Sunday, July 31, 2005
German and Rodney have been very impressive. Jamie Walker has also been dependable. I'm a big proponent of trading commodities when the situation presents itself. The Tigers are not going to pass seven teams to earn the AL wild card spot. I understand that signing Farnsworth in the off-season was never a guarantee so it's possible that Dombrowski decided it was better to cash him in than wait and possibly get nothing. If that was the case, then I think he did the right thing. I also understand that Rondell White's shoulder injury made it nearly impossible find a team willing to take him.
I'm really only perplexed by the fact that Jason Johnson and Mike Maroth are both still with the team. From all accounts, the buyers far outweighed the sellers at the deadline. This should've meant good things for the Tigers. I don't see either pitcher being a long term solution in the starting rotation. Neither pitcher will ever be significanly better than they are right now. Neither has been dependable at any point in their career. I probably would've traded Jason Johnson for pretty much anything since he'll be a free agent. Though, there is no guarantee that anybody was inquiring about him. There must be a fondness for Maroth in the front office but a 28 year old, soft-tossing right-hander is not a pillar of a franchise. I was hoping Dombrowski would unload a little more. I might be in the minority but if they're trading Farnsworth, they should've tried hard to trade Johnson and/or Maroth. I suppose it's possible that there were no takers.
Just a few short years ago it looked like the shortstop position was experiencing a revolution. The position would no longer be home to below average hitters. Big, physical athletes like Arod and Derek Jeter were changing how teams viewed their shortstops. Flash forward a few years and it looks like the revolution was a false alarm. Arod moved to third base. Nomar became the president of the walking wounded. Now, a power hitting shortstop is as rare as Piazza gunning down a basestealer.
Derek Jeter Jeter is one of the few elite non-power hitters in MLB today. Jeter has been a hit-machine ever since coming into the league. He averages close to 190 hits per season. His career batting average is .313. He has over 200 stolen bases. He’ll easily reach 3,000 hits barring injury. In fact, if he plays until he’s 41, he should be close to 3,800 hits which would put him third on the all-time list. His World Series heroics will only bolster his legend. I think Jeter will be one of those players that is remembered more fondly after they finish playing. Jeter is very good and will be deserving of a HOF nod.
Just need a little more time: (1)
Miguel Tejada Three years ago, Tejada was trying to turn the Big Three (Arod, Jeter, and Nomar) into the Big Four. Who would’ve thought that three years later, he’d be the best shortstop in the game? He’s every bit as dangerous as Manny Ramirez but adds strong defense to the equation. Tejada has big numbers across the board. As long as he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll waltz into the HOF. This will be his sixth straight season with 100+ RBI’s. His best year came last season when he won the AL MVP by hitting .311 with 34 home runs and 150 RBI’s. With Arod and Nomar no longer in the SS debate, Tejada is the game’s elite power hitting shortstop.
Will come up just short: (2)
Nomar Garciaparra Nomar was well on his way to Cooperstown. It’s actually kind of sad because he had everything set up to be the “Golden Boy” of baseball. He won two batting titles. His hit totals in his first six full seasons went 209, 195, 190, 197, 197, and 198. His career batting average is .320 but he’s only reached that once in the last five seasons. His OPS is very respectable at .912. Nomar couldn’t have had it better. Then, he inexplicably became injury prone. His last two seasons have produced a total of 107 hits. He’s 32 years old and despite his impressive numbers early on, he’s behind the curve. Nomar would need to come back strong to get back on pace for the Hall. He no longer has a legitimate shot at reaching 3,000 hits. Nomar is proof that you can never be sure how a career will turn out. It would not be impossible for him to make the HOF. His career average of .320 will go along way but it’s important to remember that public sentiment plays a roll. If the voters like you, they might overlook a deficiency in raw numbers. If they don’t like you, then you’re SOL. It’s safe to say that Nomar was more popular before his outrageous contract demands and his “injury” that popped up when Boston wouldn’t give him his ransom.
Michael Young Three years ago, nobody had even heard of Michael Young. Now it looks like he’s taking over where Nomar left off. His career batting average is a remarkable .324. He’s well on his way to his third straight season of 200+ hits. Young is unquestionably one of the best shortstops in the game today. The unfortunate thing for Young is that he didn’t play his first full season until he was 25. That should be the end of the discussion. However, if Young plays ten more seasons (that would put him at 38) and averages 180 hits which is a significant reduction in his current yearly average, he would have 2,600 hits. If he keeps his batting average above .315 and gets to 2,600 hits, I think he’ll be headed to the Hall. As it stands now, it’s probably about a 25% proposition.
Friday, July 29, 2005
In the NFL, a team and a player sign a contract. However, only the player has to honor it. If a player gets hurt, the team can void the contract. If the player doesn't perform at a certain level, the team can void the contract. On the flip side, if the player improves so much as to become the most dominant player at his position, he's still bound by his contract. If the owners were bound by the contract as well, I would have no problem with this. A contract is a mutual binding agreement by two sides. If one side doesn't have to honor it and the other side does, then it really doesn't fit the definition of a contract.
If this is the way the NFL is going to run things, then players like T.O. and Hines Ward will hold out. Hines Ward is the 38th highest paid wide receiver in the league. He's probably the 6th best wide receiver in the league. If Ward suffers a career ending injury this year, not only will the Steelers void his contract, but his compensation while he was healthy would've been far beneath his value. The argument here should never be about "feeding my family" as so many athletes try to make it out to be. They make more money in one year than the average person makes in ten years. However, this is about fairness. If I were T.O., I would be doing the exact same thing. The Eagles want me to go out and make them millions of dollars by being the best wide receiver in the league yet they want to under pay me based on my abilities and have the option of voiding my contract whenever they please. There's no question I'd be trying to get everything I could while I was healthy.
If T.O. goes out and busts his tail for the Eagles this year and suffers a career ending knee injury, he won't ever be able to earn money as an athlete again. In an environment like this, the player needs to make as much money as possible. Career ending injuries are real possibilities in the NFL. The next time you get peeved at a high profile athlete for holding out for more money, find out what the motivations are first. Don't get me wrong, some guys are just ridiculous. If the athlete is from the NFL, then he might have a legitimate gripe. If it's someone like Manny Ramirez demanding to be traded after signing a $20 million per year guaranteed contract with the Boston Red Sox, then blast away. If it's Sergei Federov trying to hog-tie the Red Wings with outrageous salary demands then, by all means, give him the business. If it's Latrell Spreewell complaining loudly that his $14.6 million dollar salary isn't enough to "feed his family" then fume away. Most holdouts are probably bogus. However, all holdouts are not created equally.
One final note. Agents in the NFL are savvy businessmen. If their client suffers a career ending knee injury, their cash flow from that player is over. Agents, like players, want their money now while the player is healthy. A player might give in to peer pressure like Javon Walker did in Green Bay, but an agent will never give in. Drew Rosenhaus will keep holding guys out who are underpaid. The situation is a mess and the problem will get ugly very soon. This is why I think Jason Whitlock has the right idea with performance based salaries.
Since I'm not getting paid to speak on KJ's behalf, nor have I been given permission to do so, I'm essentially K. Jones' public defender. I'll do what I can but my budget is far less than that of Sports Illustrated's high-priced defense team.
Ok, I could simply proclaim that K. Jones deserves to be rated much higher but that wouldn't be fun. I could also say that Yahoo! has K. Jones rated as the 24th best player in the whole league but that wouldn't be fun either. I could even point out that the K. Jones had a very good rookie season with a crappy offense and that for the first time in years, the Lions passing game should take pressure off of the running game. I could also remind everyone that Mooch is one of the most conservative coaches in football who single handily resurrected Garrison Hearst's career.
Instead, I'll have a pretend, one-sided conversation with SI.
"Tatum Bell plays for Denver. What do we know about Denver's running back situation? There are four guys in the running every year. Someone inevitably gets hurt. Mike Anderson is always one injury away from getting a chance to add to his one 1,500 yard season. Quentin Griffin will get carries. Maurice Clarett will somehow be worked in the mix. They even signed Ron Dayne. Let me just ask this question, does anyone feel safe picking Tatum Bell in the first round of their draft? If I ended up with Tatum Bell in the first round, I think I'd start crying. I'm not kidding.
Cadillac Williams is a rookie. Not only is he a rookie, but he's coming into a situation where the incumbent from last season, Michael Pittman, had a career year. Pittman was a huge pickup for many fantasy owners last year. Even if Cadillac is a good rb, do you really think Jon Gruden will give him enough carries to make him worth taking ahead of Kevin Jones? Williams and Pittman will split carries. Like Bell, if I took Cadillac Williams in the first round, I'd probably light myself on fire.
Clinton Portis? Did SI even pay attention to last season? The Redskins had no offense whatsoever. No passing game. No running game. Portis is a shifty runner. Joe Gibbs has a pound-it-out offensive philosophy. That's like oil and water. They just don't mix. I took Portis pretty high last year and I'll probably get over it sometime next year.
J.J. Arrington. Ok, now we're just getting silly. I like Arrington. He was a good pick for the Cardinals. Yes, the Cardinals. That's the team that's never had anyone good in the history of the franchise. I was in middle school when Buddy Ryan became the head coach of the Cardinals. I loved the Eagles "46" defense so I immediately became a Cardinals fan. They had Eric Swan and Clyde Simmons. A bunch of guys came over from Philly. I thought the Arizona Cardinals era had begun. So, I bought a hat. I still own this hat and I have to look at it everyday. I swear it laughs at me everytime I walk by. FYI-The best player that has ever played for the Cardinals was Rod Tidwell. Tidwell of course is really Cuban Gooding Jr. Yes, the greatest player in Arizona Cardinal history is from a movie. So, go ahead and take Arrington in the first or second round, I dare you!
Cedric Benson. Take everything I said about Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman and apply it here. Benson is good. So is Thomas Jones. Both will get carries. I guess what I'm learning here is that SI prefers running back by committee situations over a bonified starting running back.
Warrick Dunn. Dude. This is just getting absurd. Dunn and Duckett. Running back by committee? For the what seems like the tenth straight year, Dunn will "supposedly" be the feature back. And for the tenth straight year, I'm going to stop eating at so many buffets.
Marshall Faulk. Ok, now we're bypassing the whole running back by committee thing and putting BACKUPS in front of Kevin Jones. Stephen Jackson will get the bulk of the carries in St. Louis. Faulk has accepted a lesser role in the offense. Even worse than K. Jones being 24th, S. Jackson is 28th! SI has St. Louis' backup running back ranked ahead of St. Louis' starting running back. I like SI. They have interesting articles that delve into subjects most sports enterprises don't want to cover. However, I feel that this fantasy preview is stealing brain cells from me.
Ronnie Brown. Ricky Williams? Here's my question, did SI put all these names in a hat and pick at random?
Lamont Jordan. I like Lamont Jordan. He's a good, hard runner. How many years has he been a primary back? Here's a hint, it's the same amount of years I've played in the NFL.
So, anyone who's planning on using SI's fantasy football guide for their draft, I've got a league I'm starting up that I'd like you to join."
I'm sure one or two of these guys will have a breakout season and do more than anyone expected. That's no justification for slighting a very talented running back on a very talented offense playing for a run first coach. KJ is easily a top 15 fantasy back and I'd even put him in the top 12. However, he's not even the worst rated running back on the list. SI has Brian Westbrook rated 26th!!!! Westbrook had over 1,500 total yards and nine touchdowns last year. He also had 73 receptions! Are there really 25 running backs in the league that are better than that? Like I said, I like SI but now I'm expecting them to have Chris Dudley as the #3 center in the NBA preview (yes, Dudley retired).
Thursday, July 28, 2005
This is by far the toughest category to project. There are a few very good first basemen that won’t make the Hall of Fame. Don Mattingly is the first player that comes to mind. “Donny Baseball” was the premier first baseman of the 1980’s. He retired early but he was every bit as good as Kirby Puckett who's in the HOF. As I mentioned in the introduction, their will be new standards in getting into the HOF. Fred McGriff will probably be the first victim of those new standards. If the “Crime Dog” started his career five years earlier, he would likely be in. However, McGriff’s numbers pale in comparison to today’s sluggers.
One player that I do contend will make the Hall of Fame despite recent voter-polls indicating otherwise is Mark McGwire. I just don’t see how Big Mac can be kept out. It’s one thing to keep Giambi out since his numbers won’t be overwhelming but Big Mac took over baseball for five years. Bill James has McGwire rated as the 31st best player in baseball history. He has 583 career home runs. His career OPS is .982. He had six seasons with an OPS of 1.100 or higher! Nobody is going to confuse Big Mac with Tony Gwynn or Ichiro, but let’s be serious here.
There's no question that Big Mac rubbed sportswriters and fans the wrong way with his “I’m not here to talk about the past” speech at the senate hearings. It was right after those hearings that voters were polled about whether they’d vote for McGwire. Five or ten years from now, people won’t be as pissed and he’ll get in easily.
Rafael Palmeiro Despite Skip Bayless’ best attempts, Palmeiro is a “lock” for the HOF. How many players can you remember that have hit 37 or more home runs in 8 straight seasons? The answer should be one….and it’s Palmeiro. He’s got 3,000 hits. He’ll finish with 600 home runs. Only Willie Mays and Hank Aaron can lay claim to those numbers. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to see it, does it really fall? Sure. Just go back to the forest 20 years later and judge for yourself. Who cares if Raffy didn’t get the publicity that some of the other guys got during his career. His resume is right in front of us. Take a look. It’s mighty impressive.
Frank Thomas Famed baseball historian and statistician Bill James thinks that Frank Thomas was the best player of the 90’s. That alone will likely get Frank into Cooperstown. His numbers were phenomenal with a heavy emphasis on were. He’s dropped off significantly as of late but he has the highest OPS (On base percentage + Slugging percentage) among the players in this category at .995. His career batting average is also the highest at .307. It seems like the Big Hurt hasn’t been good for a number of years but his career stats show just how dominant he was. He could hit as well as anyone but also possessed a keen eye which has led to an amazing .427 OBP (On base percentage). His walk numbers are among the best for the decade. There’s no question that he is HOF worthy. The frustrating thing with the Big Hurt was those down years in his prime. His numbers would be unmatched had he remained consistent.
Jeff Bagwell Bagwell’s numbers are very comparable to Frank’s. Both players were born on the same day. They share almost identical career stats. Both players dominated the 1990’s. Frank was slightly a better hitter and Bags was a better fielder. Bags has lost the momentum towards 500 home runs and 3,000 hits due to his arthritic shoulder. His numbers have steadily declined and his career is probably one year away from being over. I think this is actually an advantage over Thomas because Bags at least has an excuse for his tapering numbers. The Big Hurt had too many shady seasons for what was supposed to be his prime years.
In barring injury:(4)
Albert Pujols Pujols is the “lock” of locks to make the HOF. There’s only two things that could keep him out, 1). a gambling habit, or 2). an injury within the next three years. Aside from Bonds (and I hate admitting that), Pujols is the best hitter I’ve ever seen. His numbers are off the charts. He’s produced since day one in the majors. His career batting average is .334. His OPS is 1.038 and he’s NOT playing his home games in Colorado. As long as Pujols doesn’t get injured, he’ll go down as one of the five greatest hitters ever.
Jim Thome Thome will more than likely make it. Although, my confidence level here is much lower than in the previous categories because Thome’s career batting average is much lower than Thomas and Bagwell’s. Thome should finish with 500 home runs. His batting average is higher than one would expect at .281. His OPS is better than Bagwell’s. Thome has eight less home runs than Bagwell but has had 1,000 less at bats. As a home run hitter, Thome trumps both Bagwell and Thomas. His OBP is equal to Bagwell’s. He has been the premier home run hitter of the last few years. If he can get over his elbow problems, he should be able to pile on the numbers to get into the HOF. If Bagwell and Frank Thomas are locks, then Thome will have a very strong argument when his career is done.
Todd Helton I change my tone on Helton every day. I personally think he should be a shoe-in. His numbers are in a whole different stratosphere. However, nobody knows for sure how the voters will treat the players from Colorado. My question with that is, how much better than Helton would a player have to be to make the HOF after playing in Colorado? He leads all first basemen, including Albert Pujols, in every major offensive category. His career OPS is 1.035. His career batting average is .335. His OBP is .430! He got a late start and he has some injuries that could potentially shorten his career. However, his numbers are too impressive to overlook. He’s a Hall of Famer.
Mark Teixeira I’m going to make a prediction here. If Teixeira doesn’t get hurt, he will be in the Hall of Fame. He started hitting as soon as he arrived in Arlington. He’s among the league leaders in home runs in only his third season. His batting average is suspect but all of the other numbers are there. He got an early enough start to hit all the milestones. It’s hard to project 15 years in advance but this is how a HOF generally starts.
Will just miss the cut:(4)
Carlos Delgado This is where the “new standards” start to come into play. Voters know they can’t just admit every good first baseman. There’s been too many of them over the last 15 years. So, they’ll start cutting off the fat. Unfortunately for Delgado, they will probably start with him. Check out his numbers. They’re ridiculous. His OPS is .948. He has a legitimate shot at reaching 500 home runs. His batting average is in the Thome range at .283 He’s like Raffy in terms of being underrated. People don’t notice him but he produces every year. His numbers will compare to many first baseman that have made the HOF. I just think he’ll be the victim of increasing supply with a lowering demand.
Jason Giambi Giambi was well on his way just two years ago. He had the Pujols combination of power and average. Everything changed after he went to the Yankees. His power numbers were similar but his batting average tailed off significantly. I’m not sure why this happened. I don’t know if he concentrated more on his power numbers or what but there was clearly something different about Giambi’s approach to the plate. Even still, his OPS is .951 which is higher than Bagwell. Giambi also has a higher OBP than Bagwell and Thome. The fact that he was outed for taking steroids will be what inevitably gives the voters the green light to pass on him. His career numbers will be there but give the voters a reason to keep you out, and they will.
David Ortiz Aside from Pujols and Helton, there isn’t a better hitting first baseman in the game today. Ortiz is a terror at the plate. He seemingly hits a home run or double everyday. It’s unfortunate that the Twins dropped the ball on Big Papi. He showed flashes of brilliance while playing in Minnesota but they put him on the shelf for three seasons. Those three seasons will likely be the difference between admittance and denial to Cooperstown. Ortiz is 30. At this stage in a career, the typical HOF player has a much better resume. Making the Hall of Fame is a simple combination of brilliance over time. Unfortunately for Ortiz, that combination is pretty much unattainable.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
In 1901, Michigan beat Buffalo 128-0 en route to a National Championship. On the season, Michigan outscored its opponents 550-0.
In 1902, Michigan's wins included the following;
Michigan beat Albion 88-0
Michigan beat Michigan Agriculture (MSU) 119-0
Michigan beat Ohio St. 86-0
Michigan beat Iowa 107-0
For the season, Michigan outscored its opponents 644-12! Michigan shut out nine of its eleven opponents. Michigan won the National Championship that year as well.
In 1904, Michigan outscored its opponents 567-22 which was good for a 10-0 record and another National Championship.
In 1923, Michigan outscored its opponents 150-12 which was good enough for an 8-0 record and another National Championship.
From 1901-1905, Michigan outscored its opponents 2,821-40. During this stretch, Michigan went 55-0-1. The combined winning percentage of Michigan’s opponents was .695.
I can’t believe the following is true:
In 1903, Michigan outscored its opponents 565-6 but unbelievably did not win every game!!! They tied Minnesota 6-6 but still finished 11-0-1 to win another National Championship.
In 1905, Michigan outscored its opponents 495-2……and finished 12-1!!!!!!!!!! Michigan lost 2-0 on the last day of the season to deny the Wolverines another National Championship.
In 1922, Michigan outscored its opponents 183-13 but did not go undefeated. Amazingly, Michigan won every game in which they allowed the opponents to score. They tied Vanderbilt 0-0.
In 1925, Michigan outscored its opponents 227-3….and finished 7-1. Michigan lost to Northwestern 3-2.
Most of Michigan’s in-state opponents have changed their names since the early 1950's.
Michigan Agricultural College became Michigan St.
Central State Teachers College became Central Michigan
Western State became Western Michigan.
And my personal favorite……Michigan Normal became E. Michigan.
In each case, I think I liked the former name better. Can you imagine what things would be like if they didn't change their names? ABC would have to decide which games to show:
Ohio St. vs. Penn St. or Michigan vs. Central State Teachers College
Oklahoma vs. Texas or Michigan vs. Michigan Agricultural College
Miami vs. Va. Tech or Michigan vs. Michigan Normal
Through the first 56 years of Michigan football (1879-1934), 63% of all Michigan games ended with someone being shutout. Michigan allowed zero points in 43% of its games during this time.
Harmon, Howard and Woodson have company:
Michigan QB Harry Newman won the Douglas Fairbanks Award in 1932 as the College Football MVP. The award was the predecessor to the Heisman tropy. I would venture to guess that most people have never heard of Harry Newman. This just goes to show how certain awards are probably given more reverence than they should. If Harry Newman was the College Football MVP in 1932, how is that any different than what Charles Woodson did in 1997? Both were the player of the year but only one played when the Heisman existed. Newman should probably have more notoriety than he does. Remember, Tom Harmon is renown as one of the great Michigan players ever but what do we really know about him? Probably not too much more than we know about Harry Newman.
From 1934-37, Michigan averaged 5.6 points per game on offense.
From 1933-1942, Michigan went 0-9-1 against Minnesota. In those 10 games, Michigan averaged 3.9 points per game. Michigan rebounded quite nicely by going 49-10-1 against Minnesota over the next 60 years.
Back to back:
In 1947, Michigan outscored its opponents 394-53 on its way to a 10-0 record and the National Championship.
In 1948, Michigan won another National Championship going 9-0 and outscoring its opponents 252-44.
So damn close:
1970-1974 was the most unbelievable stretch in Michigan football history.
Here are the points for and against:
Here is how Michigan started each season:
Here is how Michigan finished each season:
Michigan’s undefeated/untied seasons were ruined on the last day of the season for five straight years. Florida St. thought wide left/right was bad.
In 1971, Michigan lost to Stanford by 1
In 1972 Michigan lost to Ohio St. by 3
In, 1973, Michigan tied Ohio St.
In, 1974, Michigan lost to Ohio St. by 2
Michigan also started the 1975 season 8-0-2 but finished 8-2-2. That’s six straight seasons of being undefeated past November 20 without finishing unbeaten/untied.
That had to have been brutal for everyone involved.
Schedule these teams:
Among active D-1 college football programs, only Arizona St., Army, BYU, North Carolina, Oklahoma, USC, Tennessee, and Texas have winning records against Michigan. In each case, Michigan is one win away from being .500 against these teams. No team that has played Michigan more than 9 times has a winning record against the Wolverines.
Among big time D-1 programs, Michigan has never played LSU, Clemson, Va. Tech, Kansas St., Texas Tech, Louisville and Mississippi St.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
He would immediately become the best Lions' cornerback since I've been alive.
I know the Lions get a lot of flack for never having a franchise quarterback, but the worst position for the Lions franchise in the last three decades has been at cornerback (at least until Dre Bly ended the suffering two years ago). If you don't believe me, re-watch the '91 NFC championship game. Or make a call over to Ford Field and ask them about Sterling Sharpe. If that doesn't convince you, check out how many times the Lions have beaten the Vikings in the last eight years (yep, Randy Moss). Or check out the Lions' pro bowlers since 1978 and let me know what you find in terms of cornerbacks from Detroit. If anything, it'll make you appreciate Dre Bly a little more.
One of the secrets to success in the NFL is to sign a player coming off an injury for less than fair market value. I have no doubts that Law will once again become one of the top 10 corners in the league. This is the time to get it done. In Millen I trust.
Monday, July 25, 2005
There’s quite a dilemma with projecting active second basemen. The dilemma being Jeff Kent. In the previous two position projections (of and c), it seemed like there was a pretty clear line as to who will likely make the HOF and who won’t. I would venture to guess that you could ask 100 baseball fans about Kent getting into the Hall and you’d get 50 to say yes and 50 to say no. I don’t think Kent is a lock by any means, however, I think he’ll have a pretty good case when it’s all said and done.
Craig Biggio Bill James has Craig Biggio ranked as the 35th best player in baseball history. I think that’s probably a little high but when James says something, it’s usually more true than not. Biggio has been an outstanding second basemen. He’ll easily reach 3,000 hits. He has over 400 stolen bases. He’ll finish with over 600 doubles. He should finish with close to 1,800 runs. Biggio, along with Raffy, is one of the most unheralded player of the 90’s. The only question here is which ballot he makes it on.
Just need more time: (2)
Jeff Kent The problem with Jeff Kent is that he’s not considered one of the dominant players of his era. He gets about as much publicity for his defense as Bobby Bonilla did. His career OBP is far from overwhelming at .354. Those are the negatives. What Kent has going for him is the fact that he’s the all-time home run leader for second basemen. His OPS is a very respectable .860. He’s probably the best power hitting second basemen in baseball history and he won the 2000 NL MVP award. In addition, there's actually a compelling argument that Kent is not only a decent second basemen, but better than Biggio and Roberto Alomar. Even though Kent’s 38 years old, I think he needs two more productive seasons to cement his status as a HOF. Hall of Fame voters are superficial. It's about numbers and perception. If you fall 10 hits short of 3,000 you might as well have fallen 200 hits short. A .300 batting average means a lot more than .295. As Fred McGriff will find out, 500 home runs are night and day compared to 493. Your numbers need to be good in the right places to get in. Normally, the last two years don’t decide whether or player gets in. Most major leaguers are done by the age of 38. This is a unique situation where the player actually has to keep producing meaningful numbers past 38 to get in. He’s showing no signs of slowing down which leads me to believe he’ll do just enough to get into the Hall.
Alfonso Soriano Unfortunately for Soriano, he didn’t get started as an everyday player until he was 25. That’s usually a deal breaker for the Hall of Fame. Luckily for Soriano, he plays second base. Soriano will finish his career as the best power hitting second basemen in MLB history (supplanting Kent). His defense is atrocious. He’s led all second basemen in errors four seasons running. His OBP is terrible at .322. He’s a yearly lock to finish with more than 120 K’s and less than 40 walks. If Soriano played first base or outfield, I would say he’d have virtually no chance at the Hall. His numbers leave a lot to be desired but his power and speed combination will be enough to get him in.
I don't think there are any other second basemen that deserve HOF consideration in MLB today.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
As if that wasn't enough to get the adrenaline going, Jeremy Bonderman won his 13th game by beating the Twins on Sunday. He's on pace (I don't want to jinx him here so let me say that I don't think he'll make it) to win 20 games at the age of 22. The list of pitchers to accomplish that feet is not very long. It just doesn't happen. I know there's some people out there that won't take anything but making the playoffs but I'm elated with the progress. For the first time in years there's hope. As Andy Dufresne said, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things". In the name of Jason Beverlin and Wendell Magee, I remind you of this.
The Tour de "Lance" officially ends today although it can be argued it was over 21 days ago. Since this is the last time you'll see Lance as a professional athlete, it's time to start thinking about his legacy. I can't say for certain, but I don't think there's ever been someone in professional sports to overcome more than Lance. Forget the cycling accomplishments for a second. How many athletes have ever been months away from death with no apparent recourse only to survive? Out of those, how many returned to their sport? Out of those, how many became the most dominant athlete their sport has ever seen?
You have to remember, the cancer spread all over his body. He was given less than a 50% chance of living. Simply not dying was a heck of a feat. Lance celebrated his remission by becoming one of the most dominant athletes in sports history. No athlete has ever detroyed the competition the way Lance has. I know cycling isn't a big-time sport but what Lance did will transcend history. He could end up being the most important athlete of our generation.
Friday, July 22, 2005
In 2005, I projected 37 active players—25 or older—to make the Hall of Fame. My preliminary findings this time around suggest that number will be considerably higher if you can believe it. I don’t want to get carried away by projecting too many players into the HOF but I do think we are in the midst of a rare situation as baseball fans. There are at least 21 active players 35 or older who appear to be headed for Cooperstown. That means that in the next 3-5 years, MLB will be losing a monumental collection of talent. This is an extraordinary time to be a baseball fan. Twenty years from now, our children will look back to this time and talk about how lucky we were to witness such a vast collection of historically significant players.
I have changed my mind on a few careers over the last two years. The most notable involve Johan Santana and David Ortiz. Santana is a virtual lock at this point which is saying something considering he has only pitched full-time as a starter for four seasons. Ortiz still has a lot of work to do but he is on his way barring a Mo Vaughn/Albert Belle-type career-ending injury. I have not, however, changed my mind on Johnny Damon or Omar Vizquel’s chances.
I’ll be going position by position starting with catcher. I'll probably be doing one position each week. As always, feel free to agree or disagree.
Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 25 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 25 who seem to be off to excellent starts.
Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 25: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career
This is probably the easiest category to judge. The line between being a Hall of Fame catcher and not being a Hall of Fame catcher is very clear. If you're a catcher and you've dominated in any way over a period of ten or more years, then you're probably going to the Hall. My apologies to Vance Wilson. He has seemingly been in the lineup as much as Pudge as of late but Vance just misses the cut.
Ivan Rodriguez “Pudge” is everything you want in a catcher. He’s a very good hitter. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in MLB history (10 Gold Gloves). He’s anchored a pitching staff that won the World Series. He’s taken a Detroit Tiger franchise from one of the worst teams in MLB history into the realm of respectability. He plays when injured. If I had to pick one guy in baseball history to be my catcher, I think I’d pick Pudge.
Mike Piazza Five years ago, it was a 50/50 proposition that Piazza would end up being considered the best catcher ever. In 2000, Piazza’s career average was an unbelievable .328. Five years later, the only "best ever" that he's in the running for is "best athlete ever to be fraudently accused of being Mick from Teen Wolf." His overall production is nowhere near what he put up in the 90’s. However, 500 home runs is still within reach which would make Piazza the first catcher to reach that milestone. Piazza is one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball. He's thrown out 24% of base-runners for his career. In comparison, "Pudge" has thrown out 48%. He was so good before that his defensive shortcomings were justified by his offensive brilliance. However, now that he isn’t producing with the bat, his poor defense is magnified.
In barring injury: (0) "Pudge" and Piazza are likely the only two catchers that will make the HOF from this era.
Will just miss the cut: (2)
Jorge Posada The most impressive note about Posada won’t be found by looking at his career stats. He’s won three World Series with the Yankees and that number will probably go up. His defense is above average with his most notable assett being his ability to call games. Posada's thrown out 30% of baserunners which is in the middle of the pack for catchers. He’s a very good hitter compared to most catchers. If he started his career at an early age, he would be in great position to make the HOF. 27 is just too late to make a significant run at the Hall. Even still, Posada has consistently been a top 5 catcher over the last decade.
Javy Lopez Lopez showed his potential in 2003 when he had career numbers across the board. Everything seemed to "click" for Lopez following that season. He's a completely different hitter. Needless to say, if he produced that way over the span of his career, he would be a “lock”. The problem is that a few very good years in the twighlight of a career usually don’t overshadow a career of average/decent hitting. Lopez has a respectable batting average with .290. His OPS of .840 is very good for a catcher. Lopez and Posada are among the best catchers in baseball today. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for a ticket to Cooperstown.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
The series against the Twins is arguably the most important series of the season. This is not your typical three or four game series. The Twins are in town for a monster five game slugfest. The Tigers are still relatively close (five games behind Minnesota) to the wild card spot but with seven teams in front of them, they need to make their move now. This series will shed some light on multiple issues.
1). The Tigers will know in five days whether or not they have a realistic shot at the wild card. A 5-0 or 4-1 count in favor of Detroit will put the Tigers right in the middle of the race. A 5-0 or a 4-1 series win for the Twins will pretty much take the Tigers out of the race 2). A good series will likely force Dave Dombrowski to jump into the buyer's market at the trade deadline. 3). A bad series will likely allow Dombrowski to explore trade possibilities for Jason Johnson and/or Mike Maroth. 4). If Verlander can duplicate his Orel Hershiser circa 1988 performances from Double AA Erie (21 innings, 0 er!!!!) then Dombrowski will have even more reason to send either Johnson or Maroth packing. 5). Verlander will be going back to Double AA regardless of the outcome but a poor performance might make this the last time you see him in a Tiger uniform until next season.
It is the general consensus that Flip is an above average offensive coach. If there's one area the Pistons need work on, it's the ability to score in the half court set. Although my feelings on Larry Brown are lukewarm at best, there's no question that LB was good for the organization. However, I think the Piston players will maintain their aggressive defensive attitude regardless of the coach. I'm really excited about this move. I think this could really diminish the amount of offensive droughts that the Pistons have been so accustomed to. That's all I've ever wanted. Flip should be an upgrade over LB in offensive execution and player development. Look for Darko's minutes to increase dramatically with Flip on board. Joe D is happy with the move. Bill Davison is happy with the move. And most importantly, Flip saunders is happy to be a Piston.
I worry that the parameters for success in year one will be defined as winning the NBA championship. However, I caution against that line of thinking. The Pistons don't have to win the NBA championship next year for this to be a successful hire. Miami, New Jersey, and Indiana will all be dramatically improved. The difference between bowing out in the second round and making it to the finals is often one or two possessions in a game six on the road (ex. New Jersey). The Pistons are in position to challenge for a championship for the forseeable future. Unlike LB, Flip isn't a threat to leave after every season. Flip should be in motown for the long haul.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
The basis for my judgment: The average Hall of Fame career has more than a few distinct characteristics. To predict which players will make it, it’s crucial to know these characteristics. First, getting into the Hall of Fame is about numbers unless there are extenuating circumstances (ex. Kirby Puckett going blind). If the 500 home run or 3,000 hit milestone is reached, a player becomes a lock (although 3,000 hits is much more impressive than 500 home runs). To achieve these numbers, a player must become an everyday player by the age of 23. Anyone who starts after 23 must be the most dominant player at his position for 10+ years (ex. Mike Piazza). A very high career batting average can also offset a late start. To accurately predict which younger players will make the Hall of Fame, it’s only necessary to look at their age when they first contributed significant statistics. If it’s by the age of 23, then you have someone to consider.
Inside the voter-minds: I think that voters will start paying more attention to higher batting averages (like Vlad, Pujols, and Manny) and higher OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage). In an era where almost everyone hits home runs, voters need another distinguishing statistic. I think .300 will no longer be considered with the same reverence as it used to. According to Bill James' "Historical Baseball Abstract", 20% of everyday players hit .300 or better in the 1990's. In the preceeding three decades, that percentage was 12%, 15%, and 15% respectively. The more people that hit .300, the less important it becomes.
Rules: I’m only considering players 25 and older. I'm only considering active players currently in MLB. Rickey Henderson and Roberto Alomar are locks but they're done with the majors. I want to abide by some limitations based on precedents from years past. In 1975, there were 34 (I'm counting Pete Rose because he was a Hall of Fame player and that's all I'm concerend with) active Hall of Famers in the majors. Twenty-one were hitters and thirteen were pitchers. I won't necessarily keep my projections below 34 but I'll take that number into consideration so my final total isn't out of hand.
I'm interested in hearing where people agree or differ from my projections so feel free to comment. Just click on the player’s name to view their career stats. The most useful tools for comparing player stats can be found at MLB's sortable stats engine and CNNSI's all-time stats archive.
Ken Griffey Jr.
In barring injury: (5)
Gary Sheffield Sheffield’s career has been unique. He hasn’t strung together consistently dominate seasons like most big-time hitters. However, the overall numbers are there. He’s gotten better with age and he should have no problem getting to 500 home runs. His batting average is very good. I think he will continue to be a superstar for 3-4 more years which will also put him right around 3,000 hits.
Vladimir GuerreroVlad’s numbers are unbelievable. His current numbers have him on pace to join some rare company. Only Albert Pujols can claim to have comparable stats at his age (and possibly Miguel Cabrera in four years). I would put Vlad in the lock category but a career ending injury would probably keep him from getting in.
Manny Ramirez Ramirez has been an RBI machine since he came into the league. He’s been one of the more consistent power hitters in the majors. His numbers are very good and he’s on pace to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Manny only needs three more productive seasons to become a lock.
Ichiro Suzuki The career stats won’t ever be there for Ichiro. He started his MLB career much too late to get to 3000 hits. However, his hitting ability is too good to overlook. He averages 236 hits per season. His career batting average is .336. These numbers are simply unmatched by anyone in the game today. Voters will consider the amount of time he spent in Japan when deciding his fate. He’ll get in.
Andruw Jones Some people might be shocked to see Jones on the list of players that will get in. Don’t be. He’s only 28 years old. He’s one of the two best defensive centerfielder’s in baseball (along with Torre Hunter). He’ll have 300 homers (give or take a few) by the end of this season. He’s almost a lock for 500 home runs if he stays healthy. Jones was only 20 when he broke the everyday lineup. That gives him a huge advantage in getting into the Hall.
To see why the following players probably won't make the Hall of Fame, one only needs to look at Albert Belle. Belle is proof that being one of the most feared hitters in baseball for ten seasons is not always enough to get you in. Belle won’t make the Hall of Fame despite putting up monster numbers for the Indians and Orioles. The following players will finish their careers with great numbers but need to do more than Belle did to even be considered.
Will just miss the cut: (5)
Larry Walker If Walker hadn’t played so many years in Colorado, his numbers might be good enough to get him in. The problem is that voters will judge the Colorado players with a higher standard. Walker didn’t reach any of the necessary “milestones” and never matched the success he had in Colorado with any other team.
Bobby Abreu Abreu has the talent and will have the career numbers to get heavy consideration but he hasn’t hit enough home runs. I think that will be what keeps him out. He’s one of the premier base stealers in baseball. His OBP is .413! His career batting average is .305. He does it all. The problem is that voters love the homer and he’s never hit more than 31 in a season.
Juan Gonzalez Juan gone was almost a lock. He took the same path as Jose Canseco (only with better numbers). His numbers are phenomenal for the amount of healthy seasons he’s played. However, he needed two more good years. It’s possible for him to resurrect his career and get to 500 homers which would get him in. But, he can’t even stay healthy for one game.
Carlos Beltran Out of the players in this category, Beltran has the best chance to make it. He started young. He’s a 5-tool player. He has plenty of time to improve but I think he’ll fall short of the milestones and his career batting average will never be above .285.
Garret Anderson The fact that most people will be surprised to see Anderson’s name here shows just how underrated he is. He’s been one of the most consistent players over the last ten years. His numbers won’t blow you away but he’s putting together a pretty good resume. The problem with Anderson is that he doesn’t walk enough. This hurts is OBP and OPS. He’s very good but very unlikely to make the Hall.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
I thought it was evident from the Michigan numbers alone that something was out of the ordinary in terms of how Michigan loses and who they lose to. However, as I should’ve expected, there are people that remain unconvinced. Michigan football is unlike any other professional or college sports team. It’s perfectly acceptable for Detroit Tiger fans to blast the team. It’s condoned for Gator fans to run Ron Zook out of Gainesville. Fans of all teams, sans Michigan, have the right and privilege to express their dissatisfaction when something is wrong.
In Wolverine world (obviously not everyone is like this but it often seems that way), if you give a criticism, you are labeled either a). Not a real fan, b). Someone who can’t ever be happy or c) stupid. Because of this phenomenon, anytime someone speaks of the “horse on the kitchen table” or even something not so obvious, the die-hard Blue-defenders come out swinging. This makes it hard to show disturbing trends since there is an inherent unwillingness to listen to anything remotely negative. This is particularly troublesome for me because so many Michigan Men (and Women) are giving a free-pass when it’s totally uncalled for. Although I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from the first post, there were legitimate questions posed by some readers. I received a few comments from my fellow Michigan fans that took one of three forms….
1). Why do we need to rehash losses, let’s focus on the wins.
2). I bet if you looked at all of the top programs, you would find the same results.
3). At least Michigan won a National Championship.
First, I’m not rehashing losses because it provides me joy. I don’t rehash Pistons losses. I don’t mourn the beating that the Lions took at the hands of the Redskins in the ’91 NFC championship game. I don’t take a look back at Red Wings’ failures in the playoffs (pre-Stanley Cup). I like to remember the good things. When I go over losses in the past, you can rest assured that there’s a point.
Second, it shouldn’t even be a question as to whether other programs have similar trends. The numbers speak for themselves. I’ve followed college football intensively for 17 years and I can tell you that there is no equal in the way Michigan loses. It didn’t even cross my mind to look at other programs for comparison until I realized that the numbers I presented weren’t convincing enough.
Third, Michigan won a National Championship? That was eight years ago. How long are we going to have to listen to that excuse? If Michigan didn’t lose so many games to inferior opponents, the Wolverines would challenge for one every year.
It was in response to those three critiques that I decided that a sequel was necessary. I have analyzed the losses of the top seven programs since 1989. The seven teams are Florida St., Miami, Nebraska, Tennessee Michigan, Florida and Ohio St. Thanks to Stassen.com, it is evident that there is a distinct cutoff between the seventh and eighth teams on the list so that seemed like a logical place to stop. I looked at the following statistics for each team; losses by six points or less, total games decided by six points or less, losses to teams ranked below, losses to teams ranked 19th or worse, losses to unranked teams, national championships, losses to teams ranked 18th or better, and ranked opponents.
I included losses to teams ranked 18th or better and ranked opponents to dispel any myths that a). Somehow Michigan having a harder schedule has anything to do with this and b). Michigan simply wasn’t as good as the other programs. I will also include a statistic that analyzes how teams have fared compared to their pre-season ranking. I believe that this will also dispel any myths that Michigan wasn’t as capable as the other six programs.
Charts and facts:
Pre-Season rankings compared to final rankings:
Stassen.com has a remarkable database of all things college football. Included is a comprehensive look at who the most overrated/underrated teams have been since 1989. The criteria for the rankings are pretty simple. If a team starts off the season ranked #1 and finishes ranked #5, they receive a -4 for that season. Each season has been added together to give a final score. Each of the seven teams mentioned above has a total negative rating over the last 15 years. This is expected since these teams are generally ranked high every season based largely in part to name recognition and recent accomplishments. The teams that have achieved the most are often given the benefit of the doubt to start the season.
As evidenced by the chart, Michigan is noticeably behind the rest of the teams in the comparison except for Nebraska. Nebraska’s total is quite low but it’s misleading for two reasons. First, Nebraska was ranked 1 or 2 in the pre-season four times and in the top five every year from 1994-2001. It’s very hard to avoid a negative number when you have no room to improve. Secondly, Nebraska had two years that were -18 and -17 respectively. That accounts for more than half of their total. The only thing keeping Michigan from the cellar in this category is the remarkable 1997 season. In the same season where Michigan was ranked uncharacteristically low in the pre-season polls, they won the National Championship. This provided a +13.5. That was the only season where Michigan was better than +4. If the best single season is taken away from each of the seven teams, Michigan would be the worst in this category with Nebraska being the only team close. Since 1989, 46 teams have been ranked in the pre-season top 25. If the single best season of each of the 46 teams is dropped from the numbers, Michigan rates 43rd.
This category is not meant to show that Michigan is terrible or that Michigan has had bad teams. Nor is it supposed to belittle the Michigan program in comparison to its peers. The point of this category is to show that Michigan is considered, year in and year out, one of the top college football programs. Each year, Michigan starts off the season rated very highly. Subsequently, as the chart shows, every year “something” happens that ruins Michigan’s chances at a top 5 finish.
Amazingly, the Wolverines inevitably regain that high pre-season ranking the next season. Why do the voters keep rating Michigan high after so many overrated pre-seasons? We’ve already established that it’s perfectly understandable for these teams to be rated high based on past accomplishments. However, Michigan certainly hasn’t given the voters any reason to put them in the pre-season top 10. Why would voters, with little historical evidence to support their decision, continue to place Michigan in the top 10? The answer is simple. Michigan enters every season with a legitimate chance for success. They begin every season with a roster full of former high school All-Americans. Also, more times than not, Michigan will be favored in every game they play in any given season. Take a look at past Michigan schedules entering the season and they will be ranked higher than every opponent on the schedule more than half of the time. A team that will be favored to win every game on the schedule will inevitably earn a high pre-season ranking. So we know Michigan starts the typical season ranked high. We know that Michigan ends the typical season ranked lower. Why is this?
Losses by 6 pts or less:
Michigan is by far the worst team in this category. In fact, Michigan has double the amount as four of the schools (Miami, Nebraska, Florida St. and Ohio St.) and eleven more than the next closest (Florida). It’s important to understand how much of a difference there is between Michigan and the other schools. Michigan has 28 losses by six points or less (!). The next closest is 17. I predicted that there would be people that tried to justify these numbers by saying that Michigan plays the toughest schedules. As a result, I recorded the amount of ranked opponents each team has faced. Michigan is second behind Florida. It is true that Michigan is second on the list in terms of ranked opponents but the numbers aren’t significant enough to justify the difference in losses by six points or less. Nebraska is far behind the other six schools with only 57 ranked opponents.
Games decided by six points or less:
Games decided by 6 pts or less (W, L, T's)
Michigan has played in 66 games decided by six points or less. Tennessee is the only school that’s even remotely close with 56. The next closest is Ohio St. with 43. Why is there such a big discrepancy between Michigan and the other schools? The answer can be found by looking at the schedules/results of the other six teams. One thing that stood out about the other six schools is that they crushed lesser teams. Michigan not only failed to crush the lesser teams but they often ended up losing. Michigan has played so many more close games than everyone else that it can’t be explained by chance.
Losses to unranked teams:
I thought about including only games where teams were ranked when they lost to the unranked teams but that was after I compiled the data. Instead of going back and recalculating all of the losses, I’ll just point out where that would’ve made a difference. As you can see by the chart, Michigan is second to last in this category. Nebraska is tied with Michigan with 12. However, a good portion of Nebraska’s losses to unranked teams came when they were also unranked (and thus not necessarily the favorite). If I applied the rule, Nebraska would actually be tied with Florida St. with 9. Ohio St. has also lost a few games to unranked opponents while they were unranked.
Losses to teams ranked lower:
Michigan is once again the worst team in this category. Nebraska has been the best team at taking care of inferior opponents. Everyone else is between 20 and 26 except for Michigan. The Wolverines have seven more losses than the next closest team. Compared to Nebraska, Florida and Ohio St seem to be unsatisfactory at taking care of weaker opponents. However, when compared to Michigan, Florida and Ohio St. actually look acceptable.
Losses to teams ranked 19th or below:
Nebraska is again the best team in terms of avoiding losses against lower ranked or unranked teams with nine. Florida St. and Miami have also been very impressive with 10 each. Florida and Tennessee are actually a good ways behind with 14 and 15 respectively. Ohio St. doesn’t even compare to these teams with 20. Nebraska, Miami, and Florida St. each have half (or less) as much as the Buckeyes! However, Ohio St. is once again bailed out by Michigan. On any other chart, Ohio St. would actually look very poor (and they probably still are) in comparison to its peers. But, Michigan has a whopping total of 25! The point here isn’t that Michigan is last in a category. I’m sure I could find 100’s of statistics where Michigan is last compared to other teams. That’s not what I’m interested in. The point here is how big of a discrepancy there is between Michigan and the other schools on this list. The average of the other six schools is 14. Michigan is 25. If Michigan were just average, they would have 11 more wins over the last 15 years. 11 more wins would put Michigan second, only to Florida St., in terms of overall winning %. Keep in mind that the top three teams in terms of winning % since 1989 (Florida St., Miami, and Nebraska) have all won multiple national championships. I’m not saying that Michigan would’ve won another National Championship, but trimming 11 losses (which would only make Michigan average) off of the total would surely have put Michigan in position to win another National Championship, if not more.
Winning a national championship is a big accomplishment. One of the great joys of my life was watching the Wolverines march their way to Pasadena in 1997. However, many of Michigan’s shortcomings have been countered by simply stating that Michigan has won a National Championship. It’s almost as if that precludes them from ever having any fixable problems in the future. The problem with the argument is that over time, many teams win a National Championship. On this list alone, every team has won at least one National Championship and almost half have won multiple.
In the last 16 years, these teams have all won National Championships; Miami, Ga. Tech, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida St., Florida, Michigan, Ohio St., Tennessee, Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, Washington, Notre Dame, and LSU.
In order for a school to get a free ride from criticism, the list should be more exclusive than that.
Losses to teams ranked 18th or better:
Now we’re getting into the good stuff. The categories that we’ve gone over so far have set us up nicely for this statistic. Michigan is by far the best team in terms of losses to teams ranked 18th or better with 19. Florida St. is the only team that’s even in the ballpark with 22. Everyone else has 25 or worse. As bad as Michigan was in the other categories, they’re equally good in this one. The results show two things….1). The other six schools lose most often to good teams, and 2). Comparatively, Michigan doesn’t lose nearly as often to good teams. I would venture to say (and I doubt anyone would disagree) that avoiding losses to very good teams is much harder of a task than avoiding losses to inferior teams. By faring so well against very good teams, Michigan has accomplished the most difficult tasks. One can only imagine how much better their records (and history books) would be if they took care of the easy stuff as well.
Sorting this out:
What does this mean?
We established earlier that Michigan often starts the season ranked high and often finishes the season ranked lower. We also established that Michigan is the worst among its peers in terms of living up to expectations. Now, we can add in that Michigan loses most often to inferior opponents and avoids losses to very good opponents far better than its peers. Normally a team that does the best against the best opponents will finish the season ranked high. However, Michigan has fared the best against its best opponents but has finished much lower than where it started. Also, if unranked seasons are thrown out, Michigan’s average end of season ranking is lower than all of these teams with the exception of Ohio St. Michigan, along with Florida St., has been the most consistent program over the last 15 years. They are the only schools that haven’t experienced at least one season out of the top-25. So it can be said that Michigan losing most often to inferior teams is the reason why Michigan typically finishes the season much lower than it started. In addition, Michigan faring the best against very good opponents is the reason why Michigan has been one of only two teams to be consistently ranked in the top 25 over the last 15 years. We can also see from analyzing the other six teams that it isn’t characteristic of the top programs to lose most often to inferior teams. From this, we can also conclude that it’s not something unique that the other teams are doing, rather it’s something that Michigan is doing wrong. Most importantly, Michigan losing to inferior opponents is the sole reason why Michigan is not the #2 college football program in terms of winning % over the last 15 years. One can only imagine how their end of season rankings would look if they fared as well as the other six schools against lesser opponents.
The next step is to attempt to figure out what it is that Michigan does that makes it more prone to losing to inferior teams. Remember, “schedule strength” and “Michigan simply not being in the same class as the other schools” have already been disproved as explanations. All mitigating factors have been eliminated. The answer lies somewhere in how Michigan approaches/prepares/plays in these games. So what is it?
If you’re particularly hostile to discussions that involve admitting Michigan isn’t perfect, then I suggest you stop reading at this point. The rest of this involves trying to pinpoint exactly what makes Michigan susceptible to an upset. Up to this point, the facts have done the talking (and I’ve done the typing). The information that I’ve presented is indisputable. From this point forward, subjectivity will likely play a bigger role. The answer to this question lies within the confines of game plans and play calling. It requires more game analysis than statistical analysis. I’m sure that 100 different fans will have 100 different explanations as to what the culprit is here. I do believe that there is an answer that makes the most sense but I’m not against hearing out other explanations.
Before I delve into this one, it’s very important to remember what we’ve proven. 1).Michigan is far and away the worst team at beating inferior opponents. 2). Michigan has the least amount of losses against very good oponents. If you buy these two arguments (and it’s hard not to since they’re facts), then you must be willing to admit that Michigan is doing something that the other schools are not. If you’re willing to admit that something is wrong, then you cannot stop there. The next step involves finding out what that something is and not just chalk it up to bad luck or “it happens to everyone”. It’s clear in this case that those two things are not the case.
What is it that Michigan does to lose so often to inferior teams?
Since Michigan has consistently been apt to losing to lesser teams, the first question that comes to mind is; what has been consistent about Michigan over the last 15 years? The players change every four years. The opposing rosters change every four years. The philosophy of the coaching staff, however, has not changed. In the last 15 years, the Michigan coaching staff has consisted of “Michigan Men”. Michigan hires its football coaches from within. Bo gave way to Gary Moeller who gave way to Lloyd Carr. The basic idea of Michigan football is “be concerned with our own execution” and the inherent belief that games against quality teams (even lower ranked/unranked teams) “will come down to the fourth quarter.” This has been the staple of Michigan football through the years of this study (and long before). It is the only constant. Thus, it is the cause of the problem. There is something about this style of coaching that is not conducive to winning games against lesser teams.
Why is the coaching style conducive to being upset?
The next question becomes, why is this style of coaching so conducive to losing to inferior teams? Take a quick glance at the schedules of the other six teams in this study and you’ll find that they generally crush inferior teams leaving no doubt in the fourth quarter. Obviously, eliminating the chance that the opponent has of winning in the fourth quarter will dramatically decrease the amount of losses you’ll have. Since Michigan doesn’t experience the same amount of losses to very good teams as they do to inferior teams it can be said that Michigan allows too many inferior teams to be close in the fourth quarter. The next question is why are these teams close in the fourth quarter? The answer lies within the coaching philosophy. Lloyd Carr has often said that the game will be won in the fourth quarter. This is an acceptable statement as long as the opponent is a formidable foe. In the case of a weaker opponent, the game should be won throughout the game. Domination should be continuous, rather than over one quarter. This is the reason why the NBA moved the first round of the playoffs from five games to seven games (specifically so the Lakers wouldn’t lose in the first round). The longer a team has to impose its dominance, the more likely that team will win. An obvious example can be found by looking at the no shot-clock era in the NBA, when inferior teams would hold the ball as long as possible. This strategy shortens the game and gives the lesser team a better chance of winning. The shot-clock era requires a team to be good over an entire game to get the victory. Michigan often plays as if it is the inferior team by shortening the game. If Michigan precludes itself from winning before the fourth quarter, then they are essentially leaving it up to one quarter which makes it possible for luck and poor execution to come into play.
Pinpointing the problem:
As I stated previously, I believe that the problem lies within the unfettered belief that “the game will be close/won in the 4th quarter.” This philosophy dictates a conservative approach. The conservatism doesn’t lie in the offense or defense specifically. Rather, it permeates the entire game plan. As a result, the offensive and defensive (as well as special teams) approaches contribute equally to Michigan’s propensity to lose to lesser teams.
Nebraska (at least before Bill Callahan) is far from a passing team yet they manage to put away inferior opponents as well as anyone. I think Nebraska is the key here. Nebraska proves that it’s not only about passing the ball or running the ball. It’s about exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. Since nobody could stop the option, Nebraska inherently attacked the opponent’s weaknesses every game. They ran the option on what seemed like every play. I saw this first hand at the Nebraska-Michigan St. game in 1995. Nebraska pummeled Michigan St. with the option for four quarters. The Spartans couldn't stop it, so Nebraska kept running it. On the other hand, Michigan will run the ball and employ the short passing game against every opponent regardless of that opponent’s weaknesses. This was never more evident than in the 2002 Citrus Bowl vs. Tennessee. John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth were the best defensive tackle tandem in college football. In an attempt to shield John Navarre’s inconsistency, Michigan ran three straight plays into Tennessee’s NFL-loaded defensive line to start the game. As you might imagine, Michigan punted after three plays and the tone was set for the rest of the game. Michigan was so afraid of their own weakness that they willingly played into Tennessee’s strength. Tennessee was so good that Michigan was going to lose no matter what. It was evident from the first snap that the Michigan-style was not going to get it done. In this case, it would’ve made most sense to go “all-out” with the no-huddle or shotgun. Anything would’ve been better than three straight runs. This is a perfect example of how Michigan’s offensive philosophy doesn’t change based on the opponent. Rather than change their approach in an attempt to make the game more competitive, Michigan opted to get blown out using their “tried and true” philosophy even when it was obvious that Tennessee wasn’t going to let that happen.
Each of the seven schools has versatile offenses that are conducive to versatile game plans including Michigan (in fact, I would say Michigan has been THE most versatile). However, having versatile offenses and employing versatile game plans are two different things. To the credit of their coaching staffs, the other six schools have historically employed versatile game plans. I vividly remember seeing Florida St. pass, pass and pass some more over some overmatched secondary. In fact, I remember watching all these teams blow teams away by beating them through the air (or option) over and over until the clock reached :00. The name of the game here is to expose your opponents’ weaknesses. Most mid-level teams can’t contain the top-notch wr’s that you’ll find at these seven schools. When Michigan chooses to use the same game plan regardless of the opponent, they are choosing not to expose their weaknesses. Instead, they are content with trying to physically dominate the opposition through execution. A few years ago, I remember a Big Ten coach saying something along the lines of, “We know exactly what Michigan is going to run, and THEY know that WE know what they are going to run. All Michigan cares about is executing its own plays, and they feel that if they execute better than us, they will win. And they are right, because they have better players than us.” Focusing on your own execution is perfectly understandable. In fact, it will win a lot of games. However, when Michigan does not take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses in addition to the execution, they are increasing the chances that the game will NOT be out of reach in the fourth quarter. This once against shortens the game and gives a weaker opponent a greater chance at benefiting from a costly mistake or an unlucky bounce.
As mentioned above, the problem isn’t necessarily Carr’s approach to offense. The issue is Carr’s approach to the game. His feeling that “the game will be won in the 4th quarter” doesn’t just affect the offense. The defense has been equal to or worse than the offense in terms of allowing inferior opponents to steal games. Like the “we need to focus on what we do” approach on offense, the same game-plan is instilled for the defense. One of the common critiques after a tough Michigan loss is the lack of preparedness coming into the game as well as the poor in-game and halftime adjustments. The reason that it appears that Michigan has not prepared for the opponent, or has failed to make in-game adjustments is that Michigan uses the same approach to every opponent. I know that the coaching staff studies film of the opposing team. I’m not sure what they get out of it since they rarely ever change what they do. The Michigan defense is like a template. It’s the same look every week using different combinations of players. On third and long, Michigan will blitz the fastest/best corner. It was Charles Woodson in ’97 and Marlin Jackson the last three years. Michigan will play the corners 10+ yards off the line to avoid giving up the big play. Michigan d-lineman are not counted on to apply pressure, rather they’re supposed to tie up the offensive lineman to allow lanes for the linebackers. Each of these things is typical of Michigan defenses. Win or lose, they stay a part of the game-plan. This type of predictability makes film study and game planning much easier for opponents. This type of predictability is also what allows opponents to play Michigan closely, giving them a chance to pull the upset.
Special Teams/Ineffective use:
Believe it or not, the conservatism has even found its way into the special teams. At least once a game, Michigan faces a 4th and 2 inside of the opponent’s 40 yard line. Each time (with rare exception) Michigan punts without hesitation. More times than not the ball ends up in the end zone giving the opponent possession at the 20 yard line. Michigan gains a paltry 20 yards (and often times much less) on the exchange. If the Michigan punter could be counted on to pin the ball inside the 20, this strategy might not be as bad. However, time after time, the ball gets blasted into the end zone bringing it out to the 20. It does no good to choose field position (punting) over a risk (going for it on 4th down) if your punter can’t give you the field position. Having a punter (and this has to be something that can be improved in practice since punters all over the country exhibit the ability to put touch on their punts) that can pin the opponent inside the 20 only makes it slightly more acceptable to punt. It doesn’t make it the right decision. The right decision in most of these cases it to go for it. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Michigan doesn’t go for it on 4th down nearly as much as it should. Footballcommentary.com has done extensive research on the topic and concludes that teams punt too much on 4th down.
Opponents taking advantage of The Template:
Even if the opponent puts an unexpected wrinkle into their offensive plan just for the Michigan game, the M coaching staff will stick with the original game-plan. This is exactly why many athletes seem to have career performances against Michigan. Over the years, Donovan McNabb, Jarious Jackson, Carlisle Holiday, Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Vince Young, Craig Krenzel, Bill Burke, and Zach Kustoc have had monster (not always stat-wise) games against Michigan. In every one of these cases, the QB did the same thing over and over. Michigan stayed true to their game-plan, and the opposing QB kept moving at will. Most fans expect an adjustment at halftime but it never happens. The reason? The coaching staff doesn’t even realize the problem. I can’t even remember how many times Lloyd Carr has attributed Michigan’s poor defensive performance to missed tackles either at halftime or in post game comments. I’ve heard it so many times that I almost started to believe it. In order for that to be true, we have to buy three arguments; 1). Michigan just happens to get the highest rated recruits that are poor tacklers, 2). Michigan coaches are so bad that tackling issues are not addressed in practice, and 3). That Michigan is the only school that loses on a regular basis because they just can’t get the tackling thing taken care of. I don’t buy any one of those points. Tackling may be the company line, but it’s not the culprit. The culprit is the approach to the game. If you intend on playing a close game, then lesser teams will have a legitimate chance to win.
Will anything ever change?
It depends. Lloyd Carr will definitely not change. In fact, I don’t see Carr admitting that there even is an issue. Surely he doesn’t like to lose but I doubt he differentiates between losses to good teams and lesser teams. It’s been ten years of the same stuff so I’m 100% sure that Carr will not change. However, when Carr retires, Michigan will have the option of sticking with the current philosophy by hiring from within, or jumping into the college football world and bringing in a new coaching philosophy. It’s important to understand that the philosophy that needs to be changed is NOT to to stop running the ball, or switch to the Spurrier Fun’n Gun. The rosters don’t need to be overhauled. Recruiting philosophies don’t need to be changed. The “virus” in this program lies within the refusal to expose an opponents’ weakness and the insistence that the game will be won in the fourth quarter. The “win in the 4th” mentality has led Michigan to three of the biggest comebacks in school history in recent years (Virgina ’95, Minnesota ’03, and MSU ’04). It can be argued that the “win in the 4th” mentality gave Michigan confidence to come back in those games. However, three monumental come-from-behind wins against lower ranked teams doesn’t justify 25 losses to teams ranked 19th or worse. It is not impossible for Carr to make this change, but like I said, he would have to admit that those are ineffective approaches. The best bet for a reversal in philosophy will come from the upcoming coaching change (whenever that may be). If Michigan hires a Michigan Man, then be prepared for the trend to continue. If they go after someone who’s notorious for piling up the points against weaker teams, then Michigan could be ready to make the jump into yearly national title contention.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
- I need to get a few things off of my chest here. Apparently having Placido Polanco and Dmitri Young out of the lineup (injuries) wasn't enough, Alan Trammell decided to rest Pudge. I understand that playing catcher is one of the most physically demanding positions in sports. I also understand that catchers need routine time off to rest their knees. I would never critique the amount of time a catcher gets off from playing in the field. However, keeping them out of the lineup, especially when they've been your best and most consistent player over the last two years, is ridiculous. Pudge has missed 13 games this year. The majority of those games have been manager decisions. Does anyone want to take a guess at the Tigers' record in those games? How about 3-10. The Tigers have averaged 2.2 runs in those ten losses. Clearly, pitching wasn't the issue. How taxing is it for a player to take four at bats and then sit on the bench? Is it really so much work that a player needs a day off from all baseball related activities? I've never understood this. Pudge is making more money than anyone on the team (Higgy makes more but I pretend he retired). I would think that after paying someone THAT much money, you'd use them as much as possible. With a 3-10 record without Pudge, the Tigers are essentially admitting defeat on any day Tram gives him the day off. The Tigers are only 2 games under .500 on the season. They can't afford to give up games.
I know that most catchers get days off from fielding AND hitting but do they skip batting practice too? Do they skip walking down the steps of the dugout? Do they skip driving to the game? Does Tram ban Pudge from brushing his teeth? What is an acceptable activity on an off day? Are we really to believe that four at bats is too much work? Even if Albert Einstein were alive today to somehow convince me that four at bats is too taxing, wouldn't it be better to rest him two games in a row from the field while keeping him in the lineup for those two games? That's seven rhetorical questions to make one point. Pudge needs to bat. Someone needs to call Tram on this. 3-10 is ridiculous.
- I am praying that the Tigers trade Mike Maroth before the trade deadline. He has exactly three wins in his last 12 starts. His batting average against is atrocious (.278). His WHIP is terrible. He's probably as good as he'll ever be. There is no reason, whatsoever, for Maroth to be in Detroit (past the trade deadline) while Justin Verlander sits in Double A. I don't care if Verlander pulls a Ledezma for the rest of the year. Maroth isn't doing any better. Trade him. Please.
- As some of you may have noticed, I put up a nifty little graphic to track Jeremy Bonderman's drive for 20 wins. Since I put that up, he got lit up by the Royals and then got ejected from Sunday's game which will surely result in a suspension costing him a start. Bonderman needed nine wins in 15 starts when I put that chart up. Three days later, he needs nine wins in 13 starts. Thus, the chart comes down (but not his picture).