that we're talking about sports -- tackling compelling issues with sound journalistic principles. No flash, no sound effects. Just good, solid investigative reporting.

Couldn't we see more of this on SportsCenter? Why does Outside the Lines need to be its own show? Couldn't it be part of the SportsCenter package?

Beyond that, why can we not get some of the other, featurey-type stories on the players themselves? There are so many great stories that are just waiting to be told; we shouldn't have to tune into the Olympics every two years on NBC to find out more -- and not in a "Stray-Rod" kind of way -- about the people we love to watch.

I'm constantly challenging my own journalism students to find better stories, to go below just the surface observations to find out what's really going on.

Shouldn't I expect the same out of a network giant such as ESPN?