Wednesday, October 29, 2008

2008-09 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

The Northwest division boasts a couple of very exciting young teams in Portland and Oklahoma City (formerly Seattle), another interesting and young team in Minnesota, a powerhouse Jazz team, and the hardest team to predict, the Denver Nuggets. I expect at least two playoff teams to come from this division, possibly a third, depending on how quickly a certain team matures.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets averaged 111 points a game and gave up 107 a game, both second-most in the NBA to the Golden State Warriors. But the Warriors didn't trade their best defensive player (Marcus Camby) for a conditional second round pick. The Nuggets didn't really improve at any position either, unless Nene Hilario and Kenyon Martin can stay healthy all season (something they've never, ever done). Allen Iverson is a year older, and eventually he's going to lose the extra step that he's had on every defender since he entered the league. Carmelo Anthony might be a better teammate and better defensive player than last year, but nobody's really thinking that.

The Nuggets were the #8 seed in the playoffs last year, and I think they figure to be worse this year. With their awful salary cap situation (only partially alleviated with the departure of Camby), it may be a few years before they get back to the playoffs.

Projected record: 41-41

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves were pretty sorry last year, but it's a safe bet that they'll be a better team in 2008-2009. They've got a legitimate frontcourt force in Al Jefferson, and they made what I think was a great trade, acquiring Kevin Love and Mike Miller from the Grizzlies on draft day. Matching Miller with Rashad McCants and Randy Foye gives Minnesota a pretty potent trio of guards. And if Kevin Love can just develop into the next Charles Oakley, this team will have a dominating front line.

That said, they're still lacking a go-to guy when they need someone to make their own shot. They should work well together as a team, but could falter late in games, when nobody can take over and will them to a win. Still, I expect them to be much improved over last year.

Projected record: 35-47

Oklahoma City Thunder

This is a tough team to try to project, because so much of their production is dependent on very young players. Rookie Russell Westbrook will man the point, and the 2 and 3 will both feature second-year players in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. Their frontcourt of Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox won't scare anybody, and part of the reason they're starting youngsters is that they don't have much in the way of depth.

This could be an interesting team to watch, especially because of their new home in what's suddenly become a strong basketball city, but they could be excruciating to root for. When your talent is focused in the backcourt, you get a lot of missed shots, which can be frustrating for a fan to watch. They'll be alright, but nowhere near a playoff spot yet. They're just too raw.

Projected record: 30-52

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland was a surprise .500 team, despite the fact that they lost #1 overall pick Greg Oden to injury before he even saw a regular season minute. He's expected to be healthy and ready to go from day one, and if he's all he's cracked up to be, he should immediately contribute, specifically on the defensive end.

The Trail Blazers have two other up-and-coming stars in 2006-2007 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and fellow third-year player LaMarcus Aldridge. If Oden can mature quickly (and he already looks like he's 35), the Trail Blazers could sneak into the playoffs, and when you can match up frontcourts with anyone, you've always got a chance in the playoffs. Portland's got a team the city can be proud of. This Pacific Northwest team won't be leaving town anytime soon.

Projected record: 46-36

Utah Jazz

The Jazz went 37-4 at home last season. Can you imagine if you were a Jazz fan and you only went to one game last season, and it was one of the 4? You'd feel like an idiot. The Jazz finished 2nd in team FG% and team assists, and were consistently one of the most efficient offensive teams in the per those statistics.

Deron Williams has become a superstar in this league, and is one of several guys (Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger, etc) that the Bucks and Hawks wish they had taken in the 2005 draft instead of Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams, respectively. Oops.

Utah also has three guys in the last years of their contracts: Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver. You have to think that, barring something unexpected, they won't be willing/able to re-sign all of them, so this might be the Jazz's best chance at a title for the foreseeable future. While the offense isn't a problem, they gave up 99.3 points per game, which isn't on Denver's level, but is still way too many to be a contender. If they can tighten the clamps on defense and keep their offensive efficiency, this team could be a force. And we just might get Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul in the Western Conference finals.

Projected record: 60-22

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is Eric Byrnes A Keeper?

Eric Byrnes seems to have settled down in Arizona after playing for three different teams in 2005. Last year was the first time he's ever stayed healthy and effective enough to play in 150+ games, and he was a quality fantasy player, racking up nice totals in runs and steals, and solid power numbers. Coming into 2008, Byrnes was a keeper-quality player.

Going out of 2008, not so much.

Was Byrnes injured for much of this season? Yes, he absolutely was. Should he be penalized for getting hurt? Some, but not a lot. Should he be penalized for not playing well before the injury eventually shelved him for the entire season? Yes. He played for a month and a half before being placed on the disabled list, and was not at all the same player. It's possible that his hamstring injury went undetected for a while and contributed to his unimpressive performance, but even if that's the case, he should've known he wasn't himself and tried to get better, rather than hurting his team (and his fantasy owners) by playing through it.

I think it's more likely, though, that Eric Byrnes had a surprisingly good 2007 season that was simply unsustainable. Let's take a closer look at that 2007 season, during which Byrnes was 31. He set career highs in batting average (.286), RBI (83), runs (103), and SB (50), and picked up 21 homers, his second-highest career total. The batting average, HR, and RBI totals don't constitute keeper numbers, however, so he had two keeper stats (runs and steals), with non-negatives in the other three categories. That made him a reasonable keeper.

But consider that those numbers were career-highs. If you were to project Byrnes for 2008, you'd probably be looking at .275, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 90 R, and 35 SB. You'd probably still keep somebody with those kind of numbers, but he'd be towards the bottom of your keeper list, and the kind of guy you'd move out of your list if you could. Now, with a dismal 2008 in the books, and the fact that he'll be 33 on opening day, I think you can safely let Byrnes fall back into the draft, and look at him as a 4th outfielder option for next year.

2009 Projected Stats: .265, 20 HR, 60 RBI, 70 R, 25 SB

Monday, October 27, 2008

2008-09 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

The Southwest division had 4 50-win teams, which is probably some kind of record. I'm not going to look it up, though, that's what interns are for. Also, please contact us if you'd like to join our team and become one of our interns...we've got several openings.

Back to basketball, though, you've got two legitimate powerhouse teams from last year in New Orleans and San Antonio, and two wild card teams with a ton of talent in Houston and Dallas. Also Memphis has a basketball team...sort of. So let's preview this son of a bitch.

Dallas Mavericks

Remember when Dallas was the team to beat in the West? It wasn't so long ago that Dirk Nowitzki and the boys were the class of the conference, but this isn't the same Mavericks team. They got bounced 4 games to 1 in the first round last year against the Hornets in Jason Kidd's first playoff series in Dallas. I do think they'll be better this year than they were last year after acquiring Kidd, but that still only makes them as good as they were last year before the Kidd trade.

They've still got the offensive firepower that they've had for a decade, but when they acquired Kidd, they traded Devin Harris, the only guy they had that could slow down the elite point guards in the West like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash. Kidd can't really defend any starting point guards at this point in his career. That's going to be trouble, and it's not like Kidd will get faster over the course of the season. I still like Dirk as an NBA superstar, and I think, despite all of the off-the-court distractions, Josh Howard is developing into a great Robin to Nowitzki's Batman. They'll be a good team, but not good enough to do any damage in the playoffs.

Projected record: 46-36

Houston Rockets

Houston had one of the most exciting stretches in recent memory last season, and while they got bounced by Utah in the first round of last year's playoffs, they had the whole town (and a few people here on the east coast) excited about what they might be able to do. Now this year, with Yao Ming (hopefully) healthy, Ron Artest added to an already pretty strong defensive team, and the core essentially intact from last year's 22-game winning streak, it's not crazy to think they could be even better. You're probably not looking at an NBA championship team in the Rockets, but you're definitely looking at a team that should give Tracy McGrady his first career playoff series victory.

Projected record: 53-29

Memphis Grizzlies

Oh boy. The Grizzlies projected starters averaged a mere 56.5 total points last year. Thankfully, Mike Conley is one of them, and he's going to be a lot better this year. He's an exciting young player, and partnering him with O.J. Mayo could give Memphis one of the most dynamic young backcourts in the league, and soon.

But not now. This will be a bad team.

Projected record: 23-59 (one game better than last year)

New Orleans Hornets

Man, did this team come out of nowhere or what? They went from a .500 team to the class of the Western Conference, and one of the best stories in sports this year. They won't sneak up on anyone this year, but they won't need to. Chris Paul is obviously one of the best young players to come around in years, and he's already as important to his team as LeBron James is to the Cavaliers.

But Paul is only one part of the puzzle in New Orleans. David West has become a legitimate inside presence, averaging 20 points and 9 boards a game last year. Tyson Chandler cleans the class and picks up 12 points worth of put-backs every game. And Peja Stojakovic was reborn last year, hitting 3 triples a game and shooting 44% from beyond the arc. They were also one of only three teams to average less than 12 turnovers a game, a testament to the fact that they were always on the same page. I look for this team to get even better, taking control of the strongest division in the NBA.

Projected record: 61-21

San Antonio Spurs

When will the window close for the Spurs? Many say this is the year, but many have also said that the past 3 years, and the Spurs have been among the best teams in basketball each of those seasons. Still, the ride has to end at some point, and I'm figuring it's sooner than later. Metaphorically, I think this is the year the torch gets passed to the Hornets, and the Spurs will slide back into the pack.

Manu Ginobili is out until mid-December, and a slow start will be harder to recover from with a 32-year-old Tim Duncan than it's been in the past. Improved teams in Houston and New Orleans will make division wins more difficult, and the Spurs will be looking at more of a #5 or #6 seed, giving them imposing matchups throughout the playoffs (or at least for as long as they last). You can't count them out until the last horn has sounded, but don't expect the Spurs to be raising any more banners for a couple years.

Projected record: 47-35

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 8 vs. Detroit Lions

Redskins 25, Lions 17

Offense: B

In this game, the Redskins looked outstanding right up until the Lions' 35-yard-line. They made three of four field goals, sure, and they were necessary in order to pick up the victory, but you've got to finish off drives. The opening drive that Washington took inside the five should've absolutely been one they could punch in for seven. They were gashing the Lions for big yardage on every play, and you've got to find a way to finish the job and get a touchdown. By settling for a field goal, not only did they deprive themselves of 4 more points, they also gave Detroit something to feel good about. Their only offensive touchdown was on a play that started at midfield, a 50-yard pass to Santana Moss.

Speaking of Moss, I'm really liking Washington's trio of skill players with Moss, Clinton Portis, and Jason Campbell. But perhaps the most important cog to this team is Chris Cooley. Cooley caught six passes for 74 yards, and was often the target on crucial third-and-medium plays. Moving up to draft him in 2004 is maybe the best thing we've seen in the Dan Snyer era in D.C.

Generally I don't care for Brian Billick, who commentated this game for FOX, so I want to relate a nice little moment for me (on top of the Redskins winning the game). Late in the fourth quarter, Billick commented that Portis was well shy of reaching 120 yards for the fifth straight week and was unlikely to reach that plateau again. Almost instantaneously, Portis ran off a 31-yard gain to hit 126 yards on the day. So nya nya, Billick.

One last comment: how clear is it that this team can't handle turnovers? This game shouldn't have been nearly this close, but a fumble by Campbell put the Lions in a position to score.

Defense: B

Statistically, the Redskins played as well as some of the games I rated more highly in this young season. They didn't force a turnover, but they haven't done much as far as forcing turnovers this season. So why did I rank them so low?

It's the Lions. A quarterback in his third career start, the running back duties split between a rookie (Kevin Smith) and a castoff (Rudi Johnson), and a wide receiving corps that just lost its 1a via trade (Roy Williams). They have an unimpressive offensive line, and outside of Calvin Johnson, no playmakers to speak of. While the Redskins did well to generally keep the Lions' offense in check, they didn't make big plays to give their offense a jolt (just one QB sack).

How about that hit London Fletcher put on Calvin Johnson at the end of the game, though? Man, that's why that guy is the Redskins' defensive MVP.

Special Teams: A-

A missed field goal and four crummy punt returns by Antwaan Randle-El pull down this rating, but they gave Santana Moss another shot at returning punts, and the result was a return touchdown that put the Redskins up two scores. I'd like to remind all of you that I've been crying for Moss to be put into the punt return role for weeks now. If Moss has to take off the first play in an offensive series to catch his breath, so be it. With this defense, field position is huge. Give the opposition bad field position, and this defense will stifle any offense.

I like this Plackemeier fella they've got punting for them now, too. Mostly because he doesn't make huge errors. I'm okay with a lack of booming punts, as long as every punt is solid.

Overall: B

The grade stays low despite the special teams work because there's just no reason the Lions should've been able to hang with the 'Skins. I remind people as much as anyone that these are all professional teams, and the whole "any given Sunday" business. But if Washington is a legitimate high-level team, they can't let teams like the Lions hang around. You've got to knock them out early.

Next week, the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town, and this 'Skins team is a lot like the Steelers teams a few years ago: strong defense, powerful running attack, passing game that minimizes mistakes. Now, with Willie Parker missing extended time and Roethlisberger the third most frequently sacked quarterback in football, the Steelers work more on using big passing plays to Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes to move the football. Most importantly, this will be the Redskins' first game against a team with a winning record since the Eagles game in week 5. I'm a little bit scared of how they'll fare against a ball-hawking defense like Pittsburgh, but hopefully the Rams game taught these guys how to hold on to the football.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Derrek Lee A Keeper?

What a difference three years makes. In 2005, Derrek Lee was an MVP candidate, hitting .335 with 46 homers and 107 RBI. He also scored 120 runs and stole 15 bases. He seemed to be coming into his own as a premier player who could anchor fantasy teams for years to come, and was generally a first round draft pick going into 2006.

Unfortunately, that was the last time he's gotten close to any of those season totals. He missed 2/3 of 2006 with a wrist injury, and has averaged 21 HR, 86 RBI, 92 R, 7 SB, and a .303 batting average over his past two seasons. Certainly nobody would be unhappy with those numbers, but out of your keepers, you'd like a little bit more.

Does Lee still have the potential to explode for 35-40 home runs? Of course; Carlos Delgado taught us this year that power can ebb and flow. And could Lee end up as one of the top 96 players in fantasy baseball next year? Definitely; he finished at 66 this past season. And now to the big question: Is Derrek Lee a keeper?

The answer might surprise you: yes, he is. As many fantasy owners will tell you, protecting batting average is one of the hardest things to do. Locking in a guy at first base who you can count on to bat at least .290 is a luxury, when so many of the power-hitting 1Bs are unimpressive in that department (Ryan Howard - .251, Prince Fielder - .276, Delgado - .271, Adam Dunn - .236, Carlos Pena - .247).

With players at all of the infield spots (save catcher) developing as legitimate power sources, it's becoming more and more important to make sure you don't give up too much in batting average at any position. So hold on to Derrek Lee as one of your eight keepers, and feel good about having a solid, run-producing, average-protecting first baseman. Projected 2009 statistics: .305, 25 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, 10 SB.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008-09 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

With the World Series just underway, I can hardly believe that is time for the NBA to tip-off again. We here at Joe & Joe Sports will be breaking down each division over the next several days and I'll be starting today with the Atlantic Division, here we go:

Boston Celtics
The 2008-2009 Boston Celtics look alot like the team that brought Boston its first NBA championship since 1987. Perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce return along with the defensive minded Kendrick Perkins and the maturing Rajon Rondo. Everything appears to line up for the C's to make another run at an NBA title, but I'm not convinced. First off, the "Boston Three-Party" (Garnett, Allen and Pierce) have gotten a year older, something that is not insignificant considering they are all over 30 years old. Also, expect some hangover from Boston. Garnett especially spent years trying to will decent and sub-par teams late into the post-season, so it's natural that with a ring finally on his finger his tenacity and desire may decline a little. Now I'm not saying Boston is going to miss the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had a more relaxed approach to the regular season than they did last year. That being said, they are definitely going to be a top 4 team in the East, but I'm not so sure they will be able to just throw the switch and pour it on during the playoffs.

Projected record: 54-28

New Jersey Nets

First the good news for New Jersey Net fans: NJ management finally decided to blow up the triumvirate of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter that never delivered on its immense potential, the Nets are only two years away from moving to Brooklyn and co-owner Jay-Z is rumored to have the inside track in bringing Lebron James to NYC. Now the bad news: The Nets are going to suck this year. Vince Carter is a known commodity and with Jason Kidd gone he won't be getting some of the easy scoring opportunities he has become accustomed to. Devin Harris is a nice player, but he seems to have accepted a role as a "good, not great" NBA player. Yi Jianlian and 2008 first round pick Brook Lopez are still years away. Bobby Simmons and Josh Boone would be nice guys coming off the bench, but shouldn't be NBA starters. So take heart Nets fans, sure you will have to watch VC sleep walk through half the season, but better days are just around the corner.

Projected record: 28-54

New York Knicks

Oh jeez, remember all those things that I said New Jersey fans had to look forward to, umm, yeah, sorry New York. 2008-09 is going to be a bad season at MSG... and so is 2009-10, 2010-11 and most likely 2011-2012. The Knicks only redeemable asset is David Lee and he is stuck on the bench behind Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, two guys who, while a formidable burger eating team, may actually be allergic to playing defense. On the bright side, Stephon Marbury is finally in the last year of his contact and becomes a trade-able asset, but don't be surprised if GM Isiah Thomas completely blows that too.

Projected record: 26-56

Philadelphia 76ers

Whoa, I was seriously depressed after having to preview those NYC/NJ teams, but I'm feeling alot better after looking at the revamped Sixers (and taking a Zoloft). Revamped is kinda deceiving since they really only added one player, but adding Elton Brand completely changes this Philly team. Not only do they add a 20 point - 10 rebound player with defensive toughness, but every other player on this team should benefit from having Brand on the floor. Samuel Dalembert will combine with Brand to form the best defensive front line in the NBA. Thaddeus Young showed alot of promise in his rookie campaign and should get plenty of floor space in 2008-09 with defenders paying more attention to Brand and the high-flyer Andre Iguodala. Andre Miller is still playing some of the best basketball of his career and will probably see his assist totals rise with the addition of Brand. To summarize, the Sixers are super athletic and are going to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, that spells success to me.

Projected record: 56-26 (Yes, better than the Celtics)

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors biggest off-season move was finally anointing Jose Calderon as the starting point guard. Calderon, who had been outplaying incumbent T.J. Ford for years, is one of the best creators and distributors in the NBA and should continue to improve in 2008-09. In exchange for Ford the Raptors were able to land Jermaine O'Neal. While O'Neal was underwhelming last year, his potential of 20-10 is well worth the Raptors risk. Look for Chris Bosh to continue being one of the dominant big men in the NBA and, if O'Neal can return to form, Bosh could be looking at an MVP-type season. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker both play defense and do the little things to win games, but Toronto would be better off with a more dynamic scorer from the SG or SF position and either Moon or Parker coming off the bench. The Raptors should be at least a .500 team, but have the potential to be one of the top teams in the Eastern conference.

Projected record: 45-37

I Promise I Won't Bash The BCS Today

Normally, the only college football posts I make are smothered in disdain for the BCS system. That disdain remains, but I'm tabling it for the day, because frankly, you've probably heard enough of it for now. So today, instead, I'm going to talk to you about this college football season. What is it that has warmed my frozen heart? Well, if you must know, my alma mater is doing pretty well.

Yes, this is going to be a post about the Penn State Nittany Lions, comparing their schedule with those of the other six undefeated teams: Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Tulsa, and Utah, and trying to determine which team(s) are most likely to stay undefeated (and thus, remain eligible for the BCS title game).

First, Penn State. They're ranked third in most polls, behind Texas and Alabama, and that's a fair spot for them. They haven't played any powerhouses yet; Michigan was supposed to be one, but they look like a shell of their former glory. Penn State has beaten everyone they've played by at least two touchdowns, so they're at least roughing up the teams they're supposed to rough up.

This weekend's matchup against Ohio State is obviously the biggest game of the year for the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes are actually ranked ahead of Penn State in some of the computer polls, and a victory in Columbus would likely earn Penn State some first place votes (or in the case of the USA Today poll, some more first place votes). I'd be surprised if they beat Ohio State and didn't pass Alabama in the BCS rankings.

Unfortunately, I'd also be surprised if they just beat Ohio State. Penn State hasn't beaten Ohio State on the road since joining the Big Ten conference. Ohio State is still supremely talented, and their only loss came against a prolific USC team. I'm hopeful that the Lions can pull it off, but this will be an extremely tough game.

Alabama is the #2 team in the nation, and deservedly so, with two impressive road wins at Clemson and at Georgia. They still have to go to Baton Rouge to play LSU, and assuming they win that game, they'll be playing in the SEC conference championship game against another powerhouse team (probably Florida or a rematch against Georgia). I could see a 1-loss SEC team playing in the national championship game, but not if both Texas and Penn State go undefeated. There's too much power (both on and off the football field) in the Big 12 and Big Ten for an undefeated team from either conference to be excluded from the championship game for a 1-loss team from any other conference, even the powerhouse SEC. Alabama will have to keep winning.

Texas, meanwhile, has back-to-back big victories that helped vault them to the #1 spot. They visited then-#1 Oklahoma and won, then beat Missouri in Texas. This week they continue a brutal stretch of their schedule when they welcome undefeated Oklahoma State. They then go to Texas Tech the following week to face the currently-undefeated Red Raiders. If they manage to go undefeated throughout their regular season schedule and lose their championship game, I still see them holding onto the BCS bid against any 1-loss team, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, anybody.

Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both still have yet to play Texas, Oklahoma, and each other on their regular season schedules. It's highly unlikely that either heads into bowl season without at least one loss on the books. I will say this, though. Oklahoma State has got a rushing attack stronger than I've seen in a long time. They play hard and tough, and they could surprise us all. Texas Tech, not so much. They rely too heavily on their receiving corps to not have a let-down at some point.

Which brings us to the lowly Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Utah Utes. Tulsa will finish their regular season schedule without having played a ranked team, and with their strongest opponent being Arkansas, the doormat of the SEC. They could win the rest of their games by 50 points apiece and not sniff the BCS game.

Utah isn't quite so easy to dismiss. They had an early win against Michigan which, while it doesn't look as good now as it did, served its purpose by getting Utah up in the rankings early. They beat Oregon State (something USC can't say), and have two more legitimate in-conference games against currently-ranked opponents: TCU and Brigham Young. I don't think they'd get in over any BCS conference undefeated team, and probably wouldn't leapfrog a 1-loss Texas, Penn State, Oklahoma, USC, or top-tier SEC team like LSU, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. But assuming the Big 12 and SEC beat each other up (a fairly safe assumption), Utah may have a case for playing in the title game. They'll be ignored, of course, but unlike Tulsa, it'll feel bad.

So who's most likely to come out of this season undefeated?

Teams most likely to go undefeated:
  1. Tulsa
  2. Utah
  3. Penn State
  4. Texas
  5. Alabama
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Texas Tech
Tulsa's got a cakewalk of a schedule and the #1 offense in the country, so they should be able to win out and lock up a good mid-level bowl. I think Alabama and the Big 12 teams just play too many tough games, plus their respective conference championship games. You're probably looking at at least two 1-loss teams from each of those conferences. Utah has the two more tough matchups and doesn't have 5-star talent, so I don't like them to finish undefeated.

Which brings us back to Penn State. This weekend's game is huge. Penn State will have to tackle better than they did early in the Michigan game, because it'll be a lot tougher to storm back against the Buckeyes. But if they can pull off the win, they have their only remaining ranked opponent (#20 Michigan State) at home, and they might just be able to pull it off.

Prediction: Penn State 27, Ohio State 19

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's Stop Driving.

Enough is enough.

On Tuesday morning as I was getting ready for work, my mom told me about a terrible tragedy. A car accident occurred Monday evening in Damascus that claimed the life of Ryan Didone, and has another teenager fighting for her life. Ryan Didone was the son of Tom Didone, a police officer who worked closely with my father (Joseph A. Mattingly) as members of the underage alcohol program in Montgomery County. Chances are, if you were busted at a drinking party in the late 80's or early 90's, they were among the officers who made your night suck.

As many of you already know, my father was also killed in an automobile accident, back in 2003. But they aren't alone. There are about 45,000 transportation-related fatalities a year in the United States. Not fender-benders, not injuries, deaths; 45,000 of them. Of those 45,000 deaths, approximately 42,000 were a result of motor vehicle collisions. The remaining 3,000 include aviation, boating, heavy/light rail, railroad and railroad trespassers (people standing in the way of trains), and others.

But back to the focus here, 42,000 people die every year while driving on, biking on, or walking near roadways. Cars kill people. And despite dramatic advances in technology and information, they haven't really stopped killing people. Air bags, seatbelt laws, anti-lock brakes, these have all been around for over a decade now, and there has been no noticeable decrease in the number of people getting killed by car accidents. And I use the phrase "getting killed by" rather than "dying in" intentionally. Car accidents deserve the same level of villainy associated with heart disease and bears; not completely unavoidable, but very preventable.

I'll probably be making several posts over the next....well, over the rest of my life, arguing that the United States needs to take the lead in reducing our dependence on motor vehicles, with the intent of eliminating them altogether.

I'm not going to go into the whole discussion right now, but I do want to handle one point right off the bat. I've talked to several people about this viewpoint of mine, and often one of the first arguments against it that comes up is, "People won't want to get rid of their cars." In the past, I've accepted this as a likely hurdle, and one that would be difficult to overcome. Now, however, I'm realizing that it's perhaps the most foolish hurdle of any. People will initially want to keep their cars, yes, that's true. But I think that most people are smart enough that when they think about it, they'd rather be alive and ride a fancy metro system than be dead and own a Mazda Miata. It's a tough sell, but I think I can pull it off.

Monday, October 20, 2008

1996 Royal Rumble Match

The 1996 Royal Rumble was right before the Monday Night Wars truly began, and featured many of the big time stars who would make WCW a factor for the next 5 years. Diesel (Kevin Nash), Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), and the 1-2-3 Kid (Syxx, X-Pac) all make an appearance during the Rumble match (though only two of them are actual'll have to watch to see what I'm talking about).

Below is the link for the 1996 Royal Rumble match. The star power overall is very good, but towards the end, it becomes pretty clear who's going to win the match (at least, if you're a wrestling historian like myself, it does). It's also fun to see some of the stars of the future in their formative years in the WWF (Stone Cold Steve Austin as "Ringmaster," Triple H as "Hunter Hearst Helmsley: the American Blue Blood").

It'll seem like you've only got part 1 of the match, but when part 1 finishes, the page will automatically refresh itself and load part 2. Enjoy.

Royal Rumble Match: 1996

Redskins Report Card: Week 7 vs. Cleveland Browns

Redskins 14, Browns 11

Offense: B-

Clinton Portis is obviously some sort of ball-carrying cyborg, because there's no way a human could do this. Seriously, he gets better and better every week; I'm expecting a 400-yard game in mid-December. He did, however, have a late fumble that could've turned him into a goat despite his great day, so they get downgraded for that. Even so, a great day for the running game.

I'm still a little annoyed at the passing game, though. The 'Skins haven't been able to put together a strong aerial attack either of these past two games, which were both against defenses that aren't particularly strong. If anything, Washington moved the ball worse through the air against Cleveland than they had against the Rams, but Portis' rushing attack helped us to forget that.

The offense was also able to generally avoid the turnovers that cost them a win last week, and I'm happy to see that. Most importantly, they scored enough points to win.

Defense: B+

The defense had another very nice game, holding the Browns to 236 total yards. They held the Browns to 11 points, another fine accomplishment. But I have two issues with the way they played, and while neither is really cause for concern, they're both factors that contributed to their grade being a B+ rather than an A-.

First, turnovers. They didn't force any. I like that the Redskins play great defense and are able to force punt after punt, holding the opposition's score way down. But the value of turnovers has been evident specifically for this team, when they had the turnover-free 5-game stretch to start the season. Getting a quick momentum shift or giving your offense great field position is extremely valuable. The Redskins defense needs to afford their offense those kinds of luxuries. A couple weeks ago I praised the Skins for being able to keep the Eagles in check without getting any big plays. But you've got to give your offense a spark from time to time, or you'll get run over when you face an offense less anemic than the Browns'.

Second, and this was something that came up in the Eagles game as well, their pass coverage on Braylon Edwards wasn't stellar. It was usually pretty good, and they prevented him from taking over the game, but Edwards was at least as much the reason for that. I didn't keep an official count, but I think he dropped about six hundred passes on Sunday. Alright, maybe not, but he had at least 4 first-down passes in his hands that he dropped. When Washington plays guys like Randy Moss, Hines Ward, and the terrible twosome in Cincinnati, that's not going to happen. There's still work to be done on defense.

Special Teams: C

I like that they got Santana Moss involved in the return game again, but it's obvious he's out of practice. Antwaan Randle El is doing alright at punt returns, but I still think there's got to be someone else you can use there. Rock Cartwright continues to be the team's most valuable special teamer, and deserves his captain distinction.

Statistically, the punts were worse than the past few games, but they just felt better. He also put a pair of punts inside the 20, and I love that. Hopefully Plackemeier only gets better with more practice, and the punting game can be a strength, rather than the weakness that it's been.

Speaking of Plackemeier and practice, it's probably a good idea to force feed the field goal team with tons of reps to get that settled down. I wouldn't have a problem if they wanted to put Collins in there as the holder either, since he's got years of experience at it. It'd also give them a little more firepower on a potential fake, should they ever decide to run one.

Overall: B

It wasn't a well-played game by the Redskins. They had a good defensive performance against a team that seemed to have reverted to its pre-Giants-game self. They still had trouble generating points and generating turnovers, and they need some obvious work on special teams. Still, a win is a win, and I'm always happy with a win, so the grade gets padded just a little bit.

By the way, in case you didn't watch it, this game was a yawn-fest. Eleven first-half punts will do that.

Old Wrestling PPVs

Listen, if you're anything like me (and if you're happy with your life, chances are you're nothing like me), you've got a soft spot in your heart for old wrestling pay-per-views. I'm talking about the classic Royal Rumbles, Summerslams, Survivor Series, and of course, the grand-daddy of them all, Wrestlemania. But you're also interested in some of the classic WCW pay-per-views, like Starrcade, The Great American Bash, and Fall Brawl.

Sometimes I go scouring the Internet for clips of these old wrestling PPVs, and sometimes, I come across the whole entire event, or at the very least, an entire Royal Rumble match. (Those are very good days.) So, I'm going to start posting links to the full wrestling pay-per-views that I find, but only when I can find those full events (or full Royal Rumble matches). If it's just one clip, I'll leave that for another time; maybe I'll put together a "greatest matches" post for a certain wrestler, and include clips of each of those matches.

A heads up, though: These full pay-per-views tend to be split up into multiple clips, so when I post an "event," it'll probably actually be several separate clips. I'll post them in order for you, though, so you can click them one-by-one to go through the event, or open them all at once in new tabs, and then just progress through the tabs with the clips completely buffered. That decision I leave up to you.

I'll have the first event posted later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Ryan Ludwick a Keeper?

In what may become a semi-regular occurrence here at Joe & Joe Sports, we'll (probably) be taking a look at what we can expect from certain players (who most likely either over or under achieved in 2008) in the 2009 MLB season. Ryan Ludwick certainly overachieved and will be the focus of today's look.

First, some business. I don't play in your league (ok, ok, the only people who read this blog DO play in my league, but let's just pretend for a minute) and I don't know your specific league setting and rules (i.e. Head vs. Head or Roto, Batting Average or OBP, or, probably most important, number of keepers). Since all this stuff comes into play, what we will really try to answer here is "what can I expect from this player in 2009". For those of you that need a definite answer, fine, you win, I'll give you an answer, but it will be for a standard 12 team Yahoo! Roto league with 8 keepers per team, so keep that in mind.

On to Ryan Ludwick. Unless you play in a ridiculously deep MLB league or an NL-only league, Ludwick was not drafted in 2008. Coming into the past season, Ludwick had never played an entire season in the majors and had often been sidelined with injuries. 2007 showed a little promise for Ludwick, smacking 14 homers in only 303 ABs, but a .267 batting average kept anybody from getting too excited leading into 2008. Odds are Ludwick probably got picked up sometime prior to June 1, at which time he had 13 homers, a batting average of .314 and an obscene OPS of 1.060. While Ludwick fell back to earth in June, he had a pretty decent second half of the season, finishing with 37 HR, 113 RBI, 104 Runs and a .299 batting average. And of course, if you are asking if Ludwick is a keeper, you already know all this.

So what can we expect from Ludwick in 2009? First off, Ludwick is a serious injury concern. From 2002 to 2005 Ludwick maxed out at 128 games between his major and minor league service and he only broke 100 games in one other season. It is unlikely that Ludwick gets 500+ at bats in 2009 and that hurts his fantasy value. On the upside, Ludwick has the minor league stats to back up his 2008 season. He regularly slugged over .500 in AAA and had several seasons with very nice batting average and power numbers. Even if Ludwick stays healthy, I doubt he will be able to match the extraordinary numbers he put up this season. I would expect something along the lines of .285, 30 HR, 85 RBI and 80 runs. Those numbers would validate keeping him and, since it's pretty hard to predict injury, I recommend keeping him too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So I've Been Playing....Smackdown vs. Raw 2007

As you've probably gathered from my post about my Rock Band 2 band, I've got a soft spot for wrestling. Mostly, that gets manifested in watching old pay-per-views and relating stories to other old school wrestling fans. But, from time to time, it also manifests itself in other media. I saw that awful movie Ready 2 Rumble. I've looked around for MIDI files of old wrestling entrance themes. And I like a lot of wrestling video games.

Recently, I realized that it's been a long time since I played one that I really liked. I believe the last one was Wrestlemania 2000 for the Nintendo 64, which, interestingly enough, came out around the year 2000. It was just the right balance of complex and simple. You could create your own wrestlers, and many moves and outfits of former and other-brand (WCW) wrestlers. The gameplay was fun, and this'll sound foolish, but they had the Royal Rumble, and that's more fun than any other match in any wrestling game. Hell, with the old Super Nintendo games (WWF Royal Rumble and WWF Raw), it was the only match we ever played.

Fast forward to 2008, and it's been a while since I got around to playing any wrestling games. So I went into a local Gamestop and said, "I've got an Xbox 360. What wrestling games are out there?" They directed me to the Smackdown vs. Raw franchise, tossing in their compulsory recommendation to pre-order the upcoming game new. But they definitely recommended the older ones as well (I think Gamestop actually make a much greater profit on used games anyways), and I elected to get the 2007 iteration.

The game is solid. The controls are not intuitive, but the game offers a quick rundown of the buttons during the load screen before regular matches. Additionally, when you're in some kind of specialty match (steel cage, ladder, etc), the loading screen tells you what special buttons are used in that match (how to climb the cage, how to move the ladder, etc). With the relative complexity of the controls, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get comfortable playing.

The season mode is alright, though it's got its share of weaknesses. You tend to feel a little detached from the action, because commentators and other wrestlers only refer to you as "the superstar" or "the champ" or "the contender." I understand that it's part of the limitations that come along with allowing you to select any superstar (including created superstars); I just think it'd be better served by having a more immersive experience, even if it means you can only select a few superstars. (By the way, the upcoming Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 release is following that exact format. It limits you to a few wrestlers, but has a much more personal season experience).

There's another unique feature called GM Mode which I really enjoy, but I'm going to get into that in a future post. It's got enough to it that I don't want to shrink it down to a paragraph.

The create-a-wrestler feature was initially daunting, but after putting some time in to learn the in's and out's, I'm much happier with it than I originally thought. The ways you can adjust the shape of your created wrestler are a little over the top, but when you're trying to get a guy to look exactly like the Honky Tonk Man, it comes in handy.

Overall, I'm not disappointed with the game. It's got enough features and game modes to keep it pretty fresh. And for a guy like me who has an unhealthy interest in unlocking achievements in Xbox 360 games, there are plenty of challenges to take on. It's a fun game, although I don't expect that it'll be as big a part of my social life as WWF Raw was.

By the way, if anyone wants to get together for another Raw party, all I need is a couple more Super Nintendo controllers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 6 vs. St. Louis Rams

Rams 19, Redskins 17

Offense: C-

When it rains, it pours. The offense that had been so stingy with the football, that had run such a smart and efficient game, coughed up the ball three different times in three different ways in the first half of the game. This isn't the kind of offense that can overcome those sorts of mistakes, which is why it was so important that the Redskins maintain their streak of no-turnover games.

The ground game was strong once again, with Clinton Portis running roughshod over the Rams' line. Portis is looking more and more like the guy we were hoping to acquire when we traded Champ Bailey and a 2nd round pick for him a few years ago (a trade that I have lamented since day one). Ladell Betts got into the mix as well, posting a few key runs while spelling Portis.

The passing game was alright, but had some issues. Campbell was still fairly efficient at 18-26 for 208 yards, but didn't get into the end zone. More importantly, the Skins lost two fumbles after completed passes (and the one that got tipped to Kendall was just stupid), and another on a botched snap. Interceptions are tough breaks, but often a result of miscommunication or a bad read. Fumbles are a result of not holding on to the football. They're generally avoidable, and frustrating as hell to fans. Hence, low grade.

Defense: B+

You probably didn't notice it if you watched the game, but the Washington defense actually had another really good game. They gave up a paltry 200 yards to the Rams offense. The most impressive (and, to me, more surprising) part was that they were able to hold Steven Jackson to 79 yards on 22 carries. I've told you over and over that I was worried about how this team would respond when they get run on 20+ times by a premier running back, and they were up to the challenge against Jackson.

Want more information on why the defense wasn't to blame for this loss? They weren't on the field when the only Rams touchdown was scored. They forced five three-and-outs. They allowed only two drives of more than 30 yards. They held fast at every turn, despite being hung out to dry by their offense's sudden inability to hold onto the football. I still feel good about the defense, maybe even better than I have in the past. It's just a shame they proved their merit in a loss.

Special Teams: C-

The Redskins once again had nothing in the punt return game, and it's looking more and more like they need to pull Antwaan Randle El from that role. Even if you have to put Santana Moss back there, you've got to find some way to add that dimension to your team. Rock Cartwright was fine in returning kicks, but he still seems to lack the burst that scares coverage teams. The Skins' own coverage team was fine, but not impressive.

Shaun Suisham still seems like a pretty good kicker, and I'm definitely happy we've got him. But Durant Brooks, the rookie punter, seems to shrink from the spotlight. When Washington needs a big punt from him, he shanks it out of bounds and gives up great field position. That's how you lose games. If you're suspicious of how important a good punting game can be, check out this past Super Bowl. Feagles had four good punts, including one at the 20 and two inside the 20. When your offense isn't great and your defense doesn't score, your game is made or broken on field position. Punting is absolutely crucial for this Redskins team, and looking at a change is not a bad idea for this team.

Overall: C

I'm happy that the defense looked good. I'm happy that Portis is putting together a very nice year. But if we learned anything from this game, it's this: for the Washington Redskins to be successful, they really are going to have to avoid turnovers like the plague. That's a scary situation, because it means that you're asking your offense to play mistake-free football every single game. Obviously you want that regardless, but the ability to overcome mistakes is something I'm not sure this team has. We'll find out, especially in these next two games.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Buy, Sell, Buy, Sell

This is a point in the fantasy football season where a deal can make or break your season. Football is particularly tough to make predictions for, because the game is so violent and so dynamic that many players can lose their jobs due to injury or ineffectiveness. This is particularly true of running backs, which of course are the backbone of most fantasy football teams (and is the reason I recommend investing heavily in your quarterback and wide receivers).

So how do you know what moves you should make, and what moves you shouldn't make? Well, there's no surefire way to tell, and anyone who says they can is lying. It's a lot like poker in that regard. The idea isn't to make one right decision by acquiring one specific player. The way you win is by making as many correct decisions as possible. This includes waiver acquisitions and making trades, but also includes not making trades.

Here are five guys you should buy low/not trade. Following that will be a list of five guys you should sell high/not trade for.

Buy Low/Wait It Out
  1. Chad Johnson - You may not like his attitude, but his talent is as good as anyone in the league not named Moss or Owens. Five straight years of 1250+ yards and 7+ TDs says to me that this slump won't hold.
  2. Ryan Grant - I don't think he'll be able to get to last year's post-bye-week pace (roughly 100 yards and a TD per game), but he's going to be productive. And as the weather demands more of a ground game, Grant will rise to the occasion.
  3. Steven Jackson - Chances are, his owner won't part with him for that much under the pre-season value, but if you can get any kind of discount on Jackson, go get him. He's a no-brainer fantasy stud.
  4. Torry Holt - Word is, the first thing new coach Jim Haslett did when he took over the Rams was tell Al Saunders to give Holt the damn ball. Good enough for me.
  5. Matt Hasselbeck - When he lost Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson, and Deion Branch early, you knew Hasselbeck was going to have a rough start. But Engram and Branch are getting healthier, and Hasselbeck is too good to be held down for too long. Also, the Seahawks play the Rams and Jets in weeks 15 and 16, not bad playoff matchups.
Sell High/Don't Buy The Hype
  1. Brett Favre - It's a nice story, but Favre isn't going to have many more 3 touchdown games, let alone 6 touchdown games. I think he'll still be productive, but if you can find someone who thinks he's an elite level QB, let them pay for him.
  2. Reggie Bush - His point totals are bumped by three (count 'em, three) return touchdowns. Teams will stop punting to him, and with Deuce McAllister getting healthier, Bush will turn into just a solid receiver.
  3. Kurt Warner - Warner is only a few weeks removed from being uncertain as the starter in Arizona, and only a week removed from a 6-turnover game. If the Cardinals begin to slip and Warner returns to his giveaway ways, I could actually see the team going with Matt Leinart. That means, sell sell sell.
  4. Felix Jones - Jones won't get more than 8 carries a game, and some play in the return game. But his scoring right now isn't bad for a flex option or backup RB. Move him now and get someone you can rely on.
  5. Laveranues Coles - Coles' season numbers are bumped by the Arizona game, when he had 44% of his receptions, 41% of his yardage, and 75% of his TDs. Make a move while his averages still look impressive.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ambiorix Burgos is a bad guy.

Holy shit. It looks like while all of you were concerned with Terrell Owens having a sit-down with his quarterback, a member of the Mets bullpen was out there killing people. And I do mean all of you, not all of us; I have always supported Owens, despite his selfish tendencies.

The guy (allegedly) throws his girlfriend to the ground, then (allegedly) kills two women with his car. And his explanation? He was sitting in the back seat of the truck. He admits to being in the vehicle that killed those women, and obviously admits to not stopping (making it a hit-and-run), but he says he wasn't at the wheel. First off, come on, he did it. Second, he sold his cousin up a river. Third, come on, he did it.

Fourth, and most importantly in my mind, what the fuck is wrong with people? Anyone who has experienced a personal loss knows that death is fuckin' serious. When someone dies, everything else gets pushed to the back burner. When someone dies, you realize how insignificant most of your day-to-day problems are. And when someone dies, they're dead. You run down two people in your truck, you've just ended two lives, but you've also put great strain on dozens more. The loss of even the least-liked and least popular people in the world (such as yours truly) would leave many people in deep mourning. You hit somebody, if it wasn't intentional, you stop the car, call for an ambulance, and face the music. And if it was intentional, then you go to jail, and stay there.

Bad fucking guy.

That Dr. Pepper Song

Some of you know that I was racking my brain trying to figure out how to find the name and artist of a song I heard in a recent Dr. Pepper commercial. It is also often used at sporting events to get the crowd going, and I believe was first used in that manner for the Chicago Bulls teams of the mid-1990s.

Anyways, the song is called Sirius, and it's by Alan Parsons Project. In its original context, it's also used as an introduction to a popular song by the band called Eye In The Sky. Not surprisingly, they're the two highest rated tracks by Alan Parsons Project on Rhapsody. Also, is anyone talking about this site? It's awesome. You can listen to anything they've got on a whim. It's the site I linked to when I wanted you to listen to a song off of a 5-song special release CD from the Dave Matthews Band. I'm gonna do some more research, but best I can tell, this site is just sweet.

Socialism rules!

Yeah, that's gonna bring traffic to this blog, but maybe not the kind of traffic I want...oh, who am I kidding, any traffic is good.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keeper League: Best Picks (RP)

Relief Pitchers

  1. Joe Nathan (keeper) - #3
  2. J.J. Putz (keeper) - #79
  3. Francisco Rodriguez (keeper) - #6
  4. Mariano Rivera (keeper) - #1
  5. Jonathan Papelbon (keeper) - #4
  6. Billy Wagner (keeper) - #17
  7. Takashi Saito, Feisty Mosquitos - #31
  8. Huston Street, Cleveland Enforcers - #36
  9. Jose Valverde, Cleveland Enforcers - #9
  10. Bobby Jenks, Feisty Mosquitos - #20
  11. Matt Capps, Stewies SexyParties - #29
  12. Francisco Cordero, Mercer AutoWreckers - #34
  13. Trevor Hoffman, Dunedain Rangers - #24
  14. Manny Corpas, DamKnights - #100+
  15. Brad Lidge, Dunedain Rangers - #8
  16. Rafael Soriano, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  17. Joakim Soria, Riders of Rohan - #2
  18. Jason Isringhousen, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  19. Chad Cordero, Akron Pronks - #100+
  20. Carlos Marmol, Cleveland Enforcers - #12
  21. Todd Jones, Mercer AutoWreckers - #100+
  22. Kevin Gregg, Those Guys - #27
  23. Joe Borowski, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  24. B.J. Ryan, Howard’s Heroes - #33
  25. Eric Gagne, Howard’s Heroes - #100+
  26. C.J. Wilson, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  27. Brian Wilson, Feisty Mosquitos - #47
  28. George Sherrill, Riders of Rohan - #74
  29. Brandon Lyon, DamKnights - #100+
  30. Jonathan Broxton, Feisty Mosquitos - #35
  31. Troy Percival, Akron Pronks - #51
  32. Jeremy Accardo, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  33. Rafael Betancourt, Those Guys - #100+
  34. Tony Pena, Howard’s Heroes - #100+
  35. Heath Bell, Akron Pronks - #68
  36. Kerry Wood, The Usual Suspects - #11
  37. Bob Howry, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  38. Hideki Okajima, Akron Pronks - #48
  39. Pat Neshek, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  40. Joel Zumaya, Cleveland Enforcers - #100+
  41. Brian Fuentes, Those Guys - #16
  42. Henry Owens, DamKnights - #100+
  43. Scot Shields, Feisty Mosquitos - #52

The breakdown on relievers is a little better than starters when it comes to Yahoo's rankings. It still has some legitimate closers listed pretty deep (Brandon Lyon, C.J. Wilson), but it's generally reliable. And it really only gets flaky deep into the system, so the top end guys are well-evaluated.

Undrafted high ranking relievers include Grant Balfour (10), Joey Devine (13), Hong-Chih Kuo (14), and Jose Arredondo (15). Interestingly enough, the Tampa Bay Rays had three guys in the top 25 (Balfour, J.P. Howell, and Dan Wheeler), and none of them was closer Troy Percival. That gives us a little insight into why they're in the American League Championship Series.

The best selection was a Rider, taken #17 overall and finishing #2 among all relievers, but there were a couple other big time payoffs. Kerry Wood was the #36 RP off the board, but finished at #11. And Brad Lidge was taken 15th among relief pitchers, but placed 8th in the final rankings.

Naming RP picks as "worst" selections is a little unfair because of the turnover among closers. Many of the picks that seem disappointing were guys who got hurt and lost the closer spot while they were gone. Additionally, because a lot of undrafted relievers ended up in the top 25, many decent pitchers were bumped lower and lower in the final rankings. So I'm not even going to name bad picks. My apologies to the more bloodthirsty among you.

Next up, I'll post how each team finished, and give some general analysis on how people's drafts helped them (or hurt them) in the final standings. Also, we'll have a suite of NBA basketball preview posts in the near future, so look forward to that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Redskins 23, Eagles 17

Offense: B

The interesting thing about the offense in this game was that it looked shockingly like the Joe Gibbs offense of the past few years on those rare occasions when the Joe Gibbs offense was able to move the ball. It was a run-heavy offense (44 rushes, 31 passes) and the Skins picked up over 200 yards on the ground. Clinton Portis led the way with 145 yards, and it seems like he's gotten better every week since his disparaging comments about his offensive line. I still think he was out of line, but it seems like the team has responded positively, so maybe he knew what he was doing.

The passing game wasn't as good as it's been in the past few weeks, but seeing this team move the ball while Santana Moss got shut out was both surprising and encouraging. You hope that they'll do a better job of getting Moss involved even if the defense is keying on him, but it's actually more important that you take advantage of the things that open up because of the personnel commitment made to covering Moss. They were able to do that, and Chris Cooley had a big game.

Defense: A-

Initially I had the defense at a "B" as well, but that's really selling short what this defense did on Sunday. After a terrifying first quarter that had all Redskins fans worried about a blowout loss, the Washington defense allowed only 121 total yards and 3 points. The Eagles had 3 possessions in the third quarter, and all three of them were three-and-out. They played the kind of defense you have to play when you go down 14 points early. The pressure was on them all game, and they stood up to it.

What's perhaps even more impressive is that the 'Skins were able to put the clamps down without any turnovers or any sacks. They just played tremendous defense and busted up every play. In fairness, the Eagles wide receivers had some bad drops, but I'm a believer that when a receiver drops a pass, it's because he's worried about what's going to happen if he catches it. And it's not like the Eagles haven't been able to put up points with the same receivers in the past (see week 2 against Dallas).

Special Teams: B

The punt coverage team was made to look foolish by DeSean Jackson on a 68-yard TD, and punter Durant Brooks averaged only 34.5 yards per punt. But those were your lowlights, and there were multiple highlights. Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle-El had solid kickoff and punt returns, respectively. Outside of the Jackson disaster, the coverage team did pretty good. But the real treasure was kicker Shaun Suisham. He hit field goals of 41, 48, and 50 yards, and having a kicking game that can hit tough field goals is huge, especially as the weather gets worse. The more field goals you can make, the more it opens up your offense between midfield and your opponent's 20-yard line.

Overall: A-

After the first quarter, I was trying to figure out how I was going to look at a 49-3 loss against the Eagles. How was I going to evaluate the game objectively when I had been so colossally disappointed? Thankfully, I won't have to answer that question...yet. I still think this team has a big loss in their future; if I had to guess, I'd say the Steelers on Monday night in 4 weeks.

But this game was a testament to how things have changed philosophically in Washington since the hiring of Jim Zorn. Over the past five years, if the Redskins had gone down 14-0 that early, the game would've been all but over, and everyone would be thinking about next week. But this team has a justified confidence that kept them composed and focused, and they were able to just continue to play their game, and know that they could overcome it. That's what's more exciting about this team than anything, that they know they can win. I'm not buying Super Bowl tickets yet, but the Redskins sure look like a playoff team.

And that's more than I could've said about them at any other point in the past ten years.

Keeper League: Best Picks (SP)

Starting Pitchers

  1. Brandon Webb (keeper) - #12
  2. Scott Kazmir (keeper) - #32
  3. Roy Oswalt (keeper) - #19
  4. Aaron Harang (keeper) - #100+
  5. Tim Lincecum (keeper) - #4
  6. CC Sabathia (keeper) - #2
  7. Jake Peavy (keeper) - #16
  8. John Smoltz (keeper) - #100+
  9. Ben Sheets (keeper) - #14
  10. Cole Hamels (keeper) - #7
  11. Erik Bedard (keeper) - #67
  12. Justin Verlander (keeper) - #100+
  13. Matt Cain (keeper) - #100+
  14. Yovani Gallardo (keeper) - #100+
  15. John Lackey (keeper) - #41
  16. Rich Hill (keeper) - #104
  17. Josh Beckett (keeper) - #35
  18. Daisuke Matsuzaka (keeper) - #21
  19. Felix Hernandez (keeper) - #74
  20. Brett Myers (keeper) - #100+
  21. Johan Santana (keeper) - #5
  22. Chris Young (keeper) - #69
  23. Carlos Zambrano (keeper) - #58
  24. Dan Haren (keeper) - #8
  25. Roy Halladay (keeper) - #1
  26. Francisco Liriano, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  27. Javier Vazquez, Those Guys - #100+
  28. Chad Billingsley, Cleveland Enforcers - #25
  29. James Shields, Akron Pronks - #20
  30. Fausto Carmona, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  31. A.J. Burnett, Cleveland Enforcers - #50
  32. John Maine, Mercer AutoWreckers - #100+
  33. Jered Weaver, Feisty Mosquitos - #76
  34. Philip Hughes, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  35. Dustin McGowan, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  36. Oliver Perez, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  37. Joba Chamberlain, DamKnights - #36
  38. Clay Buchholz, Feisty Mosquitos - #100+
  39. Ian Snell, Mercer AutoWreckers - #100+
  40. Pedro Martinez, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  41. Ted Lilly, Cleveland Enforcers - #38
  42. Adam Wainwright, Vandelay Industries - #31
  43. Rich Harden, The Usual Suspects - #6
  44. Chien-Ming Wang, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  45. Jeremy Bonderman, Dunedain Rangers - #100+
  46. Tim Hudson, The Usual Suspects - #28
  47. Kelvim Escobar, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  48. Brad Penny, Akron Pronks - #100+
  49. Randy Johnson, Cleveland Enforcers - #43
  50. Jeff Francis, Those Guys - #100+
  51. Zack Grienke, DamKnights - #34
  52. Tom Gorzelanny, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  53. Joe Blanton, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  54. Derek Lowe, Those Guys - #15
  55. Chris Carpenter, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  56. Jon Lester, Howard’s Heroes - #26
  57. Mark Prior, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  58. Homer Bailey, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  59. Gil Meche, Riders of Rohan - #64
  60. Hiroki Kuroda, Feisty Mosquitos - #51
  61. Dontrelle Willis, Dunedain Rangers - #100+
  62. Barry Zito, The Usual Suspects - #100+
  63. Mark Beuhrle, Cleveland Enforcers - #77
  64. Kevin Slowey, DamKnights - #37
  65. Ian Kennedy, Feisty Mosquitos - #100+
  66. Jason Schmidt, Riders of Rohan - #100+
  67. Bronson Arroyo, Mercer AutoWreckers - #100+
  68. Andy Pettitte, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  69. Curt Schilling, Akron Pronks - #100+
  70. Matt Garza, Vandelay Industries - #46
  71. Jeremy Guthrie, Mercer AutoWreckers - #48
  72. Jake Westbrook, Dunedain Rangers - #100+
  73. Boof Bonser, Howard’s Heroes - #100+
  74. Ubaldo Jimenez, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  75. Scott Baker, Akron Pronks - #27
  76. Gio Gonzalez, Vandelay Industries - #100+
  77. Andrew Miller, Howard’s Heroes - #100+
  78. Bartolo Colon, Stewies SexyParties - #100+
  79. David Price, Vandelay Industries - #100+


You probably noticed that a large number of pitchers are listed simply as 100+. My intention was to carry the rankings well into the 200's, since pitcher turnover is so severe. But when I saw Mark Prior was ranked around #110, ahead of solid producers like Matt Cain, Joe Blanton, and John Maine, I realized something was afoot. Yahoo's rankings are unreliable after about 100, which is a damn shame. So, unfortunately, I can't show you exactly how bad my SP picks were, but I assure you; they were bad.

There are some other numbers we can look at to illustrate it, though. Combined numbers for my 5th, 6th, and 8th SPs (Chris Carpenter, Prior, and Jason Schmidt) this season: 15 IP, 7 Ks, 0 wins. By the way, those are identical to the numbers posted by Chris Carpenter alone. Schmidt and Prior didn't throw a single pitch in the majors this season. My second and third picks after Brandon Webb, my lone SP keeper, were Chien-Ming Wang and Dustin McGowan. Both were out with season-ending injuries by the all-star break.

The top 25 club had several undrafted members, headlined by likely AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. Justin Duchscherer, Ervin Santana, Ryan Dempster, Ricky Nolasco, Mike Mussina, and Edinson Volquez all posted top 25 numbers despite not being on teams after our draft. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if more than one of those guys ends up being a keeper going into next season.

The worst picks outside of my own: Vandelay's pick of Fausto Carmona was a big disappointment, but injury contributed to that a little bit. The SexyParties' Phil Hughes and the Mosquitoes' Clay Buchholz didn't take the strides many had expected this year, and both were essentially worthless on a single-season basis.

The best picks are easier to spot. Rich Harden was the 43rd starting pitcher off the board, but ended up as the 6th ranked SP for the champion Suspects. Those Guys' Derek Lowe and Howards Heroes' Jon Lester each showed a 30+ slot improvement over their draft rank this season. And late selection Scott Baker by the Pronks ended up finishing just outside the top 25 starters.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Keeper League: Best Picks (Clarification)

After a few messages from league members, I wanted to clarify something about this exercise. I'm not trying to point out people who made big mistakes in their keeper and draft selections. And if I were, it's easy enough to find some of my own mistakes (most of which will show their faces when we get to the starting pitcher lists).

The idea was just to see which picks turned out, which ones didn't, and to what extent. What I am not saying is that Troy Tulowitzki, Eric Byrnes, and Victor Martinez shouldn't have been keepers. They were all legitimate keepers; in fact, there really wasn't an illegitimate keeper at all this year. Some were better than others, but we didn't have Jacque Jones kept on any teams (zing!).

If nothing else, members of the league can use this analysis as a tool to see where they have trouble evaluating talent (like me with pitching), and where they can feel good about their judgment. Plus it's fun.

Keeper League: Best Picks (OF)


  1. Grady Sizemore (keeper) - #7
  2. Nick Markakis (keeper) - #13
  3. Vladimir Guerrero (keeper) - #20
  4. Ryan Braun (keeper) - #8
  5. Carlos Beltran (keeper) - #5
  6. Eric Byrnes (keeper) - #150+
  7. Magglio Ordonez (keeper) - #23
  8. Bobby Abreu (keeper) - #11
  9. Carl Crawford (keeper) - #63
  10. Hunter Pence (keeper) - #39
  11. Matt Holliday (keeper) - #3
  12. Juan Pierre (keeper) - #82
  13. B.J. Upton (keeper) - #31
  14. Chris B. Young (keeper) - #43
  15. Chone Figgins (keeper) - #74
  16. Adam Dunn (keeper) - #36
  17. Lance Berkman (keeper) - #2
  18. Alfonso Soriano (keeper) - #28
  19. Manny Ramirez (keeper) - #1
  20. Curtis Granderson (keeper) - #26
  21. Carlos Lee (keeper) - #27
  22. Torii Hunter (keeper) - #33
  23. Corey Hart (keeper) - #34
  24. Brad Hawpe (keeper) - #40
  25. Ichiro Suzuki (keeper) - #17
  26. Hideki Matsui (keeper) - #102
  27. Alex Rios (keeper) - #18
  28. Delmon Young, Riders of Rohan - #42
  29. Gary Sheffield, Howard’s Heroes - #97
  30. Jason Bay, Stewies SexyParties - #9
  31. Matt Kemp, Riders of Rohan - #15
  32. Nick Swisher, DamKnights - #70
  33. Vernon Wells, Dunedain Rangers - #46
  34. Jeff Francoeur, Vandelay Industries - #98
  35. Shane Victorino, Those Guys - #19
  36. Jacoby Ellsbury, Howard’s Heroes - #22
  37. Josh Hamilton, Cleveland Enforcers - #4
  38. Jermaine Dye, Cleveland Enforcers - #14
  39. Kosuke Fukudome, Dunedain Rangers - #71
  40. Michael Bourn, Riders of Rohan - #96
  41. Andruw Jones, Cleveland Enforcers - #150+
  42. Jeremy Hermida, DamKnights - #73
  43. Willy Taveras, Stewies SexyParties - #58
  44. Joey Votto, Mercer AutoWreckers - #35
  45. Johnny Damon, Akron Pronks - #16
  46. Michael Cuddyer, Mercer AutoWreckers - #143
  47. Pat Burrell, Mercer AutoWreckers - #48
  48. Rocco Baldelli, Dunedain Rangers - #150+
  49. Billy Butler, Cleveland Enforcers - #99
  50. Adam Jones, Mercer AutoWreckers - #81
  51. Rick Ankiel, Vandelay Industries - #62
  52. Ken Griffy Jr., Cleveland Enforcers - #79
  53. Justin Upton, Feisty Mosquitos - #106
  54. Josh Fields, Akron Pronks - #150+
  55. Melky Cabrera, Dunedain Rangers - #126
  56. Aaron Rowand, Howard’s Heroes - #80
  57. Felix Pie, Dunedain Rangers - #150+
  58. Colby Rasmus, Those Guys - #150+
  59. Jay Bruce, The Usual Suspects - #76
  60. Conor Jackson, DamKnights - #37
  61. Cameron Maybin, Stewies SexyParties - #150+
  62. Chase Headley, Vandelay Industries - #123
  63. Raul Ibanez, Those Guys - #21
  64. Carlos Gomez, DamKnights - #53
  65. Jose Guillen, Feisty Mosquitos - #56
  66. Ryan Spilborghs, Vandelay Industries - #105
  67. Willy Mo Pena, Dunedain Rangers - #150+
  68. Luke Scott, Howard’s Heroes - #69
  69. Bill Hall, Akron Pronks - #109

You may have noticed that some guys are listed as "150+" above. The reality is that there are a lot of damn outfielders, and I wasn't interested in figuring out whether a guy was 164 or 177. Anything past 150 is bad, so we'll just leave it at a general "bad" status.

There was a ton of turnover at the top of the outfielder standings. Ryan Ludwick was undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues and finished as the #6 overall outfielder. Nate McLouth and Carlos Quentin also were not selected and placed in the top 12, and Quentin would be a reasonable selection for the AL MVP (see discussions here and here). Even more surprising (and frustrating for their owners) is that of the 27 kept OFs, 12 finished outside the top 30. That means that between this year and last year, there will be some big changes in who gets kept.

Cleveland's Josh Hamilton selection is the obvious best pick here (finishing 4th overall as the 30th OF off the board), but there were a few other nice surprises. Akron's Johnny Damon was drafted #45, finished #16. Stewie's Jason Bay: drafted 30th, finished 9th. And another Enforcer, Jermaine Dye: drafted #38, finished 14th.

Worst pick is a tough distinction here, but Eric Byrnes and Hideki Matsui are keepers that finished outside the top 100 in the final rankings. Those two guys didn't help their fantasy teams one bit. Andruw Jones seemed like solid value at #41, but he was among the worst hitters in baseball this season. And Luke Scott, the 68th OF off the board, only managed to be the 69th ranked OF. Yes, that was a joke.

Seriously though, Michael Cuddyer lost nearly 100 spots between his draft position and his final ranking. There's your joke.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Keeper League: Best Picks (SS)


  1. Jimmy Rollins (keeper) - #4
  2. Hanley Ramirez (keeper) - #1
  3. Derek Jeter (keeper) - #7
  4. Troy Tulowitzki (keeper) - #33
  5. Carlos Guillen (keeper) - #15
  6. Michael Young (keeper) - #5
  7. Jose Reyes (keeper) - #2
  8. Miguel Tejada (keeper) - #11
  9. Rafael Furcal, The Usual Suspects - #38
  10. Edgar Renteria, Howard’s Heroes - #18
  11. Jhonny Peralta, Mercer AutoWreckers - #3
  12. J.J. Hardy, Akron Pronks - #8
  13. Orlando Cabrera, Those Guys - #9
  14. Khalil Greene, Dunedain Rangers - #56
  15. Yunel Escobar, Mercer AutoWreckers - #16
  16. Stephen Drew, Cleveland Enforcers - #6
  17. Ryan Theriot, Howard’s Heroes - #13

Only one of the top 10 shortstops was undrafted, #10 Alexei Ramirez. Tulowitzki's precipitous fall-off was one of the toughest things to watch this year, since he was such a hot commodity in drafts. And while Furcal appears to have been a bad pick, a little extra analysis indicates that, if all shortstops were projected out for 162 game seasons, Furcal's pace would put him at the #1 spot, even above Hanley Ramirez. Still, his overall production this year was a disappointment, since only actual numbers count.

The best picks look to be Jhonny Peralta to the AutoWreckers, who drafted a great middle infield between Peralta and Pedroia, and the Enforcers' selection of Stephen Drew, a youngster who finally started to show some of why he was considered a can't-miss prospect not long ago. Khalil Greene stands out as the most disappointing pick, even more so because Drew was still available when Greene was taken. Between Zimmerman, Kendrick, and now Greene, the Rangers had a hard-luck draft.

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