Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Baseball Hall of Fame's Quiet War Against Barry Bonds

While the NFL was commanding the majority of controversial headlines with the Ray Rice suspension story, and while we baseball fans were all celebrating the greatness of several worthwhile inductees into the Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame quietly released news that will have a thunderous impact on the future of the Hall.

Recently eligible and future players will now have 10 years of eligibility on the ballot, instead of the previous 15 years.

In a vacuum, I would support this change. ESPN posted a list of players elected in their 11th through 15th years of eligibility, and while they're all fine players, none is a guy who the Hall can't do without: Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon, Duke Snider, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, and Bert Blyleven. In general, I would expect a true Hall of Fame player to be elected in their first couple of years of eligiblity.

So what's the problem? Well, true Hall of Fame players aren't being elected in their first couple of years of eligibility. Barry Bonds is literally the best player ever; alright, maybe not, but the list of guys who were better than him is shorter than ten. And he's unarguably one of the great players of his generation. Those guys get in.

But he's not the only one. Roger Clemens's career and season-by-season numbers are insane. He ranks third all time in strikeouts, ninth all time in wins, and first all time in career Cy Young awards (he won it seven different times). His all-time Wins Above Replacement is 140.3, good enough for eighth in the history of baseball. The number of pitchers he's behind is exactly two: Walter Johnson, and the guy whose award he kept winning, Cy Young.

I think personally that Mark McGwire belongs in the Hall of Fame too, but I'm not going to be able to explain why in a blurb here. Maybe that'll be an article down the line.

In 2014, Clemens and Bonds respectively received 35.4% and 34.7% of the vote, both small declines from the previous year.

The important point here is that these are legends of the game that now have five fewer years to have their infractions forgotten, their opponents' stances softened. Neither player was ever suspended for PEDs during their playing careers, most of which spanned the period during which baseball couldn't give a flying f- whether or not its players were juicing. But in the court of public opinion, they're currently serving a sentence of as-yet-undetermined length. Those five additional years would extend the window of time during which players like Bonds and Clemens could engage fans, speak with the media, and redevelop (or in Bonds' case develop for the first time) goodwill with the public at large. On a shortened timeline, it's unclear whether they'll get that chance.

Of course, when specifically asked, the Hall of Fame said that PEDs had no impact on the decision to shorten the gap. Their timing is conspicuous in its proximity to the beginning of "steroid era" players becoming eligible. But even if the decision isn't related, its impact is profound. I was always of a mind that, eventually, baseball writers would get over their faux outrage and acknowledge the greatness that we saw. But pride is a real thing, and that process takes time.

For Bonds and Clemens, the clock is ticking.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Talking Tim Tebow - Part 2

So apparently you guys like talking about Tim Tebow. My post on Thursday had the biggest first-day traffic of any post we've ever had here on Joe and Joe Sports. So, like any good butcher, I'm here to slaughter the goose who laid the golden egg. That is, post the second and final part of this series.

My discussions with friends and colleagues regarding Tim Tebow were surprisingly similar. I expected to get a wide variety of responses, but the general sentiment of most everyone I spoke to was pretty much the same:

Tim Tebow isn't good enough at playing quarterback to be in the NFL.

Their analyses were somewhat different, though. A few people indicated that Tebow's apparent unwillingness to play another position besides quarterback is what's keeping him from being on an NFL roster, but with two different opinions on that. Some saw him as a guy who could definitely help a team at tight end or fullback, and saw Tebow's stubbornness as a result of ego.

One person who had a different insight, though, was the other Joe. He said he doesn't really fault Tebow for wanting to win or lose as a quarterback. First, the punishment you take as a tight end or H/flex back is definitely going to be more severe than that you'd take as a quarterback (even on a team with a crummy offensive line). Additionally, and this might be the most interesting part, Joe suggested that the insistence on playing quarterback might be a branding decision. Tim Tebow as a quarterback, even a failed quarterback, is likely much more interesting than Tim Tebow the tight end. And obviously, Tebow can commentate college football for ESPN and make plenty of money right now (since, you know, he's doing exactly that). So going back to the NFL to try to scrape by as a running back might not be his cup of tea.

Almost everyone I talked to had a fairly high regard for Tim Tebow the human being. He seems to be driven and moral, and we all agreed that it would take a uniquely challenging circumstance for Tebow to be a problem in the locker room; much more likely he'd be an asset to a team in that regard.

After taking all this information, and kicking around a few ideas in my head, I've come up with what I believe is the one thing keeping Tebow from being on an NFL roster: its size. Roster spaces are at a premium in the NFL. Your backup quarterback(s) have to be able to, at least theoretically, step in and run the same offense as your starting quarterback. We can all agree that Tebow's quarterbacking skills aren't going to align with just about any quarterback in the league. He hasn't got a quick release or a tight spiral, and he hasn't got much of a deep ball. So, any system you put him into, he's going to be a suboptimal option.

You could keep him on your roster listed as a TE or RB, and just run tricks and gimmicks with him, either on his own or with another quarterback on the field. The Steelers did it for years with Kordell Stewart and Neil O'Donnell, two players with vastly different skills. The problem is, Tebow isn't as good a conventional quarterback as Stewart was (and Steelers fans will appreciate how weak a quarterback that means Tebow is). So Tebow can't be your #1 backup at quarterback. But he also can't be your #2 backup, because either A) your #2 backup is a youngster you're grooming, or B) you've elected to forgo a third quarterback in order to keep another LB/OT/CB.

If NFL rosters were unlimited, or went up seven spots to 60 total players, bringing on a utility knife like Tebow would make a lot of sense. He can produce as a goal-line or 2-point conversion quarterback, and gimmick plays will always have a place in the NFL. But as a quarterback, you can't bring him in. He doesn't do quarterback well enough to warrant that spot.

In a dream world where NFL rosters were expanded, though, I maintain that Tebow would be a useful backup for my hometown phenom Robert Griffin III. While he doesn't do anything as well as Griffin, Tebow brings some of that same dynamic run/pass ability to the game. And, I think the 'Skins could use a little Jesus in that locker room.

Not saying that Tebow is Jesus. Just saying he knows the guy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Ray Rice Situation

There's been a lot of clamor and outrage resulting from the NFL's recent two-game suspension of Ray Rice. Initially, I felt pretty much the same as other people; two games seemed awfully lean for a guy who butchered his girlfriend in cold blood.

Of course, that's not what happened. We don't know what happened. We know what we know, which is that Rice and his fiancee (Janay Palmer) were arrested and charged with simple assault. Then, the charges against his girlfriend (now wife) were dropped, and the charge against Rice got switched to third-degree aggravated assault. Rice eventually avoided jail time by entering a program for first-time offenders, which I don't know what that means and is probably rich-person-talk for "They were rich so they didn't really have to pay for their criminal activities."

Maybe that's not fair to Rice, but since the judicial system was more than fair to him, I'm okay leaning the other way.

Back to the suspension, I think two games is about what you can do. The law basically let him off the hook, which means sportswriters are expecting the NFL to hold their players to a higher standard than a United States court of law. That might not be fair.

Another thing to consider is that Ray Rice is protected by the NFL Players Association. There's simply no way that they wouldn't get involved in this situation; this situation is precisely the reason that the NFLPA keeps lawyers on retainer. My guess is, the NFLPA met with the commissioner's office, and they found a number that the NFLPA wouldn't appeal, because the NFLPA doesn't want to deal with the PR disaster of trying to protect a "wife-beater." By the way, we have exactly one incident that we know of that involves Ray Rice getting physical with a woman. I'm not saying it's impossible that this was indicative of his overall behavior; I'm just saying we don't know.

And that's what it mostly comes down to. We only know what we know, and what we know is pretty flimsy. I wonder if there would have been similar outcry if the NFL went the other way and gave Rice a one- or two-year ban. My guess is he'd have been forgotten in a few days, except in Baltimore, where Ravens fans would decry the league for ruining their team, until some new young running back showed promise. At which point, everyone would forget about Rice, until he slinked back into the league, signing with the Cowboys for the league minimum.

We find it so gratifying to act as judge, jury, and executioner on all these high profile cases involving superstar athletes or other celebrities. We hold them to incredible standards, and when they fail those standards, we crucify them. Maybe the two-game suspension was a little light. Or maybe it was the kind of measured response that sports fans just can't stomach.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Talking Tim Tebow - Part 1

Those of you who've talked football with me probably know I'm a Tim Tebow fan. However, I'm different from a lot of Tebow fans in that I didn't like him at all coming out of college. When Denver selected him in the first round of the 2010 draft, I thought it was perhaps the most insane draft selection ever, literally ever. And in limited time in the 2010 season, Tebow showed little to suggest he'd be anything better than a gimmicky backup who could run a little and throw even less.

And the reality is, maybe that's as much as he could have ever been. But in 2011 a confluence of events (Kyle Orton's ineptitude, public pressure, and the general approach by a coach that if something isn't working, you should change it) gave Tebow a chance to start in the NFL. While posting abysmal completion percentages and unimpressive passing yardage, Tebow helped push the Broncos to 8-8, which was good enough to win a sorry ass AFC West.

We all remember the playoffs that year. The game against the Steelers, Tebow's early TD pass to Eddie Royal, his rushing touchdown a few minutes later. The 80-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas (which was really a 14-yard pass that Thomas shook into a TD). And then going into New England and getting completely and utterly dismantled. That was the last game Tim Tebow ever started at quarterback.

I don't know the numbers, but I have to think that the number of guys who won a game in the playoffs one year and then never got another start at quarterback has to be pretty short.
 
He moved on to the Jets that offseason, after the Broncos decided to go for broke with Peyton Manning, a move that seems to have paid off for Denver. But for Tebow, the Jets were a miserable place to go. According to Football Reference he started two games, but neither one was at quarterback. Presumably he was listed as a starter at fullback for those games. But there's no denying that he was given roughly zero chance in New York to prove he was capable of being a quarterback in the NFL, starting or otherwise. He touched the ball 42 times (10 dropbacks, 32 rushing attempts).

And then what? A preseason with the Patriots in which Tom Brady said he enjoyed having Tebow around, but Bill Belichick chose to keep only 2 quarterbacks on the active roster. Then, nothing.

How? How is it possible that this player, a proven winner in college, a sporadically productive player in the NFL, and an obvious athlete, can't get a gig?

I'm going to ask around. I'm going to do some research. I'm going to get to the bottom of this. And I'll update you guys in what I'm tentatively calling "Part 2."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Who Would You Choose for your Star Trek Crew?

Come on, we've all thought about it. At least, those of us who are maximum nerds have. The various Star Trek series have been made even better by the complex characters serving in Starfleet, or for other factions as the stories necessitated. I'm currently watching Enterprise, and while it's no Next Generation, it's nice for satisfying my fix of interstellar intrigue.

Probably my favorite character on the show is Dr. Phlox. He's got that wisdom and compassion that you're always looking for out of each ship's (or station's) chief medical officer. So I got to thinking, is Phlox my favorite doctor from the whole Star Trek universe? Tough call, lots of good doctors out there. And of course, my line of thinking continued: who's my favorite chief engineer? My favorite first officer? And on, and on.

Well, I took the time and put together my "ultimate" Star Trek starship crew, and I invite you to do the same, if you're nerd enough. I recommend you use the same positions in the crew, to make it easier for us to argue. I gave myself a couple of rules:
  1. I could promote officers reasonably, but not demote them beyond where they'd ever appeared in their respective series. So I couldn't assign Benjamin Sisko to be a helmsman.
  2. If it made sense, I could move a crew member into a role they didn't exactly have in their show. An example would be Seven of Nine, whose role was "astrometrics," but might be well-suited for security or tactical roles.
  3. I could have a maximum of four members from any particular crew. For Worf and O'Brien, this would limit both TNG and DS9.
  4. In addition to standard crew members, I allotted one spot for "hospitality," accommodating the various bartenders/chefs from the Star Trek universe.
Captain - Jean-Luc Picard, The Next Generation
Not close. While some other officers might be solid choices, nobody matches the perfection of Picard's balance between diplomacy, intelligence, and guile. He's #1 on my list of captains, without question.

First Officer - William Riker, The Next Generation
I've always liked Riker, though some of that may just be the beard. The most important part of Riker's character, though, is that he's a good counterpoint to Picard. He's forceful, aggressive, and a bit reckless, and he challenges his captain in all the right ways. The dynamic between Picard and Riker is one of the best interplays in the whole Star Trek Universe.

Chief Engineer - Montgomery Scott, The Original Series
You can't watch three episodes of the original series without Scotty drawing "water from a stone," so to speak. He consistently manages to get the Enterprise to do things it shouldn't be able to do. Geordi La Forge seems equally capable, but the tie goes to the better accent.

Chief Medical Officer - The Doctor, Voyager
I liked Julian Bashir in Deep Space Nine, and Phlox on Enterprise, but the Emergency Medical Hologram from Voyager was unquestionably the most entertaining aspect of Star Trek Voyager, and that includes Jeri Ryan in a skintight suit. He was dry and funny, and added some of the "technical limitation" type stories to the series, similar to those involving Data in TNG.

Security Officer - Odo, Deep Space Nine
My initial selection here was Tuvok from Voyager. He's the law-and-order logical type I like. But despite not having any other Vulcans, my ship already had a pretty strong Vulcan feel to it. Picard is very methodical and logical, likewise with Data and The Doctor. Odo, while still fairly logical, is fueled a bit more by a passion for law enforcement, not just an implementation of the "most logical conclusions." Plus, I mean, changeling.

Science Officer - Data, The Next Generation
Data's actual position in TNG is "Chief Operations Officer," but that doesn't have a special ring to it. Also, outside of a few special guests, the Enterprise didn't have a true "Science Officer," and most scientific questions went through Data. Like Odo, his unique physical characteristics can be an asset to a crew, and he proved himself to be a dynamic officer throughout the series.

Helmsman - Travis Mayweather, Enterprise
Enterprise actually has a lot of second or third choices for me on this list. Phlox is awesome, Malcolm Reed is compelling, and Hoshi Sato seems extremely capable. Helmsman might be a less-than-glamorous position, but Mayweather does a great job at it. I like that he's a former freighter crewman, so he might know some deep space tricks, and he seems mature and dependable. The only guy who gets talked about as being possibly a better pilot is Tom Paris from Voyager, but he's a jackass, so Mayweather's my guy.

Counselor - Ezri Dax, Deep Space Nine
Something of an unconventional pick by me here. Ezri is a bit flighty, a bit emotional, and a bit uncertain. But she's got a wealth of experience with the Dax symbiont, and she's a refreshing change of pace from most of the rest of my stuffy crew. Plus she's cute.

Hospitality - Guinan, The Next Generation
While I wouldn't mind getting a little "hospitality" from Robin Lefler, that's not exactly her job. Guinan, throughout her time on Enterprise, offered fantastic advice and a friendly ear to anyone who needed it. Plus, she's been alive for like a thousand years or something, so she knows a thing or two. I enjoyed Quark thoroughly on Deep Space Nine, but bringing him on a ship would just be inviting trouble.

So there you have it, my personal Star Trek crew. Might not make for as entertaining a TV series without the drama brought on by people like Worf or B'elanna Torres, but this crew is getting work done. Post your responses in the comments!

Potential Blog Merge

For those of you unaware, I write another smaller blog, mostly focused on video/board/card games. Technically I share the blog with a couple of friends, but most of the content has been generated by myself. It doesn't get much traffic, but I enjoy the writing, and the few people who read it seem to enjoy it.

To simplify my writing experience, and to keep my blogging fresher, I'm considering merging the two blogs together into a single Joe-based blog. It would feature both sports content as well as gaming content, as well as whatever else might be on my mind on a given day that I feel like writing about.

My question is, to the few of you who read this blog, would you have any objections to the combined content? I would import most of the old sports content into the new blog, but it would be intermixed with content from my other blog. If you have feedback, post it in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Brooks Orpik Isn't the Worst. Honestly.

So it's been a couple weeks since NHL free agency opened and the Washington Capitals made a couple of signings, one of them widely panned. The Caps signed defenseman Brooks Orpik to a 5-year, $27.5 million contract, shortly before signing his former Penguins teammate Matt Niskanen to a 7-year, $40.25 million contract. They also signed backup goalie Justin Peters for three bags of peanuts and a box of crayons. Obviously Peters isn't the problem contract.

While I'm not crazy about Matt Niskanen, most of the talking heads around the league seemed okay with his money and term. He turns 28 in December and has fair pedigree (he was a first round pick in 2005). This past season was his first with 40+ points, and while defensemen aren't as well-captured by simple statistics as forwards (and hockey players in general aren't as well-captured by statistics as players in some other sports), a guy who gets a lot of talk about being an offensive defensemen and a potential power play quarterback ought to not have trouble posting good numbers.

But the consensus outrage/concern/laughingstock was that the Capitals signed on for paying Brooks Orpik $5.25 million through his age 38 season. Orpik, who some analysts already believe is a few steps beyond his prime, was a staple for the Penguins for basically the entire Sidney Crosby era in Pittsburgh. As something of a bruiser, he hasn't ever put up 40 points in a season, but that's not his role, so no one seems too concerned about that. The points I keep hearing people harp on are "38-year-old," "already past his prime," "term, term, term."

What's surprising to me is that not a single analyst (at least, none that I've heard) has mentioned that the acquisition of Orpik fills a pretty glaring and longtime hole on the Capitals roster, at least in the short term. Karl Alzner is a great positional defender, and he stifles rushes as well as anybody. But he hasn't shown himself to be someone who can move a player out of the crease on the PK. The previous management regime thought the same thing; that's why John Erskine is still in town. He was the only guy who was mean enough to get that job done, but he's a liability in most other situations.

Orpik, while no Nicklas Lidstrom, acquits himself fine on offense, and can play all facets of defense, not just the ones involving knocking people over. The Caps for five years have been terrible at moving guys out from in front of their goaltenders. Big guys with quick hands have been their undoing. Orpik can help that, and he can help it immediately.

So the important question is, are the Caps a team that can compete this year for a title? Remember, they didn't even make the playoffs last season, in a league that send more than half of its teams to the playoffs. Part of the thinking is that replacing Adam Oates with Barry Trotz will help, and it will, but is the roster strong enough?

Yes, unequivocally.

Everyone knows Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are stars, and most people are aware of what Mike Green can be. If you know anything about hockey, you should also know that John Carlson and Karl Alzner are a very strong defensive pairing. But farther down the depth chart, there's still a ton of production. Joel Ward, after a disappointing start to his Capitals career, has really come into his own. Eric Fehr rediscovered his talent in coming back to DC. The two new defensemen will add considerable strength, and adding in Dmitry Orlov, the Caps can roll six dynamic defensemen every night.

The key for the Caps, as it has been for years, is finding production out of their second scoring line. Fehr is a good player, but doesn't have the skill to carry a second line. Luckily, the Caps have someone who does have that level of skill, and he was added to the team late last season:

http://misterirrelevant.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Evgeny-Kuznetsov.jpg

Evgeny Kuznetsov is a hyper-talented Russian player who just finally finished his commitments with the KHL at the end of last season, and made an immediate impact upon joining the Capitals. His skill was obvious to any viewer, and he had virtually zero time to prepare, study, learn, or mesh at all. With a full offseason and preseason, and with another Russian dynamo to take him under his wing, I expect huge things from this youngster. I'd really enjoy seeing Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson spend time together on the same line, so they can grow into the next era of prolific Caps players.

But to answer my previously posed question, I expect the Capitals to be able to challenge the best of the Eastern Conference this year. I would've liked to see them maybe take a flyer on Derek Roy, and obviously I'm a bit of a homer, but it feels like a lot of things are falling into place this year.

Back to the original topic, I think adding Orpik was a move that addressed a substantial need for a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations. The term may be a concern, but I'm okay with my favorite team taking this risk.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mega Man Magic Update

I promise I'm not ignoring the Mega Man Magic set upload. It turns out, Imgur only allows like 220 pictures to be uploaded to a free account. They obviously allow you to pay for more, but I'm debating on whether or not I want to do that, or post them myself somewhere else. In the end, I think I'll probably just get the upgrade, but I don't want Imgur to think I did it because they tricked me into it. Let 'em sweat it out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Halls of Fame

So this was originally going to be a post about Pau Gasol.

I was reading some article on ESPN about this year's offseason and the implications of various players signed, traded, or drafted, and the author passingly mentioned how Pau Gasol is a Hall of Famer. I tried to keep reading on, but that one point really stuck in my craw, so I did what Joe and Joe always do: I went to Basketball-Reference and pored over stats.

I reviewed similar players statistically, like Mark Agguire and Tom Chambers (non-HOFers) and Alonzo Mourning and Robert Parish (HOFers). The differences were unexceptional; usually it was a matter of championships. But can you really just declare that, because Mourning got a title as the 6th option on the 2005-2006 Heat, that puts him over the top? Seems inappropriate.

So, my investigation took me further, comparing this player to that player, trying to adjust across eras, and taking into consideration various players from the game today who are "lock" HOFers (Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett), and who oughtn't be but you could see people sticking up for (Lamar Odom, Antawn Jamison).

But as I try to get more information, more questions arise, and I have no answers. Will Chris Bosh be a member of the Hall of Fame when it's all said and done? He's likely to finish with numbers around Gasol's, and he's got a pair of titles with the Heat. Tim Duncan is a surefire Hall of Famer; what about Parker and Ginobili? They were obviously vital to the Spurs' success, but wasn't Horace Grant also instrumental to the Bulls' success in the mid-90s? Less than Jordan or Pippen, but still important. Grant went to one All-Star game in his career; Ginobili's been to two. And Jamison has scored an awful lot of points. Will that be enough to warrant immortality? It wasn't for Bernard King, but who knows.

Baseball used to be easy to wrap your head around. Certain statistics were benchmarks, but then came the steroid era, throwing that into the wind as well. So now, we rely on a combination of statistics, championships, anecdotes, and a "smell test" to determine who deserves to be enshrined forever. Is Alonzo Mourning on that list? Apparently. And if he is, I suppose Gasol deserves to be there too.

I'm not really sure where this blog post ended up. But I think you can count on more posts about the Halls of Fame.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

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