Wednesday
Dec052012

The Coaching Problem

 

Let’s take a quick look around professional football, can you tell me who the most important person on the team is? Easy. The quarterback. Every year people get hyped up to see the new draft class, analysts and commentators spend hours pouring over tape, doing interviews and subjecting prospective rookies to various tests, culminbating at the Mecca of testing grounds,  the NFL Combine. Littered throughout history are draft busts like Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, and Jamarcus Russell, hope NFLers organizations spent first round picks on that never panned out. It’s clear there is great difficulty predicting NFL success, or as Malcolm Gladwell would like to put it, the NFL has a quarterback problem.

 

This bring me to focus of this piece, it’s clear that there is a problem identifying a good QB, but more importantly the league has an even harder time predicting coaching success. Candidates are often hired with little experience; in 2011 six head coaches totaled 82 seasons worth of experience, which is more than the rest of the remaining 26 coaches experienced combined. In 2012, six new coaches were hired, a turnover rate of just under 20%, with four coaches never having previously held a head coaching position. Candidates are also largely selected from an extremely narrow pool, ex-NFL players, despite some of the most successful coaches having never played a down in the league such as Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan. Basically what I’m trying to say is that the league needs to try some new ideas.

 

In baseball Sabermetrics is an idea developed by Bill James as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” This was later popularized by Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane and continued with the prominence of “next-level” statistics such as WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). This philosophy has slowly migrated to other sports like basketball, demonstrated by former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey use of players like Shane Battier and Luis Scola that when analyzed using traditional statistics may seem underwhelming. Right now the best football has to offer is Total Quarterback Rating or QBR, a statistic made by ESPN to replace the laughably bad NFL passer rating stat and whose formula remains a secret to those outside ESPN.

 

Another issue with modern football coaching is poor game time decision making. Teams regularly walk off the field with upwards of 30 seconds left on the clock before halftime. This is either lazy or scared. Much of football coaching today is an example of unjustified risk-averse behavior. If your offense is 60 yards or less away from the endzone before the end of the half, it would behoove your team to try a Hail Mary instead of just giving up and walking off the field. In the event of an interception, the team would not have the time necessary to march all the way back down the field. A sack loses some yards, but runs out the time in the same manner as walking off the field.. Worst case scenario is an interception leading to a touchdown return, but if you let someone return the ball over 80 yards after beating out a pig pile toss up in the endzone, you have much bigger problems than risky play calling.

 

In baseball, Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame Manager for the Baltimore Orioles said that "on offense, your most precious possessions are your 27 outs.” In football, your most precious resource would most certainly be your four downs. The regularity with which NFL coaches continue the practice of regular “3 and outs” is frankly appalling. In 2005 David Romer, a professor of political economy at Berkley analyzed NFL games from 1984 to 2004, one of his conclusions from his report was that teams should go for it on 4th down with 4 or less yards to go, every time, regardless of field position.  Brian Burke creator of the website www.advancednflstats.com has created an even greater resource to aid decision making. On his website he produced this graph, making it quite simple to decide whether to punt or play.

 

 

But going for it on 4th down is just a start, he has new stats such as Tackle Rate that seek to correct the same issue that troubled baseball with the fielding percentage stat and its inability to distinguish good defense from bad. Their “Required Reading” seeks to open up a whole new look on the decision making behind football. There many examples of innovative coaching, such as Oregon University’s high tempo continuous no huddle offense, or the infamous A-11 formation used in highschool football that utilized two potential quarterbacks and all nine remaining players as eligible receivers. This formation was so effective it was made illegal after two seasons. The only issue preventing its use in the NFL is the fact that certain positions are designated with by specific jersey numbers and are ineligible as receivers unless specifically announced to the referee before the play thereby eliminating any element of surprise.

 

Most recently Coach David Arseneault and the Grinnell Pioneers crushed the NCAA Division III record for points in a game, and points by one player when guard Jack Taylor scored 138 points on route to a 179-104 victory against Faith Baptist Bible. Before Coach Arsenault’s arrival, Grinnell hadn’t had a winning season in 25 years, so he decided to try a new approach, simple called “The System” in that consists of full court defense where the opposing ball handler is always double teamed, giving up uncontested lay-ups instead of forcing shot clock violations, and offense taking the first good shot, preferably a 3-pointers as often and as quickly as possible. When asked, Coach Arsenault said he developed his idea out of frustration, neither coach nor players were having fun and no one except the coach’s wife and children came to watch their games. In football, our only hope right now is that Andy Reid, highlight Superbowl winning Coach Andy Reid, tries something new in Philadelpia before he inevitably gets fired at the end of the season, due more to lack of quality players than to lack of coaching ability. Even that is wishful thinking. But eventually some coach will be crazy and daring enough to break through the inhibitive and conservative behavior of current NFL coaching and then the flood gates will break. I highly recommend checking out the required reading on www.advancednflstats.com, the information there may really change the way you watch and think about football, maybe even putting you ahead of some of the brightest minds in the NFL today.

 

Wednesday
Nov072012

51 Stars

In all the excitement over another four years of Obama, this country has overlooked a much more important issue. In elections on Tuesday, Puerto Rico voted to join the Union as a full state while also electing a new government. This is the first time Puerto Rico has voted for statehood, rejecting similar propositions in 1967, 1993 and 1998. While this change must still go through the Senate, this is the first step in what could be a huge change for this country.

I mean, think about all the flags. All those 50 star flags will suddenly be obsolete. This will be a huge burden on the senior citizen community who will be obligated to purchase new flags to sit by while yelling at kids to get off their lawn. Think about it, how many people under the age of 35 do you know that own an American flag, and I don’t mean things like those toothpicks you use to decorate your food on the 4th of July? Don’t worry I’ll wait. Here’s a pro-tip to get rich quick, invest in Annin Flagmakers, the oldest flag manufactures in business since 1837.

While there has already been some intrepid futurist in our government that has already planned out a design for a 51 star flag, does this really send out the image of the real America?

No, not really. So let’s take a minute to consider some other options.

While quite striking, the first thing I see when I look at this flag is a giant asterisk. With the whole Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong fiascoes, I think it might be best if we didn’t remind every other nation that the United States is the most roided up country in the planet.

 

Next we have this piece, but that pentagon shape might remember the fact the we are still at war, and the we have bombed pretty much every country on the planet, including our own. Let's keep trying.

Finally we have this gem. If we’re going to have 51 stars on a flag, we might as well shape those stars into a really goddamn big star. One side effect is that this might appease the state of Texas who right about not is probably heavily considering secession again after last night’s election. This giant star screams freedom, so while when we have the chance, let’s take this design, toss a few more star on it and really make sure we have a flag that proudly says “America, fuck yeah!”

Monday
Nov052012

Guide to the 2013 Fantasy Landmines

With the 2012 MLB season finally wrapped up, let’s congratulate the San Francisco Giants on their second champion in three years. A combination of timely hitting and unexpectedly strong pitching performances from some a few baseball zombies was enough to carry these underdogs to victory again. Marred by a few fervent fans who wanted to “Fuck Detroit!” so badly they decided to total their own city’s million dollar metro bus, sports fans continue to make you question whether how much you should care about that snazzy hometown logo, and the destructive nature of athletic tribalism. But enough with the philosophizing, let’s move on to a realm where fandom can be a clear liability with what I like to call my Guide to the Fantasy Baseball Landmines of 2013.

 

I figure with the season recently completed, this is the best time to take one last look at the 2012 numbers in fantasy baseball before we get all rosy eyed and dangerously optimistic come next March. My Guide to Fantasy Landmines is just a little word of caution to help people be a little more rational about next year’s fantasy draft.

 

There are landmines hidden throughout the best players, players that you just can’t draft. You can talk all day about upside and potential, but certain players are just a dice roll away from blowing up your fantasy season. Keep in mind there are still things to be sorted like where Josh Hamilton ends up signing, or continuing insanity by the Dodgers to push the limits of luxury tax induced revenue sharing. Landmines will mostly be players ranked in the top 75, because while a late round pick of Adam Dunn this year turned out to be quite valuable, he also didn’t bust you if he continued his slump from 2011. So without further ado, let’s kick the list off with Mr. Landmine himself.

 

Troy Tulowitzki SS

 

This guy was a consensus first round pick coming into 2012 at a shallow position and likely punished a lot of owners for taking him in the first round. This guy has the potential to be the best shortstop in the league, but his inability to stay healthy puts a lot of risk on owners who choose to play with his kind of fire. Not counting his rookie season of 2006, he has only managed to play over 125 games in three out of six seasons since. Even when missing significant portions of a season he can still put up solid numbers, but in the end his unpredictable availability really hurts him especially in head to head formats.

 

Evan Longoria 3B

 

Here we have another guy in the Tulowitzki class, this time coming into 2012 as a high second round pick. A guy who has prodigious offensive talent but has also missed significant time due to injury in three out of his five baseball seasons. While his OBP is relatively consistent, his average is a bit all over the place. While average isn’t the best judge of batting prowess, it still counts heavily in most fantasy leagues. Also, any promise of speed is long gone, and his 15 SB in 2010 should be considered an outlier.

 

Edwin Encarnacion 1B

 

E5 is hot off a career year, and that should be the first warning sign.  He finished 2012 inside the top 15 according to ESPN’s Player Rater, thanks in part to a staggering 42 home runs.  But one rule that every fantasy owner should be aware of is to never pay for a career year. E5 is another player who often has a hard time getting through an entire season. Combine that with a loss of third base eligibility means that there is a lot of competition at the first base position, often with the same or upside and a lot lower risk.

 

Aaron Hill 2B

 

This guy finished at 21 on the Player Rater, and despite averaging only 133 games per season over the last 8 seasons, it is his lack of consistency at the plate that is much more alarming. While the more friendly confines in Arizona have treated him well in a little over one season’s worth of time, his numbers are so on again off again that he should be avoided if possible. He has been an every other year type of player throughout his career for whatever reason, and after the big numbers this season, next year is falls as another off year, just stay away.

 

Dustion Pedroia 2B

 

Here is another second basemen generally regarded to be one of the leagues top 5 second basemen. While he missed some time this year due to injury, the larger concern is the Red Sox as a whole. While the Yankees fan in me normally prevents me from drafting Red Sox anways, this will serve as a message to other less ridiculous fantasy owners. Pedroia suffered lows in all the major counting categories this season, and while it pleases me to say the Red Sox are in rebuilding mode, this also means that his future statistics will also likely stay depressed.

 

Matt Kemp OF

 

Matt Kemp has his own special category of fantasy landmine. After a raging start to the 2012 season he was sidelined by injury and ended up playing less than half a season. Also, despite playing in over 155 games over that last four season, he lost major time to injury in 2007. Even so, it’s hard to really tag him as injury prone yet. What is more worrying are his 2010 stats, a clear outlier season statistically with lows across the board, a phenomena which I have termed getting “Rihanna’d,” or in other words, what happens when you date a pop superstar for a whole season. The guy clearly has talent, but I’m staying away.

 

Other Landmines to avoid include:

 

Jim Johnson RP – While still a very serviceable closer, this is another case of stay away from career years. This isn’t to say not to draft him, but his 2013 rankings will be very inflated.

 

Ian Desmond SS – Hit more HRs in 130 games (25) than he did in his previous 329 (22) while also hitting 30 points above his avg (.292) than he did in during the previous 2 seasons.

 

Kyle Lohse SP – Career year. Don’t do it.

 

Josh Hamilton OF – I’ve had a lot of arguments about this guy going both ways, but in the end even he doesn’t know how long his body is going to hold up after years of drug and alcohol abuse.

 

Ryan Zimmerman – Another guy who misses a lot of time to injury, and if it weren’t for some miracle cortisone to spark a sensational second half, his 2012 numbers would have looked pretty bad.

 

This list is constantly subject to change and is bound to be revisited closer to next year’s draft and/or spring training. The lesson here is to avoid these players if possible; the risk simply isn’t worth the reward. And if I have to tell you not to draft A-Rod in the first 15 rounds then you are in a whole different world of hurt. And as an aside, if he really wants to prove he is still the best, then he should restructure his deal until he proves it. Otherwise all his grandstanding is just empty peanut shells left under the seats waiting to be swept away. 

Monday
Aug272012

Collusion and DQ at MLG Raleigh

After multiple winter and spring Arena events, Major League Gaming has kicked off a new season with a major tournament event in Raleigh, North Carolina. But controversy may cast a shadow over future events as the 1st and 2nd place teams in MLG’s League of Legends tournament have been disqualified for collusion.

 

This isn’t the first time MLG has hosted an event in Raleigh, but MLG still struggles to gain legitimacy from mainstream audiences and media.  A story from a local newspaper poked fun at both competitors and attendees, relying on stereotypes and ignorance to marginalize the growing esports scene with quotes such as “Hundreds of fans poured into the convention centre Friday, some even accompanied by their mothers.”

 

This isn’t the first time there have been allegations of cheating or collusion in esports, in 2010 eleven Korean Starcraft Broodwar progamers were found guilty of match fixing, resulting in bans and criminal charges. With this recent accusation of collusion, organizations such as MLG, NASL and IPL will have to fight even harder to help continue the growth of U.S. esports.

 

The controversy was compounded by the team’s decisions to play the first match in the best of five series as an ARAM match. This is the same as basketball teams deciding the first match of a playoff series by playing 21 or deciding a game with a home run derby in baseball. There are still conflicting accounts of the exact transgressions. Riot games, parent company of League of Legends claims that the two teams Dignitas and Curse conspired to throw matches. MLG claims the collusion was due to both teams deciding to split the prize money in advance. Both groups have said that while unfortunate, the less than serious ARAM match was not a factor in the disqualification.

 

This controversy combined other issues during the tournament such as unusually long delays between matches and a blackout for a large number of stream viewers have combined to make this the most disappointing esports tournament in recent history. MLG and fellow gaming organizers are going to have to work even harder now to win back fans gaming fans that may have been turned off by this past weekends event. The next major events will be MLG’s Fall Championship in Dallas on November 2nd followed by IPL5 in Las Vegas on November 29th.

Sunday
Aug262012

World Order

Welcome to exhibit B of why Asian pop culture is way ahead of everyone else. Japan has gone so far into the future they have created humanoid robots to invade our society with their contagious choreography. If this is how Skynet begins, then I for one welcome our new robot overloards.