Fantasy Baseball – Roto vs. H2H

February 8, 2012 7 comments

By: Nate Douglas

We are mere days from those favorite four words in baseball: “pitchers and catchers report”. This means that fantasy baseball rankings and mock drafts are now in full force as fantasy baseball gurus begin prepping for their drafts and selecting their keepers for the upcoming season. There are two different styles of fantasy baseball: rotisserie (where fantasy players try to win as many categories over the course of a season as possible) and head-to-head points leagues (where a fantasy player tries to accrue more points in a one-week matchup than his opponent). Personally, I prefer H2H leagues over roto leagues, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, some background on the history of fantasy baseball which will play into my arguments.

In the late 1970s, aspiring Kansas writer Bill James turned the baseball world upside down when he started releasing his baseball abstracts, questioning a lot of the general wisdom in baseball from everything on how the game was played to evaluating talent. New statistics and formulas measuring success and failure in baseball became accurate barometers of player and team performance as the revolution took hold of first baseball fandom, then started to slowly permeate MLB clubs (as evidenced in the book Moneyball). In 1980, as a result of Bill James’ work, several guys got together at a restaurant in New York City, La Rotisserie Française and played the first game of what would come to be known as rotisserie baseball.

In this article, I’m going to commit fantasy baseball heresy for some, and explain why I believe H2H points leagues are the superior fantasy baseball experience over roto leagues. In order to get a feel for the arguments for roto leagues, I’ll be referring to an article by fantasy baseball Jedi, Ray Flowers of baseballguys.com, who recently wrote a piece about why he played in roto leagues and presented three points about why he disliked H2H leagues.

The basic premise for Ray’s reasoning is that the superior fantasy baseball format (in his case, roto) should best approximate the on-field product. In other words, fantasy baseball should operate as a mirror image of the game the best that it can. I completely agree with and accept this criterion, which is why I prefer H2H leagues. Ray says:

1) “Baseball is a 162-game marathon, as opposed to artificially contrived sessions of weekly matchups which turn the season into a sprint in H2H leagues.”

I agree, baseball is a marathon, but so are H2H leagues. Most H2H leagues still utilize all of the MLB games, just like roto leagues.  If a H2H league has one-week matchups (some leagues have two matchups per week, Mon.-Thur. and Fri.-Sun), that’s 28 possible matchups in a season, with 25 or 26 in the regular season and 2-3 in the playoffs. That hardly makes the season a “sprint”.

If we stay in this vein, however, roto leagues stray further away from the on-field game. MLB does not tabulate all the teams’ statistics at the end of the regular season and declare a winner. There’s the playoffs, and just like “real life”, owners in H2H leagues try to build a team that will give them a good enough record to make the playoffs, as well as succeed in the postseason.

2) “We all know that Albert Pujols will hit .300-30-100 (he’s on the cusp of doing it for the 11th straight season to start his career). However, we really have no idea when he will go deep, when he will produce hits, and when he will knock runners in. If you’re playing in a H2H match up what happens if Pujols hits .450 with three homers and 10 RBI? You’ll likely win that week. What happens though if he hits .150 with no homers and no RBI the following week? You would likely lose that week. Still, if Pujols followed this path, alternating greatness with putrid work, he’d end the year batting .300 with something like 39 homers and 130 RBI. That’s a phenomenal season, right? However, in H2H he’d be a killer to your club in those 13 weeks that he disappeared. Baseball is about consistency and working through the grind as much as anything. When you play H2H you remove that aspect of the game completely.”

Again, have to disagree with Mr. Flowers on this count as well. Correct, we don’t know when Pujols is going to go crazy one week and ice cold the next…well guess what, neither do the Angels! And if Pujols does not produce in a game, their chances of winning go down as well, just like in a H2H matchup. Of course it would hurt if Pujols disappeared for a week; that’s why you build an entire roster to get other players to contribute…just like the Angels. Remember the premise: The best fantasy format is the one that best mirrors the on-field product. I would not say H2H removes the element of consistency, rather it makes the owner try each week to field the best team possible; therefore, he has to pay more attention to slumps, injuries, pitcher/hitter matchups, ballparks, etc.  The H2H owner is always playing to win now. This is “working through the grind”, and H2H play hardly removes that. On the other hand, in roto leagues, Pujols goes through a slump, but no sweat: the roto owner can just sit back because he knows it’ll all even out in the end.  Less work is required from the roto owner.  If only MLB GM’s and managers could do that.  This makes roto the easier style of playing, and if that’s your bowl of chili, then go for it, but it definitely does not resemble the MLB game whatsoever.

Yes, there’s an element of luck to the H2H points style of play, hoping a stud doesn’t have a down week while a crummy player has an awesome one. But to quote Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, “That’s the way baseball go.” Before the last two World Series started, the majority of “experts” on the worldwide leader picked the Texas Rangers to beat the Giants and Cardinals.  Why?  Because the Rangers had a better overall team, better overall statistics, and didn’t sneak into the playoffs on the last day like the Giants and Cardinals did.  If Major League Baseball were a roto league, the Texas Rangers would be world champions the last two years, but that’s not how baseball ‘go’. There’s a luck-element in baseball, and like it or not, points leagues have to deal with it just like the MLB teams do.  Roto leagues for the most part don’t have to deal with the luck factor as much a H2H, and some roto players may be fine with that.  But remember what game we’re trying to imitate, therefore in this respect, roto baseball makes for a fogged up mirror in comparison to the on-field game.

3) “Would you ever draft Gavin Floyd over Dan Haren? That’s like saying you would prefer to cuddle up with Cate Blanchett over Brooklyn Decker? However, there are scenarios where you would end up starting Floyd over Haren simply because you’re looking at one week segments (there is no scenario in which Cate would be the choice over Brooklyn). What if Haren was facing the Yankees and Floyd was pitching in Seattle and Oakland – would you start Floyd because he was a two start pitcher on the road, where he has success, in two parks that favor the hurler? The answer is you might, and we’ve all made that decision at one point or another. However, does this make any sense? Of course it doesn’t.  We’re sometimes “forced” to go with an inferior pitcher merely because we need the starts to keep up with our opponent in the H2H format. In this instance we’re not rewarding the fantasy owner who rostered the players with the best skill, we’re merely rewarding those that were first to the waiver-wire to add a 2-start pitcher. There isn’t any skill in that.”

The scenario being presented here depends on the league rules and if you are actually faced with the either/or that Ray is proposing. If your league imposes strict game start limits, then yes, you might be faced with this decision of starting Gavin Floyd over ace Dan Haren. But roto leagues are faced with the same decision as well because there is a limit on games played per roster spot for the season (and most roto leagues have this restriction; if they didn’t, then the game is just about playing the most players, which is silly). Example, it’s the final week of the MLB regular season, and in your roto league you have two SP starts left before you fill your starting pitching’s starts quota for the season, and you’re faced with choosing between Gavin Floyd against the A’s and M’s, while Dan Haren faces the Yankees in New York.  A lot of people in both roto and H2H leagues would roll with Floyd over Haren.  And if a lot of roto players would chose Floyd over Haren during the last week of the season, the same logic could be applied to the middle of the season as well.  Ultimately, several times during the season, roto owners are faced with choosing between Brooklyn Decker and Cate Blanchett as well. Of course, this hypothetical does not mean that Haren would necessarily go out and blow it against the Yankees. On the contrary, he could throw a complete game while Floyd puts up a couple doozy starts. We really don’t know.  So nobody is being “forced” to use an inferior pitcher in a H2H league; roto leagues play the matchups as well. To have some more fun with Ray’s analogy, you could cuddle up to Brooklyn Decker, who, despite her Deckerness, might not have taken a shower in a month, while on the other hand Cate Blanchett is over there radiating, having just come out of some Elvish spa. You’d have to play that matchup as well.

Concerning Ray’s last point, rewarding the waiver wire pickups…again, there are no guarantees that this strategy would work. It could fail. And if the H2H league is a manly league, with say 12 teams and 25-man rosters, the pickings should be slim for streaming pitchers anyway.

Finally, I wanted to present my biggest issue with roto leagues. It comes down to stolen bases (and why do stolen bases have to be a category? Why not sacrifices? What about advancing 1st to 3rd on a single?). Here’s your token reminder about our premise—the better fantasy format is the one that best imitates the on-field game. The overvaluing of stolen bases in roto leagues dramatically changes the landscape of the players one would draft in a roto league as opposed to a H2H league. As a stat in itself, stolen bases are extremely overrated; they’re risky and have little influence on the outcome of an MLB game as we learned from the Bill James revolution. For example, a Michael Bourn could have six stolen bases in a game, and the Braves could not score one run (which, lest we forget, is what the game comes down to). On the other hand, Jay Bruce could hit just one home run, and the Reds would be beating the Braves and their base-stealing Bourn. Yet in roto leagues, home runs are valued just as much as stolen bases. Can someone argue that roto leagues best mirror the on-field product when this is the case? On the other hand (wait, you’ve got three hands there!), in standard points leagues, SB’s only give you 1 point, while HR’s give you 6 points—an accurate representation of the on-field game.

If all MLB players were put in a pool to be drafted, do you think any of the teams would use the roto stolen bases paradigm and take Hanley Ramirez over Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki or Roy Halladay? Heck no! Yet guys like Hanley Ramirez last year was often taken as the 2nd or 3rd pick overall in roto leagues, the primary reason being he steals bases. On the other hand, H2H points league owners would all take those other guys over the 2011 Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawfords of the world because they know they would produce more points (as would most big league executives if they could draft any player in MLB).

Over the last 20 years, we’ve learned that .OPS is the greatest contributing factor for MLB teams scoring runs (the object of the game), which is what H2H points leagues emphasize and reward the most. Most fantasy baseball services, however, when they do rankings and mock drafts, are doing them through the lens of roto leagues, therefore they have the overvaluation of steals in mind. This makes most of their rankings and mocks unhelpful for H2H players, which is why in my next article we’ll use some fantasy baseball format hermeneutics to interpret roto rankings and how H2H players should change their approach.

In summary, I believe that roto leagues are still stuck in the 80’s, and while roto leagues themselves would not be here today if it weren’t for Bill James, the roto leaguers obviously didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying.  Baseball has changed.  The game is about extra base hits, scoring and on base percentages.  Therefore, roto leagues need a Moneyball movement.  H2H leagues aren’t taking a cue from fantasy football points-style as Ray would argue. H2H is trying to copy the on-field product the best it can. It’s not perfect, it’s still improving, but H2H players view the MLB players in a more accurate way than roto players .It’s for all these reasons that I believe H2H fantasy baseball leagues best mirror the on-field product, making it a superior fantasy format than roto fantasy baseball.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for that last strike in the World Series  for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day when they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.  

Dallas Cowboy Fan Rehabilitation and “The Wire”

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Nate Douglas

The Dallas Cowboys used to be a great franchise. They had Super Bowls to their name, and a rich history of all-time great games, coaches and players.  For my generation, young boys living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area grew up watching the triplets. Their fathers grew up with Landry and Staubach.  The Cowboys had an exciting product and an excellent reputation among what became a rabid fan base.

In week 17 of this past NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys were playing for a berth in the playoffs yet lost in a lackluster effort to their division rival, the New York Giants.  For most other NFL franchises, this defeat would have been one of those frozen sledgehammer-to-the-crotch defeats, but for Cowboy fans, despite the loss, they weren’t singing soprano.  Cowboy fans have been numbed to defeat during the last few weeks of the last sixteen seasons because the Dallas Cowboys hit the fans where it counts every year.

The television show, The Wire, takes place in the city of Baltimore, where the Baltimore Police Department wages a continual war with crime in the city, specifically—the drug war.  The Wire is a gripping series, hailed by many critics as the greatest television show in the last decade. One of the main characters is a drug dealer, Stringer Bell, played by the powerful Idris Elba. His drug product was very successful, sold well, and the West Side kept coming back for more. The drugs had an excellent reputation for giving people a buzz and mellowing out.  Eventually, BPD caught up to Stringer’s operations. In order to stay in front of the police, Stringer’s product quality suffers, and folks on the street stop buying. While all this is happening, in his spare time, Stringer went to business classes at the local college, and consulted the professor on what to do if you have a crummy “product” that people stop buying. The professor said, “Well, one way is you could change the name of the product.”

Change the name.

At the end of the annual crotch-kick, Cowboy fans sullenly sulk back to their homes and silently watch the playoffs without their favorite team.  But the exact same personnel on that Dallas Cowboys team won’t do for the upcoming season.  Something needs to change.  So over the course of the Cowboy’s last sixteen disappointing offseasons, Cowboys GM Jerry Jones fired six head coaches, numerous assistant coaches, built a sexy $1 billion stadium (with a screen so big that fans in the stands are hypnotized and don’t make much noise when the opposing team is on offense), and drafts absolutely horribly. In other words, Jerry keeps trying to change the name of his product.  But you know something is not right with this picture.

Among its several plot lines, The Wire also follows the story of a struggling addict who goes by the name “Bubbles”. Bubbles at different times tries to stop using; sometimes his season of abstinence lasts longer than other seasons, but eventually he reverts back to his old habits. When he notices Stringer’s product is getting worse and no longer packs the punch he needs, he starts freaking out but he won’t buy what Stringer sells, and most of West Baltimore follows suit.  Then something else hits the streets. It has a cool name, and the capsule colors are different.  Bubbles and his buddies load up, get all excited and starts using only to discover…it’s still the same crappy product.  Stringer’s reputation starts taking a hit, but he stubbornly holds on.

Just a few months after the Super Bowl, despite Cowboy fans vowing they will not be so emotionally tied up again with their team, fans start to get excited again.  The NFL draft approaches, then training in Oxnard.  Then, well, “damn the torpedoes!” Cowboy fans say, and rush towards Jerry Jones’ kool-aid-filled igloo likes cows to a fresh bale of coastal hay. Unlike most NFL teams, it doesn’t matter how bad the Cowboys product on the field is, the fans will still show up to games and buy merchandise and go crazy for “America’s Team”. Oh, if only Stringer Bell’s customers were this gullible. See, Cowboy fans are shmucks.  Now I don’t mean to insult anyone, but I see the “addiction”, and I see how crummy the product is, and I look at the axiom (well, more like a poorly constructed theorem) propping up the whole mess and can’t help but shake my head. Cowboy fans are getting played, and it won’t stop until the fans decide to do something.  Jerry Jones takes full advantage of the fact that Cowboy fans keep coming back for more, that’s why he keeps changing the name of the game, but he won’t get rid of the foundation of sand holding the whole thing up—himself. Nobody questions that Jerry doesn’t want to win, he does, but only if he’s in the limelight and he gets all the credit, something he’s never truly received because the Cowboys’ only Super Bowl victories under Jerry’s tenure were achieved by Jimmy Johnson’s football roster craftsmanship. Jerry Jones is an egomaniac, the Dallas Cowboys are his toy, and when it comes down to it, he’ll never give it up, even if it means no more Super Bowls for the Cowboys and their fans. Do you think he’d fire the GM of a team that had sixteen disappointing seasons? He fired six coaches during that time span. He can keep his ownership, but give the reins to someone with brains and a vision, and stay out of their way! Don’t make any trips to figurative (and literal) sideline and interfere. The problem is not coaching, injuries or Tony Romo. As a result from awful drafting and trades, the team just plain sucks, and it’s only one man’s fault.

So I want to use this as a wake-up call for Cowboy fans, because I love many of you, but I see that you’re being taken for a ride. Some of you are just now seeing the light, have yet to see the light, or are past the point of caring. If you want to see your beloved team succeed, then wipe that pink kool aid mustache off your face, knock the igloo over and demand from Jerry Jones that you’re tired of drinking his garbage. Hit him where it hurts—his wallet. It’s time for Cowboy fans to organize in some manner and start boycotting Jerry Jones.  Not the Cowboys. You can still tune in and root for your team.  But abstain from tickets and anything with the Cowboy logo. Use the power of social media, get some #OccupyDallasCowboys action going on Facebook or Twitter. This is rehab, Cowboy fans. If you’re frugal and vocal enough…maybe…hopefully…Jerry will really change.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.  

2012 Hall of Fame Ballot

January 4, 2012 1 comment

By: Aaron Booth

One of my favorite things in sports is a hot debate about an arbitrary topic. That’s why awards and college football rankings are so much fun. Those topics leave a lot to debate, the rules are vague, there’s no clearly defined relationship between component A and component B, the qualifications of the voters are often suspect, and at the end of it we, the fans, have dozens of things to complain about. The baseball Hall of Fame is just such a topic. Five hundred or so baseball writers with almost as many different perspectives and principles vote through a ballot of 20-30 players that had at least 10-year careers and have been retired for at least 5 years. They have almost no guidelines to work with, and even though it’s called the Hall of Fame, the voters really aren’t even measuring fame – they’re measuring greatness – kind of.

The voting method that is most obnoxious to me comes from a small group of voters who refuse to vote for a player on the first ballot. Their rationale? Joe DiMaggio wasn’t elected on the first ballot, current player X isn’t as good as DiMaggio, therefore, player X can’t get a first ballot vote. Thankfully these writers are in the minority. For one thing, their rationale is only sustainable provided the majority of voters do the right thing. Any player that fails to get 5% of the vote falls off the ballot, so if all the voters took this stance, no players would go to the HOF because they would all fall off the ballot after the first year. As if this wasn’t enough, these voters have still more egg on their faces. When they look back on all their HOF votes they will realize that they had no hand in electing the best players in the game. A long time voter that takes this stance had nothing to do with electing Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken or Ricky Henderson. They effectively voted against them because those players were elected on their first ballots. The legacy of these writers is that they are shackled by the mistakes of voters from 40 years ago. They embrace a position on principle even though the institution would die if all voters did the same. They vote against the greatest players in the game and only have a hand in electing the lesser HOFer’s, that is, they chose Gary Carter over George Brett.

Another type of voter that has emerged over the last few years is the guy that wants to manipulate the result. These guys were prevalent in the talk surrounding Roberto Alomar and are still present in the Barry Larkin discussion. These guys think Alomar and Larkin are worthy of being in the hall, but they are not worthy of being “first ballot” Hall of Famers. The HOF makes no distinction for how many elections a player went through for enshrinement; a player is either in or not. Yet these voters have created an arbitrary sub-honor called First Ballot HOFer, which they reserve for those players that meet their personal criteria. This voter, like the last voter, employs a method that is only sustainable provided they are in the minority.

Fortunately, these voters are in the minority. On the whole I think the writers do a good job of voting for HOF, better than any group of fans would do, and leaps and bounds better than a group of players and coaches.

For those who are not familiar with the process, a voter must be a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers Association. The voters receive a ballot and may vote for as many as 10 players, but they do not have to vote for any if they don’t want to. Players that receive 75% of the vote become Hall of Famers. Players that receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from future ballots.

The 2012 HOF ballot is exceptionally thin. The best new candidate is Bernie Williams. Williams should get enough votes to stay on the ballot for several. All the other new candidates will likely fall off, as will second year hold over Juan Gonzalez.

After the first year players and Gonzalez, there are thirteen other players on the ballot. I would not vote for Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, or Alan Trammell. These players get votes from a lot of respected voters, but I’m just not convinced. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but I haven’t been yet. Mattingly and Murphy had elite seasons – MVP seasons, but their periods of dominance were short and their overall careers were too short. I need more time on Walker. I am just not sure on him, and I’d rather be fully convinced than advocate a questionable candidate. On Trammell, I need to hear the narrative. I don’t think the numbers support him, but he was a shortstop, and I’m open to the idea that there is a case for him as a defender or as a leader, neither of which are reflected by the stats.

That leaves the guys I’m sure belong in the hall, plus Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire. Palmeiro and McGwire both had HOF careers and both have a legacy tainted by performance enhancing drugs. Fox baseball writer Ken Rosenthal once argued that he wasn’t voting for McGwire because McGwire refused to stand up for himself, and if he wouldn’t fight for himself why should he [Rosenthal] fight on his behalf. Perhaps Rosenthal has changed his mind, and if so, that’s fine too. In general I don’t get hung up on the PEDs. I would vote for both of these guys, though I don’t think they’ll be elected anytime soon, and I don’t really feel the need to fight for them. When the ballot is thin, I’ll vote for them. When the ballot is deep, I won’t.

That leaves seven guys I believe should be in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick summary of my seven HOFer’s in reverse order of importance:

Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog tends to get overlooked. He wasn’t really a vocal player, but he hit a lot of home runs and has a spotless reputation as far as PEDs are concerned.

Lee Smith: Smith bridges the gap between the original closers, (Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter) and the modern guys like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. That means he didn’t spend his whole career getting 2 and 3 inning saves like the first group, but he also didn’t spend his whole career getting bases empty, 1-inning saves like the modern guys, which means he didn’t compile 600 saves. He was the first to 400 saves, and as a kid I remember having the impression that he was one of the closers the league feared.

Jack Morris: Some voters have become passionate about Morris and I think he will ultimately be elected. Morris was the ace pitcher for 3 World Series champions and the star of one of the greatest postseason games I’ve ever seen – A 10-inning complete game shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Tim Raines: Raines spent his best years hidden in Montreal. By OPS+, Raines had 3 elite seasons and 8 other all-star level seasons. He’s 5th all-time in stolen bases, and he’s a darling candidate of the sabremetric crowd.

Edgar Martinez: For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Mariner fan and I love Edgar. That said, not only would I vote for Edgar, I believe he will ultimately be elected. Some voters penalize him for being a DH, but this is a dying trend. It is definitely an “old” argument: new voters don’t think this way, middle aged voters are open to change, and the old voters are retiring. By OPS+, Edgar had 13 all-star caliber seasons, 7 of which were truly elite. He’s 22nd all-time in on base percentage – 13th amongst modern era players (post 1920), and 34th all time in OPS (on base + slugging).

Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell has never been implicated for PED’s but he has been penalized by the voters for having giant arms in the steroid era. 13 of Bagwell’s 15 seasons were all-star level, and 8 of those were elite.

Barry Larkin: Larkin will get in this year. The only reason he’s not in now is because of the “he’s a hall of famer, just not a first ballot hall of famer” crowd.

Prediction: Larkin will go in alone. Morris finishes 2nd and is on the path of making it in his last year (2014). Bagwell, Edgar, and Raines, have big gains. The rest of the guys hang on, ranging from 10-40%. The only thing certain about their futures is that they will again be Hall of Fame candidates.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

The BCS Is Perfect

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Deacon Blues

The BCS: It’s is a joke. It’s a ridiculous system that everybody loves to hate. It’s perfect.

 

For 13 years, anybody who cares about college football – that is, everybody — has been subjected to a system that has done precious little to do what it set out to do. According to the BCS website, the BCS “is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game.” Does anybody really think that the two best teams meet year after year? What about USC in 2003? Auburn in 2004? Boise State? TCU?

Even according to the organizers of the BCS, it’s not a perfect system. To quote the BCS website again, “Thanks to the BCS, the top two teams have played each other 13 times in 13 years by BCS measurements and 10 times in the last 13 according to the AP poll — including the last seven years in a row.” According to their own measurements, the top two teams meet every year, but even they grant that there is dispute over this. It’s almost expected that there will be disagreement as to which the two top teams are.

 

Take this year for example. #1 Louisiana State (13-0) is the team most deserving to be there. However, their opponent is not the same shoo-in. #2 Alabama (12-1) already lost to LSU. They didn’t even win their division, let alone their conference.

 

What about #3 Oklahoma State (11-1)? Other than a double overtime road loss to Iowa State, they murdered their competition, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Texas A&M. #4 Stanford (11-1) lost one game, and that was to #5 Oregon (11-1). That one loss for Oregon was to the horribly underrated – and regrettably ineligible – USC (11-2).

 

All the while, #7 Boise State (11-1) lost a heart-breaker to the perennial competitive TCU (10-2), and that was that.

 

In all of this, #6 Arkansas (10-2) is nothing more than a footnote. The Razorbacks lost the only two legitimate challenges they received all year: LSU and Alabama.

 

Alabama received their berth to the championship game base on a margin of .0086 points – the closest margin in eight years. A couple votes the other way – or even a slightly altered computer formula – and Oklahoma State has the chance to contend for the glass football. A bounce here or there for Oregon, or Stanford, or Boise State, and the landscape is completely altered.

 

It’s true that every other major team sport has a playoff system, but there are 120 teams in the FBS. Proponents of a playoff, or a plus-one, or something similar think that college football would be benefitted by determining a clear-cut winner. That’s just not true.

 

Playoff systems are inherently flawed. The only thing they tell us is which teams would win on those days. Often, the best team doesn’t win the championship. The Giants beat the Patriots. Villanova upset Georgetown. The Mariners won 116 games and didn’t even make the World Series. Is there any reason to believe college football would be any different? Of course not.

 

Coaches, ADs, and the whole of the NCAA have been deafeningly silent on the issue of a playoff system. Why is that? If instituting a plus-one or an eight-team bracket would really benefit the sport, why isn’t everyone pushing for it? Because they know they would run the risk handing the Coaches’ Trophy to Kansas State. A Boise State-Cincinatti matchup would absolutely kill ratings. Outside of the college football wastelands, nobody wants that.

 

The beauty of the BCS is the ambiguity of it all. With a pool as large as the FBS, everybody benefits from a system that encourages debate. Oklahoma State fans don’t want their team to get destroyed by LSU in the championship game; they want the Cowboys to get “cheated” out of the chance to play, go out and beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, and then have the opportunity to talk around the water cooler about how great their team was in 2011.

 

Nobody remembers the team that lost; everybody remembers the team that should have been there. Without the playoff system, the regular season is the playoff. Win and you’re still in, but lose, and you’re probably done. The BCS rarely gives out second chances. Absolutely every game matters, and no other sport can say that.

 

Deacon Blues grew up in Moscow, Idaho, and still resides there with his lovely wife and four savages. By day he is an economist and database expert, but he doubles as a T-ball coach, lacrosse official, suffering Mariners fan, and reader of children’s books. He also makes a mean morning meal and is ever on the lookout for the perfect breakfast burrito recipe. He can be followed on Twitter at @deaconblues42. 

Making Sense of Tebowmania

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Aaron Watson

Here is what Tim Tebow isn’t: a polished passer capable of making quick decisions or reading a defense like Brady or Brees.

Here is what Tim Tebow is: an incredible leader, runner and motivator who doesn’t make costly mistakes and is growing as a passer each week.

He didn’t ask for the hype. He doesn’t write the hundreds of stories each week about his heroics. He’s just trying to win football games for a team that, if we’re being honest, is mediocre at best. Yet for some reason the publicity he has generated just “trying his hardest to win” has made him a target for voracious criticism and overzealous praise that no other young player in the league seems to see.

But I guess it is fitting to have the Mile High Messiah being crucified for being different.

Nevermind that he is outplaying the oft injured Sam Bradford, last year’s #1 overall pick. Or former high picks Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Blaine Gabbert, Colt McCoy, Jimmy Clausen and Christian Ponder. While those players continue to struggle week after week, it is Tebow who gets blasted by the pundits who seem to forget he is young, winning, and surrounded by a cast of players no one else wanted. And did I mention this is the same team that won 2 games last year?

I guess having too many fans is a cardinal sin in the NFL.

Does he get too much credit for his last minute heroics that have caused his team to move from 1-4 to first place in the AFC West? Sure. Has the defense made some great plays? Absolutely. But to say his 7-2 record is simply due to the defense and kicker is to forget how awful this team was in the first 5 games with Kyle Orton. And when Brady and Stafford carve up that defense with ease it should serve a reminder that this is simply an average team.

I honestly believe that if Tebow wasn’t so popular, he wouldn’t be as vilified. But as his ardent fans base continues to grow, his detractors feel the need to knock him down as many notches as they possibly can, regardless of how fair and honest their criticism. They see Tebowmaniacs going overboard in their support and thus feel the need to go overboard in their condemnation. There is no middle ground.

No one seems to accept the obvious. The team is average. The quarterback is young and has a steep learning curve. And the team is overachieving.

If the criticism was fair then Tebow’s detractors should be vilifying Sam Bradford for stumbling through an atrocious season. And if the support was fair then people would be lining up to receive Andy Dalton’s autograph and talking about how God must be a Bengals fan (that would be ironic).

But they are not. Because this isn’t about football anymore. It’s about him. It’s about a young man’s aura attracting a fan based that is simply unwarranted based on his production. And that just pisses off armchair quarterbacks who know he can’t be successful… ever. They’ve played enough Madden and fantasy football to know what a good quarterback looks like.

So to you pissed off armchair quarterbacks, I have a brief message:

Let the fans in Denver have their moment. If he can’t play, as you seem convinced, then the madness will end after 2 or 3 seasons like it does with all other young QB’s and you will have your moment of glory. And if you can’t do that, then at least be fair in your criticism instead of being just as irrational as the fans who think he deserves all the credit.  You don’t need to buy in, and you can be critical. Just give him the same deference you seem inclined to give every young quarterback not named Tebow.

And then when his legend fades off into the sunset one inaccurate pass after another, you can smile and look the rest of us in the eye and say, “I told you so.”

Or maybe, just maybe, he proves you wrong.

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.

This Year Is Different (An Excerpt)

December 12, 2011 1 comment

“This Year Is Different” is published by Diversion Books and is available December 14, 2011. You can purchase it here.

By: Bob Sturm

It was a bit early to say the Mavericks had rewritten their legacy and reputation.

It was a bit early to say definitively the Mavericks were able to win road playoff games again.

It was a bit early to say the Mavericks no longer could be bullied in the postseason with physical and intimidating play.

It was a bit early to say the entire NBA was on notice.

But closing out Portland in six games with such tenacity and courage after a devastating Game 4 loss was a nice start in that direction.

Winning a playoff series should never be minimized. It had been five years since they’d won more than one, and now their prize was a meeting with the mighty Los Angeles Lakers. But the Mavericks would have a few days to catch their breath before that marquee battle. They could take pride in having outwrestled a very competitive Portland side that dragged them out into deep waters, knowing they were the survivors to reach the next shore.

“Tonight, Nowitzki, Kidd and Terry weren’t going to let us lose the game. It was simple as that,” Carlisle said. “There wasn’t going to be a miracle tonight. . . . Walking in this place and playing a playoff game is no fun, brother. This is the loudest place I’ve ever been. For our guys to hang in and be able to win in this environment is huge for us. To go through what we went through in Game 4, these things happen for a reason. But we feel our work has just begun.”

Nowitzki had both talked the talk and walked the walk. He scored 164 points in the six-game series — 60 more than his next-closest teammate, and never fewer than 20 in a game. With scoring totals of 28, 33, 25, 20, 25 and 33 against the Blazers, he was proving to be as deadly a weapon as in any point of his career. He had become that rare breed of player who could go on the road and make an entire arena groan when he released an open shot. When he started rolling, there was often no stopping him.

But Dirk would still need support. Perhaps his most dominating playoff series since 2006 had been in the Western Conference semifinals against Denver in 2009. Then, he amassed 172 points in just five games (28, 35, 33, 44 and 32), but Dallas lost the series. Nowitzki had delivered many times in many situations, but he could not single-handedly drag his team to victory. Neither could the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant before he was given proper help in 2008.

But perhaps this year truly was different. Nowitzki had battle-hardened, playoff-tested help. When his shot is falling, Terry can terrorize any opposing defense.Marion could lock down most top scorers and provide the loose-ball intangibles under the glass or in transition. Kidd’s vision and passing wisdom remained almost unparalleled. And then there was the big guy — Tyson Chandler — whose acquisition back in July 2010, frankly, disappointed many locals. Sure, he seemed to be an interesting player when healthy, but how excited could fans really get about a starting center who had started just 72 games in two years?

Well, they were excited now. And not just because Chandler wasn’t Erick Dampier. In the final two games of the Portland series, Chandler had realized all the potential that Cuban and Donnie Nelson had envisioned 9½ months earlier when they finalized the trade with Charlotte, beating Toronto to the punch. He not only had provided the best post play on both ends of the floor of any Dallas center in the “Dirk Era,” but he also appeared to be the William Wallace element the Mavericks always lacked. Chandler’s passion was undeniable, genuine and infectious.

Was he the alpha male? No, that was Dirk. But was he the guy who kept the bullies away from his buddies? Yes, he was.

A strange thing happened as Nowitzki left the court after Game 6. Many of  the Portland fans who had been rooting so hard against him suddenly showed their admiration and wished the big German continued success.

“They were great,” Nowitzki told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. “When we won and were walking off the court, a lot of them were yelling, ‘Go beat L.A.!’”

Earning opposing fans’ respect and a ticket to the conference semifinals was nice, but Nowitzki had much more on his agenda.

“It’s a nice win, but, I don’t really want to overrate this win,” he told reporters. “Our goal the last five or six seasons was always a championship. When I first got to the Mavericks, our big goal was making the playoffs. That goal obviously changed. Once you’ve been in the playoffs a number of years, you want to win it all.

“We understand that to win it all, you’ve got to take the first step, and that’s winning the first round. So we feel good about that. But we know we have a long way to go.”

That Nowitzki and Terry could play such big roles in dispatching the Blazers seemed especially fulfilling to their coach.

“These guys have been here a long time,” Carlisle said. “It is so meaningful for them both to help us move on. . . . I have grown to love these guys so much, and what they stand for, and what they’ve been through over a period of time that extends long before I got here. . . . Our team is a true team.”

The Blazers had been stout first-round opponents, certainly no pushovers. Their team wanted a fight and offered one. Their arena set the benchmark for what loud could mean. They forced the Mavericks to come together as a squad and see just how much agony and heartbreak they could stand. This series had been an ideal proving ground for what was ahead.

Bob Sturm, a native of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and a graduate of Liberty University, has hosted his half of the Bob and Dan Show on Sportsradio 1310, The Ticket in Dallas, Texas, since 1999.  Bob has also worked in television sports and has written sports blogs and stories for the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and Fox Sports Southwest.  He and his wife, Sally, and three children, Madeline, Brett, and Justin, live in Lewisville, Texas. 

Why Mark Buehrle Scares Me

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Nate Douglas

The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are currently underway, and just like eggnog is synonymous with Christmas, so are rumors with the Winter Meetings.  Among the rumors is the Texas Rangers’ pursuit of free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle.  If CJ Wilson signs with another team (which sounds likely), I still do not think signing Buehrle would be the best move for the Rangers.  Over the course of his career, Buehrle has only had one sub 3.50 ERA season, which was 6 years ago.  His highest K/9 rate was 6.05.  When over the course of a season a pitcher strikes out less batters than the average number of days a Kim Kardashian relationship lasts, you don’t miss many bats. His xFIP last year was 4.14, a plateau he has reached regularly, and it would not surprise me if he had an ERA in the 4.00s during the course of his next contract.  I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound like a $40 million pitcher.  The only argument I’ve heard in Buehrle’s favor was that he’s durable and can get you innings.  In response to this argument, I present you these stats (these averages were taken from 2005-2010):

 

Pitcher A: 189.2 IP, 4.39 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 139 K’s

Pitcher B: 213.6 IP, 3.94 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 117 K’s

 

Fairly similar numbers, Pitcher B obviously is a little better.  He’s Mark Buehrle.  Pitcher A is Kevin Millwood (who was in decline keep in mind), the Rangers’ last durable-gets-you-innings-pitcher.  That’s when the Rangers didn’t have any other starting pitchers to speak of.  Now, they have a rotation of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison with Scott Feldman as the long-man.  A sixth pitcher would be nice to create even more depth, and if a trade opportunity presents itself for somebody like John Danks or Matt Garza, the Rangers would do well to pick one of them up.  But they don’t need a pitcher like Buehrle, the Rangers already have a left-handed inning eater who doesn’t pile up many Ks—Matt Harrison. Instead, if the Rangers had to get a free agent pitcher, I’d rather they give a couple years to Roy Oswalt at a cheaper price with higher upside than pay $40 million for a lukewarm pitcher in decline.  The Texas Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions.  That kind of pedigree leads to Joe Nathan/Neftali Feliz-like acquisitions.  They are no longer the AL West pondscum from six years, which lead to Millwood-esque acquisitions, which is what Buehrle would be.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and son (whom he is 17-0 against in living-room wrestling…never mind if his son is a toddlerweight).  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  He has yet to come off his Dallas Mavericks championship-high, and he prays daily for those last couple World Series wins for his beloved Rangers, and that his children will never know a day where they weren’t fans of his favorite teams.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34. 

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