Monday, April 30, 2012

28-3 in the Final Eight Minutes

Anyone near a television showing Sportscenter tonight undoubtedly saw highlights of the Los Angeles Clippers amazing comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies.  For those who didn't see or hear anything, the Clippers at one point trailed the Grizzlies by 27 points in the 3rd quarter.  At the start of the 4th quarter, they had lowered the deficit to 21 points, but quickly went back to 24 points with only 8 minutes left.

As a non-basketball fan, even I find that truly remarkable.  Needing 24 points in eight minutes is akin to scoring three more points than your opponent for each of the remaining minutes of the game, and that is merely to tie.  If your opponent was held to merely a single free throw each minute, you would still need to score 32 points the rest of the way.  In any event, Los Angeles trailed Memphis by a score of 95-71 with exactly eight minutes remaining.  With 50 seconds remaining, Reggie Evans would make a layup to take the lead 97-96.  Shortly thereafter, the Clippers would win 99-98.

Not surprisingly, records were tied an broken.  The biggest deficit overcome in an NBA playoff series that I could find was during Game 4 of the 1989 Western Conference Semi-Finals when the Los Angeles Lakers stormed back from an early 29-point deficit to beat the Seattle Supersonics.  The win in Game 4 was a sweep for the Lakers.  In this case, the Clippers only trailed by 27, so the record of the biggest deficit is not erased, but it does take sole position of second on that list.

The largest deficit at the start of the fourth quarter was 21 points, a record that was tied tonight.  Previous in 2002, the Boston Celtics mounted such a comeback against the New Jersey Nets.  In that game, Boston opened the fourth quarter with an 11-point run.  However, in tonight's game, after trailing 21 to start the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies extended their lead to 24 points only 23 seconds later.  Both team put up an equal number of points through the next few minutes, leaving Memphis with a 24 point lead with exactly eight minutes remaining.

With eight minutes left, the Clippers went on an 11-point run, and closed the gap to 95-82.  The Grizzlies would land then land a single free throw, but the Clippers made another great run of 15 points to finally take the lead 97-96 with 50 seconds remaining.  The Grizzlies would take the lead back once more on a jump shot, but a couple of late free throws by Chris Paul would seal the final score 99-98.  That would leave the Clippers to have completed the greatest fourth quarter comeback in the history of the NBA playoffs.

The greatest comeback in NBA playoff history is generally credited not to the Indiana Pacers for their victory over the New York Knicks in 1995, but Reggie Miller who scored eight points in the last sixteen seconds of the game to overcome a six-point deficit.  Certainly an incredible feat, but this Clippers victory may have to give it a run for that title.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

NCAA Football Playoffs the Right Move?

This ought to be a great way to alienate any college football fans who are reading my blog, but I don't hate the BCS.  It has a lot of flaws, and deserves to be criticized.  Nonetheless, anyone who can even suggest it is among the worst postseason formats does not in my opinion of a good grasp on things.

First, let's acknowledge that the BCS is better than it's predecessors.  If you don't know about them, do some research on the Bowl Alliance or Bowl Coalition.  Plenty of Penn State fans still harp on the 1994 National Championship that was awarded to Nebraska because they didn't get a fair shot.  The BCS would have pitted Nebraska and Penn State against each other for a National Title.  Instead, the predecessors had conferences committed to bowls no matter what.  Number 2 in the nation?  It doesn't matter.  You play where your conference tells you to play which is based purely on contracts and money.

Jump back ten years earlier when a team more recently thought of as a potential BCS-buster, BYU.  This team opened it's season against a ranked Pitt that would finish 3-7-1, didn't beat/play another ranked team, conquered an easy WAC conference, and beat a Michigan team in a bowl game that finished with .500 record.  For that, they were awarded the National Championship because no one else went undefeated.  Never mind 11-1 Washington that won the Pac-10 with three teams ranked in the top ten or 10-2 Nebraska who won the Big Eight with three teams ranked in the final top seven.  If this method was employed in 2007, Hawaii would have played in mediocre bowl and been the lone undefeated team to win the National Title instead of the LSU-Ohio State match up.  In case you forgot, Hawaii got dismantled by Georgia 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl.  Georgia didn't win the SEC East more or less the SEC.

So that brings us to the playoff argument.  First, before I'm accused of being un-American or anything ridiculous for suggesting the BCS isn't all bad, let me say I would be in favor of a playoff first, but only a playoff that is constructed the right way.  As I mentioned in my first full length post in regards to the NHL Playoffs, playoff systems are generally only created for entertainment value.  I say that because most playoff systems reward teams who lost important games a second chance, and penalize teams who won important games with titles they shouldn't have to defend.

The current talk of a move to a playoff system is centered around the idea of four teams.  For those complaining at that, let's first admit it is a step in the right direction whether you want 4 teams or all 123 teams.  Second, the idea of 16 or 32 teams (yes I've heard various serious fans suggest that they should be 32 teams) is absolutely ridiculous.  I know people love March Madness to the chance of winning money or following cinderella stories, but in all reality, March Madness is the most idiotic postseason system that I have stumbled across.  Don't get me wrong, I fill out my bracket every year, and keep an eye on scores because it is entertaining, but that's all it is.  I've mentioned I don't have a deep rooted interest in basketball, this is why I don't for college basketball.  I'll be thrilled in my beloved Rutgers ever wins a Big East Conference title, but so long as it makes no difference in a National Tournament, I couldn't careless about them not making it year after year.

Personally, I like the idea of a four team playoff, and at the very most would want to see eight teams.  In my opinion, I've never felt a season has come to an end where I felt more than four teams could be worthy of a National Title.  I know in 2004 that five teams went undefeated, but still have my doubts about one.  In any event, I would be willing to concede that eight is a good number if, and only if the at-large spots are eliminated.  Given all the conference championships and longer schedules, everyone has a chance to play everyone in their conference.  If you go 11-1, in your conference, but then lose a conference championship to a 6-6 team, tough luck, you're out.  After all, a conference championship is already a one round playoff.  Why should the team that lost get another shot in the very next round?  No more than one team should represent a conference in a playoff system; otherwise, it eliminates the point of a regular season that is already much bigger than the playoff.

More importantly, it would ensure that all conferences who had even a semi-worthy representative (think 2007 Hawaii) would get a shot.  An eight team playoff that has more than one team from the Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC?  That is far worse than the current BCS.  You're basically saying it's a playoff, but rewarding the seeds to teams in "name brand" conferences.  Obviously, the same argument would be used for four team playoffs, but if they utilize the BCS rankings at all, the team fans will cry foul when Boise State is ranked 5th at the end of the regular season.

Had it been done this way for the past season, a four-team playoff would have been: #1 LSU vs. #4 TCU and #2 Oklahoma State vs. #3 Oregon.

Expand it to eight teams if you must:   #1 LSU vs. #8 West Virginia; #2 Oklahoma State vs. #7 Southern Miss.; #3 Oregon vs. #6 Clemson; #4 TCU vs. #5 Wisconsin.

Tough break Alabama, Virginia Tech, Boise State, etc.  All of them lost games when they should have counted in the season.  Giving them at-large bids because they survived different out of conference schedules than anyone else in their conference makes no sense at all.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Update: 0-7-0

An update on an earlier post from a few days ago.  I mentioned that Toronto FC had begun the Major League Soccer season as 0-6-0, one loss shy of the record.  Tonight against Real Salt Lake, Toronto fell to 0-7-0, tying the Kansas City Wizards of 1999 with the worst start in MLS history.  Toronto nearly avoided this forgettable record when they tied the match at 2-2 in the 77th minute.  However, Real Salt Lake would strike back to score the winning goal in the 90th minute of regulation.  Toronto's next match is against D.C. United in Toronto next Saturday.  D.C. United is second in the Eastern Conference right now, and another loss for Toronto would provide them sole possession of the record.  It is worth nothing, their following game is two weeks later, again against D.C. United.

165 Seasons and Counting

The second round of the NHL playoffs began last night, and something interesting I noticed of the eight teams remaining is that five of never won a Stanley Cup Championship.   Only one of them have won in the last 16 years (New Jersey Devils).  Moreover, the three teams remaining who have won all represent the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference (Devils, Rangers, and Flyers).  Of course this means whomever wins the Western Conference, they will be trying for their first Stanley Cup.

The Five Remaining Teams Never to Win (and Drought):
  1. St. Louis Blues (43 seasons)
  2. Los Angeles Kings (43 seasons)
  3. Washington Capitals (36 seasons)
  4. Phoenix Coyotes (31 seasons)
  5. Nashville Predators (12 seasons)
These five teams have combined to play 165 seasons in the NHL, and have yet to win a Stanley Cup.  More frustrating to these five is that the only have five appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals between them, and three of them belong to the St. Louis Blues.  None of these teams have been represented in a Stanley Cup since the 1993 Los Angeles Kings led by Wayne Gretzky.

That isn't to say the three Atlantic Division teams are light years ahead of these other franchise, rather only a couple decades.  The Philadelphia Flyers are trying to break their own drought of 35 seasons since they last won a cup in the 1974-75 season despite appearing in six finals since then.  The New York Rangers who broke a drought of 54 years when they won the Cup in 1994 have begun working one a second prolonged drought that is up to 16 years already (14th longest in the NHL).

If nothing else, a drought ending Cup this year will keep with the massive amount of parity that is seen in the NHL for Stanley Cup Champions.  In the last twelve Stanley Cups, only the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings have won more than once.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Update: Worst of the Worst

I wrote a couple days ago about the Charlotte Bobcat's pursuit to become the worst team ever in the history of the NBA.  Tonight, they pulled off this feat by ending their season with a losing streak of 23 games.  It gives them an overall record of 7-59 for the 2011-12 season.  They lost their final game of the season to the New York Knicks by 20 points to clinch.  Not at all good on either offense or defense, the Bobcats averaged only 87 points a game (32nd, last in the NBA) and allowed 100.9 points per game (29th in the NBA).  Better luck next year Charlotte.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Just a short one for tonight, and my first soccer-related post at that.  Toronto FC lost to the Chicago Fire on Saturday by a score of 3-2, dropping them to 0-6-0 on the young MLS season.  The worst MLS start ever was by the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting KC) in 1999 who began 0-7-0.  Toronto will be able to make a run at a tie this Saturday against Real Salt Lake who is currently tied for first in the Western Conference.  I they lose that, they could go to 0-8-0 against D.C. United, currently second in the Eastern Conference.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cinque Overtimes

A record was tied a few days ago in one of the NHL Playoff series, yet I did not catch it until today.  In the 1951 Stanley Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens in five games to claim one of their many early championships.  The interesting part about that Stanley Cup is that all five games went to overtime.  It was a record for the most overtime games that occurred in a single playoff series, and has not been touched until a few days ago.

The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 4-0 in Game 6 to win the series four games to two.  Prior to Game 6, the first five games of this series went to overtime, tying the 1951 record.

Another one worth watching from this point on will be the total number of overtime games this year.  The record for one playoff season is 28 overtimes games during the 1993 season.  With three games still remaining in the first round, this year's total is already halfway there at 14.

32% of a Perfect Game

***DISCLAIMER:  This one is quite a long story.***

Two things I want to do before diving fully into this post.  First is to give props to Andrea Chiaradio of the Stonington High School in Connecticut.  The junior in her first year of pitching at the varsity level in softball pitched not only a perfect game Saturday morning, but struck out all 21 batters she faced.  It seemingly went under the radar for a few days as a few hours later, Chicago White Sox pitcher Phil Humber would throw a perfect game against the Mariners in Seattle.

Second, I'm hoping to hear some comments one way or another on this one merely because I'm using stats to back an opinion without any true factual evidence, so I will be curious to see how many agree or disagree.

As mentioned, Phil Humber of the White Sox threw a perfect game this past Saturday against the Mariners.  It was merely the 21st perfect game in recorded history at the Major League level, and only the 19th of the modern era (post 1900).  First, tons of credit to Humber, no matter how you twist it, the outcome is an accomplishment regardless.

However, I believe it is only fair to ask how the game is changing so much that perfect games are occurring at a very increased rate.  Of the 21 perfect games, 11 of them have occurred in the last 28 years.  The first ten came over a span of 101 years.

Do pitchers today have better stuff?  Can fielders cover a better range of the field?  Stadium conditions?  Umpiring calling a wider strike zone?

My hypothesis is that umpires are playing the greatest role in the increased frequency of the perfect game.  Sadly, there is no way to really measure that unless you meticulously watch every pitch of every game, perfect game or not.  What we can do is look at a few details not to determine, but to get an idea how just how an individual pitcher was for a particular game.

These numbers don't exist for all box scores, but we can look at the last ten perfect games (dating back to Tim Browning's in 1988) plus the infamous imperfect game of Armando Galarraga in 2010 in greater detail including the number of pitches, strikes, strikes by contact/swinging/looking, ground/fly balls, etc.  Note for Galarraga's game, all the numbers have been adjusted as if a perfect game occurred (essentially exclude the last batter of the game).  Again, I point out these don't provide true definitive evidence of anything, but I used these numbers to try some conclusions about these games.

I came up with an equation that I think pinpoints what percentage of pitches fell on the pitcher/infield and batter only.  That said, there are a few assumptions being made here, so bare with me, but feel free to point out if you disagree.  

I say pitcher/infield because I count every ground ball out as a successful out on the part of the pitcher.  Of course, a diving stop on a ball up the middle is really the work of the infield, but again, I'm making an assumption here.  On the flip side, I assume every fly ball out isn't the work of the pitcher, but rather the work of the fielders.  This is based on the idea that pitchers rarely try to get a batter to fly out.

Next, I consider it a success when a pitcher throws a strike that the batter swings and misses at, or fouls off. That isn't to say a pitcher shouldn't be credited for when a batter is caught looking, but the outcome of such a pitch falls on the umpire making the call where as a swing and miss for foul ball fall on the pitcher/batter only.  The resulting equation is as follows:

% Pitcher is Solely Responsible = (# of P. - # of B. - # of S.L. - # of F.B.) / # of P.

P. = Pitches
B. = Balls
S.L. = Strikes Looking
F.B. = Fly Ball Outs

It is far from perfect, but it should give a far better idea of how much of the game a pitcher was in control of his own fate.  The results of our 11 games provide the following percentages:

            1. R. Johnson (04) - .556
            2. D. Martinez (91) - .490
            3. T. Browning (88) - .480
            4. D. Wells (98) - .408
            5. D. Cone (99) - .386
            6. A. Galarraga (10) - .386 
            7. M. Buehrle (09) - .379
            8. D. Braden (10) - .349
            9. R. Halladay (10) - .330
            10. P. Humber (12) - .323
            11. K. Rogers (94) - .306

Of these 11, Randy Johnson has the highest percentage, and only one over 50%.  This makes sense when you realize he only allowed 7 fly outs (less than everyone else except Dennis Martinez), and had far more swinging strikes than everyone else (26) due to his over powering fastball.  That is to say, Johnson left half the game up to the umpires, outfield, and luck in determining where fly outs could land for a hit.  A perfect score of 100% would require only strikeouts and ground outs for the entire game without a single strike looking or ball being called.

On the flip side, the lowest percentage belongs to Kenny Rogers.  He allowed 12 fly outs compared to only 7 ground outs, and had only 10 batters swing and miss and 13 foul balls compared to 22 strikes looking.  It could be argued that Rogers was just painting the corners perfectly that day, and for all I know, he was, but by doing so, he was leaving the game in the hands of the umpire.

Looking at that further, the four perfect games (including Galarraga's) between 2009-10 saw a combined 23 pitches where the batter swung and missed.  I find it pretty astounding that in a game where no batter could reach base, that only 23 pitches were whiffed at.  Meanwhile, those four games had a combined 97 strikes looking, and those four games rank in the top five of these eleven for strikes looking.  Is it purely coincidental that the five most recent perfect (and imperfect) games had the most strikes looking of those on record?  Is it far fetched to believe that previous perfect games of which there are no such records, could have had less than these five most recent ones?  Note that aside from Rogers' low score, the five lowest are the five most recent games.

Assuming you're still reading this, I put together one other stat to define how much control these pitchers had in each game.  In a perfect game over nine innings, a pitcher will face 27 batters.  Based on the same assumptions I made above, we credit a pitcher for ground outs and strikeouts only.  However, since the whole debate is whether recently pitchers are getting more calls in their favor, we have to weight strikeouts.  For this, I used the following equation:

% Pitcher is Solely Responsible = (((S.M. + Foul) / (S.M.+ S.L. + Foul)) * K + G.B.) / 27

S.M. = Strikes Swinging and Missing.
S.L. = Strikes Looking
Foul = Foul Balls
K = Strikeouts
G.B. = Ground Outs

I don't believe this equation works quite as well as it puts more emphasis on the infield doing their job well, but it does promote the pitchers who kept the ball on the ground and out of the outfield which really are the best ingredients for a perfect game.
            1. D. Martinez (91) - .756 
            2. R. Johnson (04) - .642
            3. A. Galarraga (10) - .604
            4. T. Browning (88) - .560
            5. M. Buehrle (09) - .541
            6. R. Halladay (10) - .516
            7. D. Wells (98) - .500
            8. K. Rogers (94) - .411
            9. D. Braden (10) - .382
            10. D. Cone (99) - .366
            11. P. Humber (12) - .362
The main differences between the two rankings is that Dennis Martinez jumps Randy Johnson for first, largely due to the fact that 17 of his 27 outs were ground outs.  Meanwhile, Buehrle, Halladay, and especially Galarraga climb the list significantly because they created as many ground outs as fly outs if not more.  The four lowest on this list all had at least 12 fly outs which puts more pressure on the outfielders to cover ground, and rely on a bit of luck that a ball did get hit into the gap or fall for a blooper.

As fans, most of us enjoy watching a perfect game, even when it isn't our team.  We might root for the Dallas Branden's and Phil Humber's of the world, but at what point do the begin to devalue the perfect game?  Were we as excited by Humber's a few days ago when we witnessed four others only a couple years ago, and a half dozen more in the couple decades before that?  Do we really appreciate the feat that occurred ten times in a 101 year span prior to this recent outbreak?  Moreover, are changes in the game not causing, but maybe assisting some of these outcomes?  

I may have to try this technique on no-hitters in the future.  In the mean time, congratulations to Andrea Chiaradio and Phil Humber, even if Humber was only in control of his destiny 32% of the time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

20 and Counting

As most who know me are aware, I generally do not follow basketball.  While the NBA may be lacking popularity these days, I missed out on it from an early age.  The era of Michael Jordan never captured my attention as a kid, and as I grew older, I never took the time to learn the game.  Instead, basketball has become a game that I commit tons of fouls if I would try to play, and rarely do I have any idea what is going on at the NBA or NCAA levels.  March Madness keeps me entertained for a couple weeks until I'm eliminated, but otherwise I could tell you next to nothing about the sport.

Nonetheless, I would like to do some posts on it from time to time.  Maybe I'll learn a little more, but if nothing else it will keep me slightly more up to date on the sport.  Therefore, I have to acknowledge a friend of mine who pointed out to me the dubious record that looks to be set this Wednesday as I would have missed it otherwise.  Back in February, I accidentally stumbled across the cellar-dwelling Charlotte Bobcats.  I find it interesting teams when teams are approaching certain records, so I checked to see if they were on pace to become the worst NBA team in history.  They were doing awful, but not awful enough to warrant that title.

Well since then, the Bobcats have gone on to defy that.  Yesterday, they lost to the Sacramento Kings by a score of 114 to 88, in route to their 20th consecutive loss.  In those twenty losses, which began on March 19th against the Philadelphia 76ers, they have been beaten by a combined 312 points, and average of 15.6 points per game.  Their record stands at 7-56, a winning percentage of .111 with only three games remaining.

The team with the worst ever winning percentage in the NBA belongs to the team that started this losing streak, the 76ers.  In 1973, the 76ers put together a rather amazing 9-73 record for a .110 winning percentage.  Granted, the 2011-12 season began two months late due to a lockout, so the Bobcats will only play 66 games this season.  However, with three games remaining, the Bobcats only need to draw out their losing streak to 23 to grab the title as Worst NBA Team Ever from the 76ers.

The Bobcats will face the Washington Wizards tonight who they are 0-3 against this season.  Nevertheless, the Wizards are another very poor team this year at 17-46 (.270), and could become a difficult obstacle to lose to.  If Charlotte can sneak by them, they should have little issue pulling out losses to the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks, both of whom have winning records and are playoff bound.

They must lose all three of their final games to find themselves atop the losing-est NBA squads.   Their season would end with a miserable 23-game skid which while not a record, would still be good to tie for the third longest losing streak in the history of the NBA.  Currently, their streak of 20 games has them in a five-way tie for 6th longest.  One of those teams of course being the 1973 76ers.  The only franchise with more than 23 losses in a row are the Cleveland Cavaliers who reached stretches of 26 (2010-11) and 24 (1981-82 & 82-83).  Therefore, the Bobcats will have something else  to shoot for at the beginning of next season, if they can hold off everyone else through this week.  After tonight's game against the Wizards, the Bobcats will face the Magic Wednesday and the Knicks Thursday to close out what has been a dreadful year.

A Dozen Different

In a previous post, I pointed out the coincidental statistic that the longest losing streak in the NFL, NBA, and MLB are all 26 games.  Tonight, I bring up another oddity shared by three of the major sports leagues in the nation.  The record for most franchises played for by an individual athlete is shared as well.  MLB, the NBA, and the NHL have all seen at least one player appear for twelve teams over the course of a career.

The first athlete to complete this odd feat is generally considered to be long time pitcher, Mike Morgan who completed the feat in 2000 when he appeared with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  He stayed with the Diamondbacks before retiring in 2002.  Since then, two other MLB players have completed the feat including pitcher Ron Villone in 2009, and in 2011 by Matt Stairs.  Stairs was released by the Washington Nationals in August of last year, and promptly announced his retirement only a couple days later.  It is worth noting that the Washington Nationals and Montreal Expos are the same franchise; otherwise, one may be led to believe that he played for a 13th team.

Next, NBA forward Chucky Brown completed the feat when he 18 games for the Sacramento Kings in the 2001-02 season.  Like in baseball, Brown no longer holds the sole NBA record.  Tony Massenburg accomplished the feat in 2004, and a year later Jim Jackson would in 2005.  Former first overall pick Joe Smith of the University of Maryland played for his 12th team just last season with the Los Angeles Lakers.  While, I don't believe he has announced his retirement, he has not played a game this season.  If he were to sign with a new team, he could hold the record by himself.

NHL center Mike Sillinger is the sole record holder of the most NHL teams played with at 12 as well.  After playing with only three teams for his first six seasons, Sillinger began to bounce from team to team, and played with multiple teams in the same season a total of 8 times in his career.  His record of 12 was set in the 2006-07 season when he appeared with the New York Islanders.  He would spend the final three years of his career in the Islanders system.

The NFL record is a little dicier.  A tackle by the name of Tillie Moss is credited with playing for 11 teams during a 9-year career in the 1920s.  While seemingly accurate, this was a different era for the NFL altogether.  A couple places credit quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan with playing for 11 teams, and the same for kicker Dave Rayner, but this is less accurate.  While part of 11 organizations, some stops were nothing more than a practice squad, preseason games, or signing and being cut in the same offseason.  I would count neither.  Football is unique in that players on the roster can go a full season without seeing the field.  Of those who played, the record is only 8 teams held by Chris Chandler, Mark Royals, Karl Wilson, and Jeff Brady. Chris Chandler is the only player to start for all eight teams.

It's pretty impressive to find your way into twelve different franchises over a sports career, but I simply found it oddly coincidental that this would occur a dozen times in three of the four major sports.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


A week or so ago, I talked about statistical highlights of the 1994 MLB season that was never completed.  There was the Matt Williams run at 61 home runs.  Tony Gwynn batting .394.  Chuck Knoblauch's attempt to break and single season record for doubles, and of course Greg Maddux's ridiculous performance.

I had pushed another to the back of the line, and completely forgot to add it until tonight.  One stat that technically is the single season record belonged to New York Mets starting pitcher Bret Saberhagen.  His strikeout to walk ratio in 1994 was an astounding 11.00.  That number is correct, 11 strikeouts for every walk.  Only five Major League starters have ever carried a K/BB ratio of 9.00 or higher.  Two of them did it in the 19th century, George Bradley (1880) and Jim Whitney (1883 and 1884).  Two others have done it more recently with Curt Schilling (2002) and Cliff Lee (2010). 

However, none of done it better than Saberhagen in 1994.  He tallied 143 strikeouts while walking only 13 batters.  He finished the year with a 14-4 record, and 2.74 ERA.  He would finish third in the Cy Young voting behind Montreal's Ken Hill, and of course Atlanta's Greg Maddux.


E1 is usually an error committed by the pitcher.  In this case, it was an error committed towards a pitcher.

Consider these five pitching lines:
A.  19-8, 3.24 ERA, 308 Ks, 1.112 WHIP, 137 ERA+
B.  2-3, 45 Saves, 2.13 ERA, 97 Ks, 1.033 WHIP, 204 ERA+
C.  18-8, 2.56 ERA, 186 Ks, 1.106 WHIP, 179 ERA+
D.  22-10, 3.37 ERA, 158 Ks,1.286 WHIP, 125 ERA+
E.  18-6, 3.00 ERA, 173 Ks, 1.107 ERA, 139 ERA+

Which one is the best?  Of the four starting pitchers there, who would you want on the mound for your team for Game 7?  These five lines belong to the top five finishers in the American League Cy Young voting in 1993.  Would any of you have picked Letter D as the best of the bunch?

This leads to the question.  Who did Jack McDowell pay off in 1993?  It was McDowell, then with the Chicago White Sox who won the award in 1993, a year after finishing runner up.  Yet when you look at the numbers, it seems painfully obvious the best line did not belong to him.  For the record, the other pitchers are Randy Johnson (A), Duane Ward (B), Kevin Appier (C), and Jimmy Key (E).

It isn't that McDowell had a bad season.  It was pretty good for the American League in 1993.  It didn't come close to his National League counterpart Greg Maddux.  However, it didn't really compare all that well with his American League constituents either.  McDowell won 22 games that season, being the only pitcher to crack 20 in the AL.  The National League had four players crack 20 (all Braves and Giants).  However, we know better than to define a pitcher by wins alone.  Never mind that in the old days of two division baseball, the White Sox were one of only two AL West teams that were above average in runs scored (Texas being the other), and it doesn't hurt when MVP Frank Thomas plays for the team.

McDowell had an ERA of 3.37, certainly good, but far from stellar.  The four other players mentioned all had lower ERAs.  In fact, only Johnson had an ERA over 3.00 (3.24).  Johnson, Appier, and Key all won 18 or more games, and played on lesser teams.  Meanwhile, Ward was closing for the World Series bound Toronto Blue Jays at a clip Mariano Rivera would appreciate.

Flashy statistics like strikeouts clearly didn't play a role since the three aforementioned starters all had more, and Ward had 97 of his own compared to McDowell's 158.  Consider that McDowell pitched 256.2 innings to Randy Johnson's 255.1, yet McDowell allowed 46 additional base runners.

Fact of the matter is, it wasn't well deserved.  McDowell served as the ace of a team that won it's division that year, and seems to have won the award based on the 22 wins alone.  Let's forget the Randy Johnsons and Kevin Appiers of the 1993 season.  Let's look at the Chicago White Sox.  McDowell led a staff with Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and rookie Jason Bere.  Diving a little closer into their numbers, and you begin to question if McDowell was even the ace of the staff more or less a Cy Young winner.

A. Fernandez:  18-9, 3.13 ERA, 169 Ks, 1.164 WHIP, 135 ERA+
W. Alvarez:  15-8, 2.95 ERA, 155 Ks, 1.396 WHIP, 143 ERA+
J. Bere:  12-5, 3.47 ERA, 129 Ks, 1.332 WHIP, 122 ERA+

It seems quite obvious to myself that Fernandez had all around better numbers in each category.  Alvarez in all categories, but WHIP.  Maybe he had a little luck, but overall he was effective.  Bere was merely a rookie in 1993, and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind a 31 HR Tim Salmon of the Angels while only making 24 starts.  Really, Bere is the only guy I could say McDowell finished ahead of, but had Bere made 34 starts like McDowell, he probably would beat him out in my book as well.  Alvarez and Fernandez finished in the top four for the AL in terms of ERA.  McDowell doesn't even cut the top ten. 

If had been a member of the BBWAA in 1993, and cast a vote, it would have been Kevin Appier hands down.  While I would at least listen to arguments for Johnson, Key, and especially Ward, Appier's numbers are untouchable.  A 2.56 ERA is 0.39 less than the next lowest.  His WHIP was second lowest in the AL to Danny Darwin, and his HR per 9 IP were far less than everyone else.  Meanwhile, Appier pitched for the Kansas City Royals who were 24th out of 26 when it came to runs scored in 1993, behind a 103 loss Mets team and the expansion Florida Marlins.  The highlight of their lineup was catcher Mike Macfarlane who let the team with 20 HRs.  No Frank Thomas or Robin Ventura here.

Now, I never have had any issue with Jack McDowell before, and honestly, for most of what is written above I didn't either.  However, before I went to publish this post, I had to at least do an internet search or two.  I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing some critical piece of information as to why he won, or maybe some scandal where BBWAA writers were paid in cash to get him the award.  I found no such evidence.  I found something far worse.

I can now say I have quite a bit of disdain for Jack McDowell due to a blog he has been doing the past few years for the White Sox:

That particular post was written following the 2009 season, and the announcement of Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke.  He says he is "fine" with those two picks, but is concerned that the award is not necessarily going to the pitchers with the most wins, and is instead going to those that have "stuff".  "Stuff" is clearly implied to be strikeouts in this case as he immediately throws pitcher Javier Vazquez under the bus.  Vazquez won "only" 15 games in 2009, and therefore is far inferior than a pitcher who won 22.

"Now that they have officially allowed full season 15 game winners to represent the best in the game, you start to worry about perennial low ERA, high strikeout guys like Vasquez being propelled to the highest level of respect...when they shouldn't.  What is the difference how many strikeouts a guy has if they can't ultimately win games?"

"I'm definitely not swaying fully to the wins total leader taking all the prizes, but that is the thing starting pitchers get paid for."

Apparently all you need to do to win McDowell's vote of confidence as a Cy Young winner is play in front of a line that can score, and collect the wins that follow.  It baffles me that a former Major League pitcher can come to the conclusion that his 22 wins were his doing an not a team effort.  Awarding pitchers for wins and losses is one of the more arrogant aspects of the game.  We don't award a win to a hitter because he hits a game winning home run.  We award him a home run and some points to his batting average.  Why?  Because that is what he gets paid for, and that is how he helps his team earn wins.
A starting pitcher?  His job isn't to win games at all.  He is the number one person when it comes to defense, and his sole job is to prevent the other team from scoring, and thus prevent them from winning.  A pitcher doesn't win games until he picks up a bat, something McDowell never did once in his Major League career.  McDowell had a very solid season, and played a large role in helping the White Sox win games and ultimately a division title.  Last I checked, there were a couple dozen other guys on that team who did much the same, including the 1993 AL MVP.

Anyway, enough of the soapbox for now.  Here is to Kevin Appier, the true winner of the 1993 Cy Young Award.  A player who earned wins to his name despite the team around him, and not because of a high-powered offense of which he played no role.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A 1 in 402 Chance

For those not paying attention to box scores, Curtis Granderson had a tremendous game tonight.  The New York Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 7-6 tonight largely behind the production of Granderson at the plate.  Granderson went 5-for-5 at the plate with 3 home runs and 4 RBIs.  Better yet, those three home runs came in the first four innings of the game, leaving the door open for a fourth.

The magical number in baseball is four home runs in a game.  It's a feat that doesn't necessarily go overlooked, but is rather underrated.  The Perfect Game is the holy grail among pitchers, and has occurred only twenty times in history.  A four home run game has occurred only 13 times in the history of the game, and only 10 times without the game going to extra innings.  While some might want to point to rise of power hitters in recent decades, only four of those occurrences have been within the last 25 years.

Using's total number of games played (200,250 dating back to 1876), we can track the odds of the events listed above. The odds of seeing a 4 home run game:

13 Four Home Run Games

200,250 Games Played

13 / 200,250 = 0.000649

So there is rough a 0.006% chance of seeing a four home run game the next time you go to an MLB game, or roughly a 1 in 15,404 chance.  Let's say you have season tickets to the Yankees.  You would have to attend 190 seasons worth of games (assuming 81 games) just to tilt the odds in your favor, and even then you're talking about a 50/50 shot.

Even if you managed the impossible feat of attending every MLB game for an entire season, a grand total of 2,430 games, the odds of it seeing it are merely once every 6.339 seasons.  All of that said, this May will be the ten year anniversary of this occurring not once, but twice.  As if the odds are not low enough then Seattle Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron and Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder both completed this feat a mere weeks apart.  Cameron accomplished it in Chicago against the White Sox while Green accomplished it in Milwaukee against the Brewers.  If that was not enough, a little more than a year later, Carlos Delgado of the Toronto Blue Jays completed the feat at home against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  It has not occurred against since September 2003.

Now let's not forget about Curtis Granderson just because he only hit three home runs tonight.  This has occurred much more often, but maybe not as much as you think.  Based on the sources I use, this would be the 498th game a player has hit three home runs in a game.  Using the same math as above, the odds of it occurring are 1 in 402.  Not nearly as rare, but still pretty remarkable overall.  Props to you Mr. Curtis Granderson.

No Country for Pennsy Goalies

The defensive duel between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers continued earlier tonight with another close game, final score in favor of the Penguins 10-3.  The win would keep the Penguins alive another day, and deny the Flyers a sweep.  After four games in this earlier playoff season, the two Pennsylvanian teams combined to tally 45 goals.  A lot?  Yes.  A record?  Well, not yet.

The record for most goals in a single playoff series goes to the 1985 Western Conference where the Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers defeated the Chicago Blackhawks with a total of 69 goals.  It's worth noting that total came in only six games.  Game 3 was the lowest scoring game, 5-2 in favor of the Blackhawks.  In this series, the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-3 in Game 1 for the lowest scoring game so far.

That said, this year's series is still 24 goals behind, so even if it were to go the full seven games, they would need to average 8 goals a game the rest of the way.  Nevertheless, the record for a five game series is only 52 goals.  I don't think many people would bet against these two teams scoring another seven plus goals next game.  We'll have to watch Friday night to see if they can do it.  Like or hate these teams, they have provided an entertaining series.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Franchise Quarterbacks: Part II

A few days ago, I did a post about the 1999 NFL draft being the last draft where quarterbacks were drafted with the first three picks.  While this season, it appears only as an outside chance that three quarterbacks could go first, it is all but a lock that the first two picks will be.  Since Peyton Manning was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, 11 of the 14 first overall picks in the draft have been quarterbacks.  The picks are always still gambles.  Just asked the Cleveland Browns about Tim Couch (#1 overall) versus Tom Brady of the Patriots (#199 overall).  So why gamble on such a volatile position?  Because the stability of that position seems to trickle down to the rest of the team.

Over the last ten years, the average number of starting quarterbacks per NFL team is a staggering 8.25 with a total of 264 starting quarterbacks over that time.  That's remarkably close to have a new starter every single year.  Of course, some franchise lead the way by far.  The Miami Dolphins who I've routed for since I was a child because of Dan Marino have the pole position of 15 starters since 2002 including Jay Fiedler, Joey Harrington, Damon Huard, Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington, Cleo Lemon, Chad Henne, Gus Frerotte, Matt Moore, John Beck, Sage Rosenfels, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feely, Trent Green, and Tyler Thigpen.  It's worth noting that will in all likelihood try to draft a quarterback with their first overall pick this year and immediately make him starter #16.  Note the teams with the most below:

Starting QBs Since 2002:
1.  Miami Dolphins - 15
2T.  Chicago Bears - 14
2T.  Oakland Raiders - 14
2T.  St. Louis Rams - 14
5.  Cleveland Browns - 13

Those five franchises have combined for a total of two playoff appearances in the last five seasons (Dolphins and Bears).  Compare that number to the teams with more stability at the position, and the least number of starters over the last ten years:

1.  New England Patriots - 2
2T.  Green Bay Packers - 3
2T.  San Diego Chargers - 3
4T.  Indianapolis Colts - 4*
4T.  New Orleans Saints - 4
4T.  New York Giants - 4

*Note for Indianapolis three of those starters came in 2011 only.

Those six franchises have combined for 21 playoff appearances in the last five years.  In fact, there are only three franchises not on that list who have started less than 7 QBs over the last ten years:  Bengals, Seahawks, and Steelers.

I decided to look at teams that stuck with the same quarterback for many years in an effort to define a franchise quarterback.  My standard was merely that they started half of their teams games in the last ten years (80 games since 2002).  This is where the numbers truly tell the story of why you need stability at the position to win.  A total of 13 teams had a QB start 80 or more games for them in that time:

1.  New York Giants
2.  Green Bay Packers
3.  New Orleans Saints
4.  Pittsburgh Steelers
5.  Indianapolis Colts
6.  New England Patriots
7.  San Diego Chargers
8.  Seattle Seahawks
9.  St. Louis Rams
10.  Philadelphia Eagles
11.  Carolina Panthers
12.  Cincinnati Bengals
13.  Denver Broncos

Two noteworthy things about that list.  First, the St. Louis Rams show up on that list for Marc Bulger who started 95 games for the team despite that the Rams tied for second on an above list for the most starting QBs since 2002 with 14.  Bulger was generally sidelined with injuries due to an offensive line that looked like it belonged at the FCS level.

However, the most noteworthy part of this is when you compare the list to recent Super Bowl winners:

1.  New York Giants  (2011, 2007)
2.  Green Bay Packers  (2010)
3.  New Orleans Saints  (2009)
4.  Pittsburgh Steelers  (2008, 2005)
5.  Indianapolis Colts  (2006)
6.  New England Patriots  (2004, 2003)
7.  San Diego Chargers
8.  Seattle Seahawks
9.  St. Louis Rams
10.  Philadelphia Eagles
11.  Carolina Panthers
12.  Cincinnati Bengals
13.  Denver Broncos

The last nine Super Bowl champions have all belonged to this list of having a "franchise" quarterback.  We can even go one step further and point out that three more teams on that list won NFC Titles, and made it to the Super Bowl (Seahawks, Eagles, and Panthers).  This is why it is worth finding that Quarterback who can lead your team on a consistent basis.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

268 at 49, and Mr. Quinn

On this day in 1946, a mere 66 years ago in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Jack Quinn would pass away.  Born in Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1883, Quinn immigrated to the United States when he was less than a year old.  I know little about Quinn, but discovered his mother died shortly after they arrived in the United States, and he entrance into baseball began when he accurately threw a foul ball to a player at a game he attended as a fan in 1897.  The manager of the visiting team offered him $5 if he could win their next game.

Quinn would go on to pitch in the American, National, and Federal League.  In fact, he won the first Federal League game ever played with the Baltimore Terrapins in 1914, a year in which he won a career high 26 games.  When the Federal League folded after 1915, Quinn played in the Pacific Coast League, and didn't return to Major League Baseball until 1918 with the Chicago White Sox.  After a dispute, the American League granted the New York Yankees rights to him, shortly after the White Sox would be involved in the imfamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

He continued to pitch, and continued to pitch.  He appeared with the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Dodgers, and last the Cincinnati Reds in 1933.  On September 13th, 1932, during the first game of a double header against the St. Louis Cardinals, Quinn pitched five innings of relief, winning the game for the Dodgers.  It would be the last win of his career, number 247, and provided the record of the oldest pitcher to ever win a Major League game.

Merely 16 years after Quinn's death, and 65 miles southeast, Jamie Moyer was born in Sellersville, PA.  Moyer, like Quinn, has never the most impressive guy in the league.  This is Moyer's 22nd season in the Major Leagues, and he has appeared in one All-Star game.  He won 20 games in a season once, and it was with a team that tied the Major League record for wins in a season (2001 Mariners).  He more than likely will not retire with 300 wins.  He won't be anywhere near the 3,000 strikeout club.  He is almost amazingly second among active pitchers for strikeouts despite playing 11 more seasons than the one pitcher in front of him (Javier Vazquez).

By making the Colorado Rockies starting rotation out of Spring Training this year, Moyer became the oldest pitcher to truly start a Major League game.  It's worth nothing that in 1965 as a publicity stunt of sorts, the Kansas City Athletics signed the legendary Satchel Paige to pitch the first three innings of a game.  Paige threw three shutout innings allowing one hit at the age of 58.  However, Moyer truly holds the crown as the oldest starter.  

The only pitcher older than him to appear in a game was Jack Quinn in 1933.  Quinn's final game on July 6th, 1933 with the Cincinnati Reds was at the age of 50 years and 6 days.  Moyer doesn't turn 50 until November.

I mentioned that Jack Quinn passed away on this day, April 17, 1946.  Now, exactly 66 years to the day that Quinn passed away, his record of being the oldest Major League pitcher to win a game has been passed on to Jamie Moyer.  Moyer beat the San Diego Padres earlier tonight by a score of 5-3.

Neither Quinn nor Moyer were among the most dominating in the game, but they are two players who used their skill set to not only find other ways to win, but to stick it out in a game that does not favor their ages.  I think one coincidence is enough, but if you disagree, I'll give you one more here.  Quinn pitched in 23 Major League seasons, but would only win his first World Series at the age of 45 while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics.  Moyer has pitched in 22 Major League seasons now, but only won his first World Series the age of 45...pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.

I admire both of these guys for their longevity, and think these are the guys that are worth remembering in this sport.  One more note on Jack Quinn, and then I'll sign off for the night.  In addition to pitching for many years on end, Quinn was the oldest Major League player to hit a home run at age 46 until it was broken by a 47 year old Julio Franco in 2006.

Monday, April 16, 2012


In other news, it seems Waldo will not be as difficult to spot in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.  I don't really have anything for this, Waldo was just the first thing that popped into my head when seeing the newly unveiled U.S. Soccer kits.

Concocted Canucks Curse

Sports curses are generally fun in my opinion. For those who truly believe, they might provide an excuse for an under performing for years on end. For others, it provides sports and teams with a sort of lore usually saved for Greek mythology. The media certainly enjoys the hype of these curses as well as it provides a story for themselves. The Curse of the Bambino being broken by a Yankees collapse at the hands of the Red Sox? It has cinema written all over it. In any event, it seems like with most stories that drama needs to be provided where it is not. Teams rarely go undefeated, no matter how good they are. When they actually do, there is no curse because they did what the vast majority expected. When they lose a regular season game, it generally isn't a big deal because it rarely means the team is no longer elite. On the other hand, suffer a loss in a championship or playoff game when you're the favorite to win, and fans have to find some way to legitimize an explanation. What better way to explain something than using an unexplained curse? It wasn't until I stumbled across a Wikipedia page this week that I realized just how many are out there, and I'm sure there are plenty more than have yet to make it that far. 

One that I only began to hear of a few weeks ago is that of the NHL's Presidents' Trophy, and mainly how it has haunted the Vancouver Canucks for a long history of two years. I may be exaggerating these stories slightly, but to be fair various media outlets characterized it before the playoffs began based only on the Canucks failing to win a Stanley Cup last season. On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Kings will host the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of their series in an attempt to sweep them out of the playoffs in the first round. It was only a couple days before the playoffs began that the Canucks clinched the Presidents' Trophy for a second straight year.

The President's Trophy has only been around for 26 NHL seasons has a way of awarding the NHL team with the best overall regular season, and the Canucks won it for the first time only last year. Vancouver only narrowly won their first round series last year against the Chicago Blackhawks, and made it to the Stanley Cup that went a full seven games before deciding a champion. Worth noting that home-ice seemed to mean a lot more than a curse seeing that the home team won each of the first six games, leaving only the Bruins to win Game 7 on the road. My point isn't that we need to ignore the stories of curses. I think most would agree they are fun to a degree. The point is that if we don't want them to lose the lore than provide sports, then maybe we should give it more than one season before curses begin to get doled out to every upset. I'm not a Bruins fan, but I would be remiss in suggesting they were not a very good team last year.

 Anyway, while looking at the list of 26 winners of the Presidents' Trophy, it would appear that it does provide a good job of determining the best team. Out of the 26 years it has been awarded, it has been given to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion 7 times. Seven out of twenty-six might not sound that impressive, but when you have 16 teams all starting fresh in the playoffs, it is a very high percentage. Based on the argument that NHL fans provide (that I mentioned in my first post), the NHL Playoffs act as a second season in hockey. Well using that logic, the winner of the Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup should coincide once every sixteen years. 17 of the 26 winners have made it to at least the Conference Finals. Alas, when you pile 16 teams into a playoff tree, you can't expect there to be no chaos, aka upsets.

The last team to win both were the 2008 Detroit Red Wings, and the 2002 Red Wings before that. Other teams to win both include the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. Again, this isn't intended to rain on the parade of those who enjoy sports curses, merely that sometimes credit should be given where it is due. Sometimes, that it to the team that you hate sharing the ice with you that is holding the Cup above their heads. Note that this isn't directed at Canucks fans by any stretch, but to fans in general who get a little ahead of themselves with this stuff.

Peculiar Patriots' Day

I'm a little thrown off writing one of these in the middle of the day versus the middle of the night, but I feel what just happened is rare enough to warrant it.  The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 1-0 on Patriots' Day in Boston.  For those not familiar, Patriots' Day is a holiday celebrated mainly in New England, and more specifically Massachusetts, to remember the start of the Revolutionary War.  In the Boston sports world, the Boston  Marathon is run every year on this day, and the Boston Red Sox almost always play a home game at Fenway Park, starting at 11:00 am.

It's only 1:00 pm out here on the west coast, and the Rays-Red Sox game of today has been over for quite some time already.  This was the fourth of four games in the series, and the Rays were looking to avoid a sweep.  The Red Sox compiled 25 runs between Friday and Saturday's game, and tacked on an additional 6 on Sunday. So what made today so rare?  They Ray won the game 1-0.  More noteworthy is that they scored their lone run on a bases loaded walk.

The Rays actually collected 7 hits on that day; however, only one game in the 7th inning when Red Sox starting pitcher Daniel Bard walked three others, including Evan Longoria with the bases loaded to score the lone run of the game.  Longoria's walk came on Bard's 111th and final pitch of the game.  Sean Rodriguez would be credited with the run scored.

I don't know if anyone else knows any history behind these events.  I couldn't find anything referencing games where the lone run was scored by a walk, but I have to imagine it is rare.  Moreover, I would love to find out just how rare it is.

Drought Ends in Florida

Just a short one for tonight.  The Florida Panthers beat my New Jersey Devils in Game 2 of their first round playoff series to even the series at 1-1.  It is the first win for the Florida Panthers in a post-season game since 1997, ending the longest active drought in the NHL without a win.  The longest active drought of being win-less in the NHL playoffs has now fallen to the Winnipeg Jets who prior to this season were the Atlanta Thrashers.  As the Atlanta Thrashers, they only made one post-season appearance (2007), and were prompting swept in four games by the New York Rangers.  The Thrashers only came into the NHL for the 1999-00 season, so their drought dates back to then.

Right behind the Jets are the Columbus Blue Jackets who only entered the NHL in 2000-01, and like the Thrashers were swept in their only playoff appearance by the Detroit Red Wings.  The Jets and Blue Jackets are the only two current franchises to never win a playoff game or playoff series.

Ignoring these two expansion teams, the next longest active drought belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  Since then, Toronto has never reached the playoffs again nor have they posted a winning record.

Kudos to the Panthers for ending their drought, but now this Devils fan would most appreciate you lying down for the rest of the series so New Jersey may advance.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Franchise Quarterbacks

The NFL draft is only another week and a half away, and the suspense of the number one overall pick is almost non-existent.  In fact, for the past two years, there has been far more suspense as to guessing what team would end up with former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck than who the Indianapolis Colts would select.  The loss of Peyton Manning to an injury for the 2011 NFL season lead the Colts to a dismal record.  After cutting ties for good with Manning this winter, it was quite obvious that they would be selecting a quarterback.

While some have made the argument for Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, no one would bet their next paycheck on it knowing full well that Andrew Luck has been deemed a franchise QB.  With the Colts all but having locked him up, the Washington Redskins felt their 6th overall selection in the draft was not enough security to land a quarterback of their own.  So in early March, they traded their 6th overall draft pick as well as first round picks in the following two drafts and another second round pick to move up a mere four spots in the draft, giving them now  the 2nd overall choice next week.  The Redskins, desperate for a quarterback of their own will most certainly choose Robert Griffin III assuming the Colts don't change their mind at the last minute.

These two picks are presumed by nearly everyone who has some thought, opinion, or interest in the NFL draft.  Both franchises have basically admitted to it at this point, and no one should expect anything less.  Despite that 11 of the last 14 number overall picks have been quarterbacks, you still have to go back ten full years to find the last time that two quarterbacks went in the first three overall picks.  In 2002, the expansion team Houston Texans selected David Carr first overall, and two picks later the Detroit Lions would select Joey Harrington.

While Luck and Griffin III are considered locks at this point for the first two, there has been some speculation that yet another quarterback could find his way to the third overall pick.  Right now this pick is occupied by the Minnesota Vikings who have a young QB by the name of Christian Ponder, and the best overall player not named Luck or Griffin is generally considered to be Matt Kahil, an offensive tackle from USC.  The Vikings need him as much as they don't need another quarterback, and are nearly guaranteed to take him barring a trade.

However, given that a number of teams are stumbling to find a franchise quarterback, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M continues to impress, some speculate that a team could trade up to get him.  The Cleveland Browns could take a chance on him with the next pick, but having a young Colt McCoy likely means they will go elsewhere.  Barring another trade, he would likely fall to eighth overall where my Miami Dolphins would be forced to take him.

If a team were to trade up to third, and select Tannehll, it would be the first time since the 1999 NFL draft that quarterbacks were drafted with the first three picks overall.  Of course, of those three picks, only one found success.  The Cleveland Browns selected first with Tim Couch who hung in as the Browns starting QB for five seasons before bouncing between other teams and never seeing the field again.  The Philadelphia Eagles selected Donovan McNabb who became the face of the franchise for years until recently, leading them to numerous NFC Championship games, and one Super Bowl, but no victory.  Third overall was infamous draft bust Aliki Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals.  He would appear in only 22 games, and threw a mere 5 touchdown passes before flaming out.

It leads to the question if trading to a third pick would be worth it for any team, and for that matter, was it worth it for the Redskins to trade up just to secure Griffin?  The NFL draft is full of luck, and studies have shown that.  However, it's worth noting that after those initial three picks in 1999, seven of the next eight picks ended up being Pro Bowl players with Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey, David Boston, Chris McAlister, and the fourth quarterback of the draft, Daunte Culpepper.  Just something to think about.

On a side note, the number five overall pick of Ricky Williams came by the New Orleans Saints who traded all of their other picks to the Washington Redskins for him.  It was the first time a team had only one pick in the draft.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Unlucky 26

Every once in awhile I'm going to do my best to keep these short and concise.  I enjoy writing this long diatribes about random facts, but I'm afraid if I only do that I will quickly run short of interesting topics.  Therefore, I'm going to try to keep this one shorter.

Most sports fans would know the MLB, NBA, and NFL seasons are vastly different lengths in terms of how many games are played.  The NFL season has a mere 16 games.  The NBA plays more than five times that amount at 82 games.  Meanwhile, MLB is nearly twice that long at 162 games.

So what do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, and the now defunct Louisville Colonels of Major League Baseball have in common?  They all hold the record for the longest losing streak in their respective sports.  The coincidental part?  The record is 26 games in all three cases.

Obviously, given the shorter NFL season, the Buccaneers needed two seasons to accomplish this feat.  As an expansion team, they went 0-14 in 1976, and then started the 1977 season with 12 more losses before winning their final two games of the year.  Interesting side fact, the Buccaneers first win would come against the Archie Manning led New Orleans Saints.

The Cleveland Cavaliers only recently joined this club having lost 26 games in a row in the 2010-11 season.  The fact that they only lost 26 games in a row is almost lucky.  Prior to losing the 26 in a row, they lost 10 in a row, but narrowly beat the New York Knicks in overtime to separate the two streaks.

That leaves the Louisville Colonels of the Major Leagues.  The Colonels were from an era long ago, starting in 1882 and vanishing in 1899.  Interestingly enough, they participated in more MLB games than any other now defunct team (2,355 games).  In 1889, they lost 26 games in a row playing in what was known as the American Association in route to a 27-111 season (.196 winning percentage), the first MLB team to lose 100 or more games in a season.  It wasn't until 1892 that they moved to the National League, and after 1899, their owner purchased control of the Pittsburgh Pirates and took some of his best players there including future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner.

Anyway, just found it interesting that three of the four major sports leagues share this record despite vastly different lengths of season.  For those wondering, the NHL longest losing streak is merely 17 games by both the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks.  However, the Winnipeg Jets did manage to play 30 games without winning a game.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Montreal vs.Seattle

Yesterday, I touched on the 1994 Major League Baseball season in which one of many forgotten pieces was the success that season of the Montreal Expos.  Of course, the Expos had the best record in baseball that year, but never made it to the playoffs because of a premature end to the season due to a strike.  The Expos had only made the playoffs one time in their history (1981, also strike-shortened), and would lose the only playoff series of which it participated.  They would never win a National League Pennant, and after the 2004 season, they relocated to Washington D.C. where they have continued to keep that streak alive.

While the former Expos, now known as the Nationals, are the oldest franchise never to win a pennant, there remains one other team that never has, the Seattle Mariners.  The Nationals franchise is still eight years older (1969)  than the Mariners (1977), so they will continue to keep the longest active drought.  However, let's look past the actual franchises to the cities of Montreal and Seattle themselves. 

Montreal had spent 36 seasons with the Expos, and 36 years without a Pennant.  When the Expos relocated to Washington D.C., the streak of 36 seasons stopped, but still maintained the record.  Meanwhile, Seattle has slowly been creeping up the last seven years from the confines of Safeco Field.  The Mariners have been playing baseball in Seattle for 35 years, and never have won a Pennant.  At first glance, Seattle might look like they are only one year behind the dubious Montreal record.  

However, the Mariners were not the first franchise to play in Seattle, more or less the first to lose in Seattle.  Eight years prior to the Mariners, an expansion franchise known as the Seattle Pilots joined the American League (same year as the Expos).  They record one last place finished before relocating to Milwaukee, and were renamed the Brewers.  Therefore, Montreal and Seattle are tied for the longest active droughts without a Pennant at 36 years a piece.  If the Mariners can avoid winning one more year (and the Angels and Rangers would seem to imply they can), Seattle will hold the distinction of the city with the most baseball seasons to never have seen a team win a Pennant.

The Mariners have had a long history of futility.  The Tampa Bay Rays are thought of as being an expansion club that shouldn't have been because of their ten horrible years of existence prior to winning a Pennant in 2008.  However, the Mariners would have put the Rays to shame with their history.  As mentioned, the Mariners have completed 35 seasons.  From 1977-1993 (17 years), the Mariners had only two winning records with a mere 82 and 83 wins in those seasons.  They never finished higher than 4th (out of seven) in the old American League West, and therefore never sniffed the playoffs.

Towards the end of that run, the Mariners began to find franchise players.  Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Alex Rodriguez began to show their faces.  When baseball split two divisions into three (also 1994), the Mariners began to win.  They won their first two division titles in 1995 and 1997, making their first two playoff appearances subsequently.  In 1995, they made it to Game 6 of the League Championship Series before falling short to the Yankees.

The wheels came loose after that, and Randy Johnson was traded away in 1998, Ken Griffey Jr. after 1999.  The Mariners would win their first and only wild card in 2000, only to lose in Game 6 of the ALCS once more.  Despite the departure of then free agent Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners put together their best team in franchise history, and one of the best teams ever in the history of the game.  Ichiro Suzuki became the new face of the franchise, and led the Mariners to tying the MLB record for wins in a season: 116.  Once again, the ALCS proved two much, and for the second year in a row, the Yankees would end their season.

While it's hard to imagine a 116-win team not coming together the following year, the Mariners were never the game, and in the ten years since have only finished as high as second (twice) in the four team AL West.  It's hard to imagine a team that has seen as many super stars in the last twenty years could be one of only two franchises never to play in the World Series, but that has been the case.

Most readers here know I've only recently moved to the Seattle here.  While I'll attend games, and cheer for the Mariners casually, who would have thought I could witness baseball history this year, and Seattle could become the longest running baseball city never to witness a World Series.  It's been 36 long years in the Pacific Northwest for baseball, what's one more?

One interesting side note, the NFL's Seattle Seahawks have been around one year longer than the Mariners, meaning they already have a streak of 36 seasons without winning a Super Bowl.  That leaves them as the 4th oldest NFL franchise never to win a Super Bowl or NFL Championship (Vikings, Falcons, and Bengals being the three others).


The number 60.57 has always stuck in my head as a statistic.  You might be led to believe it is the time of a race, an NBA player's points per game, or Jose Canseco's career ERA (only 27.00 actually).  In fact, it is based off a statistic that is defined by only whole numbers meaning that 60.57 simply could never happen.  The number 60.57 has slightly less significance today, but when it occurred the number 61 was one of the greatest numbers in the game of baseball.

The 1994 Major League Baseball season is among the most underrated, and sadly most forgotten seasons of baseball.  The north-of-the-border Toronto Blue Jays were two time defending World Series Champions, but the story in 1994 was Canada's other team, the Montreal Expos who had the best record in baseball.  They had only ever appeared in the playoffs once before, the 1981 strike-shortened season.  Sadly, the great 1994 team would never appear in the playoffs because baseball would not make it to the playoffs.  Lightning struck twice for the Montreal Expos, and another strike-shortened season would end anyone's chance of playing for a World Series in 1994.  Today, the Montreal Expos are the Washington Nationals, and they still have yet to reach the post season again.

While 1994 might have been a magical year for the Expos or it could have also started the New York Yankees dynasty one year earlier (who held the best record in the American League at the time), rarely do fans notice that the record books may have seen the greatest loss of all.  It wasn't as if every record in baseball was about to come crashing down, but the performances of many players that year would have been considered among the most elite in the history of the game.

When the season ended in August, San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn was batting .394 on the season.  The near mythical .400 batting average could have been in reach, but .394 by itself would have been the greatest accomplishment at the plate that anyone who is reading this would remember.  Compared with all previous records .394 would have been the 37th highest single season batting average.  Sure, 37th doesn't sound remarkable until you look at the 36 entries above that.  The last batter to hit higher than that was Ted Williams in 1941, a mere 52 years earlier.  In fact, the closest to have come since 1994 would be Nomar Garciaparra in 2000 with .372.  Still impressive, but .372 is only good for the 126th highest average of all-time.  Gwynn's .394 could well have been the greatest record of that year, but I'll leave that to personal opinion.

Numerous others were on pace to come close to records.  Young Minnesota Twin second baseman Chuck Knoblauch is most known for his troubles throwing the ball to first base, particularly an incident with the Yankees where he hit a fan who happened to be the mother of a famous poltical commentator.  That could have been changed in 1994 when Knoblauch was on pace to hit 64 doubles for the season.  No player has hit 60 or more doubles since 1936, and the single season record sits at 67.  Knoblauch's pace of 64 would have put him in a tie for second.

Others that wouldn't have broken records, but would have still been remarkable were Frank Thomas' pace of 152 runs scored, something only nine other players had done since 1900.  Jeff Bagwell was on pace for more than 163 RBIs, something no player had done since Jimmie Foxx in 1938.  Since then, Manny Ramirez has hit 165.  Also, Bagwell was slugging .750 which would have been the seventh highest of all-time behind six records held by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Roger Hornsby.

Of course this was an era of hitters where pitchers are often left out, but that wasn't the case in 1994.  Greg Maddux had just come off back to back 20-win seasons, and was posting a line for the ages.  Not only was he a lock for another 20-win season, he was showing everyone up in the process.  After 25 starts, he had an incredible ERA of 1.56.  That number is considered elite when a relief pitcher gets within a half run of it today.  Maddux had thrown over 200 innings in the shortened 1994 season.  Over 25 starts, that averages out to more than 8 innings per game.  Some might try to make the argument that he would have tired, but I should point out he had thrown at least 263 innings per season for the three previous years, and never less than 237 since his first full year as a starting pitcher.  An ERA of 1.56 would not have broken any records given the plethora of pitching records from pre-World War I, but it is worth noting that only two pitchers have done better since the year 1919: Bob Gibson (1968) and Dwight Gooden (1985).  Maddux's ERA+ of 271 is the 4th greatest of all-time.

Anyway, the point of this was for the number 60.57.  After all, remarkable seasons aside, we rarely remember the guy who came in second.  Most fans know Ty Cobb holds the all-time record for batting average, but it's a minority that know Roger Hornsby is behind him.  San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams hit 43 home runs in 1994.  The number 60.57 is significant because it was the number of home runs he would have totaled in a full season if he kept up his pace.  Of course home runs are not measured by fractions, so one has to wonder, if the pace continued would it have finished at 60, tying Babe Ruth for second?  Or could Williams have snuck one extra home run in there, tying him for first place with a record set 33 years earlier by Roger Maris?

Matt Williams could have been a name saved for Cooperstown.  It could have been a name used more when mentioning steroids because of the record (not that I have ever heard his name used myself).  The Barry Bonds chase of 70 home runs is not remembered nearly as well as the McGwire/Sosa chase of 61.  What would 1998 have been like if the record had been tied or broken only four years earlier?  Williams certainly continued with a great career playing with the Giants, Indians, and Diamondbacks (appearing in a World Series with each).  However, his name will rarely be muttered among the immortal baseball names of Ruth and Maris.

The 1994 baseball season is remember for being shortened by a strike, the numbers .394, 1.56, and 60.57 should remind us of what could have been.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Dozen Years at Home

It is rare for a year to go by where a new stadium does not open for a sports team belonging to one of the "major four" sports.  I emphasize rare because such an instance did occur only last year in 2011, and prior to that 2005.  However, I believe you would have to travel back in time to 1986 to find the previous year where the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL did not open a stadium or arena.

Despite the recent occurrence of 2011, both MLB and the NFL opened a new stadium in 2010 with Target Field for the Minnesota Twins and MetLife Stadium for the New York Giants and Jets.  This year, the newly renamed Miami Marlins found a new home, and in a few months, the New Jersey Nets will travel across the Verrazano Bridge to their new home in Brooklyn.  Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have threatened to move to Los Angeles; the Oakland Athletics are begging to move to San Jose; the Seattle Supersonics left for Oklahoma City; and some NHL team is constantly considering Kansas City for a new home.

More often than not, these moves, or threats to move, are based over a new stadium to call home and the funding to build it.  I wanted to do a quick run down of all the teams in the four major sports in North America, and compare how each league stacks up in how old the current 30 plus stadiums are on average. 

The results were as follows: 
  1. MLB - 22.1 years
  2. NFL - 19.3 years
  3. NHL - 17.6 years
  4. NBA - 16.4 years
Those numbers were pretty close to what I would estimate.  After all, twenty-five years ago, the NHL had only 21 teams (now has 30).  The NBA had 23 teams (30 now as well).  Expanding by 30% or more, you're going to find plenty of newer stadiums, especially since many times expansion teams don't find their own home for a few years.

Twenty-five years ago, the NFL had 28 teams (now 32), and MLB had 26 (now 30).  Meanwhile, baseball has only seen one team relocated in the past few decades while the NFL has seen four teams do the same.  Moreover, the NBA and NHL have seen numerous teams relocate in their own leagues, so really the average age of each home seems to make sense.  To be honest, while I certainly do not believe that these teams need a new home every 15-25 years, these averages were a lot higher than I was expecting.

That is until you start manipulating the numbers a bit.  Baseball's 22.1 year average may lead the way, but it has a handful of teams to thank for that, largely the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.  Fenway Park of the Red is now 100 years old, and Wrigley Field of the Cubs is not at all far behind at 98 years.  Those two franchises have embraced the tradition of their home stadiums despite the lack of seats available or the big screens of Jerry Jones Land in Dallas.  By comparison, the next oldest stadium of any of these leagues is the of Lambeau Field which is short of retirement age at 55.  Madison Square Garden is shared as the oldest arena for both the NHL and NBA at a mere 44 years old.

I decided to recalculate this average while ignoring the five oldest stadiums for each sport, and got the following:
  1. NBA - 13.2 years
  2. MLB - 12.9 years
  3. NFL - 11.8 years
  4. NHL - 11.5 years
This time I was very surprised with just how close all of these figures were.  Essentially, the average age of the twenty-five (twenty-seven in the NFL's case) youngest stadiums is merely 12 years.  To be fair, many of these have undergone some significant renovations such as Angel Stadium, but none were complete makeovers such as Solider Field which for all intents and purposes is a new stadium from 2003.

The one other interesting thing I found were the newer stadiums were only coming to the NFL and MLB.  In the last ten years, the NFL has seen 11 teams with new stadiums and MLB has had 9.  The NBA has had only 6 and the NHL only 4.  If you eliminate the five youngest stadiums, the results change to the following:
  1. MLB - 15.5 years
  2. NBA - 15.0 years
  3. NFL - 13.8 years
  4. NHL - 12.7 years
I don't think that is necessarily unfair when you consider the five newest MLB stadiums were replacing stadiums that were 85, 47, 44, 28, and 25 years old, and the youngest two were the Metrodome and Sun Life Stadium that are both still used by the NFL.

In any event, I thought it was interesting to see just how old, or rather young these stadiums are considering there is almost never a time when a franchise is lobbying a city that is already nearly bankrupt for a brand new stadium.  It makes you wonder if the Red Sox, Packers, Red Wings, and Knicks can continue to play in their respective stadiums, why is it necessary for so many other franchises to demand the shiniest new homes in order to remain loyal to their fans?