Thursday, September 27, 2007

Be consistent when judging Leyland

One of the unique things about sports is that anyone can have an opinion—no matter how ludicrous—without ever having to justify it. Last season, the Tigers had a miraculous run to the World Series. In what was an obvious violation of the correlation does not equal causation scientific mantra, Jim Leyland was canonized in Detroit for being the savior of Detroit baseball. Leyland wasn’t the manager in ’05 or any of the other disastrous seasons. He was the manager in ’06. So, Leyland must have been responsible for the Tigers run in 2006, right? The baseball world certainly took that reasoning “hook, line and sinker” naming Leyland the Manager of the Year in the AL and proclamations that Leyland is the best manager in the game. Now, that award would have been given to the manager of any team that improved 24 games from the previous season. So Leyland getting the award doesn’t necessarily mean that the baseball world was duped. But, I think most Detroit fans were caught up in the “Leyland is God” movement and I think most of the baseball analysts outside of Detroit were too.

Judging from the tone of what you have read thus far, I’m guessing you have figured out that I don’t buy into that line of thinking. But, for the people that do think that way, you also have to blame Leyland for everything that the Tigers didn’t accomplish in 2007. If Leyland was the best manager in baseball in 2006, then he has to be considered one of the worst managers in baseball in 2007. He took a team that entered the World Series as huge favorites just a few months earlier, and turned it into an 87-win, underachiever. Or, at least that’s what you should believe if you thought Leyland resurrected the Tigers in 2006. Hopefully, judging from the tone of the last few sentences, you have also figured out that I don’t buy into that line of thinking either. Leyland was only negligibly responsible for the Tigers success in 2006 and he was only negligibly responsible for the Tigers failures in 2007.

Leyland has received far too much credit for what the Tigers accomplished last year. Conversely, Alan Trammell took way too much blame for what transpired in 2003-2005. He was put into a situation with terrible talent and little financial backing. Even when Mike Illitch pulled out his pocketbook for the 2005 season, it only netted a half-season from a still-recovering Magglio Ordonez and a half-season from Troy Percival. Neither move was good enough to impact the club in the slightest. Carlos Guillen missed half the year with an injury as well. The team was already bad and the best players missed half the season. Turning that mess into even a .500 season was an impossible task for Trammell. Instead of seeing the situation for what it was, the Tigers took the chance to make Tram the goat and brought in Leyland. Opting for a fresh start is one thing but allowing Trammell to take the brunt of the criticism for Illitch’s indiscretions was unacceptable. Leyland was given all of the glory for inheriting a massive infusion of talent that coincided with Tram’s departure.

While it is true that the Tigers won 24 more games with Leyland in his first season, it is also true that Leyland had a healthy Ordonez and Guillen, a full-season from Placido Polanco and the additions of Curtis Granderson, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and Todd Jones. If I remember correctly, those players are the reason the Tigers went to the World Series in 2006. How good of a job would Leyland have done with the rosters Trammell had to deal with? Check out what Leyland did with the Marlins in 1998 for a good indication (hint: .333 winning percentage). There is no doubt in my mind that the Tigers would’ve made the playoffs last season with Tram. The team had an infusion of talent rarely seen in MLB and that infusion just happened to coincide with the arrival of Leyland. Thus, Leyland is your savior.

This is certainly not a knock on Leyland. I think he does a decent job. This is also not an endorsement of Trammell. He wasn’t the greatest manager but he certainly took way too much blame for the state of the franchise. Leyland had been in the same situation that Trammell was in many times in his career and he didn’t do any better. When Leyland had talent (Pirates ‘90-92, Marlins ‘97) his teams performed well. When his teams didn’t have talent his teams were terrible. Leyland lost at least 90 games for the Pirates, Marlins, and Rockies. In 16 seasons, he has managed teams to a .500 or better record just seven times. His career winning percentage is .496. Leyland didn’t magically become the greatest manager of all-time over one off-season.

The inspiration for this post came from seeing and hearing so many people making excuses for Leyland in the face of the Tigers disappointing ’07-showing. The same people making the excuses are the same people that lauded Leyland for being the greatest manager ever last season. There’s no doubt that the Tigers have suffered an uncanny amount of injuries this year. It would have been difficult for any manager to lead the Tigers to the playoffs with partial seasons from Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and Gary Sheffield. The Tigers had to play seven pitchers with fewer than 10 games pitched in their careers. No club can withstand that sort of instability in the pitching department. I’m quite sure that injuries are the reasons why the Tigers disappointed in 2007 in the same way an unprecedented talent overhaul was the reason the Tigers won in 2006. Leyland won in ’06 because he had the talent. Leyland lost in ’07 because he didn’t have the talent. If you’re intent on giving Leyland the credit for leading the Tigers to the World Series in ’06, though, then you should be the first in line to pile-on Leyland for ruining the ’07 campaign. All I’m asking for is some consistency. Don’t rip Tram for losing when he didn’t have the talent and then give Leyland a free pass when he didn’t have the talent. Likewise, don’t credit Leyland in ’06 and let him off the hook in ’07. You can’t have it both ways. For me, Leyland is an average manager who doesn’t have the ability to improve a team 24 games or keep a team from the playoffs. The Tigers won in ’06 and the Tigers lost in ’07. Leyland, like Trammell, was incapable of preventing either from happening.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday Poll Bashin'

The college football polls are as storied as college football itself. Nothing infuses excitement for a game faster than a number in front of the teams in a match-up. It often doesn’t even matter which teams are playing. As long as its #6 vs. #10 or something like that, the game becomes a big one. The polls have so much reverence in college football that they’re, at least for the most part, taken as gospel by most (not all) fans. Unfortunately, the polls are as biased as they are old.

Newer polls have started up in an attempt to eradicate polls of their silly tendencies. Most notable has been the Blogpoll created by college football bloggers. The Blogpoll’s goal is to offer a new, idiot-less perspective on the top 25. I’m all for a challenge to the old-guard that systematically drops teams even if it’s to the number one team on the road. If the Blogpoll can fix everything that’s wrong about the standard polling system--or even just signficantly improve it--then more power to them. I remain someone skeptical that a large group of voters can completely rip themselves away from the biases that the national polls have rammed down our throats for years. The polls have trained us to think in a certain way. That might be too much to overcome to get rid of all inconsistencies. I have been impressed with the Blogpoll's ability to "think", though.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking at the two “national” polls (the AP and USA Today polls) each week to analyze and mostly criticize their rankings of the top 25 teams in college football. Had I started this last week, I would have spent many words discussing how ridiculous it was that Arkansas fell from #16 in both polls all the way out of the top 25 in both polls for losing in the waning seconds at Alabama. Alabama was rewarded by being moved out of the top 25 in both polls all the way to 16th in the AP and 20th in the USA Today. There have been illogical rankings in the past but this one has to go in the top five worst collective-decisions in poll history. If Alabama was really the #16 team as the AP claimed it was after the win, then Arkansas losing the lead with seconds to go at Alabama would make Arkansas at the very least a spot or two behind Alabama. Instead, the polls went with the “if you lose, regardless of who it was against, you drop x amount of spots” logic.

That was last week, though. Let’s look at some of the moronic things the polls did this week…

South Carolina and Georgia

The most glaring miscalculation made by both polls this week is how they handled the respective rankings of South Carolina and Georgia. Just to refresh your memory, South Carolina won at Georgia 16-12. Both teams have one loss. South Carolina lost to the consensus #2 team in the country (LSU) 28-16 at LSU. Georgia’s loss—as I mentioned—was to South Carolina. So, S. Carolina has, by far, the better loss, and it beat Georgia on the road. How, by any sensible logic, can S. Carolina be rated below Georgia?


After week one, Hawaii was ranked 20th and 22nd respectively by the AP and USA Today polls. In week two, Hawaii narrowly beat Louisiana Tech, 45-44. After almost losing a game in which they were 27.5 favorites, Hawaii dropped four spots to #24 in the AP and stayed at 22 in the USA Today poll. In the next two weeks, Hawaii hammered a bad UNLV team and destroyed its second I-AA opponent of the season, 66-10. Of Hawaii’s four wins, two were again I-AA powerhouses (apply sarcasm please) N. Colorado and Charleston Southern, the third was a narrow escape against a 27.5 underdog and the fourth was a shellacking of a bad, UNLV team. That resume now has Hawaii good enough for 19th in the AP, and 17th in the USA Today poll. Hawaii has the worst resume of any remaining undefeated team. In fact, Arkansas has a better resume at 1-2. The polls might as well start ranking Colt Brennan instead of Hawaii.

Virginia Tech, Penn St, and South Carolina

The AP and USA Today polls do not always share a brain. In this instance, only one of the polls is guilty of incompetence. The USA Today has Virginia Tech—a team which lost 48-7 at LSU—ranked #14. Meanwhile, it has S. Carolina—a team which lost 28-16 at LSU—ranked #21. Oh yeah, Virginia Tech’s best win was against 1-3 East Carolina. S. Carolina’s best win? It was at #16 Georgia. Penn St. has no business being ranked ahead of South Carolina, either.

Boise State and Washington

The AP is off the hook on this one too because neither team received a single vote. However, the USA Today poll shows 18 votes for Boise State and zero votes for Washington. Washington beat Boise State 24-10 while losing to Ohio State and UCLA both of which are better than any team that Boise State will play this year.


I’m not necessarily pissed that Tennessee isn’t ranked. They haven’t really beaten anyone. However, Tennessee provides a perfect example of one of the “tried and true” methods of the polls. Tennessee has lost at #3 Florida and at #6 California. Tennessee started the season ranked #15 in both polls. So, Tennessee loses on the road to two teams ranked considerably higher—teams that Tennessee is supposed to lose to—and gets one vote in the AP poll and four votes in the USA Today poll? Never mind that Tennessee only trailed 38-31 in the fourth quarter at Cal and only trailed 28-20 in the third quarter at Florida. Tennessee couldn’t be ranked by the polls even if it were a top 25 team. The polls do not have the ability to qualify losses based on who the losses were to and where the losses occurred. If the #2 team loses to the #1 team on the road by one point, it will drop even though everyone expected the #2 to lose (thus the ranking).


The AP poll is also exempt from this one. Louisville received 18 votes in the USA Today poll despite losing to a 36.5 underdog. Louisville’s loss to Syracuse goes down as the biggest upset in college football history in terms of margin of victory compared to the point spread. Syracuse had only scored 32 points in three games yet managed to put 38 on a terrible Louisville defense. Even worse, Louisville lost at home. I hope that the people who voted for Louisville just didn’t know that Louisville lost. That should be grounds for losing the privilege to vote but it wouldn’t be as bad as ranking Louisville with the knowledge that it lost to Syracuse.


Alabama dropped six spots in the AP poll and four spots in the USA Today poll for losing in overtime to Georgia. Georgia is ranked 15th and 16th respectively. If Alabama were judged purely on the merits of its wins and losses, and not by a polling system that follows the “lose and drop” code as if it were gospel, then Alabama wouldn’t have dropped at all. Because everyone has come to “expect” teams to drop, Alabama’s drop doesn’t appear to be that bad at four and six spots. However, Alabama had no business being dropped at all.

Michigan and Penn St.

I realize this presents a dilemma that most people don’t feel comfortable tackling. Most people do not feel comfortable ranking Michigan at this point for obvious reasons. Most people also don’t feel comfortable not ranking Penn St. at all because of a non-blow out loss. However, one of the two has to give. Penn St. hasn’t beaten anyone of note. It beat Notre Dame by 21. Michigan beat Notre Dame by 38 and beat Penn St. If all traditional poll-biases are removed, Michigan should be ranked ahead of Penn St. or at least receive more votes. For those of you who disagree, then maybe you’ll be happy with Michigan climbing into the top 15 over the next eight weeks as it gets to 8-2 by beating Eastern Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota and the like.

I’m certain that there are other “injustices” in the polls that I missed. Feel free to let me know if I left any out. Keep an eye on the Blogpoll each week to see how it differs from the “national polls”. I was very disappointed to see Arkansas fall out of the top 25 in the Blogpoll last week. Hopefully, that’ll be one of the few times the Blogpoll mimics the national polls.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

500 home run-club is still "Hall" worthy

Before 1965, there were only four members of the 500 HR-club. From 1965 to 1971, seven players—or 175%—of the previous total were added to “the club.” If there was ever a time to discuss the diminished value of hitting 500 career homers, 1971 would have been a perfect time to do it. That sentiment would have been seriously discredited by the next 25 years that saw only four new members of “the club.” Baseball—like weather patterns—has all sorts of cycles that cannot be predicted. It’s crucial to figure out whether the cycles are just part of random fluctuation or the result of an outside factor before declaring a certain milestone irrelevant. Unfortunately, I think too many people are jumping to the conclusion that the 500-HR milestone has lost its prestige and is no longer a Hall of Fame guarantee. Rob Neyer’s latest column on Jim Thome is a perfect example.

I’m willing to admit that it is possible that a player has reached 500 home runs who otherwise would not have if it weren’t for steroids. However, the suspected steroid-users who have reached that mark—Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro—have all finished well beyond 500 home runs. I’m not sure that steroids added 260+ HRs to what Bonds would have had without steroids, or 100+ HRs to Sosa’s career, 80+ HRs to McGwire’s, and 65+ HRs to Palmeiro’s. I think a very sound argument could be made that the 500-HR club has seen no increase in its membership because of steroid-use. I am pretty certain that the 600 and 700 HR-clubs have been compromised by steroids but I think the 500-HR club has 100% legitimate membership.

I am willing to listen to arguments that Sosa and Palmeiro would not have made it without steroids. Their respective OPS+ numbers aren’t that impressive. Sosa hit 193 HRs in his three best seasons (an average of 64 per year) and never hit more than 50 in any other season. That tough-to-explain increase could be attributed to Sosa’s prime or the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Still, I’m not too keen on believing that Sosa’s home run total was increased by 104 homers and counting because of steroids. That is a tough sell. The same can be said for Palmeiro. Before the steroid-era, Palmeiro was a 38 HR/year player. His HR totals went up a bit but not enough to make a convincing argument that he wouldn’t have finished with 500-career home runs without the help of steroids. Plus, Palmeiro retired earlier than he would have because of the steroid scandal. He would have undoubtedly hit more home runs making it more dicey that steroids are the cause of his membership to “the club.” Even the players that are on-tap to join the “club” are not suspected steroid-users. Jim Thome has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado haven’t either. Gary Sheffield admittedly—albeit unknowingly—used steroids but that was, in all likelihood, a short-term stint. Plus, Sheffield has only hit 40+ home runs once in his career. His home run total has come from being a pretty good power-hitter for a long time which is a far cry from how Sosa and McGwire attained their numbers.

I believe the talk of the reduced value of the 500-HR mark has been largely based on the belief that steroids have rendered the accomplishment “compromised.” There may be some who argue that it doesn’t matter whether the increase has been caused by steroid use or natural fluctuation, simply having increased membership at all devalues the accomplishment. I think it makes a tremendous difference as to which “cause” it is. If it’s just a natural fluctuation, then we can’t punish players who just happened to play in one of the most talent-rich eras in MLB history. It’s one thing if average players are reaching 500 home runs but that’s not happening. It was the case previous to the 90s that to reach 500 home runs, a player needed to hit a lot of home runs over a long career. That is still the case today.

The five weakest members of the 500-HR club in terms of OPS+* are Ernie Banks, Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, Harmen Killebrew, and Eddie Mathews. Their career OPS+ numbers are listed below:

Ernie Banks 122
Eddie Murray 129
Reggie Jackson 139
Harmen Killebrew 143
Eddie Mathews 143

Before Mark McGwire hit his 500th HR in 1999, the above five players represented 33% of the 500-HR club. Clearly by looking at the average OPS+ of the entire 500 HR-club (155) it is obvious that the vast majority of the members of “the club” have much better numbers than the above five players. If it were considerably easier to hit 500 HRs today, I would expect that a good portion of the players that have entered the club, or are about to, would have an OPS+ similar to the above five players or lower. If it’s easier to reach the mark, players with lower OPS+ numbers would be making it.

(* OPS+ is OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage) compared to the league average. I am using OPS+ because it is a pretty respectable measure of how “good” a player is. If a player has a high OPS+ and plays for a long time, it can be expected that the player will reach 500 home runs. OPS+ is also arguably the most important statistic in baseball.)

Here are the career OPS+ totals of the players who have recently reached 500 career home runs or are likely going to:

Barry Bonds 182
Albert Pujols 169
Mark McGwire 163
Frank Thomas 158
Manny Ramirez 156
Jim Thome 149
Vladimir Guerrero 148
Alex Rodriguez 147
Gary Sheffield 145
Chipper Jones 144
Ken Griffey Jr. 140
Carlos Delgado 139
Rafael Palmeiro 132
Sammy Sosa 128

We’re not looking at players who are barely beating the league average on their way to 500 HRs. These guys, on average, have OPS+ totals that are easily in line with the greatest players who have ever played the game. Most of these players put up big numbers before the steroid era as well.

Here is the entire list of the 15 members of the 500-HR club that existed before McGwire started the recent run in 1999 along with their OPS+ totals:

Babe Ruth 207
Ted Williams 190
Mickey Mantle 172
Jimmie Foxx 163
Willie Mays 156
Hank Aaron 155
Mel Ott 155
Frank Robinson 154
Willie McCovey 148
Mike Schmidt 147
Harmen Killebrew 143
Eddie Mathews 143
Reggie Jackson 139
Eddie Murray 129
Ernie Banks 122

Most of the latter group played in eras where the difference between the average players and the great players was substantial which can inflate OPS+ totals. That’s why you see the more recent players—Murray, Jackson, Schmidt—near the bottom and the older players—Ruth, Williams, Fox—near the top. That’s also why you won’t see numbers like “207” or “190” ever again. Bonds has dominated baseball about as much as a player can in today’s game and he’s only at 182. Anyhow, this list looks awfully similar to the list of the recent/soon-to-be members of the 500 HR club just above. My point is that while the steroid-era may have increased the number of top-end seasons and the average number of home-runs hit by the average player, I do not think it has increased the membership of the 500-HR club. The players who are reaching that total today are just as accomplished as the players who reached that total before. On average, they dominate their league in the same way their predecessors did. Just to put things in perspective, it takes 33 home runs per year over 15 years to get to 500 home runs. Does anyone do that even in today’s game who isn’t an elite player? I think the answer is clearly, no. If non-elite players start doing that, then I’m all for downgrading the significance of hitting 500 career home runs.

Seven years from now, Bonds, Sosa, Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, and Chipper Jones will all likely be retired. If my contention that this group is just the result of a natural fluctuation in talent is not true, then I would expect their to be a bumper crop of hitters just behind them waiting to trample past the 500-HR mark as well. Outside of that group I just mentioned, there isn’t a player with more than 160 career home runs other than Pujols, Andruw Jones, Vlad Guerrero, and Adam Dunn who has a good chance of reaching 500 career home runs. The fact still remains that you must be a great power-hitter for 15-20 seasons . Nobody “backs into” or “accidentally hits" 500 home runs.

Let’s be honest, what does the new group of members do to the validity of the club that Eddie Murray didn’t do? Murray never hit more than 33 home runs in a single season! Murray proves a lot more about the manner in which someone can reach the mark than any of the hitters getting there today. Murray proved that you can get there without being a power-hitter. If the number was ever compromised, it was compromised by Murray (more power to Murray by the way). The players getting their today are ripping the cover off the ball on a yearly basis. I have no problem devaluing the high-end seasons that we’ve seen. It’s difficult to look at Sosa’s three 60-HR seasons and taking them for face value. The same goes for Bonds and McGwire.

The only way that reaching 500 career home runs is easier today is that a). players don’t have to worry about being drafted into military service, and b). players benefit from lengthier careers due to medical advancements. We don’t see as many players lose their careers due to injury. Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gherig, and Stan Musial may have reached 500 HRs playing under today’s conditions. So, don’t be too quick to pronounce the majesty of reaching 500 HRs “dead” just because another large cluster has come along. A lot of things have changed in baseball recently but I don’t think the status of the 500-HR mark as a guarantee for Cooperstown should be one of them.

It’s also important to recognize that a significant amount of the players who have hit 500 home runs—or are likely going to—are Latin players. The evolution of the Latin ballplayer has greatly impacted the number of elite players in MLB. Take Sammy Sosa, Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, Albert Pujols, Andrew Jones, and Rafael Palmeiro out of the mix and the talk of 500 home runs not being what it used to be goes away completely. Latin players have thrived in MLB for decades but they’ve never thrived in the manner in which they are thriving today. I’m sure there are a number of reasons why Latin players have taken a bigger role in super-stardom. Regardless of those reasons, their rise in MLB has definitely attributed to the rise in 500-HR seasons and will continue to.

Unfortunately, the anti-500 HR bandwagon has picked up enough momentum that facts and logic might not be enough to keep voters from making an example of an otherwise qualified player. I fear that Jim Thome could be that player. Neyer’s contention that Thome has a long way to go before he even sniffs the Hall of Fame is borderline ridiculous. I’m not sure if Neyer is simply making a prediction or if he actually thinks Thome should not be voted into the Hall of Fame, or both. I would hope his article is not a reflection of his personal views on Thome’s candidacy. Thome’s career OPS+ is a ridiculous 149 which is the 5th best of any active player in MLB ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Ken Griffey Jr., and David Ortiz among many others. It is the 12th best of any player of the last fifty years.

Neyer uses Thome’s MVP finishes to cast suspicion over his resume. That is about as ludicrous as some of the MVP voting results in recent years. For instance, Thome finished 7th in the 2002 AL MVP voting. A closer look, however, reveals that Thome finished 7th despite hitting 52 home runs, 118 RBIs, a .304 batting average and a league-leading OPS of 1.122. He led the league in OPS, Runs Created, Slugging Percentage and Walks. He finished second in Home Runs and On-Base Percentage. He drove in 17% of his team's runs and hit 27% of his team's home runs. Both totals are phemonenal. How can a guy with those numbers finish seventh in the MVP voting? Better yet, how can an MVP voting process that yielded that injustice be used as evidence against Thome’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame? Statistics are concrete. MVP voting is not. No player with 500 home runs—who wasn’t suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs—has ever been kept out of the Hall of Fame. Willie McCovey--a slam-dunk Hall of Famer and a player with a nearly identical career to Thome--only finished in the top ten of the MVP voting three times in 22 seasons. Maybe Neyer should start campaigning to have McCovey removed from the “Hall.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Granderson Special

Last week, Curtis Granderson became just the third player in MLB history to reach 20 stolen bases, 20 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 home runs in a season. Granderson joined Willie Mays and Frank Schulte in that exclusive club. Any time a player accomplishes something that only two other players in history have accomplished, it certainly is note-worthy. Even more note-worthy is when a player accomplishes something that nobody has accomplished in MLB history. While much of the baseball world was busy being infatuated with “round” numbers in admiring Granderson’s 20 x 4 feat, he has since created his own exclusive club of at least 22 stolen bases, 22 doubles, 22 triples, and 22 home runs. That number could go up to 23 or 24 before the season ends. Chances are you didn’t hear the same sort of countdown for 22 x 4 in the same way there was for the 20 x 4 feat. Granderson joined a club when he reached 20 x 4. He created his own club at 22 x 4. The latter accomplishment is the most historically significant. The former accomplishment simply “looks” the best because “20” looks better than “22” in print. Hopefully the baseball world catches on and Granderson gets hid due.

It is here—and hopefully not here only—that you’ll see Granderson congratulated for a feat that no other player has duplicated in the 100+ years of MLB. It is also here—and here only—that you’ll see this feat brilliantly named, “The Granderson Special.” If you didn’t apply sarcasm to the last sentence, please do so now. Congratulations, Curtis! I’m guessing it’ll only be two or three more years until your numbers aren’t taken for granted by media outside of Detroit. Granderson should finish in the top five of the AL MVP voting but I don’t think that’s going to happen. In fact, I would not be surprised if Grady Sizemore finishes ahead of him in the same way he made the All-Star team ahead of Granderson with inferior numbers and his own manager as the AL All-Star manager. Imagine what those numbers could be if he learns to hit lefties.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The 3,000-hits club is in danger

I have been trying to get this post out for a few weeks now but too many things have come up putting this baby on the back-burner. Now is as good of a time as any. The numbers are from a few weeks back so keep that in mind. Edgar Renteria went through a lengthy absence which will impact my numbers for him slightly.

The 3,000-hit mark has long been considered an accomplishment that guarantees election to the MLB Hall of Fame. Unlike the 500-HR plateau that has come under fire lately because of its increased membership, the 3,000-hits mark is still considered the benchmark for entry to the “Hall.” The legitimacy of the 3,000-hit plateau has not been called into question by the steroid era although one could argue that Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds (Bonds is only 80 hits from the mark) were aided just as much in their quest for 500-HRs as they were in their quest for 3,000-hits. Still, steroids and 3,000 hits are rarely, if ever, discussed in tandem. It takes much longer to achieve 3,000 hits than to hit 500 home runs. No player has ever reached 3,000 hits with a career batting average of less than .276 so you obviously have to be a better-than-average hitter to reach that mark as well. Those are just a few of the reasons why the 3,000 hit mark has been immune from the steroid talk.

While I can’t see a legitimate reason short of suspected steroid use (and even then, it’s not necessarily the right decision) to keep a player who has reached 500 career home runs out of the Hall of Fame, I can see keeping a player who has reached 3,000 career hits out of the Hall of Fame. I am actually surprised that this hasn’t happened yet. Harold Baines came the closest. He made it to 2,866 without making the Hall of Fame. Baines may have made the Hall of Fame with an extra 134 career hits but he still wouldn’t have deserved it.

It is certainly true that most hitters that reach 3,000 hits are of the elite variety, it is not true that a player must be elite to reach that mark. It just hasn’t happened yet. Cal Ripken reached 3,000 hits in 21 seasons with only a .276 batting average. Robin Yount accomplished it by hitting .285 over 20 seasons. Lou Brock did it by hitting .293 over 19 seasons. Those players certainly weren’t run-of-the-mill hitters. Ripken and Young won multiple MVP awards and Brock broke the all-time stolen base record that stood for 80 years. But, there are a lot of mediocre baseball players who hit .275. Odds are that one of those players who hits in the .275-.295 range will stick around for 20 years due to a combination of good health and good luck. As I mentioned above, I am shocked that it hasn’t happened yet in 100+ years of baseball. That led me to research active players who have the best chance of reaching the 3,000 career hits who almost certainly would not be elected to the Hall of Fame even with that accomplishment. What I found was actually not-at-all unexpected personally but maybe a bit surprising to most baseball fans. There are at least 10 players that fit the description of a non-Hall of Fame caliber player who could reach 3,000 hits. I would be surprised if none of them reach 3,000 hits—meaning that we could actually be very close to seeing a player with 3,000 hits kept out of the Hall of the Fame for the first time ever.

Here a list of the players who are the closest to 3,000 hits who probably won’t make the Hall of Fame regardless of whether they reach the mark or not (listed in order from oldest to youngest):

--------------------------Total* needed # seasons until 42 hits per season needed
Luis Gonzalez---------2530-----470---------3------------------------157
Garrett Anderson------2200-----800---------6-----------------------133
Ray Durham-----------1975-----1025--------6-----------------------171
Shawn Green----------2020------980---------8-----------------------123
Johnny Damon--------2100------900---------9-----------------------100
Edgar Renteria--------1970-----1030--------11------------------------94
Rafael Furcal----------1300-----1700--------13----------------------131
Juan Pierre-------------1426-----1574--------13----------------------121
Adrian Beltre----------1420-----1580--------14----------------------113
Jimmy Rollins---------1300-----1700--------14----------------------121

* Projected total by the end of ’07 season

I am willing to admit that Johnny Damon and Juan Pierre could squeeze into the Hall of Fame depending on how the rest of their careers unfold. But, both are unlikely Hall of Famers. The rest are just a collection of above average hitters who started their careers at an early age and have managed to stay relatively healthy. Ray Durham is probably the longest shot of the bunch. Since he doesn’t come anywhere close to 171 hits per season anymore, he would have to play 10 more seasons. Just about every other player on the list has a pretty good chance of reaching 3,000 hits. Luis Gonzalez would just need to remain an everyday player for three and a half more seasons and he’ll likely get there. Garrett Anderson still manages 150+ hits per year so averaging 133 over the next six years isn’t out of the question. Amazingly, Shawn Green only needs to average 123 hits for the next eight years. Renteria has the best chance by a mile. He just needs to play 11 more seasons at 94 hits per year. In fact, he could do it in 7 years or less if he averages 150 hits per year. Furcal, Pierre, Beltre and Rollins are all right around the same age and all have very good chances of making it. I would be surprised if there aren’t at least three players on this list who reach 3,000 hits. That would damage the reputation of the 3,000 mark much more than the steroids-era has damaged 500 home runs. There is a first for everything but it’s going to be a bummer if/when the 3,000-hit mark loses its luster.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 300-Game winner is not dead

Immediately after Tom Glavine won his 300th game, talk of Glavine being the last member of the 300-win club spread like wild fire. There wasn’t a single ESPN personality—to my knowledge—who said something to the contrary. I respect people that devote their life to following baseball. The various members of the Baseball Tonight crew do a pretty good job of dissecting games and do it in an entertaining manner. However, I don’t necessarily respect opinions that largely result from getting caught up in the moment. What better way to sell the Glavine/300-win story than to market it as the last member of the 300-win club? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that seemingly everyone on TV repeated the exact same thing verbatim. People get caught up in sensationalizing events to the point that over-sensationalizing almost becomes inevitable. I understand that people get excited about things and often find it hard to adequately portray the significance of certain events. However, I think it’s important to refrain from making unsubstantiated proclamations to attempt to further a story.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with asking the question, “Is Tom Glavine the last 300-game winner?” I love that sort of conversation. My problem is that everyone with a microphone concluded that he was the last 300-game winner without so much as a whimper from the opposing view. A few days after the story reached its pinnacle, there was a caveat to the argument presented by a few people that basically went, “Randy Johnson is at 284 wins but with his back problems, there’s no guarantee he’s going to pitch again. If Johnson doesn’t do it, we may never see another 300-game winner again.” I actually think Johnson will reach 300 wins which will only guarantee a redux of the “last 300-game winner ever” story.

You might be wondering why I have such a problem with the notion that we’re likely to never see another 300-game winner again. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Winning 300 games is an extremely difficult feat. Nobody outside of Johnson has a reasonable chance at this point. However, a legitimate discussion on whether there will ever be a 300-game winner again is supposed to consider all of the relevant factors that would need to go into seeing a 300-game winner, not a prediction based on whether someone is set to do it in the next 15 years. Chances are that nobody will remember these proclamations 15-20 years from now when it happens again. The biggest problem I have is that these people are getting paid to look deeper into this stuff and still somehow came to the ridiculous conclusion that we have seen the last 300-game winner.

The fact that there isn’t an active player—aside from Randy Johnson and possibly Mike Mussina—who is close to the 300-game mark, is only one of a plethora of shady reasons people have used to pronounce the death of the 300-game winner. I’m going to list the myths and discuss the faulty reasoning for each one.

Myth #1

Nobody is even close to 300 games so that proves it won’t happen again.

There wasn’t a 300-game winner from 1963-1982. If the baseball world would have predicted the death of the 300-game winner after Early Wynn won his 300th-game in 1963, it would have been wrong by nine and counting. The fact that nobody is “expected” to reach 300-wins in the foreseeable future is not a reasonable argument to predict that it will never happen again. Following the 19-year drought after Wynn reached the mark, five pitchers reached 300 wins between 1982 and 1986. There was another drought from 1991 to 2003 where no pitchers reached the mark. That was followed by another mini-run of 300 game winners that saw Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and possibly Randy Johnson reach the mark. This myth could have doubled as an argument for there never being another 300-game winner again in 1941, 1963 and 1991. History has proven on three different occasions that 300-game winners can come in clusters after 20 years of not seeing a single 300-game winner. This myth has been proven wrong time and time again.

Myth #2

Nobody will win 300 games again because teams don’t use four-man rotations anymore.

Somewhere along the way, the four-man rotation became associated with the rich-tradition of baseball. In fact, upon doing a google-search of “four-man rotations”, every hit that discussed the issue attributed the four-man rotation to being the rotation of choice for the first 70 years of baseball. I’m not sure where that notion came from but it is wrong. The five-man rotation has been the dominant rotation over the history of MLB. One of the articles even attributes the five-man rotation to being a product of “free experimentation in our society that leeched its way into baseball” in the early 70’s. Again, I’m not sure where that information comes from but it is erroneous. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The four-man rotation was only around en masse for parts of the 60’s and 70’s—and that was for some teams in some years. One only needs to look at the “games started” leaders for every season in MLB history to see that the four-man rotation was not ruined by “free experimentation in the 70s.” In fact, it’s even possible that the four-man rotation was a product of the free experimentation of the 60’s. Talk about having the story backwards. Before the 60’s and 70’s—and even during a good portion of the 60’s and 70’s—an average front-of-the-rotation starter would pitch 32-36 games per season which is right in line with the number starters pitch today. For parts of the 60’s and 70’s, that number jumped to 37-41 starts. Phil Niekro’s career provides a perfect glimpse into the coming and going of the four-man rotation. Here are his starts by season:


Nolan Ryan pitched 27 years and only had more than 35 starts in a season five times. Not-coincidentally, those five seasons fell between 1974-1980 when Niekro had his peak as well. A four-man rotation will yield around 40 starts per season. A five-man rotation yields closer to 34-35 starters per season. While a six-start difference over 20 seasons would significantly impact a player’s chances of winning 300 games, the four-man rotation wasn’t around for that long so we can’t attribute the vast majority of 300-game winners to benefiting from the four-man rotation.

Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine have pitched their careers entirely in a five-man rotation. Both Clemens and Maddux are well-beyond the 300-win mark. I don’t doubt that a four-man rotation would increase the membership of the 300-win club. I’m sure Tommy John, Bert Blyleven, Robin Roberts, and Fergie Jenkins would have reached 300 wins if they pitched their entire careers in a four-man rotation. But that’s no different than saying more people would reach 500 home runs if the number of games was expanded from 162 to 170. The four-man rotation became chic in the 60’s, came to a crescendo in the 70’s, and then went away. Even the pitchers that did pitch in the four-man rotation era only saw their “games started” increased for a few seasons. Over the 100 years of baseball, most starting pitchers have started anywhere from 33-36 starts per season with few exceptions. Go down the list of post-dead ball-era 300-game winners and you will see this. The five-man rotation is not preventing anybody from reaching 300 career wins anymore now than it ever has. There are some instances where a pitcher’s games started spikes for a few years outside of the 60’s and 70’s. This happened with Robin Roberts for a few years in the 50’s. In seven seasons from 1950-1956, Roberts averaged 38 starts per season. Early Wynn--pitching during those same years--averaged about 34 starts per season which was the average then like it is now. Warren Spahn--during those same seasons--averaged just over 34 starts per season. Even going back to the 30’s with the great Lefty Grove yields a similar number of starts per season. Grove only started more than 33 games in a season one time. Tom Seaver—having pitched through the entirety of the four-man rotation fad in the 70’s--never started more than 36 times in a season and he only reached 36 starts four times. Bob Gibson pitched through the entirety of the 60's and half of the 70's and never started more than 36 games in a season and he only did that twice. Today’s pitchers pitch—or I should say “start”—just as much as pitchers from every post-era decade with the exception of a few isolated cases. In honor of the MythBusters, I pronounce this myth “busted.”

Myth #3

Pitchers don’t pitch as many innings per game so they don’t win as much.

There is some truth to this myth. Let’s say a starting pitcher goes six innings and gives up one-earned run and leaves the game tied 1-1. If his team comes back and wins, that pitcher gets a no-decision. Had that pitcher stayed in for another inning or two, he may have been around to get the decision. Pitching longer into games guarantees more decisions—wins and losses. I’m not sure how much of a difference the extra inning makes over a 20-year career. It probably wouldn’t be much more than 10 wins or so which has never been the difference between a pitcher reaching 300 games or not since 1900. However, having some truth does not keep this from being a myth. The misleading part of this myth is the assumption that starters are losing more games than ever before because “crappy” relievers come into the game and screw everything up. I’ve heard this argument on more than a few occasions. There’s no question that relievers lose games. That’s not what this is about. Relievers would have to lose games more often than the starting pitchers would have lost the games for this point to have any validity. Of course, there is no way of knowing for sure how a starting pitcher would have performed had he stayed in a game longer. However, we can look at starter ERA vs. reliever ERA. Starters fatigue throughout a game to the point where their effectiveness becomes less than what a reliever would do. It’s not a coincidence that almost every pitcher in baseball—with the obvious exception of Jeremy Bonderman—sees an increase in ERA and Batting Average Against (BAA) in the later innings. So, even if starters and relievers had the exact same ERA, relievers would provide the best chance for a win because of “freshness.” While the ERAs would be the same, a starter’s ERA in the 7th inning would not be as good as a reliever’s ERA in one inning of work. That puts a pretty big dent in the “relievers lose too many games for starters these days.” Putting an even bigger dent in that line of thinking is that starters and relievers do not have the exact same ERA. Relievers as a whole have a better ERA than starters as a whole. In fact, relievers had a 10% better ERA than starters in 2006 which is the biggest gap since 1989. The argument could even be made that “specialists” and “closers” are actually giving modern-day pitchers more opportunities for wins. So, the line about “pitch counts” killing the 300-game winner should wither away and die. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

Myth #4

Pitchers suffer too many injuries for anyone to stay healthy enough to reach 300.

I’ve heard this one a million times. I’m convinced that this is kind of a “pile-on” argument that isn’t necessarily meant to be that convincing. I know there are a lot of people that believe a lot of different things but this argument doesn’t even make sense. Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux spent the bulk of their careers pitching in “this” era. They made it to 300 wins easily. Pitchers don’t have to get hurt. Some do and some don’t. Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, and Doc Gooden did. Clemens, Maddux and Glavine didn’t. In the history of the game, there have always been more good pitchers who suffer devastating injuries than pitchers who win 300 games. Yet, people keep winning 300 games. While the other myths can be discredited with statistics, this one is more of a common-sense thing.

I’m probably leaving a few myths out. Feel free to let me know if I missed any. As long as MLB exists in its current 162-game format, there will be more 300-game winners. Unless the game undergoes a significant makeover, it would be virtually impossible for there not to be another 300-game winner.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Coaches reactions across the country...

There’s nothing too spectacular here. Just about every coach who was asked chose to cite Michigan’s loss as a cautionary tale for their teams. My personal favorite comes from Paul Johnson at Navy who I think would be a fantastic hire as Michigan’s next coach. Johnson has been asked about Michigan in his weekly press conference over the last couple years by people inquiring about how his style would work at a big-time school. Johnson has consistently stated that he adjusts his style to the players he has. Johnson’s comments probably appear a bit off-colored until you realize that he was poking fun at himself. Navy had an uninspired effort against Temple last week so he definitely wasn’t bragging about beating them. He also could have added to his last response, “I have proven that I can beat Jim Tressel. That is true, also.” Now that would have been off-colored. I love Johnson’s coaching ability and his personality. He doesn’t pretend he coaches in a “fort” and he isn’t fluent in double-talk. Anyhow, the other responses are bland but interesting nonetheless.

Paul Johnson, Navy

Wagner: Well, it looks like those Paul Johnson to Michigan rumors are going to start up again.

Johnson: Yep. They called me last night. It's a done deal after they saw our performance against Temple.

Wagner: After losing to Appalachian State I wouldn't be surprised if he (Lloyd Carr) was fired on Monday.

Johnson: I have proven in the past that I can beat Appalachian State. That is true.

Jim Tressel, Ohio St.

REPORTER: Have you had time to digest that Appalachian win?

COACH TRESSEL: I didn't get a chance to watch it. We watched Appalachian all week getting ready for Youngstown because Youngstown's last game was Appalachian and every time you watch the film you say, this is a good football team just like we were saying, Youngstown is a good football team. But as far as what happened and all the rest, I really haven't had an opportunity to do that.

REPORTER: Is it a stunning upset in your opinion?

COACH TRESSEL: I think it's an upset because I happen to think Michigan is very, very good and I think when all is said and done at the end of the season, Michigan is going to be very, very good. But it also tells you, Appalachian State is a good team. And maybe more people know that than used to, but Appalachian's good.

REPORTER: Are you glad Michigan lost?

COACH TRESSEL: Am I glad? No, I'm never glad when a conference opponent loses. You always -- outside of your game with them, you're always rooting for your breath then in the Big Ten.

REPORTER: Jim, is this a little bit of a black eye for the Big Ten? Big Ten went 2-5 last year in bowl games and lost two obviously high profile bowl games and then kind of this, there's people looking askance at the Big Ten because number five team in the nation loses to a playoff subdivision team.

COACH TRESSEL: Well, whether it is or isn't, we don't spend any time looking in the mirror or at those black eyes, we're just going to work. And I haven't given it any thought, it has no effect on what we're trying to accomplish. We're most concerned about what Ohio State does and of course we root for our conference, I was watching the end of that Missouri-Illinois game, thinking the Illini was going to pull it out. But that was September 1st. What's most important, black eyes heal well before November, and the Big Ten's going to be a good conference.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan St.

Q. What does Saturday's game in Ann Arbor mean to a coach as far as getting his players' attention and knowing that on any Saturday anything can happen in college football?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all, I haven't watched that game, so I'm really not qualified to talk about it. That would be my approach there.
But just as far as an upset, I think there is a lot of parity in college football. Even if you look at the 1-AA level, and I was at Youngstown State for five years, and we were a pretty good football team. We had some guys who had come from Tennessee and South Carolina and such, so we had some pretty good players on that football team.

You know, emotion plays a big part of it. As soon as you start believing you can do something, sooner or later, you're going to keep fighting, and I think you'll have a chance, and probably that's what happened. They had a little bit of success early, and they started believing that they truly could do it. And of course, when you're the heavy favorites, I'm sure that you start tightening up a little bit when things start to happen.
You know, I'm quite sure that Michigan will bounce back. I think that Coach Carr is an excellent football coach and an excellent leader, and he'll rally his troops.

Q. Does it make your job any easier, getting your players' attention?

COACH DANTONIO: I would hope so. I would hope that just the win over Minnesota would open everybody's eyes, as well, and when they see the film they'll know why. There was precision passing and good protection, and they ran a hitch on defense. So it'll be a challenge, and things will get progressively more challenging as we go (through the schedule).

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin

QUESTION 5: Michigan got two first-place votes in the coaches poll, I was curious if you were one of those people who voted them number one, and if you had them in your Top-25 this week?

Bielema: Actually the Top-25 doesn’t have to be due until tomorrow because of the games that are played later, so we haven’t voted yet on the AP poll, or the Coaches poll, I’m sorry. I know this, as the season rolls on, I’m excited because they asked me to be a part of it, but I don’t have to reveal my votes until the end. I think Michigan is a good football team, I’ve been more impressed with Lloyd Carr over the past two years as I’ve gotten to know him as anybody, and to hear his comments on Saturday, I think it’s safe to say that Michigan will get that ship ready and righted in a short amount of time.

QUESTION 7: You mentioned being impressed by Lloyd Carr and how he handled that situation. Certainly from media, from fans, there’s been a lot of buzz and criticism for having that loss. Is there a lesson or reminder for you, your coaching staff, your program about what can happen, how quickly things can turn in a game like that for your team?

Bielema: First and foremost, I really don’t worry about anybody but Wisconsin, and I told that to our guys on Sunday. I knew the final result before the game on Saturday, but I chose not to mention that to the team in the locker room at all, because I know our guys were focused in on playing the game that we had in front of us. On Sunday, I always try to take an overview of what’s happening in college football, and taking things that we can learn from not by only witnessing it ourselves, but by seeing other people go through things, and the message that I said to our team was that anybody can play with anybody else on any given Saturday, and I think that our players were aware of the situation that I was talking about, but I even made a special point to the players to not comment on that situation, and I realized I saw one quote from one of our guys. But we worry about Wisconsin first and we’ll take care of the rest.

Les Miles, LSU

On if the Appalachian State game is a cautionary tale for other highly-ranked teams...

“I can only tell you that the men that represent Michigan are hard pressed to find a smile. I believe that they understand adversity and they will do the right things. I trust and am comfortable with what Lloyd Carr will have them do. It is not the first time, during many seasons there are times where you have to pick yourself up and play. I also understand that Appalachian State is a great football team. No one has to apologize for the style they are. They are a winning team and a national championship team. There is a constant reminder with any team that takes the field. If you are not ready to play your opponent, you suddenly become very even. If you don’t have intensity and a want to compete then suddenly you become very average. We understand that and all we need to be motivated for this week is Virginia Tech. Seeing Virginia Tech on film kind of wakes you up.”

Joe Paterno, Penn St.

Q: A lot of Penn State fans really take a lot of pride in rooting against Michigan. It sounds like there was a huge uproar out there whenever that game ended. What does that mean to you, that rivalry against Michigan and your fans reacting like that if Michigan loses?

A: Well I have a tremendous amount of respect for Michigan. Always have. In fact, one of the few jobs I ever really thought about taking when they hired Bo Schembechler - Don Canham offered me the job - and that would have been one of the few college jobs I would have though about taking. So I have a tremendous amount of respect. From the guy who really turned this whole athletic program around, Ernie McCoy, had been the basketball coach, assistant football coach, assistant athletic director at Michigan, he and wife had graduated from Michigan, his son was a Michigan graduate. So, I have tremendous respect for them and their program. I'm not rooting against them. When we play them I root against them, obviously. They've just played better. They played better than we have played. We had a shot at them two years ago and I debated whether to kick off or not and I kicked off and Breaston took the ball back to midfield and I've second-guessed myself on that one. But in all fairness to them, they came down the field and made some plays. I think the fans are - I don't know. You tell me what makes fans tick.

Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech

Q. Appalachian State beat Michigan. Did you hear that and what's your reaction to that?

COACH GAILEY: Yes, I heard it. I know Jerry and I know App State and I know what a great program they have. I'm just as surprised like everyone else in the country right now.
This just goes to show you, you'd better get ready every week, every team, every week; there are no gimmees in the world of football. And there's possible going to be some more of those during the course of the year. That won't be the only one.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Appalachian St. did "M" fans a favor

I am willing to bet that 95% of Michigan fans are as pissed as they’ve ever been after Saturday’s opening loss to Division I-AA Appalachian St.—and they have every right to be. I am only slightly pissed, however. In the grand scheme of things, I believe that more good will come from this loss than would have ever come from a win. I’m not going delve into the particulars of the loss too much or the poor preparation and game-planning that caused it. It’s the same kind of half-assed preparation and refusal to put the “pedal to the metal” against weaker opponents that has been going on for years. If you want to read my thoughts on that stuff, then read this post that I wrote in 2005. What I wrote was true then and it is true now. Unless the administration chooses to go in a different direction after Lloyd Carr’s retirement—whenever that may be—it will be true 10 years from now. Instead of rehashing that stuff, I’d like to look at how the loss may be a blessing for a program that has been coasting for far too long. In the short-term, this loss isn’t so good. Michigan will be the laughing stock of college football for the rest of the season and—depending on how people remember the game—possibly for all-time. That’s not good in any regard. However, this loss has an opportunity to be much more important to the Michigan program than a last-second win would have been.

My contention that this loss will end up being better in the long run for the Michigan football program is based on a lot of things one of them being the fact that Michigan had no chance whatsoever of winning a National Championship this season. We obviously know that now but it was a virtual impossibility even before yesterday’s game. If Michigan played USC ten times, it would lose ten times. So that complicates things. Michigan would be at a significant disadvantage against any team it would face in the BCS Championship game in the coaching department. Stale game-planning is a precursor to a guaranteed blowout in a National Title game. Losing to Appalachian St. cost Michigan nothing more than a little bit of pride. It still has the same chance of winning the Big Ten and consequently the same chance of making it to a BCS game. Michigan’s chances of winning the remaining games on its schedule are no worse now than they were before the season started.

Had Michigan squeaked out a win in the waning seconds as it has against similarly-inferior opponents in the past, the win would have gone down as just that: a win. Six weeks from now, nobody would have cared that Michigan only beat a I-AA opponent by one-point. A narrow escape against a non-I-A team would have been “slipped under the rug” the same way every Michigan near-debacle has been in recent years. Michigan's 34-3 thumping of hapless Indiana last season all but erased its narrow win over Ball St the week before (which would have been an even bigger upset than losing to Appalachian St.). In 2004, Michigan narrowly escaped at home against a terrible San Diego St. team (24-21). Michigan followed that with eight-straight wins making everyone forget about that abysmal performance. In 2002, Michigan again nearly lost in a near-monumental upset to a bad Utah team at home, 10-7. Michigan won three in a row (and seven of nine) after that and again that sort of performance was all but forgotten. By losing to Appalachian St., Michigan guaranteed that this historically bad performance will not be forgotten. Unlike the past, people will be held responsible if not immediately, then down the road when positions become available. Near-losses to Utah, San Diego St., and Ball St. weren’t enough for people to be “held to the fire”. There is nowhere to hide now. John Borton (UM writer and biggest “homer” you will ever come across) and his incredible shrinking team of head-in-the-sand minions can’t even spin this game to reflect the current regime in a positive light. Game plans, preparation, strategies, and player development have all been exposed in the biggest possible way. Those things didn’t just magically become deficient last week. As I wrote two years ago, this stuff has been going on ever since Carr took over in 1994 sans one miracle/magical season in 1997.

Michigan has been teetering on disaster in these types of games for ages. A combination of terrible game-planning, underutilization of talent, and a total disregard for the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent are why Michigan lost to Appalachian St. and nearly lost to Ball St., San Diego St., and Utah. The talent differential between Michigan and those four schools is enormous. If you put a coach like Mack Brown or Bob Stoops—coaches who seem to count “scoring a lot of points” as a goal for each game—in charge of the Michigan team against any of the above four teams, Michigan likely would have won each of those games by four touchdowns. It all comes down to coaching. While Brown and Stoops likely enter each game with the goal of scoring as many points as possible, Carr enters each game with the philosophy that Michigan will play its own game regardless of the opponent and rely on superior athleticism and strength to propel it to victory. In short, that means Michigan is more concerned with being Michigan than trying to score as many points as possible or throroughly dominate an opponent. For a team that consistently executes as poorly as Michigan, it is border-line insane for Carr to continue a game-plan based on out-executing the opponent. Michigan couldn’t execute a simple field-goal block on two occasions in the last two minutes of the game against a non-D1-A opponent. The worst teams in college football can perform a simple field goal block flawlessly and repeatedly. Michigan consistently struggles to block during field goal attempts. In fact, Michigan consistently struggles to execute in just about every facet of the game. Michigan still hasn’t figured out how to handle a blitz. You’d think that would have been the number one priority in the program after USC destroyed Michigan with constant blitzing in the 2004 Rose Bowl. Michigan still has problems with defending a running QB and tackling. Michigan still mysteriously becomes the worst defensive team you’ll ever see when the opposition has the ball on a potential game-winning drive. These things have been going on virtually ever year. In some seasons, the talent is strong enough to make the problems less obvious than in other years. Don’t be fooled, these coaching-deficiencies have always been there.

This loss also pretty-much eliminates any chance of Ron English or Mike DeBord being named the next Michigan football coach. The English-support was a misguided attempt by some Michigan faithful to preserve the “Michigan Man” lineage with a seemingly different philosophy. English was always a stretch to say the least. It has long been rumored that Carr has been pining for DeBord to be named his successor. “Lloydball” clearly doesn’t work with Lloyd so I think it’s obvious that it won’t work with DeBord. The loss doesn’t eliminate the possibility of some other “Michigan Man” succeeding Carr but it significantly reduces the odds. I have no idea what Bill Martin had in mind for Carr’s successor. This is obviously 100% conjecture on my part but I get the feeling that he would like to look at candidates from all backgrounds but feels an inherent pressure to continue the Schembechler-lineage. Michigan has clearly underachieved over the last decade or so but no program has been more consistent. Martin has never had a license to criticize. Michigan—and Carr—was just good enough to avoid any “reasonable” criticism. The fans were up in arms on occasion but it was just the sort of mild success that a well-respected Athletic Department could not devalue or criticize. Now, Martin has every right to explore all options. Being ill-prepared and underachieving with respect to talent levels might not have been enough to offset Michigan’s lukewarm successes, but becoming the first ranked team in college football history to lose to a DI-AA team opens the “flood gates” for criticism. Martin will not publicly criticize or ridicule anyone. He won’t insinuate that the current coaching staff isn't cutting it. Martin values the high standards that the University of Michigan holds which will keep him from being anything but supportive in the public. However, in the same way that he kept an open-mind after giving the guarantee that as long as he was the UM AD, Tommy Amaker would be the basketball coach at UM, Martin will file this into his memory bank for further examination when the time comes to hire the next football coach. Martin knew the basketball program needed outside influence. He made a radical hire in terms of style-of-play. John Beilein runs what many people would call a “gimmick” offense. That sort of thing didn’t deter Martin. Now that Michigan has suffered the pinnacle of all embarrassments on the football field, I don’t expect Martin to bow to any internal pressure to keep the lineage alive either. Martin is his own man. Don Canham hired a young, passionate coach from Ohio State named Bo Schembechler in 1969 to reinvigorate the Michigan football program. Martin will have the same chance to put his stamp on the program when Carr retires. To view a list of candidates that I think Michigan should seriously consider, click here.

Other game-related stuff:

Carr will never be fired

It is amazing to me just how many people from the national sports media think that Lloyd Carr’s job is in jeopardy. Just today on ESPN, Jesse Palmer said that Carr must win the Big Ten Championship, beat Ohio St., and win a BCS-game to save his job. His co-host seemed to agree. That is laughable. The exact opposite is true. Carr could not win the Big Ten Championship, lose to Ohio St., and lose a bowl game and he would be no closer to losing his job than after he won a National Championship in 1997. Carr will either retire on his own terms (not a forced retirement) after the season or he’ll be back regardless of how Michigan finishes the season. Most die-hard Michigan fans know this. However, it occurred to me over the weekend that the vast majority of “fringe” Michigan fans do not know this. I heard from a number of the “fringe” fans after the game and the consensus was something to the effect of “Carr is going to lose his job after this game”. There is a 0% chance that Carr will be fired. You can lose to Appalachian St. at Michigan and keep your job. It’s not necessarily like that at other schools. Michigan is different. I’m not sure I think Carr should be fired anyway. He has earned the right to leave on his terms. The overwhelming importance is not whether Carr gets fired rather it’s what Bill Martin does once Carr retires. Martin made a great hire for the basketball team. I think he’ll do the same for the football team.

No more I-AA opponents, please (for anyone)

I hope this loss puts an end to Michigan’s brief foray into scheduling I-AA opponents. Division I-A teams should not schedule I-AA teams under any circumstances. It should be forbidden by the NCAA. It’s an insult to the program and the fan-base. There is absolutely nothing to gain from playing a I-AA team with the exception of money. If it is money a school is after, then it should pick one of the other 118 I-A teams. If you beat a I-AA—even a team as good as Appalachian St.—nobody cares. If you lose to a I-AA team, you are the laughing stock of college football which Michigan now is. Season ticket-holders don’t want to pay big money to watch Michigan play Eastern Michigan let alone a I-AA opponent. I understand that “everyone else is doing it” but when has that excuse ever been acceptable? I don’t blame Michigan any more than I blame every other I-A school. The first weekend was a disgrace because of the number of big-time teams who played I-AA opponents. Other than Michigan, six top-25 teams opened up the season against a I-AA team for an average score of 53-6. Those games are just a waste of everyone's time and money. It's bad enough that we have to watch Penn St. beat Florida International 59-0 or Oklahoma beat North Texas 79-10. Let's not encourage such ridiculousness by allowing I-AA into the fray.

Not the biggest upset of all-time

Lost in the ridicule of losing to a I-AA opponent is that Michigan actually played in an “instant classic”. Obviously, Michigan had to fail miserably in every facet of the game for it to even be close but nonetheless, it was entertaining for all non-Michigan fans. You probably won’t get too many people to admit this because it’s part of our culture to partake in “feeding frenzies” and hyperbole parties but this was hardly the biggest upset in college football history. It may be the biggest upset in name but surely not talent-wise. Yes, Michigan became the first ranked team to lose to a I-AA opponent but the talent differential between Michigan and Appalachian St. was nowhere near the talent differential between Virginia Tech and Temple in 1998. Appalachian St. would have destroyed that Temple team. So, the debate as to whether this was the biggest upset in college football history should end right there. The fact that Appalachian St. could and would beat half of all I-A teams should also end the debate. I don’t mind putting this loss into perspective. It clearly was an upset of monumental proportions. In terms of talent differential, though, this was not nearly the biggest upset in college football history. It is talent-differential that makes an upset an upset.

Comcast can stick it

Not that this game sealed it or anything but I’m dropping Comcast for Direct TV. Brian at mgoblog has covered the whole Comcast/Big Ten Network thing beautifully for anyone who needs/wants some
background. Comcast has insulted every sports fan in America with its ridiculous “fighting for the fans” angle. If Comcast was truly fighting for its fans, it would not force its viewers to pay for channels like versus or the golf channel or twenty other channels that nobody wants to pay for. Comcast is trying to mask greed by trying to con its viewers into believing it’s fighting for them. I hope Comcast pays down the road for essentially hijacking the first weekend of college football for college football fans in the Midwest.

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