Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Best Day of the Year

Today is the best day of the year.  And do you know why?  BASEBALL IS BACK!  Sure, there have been games for about a month, and yes, pitchers and catchers reported about 50 days ago.  But those were just teases.  Evan Longoria doesn't get pulled for a "defensive replacement" in the 5th inning; Roy Halladay doesn't come out after three perfect innings (see March 5th) because he's tired.  Don't get me wrong, Spring Training is great.  It's our first beacon of hope after a long, dreary winter.  After almost four months without strikeouts, it's nice to finally see Tim Lincecum blow away hitter after hitter and hitter.  But it isn't the same. Hit the jump for our Opening Day Preview:

Stat Line of the Day: March 31st

St. Louis Blues: 10 G, 47 SOG vs. Detroit Red Wings

   Not the team you would think to score 10
   on the Red Wings for the first time in 18 years
Over the last 15 years, no team has had quite the success of the Detroit Red Wings. But before they won the Stanley Cup in 1997, they hadn't won a Cup in 42 years. Wednesday night's loss to the St. Louis Blues brings back memories of that "Dead Wing" era. The Blues posted 10 goals, with five in the second period alone. The last time the Red Wings gave up 10 goals in a single game was 1993. And eight goals in two periods? March 3, 1986. As for the Blues, the last time they scored in the double digits was in 1994 when they beat the Ottawa Senators 11-1. Tonight's game, however, also gives a unique insight into the current parity in the NHL. The Blues are on the verge of elimination in the Western Conference. The Red Wings, meanwhile, despite a bit of a late season slide over the last six games (1-3-2), are still in second place in the West and and 1st in the Central Division with a comfortable 6 point lead over the Nashville Predators. Despite this, the Blues came out tonight and scored on a whopping 21.3% of their recorded shots. Furthermore, these ten goals were scored by 9 different players. Chris Porter scored his first two goals of the season. Cam Janssen scored his first of the year tonight. Eight different forwards scored in this game, with only one goal coming from a defenseman. This kind of herculean effort bodes well for a team that is looking to build on this year's efforts next season. They have many of the right pieces in place, and this is a team that has a lot of success to build on next season. Although a game like Wednesday's match between the Red Wings and Blues is anomalous in the NHL, with its score looking more like a defensive football struggle than a hockey game, it does speak to what a developing team can do when it gets hard work from its entire lineup and perhaps some lucky bounces.

Honorable Mention

Jhonas Enroth (BUF): 0 GA, 23 Saves, 1.000 SV% vs. NYR
After a quick glance at tonight's score, I wasn't overly surprised to see that the Buffalo Sabres had shut out the New York Rangers. This isn't to say that the Rangers are particularly bad, or that the Sabres are particularly good, but merely that a shutout was not a rare event for Ryan Miller (he has 22 SO in 392 starts over 8 seasons).  But the winning goalie was not Miller, but rather Jhonas Enroth,  a 22-year-old playing in his 10th NHL game. Meanwhile, the impressive rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky of the Philadelphia Flyers has yet to post a shutout in 47 starts.  On the other hand, in his 49 starts this year, the Chicago Blackhawk's young Corey Crawford has posted four shutouts. Enroth was a 2nd round draft pick of the Sabres in 2006, and has spent the years since playing in both his native Sweden and for the Portland Pirates of the AHL, where he has posted 8 shutouts over two seasons. In his ten major league games, he has posted a .906 SV% and 2.77 GAA. Enroth may not be the next Ryan Miller, but nonetheless his first shutout is a nice achievement for the young goalie.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's going on in the Atlantic Division?

The Knicks are championship contenders 
now that they have Melo. Right?
In my first post for Sports, Stats, and Stuff, I wrote that the Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams trades shifted power in the NBA from West to East.  I specifically said that the players going East were collectively much better than those traveling West and that the Knicks would (eventually) be a championship contender as a result.  While I still stand by that earlier article, I have been eating a fat slice of humble pie the past couple weeks.  Even with Monday night's crucial (yet flawed) win over the Magic, the Knicks have lost 9 of 11 games.  In the Carmelo Anthony era, the Knicks are 8-12, dropping from two games over .500 to two games below.  They've also dropped to 7th in the Eastern Conference standings, making their potential first round playoff matchup much harder.  The has been good news for the Philadelphia 76ers, the East's new #6 seed.  Philly has been surging, compiling an 11-7 record since the All-Star Break (and the Knicks got Carmelo).  On Monday night, they went into Chicago and dismantled the Bulls 97-85, with six Sixers in double-digits in points.  This stark contrast was supposed to be reversed.  The Knicks have Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony--two of the most dominant players in the NBA.  (Full disclosure: I am a lifelong Knicks fan and season-ticket holder.  Am I biased? Yes,  but our editor is a Sixers fan, so he'll keep me in line.)  The Sixers, on the other hand, have a sophomore point guard and no bona fide stars to speak of.  Clearly, Mike D'Antoni's squad should be superior to the young guns in Philadelphia--but this has not been the case this season.  Are the under-the-radar 76ers REALLY better than the new-look Knicks?  Hit the jump to find out.

Spring Training Spotlight: Atlanta

(L to R) Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux
dominated hitters for 7 seasons together
For 11 straight years, there were six divisions in baseball--but only five of them were really competitive. Every year, the Atlanta Braves won the division; every year, fans in Montreal, Philadelphia, Florida, and New York watched Bobby Cox lead his team to the playoffs. Every year, pitchers like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux would mow down opposing hitters, winning 15+ games so often it was almost unfair. All three are likely Hall-of-Famers, with Smoltz the first pitcher to win 200 games while saving 100, while Maddux and Glavine might be two of the last pitchers to amass 300 wins. It didn't help that the Expos (now the Nationals) and Phillies were under horrible management, playing in outdated stadiums, while the Braves had still-popular Turner Field as well potentially the best coaching staff in the league, with Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone putting out quality team after quality team, led by those unflappable pitching staffs. 

After 11 years, however, the dynasty crumbled--Atlanta didn't make the playoffs from 2006-2009, with their highest win total at 86 (their lowest during the 11-season streak? 88 wins, in 2001). Not to say that wasn't expected--in today's game of parity, even quality franchises are going to have down years--but it's about how quickly teams rebuild that keeps the fanbases intact. In the Braves case, they've managed to put together a solid playoff contender just a few years after losing some of the best pitchers in the last few decades, by adding pieces from around the league as well as within--plus one old vet hoping to bridge the gap. All winter, the talk the NL East has been about the Phillies and their dominating pitching staff--but with the Phils getting hurt, do the Braves have what it takes to win a division? Hit the jump to find out.

Stat Line of the Day: March 30th

Maya Moore (UConn): 28 points (12-18 FG), 10 rebounds, 7 steals vs. Duke
Moore is just two wins away from leading the Huskies
to their 3rd straight national title
In high school and college basketball, there's something special about 1,000. To get 1,000 points is a significant acheivement--it signifies the player made a real contribution to the program over their years there, like scoring 10 points per game over the course of 100 games. To get to the next level, to get to 2,000 points, is really something, limited to the real stars of the college game--the Kemba Walkers, Kyle Singlers, and Steph Curries of the college basketball world. But 3,000? If someone played 130 games over the course of their college career--and this assumes quite the freshman season--one would need to score 23.1 points per game to hit that plateau. But that's just what Maya Moore has done--3,000 points, to go along with her 1200+ rebounds and 500+ assists--over the course of her spectacular college career. When UConn made their run at UCLA's record of consecutive wins, breaking it with their 89th straight victory this past December, some questioned if the streak had as much validity as UCLA's winning streak. I really think that's because some people just don't understand how good Maya Moore is. She's shot 53.2% from the floor for her career, just over 40% from three, and her career point total is more than 600 points higher than her closest Husky competitor (Tina Charles, with 2,346 career points). She's won basically every award there is to win in her first three years alone--Big East player of the year (as a freshman), the Naismith Award for national player of the year, three-time AP All-American, an ESPY, Scholar of the Year awards...the list goes on, and that's not including the awards she'll win this year. I don't think coach Geno Auriemma will have any problems recruiting more top-level talent to Storrs, but he's certainly losing quite the special player in Maya Moore.

Honorable Mention
Lebron James (MIA): 27 points (10-21 FG), 10 rebounds, 12 assists
Mike Bibby (MIA): 23 points (7-11 FG, 7-11 3PT) vs. Cavaliers
A two-for-one special here, as both these men managed to put up pretty nice stat lines--in a 12-point loss to James' former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first time the Heat had lost to the Cavs in four games this season. Nothing incredibly special about either of these--it's the first time Bibby had hit seven threes in a game this season, but it's certainly not LeBron's first (or last) triple double. While I certainly think the win may have been overstated by some, it's still nice to knock off the King at his former palace, so I sort of understand where Cavs fans are coming from. Also lost in this stat line was the atrocious play of Chris Bosh: 5-for-14, 10 points, and only 4 rebounds with a lovely -24 +/- for the time he was on the court. 

Drew Storen (WAS): 0.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R (4 ER), 1 HR vs. Mets
Sometimes relievers just have these days where they can't seem to do anything right. Maybe it's because they're used to only needing to face one or two batters at a time, but many relievers don't enjoy facing 9 batters in one inning. Maybe there's another reason. Either way, what Drew Storen did against the Mets is embarrassing--in spring training, there's no reason to give up 7 hits around only 2 outs, including a 3-run home to David Wright. I would say that Washington could hope to get Storen fixed by the time the regular season starts (he currently sports a nice 11.12 ERA), but the reliever could be in for a sophomore slump of his own. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Kansas City

With Greinke no longer a Royal, who's 
going to step up in Kansas City?
As spring training finally winds down, with just two days until the first pitches (at least, the ones that count) are thrown, we turn our eye to what has to be one of the most-ignored franchises in major American professional sports. If not for Carlos Beltran's 2003 season, when the Royals won 83 games, they would be only one season behind Pittsburgh's seasonal losing streak--that was the only winning season since 1993. Two years ago, a once-renowned pitcher named Zack Greinke (right) got his mojo back and won a Cy Young, but you had the feeling it was only a matter of time before he found greener pastures. Indeed, Greinke now pitches for the Brewers, and it feels like it's back to page one in KC. However, just because Greinke left doesn't mean the Royals weren't able to bring in a few pieces to add to the puzzle. Sometimes, putting a player in a new situation, a new city, can really restart a younger veteran's career, and Kansas City has really put their hopes on that happening this season. Similar to Pittsburgh, the Royals need to build some sort of momentum as a franchise in order to attract more talent. The rotation is a major problem, however, and it seems like it will take the discovery of a new Greinke to really put the Royals in any position to be competitive. So, who are those old faces trying to find a new home in Kansas City? Hit the jump to find out who--and how they're doing.

Stat Line of the Day: March 29th

Temmu Selanne (ANA): 3 goals, 2 assists, +2, 17 min vs. Colorado
Even at 40, Selanne is still producing for the Ducks
We venture onto the ice for the first time here at SportStatistics to honor a 40-year-old right winger, and boy what a night he had. His first of the day was a penalty shot 47 seconds into the second period--his first penalty-shot goal in 18 years. The second came 8 minutes later courtesy of Cam Fowler, and Selanne put in his 28th goal of the season with five minutes remaining in the third period to give Anaheim a 5-3 lead. That goal proved to be the difference-maker, however, with the final score at 5-4. Selanne has had quite the year for a 40-year-old, his 75 points the most he's had since 2006 (the last time he played more than 65 games; he's already played in 67 out of 76 games this year), and his big night helped the Ducks stay 4 points up on 9th-place Calgary in the Western conference. Anaheim is in 7th with 6 games to play, though they do have a game in hand over those Flames. The five-point game was the ninth such achievement of Selanne's career. 

Honorable Mentions:
Carmelo Anthony (NYK): 39 points (12-26 fg, 2-6 3pt, 13-17 FTs, 10 reb, 2 ast, 3 TO)
On a night where you could almost see the Knicks season spiraling out of control, it was their new star who had to pull them out of it in overtime. Did this game turn the Knicks fortunes around? That remains to be seen. But Carmelo had one of his best games of the season--he's scored 39 two other times and 50 once--against a Magic team without Jameer Nelson (15.0 PER in 30mpg) and J.J. Redick (12.87 PER in 25.6mpg), on a night where the Knicks maybe shouldn't have needed it. New York got some help in overtime when Dwight Howard fouled out and then got called for a technical on the same play, so to win at home in those circumstances is nearly a must if one wants any sort of confidence for the rest of the season. As good as 'Melo is, the Knicks are still only in the 7th slot in the Eastern Conference, looking at a first-round matchup with the Celtics--not exactly a rosy situation for what was supposed to be a season-changing trade. 

Kansas City Royals: 17-for-39, 10 runs, 3 walks, 0 strikeouts
What, an entire team can't have a great line? This really was the definition of a team hitting effort by the Royals: of the 14 hitters with a plate appearance, 12 of them got hits, 8 had an RBI, and 10 of them scored a run. That's right, a different player scored all 10 runs for Kansas City, and only one batter (Kila Ka'aihue, who had a 3-run homer) had multiple RBIs. Also impressive was the lack of strikeouts, the number of home runs (four), and the fact that no player had any more than two hits. I don't want to say too much about the Royals--we're going to spotlight them later on today.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Elite 8 Recap

By now, I'm sure everybody has heard just how mad this March has been. The third time since 1979 that none of the 1-seeds made it into the Final Four, and the first time that none of the 2-seeds made it either--that's right, none of the top 8 teams going into the tournament made it to the final weekend. Brad Stevens might have legitimized Butler as the next Gonzaga, getting the Bulldogs to their second consecutive Final Four--an incredibly tough acheivement in this age of parity and talent throughout Division I basketball. What's interesting now is that we're left with four teams--UConn, Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, and Kentucky--that, prior to the tournament, didn't really have any arguments that they should be national champions. 

Calhoun leads an impressive quartet of coaches
UConn, even though they won the Maui Invitational in November (defeating Kentucky and Michigan State in the process), still finished only 9-9 in the Big East, including a 4-7 run in their final 11 games. Butler and Virginia Commonwealth had decent seasons out of mid-major conferences, but there's no way they could have any argument they deserved to be in the national title contender. Kentucky would have been in the top-5 had they had the services of big man Enes Kanter, but they didn't--and so they lost 6 conference road games. So now we're left with a Final Four without Duke, without Ohio State--even without North Carolina, Notre Dame, BYU, Florida, or Pitt, all of whom had national championship aspirations going into the tournament--but instead we'll see a team very few saw coming stand atop the podium to receive the trophy. The one thing that can't be said about these four teams is that they don't have good leadership. Jim Calhoun (above) is the oldest of the four, leading UConn back to the promised land, and he joins Brad Stevens (Butler), Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth), and John Calipari (Kentucky). So what happened in the Elite 8 that saw these four teams get through? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Spring Training Spotlight: Pittsburgh

Continuing our recent trend of spotlighting long-suffering NL Central teams, we shift our focus over to the Steel City of Pittsburgh. It's been a long few decades for the 'Burgh's remaining baseball fans, as the recent success of both the Penguins (2009 Stanley Cup champion) and Steelers (2005 + 2008 Super Bowl champs) has drawn most of the city's sports fans away from PNC Park. It's a shame that the Pirates have been so poor lately, because, having been to PNC Park multiple times, I can say it's actually quite the ballpark--they could just use a competitive team to fill it. So what's happened to the franchise of Clemente, Bonds, and Stargell--why haven't the Pirates had a winning season since 1992?

Huntington, 41, enters his 4th season as Pirates GM
For years, the Pirates had a cycle going: get decent players who rise out of their farm system, under-perform as a team, and then trade those good players to contenders for more promising prospects...who would then improve enough to the point where a contending team would want them, and get traded for more prospects.  Players like Jason Bay, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McClouth, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, and Xavier Nady have all been traded away in recent seasons for minor leaguers--not all great major leaguers, for sure, but some could be parts on successful teams. However, the Pirates finally seem to have a few young, promising hitters in the lineup at the same time, and GM Neal Huntington (above)  has had a few years to develop the farm system in his image to the point where the players coming up through it are his picks, and not the old regime's. Could this be the year the Pirates approach some level of respectability? Hit the jump to find out!

Stat Line of the Day: March 28th

Jrue Holiday (PHI): 28 points (11-19 FG, 5-5 FT), 9 rebounds, 7 assists vs. Kings
About a week ago, we analyzed the young starting point guards in the NBA, and we concluded that Jrue Holiday (see right) fell in the middle of the pack.  We thought that he had impressively solid numbers in all the relevant statistical categories--except in points-per-game average, which left much to be desired.  Well, last night Holiday showed us that he is certainly capable of scoring in bunches, putting up his highest points total since early November.  His efficiency was also valuable in helping the Sixers at least force overtime, especially with teammates Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young shooting a combined 3-23 from the field (and Andre Iguodala shooting an inexplicable 4-10 from the charity stripe).  Holiday did it all last night, with 7 assists and 9 rebounds, including 4 on the offensive end.  He was at his best in the 4th quarter, too, racking up 16 of his team's 29 points in the final frame.  We're not ready to admit we underestimated Holiday yet--but we will definitely keep our eye on him to see if games like yesterday's become less of an aberration and more of a regular occurrence. 

Honorable Mentions
Josh Smith (ATL): 13 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks vs. Cavaliers
Hawks fans should be happy not just about their double-digit road win yesterday, but also about the all-around performance turned in by Josh Smith.  Most encouraging for the Hawks faithful was Smith's dominance on the glass, pulling in a season-high 18 rebounds against the Cavs.  In his previous six games, Smith had recorded double-digit rebounds only once, including a 2-rebound night against the Bulls and a 4-rebound performance versus the Nets.  He broke out in a big way yesterday, though, with more than twice as many rebounds as any Cavaliers player.  He also managed 6 assists and 2 blocks, for a solid all-around game from the Hawk's young power forward. 

Marcus Morris (KU): 20 points, 16 rebounds (8 offensive) vs. VCU
Though it was in a losing effort, Marcus Morris turned in his best performance of the tournament in yesterday afternoon's shocking game against Virginia Commonwealth.  He recorded 20 points for the first time in this year's Big Dance, and he racked up a season-high 16 rebounds.  8 of those boards came on the offensive end, matching VCU's entire team on offensive rebounds.  Morris got offensive rebounds on 20% of the Jayhawks' misses, the highest percentage of any player in the Elite Eight.  Though he couldn't will his team to victory--mostly because Kansas shot 2-21 from 3-point range compared to 12-25 from the Rams--Morris turned in a high-quality effort nonetheless.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Chicago Cubs

After talking about the White Sox in our last Spring Training Spotlight, I thought it would only be fair to move our focus a few miles to the north and talk about the long-suffering Chicago Cubs.  Last season was an eventful one for the 5th-place North Siders, with the mid-season departures of long-time first baseman Derek Lee to the Braves as well as manager Lou Pinella (see right) for personal reasons.  The Cubs also kept volatile starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano on the trading block all year, and they finished under .500 for the first time since 2006.  An eventful season then transitioned into an eventful offseason for the Cubbies.  Hit the jump to read more about it.

Stat Line of the Day: March 27th

Derrick Rose (CHI): 30 points (9-17 FG, 12-12 FT), 3 rebounds, 17 assists, 2 turnovers vs. Bucks
There's a lot for Bulls fans to like about their star point guard's performance last night in Milwaukee.  Derrick Rose (see left) was not only the game's high-scorer, but he did it efficiently.  Rose ended up at 53% from the field and a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe last night--way above his 43.7% shooting average coming into last night's game.  Even more impressive, though (and, ultimately, the reason he is featured in this column), was his performance distributing the ball.  Rose, who we earlier found to be the 3rd best point guard in the NBA, had an assist on 17 of the 27 Bulls field goals that he himself did not make--that's 63% of his teammates' buckets!  Also, in order to take 17 field goals (plus 12 free throws) and dish out 17 dimes, Rose must have had the ball in his hand almost the entire night.  Despite that, he only committed 2 turnovers all game--for an astounding 8.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He set a career-high in assists (his previous high was 14), and still contributed with scoring and efficiency.  A pretty good night for the Bulls' budding star.

Honorable Mentions

Albert Pujols (STL): 2-3, 3 RBIs, 2 Runs, 2 Home Runs vs. Marlins
Well, I guess he's in midseason form.  And it's still March.  Scary stuff. Wanna know something else scary?  The size of the contract he's going to sign next winter. Oh, and he's won two gold gloves. And has a .331 career batting average. I'm glad I'm not a pitcher in the NL Central. Notice how Pujols is so scary-good that I can't compose a real post about him, instead I can only rant about how good he is. His career OPS in 1.050.

Vernon Macklin (Florida): 25 points (11-14 FG, 3-5 FT), 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers vs. Butler
I was originally going to pick Butler's Shelvin Mack for this last spot because of his huge role in Butler's overtime victory over Macklin's Gators yesterday.  Then I realized that, winning and losing aside, Macklin did have the better line than Mack (confusing pair of names, I know).  Not that winning and losing aren't important.  In fact, they're the most important things in all of sports.  Just not at this blog.  We're trying to focus as much as possible on the statistics themselves.  In that light, Macklin (see right) gets the nod here.  As I'm sure you'll all learn about me eventually, I really like efficient basketball players.  Any shot you take is one not taken by your teammates.  And sure, you're better than they are, but that doesn't mean that you should be jacking up 3's as soon as you get across halfcourt (I'm looking at you, Jimmer-against-Florida).  For that reason, I love what Macklin did last night.  He managed 25 points on only 14 shots, including a 79% shooting clip from the floor.  Pair that stat with his 0 turnovers, and you got yourself one of the most efficient games of the tournament.  Oh, and he only did it in 24 minutes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March Madness Catchup--Sweet 16/Elite 8

Well, Day 2 of the Sweet 16 was slightly less exciting than Day 1, with two huge blowouts highlighting early play. The later games were closer, and at least we picked three out of the four correct, but another huge favorite is gone from the tournament. We'll do a recap of last night's action and then talk about the Elite 8: 

Kansas def. Richmond & North Carolina def. Marquette: We're going to lump these games in together because they were both over nearly as soon as they began. Marquette had a 10-8 lead on North Carolina nine minutes into the game, but it was 27-10 before they would score again--and the rout was on. Kansas didn't even give Richmond that much time to think they could stick around. Nine minutes into that game, Kansas already had a 17-7 lead, and just 5 minutes later it was 31-9. So what happened? Not much--Richmond and Marquette, as we discussed yesterday, both had strong bracket draws. Marquette was able to play a team they'd beaten already this season in 3-seed Syracuse, and Richmond got the benefit of facing Morehead State in the second round, so their paths to the Sweet 16 may not have been as tough as, say, Butler. Richmond, who had been shooting the ball fairly well from three in the first two games (16-39, 41%) went only 4-26 in the loss to Kansas, while Marquette shot only 2-16. Kevin Anderson (right), the Spiders leading scorer, shot only 5-17 from the floor in his final collegiate game. Not much else to analyze here--just two games where far superior talent took hold against good coaching and luck of the draw.

For the rest of the Sweet 16 analysis and our Elite 8 preview, hit the jump!

Spring Training Spotlight: Chicago White Sox

To date, our Spring Training Spotlights have generally focused on teams on the coasts: only 1 of our 11 pieces to have profiled a team in the Central Division of either league.  That's why we thought it was important to show the Midwest some love, finally, and we're going to spotlight a team that I think could be a sleeper in the American League: the Chicago White Sox.  With everybody's attention focused on the Red Sox's big pickups and Cliff Lee's decision to return to Philadelphia, the South Siders have generally flown under the radar.  This has been a big offseason for them, too.  Hit the jump to find out why.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stat Line of the Day: Bad Pitcher Edition (March 25th)

The last time three pitchers gave up 10 runs each in three separate games was in 1930, according to's Jayson Stark. But, it happened in Spring Training yesterday, as three not-that-bad pitchers all put up some big numbers yesterday, and not in the categories you would want to see them in. Helped out by some questionable defense and some hot hitting by the opposing squads, here's three pitching lines these guys better hope they don't throw up in the regular season (in order of how ugly we thought they were):

Kazmir was a 1st-round draft pick, NYM (2002)

3. Scott Kazmir (LAA): 5 IP, 8 H, 10 R (8 ER), 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HR (7.79 spring ERA)
The only one of the three pitchers that didn't have the majority of his runs in a single inning, Kazmir (left) instead gave up four runs in both the first and second innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. At least Kazmir can say he's the only starting pitcher of the three whose opponent didn't get 20 hits, Kazmir gets the least impressive score of the day because frankly, his wasn't as entertaining as the other two. Kazmir just flat-out didn't pitch well, raising his spring ERA from 5.10 to that 7.79, easily his worst spring of his past three season. Kazmir's regular-season ERA has been on the rise lately as well--not what you want to see from a pitcher who, at 27, should be entering the prime years of his career.

2. Clay Buchholz (BOS): 4 IP, 11 H, 11 R (6 ER), 1BB, 5K, 4 HR (3.71 spring ERA)
The second-best line from this game was that Javier Vazquez gets the win for the Marlins despite giving up 6 earned runs in 4 innings. Where this game went wrong: the 4th inning. Buchholz had a man on first with two out after getting a foul bunt strikeout and a groundout in a 5-5 ballgame. Then, after an error on catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Buchholz gave up the following to the next four batters: walk, home run, double, home run. Still, those 5 unearned runs are pretty impressive until you consider our final pitcher of the day.

1. Jaime Garcia (STL): 4 IP, 14 H, 10 R (3 ER), 1 K, 2 HR (7.94 spring ERA)
The Mets won this game 16-3, also collecting 20 hits, as second baseman Brad Emaus looked to wrap up the second base job with a 4-for-4 day and three runs scored. It was Garcia, though, that had the best line of the day for one reason: all 7 unearned runs came off the SAME ERROR. After Nick Evans started off the 4th inning (those damn 4th innings) with a double and came home to score on two straight fly outs, it seemed Garcia might have an easy inning, even after Brad Emaus singled. Then Chris Capuano reached on a Skip Schumaker error, and the floodgates opened. The next seven batters got hits, and it took Scott Hairston getting thrown out at home by Matt Holliday trying to score from second on a Ronny Paulino single to end the inning--and Garcia's day.

Sweet 16 Recap (Day 1)

If you read my picks yesterday, then you'll already know I only went two-for-two: got the first two games right, got the second two games wrong. Someone commented on the preview post after I said that Duke beating Arizona was the "easiest pick" of the first round, and came to the conclusion that I know absolutely nothing about college basketball. To that person, I say--if you know anything about college basketball, you'll know that anything is also possible. For those of you who've read several of our pieces, you'll notice a theme that links them--the idea that people don't always understand what statistics mean, what they tell us, and how we can use them.

The idea here is to use previous data to try and guess what will happen. Duke was the 8th-best defensive team in the country this season, but they still let Arizona dominate them on the offensive side of the ball en route to scoring 93 happens. Not that it makes the Cameron Crazies any happier, but this sport is so great because variation can run so high, and dealing with 18-22 year old kids playing basketball in such a pressure situation can always foul up even the most educated guessers. If you're looking for someone who makes the right picks every time, well then I wish you the best of luck. If you're looking for some information about the games that'll give you some fact-based  (and number-based) knowledge of what happened in those games, then hit the jump!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March Madness--Sweet 16 Preview

(Reading this after the fact? Check out a recap of night one's action here

Week two of March Madness begins tonight, with 16 teams left standing to hold up the NCAA championship trophy a week from Sunday. The Sweet 16 is often cited as an important mark to make for a few reasons--it's the first round where even 1-seeds are no longer massive favorites over their usually much-weaker 8-seed foes. A team that gets lucky in the first round and pulls a huge upset is usually negated by the team they play in the second round--one win can be a fluke, but two wins on  the most pressure-filled courts in America can create legends. Any win over a team in the Sweet 16 is going to be a quality win, and the air up past this round can be very thin, indeed. But how we do fin out which teams are going to move on?

One of our many mottoes (that we enjoy making up on the spot from time-to-time) says "statistics can tell us a lot about the past, but that doesn't mean they can also predict the future." Just because Kevin Durant hits his first 10 shots of the day doesn't mean he's going to hit his 11th. The longer back we can track stats, the more meaningful they become, but they're still just a look at the past, not a look into future probability. It's impossible to know which team is going to come out this weekend on fire, and which one will suddenly go cold when it matters most. At this point in the tournament, we are left with 16 rather talented squads, and while a few might have an advantage (Duke, Ohio State, Kansas), that doesn't mean the others aren't capable of pulling the upset. If we take a look at the data from last weekend, at least we can give ourselves an idea of how the matchups look...

Stat Line of the Day: March 24th

Now we're back to what will be the more common format of this daily feature: only 1 Stat Line of the Day.  Some days, multiple performances are good (or bad or interesting) enough to warrant the top spot.  Usually, though, we're going to stick with one top dog and a couple of runners-up for the best/worst/coolest statistical performance of the day.  Here's what we thought was pretty awesome/terrible/weird from yesterday, including a center who put up his first career triple-double...find out who after the break!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baseball Debate: Stadium Edition (Part 2)

(Click Here for Part One)

After yesterday's overview about the current state of baseball stadiums--and some basic data from our friends at Stadium Journey--we really haven't settled any debate yet about who's got the best stadium. So now we're left with 30 stadiums, each with their own merits and drawbacks, their own idiosyncrasies that make them what they are. There's the Green Monster out in Fenway's left field, the home run balls flying into McCovey's Cove in San Francisco, and even that weird hill that Houston decided to build in the middle of center field, flagpole and everything.

But how can you even attempt to quantify something as subjective as a stadium? It's not easy, and as good a job as the folks at Stadium Journey do, it's still not easy to take one person's review of a stadium as the end game for stadium ratings. So, keep in mind that the data we used is flawed, but that's what makes it fun to add to the debate--if you think about it, the majority of basic statistics are flawed in some way (a 30-point night sounds nice until you find out the guy took 45 shots to do it), but the important thing is that they have given us some sort of quantifiable data to work with it. And that's what we do best. So, to see how well (or poorly) your stadium did, hit the jump!

Are the Resurgent Lakers for Real?

As the defending champs, the Lakers were always going to be over-analyzed and picked apart by fans, the media, and all manner of hoops punditry this season.  However, in the early weeks of 2011, fatalistic criticism of the Lakers reached a fever pitch.  They were "fading" or "lifeless," and "the odds were stacked against them" repeating again.  Despite their .667 winning percentage, the Lakers just did not look like the same team that won the last 2 NBA Championships without needing any Kobe heroics (see right) to do it. A team looking for it's 3rd straight championship doesn't usually drop back-to-back games against Eastern Conference sub-.500 teams, like the Lakers did against the Bobcats and Cavaliers just before the All-Star Break. Since then, however, Phil Jackson's squad has looked rejuvenated, going 13-1, with their only loss coming in Miami.  Are they back to being the favorites in the Western Conference?  Or do they not even have a chance of securing Phil Jackson's 4th career 3-peat?   Hit the jump to find out.

Stat Line of the Day: March 23rd

Today's Stat Line of the Day is actually a Double Feature: two young pitchers having rather different springs. One represents part of an uprising in Baltimore, the other the dreaded sophomore slump:

Zach Britton (BAL): 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 5 K's vs. Yankees.
Britton has a spring ERA of 0.64
The 23-year-old is considered one of the Orioles top prospects, and he's certainly pitching like it. After today he has pitched 14 innings this spring and given up 14 hits, 1 run (1 ER), and 4 walks/9 strikeouts. No, this start wasn't the most impressive stat line we've seen from a pitcher this spring (see: yesterday) but at least it's something positive about Baltimore, and Britton definitely has talent. Last season, in 26 starts between AA and AAA (14 AA, 12 AAA), he went 10-7 with a 2.70 ERA in 153 innings while holding batters to a .237 average against him. The good thing for Orioles fans is that because he threw 153 innings last season, he most likely won't see too big an increase in IP this year.
Mike Leake (CIN): 2.1 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4bb/1k 1 HR vs. Oakland
Could we be seeing the early stages of the dreaded sophomore slump? As a rookie, Leake had a 4.23 ERA & went 8-4 in 22 starts last year, including going 7-1 in his first 8 decisions. Now he's got a 9.39 ERA in 15.1 spring innings--not so great, especially compared to last spring when he had an ERA of 3.00 in 18 innings. Leake could have cost himself a spot in the Reds rotation with this spring.

Honorable Mentions:

Marcin Gortat (PHO): 53 Min, 24 points (9-15 fg, 6-8 ft), 16 rebs, 2blk, 2 fouls @ Lakers
Playing 53 minutes in an NBA game is one thing, but doing it off the bench against the Lakers in triple overtime is something else entirely. Gortat, the Polish center who had only 3 career starts before this season, has scored in double-figures every game this month, and is now averaging 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds in 29 minutes per game, for a PER of 19.0. Robin Lopez, the Suns starting center had 4 fouls in 10 min, so Gortat came up huge for Phoenix, but ultimately in a losing effort

Hector Santiago (CHW): 1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2bb/2ks vs. Mariners
I think this one speaks for itself in its bizarre ugliness. It wasn't a lot of errors, just one at the beginning of the inning, followed by two outs, so everything after that was unearned. Santiago didn't help himself, giving up two hits with men on base after that 2nd out, but the line is still fairly amusing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baseball Debate: Stadium Edition (Part 1)

Think, for a second, about the history and diversity of the baseball stadium. Not just the 30 that currently stand for MLB teams, but their predecessors both direct and indirect. Stadiums like Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Built in 1919, the park has games that are delayed because the sun sets--when it was built facing the west, there was no such thing as baseball at night. It's one of the few ballparks left with wooden bleachers, one of the few ballparks that watching a game at feels like it should. There's no distractions, no giant scoreboards, no vendors walking up and down the aisles, getting in your way. It doesn't have the history of a Fenway or a Wrigley, but it has all the authenticity of those two giants of the baseball stadium world. 

 Given the option between a game at Wahconah  (right) and a game at one of the awful cookie-cutter stadiums used for both baseball and football (Philly's old Veterans Stadium is a perfect example, as was New York's Shea Stadium), it's really not a close comparison in terms of the atmosphere and purity. However, the newer stadiums--starting with Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1992--have given baseball purists another angle to consider: stadiums built to be modern and fan-friendly, while still trying to retain some of the Wahconah Park charm. These kinds of throwback stadiums combine with some of the retractable-roof stadiums (i.e., Arizona's Chase Field)  and some of the ultra-modern stadiums (Minnesota's new Target Field) to make the ballparks something they've never been before: a source of debate. With such diversity in style and substance, from the old to the new, it's now not enough to compare the players on the field; that same debate has shifted to the buildings they play in. So, we turned to our friends over at Stadium Journey for the expertise on Major League stadiums, and see if we can't try and pick apart the debate just a little more.

Spring Training Spotlight: Seattle

So far, most of our Spring Training Spotlights have focused on teams that we expect to contend for the World Series--the Giants, Rangers, Yankees, and Phillies--or at least a playoff berth, like the Mets, Cardinals, and Rays. This installment, however, will focus on a team that has, for years, been making bold moves to try (in vain) to lift itself out of the American League cell: the Seattle Mariners. Last offseason, the Mariners traded for Cliff Lee and paired him with Felix Hernandez (above) atop their rotation, hoping to ride that 1-2 punch to a playoff berth. The Mariners tanked instead, and they dealt Lee to the Rangers for prospects. This offseason, Seattle decided to avoid big, splashy pickups and opted to let their current players fight it out for roster spots. As you would expect with a struggling team, this has led to quite a few position battles. Hit the jump to see which one really caught our eye:

Stat Line of the Day: March 22nd

Welcome to the first ever post of our first ever daily series--our Stat Line of the Day. Each day, our team of writers loves keeping their eyes out for interesting stat lines--not just any statistic, but (usually) one specific player's performance that was unusual in some way, either good or bad. It could  potentially be the line put up by a team, a player, or even an entire league, but it's something that happened on that day, not researched over a period of time. Either way, the line is usually enough to make you take a second look, or want to share it with your friends--or, in our case, with our readers. With that being said, let's debut our first winner...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: San Francisco

“The San Francisco Giants are World Champions.”  The world heard this statement uttered for the first time in 2010, as the Giants won their first title since moving from New York to the West Coast in 1958.  They won on the strength of their pitching, with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain leading a staff that wasn’t unhittable in the playoffs – but it was a notch better than the competition every step of the way.  Since that first day in November, when Matt Cain hoisted the circle-of-flags above his head in Arlington (see left), the Giants have not been complacent with the make-up of their team.  General Manager Brian Sabean has made a bunch of moves to bring the Giants from unlikely contenders a year ago to possible favorites to repeat in 2011.  Hit the jump to find out how.

March Madness Recap--First Weekend

They call it "Madness" for a reason, and this year's edition of the NCAA Division 1 men's basketball tournament has been crazy, indeed. The deepest and toughest conference in the country, the Big East, sent 11 teams to the Dance--only to see 9 of them depart within the first weekend, leaving only the 11th and 9th seeded teams. That doesn't mean, however, that Marquette and UConn aren't good and capable teams. It's just that if you had to guess who the final two Big East teams remaining would be, it wouldn't have been those two--and it certainly wouldn't have been this early.

The even bigger story was the advancement of four double-digit seeds: VCU, Richmond, Marquette, and Florida State, not to mention the 8-seed Butler Bulldogs unbelievable win over top-seeded Pittsburgh. Last year there were 3 (Cornell, Washington, and St. Mary's), but the trend the last few years has been for 1-2 double-digit seeds to make it through, not four. Lucky for all of our loyal SportStatistics readers, we've been keeping close tabs on every game thus far in the tournament, and there's plenty of interesting numbers to throw around. Hit the jump for more!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On a Certain NCAA Tournament Game

How much was Jamie Dixon to blame for Pitt's loss?
As objective sports journalists, we are supposed to be impartial to one game over another. We're supposed to treat all teams equally, to try and separate ourselves from the sports themselves in order to best explain them to others. Who would take any sports journalist's opinion if they knew exactly what team he roots for--at least, without them using some sort of statistics to back up their opinion? Either way, it's no secret that sports journalists are accused of being biased towards or against certain teams, and so it's with that in mind that I share this information--while I attend Temple University now, for two years I attended the University of Pittsburgh, and thus I consider myself a fairly interested Panthers fan. Now, I share that with you because I'm writing tonight about the Pitt/Butler game that took place this evening, which had one of the most screwed-up endings you could ever imagine for a basketball game. With 43 seconds left, the Panthers got the ball back with a 1-point lead. They then made three key mistakes that led to losing the game...

Spring Training Spotlight: Boston

In what was a decade of incredible parity, the winners of the most World Series titles in the past ten years was the Boston Red Sox, with titles in 2004 and 2007.  That 2004 championship-winning club is almost entirely dismantled, and the 2007 club is fading away, with Tim Wakefield moving to the bullpen (or worse) and Mike Lowell retiring.  They also lost Adrian Beltre’s .321-28-102 line during the offseason, leaving a big hole to fill in the lineup.  However, the Red Sox rebounded by revamping their offense in a big way.  Hit the jump to see how:

Who's the REAL Best Point Guard (Under-24 Division)?

#1 draft pick John Wall has had a solid rookie season with
8.7 apg, but is he the best young point guard in the league?
A couple days ago, I did a post in response to an poll about the best point guard in the NBA, and the statistical analysis revealed that Chris Paul – not Derrick Rose – is the best floor general in the Association this year.  In doing that post, I read a lot of opinion pieces about point guards this year, and many “experts” and bloggers said the same thing: we are now in a golden age for the point guard position in the NBA.  In fact, as much attention as Blake Griffin has gotten this season, the most hyped rookie in 2010-2011 is 19-year-old Wizards’ PG John Wall (above left).  This got me thinking about the depth of the point guard position, as well as its ample supply of young rising stars.  Immediately after posting last time, I went to work on assembling another point guards ranking – this one limited to the best PG’s who were age 24 or younger at the start of this season.  Would it be the  rookie phenom Wall, or was he overhyped?  Hit the jump to find out.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March Madness Recap (Round 1, Day 1)

Faried denies Marra at the buzzer
If you haven't read by now--or for some ridiculous reason weren't watching basketball yesterday--there were a few mildly exciting games in the first day of the NCAA tournament. Morehead State beating Louisville was certainly unexpected, and the way it ended--a 3 for the lead by Demonte Harper with 4.4 seconds to go, followed by an epic block by Kenneth Faried (right) as time expired--was kind of a shame that it was only the first round. Butler/ODU and Temple/Penn State each featured last-second game-winning shots, as did Kentucky, needing a layup by freshman Brandin Knight with .4 seconds left to beat Ivy champ Princeton. Sure, the night games weren't as interesting, as a couple of blowouts by UConn (over Bucknell by 29) and Florida (over UC-Santa Barbara by 28) set the tone for a 15-point "upset" by Gonzaga over St. John's and an 18-point yawner victory by San Diego State over Northern Colorado. UCLA managed to nearly blow a 20+ point lead, squeaking over Michigan State by 2, and that was all the excitement for the nightcap. That's the obvious stuff. For the not-so-obvious stuff, hit the jump!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Washington

There are a few teams that, at least in the last few years, have made a few large signings in free agency. It's to be expected--the Yankees and Phillies, as well as the Red Sox, Mets, and Cubs, have millions of dollars to spend. The teams are mostly successful, with loyal fanbases, huge advertising revenues and massive merchandising sales, allowing them to spend over $130 million/year in salary. Each year, as free agency approaches, those same teams are always the ones first mentioned when the top free agents hit the market, so it's the rare free agent who takes big money to go to a bad team--usually, they just don't have the money to spend, and if they do, it's usually not as much fun to lose. So, when Jayson Werth signed a $126-million deal with the Washington Nationals this offseason, you could say it served as a bit of a shock to some in the baseball community. Add in #1 draft pick Bryce Harper, and the Nats actually had an aura of interest around their spring training facility in Viera Beach, Florida. Hit the jump to see how life is going in Nats camp:

On the "First Four"

This is the exciting one. In case you forgot.
Over the past two days, the country has been treated (tortured with? whatever) the first First Four, the NCAA's newest, greatest idea to somehow increase the appeal of the student-athlete...or is it to make them more money? I never get that right. Either way, the last two nights proved to me at least--and I'm  not the only one--that the NCAA still does not understand how to balance the interests of the country with the best interests of the sport. This "First Four" is no more a part of the NCAA tournament experience than the US Open qualification tournament is for one of the Grand Slams of tennis.  I don't mean to disparage what it is the players do--they won their conference tournaments, they get to play on national television, and they're living the dream of being Division I student-athletes. However, until the top players and teams are playing, the games are nothing more than a play-in, a chance to get into the tournament--and I think we've already given some teams enough chances to do that. Hit the jump for more stat-less opinionated ranting. I mean, sports journalism.

Who's the REAL Best Point Guard?

A poll today on ESPN’s NBA homepage asked the following question: “Which of these point guards is the best in the NBA?”  The options were the Suns’ Steve Nash, the Hornets’ Chris Paul, the Bulls’ Derrick Rose, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams of the Nets, formerly of the Jazz.  As of 10pm Eastern Time last night, Derrick Rose (see left) was the runaway winner with 67% of the vote.  Following far behind were Paul (11%), Nash (9%), Williams (8%), and Westbrook (5%).  These results intrigued me because I’d always heard two separate lines of reasoning on this issue.  The first one goes something like, “Steve Nash has won 2 MVPs and taken his team to the brink of the Finals – it’s gotta be him.”  The second argument generally sounds like, “Chris Paul and Deron Williams are young, franchise-changing point guards who have yet to hit their peak – it’s gotta be one of them.”  However, until recently, I hadn’t really heard Rose’s name mentioned as the best floor general in the league.  And quite honestly, I hadn’t really considered him to be in that pantheon of point guards yet.  I wonder if Rose’s poll numbers spiked mostly due to the Bulls’ big win last night that catapulted them into first place in the East?  Or are Rose’s stats really that good, and I’ve just been missing something?  Let’s run some numbers and find out:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Training Catch-Up

He'll get better. Eventually.
In the context of a 4-or-5 week spring training, 8-10 days can make a lot of difference in who's in the running for a spot and who's already played themselves out of contention. Injured veterans (see right), prospects who aren't just quite ready, and spring surprises have sorted themselves out quite a bit, at least in a few of the towns in Florida and Arizona. Pitchers are starting to go into the 5th and 6th inning when they're pitching well, batting averages are approaching something resembling normal, and sample sizes are starting to get sorta big enough that they might just actually mean something. So with all that in mind, it's time to look back at a few of the teams we spotlighted earlier this month. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Does Spring Training Mean?

Every year, baseball teams pack up and head south for the spring. Every year, fans across the country dream about what could be--that young prospect who could bust out, the crafty veteran who could pull the team together. And, every year, a few teams have springs bad enough that those same fans are ready to give up entirely before the season even starts! So, that got us thinking here at Sports, Stats & Stuff about what the preseason really means, if it means anything. Do playoff teams perform better in the spring than non-playoff teams? Which teams tend to under-perform, and which teams over-perform? At what point should I begin pulling my hair out? If these questions interest you (and if they don't, why are you still reading?) hit the jump!

Spring Training Spotlight: New York Mets

            The New York Mets have certainly had more than their fair share of non-baseball distractions this offseason. The big one has been the omnipresent Bernie Madoff affair, with Madoff victims’ trustee Irving Picard suing the Wilpon family – majority owners of the Mets – for at least $1 billion.  This post, thankfully, will focus exclusively on baseball issues, namely, the battle to be the 2011 Mets starting second baseman. This battle is really wide-open, with several players vying for the spot, from veterans left from an old regime to unproven rookies.  All Spring Training long 4 candidates have been given a shot to win the job: Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus, and Justin Turner.  Who will ultimately prevail is up to how they perform this spring and into 2011, as the Mets look to catch up in an increasingly powerful National League East.  Here’s our take at who gets the nod on opening day:

Sports/Decade Countdown: #1

We continue now with our #1 city/decade on our list of the top 10 cities and decades of the past 110 years. For an overview/explanation of the rankings, and the system used to get them, click here.

The list so far:
#10: Boston, 1970s
#9: Boston, 1980s
#8: Detroit, 1940s
#7: Detroit, 1950s
#6: Boston, 2000s
#5: New York, 1920s
#4: Boston, 1960s
#3: Pittsburgh, 1970s
#2: New York, 1930s

Well, here we are folks--two weeks after post number one, we're finally at the top of the heap for all the cities and decades American professional sports has seen--okay, so it's only been about 110 years, but there's still been an unbelievable amount of talent throughout this list. Think of cities like Boston of the past decade, how everybody was jealous of them--and there were still 5 cities better than them in our study. Now we're coming up to number one, the easy choice whether it was by formula or just by the eye test. There are certain people in sports we can reference with one name only--Pele, Tiger, Babe--but this place had multiple one-namers at the SAME time! Dominance is only once click away...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Texas

            After winning the American League pennant in 2010, the Rangers naturally come into 2011 with their eyes on a repeat, and maybe even the franchise’s first World Series title this season.  However, they have seen a surprising amount of turnover among their core players.  Vladimir Guerrero, the Rangers’ top RBI man last year as well as their #2 home run hitter and middle-of-the-order slugger, is gone to the Orioles for a paltry $8 million.  To replace him, they added third baseman Adrian Beltre with a six-year $96 million dollar deal that will take him past his 38th birthday.  Furthermore, Beltre’s best season before last year was in his 2004 contract year, when he was voted the National League MVP.  He proceeded to underwhelm for his entire tenure in Seattle, never hitting better than .276 in a season.  This is a perplexing decision to be sure, but I can understand Rangers fans’ optimism given Beltre’s .321-28-102 line last season during a one-year stint with the Red Sox.  However, the less understandable decision by the Rangers’ front office comes with regards to Neftali Feliz, the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year.

Conference Tournaments and the Upset

Many of us cry when this guy does this thing
College basketball fans differ on their favorite part of the season: is it the NCAA Tournament itself, 64 (sorry, 68) teams going sudden death to determine the national title? What about BracketBusters, seeing the best mid-major teams go head-to-head, each game having a potentially major impact on their resume? While I do love the 3 weekends in March and April that result in college basketball's national championship, my favorite are the two weeks before then--the conference championships. In every conference except the Ivy Leagues, the majority of teams are given one final chance to make it to March Madness, the crowning achievement in many of the smaller leagues. To get the opportunity to play one of the big guys, to have their One Shining Moment, yada yada yada. 

What makes these tournaments more interesting is that they're the only way to get a reliable ranking for a team--while the AP and ESPN/Coaches' polls are nice, they're often biased in some way or another, by some means of horrible voters. However, over the course of a 16-or-18 game conference schedule, the good teams tend to rise to the top while the lesser teams sink to the bottom. For most of these conferences, the winner of that tournament is the only team to make it to the Dance, and therefore the conference tourney takes on more importance than any other week that season. What's incredibly interesting is how often the lower-ranked teams turn it on in those ultra-important tournaments. Hit the jump to find out:

Sports/Decade Countdown: #2

We continue now with our #2 city/decade on our list of the top 10 cities and decades of the past 110 years. For an overview/explanation of the rankings, and the system used to get them, click here.

The list so far:
#10: Boston, 1970s
#9: Boston, 1980s
#8: Detroit, 1940s
#7: Detroit, 1950s
#6: Boston, 2000s
#5: New York, 1920s
#4: Boston, 1960s
#3: Pittsburgh, 1970s

Well, there's only two cities left on this list, and based on the competition they've had, you know just how impressive these city/decades had to be. When you look at the year-by-year averages that occurred at these times, it's nearly impossible to deny how they came to be at the top 2...and a close top-2 it was. If you read the opening post in this series (see link up top), you probably have a pretty good idea which city is about to show up. If you didn't...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Colorado

When I was thinking about which team I should spotlight next in our Spring Training series, I happened to realize I was in the Rocky Mountains. So, today we're finding out how those same Rockies are doing down in Arizona. Last year wasn't a great one for the Rockies, who went from a 2009 Wild Card appearance to finishing 3rd in their division in 2010. Last year wasn't a complete loss, however, as a few players in particular give hope to the 2011 squad.

It seems like in sports, there are two types of players who end up being superstars. The first are the "Tiger Woods" category: famous from youth, destined for greatness, and having America watch them grow up, mature, and eventually dominate their sport. Think about a young Kevin Garnett, fresh out of high school, or Shaun White winning X-games medals in his early teens. However, there are also the type of superstar that you never really see coming--at least, not for greatness at that level. This is the "Tom Brady" category, named after the 6th-round draft pick who will retire as one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time. Keep reading for who the Rockies' newest Tom Brady is...

Some Love for Kevin Love

So, by now our savviest NBA readers know that Kevin Love recently broke Moses Malone’s record for the most consecutive double-doubles since the NBA-ABA merger.  Malone’s mark was 51 between 1978 and 1979; Love is currently at 53 double-doubles and counting.  Just the fact that Love broke any record held by Malone (see left) in his third professional season shows the type of player he has become.  Not only has he become the model of consistency, but he has also barely even flirted with missing the double-double mark.  Only once during the streak did Love score only 10 points, and only three times he managed only 10 rebounds.  Other than that, though, Love has been dominant.  He has achieved nine 20-20 games since the streak began on November 22nd, and he even managed a 31 point, 31 rebound performance against the Knicks.  (Admittedly, this game came before the streak began, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable).  As much praise as Kevin Love has received from the basketball punditry, few have assessed how his season has stacked up to other seasons by some of the NBA’s most prolific big men.  After all, the time since Moses Malone’s streak has seen the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Dennis Rodman, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard.  However, none of them have had a season like Kevin Love is having now. Keep reading to find out why.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sports/Decade Countdown: #3

We continue now with our #3 city/decade on our list of the top 10 cities and decades of the past 110 years. For an overview/explanation of the rankings, and the system used to get them, click here.

The list so far:
#10: Boston, 1970s
#9: Boston, 1980s
#8: Detroit, 1940s
#7: Detroit, 1950s
#6: Boston, 2000s
#5: New York, 1920s
#4: Boston, 1960s

When I started this assignment, there were a few cities and decades that jumped to mind as some of the best all-time. Some of them I was right (and are in the top-3), but some of them I'd completely forgotten about. Number 3 on our list is one of those...though to be fair, it was before I was born. This entry more than any benefited from trying to control for number of teams, which might already be spoiling who got the 3rd slot. Star power, titles, playoff appearances, this city had it all. Hit the jump to find out who...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Carmelo, D-Will, and the NBA Balance of Power

Even the most casual NBA fan knows that the Western Conference has been utterly dominant over the Eastern Conference for the last decade or so – this trend is obvious when looking at  nearly any comparative statistic. The Western Conference has won 9 of 12 NBA Finals since Michael Jordan retired, as well as 7 of the 12 All-Star Games in that same span. In a more telling sign of conference-wide dominance, qualifying for the playoffs in the West has been almost 15% more difficult than in the East. During the last ten postseasons, the average 8th seed in the Western Conference has won 45.7 regular season games, while the average 8th seed in the East has won only 39.8. In fact, over this time span, the West’s 8th seed has always had a better record than its counterpart in the East. This means that top to bottom (or at least within the top half), the Western Conference has been far superior to the Eastern Conference for roughly a decade. Since “The Decision,” though, NBA players and experts alike have sensed the balance of power shifting evermore eastward. Dwight Howard recently struck back at those calling the East the lesser conference of the NBA, declaring “I think we’re the varsity now.” Though the Heat’s “Big 3” did factor into Howard’s display of confidence, he made it clear that what prompted his statement was the Knicks’ addition of Carmelo Anthony and the Nets’ acquisition of Deron Williams.
Hit the jump for more...