Friday, March 28, 2008

NL Preview Shows

Our National League preview shows will be this weekend. We're going to do back-to-back shows on Saturday, covering the East and Central divisions, then wrap up with our favorite division, the West, on Sunday evening. It's going to be a mad dash to the end of spring training, and we're happy that you're coming along with us for the ride.

As always, past shows are available for listening through the widget at the top right of this blog page, or on our TalkShoe home page. So if you missed the American League preview shows, or just never got around to our Super Bowl wrap-up episode, feel free to check it out at your leisure. You can even download the mp3 files and put them on your iPod or on a CD and listen to them while you drive, jog, work, whatever!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tournament "Home" Games

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Georgetown fan. The collapse on Sunday against Davidson was brutal, but to those of us who watched the Big East championship game against Pittsburgh, not altogether unpredictable. Also, as a Minnesota Vikings fan, I'm used to my favorite teams coming up short in important games.

But I do have a problem with (at least) one aspect of the NCAA tournament committee and their rules. There's this idea that teams can't play on their own home court, regardless of seed. That's lovely, and I get that you shouldn't have most teams play on their home courts. But #1 and #2 seeds have earned the right to play some games in "their house." With at least one set of games almost always in North Carolina (one first round and second round set this year), it's obvious that Duke or UNC is going to get what essentially constitutes a home game if they grab a #1 seed. Nobody has really questioned the fact that UNC doesn't have to leave the state of North Carolina until the Final Four, but Georgetown and Duke played on courts substantially closer to their opponents' schools.

Davdison is just over 100 miles from Raleigh, where they faced Georgetown. Georgetown's campus, meanwhile, is 250 miles away. And the "in-state" versus "out-of-state" difference is more substantial than you might think. When #15 Coppin State defeated #2 South Carolina in 1997, I didn't care where in Maryland Coppin State was located, just that a Maryland team had pulled a big upset. At these games, where the underdogs already get extra cheers, an in-state team will get even more support, and the only people cheering for Georgetown on Sunday were students, alumni, and people who had a lot of money riding on the Hoyas.

I include Duke in this argument because I really hate Duke, and I hope their inclusion will give some merit to my point of view. Duke is only about 80 miles farther from Washington, D.C. than West Virginia, but DC happens to be very close to College Park, where the University of Maryland takes residence. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Maryland fan who wouldn't cheer for a North Korean team against Duke.

But then where should these #2 seeds played? How about at each other's locations? Put Georgetown on their home floor in DC, and let Duke play down the street from their campus at N.C. State's gym in Raleigh. The "pod" system from a few years ago that has apparently been scrapped wasn't a bad idea. Giving the top 4 seeds in the tournament the opportunity to play in front of friendly crowds was a reasonable goal, and generally an attainable one. I get that the logistics behind scheduling true home games for these teams on 2-4 days notice is daunting, but when you've already got the locations booked, I think the tournament committee should do their best to put those top seeds in their local regions.

Would it have made a difference if Sunday's game was played in DC? Maybe, maybe not. Stephen Curry is obviously a tremendous talent, and it seemed like he became unstoppable when he figured out Georgetown's defense in the second half. And even in DC, you'd find a lot of those classic underdog fans, so Davidson would still get plenty of cheers. So maybe I'd still be lamenting the Hoyas' lack of second half defense and frustratingly frequent turnovers today. And it certainly looked like West Virginia was simply the better team against Duke.

But as it stands, #1 and #2 seeds are only marginally valuable in that you get a very winnable first round matchup. An entire season of extremely high caliber performance should warrant a little bit of accommodation in the championship tournament. And make no mistake, your #2 seeds were all tremendous teams this season. Georgetown, Texas, and Tennessee all won at least a share of their conference's regular season titles, and Duke won 27 games and finished the ACC regular season behind only the overall #1 seed in North Carolina.

In most other sports, you get to play at least your early postseason games in your own gym/stadium. It's not unreasonable that NCAA basketball go in a similar direction.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Looking Forward

We won't be having an NCAA Hoops show this week. Our hope is to try to do a brief one sometime next week or next weekend, but the reality is that we may not get to it until Final Four weekend, as baseball has got most of our focus right now.

Our American League preview shows are available for download on TalkShoe, so you can listen to them at your leisure. You can also use the widget to the right to listen right on this web page; just remember that if you leave the page, the show stops playing. :)

National League preview shows will be next week, and we'll post a message here when we set the dates and times.

The Other Joe's AL Award Winners and Playoff Teams

AL Most Valuable Player - Miguel Cabrera - The guy tore up National League pitching for five years in a wholly unexciting lineup. Now he moves to the Tigers who could have five guys get 200 hits this year. Sleeper: Travis Hafner

AL Cy Young - Justin Verlander - With the improvements to the lineup, Detroit could win a hundred games this year. Verlander was already a great pitcher, but with this team, he could rack up 22-24 wins to go with great averages and strikeouts. Sleeper: Francisco Liriano

AL Manager of the Year - Ron Gardenhire - For years he's gone unnoticed because the Twins had Johan Santana anchoring the staff. He'll finally get credit this year, despite a likely .500 finish. Sleeper: John Gibbons

AL Rookie of the Year - Jacoby Ellsbury - He's already got a high profile because of his performance at the end of last year and in the playoffs. That media exposure coupled with his talent and a very good team figure to result in back-to-back ROYs from the Red Sox. Sleeper: Joba Chamberlain

AL Playoff Teams
New York Yankees - The young pitching will grow up fast, and the lineup is as strong as ever.
Detroit Tigers - Their second worst hitter is a future Hall of Fame catcher.
Seattle Mariners - The injuries to Lackey and Escobar open the door, and the acquisition of Bedard will help Seattle saunter into the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox - They'll be disappointed to be only the wild card team, but in the playoffs, Beckett doesn't lose, and they'll be right back in the World Series.

American League Award Winners and Playoff Teams

AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez - A-Rod can have a drop off from last year's huge stats (.315, 54 hr, 156 rbi, 143 runs, 24 sb) and still be better than the numbers that last year's MVP runner up (Magglio Ordonez with .363, 28 hr, 139 rbi, 117 runs and 4 sb). Sleeper: Carlos Pena

AL Cy Young - C.C. Sabathia - Sabathia proved last year that he is finally a pitcher and an ace, expect him to put up better numbers this year with a HUGE contract on the line. Sleeper: Erik Bedard

AL Manager of the Year - Joe Maddon - The young and exciting Rays should continue to grow up and will probably flirt with .500 this year. Not too bad for the lowest payroll in baseball. Sleeper: John Gibbons

AL Rookie of the Year - Evan Longoria - Expected to be this year's version of Ryan Braun, which sets the bar very, very high. Sleeper: Clay Buchholz

AL Playoff Teams -
Boston - Simply the most well rounded team in the AL.
Detroit - The lineup is too good to be denied.
Los Angeles - Seattle just isn't ready to unseat the Angels out west.
New York - Bronx Bombers will make up for a thin pitching staff and outlast the Indians.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Rounds 9 & 10

Round 9
97. Mercer AutoWreckers - Pat Burrell, OF, Phillies
98. Vandelay Industries - Jeremy Accardo, RP, Blue Jays
99. Dunedain Rangers - Rocco Baldelli, OF, Rays
100. Those Guys - Rafael Betancourt, RP, Indians
101. Mercer AutoWreckers (from The Usual Suspects) - Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves
102. Howard's Heroes - Tony Pena, RP, Diamondbacks
103. Cleveland Enforcers - Billy Butler, OF, Royals
104. DamKnights - Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds
105. Feisty Mosquitos - Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Dodgers
106. Akron Pronks - Heath Bell, RP, Padres
107. Stewies SexyParties - Jarod Saltalamacchia, C, Rangers
108. The Usual Suspects (from Riders of Rohan) - Geovany Soto, C, Cubs

Round 10
109. Mercer AutoWreckers - Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
110. Vandelay Industries - Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals
111. Dunedain Rangers - Dontrelle Willis, SP, Tigers
112. Those Guys - Bengie Molina, C, Giants
113. The Usual Suspects - Kerry Wood, RP, Cubs
114. Howard's Heroes - J.R. Towles, C, Astros
115. Cleveland Enforcers - Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Reds
116. DamKnights - Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves
117. Feisty Mosquitos - Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks
118. Akron Pronks - Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox
119. Stewies SexyParties - Ivan Rodriguez, C, Tigers
120. The Usual Suspects (from Riders of Rohan) - Barry Zito, SP, Giants

Best Pick(s) - If Willis can recapture some of his previous magic, he'll look like a steal at this point, but generally the players taken in the 9th and 10th rounds were 9th and 10th round caliber players.

Worst Pick(s) - Shortly after our draft, it came out that Rocco Baldelli apparently won't be unable to play baseball ever again, so that pick turned out to be worthless. Individually the two SexyParties picks were fine, but taking two catchers back to back in a league that only starts one seems like a waste of at least one pick.

Riders' Pick(s) - No picks again.

Overall Analysis - Like I said, these guys were mostly about the caliber of player expected at this point in the draft. A bunch of catchers went between these two rounds, which prompted me to decide that the Riders can start the year without one on the roster. There were no good catchers left by the time I got back on the clock.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets

So at the time of this post, the Houston Rockets have won 22 games in a row. This is an amazing feat. Even more impressive, they have done it without their 7'6" 20+ point, 10+ rebound All Star, Yao Ming, who will miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. The Rockets have gone from being on the fringe of making the playoffs to having the best record in a brutal Western Conference. Sunday's game against the Lakers exemplified how Houston has become the team that everybody is rooting for.

A look at the box score reveals that Rafer Alston had a career day. "Skip to my Lou" hit eight triples en route to 31 points. Bobby Jackson came off the bench to efficiently add 19 points (on 7-9 shooting) in 20 minutes, while Tracy McGrady struggled, shooting 4-16, and added only 11 points. While Alston and Jackson unquestionably had great games, the box score doesn't do any justice to the most dominant player of the game. Shane Battier had rather meager numbers, (14 points on 5-12, three rebounds and two assists) but absolutely controlled the game.

On further review, Battier's effort did show up in the box score. However, it showed next to Kobe Bryant's name. Battier drew the less-than-envious role of defending one of the NBA's most dynamic players and responded in heroic fashion. Kobe's numbers were down everywhere, he scored 24 points (-4 from his season average) on 11-33 shooting (13% below his season average). Kobe missed all four of his attempted three pointers and only added two assists (3 assists below his season average). While that sort of defensive effort is very impressive, Battier was even better when the game was on the line.

With 7:10 remaining in the game, the Rockets led the Lakers by three points. It was crunch time. This is when a superstar is supposed to take over the game and, despite the lack of a huge shoe deal, Battier proved to be that superstar by absolutely destroying Kobe Bryant. From the 7:10 mark on, Bryant shot 1-7. Kobe tried taking the ball to the rim, but Battier was always one step ahead, refusing to allow Bryant to turn the corner. As Kobe grew noticeably frustrated, he decided to step outside, but missed both three point attempts he took because Battier's hand was inches from Bryant's face as the ball was released. Battier also forced Kobe into a turnover and fought through a pick to block a Bryant 15 footer. Not impressive enough? Battier shot 2-3 over the last 7:10, including burying a three pointer from the left corner to extend the Rockets lead to seven.

Shane Battier's effort against the Lakers reflects the mindset of the Houston Rockets. Despite losing one of their leaders, the Rockets have simply outworked their opponents. Rick Adelman's players have accepted their roles, have committed to playing tough defense and are playing smart, unselfish baseketball. If they keep doing that there is no telling how long they can keep this winning streak going.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Rounds 7 & 8

Note: I'm going to post 2 rounds at a time the rest of the way. These picks are less important to each team's eventual fate, so I figure it's better to get it out there quickly and skimp a little on the analysis. Deal with it.

Round 7

73. Mercer AutoWreckers - Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
74. Vandelay Industries - Joe Borowski, RP, Indians
75. Dunedain Rangers - Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres
76. Those Guys - Jeff Francis, SP, Rockies
77. Howard's Heroes (from The Usual Suspects) - B.J. Ryan, RP, Blue Jays
78. Howard's Heroes - Eric Gagne, RP, Brewers
79. Stewies SexyParties (from Cleveland Enforcers) - C.J. Wilson, RP, Rangers
80. DamKnights - Zack Greinke, SP, Royals
81. Feisty Mosquitos - Brian Wilson, RP, Giants
82. Akron Pronks - Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees
83. Stewies SexyParties - Tom Gorzelanny, SP, Pirates
84. Riders of Rohan - Joe Blanton, SP, Athletics

Round 8
85. Mercer AutoWreckers (from Mercer AutoWreckers via Akron Pronks) - Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins
86. Riders of Rohan (from Vandelay Industries) - George Sherrill, RP, Orioles
87. Dunedain Rangers - Khalil Greene, SS, Padres
88. Those Guys - Derek Lowe, SP, Dodgers
89. Riders of Rohan (from The Usual Suspects) - Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals
90. Howard's Heroes - Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox
91. Riders of Rohan (from Cleveland Enforcers) - Mark Prior, SP, Padres
92. DamKnights - Brandon Lyon, RP, Diamondbacks
93. Feisty Mosquitos - Jonathan Broxton, RP, Dodgers
94. Akron Pronks - Troy Percival, RP, Rays
95. Stewies SexyParties - Homer Bailey, SP, Reds
96. Riders of Rohan - Gil Meche, SP, Royals

Best Pick(s) - No great picks, but Votto and Kouzmanoff figure to be legitimate producers. They both fetch good value in the 7th round (which after you add in keepers calculates out to our 15th round).

Worst Pick(s) - Joe Borowski. Both of the Wilsons got taken later in the round, along with B.J. Ryan and Eric Gagne, all of whom are more likely to still be the closer in their respective cities when the season ends. Borowski is a single-category producer, and he's apt to lose that production at some point this season.

Riders' Pick(s) - I wasn't crazy about taking Blanton or Meche when I did, but in looking at them further, I'm fine with it. Sherrill will hopefully be the closer at least most of the season, and thus prevent me from having to trade draft picks like last year to fill that statistic. Prior and Carpenter constitute 2/3 of my "injured pitcher" contingent. Number three is on the way, stay tuned.

Overall Analysis - Lots of need-based picks here, which is why you see closers and starters getting taken by most teams; there were a lot of weak pitching staffs at this point in the draft. It's around this point when people start to just take guys they like (or that they'll feel comfortable waiving if they don't produce within the first two weeks of the season).

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Round 6

Round 6
61. Mercer AutoWreckers - Todd Jones, RP, Tigers
62. Vandelay Industries - Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins
63. Dunedain Rangers - Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Tigers
64. Those Guys - Kevin Gregg, RP, Marlins
65. The Usual Suspects - Tim Hudson, SP, Braves
66. The Usual Suspects (from Howard's Heroes) - Kelvim Escobar, SP, Angels
67. Cleveland Enforcers - Andruw Jones, OF, Dodgers
68. DamKnights - Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins
69. Feisty Mosquitos - Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers
70. Akron Pronks - Brad Penny, SP, Dodgers
71. Stewies SexyParties - Willy Tavares, OF, Rockies
72. Cleveland Enforcers (from Riders of Rohan) - Randy Johnson, SP, Diamondbacks

Best Pick(s) - Dan Uggla, he should've been taken by about seven other teams by this point. Vandelay got a steal. Brad Penny was good value.

Worst Pick(s) - No real bad picks this round. I'd have let Escobar slide another round or two, but it's not a bad pick.

Riders' Pick(s) - No picks again. Don't worry, they're coming.

Overall Analysis - Because so many people opted to take a chance on young players early in the draft, a number of reliable options fell a bit farther than they ought to have. The result is a lot of good, conservative selections this round. Everybody's team got better (except mine and Howard's Heroes, who didn't have picks).

Is This How Rivalries Start?

As many of you saw a couple days ago, the Tampa Bay Rays' (sans "Devil" these days) Elliot Johnson barreled into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in a play at home plate, breaking Cervelli's wrist. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the play was uncalled for, which I disagree with whole-heartedly.

This Johnson guy is trying to make the team, I can't imagine that the talent evaluators for the Rays are going to be mad that he was going full steam. And as Tony Kornheiser said on Pardon The Interruption, if you don't gear up in spring training, you're going to run the risk of not gearing it up during the regular season. Most fans have no trouble telling the difference, but with 162 games during the season, it's all about creating the right habits for your players. That means in spring training, you go all out.

But of course, it didn't stop there. Before last night's game between the Yankees and Rays, Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan said, "They showed what is acceptable to them and how they're going to play the game, so we're going to go out there to match their intensity - or exceed it." When you accuse the other team of playing dirty, then talk about "exceeding" their "intensity," people are going to start thinking that you're planning to retaliate.

Fast forward to inning one of the game last night, where after two runs had been scored already, Yankees pitcher Heath Phillips skimmed Rays starting third baseman Evan Longoria with a pitch. Phillips was immediately ejected, and warnings were issued to both dugouts. A sensible person would say, "Alright, that's about enough of that, we don't really want to hurt anybody, we're just trying to protect our pride." But ballplayers have never been accused of being sensible.

On a quirky play in the second inning, Shelley Duncan hit a liner off of the third baseman's hand that trickled into foul territory. The third baseman grabbed the ball and threw it to second, where Duncan was fast approaching Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Just before reaching the base and the waiting Iwamura, Duncan dropped to his buttocks and kicked his legs up in the air, sliding hard into Iwamura's legs. Iwamura thankfully didn't appear to be injured, and Duncan was ejected on the spot. Jonny Gomes flew in from off camera and tackled Duncan, no doubt saying something like "I don't approve of the level of intensity you're bringing to this game!" Benches cleared, no punches were thrown, and a couple of other folks were ejected, including Gomes.

At first, my Yankee-hating blood made me think that Duncan was being an asshole and should be suspended for his actions, but remembering the shoulder tackle by Elliot Johnson that I supported a few days ago, I tried to figure out why I thought this was different. I came up with two reasons.

First, sliding in spikes up is a no-no regardless of the game situation or if you're trying to make a team. It's a dirty slide anywhere, whereas barreling into a catcher, while obviously violent, is considered a reasonable attempt to reach home plate within baseball circles.

Second, Duncan has plenty of warning beforehand that he shouldn't do it. His own manager said he didn't approve of that intensity of play. Then, he was stupid enough to open his mouth beforehand. If you're gonna talk trash, you'd better not do anything, because you're going to get the hook. Finally, both teams had already received warnings. I don't know how many different ways you can tell someone not to make a dirty play, but that seems like it should've been enough. Duncan is an idiot.

Now, regarding the rivalry question I asked in the title of the post, I think short-term yes, long-term no. The first few games of the season between these two teams will probably be pretty heated, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some brush back pitches and hard slides, if the situation allows for it. But over the course of this season, and the next five, ten, twenty seasons, these recent exchanges don't have enough gusto to perpetuate a rivalry.

Look at the great rivalries (or even just the good ones) throughout sports, and they all have one thing in common: they involve a lot of games with high stakes. Red Sox/Yankees, Ohio State/Michigan, Duke/UNC, Redskins/Cowboys. The reason those are all great rivalries, producing emotionally-charged games, is because the teams involved have played (and will continue to play) so many games with something on the line. When Ohio State and Michigan play at the end of the regular season in college football, it's almost always for a trip to the Rose Bowl (or more recently, a BCS bowl). The Rays and Yankees won't be playing for playoff spots or a trip to the World Series anytime soon.

This can be how rivalries start, but the way rivalries stay is through playing games that matter. Until then, we'll just have to hope that someone can get through to Shelley Duncan and ask him to take control of his rage-filled life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Round 5

Round 5
49. Riders of Rohan (from Mercer AutoWreckers via The Usual Suspects) - Joakim Soria, RP, Royals
50. Vandelay Industries - Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals
51. Dunedain Rangers - Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs
52. Those Guys - Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers
53. Riders of Rohan (from The Usual Suspects) - Jason Isringhousen, RP, Cardinals
54. The Usual Suspects (from Howard's Heroes) - Rich Harden, SP, Athletics
55. Riders of Rohan (from Cleveland Enforcers) - Chien-Ming Wang, SP, Yankees
56. DamKnights - Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies
57. Feisty Mosquitos - Kenji Johjima, C, Mariners
58. Akron Pronks - Chad Cordero, RP, Nationals
59. Cleveland Enforcers (from Stewies SexyParties) - Carlos Marmol, RP, Cubs
60. Riders of Rohan - Michael Bourn, OF, Astros

Best Pick(s) - Polanco should put up very nice runs and batting average, and won't really hurt you anywhere else.

Worst Pick(s) - Rich Harden hasn't had a full season of pitching in three years, and has disappointed multiple teams in our league, including the Suspects themselves. I'm surprised that they'd take a chance on him again this early, with more proven commodities out there like Brad Penny and Tim Hudson.

Riders' Pick(s) - Everything came to a head for me in this round. I love Soria, and Isringhousen seemed to be the best bet to hold the job among remaining closers. Wang will pick up wins with fine peripherals, but he won't strike anybody out. I know that. Bourn is less of a risk for me, as I'm not actually counting on him to fill statistics for me. I think he'll produce well, either becoming trade bait or allowing me to trade someone else and move him in.

Overall Analysis - More closers flying off the board, and we're getting down to the nitty gritty. Teams who haven't filled at least two RP spots are starting to sweat. Polanco, Wang, Helton, and Johjima are four of the most reliable producers in fantasy baseball, a perfect complement to the speculative picks of Marmol, Wainwright, Harden, and Bourn.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Round 4

Round 4
37. Akron Pronks (from Mercer AutoWreckers) - J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers
38. Vandelay Industries - James Loney, 1B, Dodgers
39. Dunedain Rangers - Brad Lidge, RP, Phillies
40. Those Guys - Orlando Cabrera, SS, Angels
41. The Usual Suspects - Oliver Perez, SP, Mets
42. The Usual Suspects (from Howard's Heroes) - Rafael Soriano, RP, Braves
43. Cleveland Enforcers - Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox
44. DamKnights - Joba Chamberlain, P, Yankees
45. Feisty Mosquitos - Clay Buchholz, SP, Red Sox
46. Mercer AutoWreckers (from Akron Pronks) - Ian Snell, SP, Pirates
47. Stewies SexyParties - Pedro Martinez, SP, Mets
48. Cleveland Enforcers (from Riders of Rohan) - Ted Lilly, SP, Cubs

Best Pick(s) - If Lilly can repeat last year's performance, he'll appear to be a steal at this point in the draft. But generally this was an unexciting round.

Worst Pick(s) - Jermaine Dye didn't appear to be any better than the bevy of other outfielders still available at this point. Better value may have been available at other positions. Chamberlain, Loney, and Buchholz seem a little too green, but the later you get in the draft, the less of a risk these young guys become. And Mercer went for another starting pitcher in Snell; Snell should be a fine player, but he was Mercer's sixth SP, while many hitting positions remained open, to be filled later by weaker options.

Riders' Pick(s) - No picks, traded during last season.

Overall Analysis - More of a standard-looking draft round, with a variety of veterans like Dye and Pedro, and prospects like Loney and Buccholz. Eight total pitchers taken, thinning out the pool right before my slew of picks in the fifth round.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Anaylsis - Round 3

Round 3
25. Mercer AutoWreckers - Francisco Cordero, RP, Reds
26. Vandelay Industries - Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves
27. Dunedain Rangers - Trevor Hoffman, RP, Padres
28. Those Guys - Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies
29. The Usual Suspects - Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
30. Howard's Heroes - Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox
31. Cleveland Enforcers - Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
32. DamKnights - Manny Corpas, RP, Rockies
33. Feisty Mosquitos - Jered Weaver, SP, Angels
34. Mercer AutoWreckers (from Akron Pronks) - Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians
35. Stewies SexyParties - Philip Hughes, SP, Yankees
36. Riders of Rohan - Dustin McGowan, SP, Blue Jays

Best Pick(s) - Francoeur should be a very solid producer, and if he takes another step forward he's keeper quality. Everyone loves Corpas as the next big closer, so you gotta like that pick.

Worst Pick(s) - Peralta goes undrafted in a lot of drafts, so I wonder how smart a pick he is this early in the draft. Weaver is going to have to take a big step to be worth this high a pick.

Riders' Pick(s) - I love McGowan. Good strikeout rate, good WHIP, very good opponents' batting average. I had tried to trade up to the second round to take him, so I was delighted when he lasted to my pick in the third round.

Overall Analysis - There was a lot of youth taken in round three, indicative of a change of ideals throughout our league over the past four seasons. The future rounds and drafts in Middle Earth baseball figure to take after this round, with substantial investments in prospects and young players. We may see a correction for this during the season, where some of the less impressive prospects get waived for more proven commodities.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Anaylsis - Round 2

Round 2
13. Mercer AutoWreckers - John Maine, SP, Mets
14. The Usual Suspects (from Vandelay Industries via Riders of Rohan) - Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers
15. Dunedain Rangers - Brian McCann, C, Braves
16. Those Guys - Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
17. Riders of Rohan (from The Usual Suspects) - Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
18. Cleveland Enforcers (from Howard's Heroes) - Huston Street, RP, Athletics
19. Cleveland Enforcers - Jose Valverde, RP, Astros
20. DamKnights - Nick Swisher, OF, White Sox
21. Feisty Mosquitos - Bobby Jenks, RP, White Sox
22. Akron Pronks - Jorge Posada, C, Yankees
23. Stewies SexyParties - Matt Capps, RP, Pirates
24. Howard's Heroes ((from Riders of Rohan via The Usual Suspects) - Edgar Renteria, SS, Tigers

Supplemental Round 2
D. Dunedain Rangers - Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays

Best Pick(s) - Vernon Wells seems like a near-keeper talent, but that's how things go in a keeper league. The stud prospects who haven't proven anything are more desirable than the former stud prospects who have had some less than exceptional seasons.

Worst Pick(s) - John Maine was the AutoWreckers' 5th starting pitcher (after 4 keepers); it was probably too early to take another when other holes could be filled. Posada is unlikely to repeat any of last year's numbers, and has no chance of becoming a keeper, which you'd like out of your early picks in a keeper league.

Riders' Pick(s) - I looked at Wells and Jenks with this pick, but I'm just like everyone else in keeper leagues. Kemp has power and speed potential, and hit .342 in a platoon situation last year. If he can get playing time, he should develop into an invaluable (and potentially long-term) member of my team.

Overall Analysis - A little less glamorous than the first round, but every team other than Mercer, Those Guys, and my own filled a distinct team need, so most teams got a lot stronger this round.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Middle Earth Draft Analysis - Round 1

I've decided, for nobody's benefit, that I'll be offering a round-by-round commentary of the pre-draft in our baseball keeper league. Some background information for those of you not in the league:
  • The league contains twelve teams, each of which has the option of keeping up to 8 players from the previous season. There are no limitations on which players can be kept.
  • If an owner chooses to keep fewer than 8 players, they receive a supplemental pick after every round, starting at the first, for each empty keeper spot.
  • The league uses standard 5x5 rotisserie rules (runs, HR, RBI, SB, batting average, wins, saves, K, ERA, WHIP).
  • You can view the keeper lists here, but I won't be going over them.
  • My team is Riders of Rohan. I'll be making comments on my picks along with other highlights.
Alright, here we go, the results from round 1:

Round 1
1. Mercer AutoWreckers - Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres
2. The Usual Suspects (from Vandelay Industries) - Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins
3. Dunedain Rangers - Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
4. Those Guys - Javier Vazquez, SP, White Sox
5. Riders of Rohan (from The Usual Suspects) - Delmon Young, OF, Twins
6. Howard's Heroes - Gary Sheffield, OF, Tigers
7. Cleveland Enforcers - Chad Billingsley, SP, Dodgers
8. DamKnights - Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners
9. Feisty Mosquitos - Takashi Saito, RP, Dodgers
10. Akron Pronks - James Shields, SP, Rays
11. Stewies SexyParties - Jason Bay, OF, Pirates
12. The Usual Suspects (from Riders of Rohan) - Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers

Supplemental Round 1
A. Vandelay Industries - Fausto Carmona, SP, Indians
B. Dunedain Rangers - Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels
C. Cleveland Enforcers - A.J. Burnett, SP, Blue Jays

Best Pick(s) - Gonzalez was a no-brainer #1 overall, he's good and young, and has already proven himself to be a consistent power hitter. Beltre may end up as the most valuable player taken in the first round.

Worst Pick(s) - Sheffield is a puzzling pick in the first round of a keeper league draft, with so much young talent still available. Liriano is exciting, but is awfully risky.

Riders' Pick(s) - I traded up to get Delmon Young, and in retrospect I believe I paid too high a price. Still, his upside is enticing, and even if he only matches last year's statistics, he'll be a solid producer.

Overall Analysis - Listen, with plenty of time to pick and a thick pool of talented players to choose from, it's tough to make a mistake in the first round of a draft, even when it's after eight rounds worth of players have been removed from the draft pool. Even the "worst picks" have merit, and could turn out plenty good. Will the second round offer the same results? Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pizza Hut Online Is A Joke

Alright, the basic idea behind ordering a pizza online is twofold, at least to my understanding:

  1. Ordering online prevents the customer from having to actually talk to another human being, reducing potential interpersonal tension from the equation (if you don't think this can be a problem, the next time you're hanging out, nominate someone else to order the food, and you see if they don't squirm just a little bit).
  2. Ordering online creates a digital ticket that should result in fewer problems resulting from human error, miscommunication, or general malaise by the order taker.

That's why you order online; you don't have to talk to anyone and the place is more likely to get your order exactly correct. I'm a fan of ordering online. I think most businesses should offer online ordering, especially food delivery places. If I didn't have to call up for Chinese food and could instead order it online, I'd be up to my eyeballs in General Tso's chicken.

But Pizza Hut seems to miss a piece of this puzzle. Allow me to elaborate.

I have ordered from the local Altoona, PA Pizza Hut near me a number of times, almost always through their website. If my memory serves me correctly, the first few times were pleasantly uneventful and involved approximately zero effort on my part. Then, one time, I placed the order online and received a phone call soon after from my local Pizza Hut. They were wondering where I found the coupon that I had used for my order. I explained that it was on the website, and that seemed to satisfy their inquiry. Though not exactly. When the driver arrived, he said, "That'll be $16.41 and a coupon." I explained that it was one of the coupons available to click on the website, and whether by the merit of my explanation or his own distaste for human interaction (which I certainly share), he accepted it and left.

My hope was that my experience was a result of a kink in the Pizza Hut online ordering system that would be worked out on the corporate side. Bzzzt! Incorrect.

I received another phone call after my next online purchase, this time asking me to print out the coupon I used. What? Just print it out and give it to the driver. I don't understand that, but again, I believed the problem to be a system-based problem that would get worked out soon enough.

Months later, after a hiatus from pizza, I ordered from Pizza Hut again, just recently. No call this time, thankfully, and I waited with baited breath for my warm Stuffed Crust pizza and boneless buffalo wings. The driver arrived at the door, and said what I ought to have expected: "There's your receipt to sign, and you have a coupon?" No, sir, I ordered it online and do not have a coupon. "Okay, they'd like you to print out the coupon and give it to the driver in the future." Really? "Yeah, just print it out and give it to the driver." Okay, I'll do that the next time I order from you guys.

I will never order from them again.

What exactly is the point of a complex online ordering system if not to eliminate the need for paper coupons? When you order stuff on sale at Amazon, do they make you give the USPS guy a printout of the item description from the day you ordered it? I mean, the coupon is on your site and in your computer system. I clicked it and the system already knew what I was ordering, and took me to a page to make whatever decisions I needed to make concerning this dish. Your system told you that the pizza was ordered online, and gave you a total price for the order. I didn't hack your damn system to save four bucks on a large pizza.

I haven't decided yet how much swearing I'm going to do on this blog, but rest assured, if I had decided to go all out, this post would've been chock full of expletives. More than anything else, I hate when people make me waste my time or my resources; Pizza Hut was asking me to do both.

In fairness, I've ordered Pizza Hut pizza online at my mother's house and had no such problems. It's possible that the Altoona branch isn't sophisticated enough to fully integrate itself into the online ordering system. But if that's the case, then just don't offer online orders. Papa John's has never even suggested that I provide a coupon for my online order. They've got a fully integrated system, and they understand that if you're going to allow online ordering, you'd better do it right. I prefer Pizza Hut pizza, and I believe Pizza Hut pizza is generally less expensive. But that little tweak of convenience is worth it to me to downgrade to Papa John's for the foreseeable future.

I should write Pizza Hut a letter, or at least an email. But I'd rather just complain about it.

One Good Point - Public Enemies

On paper, I should love this movie. I enjoy a good crime/heist/gangster movie as much as anybody. Goodfellas, The Untouchables, Ocean's ...