Friday, June 29, 2007

The Flaw In The Draft

What's the most exciting part of the NBA or NFL drafts? Heck, what's arguably the most exciting part of most professional sports?

Trades. Trades can change the whole landscape of the league, and the direction of a team. I won't say "most," because I don't have the numbers, but a lot of trades take place on either draft day or in the few days leading up to the trading deadlines. Since the NBA draft took place last night, however, you can guess that I'm going to talk about draft day.

ESPN's draft coverage really kills the drama and excitement of those trades. We get the trade information very early, from ESPN "insiders." Then, 1-2 hours later, the trade is announced from the podium. It's like, why even bother announcing the trade from the podium at that point? Everyone knows that Jeff Green is going to Seattle, leave it alone.

But that's not really what I want. I want the trade announced from the podium, instead of by Rick Beucher, or whoever. When Green was available at the fifth pick and the deal was a go, that's when the trade should've been announced. Part of the fun of the NFL draft is watching it quietly, eating and relaxing, and then without warning, you hear those nifty little words from Paul Tagliabue: "We have a trade."

My understanding is that part of the problem sprouts from NBA trade rules, which are murky at best already. The extent to which the NBA has butchered the way free agency, trades, and the draft ought to be run is astounding. It's no wonder that they have trouble attracting new fans. For all the shortcomings baseball might have (such as arguable parity), there are very few times when the business end of baseball gets in the way of a deal. The business end may prompt a deal, for instance when a player's contract is expiring and the team can't afford to re-sign him. But the Tigers never have to worry about matching salaries with trade partners to make a deal happen. The NFL seems to do a good job of keeping business considerations out of draft day, and the NBA should take a note. Bring the drama back to draft night.

Another piece of this puzzle is the information before draft night about the Trail Blazers deciding on Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Sure, that's great that ESPN found that out a day or two in advance. What a great piece of breaking news. But it would've been a lot more tense on draft night if you didn't know which of them was going #1 overall. The NBA doesn't know how to turn the NBA draft into good television, making more money for everyone involved.

I'll share my opinions on the actual draft itself sometime soon, possibly via Internet radio with Joe Mandi, but more likely on here or on the forum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Battlefield 1942 Mods

What is a "mod?" A mod is an add-on to a game, usually created by a third party, adjusting the game in some fashion. Sometimes it involves only a small change, such as adding blood to a fighting game, or changing weapons or vehicles in a first-person shooter game.

But sometimes the mods are more encompassing. For example, Counter-Strike was originally a Half-Life mod. It offered completely new weapons, levels, characters, and a completely new goal. It used the Half-Life engine to run a completely separate game, one that millions of gamers enjoyed.

A couple years later, Battlefield 1942 came out, and not too long afterwards, its own mods began to surface. While there were many, many mods, there's no question the strongest performance was by the Desert Combat mod. It integrated flawlessly into the Battlefield 1942 environment, changing weapons and vehicles, and adding its own maps and missions for a completely new gaming experience. I have played Desert Combat for years, and I've always enjoyed it.

But there are so many different mods out there, why would I limit myself to just this one? Sure, it may be the most notorious and best-received mod for Battlefield 1942, but surely these other mods offer another new experience. It's a great way to avoid paying for a new game.

Well, yesterday I downloaded 4 different mods, with the hope that at least one of them would turn out to be a real enjoyable one. To say I was mildly disappointed would be something of an understatement.

HomeFront
Noted as the "Halo mod," I was excited to see what this one had to offer. Sadly, anytime I tried to get into a game using this mod, the game crashed. So while the interface had me feeling optimistic, I never actually saw the game. This would be a problem for most of these mods.

Pirates
With this one, I was able to get into a game, and the GUI clearly was adjusted to represent the pirates game. However, the actual gameplay, including weapons and vehicles, was exactly the same as the BF 1942 game. I tried to find an online game to see if that might offer the true gameplay, but best I could tell, there were simply no servers running the Pirates mod. So screw it, I said. Uninstalled.

Galactic Conquest
This is it, the Star Wars mod I had heard about for years. I figured, finally, I'll get to see if it's any good. Wrong-o. This was another one that didn't work at all. It's possible that I have a new version of BF 1942 that is incompatible with the older mods, but shit, I don't want to have to roll back my BF 1942 just to check to see if that's the case. So no go.

G.I.Joe
This was the only one that seemed to at least offer a glimpse of what it's supposed to be. All of the player skins were changed to standard "Joe soldiers" or "Cobra troopers," which is okay, though I had been hoping to take on the cold visage of the opportunistic Destro. But maybe that's too much to ask for in this kind of game. The vehicles and weapons were adjusted to be more like the original G.I.Joe gear, though the vehicles were a little limited. Two jeeps and two helicopters, no heavy vehicles of any kind. Also, on the custom G.I.Joe maps, the AI seemed to be simply missing. The enemy soldiers would just sit there, in their bunkers, waiting for who knows what to happen. In the end, a deleter.

So I'm back where I started. I've got Battlefield 1942 and the elite mod, Desert Combat. I'll have to ride these waves for now. I hear Battlefield 2 has some worthwhile mods, maybe I'll check them out if I ever get that game.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Still?

Somehow, some way, I'm still in first place. It's a slender 1-point lead over the prohibitive favorite and 2-time defending champion SexyParties, but for now, it remains a lead.

I owe a lot of my place in the standings to the outstanding play of Prince Fielder and Grady Sizemore over the past 6 weeks. Sizemore has really energized his batting average (and through that his runs and RBIs), and in case you've neglected your SportsCenters, Fielder is leading the NL in home runs with 23. Second place? Fellow Brewer J.J. Hardy, a full 7 home runs back.

I traded my poster boy Jonathan Papelbon for pitching depth in Oliver Perez, James Shields, and Brian Fuentes, in the hopes that Fuentes can be solid enough to at least cover Papelbon's saves, and Perez and Shields can pick up the wins that I can't get from my other starting pitchers. Starting Ervin Santana only at home has given me very solid ERA and WHIP numbers from him, but I need the wins. I'm in the bottom half in wins, and it's very tight. If I could stretch out a couple wins beyond the competition, I could pick up a lot of points.

Batting average is still precarious, but I've benched Adam Dunn in the hopes that Chris B. Young, Carlos Pena, and Kevin Kouzmanoff will be able to post decent power and speed numbers while countering the damage that Kinsler and Dunn have done so far. Kinsler is still in the lineup for now, but if he doesn't kick out of his slump, Kendrick can slide right in, so long as he's got the batting average to help me out.

If you're not sure you'll be competing this year and have an outfielder or 2B who's got a great bat and a history of high batting averages, let me know. I'll be more than happy to talk about sending you Kinsler and/or Dunn and/or a pick, depending on who I'm getting. It's a shame that Utley fellow is on the damned SexyParties.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If He Retired Today....

Sam and I had an interesting conversation about a number of players and whether or not they would make it into the Hall of Fame if they were to retire right now. A few were no-brainers, like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, and it looks like LaDainian Tomlinson would probably be a shoo-in as well.

But no-brainers are no fun. So we encountered a few that we weren't too sure about, and I figured I'd open it up for debate.

First, Donovan McNabb.

His career QB rating is 85.2, and he sports a 152-72 TD to INT ratio. He is, in fact, the 2nd least intercepted quarterback in NFL history (Neil O'Donnell is #1, though, so don't know how much to take that into account). He has accumulated 22,000 passing yards, an average about about 3,400 per full season.

But that's part of McNabb's problem. Only three times in his eight-year career has he played all 16 games, which means that his individual seasons haven't been that impressive. He's got three seasons with 20 or more passing TDs, and four with 3,000+ passing yards.

Not helping McNabb's cause is his playoff history. He's had more 3 INT games (2) than 3 TD games (1). That's not to say he hasn't had his moments in the playoffs. 4th and 26 comes to mind, a game in which he threw for 248 yards and ran for 107 more. But he'll be best remembered for his failure in the Super Bowl against the Patriots when the Eagles offense inexplicably chose to not convert to a 2-minute offense, essentially throwing away the game. While most people attribute Terrell Owens' comments about McNabb being "tired" during that last drive to Owens' distaste for his (now former) teammate, you have to wonder if there's some truth to it. Every fan across the country knew it was crunch time, but the Eagles putzed along like they had all day.

In the end, we both agreed: as of right now, McNabb is out of the Hall.

Next, we viewed Torry Holt.

Holt was drafted the same year as McNabb, so the equal time under their belts makes this a slightly easier comparison. He's got 64 TDs, an average of 8 per season since his debut in 1999. He's picked up yardage by the ton, with two seasons of over 100 yards/game. Additionally, over the past four years, he's picked up at least 9 TDs and at least 1150 yards.

One advantage Holt has over McNabb is that he does, in fact, have a Super Bowl ring. Additionally, he was a crucial part of his team's success, one of the main pieces of the "Greatest Show on Turf." However, while Holt was an important part, he wasn't even the #1 receiver on that team. So while his statistics are impressive recently, his team's success, a strong determining factor in the eyes of many NFL Hall of Fame voters, has been minimal while he's been "the man."

Holt was also the fastest in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards, so he's certainly at the very least on pace for a Hall of Fame career. But again, Sam and I agreed that, were he to retire today, Torry Holt would not make the Hall of Fame.

Finally, we reviewed Shaun Alexander.

Alexander was drafted in 2000, but as a running back, has likely completed more of his career than either McNabb or Holt. Alexander has been a touchdown machine, scoring 16, 18, 16, 20, and 28 from 2001-2005. He missed 6 games last year due to injury and scored only 7 touchdowns, and his yards per carry was down to a career-low 3.6, from 5.1 the previous season. He has 96 rushing TDs, and 107 total for his career.

He held the single-season rushing touchdown record....for a year.

While Alexander has been an outstanding producer for 5+ years, again, Sam and I both believe that he would need to add to his career statistics to justify a spot in the Hall of Fame.

In the comments for this post, give your input on these three players, whether you agree or disagree, and suggest other borderline players who you'd like to debate. I'm happy to look at stats and pass judgment on people far more athletic than me.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Where are you, Rick Ankiel?

The year was 1997, Floridian Rick Ankiel, a fireball hurling lefty went 11-1 with a 0.47 ERA during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched, and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today. He signed a contract out of highschool with the St. Louis Cardinals and received a 2.5 million dollar signing bonus, one of the highest ever to that point. He stormed through the minors, dominating every level, and being named minor league player of the year in 1999. His first full season in the Majors was 2000, where, at just 20 years old, he posted 11 wins, a 3.50 ERA, and had an unbelievable K rate (9.98 batters/9 innings pitched). He was armed with a fastball in the 93-94 MPH range, and also possessed a heavy sinker with great movement, as well as his main strikeout pitch, a devastating curveball which some scouts have called the best they've ever seen. He was the heir-apparent to the great pitchers of the time and seemingly had a long, dominant career ahead of him in the Major Leagues.

The Cardinals won the National League Central Division championship that season. Injuries to other pitchers left Ankiel and Darryl Kile as the only fully healthy starters left on the Cardinal roster. Wanting to maximize their appearances, and due to the fact that Ankiel, only 20 years old and without much major league experience, needed four days of rest between starts, manager Tony La Russa chose Ankiel to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Then things all went wrong.

The Cardinals jumped to a lead early in Game 1, scoring six runs in bottom of the first. Ankiel had walked two batters in the top of the first, as well as allowed a single, but escaped unscathed. He also allowed a double in the second inning, after striking out the leadoff batter, but ended the inning with a double play. It is in the third inning that Ankiel lost control. Here is the line score from that inning:

Maddux walked; Furcal popped out in foul territory; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to second); Ankiel threw another a wild pitch (Maddux to third); A. Jones walked; Ankiel threw a third wild pitch (A. Jones to 2nd); C. Jones was called out on strikes; Galarraga walked (Maddux scored on a 4th wild pitch by Ankiel; A. Jones to 3rd); Jordan singled to Lankford (A. Jones scored, Galarraga to 2nd); Ankiel threw a 5th wild pitch (Galarraga to 3rd, Jordan to 2nd); Sanders walked; Weiss singled to Lankford (Galarraga scored, Jordan scored, Sanders to 2nd); Mike James replaced Ankiel; López popped to Viña; 4 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Braves 4, Cardinals 6.

Ankiel shrugged off the event at first, joking about the fact that he was the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in an inning since Bert Cunningham of the Players League in 1890. But in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Ankiel was removed in the first inning. Of only 20 pitches thrown by Ankiel, five went past catcher Eli Marrero, including two official wild pitches. Ankiel appeared again in the seventh inning of game five, facing four hitters, walking two, and throwing two more wild pitches. The Cardinals lost the series four games to one to the Mets. He returned to the majors in 2001 but again had issues controlling his pitches, walking 25 batters and throwing 5 wild pitches in 24 innings, and was sent down to AAA.

The source of Ankiel's problems was apparently not mechanical. He toiled in the minors and experienced more control problems and never regained his pitching form. In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training with the major league squad again, but this time as an outfielder. He had a slim chance to make the team as a reserve player. His fielding impressed scouts and managers, and he has shown flashes of power hitting in the minor leagues. He never resurfaced with the big-league club that year. So far this season, in 46 games for the AAA Memphis RedBirds, Ankiel is batting .266 and leads the team with 12 home runs and 40 RBI, he has 2 stolen bases (in 5 attempts) and has committed 4 errors as their everyday right fielder. Manager Tony LaRussa has stated in spring training that Ankiel doesn't figure into the mix at the big-league level in 2007, but rather needed to play regularly at Class AAA Memphis as he continues his conversion from pitching. "It isn't because he isn't capable," La Russa said. "(But) unless you can guarantee that he would get 400 or 500 at-bats, it would be a bad move for him and for us." Seemingly however his numbers are viable for a AAA outfielder close to a promotion. Watch for Ankiel to possibly be a late-season call-up once the roster expands, especially if the Cardinals don't work their way into the NL central race.

Note: much of the background info was ripped off lovingly from wikipedia... I wrote this because I honestly wanted to know what was going on with Ankiel and thought that others might find it interesting.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Thursday Morning With The Altoona Curve

I joined Plundo and his father-in-law for a ballgame between the Akron Aeros and the Altoona Curve, here in beautiful downtown Altoona. The Blair County Ballpark is a very nice place to see a game, with clean facilities and a friendly atmosphere. At one point during the game, a gentleman who works for the team came by with a trash bag and asked if he could take any trash for us. That's a team that cares about their ballpark.

But more compelling than this was the fact that the game was at 10:30 in the morning. It turns out that many local elementary, middle, and high schools sent groups to the game, and in fact the entire upper section was almost completely filled with these guests. Of course, being corporate fat cats, the three of us sat in the first row right next to the home dugout.

But yeah, 10:30 AM. This means that we were under the sun for the brightest part of the day, prompting a double-dose of sunblock on my part that feels like it missed a few spots. My face has that dry, warm feeling you get when you apply sunscreen while you're sweating. It's not bad, but I'll definitely be feeling it for a couple days.

The Curve won the game (take that Mandi), and we got to see a home run. Well, we had the opportunity to see two, but Plundo and I were walking back from the lemonade stand when the second one was hit, and honestly, the crowd didn't react enough for us to even realize what was happening. I think that's one of the weaknesses of a day game: it's very easy to lose the ball in the sun and then not realize when the ball leaves the park.

It was a good time, I forget sometimes that minor league baseball is pretty fun. It's great fun being so close to the action (and having to only spend 10 bucks to get there).

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...