Friday, October 9, 2015

The MLB Wild Card Game Does Not Need Changing

On Wednesday night, the 98-win Pittsburgh Pirates were eliminated from playoff contention after one game. They had the most wins of any team to not make the Divisional Series since the wild cards inception in 1994.

We live in a very reactionary culture today. Some college football player threw for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in week 1? He's the next Johnny Manziel. Colin Kaepernick has one dominant playoff game, and suddenly Ron Jaworski is hyping him as the "greatest QB of all-time." Spend five minutes on Twitter and all you'll see are quick reactionary opinions. So in other words, don't spend five minutes on Twitter.

The newest issue seems to be that the MLB playoff structure needs to be tweaked again. A one-game series isn't fair! Right? Technically, it's not fair. But the playoffs in general are not fair. Teams play 162 games over six months, but then the champion is determined by a maximum of 20 games (max series lengths are 1-5-7-7) over three weeks in October. If people truly want the "fairest" result, the regular season's best record should be the champion, much like Soccer.

Most people would hate that idea, myself included. The playoffs have become a major part of our culture, and the considerably shorter playoff stretch fits into our reactionary culture much better than the 162-game regular season would. For entertainment purposes, the playoffs are a must. And let's be clear: despite pro sports being a multi billion dollar industy, the point of sports is for entertainment, no matter how many people forget that.

The current (and fairly new) set up was designed to give incentives to teams that win their divisions. The goal was to make winning your division more important than it had been since the introduction of the wild cards in the 1990's. Why? Because baseball loves it's traditions. And for 100 years before the introduction of the wild card, winning your division was a must to make the playoffs. So the current setup is a compromise between making the playoffs more fair (5 teams from each league now make it) and entertaining (4 of those 10 teams play in a 1-game playoff).

Ratings also play a major part in the decision to make the game an elimination game. The always great Wikipedia (your high school teachers are wrong) allows us to look at the television ratings for each world series game, dating back to 1984. The World Series will almost always draw more viewers than a Divisional Series game, but the premise is the same: fans tune in more when the series is about to end. Game 1 has great ratings, because we love beginnings, but game 7's have way better ratings. Elimination games in general get better ratings. Game 4 of the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers, with the Giants leading 3 games to 0, drew 3 million more viewers than any other game, and 5 million more viewers than game 3.

So Major League Baseball used game 1 as the elimination game. And it's worked great. This year's Yankees-Astros game on ESPN was the most viewed MLB game on their network in 12 years, and the most viewed wild card game in the new system. That's mostly because the Yankees always draw better ratings than other teams (even if some people just tune in to root against them), but at least some of it has to be the lure of a great season ending in one night. It's certainly unfair, but since we really just want entertainment, the current system fits the American public's preferences very well. Leave the damn thing alone.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

NFL Franchises Net Worth

Today, we have a wonderful infographic from Personal Capital regarding the net worth of NFL Franchises, along with a few other interesting tid bits.

It's really no surprise Dallas comes in first, and St. Louis is last. The Rams stadium is clearly among the league's worst, which is why they are one of the most likely teams to move to Los Angeles in the near future. 

As far as highest paid coaches go, Jeff Fisher looks terribly out of place. He's been terrible in St. Louis, although having a healthy quarterback for most of the season would go a long way toward a winning record for the Rams. Joe Philbin's getting his money now to NOT work for Miami, so it's a good thing he was one of the lowest paid coaches. The fact that Bill Belichick isn't the highest paid coach in football shows how cheap the Patriots organization really is, as they never pay fair market value for players (Tom Brady, anyone?) or coaches.

Now that you know how much you need to earn to buy the St. Louis Rams, head on over to Personal Capital and check your net worth.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top 10 Video Game Football Players

Football. Video Games. Just read it.
  1. Brian Moorman, P, Buffalo Bills – Madden '10
Putting a punter on this list seems crazy, since most people don't even punt in video games. How could a punter really be that great? While Moorman's kick power was very good, what made him unstoppable was his speed. He was given a 90(!) speed rating the same year Josh Cribbs, a speedy, pro bowl kick returner, was an 89 speed. Running fake punt passes on 4th and 10 and then watching your scrawny little white punter outrun an entire defense for a 25-yard gain was incredibly hilarious to do to opponents, and incredibly frustrating when done to you. Defenses had to stop lining up in punt formation to stop him, which allowed users to punt the ball 70+ yards without a punt returner. Moorman brought new meaning to field position games, and made special teams fun for once.

  1. Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants – Tecmo Bowl
LT is arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history, and his Tecmo Bowl character was even better. Virtual Taylor would shed his blocker almost immediately on every play, allowing him to rack up a half dozen sacks as well as several tackles for loss. While most defenses would need to guess the correct play to get a sack back in those days, Taylor was so good people would almost prefer to not guess correctly. It was more fun to watch LT causing havoc on his own, frustrating your friends over and over again. Running away from Taylor didn't seem to matter, as he'd just outrun the entire defense and chase down the ball carrier. No word on if virtual LT ever sent anything or anyone to opponents hotel rooms, though.

LT begins around 20 seconds in the video.

  1. Randall Cunningham, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – NFL Quarterback Club (Sega Genesis)

NFL Quarterback Club was the first game where quarterback scrambling felt like it worked. The game had a quarterback obstacle course you could play against your friends, and several drills involved actually moving with the quarterback. This aspect of the game carried over to the actual head to head gameplay. The AI in this game was better than most football game's up to that point, but if you played enough you found certain plays that were unbeatable. Cunningham's speed and throwing combination along with the game's design flaws allowed Cunningham to scramble for 60 yard runs on the same few plays if run correctly. He was faster than almost every defender, but in the rare situations a throw was necessary, Cunningham didn't make very many bad throws either. Virtual Cunningham was the first real scrambling quarterback that players could actually use to run around with. It was a lot of fun.

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  1. Randy Moss, WR, Minnesota Vikings – NFL2K (Sega Dreamcast)
The Sega Dreamcast was far ahead of it's time, but that's a discussion for another day. Randy Moss grazed the cover of the console's first NFL game. The Vikings offense in the game was loaded, coming off of it's record breaking (and heart-breaking) 1998 season. Randall Cunningham was the team's quarterback, and while he didn't run as well as his NFL Quarterback Club self, he was still great. But Moss was amazing. He'd get a 3 or 4 yard release from the corner off the snap every time, and even if the pass was badly under-thrown, Moss would simply stop, catch it, bounce off the corner's tackle and outrun the safety's to the end zone. Virtual 2K Randy was straight cash, homey. Of course, real life Randy Moss made plenty of amazing long touchdown catches, so maybe 2K got this one exactly right.

  1. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens – Madden '05
Lewis singlehandedly changed the way the Madden developers created the game. They decided that Lewis' dominance in real life needed to be more closely mirrored in a virtual world. Enter the hit stick. Madden's developers created the hit stick to allow defensive players the opportunity to lay out an offensive player. Naturally, Lewis graced the cover of Madden '05, and his player rightfullu enjoyed the benefits. While the first year of the hit stick wasn't perfect, Ray Lewis was. At least 90% of the time a player who correctly hit sticked with Ray Ray would lay out the ball carrier, causing a fumble and/or injury. And unlike most great virtual video game players, Lewis was extremely smart so the AI did a fine job controlling him too. Playing against him meant working the sidelines and avoiding the big hits at all costs. Virtual Ray wasn't nearly as good as firing up his teammates as real life Ray, though.

  1. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers – Tecmo Bowl (NES)
The greatest receiver of all-time in real life, Rice's virtual counterpart wasn't far off. In the strike shortened 1987 season, Rice caught an amazing 22 touchdown passes in just 12 games that stood as the NFL record until 2007. Randy Moss finished with 23 touchdown catches that year, but he did it in 16 games and on the highest scoring offense in NFL history. As great as Moss was, Rice is without a doubt the greatest of all-time. Tecmo Bowl Jerry, based on his great '87 season, was almost always open, and with the great Joe Montana throwing the passes, players rarely ran the ball when playing with the 49ers. Corners would sit back and leave Rice open, frustrating defenses throughout the game. If the corners tried to get close, Rice always got behind them. Every once in a while Rice would even catch a pass that looked like it was going to be an interception. Throwing the ball had never been so much fun in a video game. Tecmo Jerry started the passing revolution, at least in video games.

  1. Pablo Sanchez, Every Position, No Team – Backyard Football (PC)
Backyard Football was so much fun to play. The game combined NFL players (as kids) with random neighborhood characters created by the developers. Among those kids was the greatest youngster of all-time, Pablo Sanchez. He was the fastest kid in the game, he had a great arm, and his catching rating was almost perfect. Even his tackling and blocking were better than average, even though he was the smallest kid in the game. And he could kick. He wasn't nicknamed the“Secret Weapon” for nothing. He gave your team a ton of versatility, which helped when drafting players. Watching him outrun NFL greats was almost as much fun as actually playing the game. Oh, and he was a stud on the baseball diamond too. No word on if Nike approached Pablo for a “Pablo Knows” commercial in the early 2000's.

  1. Deion Sanders, CB, Dallas Cowboys – NFL Primetime 95 (Sega Genesis)
At a time when nobody really cared much about playing defense, Deion Sanders virtual self changed that. The greatest cover corner in NFL history, Deion didn't disappoint in the game. As the cover athlete for the game Sanders was the best player in the game to play with. He could go from the sideline to the middle of the field in the time it took most quarterbacks to complete a pass, so Sanders literally took away half of the field if the player controlled him correctly. Watching Deion run 30 yards in one direction and then stopping on a dime and running 15 yards in 1 second to intercept a Brett Favre pass deep down the middle was a thing of beauty, even if it was totally fake. Many sega controllers were broken thanks to Deion's coverage skills.

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  1. Bo Jackson, RB, Oakland Raiders – Tecmo Bowl (NES)
Long considered the greatest video game character in sports history, Bo only made it to #2 on this list. Despite not garnering the top spot, Bo was amazing. With his ridiculous speed and agility players could literally weave and dodge tacklers all around the field while running with Bo. Even the aforementioned Lawrence Taylor didn't have a chance against video game Bo. With only one play in the Raiders playbook (anymore would have been unfair) Bo was still basically impossible to stop. Virtual Bo knew how to score touchdowns, and his hip always held up.

  1. Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons – Madden '04
95 speed, 97 acceleration and 98 throw power made Michael Vick literally unstoppable in Madden '04. Most linebackers speed ratings were in the low-to-mid 70's still at this point, so playing with Vick was the most unfair thing anyone could do. Players could roll out with him and throw the ball 70 yards down the field right on target, or simply run past the entire defense on a scramble for a long touchdown run. While real Michael Vick failed to live up to his potential and made some poor life choices, virtual Michael Vick will live in infamy as the greatest video game football player of all-time.

Watch the play starting around 50 seconds into the video. You could do this every time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Does Adrian Peterson Stack Up Against Other Running Backs?

Last season, millions of people were counting on Adrian Peterson to be a stand out in fantasy football. He is known as one of the most talented running backs in the game, and may predicted him to be one of the three top point producers. Unfortunately, things really didn't turn out as planned last year. He played in just one game before being suspended for the rest of the year thanks to child abuse allegations. Now that his punishment has been lifted, Peterson is going to be looking to have a pretty big season for the Minnesota Vikings. As people get ready for fantasy football league 2015, are they going to be ready to invest in him once again?

Peterson is going to be a focal point for the offense, Even if the Minnesota Vikings plan on utilizing second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater quite a bit. They were actually able to have success with the the Bridgewater in the second half of the regular season, so bringing back one of the best 
running backs in the game is going to be very beneficial for him.

There seems to be mixed thoughts with Peterson right now when it comes to what to expect out of him in 2015. Some people feel like he is going to be rejuvenated in a way because he had so much time to let his body recover due to the suspension. It can be very beneficial for anybody to take some time off from getting hit every single week. At the same time, he might get off to a slow start in 2015 simply because he is a little bit rusty.

At the very least, Peterson should still be in the top five as far as running backs are concerned in fantasy football leagues 2015. He is a very talented player, and he is only going to get better as the season goes along. He is a bit older than other top running backs like Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell, but the Vikings know how to use their best player on offense. 

Expect a big year out of him as he tries to repair his image.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MLB GMs Undervalue Defense

The book Moneyball has gotten a lot of media coverage over the last decade, often being credited (incorrectly) for the growth of advanced stats in the game. I'm not even going to talk about the movie that had almost no relation to the book. But the main point of the Oakland Athletics strategy in Moneyball was to find skills that other teams were undervaluing. At the time the book was written, on base percentage was very undervalued. That's no longer the case, so teams need to find new ways to find undervalued players.

Defense continues to be an extremely important part of the game but it doesn't seem to get the credit it deserves, both from the media and the salaries great defenders get from their teams. While last year's Kansas City Royals "small ball" approach drew the ire of the advanced stats crowd (myself included), their elite defense all season fits right into the advanced stat mold. 

Preventing runs can be just as valuable as scoring runs, but in today's fantasy centric world, offensive numbers are all the rage. Being an elite defender is basically as rare as being an elite hitter, but elite defenders that can't hit rarely receive large contracts. However, elite offensive players that are black holes defensively continue to receive massive contracts from teams enticed by their 25 home runs.

Darwin Barney, the former cubs second baseman who's now with the Dodgers, has been a great defender at second base dating back to 2012. Using Fangraphs UZR/150 rating, Barney saved 17 runs per 150 games in 2012, 15 in 2013 and 17 again last season. Every 10 runs saved is generally worth 1 win, so over a full season Barney's defense at second base has been worth about a win and a half alone. He signed with the Dodgers this past off-season for $2,500,000 for one season in his second round of arbitration.

Barney has never been a good hitter, but major league second baseman in general aren't good hitters. In 2012, second baseman posted a respectable .714 OPS, better than shortstops and DH's that season. Barney's OPS was just .653, but he did steal 6 bases in 7 attempts to help add a little more value. His defense was elite, and WAR ranked him as worth more than 4 wins above replacement. That's a great season.

In 2013 Barney's offense fell, as he posted just a .569 OPS in 141 games. The average offensive second baseman had a .711 OPS that season. Barney became just a part-time player in 2014 following his poor offensive performance the year before, but that's where GM's seem to make mistakes. A poor offensive season almost always means the team is looking for a replacement, but a league average hitter with no defense will often get to keep his position for years, like Torii Hunter as he ages.

Daniel Murphy of the Mets is a good example of this. Since 2012, he's posted a .736 OPS, above average each season for second baseman. Unfortunately, he's been horrible defensively in that time, negating almost all the value his offense creates. In 2012, Murphy's UZR was -13.3, meaning his defense was costing his team more than 1 win a season. His offense was worth about 2 wins above the average second baseman, so Murphy wasn't without value. But his overall season, when factoring in offense and defense, was considerably worse than Darwin Barney's 2012 season.

Murphy has posted basically identical OPS' each season since. .733 in 2013 and .734 in 2014. He did improve his defense from brutal to just below average over the last two seasons, but his offensive contributions continue to be negated by his poor defense. Following the 2013 season, Murphy received a $5,700,000 contract in his second season of arbitration. That salary was based entirely on his offensive production. Barney was better over two years than Murphy overall, but because Murphy's offense was better and that's overvalued, he received more than double Barney's salary. (Both players made about $2.3M in their first arbitration season)

Murphy and Barney have been similar players when given the same amount of playing time, but because of the emphasis on offense, teams can find cheap production and extreme value by targeting elite defenders that have never really hit well in the big leagues. Murphy continues to play every day for the Mets, while Barney's been demoted to AAA by the Dodgers. LA has a lot of depth, but Barney is deserving of an opportunity. Again, his offense is being overvalued while his defense is being undervalued, which is a bad combination for someone with Barney's skill set.

While Barney and Murphy are only examples, there are undervalued defenders and overvalued offensive players at almost every position. Rather than going after a league average offensive player, teams need to begin targeting elite defenders with below average offense. They will not only get better production for winning games, they'll also get a cheaper player, allowing the team to add more talent with the savings. Players like Torii Hunter, veterans who are league average offensive players but horribly defensively, shouldn't be paid $10 million a year. Even if Hunter is the world's greatest leader (he's not) that's still too much money when the team could have gotten the same kind of overall production for a fraction of the cost. As fans, we like to watch the team score runs, but even more importantly, we like to watch a winning team. It'd be nice if the decision makers would use common sense instead of emotions when adding players in the off-season. Don't count on it though.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Adrian Peterson: Out of Touch

Adrian Peterson is one of if not the top running back in football. There's little doubt that the Vikings will be a better team next season with AP as their starting running back, and for that reason the Vikings continue to insist they won't trade him.

I don't think the Vikings are as against trading him as they've indicated publicly, but rather I think no teams stepped up and made an offer the Vikings deemed fair. If Dallas wants to give up multiple first round picks, I think you'd see the Vikings moving on from their talented star. Using AP's cap money to get two solid defensive starters would have been ideal, but at this point in the off-season any money they save by trading AP is unlikely to go to another free agent. There just aren't very many good players available at this point.

No other team will give up even one first round pick for a 30-year-old running back making $13 million this coming season, regardless of the career AP has had. And the Vikings feel he adds more value this season than any second round pick would. That's understandable.

What isn't understandable is how poorly Adrian Peterson has handled the whole situation. He was accused of beating his son with a switch, in case you've been living under a rock for the past year. The Vikings originally planned to suspend Peterson for one game following the incident. They reinstated him after he missed the second game of the season, but then the Ray Rice video dominated the headlines and suddenly Adrian Peterson's problem was also a bigger issue. The Vikings (either on their own or more likely from NFL pressure) decided AP would miss more than one game. That eventually became the entire season, and rumors persisted that the Vikings key attorney was pushing to keep AP off the field all season.

That last bit of rumor seems to be what's angered Adrian Peterson the most. He feels the Vikings left him out to dry, and refused to defend their own player. He wants to go somewhere he feels someone has his back. At least that's the way him and his agent want you to think the situation has played out.

But let's back up to last summer, when Adrian Peterson tells Jerry Jones on a random phone call he wants to play for the Cowboys. This was before any of the child abuse stuff had become public. AP was mad this time because the Vikings had fired Leslie Frazier despite Peterson clearly wanting him to come back.

If you're keeping track, that's two times AP didn't like the resulting outcome and immediately acted like a 12-year-old. Despite being the highest paid running back in football, AP also expected to have a voice in the coaching search? Players are generally terrible at knowing who to acquire and even worse at knowing what coaches will be successful. 

For example, everyone knows LeBron James has been controlling the Cavs personnel moves since he went back to Cleveland. The Cavs are winning because of LeBron James basketball skills, but they've really hurt their future because of his poor player acquisition skills. (James would deny he had anything to do with roster moves, I think, but the moves the team made were ALL cleared with James. He has a ton of say.) KG was horrible at bringing in guys he wanted in his prime in Minnesota.

Players play, and other people do the other stuff.

Anyway, back to AP. The reaction to his court case may have been a bit reactionary from the general public. Sure, he beat his kid and really shouldn't have done it. Had he shown he learned from his mistake and truly felt remorse, the public outcry likely would've calmed down. After all, he was punishing his son for BEATING UP A GIRL. That's a good thing. He's teaching his son to treat women right. Unfortunately, he again showed he's not the sharpest tool in the shed by using violence to teach his son violence is wrong. AP is also one of the strongest men on the planet, so using a switch on a 4-year-old boy seems beyond excessive.

The situation was not caused by the Minnesota Vikings legal team. Rick Spielman didn't tell AP to beat his son. The resulting outcome of AP's criminal case (him being suspended all season) was excessive, I think. But that also isn't the Vikings fault. Sure, they may have had a hand in helping the NFL keep him off the field, but the Vikings had no control over the public outcry the Ray Rice video had on NFL violence issues.

AP doesn't understand that it seems. Everyone's out to get him. That's ridiculous, of course, but nobody ever accused an NFL running back of being a genius.

That looks and sounds great, until you get to the third to last paragraph! Peterson tweeted that immediately following the news breaking that he'd beat his son. He takes blame for what he did, admits it's wrong... and then a few paragraphs later he defends his actions by saying he was disciplined that way and it's what helped him become who he is.

His next tweet on the subject:

Umm... okay? A polygraph does nothing in this situation. AP beat his son with a switch. AP admitted it, but said he felt it was necessary discipline. Nobody felt Peterson was lying, just that he was horribly out of touch with the way the world works. His polygraph tweet only proved that.


I actually agree, in general, that most media outlets are terrible. But despite AP saying "just in general" it's clear he's upset about the coverage his child beating case received.  He also was angry the media was reporting on his children out of wed-lock. Again, I agree. It was blown out of proportion. What he does in his private life, as a single man, is his own business. Until he beat his child. Life is NEVER fair. Bad things happen all the time. And it's really difficult to not see that Adrian Peterson brought the problems on himself.

Scattered around all of his twitter complaints are bible quotes and scripture. I'd just like to tell him that it might not be the best idea to quote a man who (allegedly) sacrificed his only son when you're dealing with a case involving beating your own son.

Peterson isn't a regular citizen. People aren't just going to stop following him because they don't like his tweets. Some might, but in general Americans need to know what celebrities are doing at all times. They can't click the unfollow button on famous people if their life depended on it. In his defense, this tweet seemed to be more regarding the Mike Brown issues, but he obviously meant it for everyone.

This was in regards to Darren Wilson not getting indicted for shooting Mike Brown. It's not wrong, and it's not even that stupid in a vacuum. But at a time when the whole country was focused on racial issues and police violence, AP took the time to remind all of his followers that he was indicted for beating a child. In his mind his punishment was unjust, but in the public eye he just looks silly.

Despite AP creating his own legal troubles and making the Vikings organization look bad in the process, he still refused to accept really any blame for his actions. If he's using his mistake as a way to get what he wanted last summer (to get out of Minnesota), fine. It might work. But it seems like he's really mad at the Vikings front office for his own mistakes, and the team not doing enough to help him.

Ideally, AP will play for the Vikes, have another great season, and the team will trade him next off-season for a solid return. Most people seem to think if he plays for the team this year, the issues will be water under the bridge and the team will keep him. I'm not so sure. With a way too big cap number for a seemingly useless position in today's game, the Vikings would be better off spending his money elsewhere and becoming a passing oriented offense. And if Dallas sputters out and misses the playoffs, AP might be the savior Jerry Jones wants.

Update: 2 days after this post AP tweeted another weird and wrong rant. Someone get this guy a PR team fast.

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