Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Play it Again, Bud

Well, this was hardly surprising given Bud Selig's m.o. (ignore a problem until it's a crisis and then overreact accordingly), and now it's official:

Three series are scheduled to start Thursday, with Philadelphia at the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota at Oakland and Texas at the Los Angeles Angels. For other games, replays will be available to umpires starting Friday.

For now, video will be used only on so-called "boundary calls," such as determining whether fly balls went over the fence, whether potential home runs were fair or foul and whether there was fan interference on potential home runs.

Fair enough; I'm all for anything to help get the calls correct. But Bud Selig is concerned about a slippery slope:

Selig, who opposed replay in the past, said he won't allow its use to expand to additional types of calls.

"My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play," Selig said. "I really think that the game has prospered for well over a century now doing things the way we did it."

All well and good, Bud...except that's just not true. The game today is rather changed from its early days. We have free agency, the DH, the Wild Card, interleague play, curve balls, and so on. Even if that weren't the case, resisting change for the sake of change is ignorant. If more instant replay can make the game better, then why not? If you resist change without consideration because of some bizarre slavery to "tradition," then all that makes you is a Luddite.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Williams Was Hurt...Surprise

Well, the Bears had been insisting that Bears rookie OT Chris Williams didn't have a pre-existing condition that led to his recent injury, but as Brad Biggs tells the story:
"I had a herniated disc before I got here," Williams said after watching practice Sunday afternoon at Halas Hall. "We knew that. Everyone knew that. It just was a thing where most people it doesn't affect. It wasn't affecting me so if nothing is broke, you don't fix it. Then something happened in practice that second day, the disc started moving and that caused some problems."


The organization was [originally] adamant that Williams was not damaged goods when he was drafted and that the injury was a new one. For two weeks, the company line in camp was that he was suffering from back spasms. It took a while to get to the root of the problem. The Bears have been embarrassed to the point that they have been doing spin control since and worked over every house organ they could find. Williams also disputed a published report that he injured his back this summer in preparing for training camp.
Just so we're clear, Mr. Angelo: we don't believe anything you say. Time and again it's been made obvious that you will go beyond normal spin to the point of out-and-out lies when speaking to the press/public. The current Bears regime, when it comes to mistakes, will do anything it can to avoid admitting said mistakes.

One wonders how many more years of this we'll be forced to endure before the team brings in new management that has, y'know, some ethics.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In Defense of Marquis

Sorry for the lack of posts; sometimes my real job messes with my life.

Before the season started, I predicted problems in a few spots for the Cubs. For the most part, the problems haven't cropped up, though at least in the case of Theriot, I still think I'll end up being right eventually.

One thing I was pretty adamant about was that Marquis needed to go. I was certain Lieber would be a better choice, or, failing Lieber, perhaps Marshall or Gallagher. (Of course, I still thought Rich Hill would return to form. Oops.)

So here we are in late August, and Marquis is still there, and despite the outcome of yesterday's game, I have to say...I was wrong. Look, he's not Rich Harden or Carlos Zambrano, but that's fine. Nobody has an ace in the 5th slot of the rotation. Generally teams expect their fifth starter to not suck and hopefully keep things under control enough to make the games winnable.

Using that yardstick, Marquis is doing fine. So far this year he's thrown a little over 134 innings, giving up 141 hits and 71 runs, walking 52 and striking out 71. The K/9 and K/BB ratios aren't good at all, of course, but he's giving up a BABIP of .288, which is pretty sustainable. His ERA+ is 94, so he's basically slightly below-average.

I'm guessing a lot of teams would really like to have that kind of production at the back of the rotation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sabathia v. Harden

There's all kinds of talk about CC Sabathia: what a tremendous pickup he was, how he should merit MVP consideration, etc.

Almost ignored, meanwhile, is Rich Harden and what he's done for the Cubs.

Don't get me wrong; Sabathia has been brilliant. Since becoming a Brewer, he's pitched 73 innings and given up 60 hits and 52 earned runs, posting an ERA+ of 270 and a WHIP of 1.027.

Meanwhile, all Rich Harden has done is pitch 42 innings, giving up 26 hits and 7 (count 'em!) earned runs, and posting an ERA+ of 300 and a WHIP of 0.952. The innings difference boils down to the Cubs trying to take care of Harden's arm/health, whereas Ned Yost seems determined to get as much out of Sabathia's arm as he can.

I know how good a pitcher Sabathia is. I'm just suggesting that as good as he's been since the trade, Harden's been better.

(And no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with my Cub bias...)

Everybody Made Nice

After some dramatics between the umpires and MLB, there is now an agreement between the two for instant replay:

The deal was signed by lawyers for the commissioner's office and the World Umpires Association one day after a WUA spokesman went public with complaints over negotiations.

After haggling over final details, the sides exchanged proposals Tuesday night.

"We reached an agreement. Final decision with respect to moving ahead has not been made yet, but we have an agreement with the umpires," said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations.

Hooray for negotiations. Amazing how things seemed so far apart during Mike and Mike this morning but are all nicey-nice now. Maybe Selig told the umpires that if they didn't agree, Mongo would travel from city to city, drink beer, and incoherently call out the umps repeatedly.

Oh, Those Wacky Umps

I'd been trying to think of something clever or insightful to say about the MLB umpires' decision to boycott a conference call with Major League Baseball regarding instant replay, but so far...nada.

Of course, Shysterball does a better job than I would've, so let's just go with that.

Anonymous Comments Fixed

For some reason, anonymous comments were turned off.

Sorry 'bout that. (And yes, I'm aware of the irony about discovering this right after I wrote a big post about management and decision-making...)

Leadership Matters

Years ago, when the Chicago Bulls were rattling off multiple championships during the Michael Jordan era, then-GM Jerry Krause said, "Players and coaches alone don't win championships; organizations win championships." He was roundly ridiculed for this; it was seen as a snotty attempt to take credit for all the championships, especially as the one player on the teams Krause didn't acquire was Jordan.

Whatever his motivation for saying it, he was right. Hundreds or thousands of decisions led to those championships, and while Michael Jordan was perhaps the most significant piece to the puzzle, let's remember that he played for many years in the NBA before and after those championships.

As a leader, getting people to follow you requires more than mere authority. A leader must demonstrate that s/he means what s/he says; that decisions are not arbitrary nor written in sand. Many folks new to management want their subordinates to like them, but that's not required (or even advisable, in many circumstances). Most people want their bosses to simply be fair and consistent and to make some sort of sense.

Woe betide the Cincinnati Bengals, then. Yahoo Sports lays out the details, but in brief, WR Chris Henry was released early this year after punching a college student and breaking the college student's car window with a beer bottle. At the time, owner Mike Brown seemed done:

"His conduct can no longer be tolerated," Brown said at the time. "The Bengals tried for an extended period of time to support Chris and his potentially bright career. We had hoped to guide him toward an appropriate standard of personal responsibility that this community would support and that would allow him to play in the NFL. ... But those efforts end today, as we move on with what is best for our team."

Given that this was not Henry's first (or second, or third...) serious problem with the law, the decision made tremendous sense. But now Brown has flip-flopped:

Henry signed a two-year deal Tuesday with the team that let him go after he was arrested for the fifth time, a decision that seemed to mark a change in philosophy for owner Mike Brown. Instead, it was an aberration. The Bengals took him back at Brown's behest.

This isn't about the moral issue. I'm not passing judgment on Chris Henry, though clearly he needs some kind of help, and continuing to enable him isn't going to fix anything. This is about the message being sent, and it says a few things:
  • Problem players can continue to be problem players and will likely get multiple chances, even if told otherwise; as such, there's no incentive to start behaving
  • Players who don't have these problems should expect no reward for staying out of trouble
  • Whatever management says today could change tomorrow; believe nothing
The Bengals are going to be a mess. Mark my words.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Guess We Can Relax

Bears fans can rejoice: Kyle Orton has been named the starting quarterback:
The decision was not unexpected, considering how Grossman struggled Saturday night against Seattle. Naming Orton now gives the Bears a chance to work the first-team offense well into the second half of Thursday's third exhibition against San Francisco.

Ending last season 2-1 as the starter didn't hurt Orton's cause either.

"We take a lot of things into consideration," Smith said. "But in the end, it comes down to a gut feeling you have.
Well...hmm. I don't necessarily disagree with the decision; Rex has shown occasional flashes of brilliance, surrounded by heaping gobs of incompetence.

Still...if an employee of mine admitted -- in private, let alone in public -- that he made a major personnel decision based on a gut feeling, I'd fire him on the spot. It should NOT come down to a gut feeling; it should come down to objective analysis.

But for whatever reason we commonly put former athletes in charge of sports franchises, forgetting that most athletes didn't become successful athletes by using analysis (or even by knowing how to spell it).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Criteria for Incompetence

Part of being a leader is making decisions and then sticking to them. If you waffle, nobody will listen to you and you won't be able to lead.

On the other hand, sooner or later if you've made a poor decision, you have to cop to it. You can only insist that it's a great decision for so long before you begin to look ignorant, or arrogant, or both.

At what point, then, do we start laughing at Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo as they continue to insist that either Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton will be the QB we need?
"We have no plans to change anything," coach Lovie Smith said.

The Bears committed to the ongoing competition between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. They have won with both players and think whoever emerged would give them a good chance to win in 2008.
I don't get it. Rex has been here for five years; Orton for three. We passed up several quarterbacks in the draft this year; has either Rex or Kyle justified that level of faith?

I understand the attitude of trying to back your guys, but this is insane. It's time for Angelo to come up to the podium and say, "You know what? It hasn't worked out. We were happy when we drafted Rex, and we saw a lot of things that made us think he would help take this offense to the next level. For whatever reason, that hasn't happened. We're not here to knock Rex; we just think it's time to move in a different direction."

See how you do that? Of course, it means taking an ego hit by admitting, however tacitly, that drafting Rex was a mistake.

Take the hit, Jerry. Because right now, you just look ridiculous.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Soto for MVP? Really?

Peter Gammons thinks so. (Normally subscription required, though right now it's available to everyone.) Or at least...that's his hook.

Naturally my knee-jerk reaction was that Gammo had finally lost his marbles.
Sure, Soto's having a great year, and I don't think Rookie of the Year is out of reach, but MVP?

Of course, Gammons doesn't really think Soto's the MVP. His points:
  • Soto is one of the best offensive catchers in the league
  • Soto handles the pitching staff very well (and it's one heck of a staff)
  • His defense is good enough
  • Catchers are inherently more valuable if they can also provide real offense
I don't disagree with most of his points, although I'm not sure there's any evidence that "handling a pitching staff" is actually a skill, or has any measurable effect. I know pitchers think so, but that doesn't mean anything: just because you play the game doesn't mean you truly understand how it works. (See Morgan, Joe.)

Soto's pretty important to the Cubs, don't get me wrong. He's having a hell of a year, and I expect that he'll have many more. For a team that's spent a long time rolling out a number of real stiffs behind home plate, I'm thrilled beyond words.

But MVP? No.

Baseball and Instant Replay

The Commish suggests that instant replay is coming, quite probably before the season ends. That would fit his pattern:
  1. Observe a problem that is slowly getting attention
  2. Downplay it and/or ignore it until it erupts into a major controversy
  3. Perform a knee-jerk reaction and act as rapidly as possible, without worrying about whether the approach makes sense
I do think it's a bit weird to implement in August/September; common sense says the pre-season is the place to work out the kinks in a system like this. Having said that, I've seen all kinds of resistance to the idea of instant replay in baseball, and I gotta say...I don't get it.

Risking straw-man accusations, let's take a look at some of the arguments against:

It removes the human element. I hear this one all the time, and it's by far the silliest. First of all, isn't the real human element that of, ya know, the ballplayers? They can still make mistakes; just wait until some idiot tries to slide into first base. Second of all, is preserving umpire error really a "human element" that we're going to miss? Call me after your team gets jobbed by some blind ump.

It will slow the game down. Well, sure...if it's done badly. There's no reason it has to, though; just put some rules around when it's used, what can trigger it, how long the review can take, and so on. Above all, borrow one rule from the NFL: unless there is clear evidence on the replay that the call is wrong, don't overturn it.

The ol' slippery slope. In other words, we let them use it for home run calls now, and soon it will get used for everything. Well, that's fine with me, within reason. I don't think you can easily use it for, say, fair/foul line drives: if the initial call is foul and the batter returns to the box, how could you then decide what base he should be awarded? Where it can be used, though, it should be, and yes if there's a technological way to call balls and strikes, bring it on!

A saying I've heard regarding the NFL is that the best officials are the ones you never notice. The implicit meaning there is if the officials get everything correct, they're doing their jobs and you don't notice them; you only notice when they blow a call. The NFL has long taken this far more seriously than baseball: officials are rigorously graded and the top officials are the ones chosen for the postseason. Well, the best umpires are the ones I don't notice: the ones who call balls and strikes properly and consistently, who notice whether the pivot man actually touches second base, and so on.

I want the rules of the game enforced consistently and properly. Those who don't...well, I just don't understand your thinking at all.


Welcome to the blog. The general idea is that I will blog daily about whatever in sports I think deserves a rant (and over here I'll rant about non-sports topics). Often the rants will be Chicago-sports-related, but you never know.