Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Proper Welcome, Fashionably Late

Greetings, rabidly avid fan base of this nascent sports blog, a blog that plans to go through more name changes than Prince until the perfect title can be ascertained. Indeed, it is going to be a long and arduous journey to find the right name to encapsulate all of the great things for which this blog stands, like the Ecksteinian hustle and grit alluded to in the preliminary and slightly lengthy mission statement at the top of the page. As we have all assuredly been taught throughout our lives, however, is to never judge a nascent sports blog by its cover, right? Give us a chance to showcase our hustle and grit, our slightly above average value over replacement blog, and middling writing potential. We may never be flashy or put up particularly flattering statistics, but dammit, we will hustle the fuck out of a routine groundball.

Nick is the main sports guru around here. I plan on contributing some additional updates, mostly on baseball. We’ll see where this takes us. We have high hopes, even though we’ve never done this before. Enjoy.

MLB: Amazins' win fourth in a row, schizophrenic fan base temporarily sedated

The New York Mets dispatched the Colorado Rockies 4-0 last night, bellied by an impressive performance from pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who went 6.1 innings and struck out five. The win stretches the Mets' streak to four in a row and brings them 10.5 games back of the Phillies for the NL East lead and 5.5 behind in the wild card race. As an avid sports talk show listener I've heard the whole kit and kaboodle from hosts and callers alike. "Minaya is an idiot", "the Mets have no pitching", "the Mets have no hitting", "fire Manuel!", "the Mets are a disgrace", "the farm system sucks", etc. , etc. While there is some validity to these statements, they tend to reveal more about the impulsive and inexpert nature of sports fans than the quality of the players or the team itself.

A 48-51 record for a team with a $150 Million payroll is surely no easy pill to swallow. Mets fans obviously have the right to be upset about the current state of their team, especially amidst a public relations debacle involing General Manager Omar Minaya, VP of player personnel Tony Bernazard, and reporter Adam Rubin. As it stands, the Mets' front office has displayed the professionalism and public relations know-how of an Alvin Holmes speech and for that they owe their fans an apology.

With that said, there's very little Omar Minaya, Jerry Manuel, or the current cast of Mets players could have done to avoid such a disappointing first half. The root of New York's problems does not lay with the incompetence of the aforementioned, but rather with the unfortunate injuries to key cogs Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran. Reyes is arguably a top three shortstop in all of baseball, while Beltran is the best all-around centerfielder in the game. Delgado, as evidenced by his play in the second half of 2008, is capable of carrying an offense when he gets hot.

Jose Reyes saw his first MLB action in 2003 but really burst on the scene two years later, scoring 99 runs and stealing 60 bases in 2005. In the following seasons he cemented himself as one of the preeminent lead-off men in the game, hitting for a good average and drawing some walks before absolutely terrorizing the basepaths. From 2005-2008, Jose averaged 113R, 13HR, 66RBI, and 65SB a season, good enough for WAR* scores of 2.0, 5.5, 5.1, and 5.9 in each respective year. On top of that Reyes has earned the reputation as an above-average fielder, earning a +8.1 UZR** for his career. Unfortunately for the Mets, Reyes has been out since May 26th with a right calf problem as well as a partially torn hamstring. Using his career WAR scores, we can determine that Reyes' 63 game absence has cost the Mets two full wins in the standings.

The loss of Carlos Beltran hurts just as much. Beltran is a prototypical five-tool player. He can hit for average, he hits for power, he steals bases, he is a glorious center fielder, and he has a strong arm. In essence, he does everything well, so his loss hurts the Mets in a variety of ways. Beltran's carer 162-game average reads as such: 113R, 28HR, 108RBI, 30SB, 283/360/497, truly impressive numbers for an impressive player. Scouts and stats guys alike also recognize Beltran's glove and arm as the best among major league center fielders. Carlos' WAR ratings fluctuate a bit from year to year, however he is typically a +6 win player and would have likely exceeded that this season due to his very hot start. Beltran's absence in 37 of the Mets' 99 games has cost the Mets 1.4 wins this season.

Few first baseman have can claim a career as vaunted and illustrious asCarlos Delgado's. One of the premier power hitters of the last decade, Delgado has 472 career home runs, good enough for 30th on the all-time home run list. While not quite the offensive powerhouse of his early years, Delgado belted 100 home runs in three full seasons with the Mets from '06 through '08. After a slow start in 2008 when many were saying that age finally caught up to the 36-year old slugger, Delgado silenced his critics by hitting .303 and smacking 21 home runs after the All-Star break. With above average offense and adequate fielding for a first baseman, Delgado can be relied upon for +3 wins over a full season at this point in his career. His 72 missed games this season translate to roughly 1.3 lost wins for the New York Mets.

Injuries to Reyes, Beltran, and Delgado have cost the Mets about five games this season. Those five games turn a 48-51 record into 53-46, potentially placing the Mets at the top of the wild card race and only five games behind the Phillies in the NL East (this is not even accounting for the extra losses that would be incurred by the Mets opponents). What's the lesson in all this? Simply put, the New York Mets are suffering mightily because of injuries to three of their best players, not because of the incompetence of management or the remaining players on the team. While bench players and minor league call-ups can do an admirable job in the short-term, they cannot be expected to replace the production of superstars like Reyes, Beltran, and Delgado for a sustained period.
*WAR = Wins Above Replacement Player. A sabermetric statistic that defines how many wins a player adds to a team compared to an average minor league call-up. This rating is determined by batting and fielding statistics and is adjusted for positional scarcity.
**UZR = Ultimate Zone Rating. A sabermetric statistic that measures a players' proficiency in the field by assessing how many runs they save (+) or allow (-) based on their fielding ability. Evaluators watch every ball hit into play and record variables such as speed, trajectory, distance from the fielder, etc. From there evaluators are able to determine what balls should and shouldn't be fielded, allowing them to determine runs saved or allowed for a specific fielder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NHL: Tampa Bay buys out Propsal, owners further confirm status as laughing stock of NHL

The Tampa Bay Lightning have bought out the remaining three years of winger Vaclav Prospal's contract. The move will cost $1.16M/yr on the Lightning's cap for the next six years. Team management stated that the ~$2M in cap savings will be used to sign another player.

Upon hearing this news I decided to evaluate the state of the Lightning franchise...

Oren Koules, left, and Len Barrie, right, purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning in May 2008 chock full of wide-eyed giddiness and an insatiable competitive hunger. They were determined to turn 2008's cellar dwellers into contenders.

Tampa Bay certainly had some good pieces to build around, with star center Vincent Lecavalier, diminutive winger Martin St. Louis, and June 2008 draft pick Steven Stamkos topping the list. From there, Koules, Barrie, and GM Brian Lawton saw it fit to add some complementary pieces in the way of free agent signings Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall, Olaf Kolzig and trade acquisitions Andrej Meszaros and Lukas Krajicek. Long-time Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle was then re-signed to a six-year contract worth over $6M a season and subsequently flipped to San Jose for prospect Ty Wishart and some draft picks. If all this wasn't enough, the front office also fired head coach John Tortarella, replacing him with enviable mullet man Barry Melrose. The stage was set for a successful 2008-2009, because after all, Stanley Cup contenders are made through marginal free agent signings and significant year to year roster turnover.

Not quite. Tampa Bay had a horrible 2008-2009 season, finishing poor enough to accrue the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. After a slow start to the year Tampa fired Barry Melrose and replaced him with ex-gambling convict Rick Tochett. Radim Vrbata left the team a quarter of the way through the season and was recently traded to Phoenix. Roberts retired before the end of the season. Recchi and Kolzig were dealt at the trade deadline. Prospal had a down year and just received his walking papers. Ryan Malone had a very slow start but was able to salvage the second half of his season to post his usual 25 goals. All in all, were any of the 2008 off-season moves a success? Malone is earning his contract, but beyond that the 2008 off-season was a cataclysmic failure. Moves made during the 2008-2009 season, which include re-signing Lecavalier to an astronomical 11-year contract and trading Jussi Jokinen to the division rival Carolina Hurricanes, do not look much better.

The Lightning have a couple superstars in Lecavalier and St. Louis and some budding stars in Stamkos and recently drafted Victor Hedman. Savvy ownership would be able to turn this team into a Stanley Cup contender in two or three seasons. Unfortunately, Len Barrie, Oren Koules, and Brian Lawton wouldn't cut the mustard in NHL 09's dynasty mode, let alone as the front office of an actual NHL team.

NFL: Michael Vick re-instated by NFL, Dog Walkers of America outraged

So in case you haven't heard, Michael Vick has been "conditionally" re-instated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Vick is allowed to sign with a team and participate in practices and pre-season games, however Goodell needs to give the final word, which probably won't come prior to Week 6, before Vick can play in the regular season.

Vick is a remarkably talented athlete. He can beat you with his arm or his feet and forces defenses to gameplan against him. Much is made of his shoddy career completion percentage, however the wide receivers in Atlanta were nothing to write home about, leading the NFL in drops for several seasons during Vick's tenure. He's a good quarterback who would be remarkably dynamic in a wild cat offense.

With that said, what's the real incentive for an NFL team to take a chance on Vick? He's been out of football for two years and is probably out of shape and out of rythym. He doesn't fit the mold of a 6'5" pocket passer. He won't able to play a meaningful game until Week 6. He'll bring a windfall of negative publicity to the team that signs him which could potentially result in lost sponsorships. And above all he'd bring a big distraction to the locker room.

Cincinnatti, Washington, and Jacksonville are some rumored suitors. Would Vick start over Carson Palmer, Jason Campbell, or David Garrard? No, No, and possibly but not likely. As such, are the aforementioned risks worth a signing a talented second string quarterback who might see a couple snaps a game?