Monday, November 29, 2010

How to add teams to the MLB Playoffs

Baseball is going to do it. A new collective bargaining agreement is coming. The Wild Card adds interest. We need more teams. But how to do so without upsetting the whole balance of the playoffs?

It really is so simple, I wonder why baseball did not think of it before:

Add one Wild Card per league, and make a one game playoff to determine the team that gets to play in the first series. One game playoffs are AWESOME. The whole baseball world watches with interest, as on the Monday or Tuesday after baseball season (when nothing but some crappy early season MNF game is on), two teams duke it out for the right to play in the postseason. It's happened a few times in the last few years. We all remember the Twins and the Tigers playing it out, or, dare I say, the Yanks/Sawx in 78? Imagine a one game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox? How about the Cubs/Cards?

What happens if three teams are tied, with two of them tied for the division lead? Use tiebreakers for the division crown, as they do in the NFL, and let the non division winner and the other team play a playoff. This validates the regular season, and avoids all the extra games that might arise if four or more teams are tied from different divisions. Only two teams get to play for the right to move on in the playoffs. One game playoff for everything. Two game sevens in two days. Guaranteed. Every year.

What this also does is weaken the Wild Card team every year. Now, teams such as the Yankees this year will not be so willing to accept the Wild Card if their season is going to come down to one game. Imagine how much more exciting and different September would have been had the Yankees had more to play for? How do the Twins do against a different starter than CC? Do the Yanks even get there? The possibilities are tantalizing.

As for the first round of the playoffs, leave it at five games. The first round sucks anyway (and I don;t like the idea of giving a Wild Card team an extra two games. Let them have the hardest hill to climb. And enough of this crap about not being able to play a team from your own division.) If they really want to do something cool, make the World Series 9 games. 5 game divisional, 7 game league, 9 game Championship.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why I like the 18 game schedule

So, the football gods are trying to add two regular season games to the schedule, to replace two preseason games. Anyone who holds season tickets likes this idea, since we pay for those preseason games and no one goes to them.

But when should the games be added? I don't think they should be played in August, as they are now - too f'n hot. Why not add them on at the end of the season so that football season extends until the end of February? I mean, February is a pretty dead month for sports anyway. The hockey and basketball playoffs have not started, and March madness in the NCAA does not start until a month later. I have always said that February belongs to women, as I have no real sport to watch. Now, it can belong to the guys again (except that ONE day).

In addition to adding the games at the end of the regular season (and thus having some awesome cold games in January), the NFL should consider adding an additional off week (please don't call it a bye - a bye is earned). This would make an 18 game schedule be played over 20 weeks, and REALLY get us to the last Sunday in February. Think of the possibilities: we could have Wednesday night football, if two teams come off a bye! Do I dare say Tuesday? Then there is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! (All this to happen in January, AFTER college football is over).

Yes, I am advocating for football every day of the week. Obviously, each team cannot play every day, but using the off weeks properly can really make football an every day sport.

Well, a guy can dream, anyway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Miami Luke-Warms

Somebody get Tubbs and Crockett on the case. The Miami Thrice (their nickname, not mine) and the rest of the basketball team from South Florida are 6-4 and sitting in third place in the Southeast Division. We were promised that the Miami Heat would go undefeated this season, or at least match the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' win total of 72. We were promised that the trio of Wade, James, and Bosh would be impossible to stop, that they would win games so easily it would change the sport forever. So what happened? Why are the Heat losing? Before I explain, let me point out two things: First, I know very little about basketball. Second, with that limited knowledge, I predicted the Heat would not be higher than a five seed in the playoffs.

I'll compare the Heat to the Celtics since they seem to have a similar roster. Where is Miami's supporting cast? I know, I know, they have their own version of the Big Three, but who is playing the role of Rajon Rondo? Where's Big Baby's character? Oh, that's right, Miami's other two starters in that first loss in Boston were Carlos Arroyo at the point and Joel Anthony playing center. Don't worry, I wasn't sure who they were either, so I checked. Arroyo is in his 8th season out of mighty Florida International University, playing for the 6th team of his career, a career in which he averages 13 minutes and 7 points per game. At some point, once his ankle is healthy, Mario Chalmers will probably be starting at point guard in SoFla, but until then it looks like that position will be platooned by Arroyo and Eddie House. Joel Anthony, in his third year out of UNLV, played 17 minutes, scoring 2 and pulling down 7 boards in the season opener. Not bad, seeing as he was playing against the Big Diesel (who had 9 and 7 in 18 minutes). Zydrunas Ilgauskas also checked in for 11 minutes and tallied one point to go along with 3 rebounds, but for the other 20 minutes, the Heat went without a true center.

A lot of people want to compare the Heat to the Yankees and as both a Yankee fan and a Heat hater, I strongly disagree. First of all, the Yankees win and win consistently. When this Heat squad wins a few titles, then I'll accept the comparison. Until then, they are just a team who thought that by pairing up Dwyane Wade and LeBron Lames and pretending that Chris Bosh is the greatest forward in the league, they'd win some games because the other teams would just give up. Well, that's not happening. The Heat are 1-4 against teams likely to make the playoffs and 5-0 against the bottom feeders. If the playoffs started today, the Heat would be the five seed. Oh, and by the way, the Cavaliers who were supposed to be nothing without the King, would be the six seed in the East.

Just to be clear though, we are still saying that Miami is the team to beat this year, right? Not the defending champion Lakers (who started the season 8-0 and are now 9-2) or the Celtics (who have already beaten the Heat twice)? I'm just checking. As much as I hate hype, I love when it goes nowhere. Remember when Michelle Wie was going to be the female Tiger Woods? Or when Freddy Adu was going to be the next Pele? Or when Darko Milicic was going to take the NBA by storm? Yeah, I remember too. Hopefully at the end of the season, I'll be able to say, “Remember when the Miami Heat were supposed to win the 2010-11 NBA Championship? What happened to that?”

NHL Game Tonight - Rangers vs. Bruins AKA The First "Meet the Writers for a Drink" Night

Grau Geist and I will be at tonight's Rangers' game at Madison Square Garden. We'll be sitting in Sec. 119 and enjoying pre-game beers at Stout. Stout is across 7th Ave. from the Garden on 33rd. St - the address is 133 W 33rd (giving away advertising - bad strategy). The puck will drop a little after 7PM, so if you actually want to catch us at the bar, we'll be there until about 6:55.

I promise anyone to come up to me and mention this blog, I will buy you a drink. Yes, you read correctly. I repeat, I will buy you a drink of your choosing just for saying you are a fan. You don't even have to prove it (but I'll quiz you on past posts anyway). If you're looking for who and where we are, just comment on this article and I will make sure to comment back when we arrive. Share with all your friends in the Midtown area. If this works out and we actually get more people to read us, I will definitely do it again and perhaps even post a ticket or two here for the first to find me in a stated place near the Garden.

So, while I have you, I figure I'll give you a little preview of the game. The Rangers are on a 3 game win streak, and an inconsistent offense to start the season seems to finally be settling down. After putting up a touchdown and a two point conversion against the Edmonton Oilers this past Sunday (or hit two grand slams), they came out with some last minute game tying heroics Monday from Marc Staal, and a picture perfect OT goal from (my boy)Ryan Callahan to edge out a great Penguins team. The perfectness is a reference to Callahan's steal, give and go, and then Dubinsky's 2 on 1 pass back to him for a chip in one timer. This homegrown backbone has made this team look like a bright future is ahead as they only seem to be getting better.

As for the Bruins, they're coming off a shutout win against the league worst (or second worst, the Isles still are a hockey team after all) New Jersey Devils. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, recorded his 4th shutout of the season and has easily been the league's most dominant rubber stopper in the early going. Despite all of Boston's weapons in guys like Horton, Bergeron, Lucic, and Chara's nasty slapshot, don't underestimate Henrik in net for the Rangers either.

I expect a relatively low scoring match; a true grindfest. The Rangers love to keep the puck low below the net in the offensive zone and pound out their chances. "The King" also seems to play out of his mind against this Bruins team, so don't be surprised to see him outplay the best goalie in the league so far in Thomas. I think a 3-2 Rangers victory is in store and they will make it four straight wins. Even if you aren't going to the game - come hangout at Stout for a bit and meet some die hard fans. At least show up and tell us we suck, I'll still even buy you a drink.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time to make penalties reviewable

If you watched that debacle of a Giants game yesterday, you probably felt like all the New York writers did: the Giants blew the game, with the Cowboys exploiting their mistakes. While this is generally true, one key call late in the game REALLY cost the Giants the game. I refer to the holding penalty that brought back a Giant touchdown that would have gotten the Giants within six. On the next play, Eli fumbled, and the rest is history. How BIG was that call? Enormous. And it was suspect, at best. The blocker had his arm around a guy's leg for a brief moment, but quickly let go.

In the 49ers game,in Overtime, an official threw a pass interference flag on a ball that was not catchable. The 49ers were set up, and quickly kicked the wining field goal.

It is hard enough in football to overcome your own mistakes, but it is even harder to overcome official penalty mistakes, because you have no recourse. You can ask for review of out of bonds, fumbles, and the like, but you can't ask to review an official's penalty call.

Game 1, Jets/Ravens this year. Joe Flacco throws a pass in the end zone. The Jet defender is looking back at the ball and is playing it. The official throws the flag. The Ravens go on to score the only touchdown of the game after getting the ball at the one. I never did see a replay of the play (I only saw it from my vantage point in the upper deck), but it looked like how I described it: two players with equal rights for the ball going for it.

Of course, some would argue that pass interference should just be a yardage, and not a spot of the foul penalty, as it is in college. I don't support this because the pass interference becomes a preferred weapon to prevent touchdowns. I'd gladly accept a pass interference call on a 50 yard pass if it will only cost me ten or fifteen yards. No, the answer is to make the penalty reviewable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Rules - "The Official Scorer"

Happy November everyone and welcome to another segment of "The Rules." I figured with the end of the baseball season and the crowning of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, I would make this the last post of my “The Rules” to be about baseball. So soak it up baseball fans, this will be the last one for awhile and I will have to find some unusual explanations in the other major sports.

Baseball is an odd sport overall. I feel as if the “official scorer” in each game plays a more prominent role than the ones that take stats down for other sports. It probably has a lot to do with the fact it is a very opinionated position. For example, if a player dunks a basketball, and the ref signals two points, the scorer gives that player two points. Nowadays, the basketball scorer (or perhaps it is just ESPN analysts) will say where the 2 point shot came from to later call up on a grid of hit shots, but that is pretty much it. No grey area around it. Everyone saw it was a 2 point play from where it happened, under the rim. In baseball, if a batter hits the ball and the shortstop bobbles it and the batter makes it to first just ahead of the throw, you’d think it could be just as easy. No such luck. A called error gives the batter credit for the at bat, an increase in his on base percentage, but no hit. If the play by the SS was a bit trying, it is up to the official scorer to say “The degree of difficulty on this play was not one you can make routinely, I will score it a hit for the player.” The runner’s speed, how hard the ball was hit, the conditions of the field, and the distance the fielder had to go (was there a dive/slide?) in the amount of time is all considered. Ten official scorers may score the same play 50/50 hit or error. Baseball has tons of grey area. I found the section about the official scorer (all 33 pages of it, Rule 10.00 – 10.23) in the official MLB rulebook to be fascinating about calls like this, and just some other calls and rules tied in with this responsibility.

The Shutout

Rule 10.18 dictates what a shutout is to be awarded by the official scorer. A shutout is when a pitcher that pitches all the innings of a game and simply doesn’t give up a run. ALSO, a shutout can be recorded if a pitcher enters the game in the first inning with no one out, doesn’t allow a run in that inning or for the rest of the game and finishes it. This makes it possible for a pitcher to get credit for a shutout, but not a complete game. Did you know that was possible? You’re welcome.

Not too WILD but it still PASSES people by… (horrible pun)

Rule 10.13 simply states: A wild pitch is the pitcher’s fault (or as deemed by the official scorer). A passed ball is the catcher’s fault. They’re effectively the same thing – the ball getting by the catcher. It is a matter of who to blame. I was once told in grammar school by someone who thought they knew everything that a passed ball is when it goes all the way to the backstop, and a wild pitch is when it simply gets away from the catcher and doesn’t go as far. I knew it sounded suspect then, and I’m glad I no longer associate myself with this person.

In every game there is a Winner and a Loser

Rule 10.17 is about a page long on who gets named the winning pitcher and who gets named the losing pitcher. I will not give you the entire thing, but just snippets to prevent myself from becoming too long winded. If a game ever becomes tied after starting pitchers have been removed, the last pitchers on record to get the win and loss are wiped out – this I knew. What I find fascinating is that there is a judgment call that can come from the scorer on this matter as well. Even who gets a win and loss isn’t always set in stone! It says that the official scorer should “not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead.” And you guys think I’m long winded!? Basically, the scorer can say “No man, you stunk, this guy was better, give him the win.”

Who gets charged the run?

ERA (earned run average) is an important stat when evaluating a pitcher. It tells you how many runs the pitcher gives up per 9 innings pitched. This is why allocating runs that score to the proper pitcher that allowed it is important. Rule 10.16 covers this in great detail. I just thought it was interesting to learn that a pitcher that is removed for relief is commonly assigned from the broadcaster that they are responsible for “so and so on first and second” or “whathisname” on first. This is not entirely the case. A pitcher is responsible for the NUMBER of runners he left on base, not specific runners, unless the runner makes out by a non-batted ball. The rulebook uses names like Peter, Abel, and Baker. I’m going to make this a bit more fun. Schmucko walks Ding-Dong. Schmucko is removed by reliever Assgoblin. The next hitter Dingbat (close cousin of Ding-Dong) hits into a fielder’s choice that got Ding-Dong out at second. Dingbat scores on a triple by the next hitter off of Assgoblin. Dingbat’s run is charged to Schmucko, not Assgoblin. However if Ding-Dong (the one to walk off Schmucko – stay with me people) gets caught stealing after Assgoblin came in to pitch, and Dingbat still scores in the inning – it will be Assgoblin’s charged run. So the next time Joe Buck (a combination of Schmucko, Assgoblin, Ding-Dong, and Dingbat – or just plain incest filled family trees) announces that “the pitcher is responsible for that guy on second,” feel free to write Fox a letter to have him read a rulebook. Or e-mail him the link to this article. Hey Joe – RETIRE (or choke on something).

The official scorer has no impact on the outcome of the game itself, this is true. He can’t tell a team that the other just batted out of order – that is their own job to keep track of. Also, a judgment call on whether a play is an error or not didn’t change the fact a run may have just scored. It can impact a whole bunch of other things though. It is actually fascinating how much this matters to diehard fans. Baseball seems to be wacky in its obsession with its own records and stats. There seems to be a stat for EVERYTHING nowadays. Players are also paid lots of extra bucks in incentives negotiated in their contracts for hitting certain milestones. For example, it is the last day of the regular season. A player who is on a significant hit streak, let’s call it 55 to make it interesting, one away from tying Joe DiMaggio’s all time record of consecutive games with a hit – a record said to be unbreakable. This player also has 99 RBI in the season and 199 hits. In his contract, he gets an incentive bonus of $100 grand for 200 hits on the season, and $100 grand for 100 RBI. Being hitless today, the batter hits a ball on the infield that scores a run and beats the throw to first. The run wins the game in walk off fashion. It is a questionable play all around – the scorer can clearly go either way with it. If he calls the play a hit – this man just tied a seemingly impossible record, and made an extra 300K in performance bonuses on top of it. If he reaches on an error, it costs the player a tie with one of the greatest players ever in the record books and an opportunity to beat it next season on opening day, and the $300K in bonuses. I’m not asking you to feel bad for the guy who just lost the money as he’s probably making more than you and I make collectively anyway. I just wanted to show you how the scorer has the ability to make someone look like a hero in the box score the next day, or just another person to fall short of a milestone. I’m sure I’ll re-visit the official scorer in the future as I have an unhealthy obsession with statistics and how they come up with this stuff. Stay tuned for next season!

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