Monthly Archives: April 2011

Crossroads Draft For Falcons

We all salivate at the thought of lining up A.J. Green or Juilo Jones opposite of Roddy White and giving our offense the explosive big play receiver it lacks. The notion of an elite talent on the opposite side of the field preventing enabling Roddy White to feast on one on one coverage is tantalizing, at the very least.

But ultimately, it’s probably not smart.

Thomas Dmitroff is a smart man. He learned well in New England. And if he applied what he learned in New England, he won’t be moving up in this draft to nab one of the incoming stars at wide receiver.

There is a reason teams like the Eagles, Steelers, and his former team, the Patriots,  are contenders each and every year. It’s because they don’t make moves like this.

They acquire depth through multiple draft picks, they trust their scouting and development to find quality AND quantity in the latter rounds of the draft with which to build their team.

Attempting big splashes for quick fixes is rarely the mode of attack for such successful franchises. Mortgaging picks in this year’s draft, or future drafts, isn’t the smart decision.

Trusting you can find a speedy, talented wide receiver later in the draft and develop him into a great complimentary player is the way to go.

John Abraham isn’t young, Tony Gonzalez sure isn’t young, and Michael Turner can’t have that many years left. Some of the teams marquee players are aging, having replacements in line ready to step in for them in the next couple of years is far more vital to the long term success of this organization.

And ultimately, isn’t that the goal? Be the standard by which other organizations are measured? To enter every year thinking there is a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl?

So as rumors circulate that Atlanta may be pondering putting together a package to move up to nab one of the elite wideouts, just keep this in mind. Putting A.J. Green at wide receiver may very well be enough to make us a strong favorite to win next year, and may deliver that coveted Lombardi trophy to Atlanta.

However, it may come at the expense of staying at the top of the sport for an elongated period of time.

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Magic Act, Hawks Disappear

Raise your hand if you are surprised at how Tuesday nights events in Orlando took place. If your hand is up, you must not follow the Hawks very closely.

While the majority of the Hawk faithful didn’t openly predict such a face plant, I feel pretty confident in saying that once it began to happen, very, very few Hawks fans were surprised.

The Hawks did what we’ve been almost waiting on them to do this entire series. They reverted back to their bi-polar regular season selves. They regressed back into the doldrums that had experts everywhere over looking this team, and had them labeled as one of the worst 5th seeds in recent memory.

Not guarding shooters, or putting a hand in their face? Check.

Giving listless effort? Check.

Not matching the opponents intensity? Check.

Taking bad shots? Check.

Playing individual basketball? Check.

Blow a golden opportunity? Check.

Everything the Hawks could do to look bad, and get blown out, they did. Instead of playing like the team who had won six of eight against the Magic, they looked much more like the Hawks team that lost seven of eight the previous year, including by that historically bad margin in the playoffs.

Suddenly the Hawks, not the Magic, face all the pressure. Atlanta has to look at game six in a similar fashion the Magic do. Win, or you’re done. Sure, the Hawks COULD lose the game and then go down to Florida on Saturday and still advance out of the first round.

However, to expect the Hawks to be able to pick themselves up off the deck after blowing a 3-1 series lead, and losing a series clinching game at home and win on the road in Orlando is just a bit far fetched. And by a bit, I mean as likely as Philadelphia recovering to beat Miami.

Orlando has to feel pretty good right now. If they come to Atlanta and get a victory, the momentum will be all theirs for the return home. Not to mention, the pressure will be all on the Hawks.

This is what happens when you go up 3-1 in a series, especially against a team you went 3-1 against in the regular season. The series is yours to lose. Orlando has been written off, they are supposed to already be gone fishing.

The Hawks however have been penciled into the second round against the Bulls. Of course, people know these Hawks, hence they were penciled in, not inked in that spot in the bracket.

If Atlanta goes on to blow this series, the collapse will rank as one of the biggest in the annals of Atlanta sports history. And while the collapse itself will be noteworthy and disheartening, it also won’t come with much surprise.

Perhaps that will make it hurt less should the Hawks proceed to play themselves out of the playoffs. Even up 3-1, expectations are tempered. People know this team.

Granted, following game four, we began to wonder if we really did know this team. Maybe they really could just flip a switch when the playoffs start. Maybe they’ve started to figure this playoff basketball thing out. Just maybe, the bi-polar team we saw look great one night, and absolutely dreadful the next, was strictly due to the fact that they were disinterested during the regular season, waiting for the playoffs to get here.

Well those thoughts were proven wrong, and that faith misplaced in game five. The Hawks went back to everything that made people doubt them.

The Hawks are a very stubborn team, and ultimately, a very soft team. Oh, sure, they’ve beat up on Dwight Howard in this series, but the Hawks are scared to attack the rim.

They are a team that relies on jump shots falling. When those jump shots don’t fall, they get in trouble. And instead of doing what a good team does, and adjusting to a poor shooting night, and attempting to find a way to get shots closer to the basket, and get the ball inside, they just keep jacking up more jumpers.

Instead of incorporating more ball movement and team play in an effort to get better shots off, it snowballs, the shots simply get worse and worse. The one-on-one isolation plays become more and more frequent. Possessions go by where one player holds the ball for 75% of the possession before chunking up an ill advised, contested shot that stands virtually no chance of going in.

The shocking part is that athletically speaking, and from a size stand point, the Hawks hold an advantage at every possession but center. So tell me why they can’t put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, going by their defenders in these one-on-one situations? Oh, they can, just don’t want to. Tell me why guys like Joe Johnson don’t post up defenders they have a large size advantage over? Or why Josh Smith doesn’t use his superior size, strength, and athleticism to run circles around Hedo Turkoglu in the post? Again, because they simply don’t want to.

And for the life of me, how is it that Joe Johnson, he of the $120 million contract, can only find a way to score 5 measly points? Absolutely pathetic, and the best news is how many more years of his disappearing act we get.

The Hawks struggled to make shots early Tuesday night, and once the game began to get away, it was quite clear very early on that they were already thinking to themselves, “it’s okay, we are up 3-1, we’ll just play them Thursday and try again”.

Well, if they fail Thursday, this collection of players may not get the chance to try it again. Failing Thursday puts them in the unenviable task of trying NOT to choke away a series, with the pressure heaped squarely on their shoulders. A first round exit, especially one of this nature, would almost certainly lead to a complete roster overhaul, where basically anyone not named Johnson or Horford could find themselves in a different uniform next year.

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Hawks Must Win Tonight

The Atlanta Hawks have a fickle fan base, we all know that. They also have a history of letting their fans down, not with just early playoff exits, but a perceived lack of effort and want to.

So with that said, and noted, the Hawks need to win this game. Period.

The last thing the Hawks do is give Orlando hope. Putting the Magic in a situation where they simply need to win two games in a row over the Hawks is a situation Orlando can feel confident in.

These up and down Hawks however would have an extreme lack of confidence in such a situation.

Not only that, coming home, the fans would likely have a sense of “uh-oh, been here done that, seen this” take over, and Philips Arena would not provide a safe haven for the Hawks to return to with the series on the line.

A lack of energy from the crowd in a potential series clinching home game could resonate with the players, and the results could be devastating for the Hawks.

A game 7 in Orlando is precisely what they don’t want, but playing before a less than enthusiastic crowd in game 6 could very well lead to that.

Thus, the Hawks need to win tonight, finish this thing right now. Don’t give the home folks anything to worry about.

Imagine a win tonight, and splitting the first two in Chicago. I doubt that that point Philips would be full of M-V-P chants for Derrick Rose. In fact, under that scenario, the place would probably be rocking, ala the Celtics series a few years ago.

But to get that, the Hawks must win tonight.

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What the Hawks Learned in Orlando

So the Hawks first round playoff series is about to shift north to Atlanta with the series tied at one. The old saying is that a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a team wins a game on someone else’s home floor. Well the Hawks did that in game one, so consider this series well underway.

However, just what did we learn during those first two games in Orlando that we can take with us the rest of the series.

1- The referees are going to have a HUGE impact on this series, more than in most, simply due to the nature in which Dwight Howard plays.

I don’t think Howard has ever set a legal screen in his life, but the officials seem extremely reluctant to call him on this (though they do not hesitate to call a foul on Josh Smith for attempting to fight through said illegal screens), permitting him to free up teammates through means less than legal.

Additionally, every post move Howard attempts really results in one of two things; he either commits or a turnover, or, by definition of the rule, travels. Again, the referees have been exceptionally reluctant to enforce this rule as well with Howard.

As far as his physical play, well it goes both ways on that end, though Howard, individually, gets away with far, far more than anyone in a Hawks uniform can even dream about. But it’s not as big an issue as the previous two.

What it will come down to though for the Magic on offense, is what the officials will let Howard get away with. As long as he’s free to travel about in the post, he’s going to put up monster point totals.

As long as he’s able to set a screen in any fashion he chooses, Magic shooters are going to be freed up, and eventually, they will probably start knocking a couple of those downs, at least one would think.

So, the key to this series is going to be treatment by the men in stripes of Mr. Howard.

2- The Atlanta Hawks are an exceptionally stubborn bunch. I think we all knew this coming in, but it became more and more obvious down the stretch.

I think there was a point in time we felt maybe just a few individual players exhibited such stubbornness, but as the game went along, it definitely seemed to be an ailment infecting the entire squad.

People have longed label the Hawks as soft, and offensively, they are. Where are the highest percentage shots taken? Near the basket. How do you get near the basket? You attack the rim.

The Atlanta Hawks are perfectly content with jump shots. That’s great, when they are falling. But when they aren’t, you saw what happens. There are prolonged scoring droughts that turn double digit leads into double digit deficits.

To compare to baseball, it’s like a hitter who has a pretty high batting average, but never walks. Sure, when the hits are falling, he looks like the best hitter in the league, and things are rolling. But when things quit falling, suddenly  he can’t buy his way on base as he has no other means of getting on base. The same goes for this Hawks offense. When jump shots quit falling, points quit going on the scoreboard.

If you continue to attack the rim, in general, one of two things will happen. You’ll get a decent percentage layup or shot around the basket, or you go to the free throw line.

Yes, the huge free throw disparity is somewhat due to the nature of the officiating, but there is something else at work here. Yes the Magic did indeed shoot 19 more free throws than the Hawks. However, the Hawks only had six more fouls called on them.

So what gives? Simple, the Hawks were committing shooting fouls on players attacking the basket, thus putting players on the stripe for free throws.

The Hawks simply did not do this. Joe Johnson, Kurt Hinrich, and Josh Smith combined to shoot two free throws all night long. Seriously? Two of those players hold large physical advantages over the players guarding them, yet they couldn’t get to the line?

No, because in this league, people don’t foul jump shooters.

3- The stubbornness of the Hawks though probably comes straight from the top.

I mentioned the Hawks failure to attack the rim, but there is one player on this roster who, when on the court, does. Granted, his percentage on running floaters isn’t very good, but at least he has the right idea.

Jeff Teague will attack another team, and go right after them. The problem is Jeff Teague doesn’t play. We’re told he’s “not ready”. We were also told Jordan Crawford isn’t ready either. But head coach Larry Drew is going to stick by his guns, this much we know.

Beyond not playing Teague, Drew’s obsession with not playing a player with two fouls is causing major problems.

Al Horford only played 26 minutes, meaning he missed 22 minutes of game time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player miss 22 minutes of floor time before due to “foul trouble” and yet finish the game with a grand total of TWO fouls.

With Horford off the floor and Hilton Armstrong and Josh Powell on it, Dwight Howard had no reason to stay down low in the lane, as there was no fear of any sort of offensive threat being positioned down there.

Instead, Howard could come show on the Hawks guards thinking about penetrating, and show a double team. The result was a lot of missed jump shots.

Powell, Armstrong and Jason Collins played a combined 34 minutes and attempted all of three shots and grabbed three rebounds.

I understand this talk of the defensive presence on Howard, but hasn’t he scored 79 points in three games?

So, they’ve allowed Howard 79 points, while contributing absolutely nothing on the offensive end of the floor, or on the glass. I’m sorry, that’s still a lot of wasted minutes. Especially when you consider the best, most consistent player you had committed fewer fouls than any of them, and yet himself only played 26 minutes.

Zaza Pachulia, if anyone, should be getting more of those bench minute than Powell and Armstrong take up. Pachulia finished with a +6 and added 8 rebounds, as well as at least offering somewhat of a threat of an attempt to score the basketball.

As long as Drew continues to stay this stubborn, we can expect similar things to happen, and the team is going to have to continue to follow its coach and continue to be a stubborn team incapable of making proper adjustments to adjust for weaknesses.

4- These aren’t last years Hawks. These guys didn’t quit, and they haven’t wilted. Down in the fourth quarter, they kept fighting, and put on a spirited run (remarkably spear headed by a more consistent attempt to attack the basket) that saw them within two points with a Hedo Turkoglu lay-up precariously located on the rim, staring at a chance of gaining possession with a chance to tie.

Of course, the shot dropped and the Magic pulled away, but that’s not the important aspect here. A Hawks team known for its eagerness to quit and throw in the towel showed great resiliency on the road.

5- This one is simple. What we learned in Orlando is that the Hawks can win this series, bottom line.

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Tiger Woods Is Not “Back”

Yes, Tiger Woods had a rousing front nine at Augusta yesterday to suddenly have his name being tossed about as a legitimate contender to win The Masters.

No, Tiger Woods did not win the golf tournament.

And it’s from that we can safely say that Tiger Woods is not “back”. Is he improved? Absolutely. Is he playing at a level where he can contend for victories? Clearly.

But consider that this was Augusta, where, even with his game in shambles, Tiger Woods is going to play well. It’s a course that he’s as comfortable on as the tour visits, and it’s one he could probably play blind folded. Okay, he could probably only play tee to green blind folded, albeit, he couldn’t have putted much worse this tournament if he was blind-folded, so who knows?

If you really want to think about it, Woods pretty much played one really good round of golf this weekend at Augusta, well, okay, one really great round. From the 8th tee box to the 18th green on Friday Woods was masterful.

On Sunday for the first nine holes, Woods was arguably better. Over those particular 20 holes of golf Tiger Woods was -12. Yes, -12. He shot 69, over 20 holes. He was as good as he’s ever been for those two separate nine hole marches (give or take a couple extra holes with his Friday march), and clearly looked like the worlds most dominant player.

Unfortunately for Tiger Woods, it’s a 72 hole tournament, not 20. He played the other 52 holes of his week at +2.

The 13th and 15th holes, par fives that Wood has historically carved up, weren’t as friendly this time around, as Woods played them at -5. While still a solid score, considering he parred 13 on Sunday at a time when a birdie was needed and merely birdied 15 after missing a very makable short eagle putt, the fact the number wasn’t lower greatly played into his not winning the tournament.

The reason the number wasn’t lower was because Woods couldn’t make putts consistently.

What always separated Woods from other golfers wasn’t his uncanny shot making, or his length of the tees, it was his ability to seemingly never miss an important putt. The break, the undulation of the green, the distance, the weather, the leader board, all seemed inconsequential, Woods was simply going to make any critical putt he was faced with. It was a foregone conclusion. It’s why Rocco Mediate knew at Torrey Pines a couple years ago that there would be a playoff with a gimpy Woods at the U.S. Open, Woods just didn’t miss putts like that.

He does now. He did make an outstanding par save on 11 on Friday, making a critical putt to do so, and perhaps save his tournament, but there weren’t many other memorable moments on the green for Woods.

Correction, there weren’t many other enjoyable memorable moments for Woods on the Augusta greens.

Bogeys thanks to wayward tee shots that were searching for South Carolina could be expected. Three putt bogeys? You can’t have those and win major tournaments. Tiger Woods of old never had those three putt bogeys, and certainly not when the chips were down.

On the 12th green, with momentum on his side, the gallery behind him, and a 15th major suddenly a definite possibility, Woods three putted the par three, and his momentum was gone. It wasn’t just a three putt, it was the fact that Woods missed an extremely short, and should be sure thing, comebacker for par that was cause for concern.

When is the last time you could recall Tiger Woods missing putts of that nature with something riding on them? He’s made his reputation and his career from having ice water in his veins and making putts that leave the knees shaking for others seem as easy as a tap in on a miniature golf course somewhere.

The problems didn’t end there. Woods wasted a beautiful tee shot on the par 5 13th, again with a chance to grab some of the momentum back. He missed the green with his approach, and his chip back towards the hole left him a lengthy birdie putt.

And again, this is where the old Woods would have shown up and steadily drained the long birdie putt because that’s what he does. The current Tiger Woods doesn’t, and didn’t.

On to the 15th, despite his putter’s problem, Woods was still in prime contention to win The Masters, and to in the least, put a lot of pressure on everyone else bunched together at the top of the leader board.

Woods approach was a thing of beauty, an eagle was a sure thing. Woods was going to go to -11, claim sole possession of the lead, and the ground at Augusta National was going to shake with the roar of approval.

It was the type of moment Tiger Woods doesn’t fail to seize. Except this isn’t that Tiger Woods. This current Tiger Woods doesn’t seize these moments, and he didn’t here. It was his second short miss in four holes. One resulted in a momentum killing bogey, the other, a birdie that seemed to actually drain more of his momentum than the bogey did.

Yes, Woods walked off the 15th with a birdie, and at -10, and still atop the leader board. But he also walked off the 15th green knowing he probably had just ended any real chance he had at victory. He walked off the 15th knowing that when faced with a crucial putt, he isn’t expected to make it. His opponents don’t expect him to make it, he probably no longer expects to make it.

A Woods eagle on 15 changes the way the back nine plays out. We saw what the mere presence of a charging Tiger Woods did to Rory McElroy. The roars echoing through the Georgia pines while Woods blistered the front nine went straight to the head of the 54 hole leader. How would Charl Schwartzel handle a lurking Tiger? I somehow doubt he finishes with 4 straight birdies, especially if the need for those birdies is greater thanks to Tiger Woods being in the clubhouse with a lower number.

But alas, that’s now how the story played out, and it’s not that big of a surprise. There was a time when if Woods hit a critical shot to within 12 or so feet on a Sunday at a major, you just knew the putt was going in, in fact, you were already writing a birdie down on the scorecard and were concerned with his tee shot on the following hole.

Such a mindset no longer exists for golf fans, or fellow golfers, when it comes to Woods. When he hit the shot on 15, even as short as the eagle putt was, there was a lingering sense of doubt as to whether or not he’d be able to finish off the eagle. The doubt was well placed. Doubt that once upon a time wouldn’t dare creep into anyone’s mind.

As long as that doubt exists, as long as the fans doubt it, and the opponents, and more importantly Tiger has it, Tiger Woods is not back. Tiger Woods still may never be back.

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The Great Nate McLouth Tommy Hanson Debate

In this day and of instant gratification with just about everything, it comes as no surprise that instant conclusions are all the rage after the first week of the Major League Baseball season.

In general, these conclusions are simply panic-stricken fans making irrational, sometimes even idiotic, claims based on less than five percent of the season.

A word to the wise; chill out.

The baseball season is a long one, and as Tony LaRussa once said, “Great baseball players who have a bad week are still great baseball players”. Rushing to judgement is often a sure-fire way to make yourself look silly come July, and being the guy who once let go of Cliff Lee a long time ago, I know how this works.

However, this is not to say it’s always too early to feel confident in your conclusion about a player.

For the most part, all one needs to do is simply look at a players past before making ridiculous claims about how a player either a) needs to be traded immediately for a bag of popcorn, or b) is headed to the All-Star game.

When a player that has a track record of being an elite player gets off to an amazing start in the season, one can feel rather confident that their numbers at the end of the year will likely keep on pace with what has typically been the result.

However, when a player without a proven track record gets off to a heart, before suggesting they’ve suddenly uncovered something new and are set to bounce back with a great season, or suddenly found their groove, one must seriously consider scaling back the level of expectations placed upon a player. You might want to hold off on the all-star talk for a few weeks.

On the flip side of that very coin, when a player with a solid track record gets off to a slow start, it might be a good idea to consider what this player has done in the past before demanding this player be sent packing.

I bring this up because two names in particular seem to create a dividing line among Braves fans. These two have been lightning rods early in this 2011 Braves fans.

On one side, you have the camp that believes Nate McLouth is going to round out into a solid contributor to what they feel is a championship caliber club. They feel that McLouth will revert back to the hitter he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 and be a solid piece of the Braves lineup before the season is over.

Then you have those who have zero confidence in McLouth and would probably prefer to see Matt Young manning center field for the Braves.

 

This image of an exasperated Nate McLouth bears a striking resemblance to how many fans feel as well

 

 

With Tommy Hanson, it’s somewhat of the opposite. You have the sector of fans who feel is rather less than stellar start is an indication that the pitcher just doesn’t have it, and that the Braves should part ways with the youngster while he still has value.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that feel Hanson still has the makings of an ace, and that his 2010 season was actually pretty solid, and that he will more than adequately add to the pitching staff of a club expecting to go to the World Series. Their belief is that his struggles early in the season are minor, perhaps just coincidental, and nothing to be alarmed about.

Here’s where the two arguments differ though, and why in one player’s case, the gloom and doom is probably correct, while in the others, the glass empty is pure insanity at this point time.

Everyone, including yours truly, is waiting on, and yearning for, the Nate McLouth of 2008 to show up one day and starting being a power and speed threat for the Braves lineup.

However, there is a faction of people who simply no longer believe it’s going to happen. And as much as they’d like to be wrong, and as much as perhaps those on the other side of the fence wish to disagree, the numbers say they are right.

Consider for instance that the average big league player strikes out 20.7% of his times to the plate. The bottom tenth percentile come in striking out at a clip of 27.5%, or worse.

McLouth has twice in the past four seasons has twice been over 23%. In 2009 his number for the entire season was 19.5%, a bit better than the league average. But I think it is indeed worth noting that it went from 17.3% to 20.6% once he became a member of the Atlanta Braves.

The high strikeout percentage isn’t that big of a deal if a guy is still drawing a lot of walks, and hitting for power.

McLouth has only once seen his base on balls percentage climb into double digits. So, maybe he’s offering something in the power department, right?

Well, aside from three terrific months in 2008, no, not at all. He slugged .497 in 2008, which has turned out to be .038 points higher than his second best season. In fact, he’s seen his slugging percentage drop to .436, and then a dismal .322 last season.

Let’s look at that 2008 season itself a little more closely too. It’s already established that his 2008 season was a career year, but a closer look tells us that it was more the product of a career three months.

McLouth’s OPS before the all-star break was .899, a very, very fine number, and worthy of his all-star bid, as were his 19 home runs and 33 doubles.

However, somewhere over the course of the summer, pitchers began to figure him out. That or the real Nate McLouth emerged. McLouth would hit just 7 home runs the rest of the way, and collect only 13 doubles while seeing his OPS drop all the way  to .781.

Over the final two months of the year he struck out in roughly 18% of his plate appearances, a good deal higher than the 12% mark he displayed during the seasons first three months.

In all actuality, the hopes people have for Nate McLouth are basically centered around the months of April, May, and July of 2008. McLouth, in those three months posted an OPS of .900 or greater. Here’s the problem, only one other time in his career has he managed to do this.

McLouth set career highs in 2008 for home runs and doubles, and the difference between his 46 doubles in 2008 and his second best year in terms of two baggers is really staggering, as his second highest output was 27.

McLouth did indeed get off to pretty good start with the Pirates in 2009, but it wasn’t quite up to the level of play he had reached in 2008. However, once he was traded to the Braves, his production at the plate quickly took a turn for the worse.

You look at his stat line from 2008 with 152 games played (.256, .356, .497, 46 2B and 26 HR) and compare it to what he’s done in 172 games as a Brave (.228, .329, .375, 33 2B and 17 HR) , you see why the downward trend can’t be expected to cease.

Beyond that, McLouth doesn’t offer much by way of speed on the bases, or defensive help in center field.

He’s only stolen 19 bases as a Brave, and been caught 9 times. A conversion of rate of barely above 66% is terrible, especially for a guy getting on base as infrequently as he is.

Perhaps if McLouth wasn't spending so much time looking lost in the field, his offensive inadequacies would be forgiven

 

In the field, his range is limited and pedestrian, and he doesn’t do much with his arm to hold base runners, or even attempt to throw them out at times. In fact, his defense has steadily declined since becoming a Brave. It has declined so much so that in 2010 McLouth was in the bottom tenth percentile of all fielders in baseball according to UZR.

Weak offense can be accepted if you play premier defense at the game’s most pivotal defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, center field). However, when you combine offense that fails to be above average with defense that is among the worst in baseball, what you get is a serious problem when filling out your lineup card.

McLouth fans long for him to return to what he did in 2008 with the Pirates. The bad news is that there is simply nothing to indicate that he will.

With Tommy Hanson though, just the opposite holds true.

Yes, Tommy Hanson has struggled out of the gate, although his performance against a very good offensive team in Milwaukee wasn’t exactly the stuff of Vicente Padilla.

However, it hasn’t stopped people from saying Hanson needs to be traded while he has value. Some have gone so far as to suggest Hanson was actually “bad” in 2010, that it’s been a steady digression for the young right hander.

Sometimes I wonder if people are watching the same game I am.

Or maybe they just aren’t watching them all. Apparently the only three games that a great many people saw Hanson pitch last year were his three worst outings of the year, and arguably of his young career.

Never mind the fact that in his 31 other starts last year Hanson posted a 2.34 ERA (would be good for 3rd in the NL) and a WHIP of 1.073 (would have been for fourth in the NL). I don’t really know about the rest of you, but if you’re going to tell me I can have numbers like that from a 23, or 24-year-old kid for 31 outings, I’ll take them all day, any day, every day. Without question. Anyone who wouldn’t should probably find another sport to follow, or in the very least quit expecting everyone to be Bob Gibson.

I understand when Hanson was bad last year, which wasn’t that often, he was really bad. But what seems to have been forgotten is that when he was good, which was quite often, he was very, very good.

Have people really already forgotten how good this kid is?

 

I’ve heard more than one person say that Hanson wasn’t as good last year as he was his rookie season. This sort of ludicrous statement can only come one of two ways. Either the only games they watched last year were those few disastrous starts, or, the only numbers they look at for a pitcher is the W-L record, with a little glance at ERA.

The problem is, people point to his apparent decline in 2010 as proof that his 2011 struggles are even more of a sign that he will never be a front line pitcher, and he needs to be dealt while he still offers value.

Well to begin to refute this absurd line of thinking, one should first look to see just how “bad” he really was in 2010, and how much worse he was than in 2009.

One of the first things people point out was the decrease in strikeouts. These people probably forget that for a pitcher to be most effective, pitching a lot of innings is something managers and fans of teams that want to win place a lot of value on. Taking five pitches to strike a guy out is far less efficient than inducing a ground ball after two or three pitches.

So yes, his K/9 ratio did decrease from 8.2 to 7.7. However, what is completely forgotten and ignored by his critics is that he also decreased his BB/9 ratio by a 50% better margin. His K:BB ratio actually increased from just 2.52 to 3.09. Not only that, also saw his HR/9 average go from .70 to .62.

Now, I’m not sure if you’re completely aware of how baseball works, but when a pitcher faces a batter, there are, for the most part (rare instances such as catchers interference, or a 3rd strike getting away aside), there are three possible outcomes that a pitcher, and a pitcher alone, is in complete control of. He can issue a walk, strike the hitter out, or allow a home run.

So, I’m thinking that if a guy is is increasing his strike out to walk ratio, while decreasing the number of home runs he allows, he’s probably pitching better.

Oh, sure, his ERA goes up, but ERA is highly fielder dependent. And please don’t start in with how ERA accounts for errors. It does NOT account for the range and skill, or even mental acuity of the fielders in charge of turning batted balls into outs.

Hanson’s FIP (Fielder independent Pitching) actually dropped in 2010. In other words, if Hanson had the typical average major league defense behind him in both 2009 and 2010, his ERA would have dropped in the 2010 season.

ERA skews numbers two ways, it can be made to be higher than it should be for pitchers with poor defenses, while making pitchers who benefit from great defense behind them appear to be world beaters, not taking into much account how good the pitcher is actually pitching.

Hanson managed to increase his ground ball percentage in 2010, while also decreasing the number of line drives hit against him . Yet, the average on balls in play against him went up. Usually, the correlation between such events works the opposite, in Hanson’s case it didn’t. For that, you can attribute some of that to the defense behind him.

It is forgotten also that Hanson, in 2010, in 25 of his 34 starts allowed 2 earned runs or less. You don’t think that’s pitching well? Yikes.

So yes, Hanson hasn’t exactly been brilliant in his TWO starts to begin the year. I think however his track record has shown that more often than not, he will be, and he’s getting better.

But I wouldn’t want anything like the actual numbers to fool you.

So, yes, you can indeed take something from a players first week, but not a players first week alone. Sometimes the first week is only the continuation of a troubling trend that is possibly years in the making. Sometimes though, it’s just a blip in a strong career that just so happened to come in the first week of April.

Talk to me in July, and I’m willing to bet that most will have completely forgotten their disdain for Tommy Hanson, while if Nate McLouth is still in the lineup, there will be much anguish in Braves country.

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Just What Is A “Real” Sport?

It’s a question, that while I find usually out of place, and absurd, that seems to come up all too often. In this time of year particularly, with NASCAR having just gotten its season rolling, and baseball getting into the swing of things, the question seems to be posed more and more frequently. Truth be told though, it is usually not as much a question asked as an insulting statement.

Those with a disdain for NASCAR, or baseball, seem to take great joy around this time of year insulting those two sports, and often their entire fan bases, as their years open up.

Perhaps it is the joy with which ardent fans eagerly await and enjoy the start of the season of these particular sports that rubs people the wrong way, or stirs feelings of envy within themselves.

NASCAR and baseball obviously aren’t the only sports subjected to this absurd questioning, soccer, for some ridiculous reason that I can never fathom, seems to be the most often questioned and insulted.

Perhaps it just comes back to that age-old adage that people are afraid, for a lack of a better word, of what they don’t know. After all, isn’t it much easier just to insult what you know nothing about than it is to educate yourself properly on a subject and form a more appropriate, intelligent, less ignorant opinion? It seems to be the case with a great many things in life, so surely this is no different.

This misconception runs rampant with NASCAR, sometimes to the point that it’s downright comical, if not a little frustrating, hearing the uneducated opinions spouted forth by people who simply don’t know any better (but have no qualms with speaking like they do) and would apparently prefer to stay in the dark.

It all generally starts with people simply saying NASCAR isn’t a sport, which, still blows my mind.

A sport can be defined as a “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

Let me ask you this, have you ever tried driving a car 500 laps at Bristol at the speeds they do? Until you have, hold off on saying there is no physical exertion required. Try it, once.

I mean, clearly it doesn’t take any stamina whatsoever, or anything of the sort, to withstand 125 degree and higher temperatures for three and a half hours, losing upwards of ten pounds or more each race.

All the while participating in an event where one mistake could ultimately have the chance to be fatal.

One simple mistake could lead to this

Something else to ponder, go grab five or six of your friends, see if you can put 22 gallons of gas in a car and change four tires in about 15 seconds. I’m betting you can’t. You run around carrying two 5o pound tires, or an 80 pound gas can, see how well you hold up to that. Never mind the pressure to do this all as fast as you can with the difference in 1st place and 14th being the matter of just a second or two.

Yeah, nothing physically exerting about that at all.

And we all know there is nothing competitive about racing cars, right? I mean, it’s not like racing, in some form, isn’t one of, if not the, oldest forms of competition in the world.

Ever since people had objects that could move, they’ve been racing them. The idea of finishing something first is the penultimate form of competition.

Then of course you get the typical, “well all they do is turn left” retort. This one is the one that really makes me laugh.

Again, can you do it? No, you can’t.

Driving at 75 mph on 285 where everyone has turn signals and break lights and generally keeps themselves separated by feet at a time is nerve-racking enough for the normal human.

But you think it’s just a walk in the park to drive 200 mph where there are no turn signals, no break lights, and the distance between the car in front of you, behind, and to either side of you totals about two feet, if that? Yeah, sure, and there’s beach front property in Wyoming too, right?

And you think driving on the local interstate at 75 mph is harrowing?

People on the road get flustered when someone is within just a couple of feet behind them tailgating them on a country road. These guys literally push each other around the track at 200 mph, but I’m sure you could do that without any problems, right? Of course you can.

There’s also the matter of trying to make a 3500 pound racecar turn left at a high speed. Speed limits are what they are because that’s the determined safest speed with which to navigate the roadway. Try taking some of the typical turns you encounter in your daily drive at 150 mph. Actually, don’t. You won’t be able to, and you know it.

But again, all these guys do is turn left.

Actually, sometimes they do turn right

Of course, when all else fails, we get the last resort comment inferring that NASCAR is just a sport full of dumb rednecks, right?

Yeah, I don’t know about you, but simply put, you can’t be stupid and put these race cars together. Perhaps if people made themselves more aware of what actually went into building these cars, and engines, they would hesitate before making such asinine comments.

When you’re dealing with trying to find one extra horsepower, or gain one tenth of a second in a lap, even the most minuscule edge can make a drastic difference. Stupid people aren’t the ones working with the aerodynamics of the body of the car spending hour upon hour in the wind tunnel seeking out these slight advantages, and it sure isn’t a collection of stupid people engineering these chassis to find the slightest improvements possible.

Warning, dumb rednecks at work, just throwing some junk together, right?

Another thought, in regards to these “dumb rednecks”, has anyone tried calculating your fuel mileage without the aid of a gas gauge? And when I say calculate fuel mileage I don’t mean stop and fill up every time you think you might be halfway empty, I’m talking calculating it to the very last drop of fuel without the aid of any type of gauge. Yeah, just “some dumb rednecks” at work, clearly.

Beyond that, these “dumb rednecks” sure have managed to find their way into the white collar Fortune 500 companies of the world as well. Somehow these uneducated hillbillies managed to somehow turn their little sport into the largest spectator sport in the country while raking in one of the more lucrative television deals in sports. Stupid rednecks, clearly, no business sense whatsoever either.

That of course leads me to baseball, another favorite of others to ridicule and pick at.

You get it all with baseball too. You hear that these guys aren’t athletes.

Okay, granted, there are a few on the diamond who don’t appear to be overly athletic. However, if you think hitting a baseball 400 feet is simply the matter of luck thanks to good hand and eye coordination, you try taking some 150 pound string bean to the ballpark and see how many he hits out of the yard. I don’t care if his swing is the most perfect, beautiful, technically sound swing in the history of the game, the ball isn’t leaving the yard.

Many will contend that sprinting is a more difficult, and more physically taxing exercise than distance running. Yes, distance running requires more stamina, but when it comes to physical exertion, effort, and strain, short sprints are more demanding of the body.

No, baseball players do not run a 5k out there, and no, they don’t cover 80 yards at time. But they do run, well, if they’re good enough to get on base, several short sprints over the course of a game, short sprints where they are going absolutely as fast as they physically are capable of.

No, not every situation where a runner is running the bases are they at full speed, but it isn’t like these guys simply get to walk everywhere they go. Much like people will say starting a car and driving short distances is ultimately bad on an engine, so to is starting and stopping the human body in this fashion.

And I’ll be damned if people can call quarterbacks athletes, but try to pretend that pitchers aren’t. The overhand throwing of a baseball is not a natural act. It’s a series of unnatural movements with the shoulder and elbow that causes a great deal of strain on the joints and ligaments.

Again, it goes back to that question, can the typical layperson do this? No, absolutely not. I’d like to think most people are aware that they cannot accurately throw a baseball 90 mph into a small designated target area time and time again. Nor can they make a baseball move inches, if not feet at a time at a high rate of speed while still hitting the desired target.

Let alone can they do this 90 to 125 times in one afternoon (non maximum effort warm up pitches aside), and then do it again 5 days later.

But of course, we wouldn’t want something like that to obscure their belief that baseball players aren’t athletes.

Sure, baseball is indeed largely putting to use great hand/eye coordination, there is no disputing that. But ultimately, what more is shooting a basketball, or a hockey puck, or catching a football, or striking a tennis ball than hand/eye coordination?

In order for the hand/eye coordination part of the game to work, one must first put themselves in position to make use of these skills. Last I checked, not every ball hit is hit right at someone on the baseball field, generally speaking, there involves a quick reflex, and some sort of athletic ability to put one in position to catch a batted ball. They aren’t magnetically drawn to a fielder’s glove.

We're all capable of doing this, right?

Beyond the physical side of a sport, you hear it all the time, in every sport, even the ones that apparently are “more of a sport” than others, 90% of the game is mental. So if 90% of the game is mental, then how important really is the 10% of it that’s physical when it comes to determining what is and is not a sport?

Take baseball, it’s as pressure filled and mentally demanding as any sport there is (though I would argue when it comes to the mental aspect, golf and driving a racecar are atop the list). In basketball if you fail to block out, or don’t properly set a screen, it’s likely masked by the other action on the court. If you miss a jump shot, or a free throw, it’s just simply part of the game. In football, a missed assignment usually only gets noticed by those select few with keen eyes, and/or in the meeting room the following week.

In baseball, all eyes, at all times, are on the people involved in the play at hand, and nobody else. You can’t mask a mistake in baseball. It’s the ultimate one on one battle, and the ultimate version of self-competition.

The pitcher versus hitter duel is one of the greatest things about sports. You can’t get much more direct, one on one competition than that. A refusal to see, and understand this can only be due to one simply not wanting to accept it.

As mano a mano as it gets

When a ball is hit, at this point, it’s competition with one’s self. You have to make the play. If you don’t, the whole world sees it, they see your mistake (ask Brooks Conrad how that feels). It’s about being perfect in what you do. Each play in a baseball game is about an individual doing their job to the best of their abilities, each and every opportunity, with little room for error.

Each time the onus is placed upon one individual at a time, all of it. But I wouldn’t call that pressure, not at all. There’s nothing mentally draining or taxing involved there at all, right? Again, ask Brooks Conrad. Ask Mark Wohlers.

Obviously, baseball has no business claiming itself as a sport, none whatsoever.

And soccer, well I refuse to address soccer, because anyone who can sit with a straight face and argue that soccer isn’t a sport, or is simply a sport for sissies, is someone I really no longer have much desire to converse with.

Now one can absolutely argue that either of these sports is boring. While I would vehemently disagree with that statement, it comes down to a matter of preference. I could go on and on further about why each of these sports is indeed anything but boring, but that’s not really relevant.

Then again, the question itself of what is and isn’t a sport, ultimately is irrelevant, isn’t it? In the vast majority of cases a “sport” is played or watched for the entertainment value in it. It is watched in order to provide entertainment for the viewer.

Obviously this isn’t aimed at everyone who simply doesn’t like NASCAR or baseball. Just as foolish as it is to insult others, or insinuate a lack of intelligence, or lack of taste in their choice of entertainment for enjoying one of these sports, it’s equally as foolish to demean someone for not liking them as well.

However, there is a big difference in simply not enjoying something and acting as though those that do are somehow less intelligent, or inferior in any way because they do.

Just who the hell is anyone to tell anyone else what is appropriate, or acceptable, or “good enough” forms of entertainment? We don’t all like the same music and movies, do we ? (Granted, just as there are the “sports snobs” of the world, Lord knows there are “music snobs” and “movie snobs” too, so perhaps not the best way to illustrate my point). We don’t all like the same food, or read the same magazines, or like the same clothes?

As with most things, it ultimately does indeed come down to a matter of respect, and quite frankly, too many people simply refuse to accept and respect the opinions of others. When given a chance to feel superior to another individual, one will take it, in a hurry.

When it comes to liking baseball or NASCAR, apparently that’s the green light for others to jump on their pedestal and look down upon someone.

You know what I’ll gladly let you do that. I can’t really hear you over the roar of the engines, nor will I let your ignorant rants bother me while enjoying a beautiful day outside at the ballpark.

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