The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The MLB Playoffs Home Field Advantage Debate… Proof Is In the Stats

October 11, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Does home field advantage matter in the MLB playoffs? The Rays and Rangers would argue “absolutely not.” The Giants and Braves would argue “probably not.” But I’d like to use more than anecdotal evidence to make my argument that home field advantage does not really matter in the MLB playoffs.

Sports like football and basketball appears to give the fans a significant amount of influence on the outcome. Many of us have seen occasions in a football or basketball game where noise generated by the fans in attendance directly affected play on the field or the court. In football, crowd noise can affect anything from the ability of the offense to hear the quarterback’s audible to the ability of the defense to communicate. In basketball, the crowd noise can often be quite personal due to the proximity of the fans to the court. Many players are affected by hearing all sorts of unspeakable things yelled in their ears at close proximity and high volume. If somebody was shrieking in your ear, would your thought processes – let alone your jump shot – be totally normal?

Baseball, however, doesn’t seem to be as directly influenced by crowd noise. Well beyond the anecdotal evidence of the first several MLB playoff games, baseball does not have well-defined times in the game where nearly everyone in the crowd knows, “If I cheer now it could have a direct impact on the game.”

Sure, when the opposing team is down to its last strike the fans of the home team are screaming their head off. But, in reality, what impact does that have? Does the cheering make it difficult for the home team pitcher to focus on the pitch he needs to throw to get the hitter out? Does it impact the hitter at the plate? Does it impact both the pitcher and batter to some extent? It’s difficult to tell. I’m sure it gives the home team players warm fuzzies to hear fans screaming their head off, but does it really help? I wasn’t sure, but while I was researching this article I was thinking, “Eouldn’t it be great if someone did a study on this so that I could present empirical evidence that home field advantage in baseball doesn’t matter?”

As it turns out, my prayers were answered.

I found a blog post on improvementguru.com that cited writings by Dr. Ray Stefani of California State University. Dr. Stefani’s work expressed home field advantage as a percentage arrived at by subtracting home losses from home wins and dividing that number by total games. Based on that calculation, Major League Baseball finished dead last. Basically, according to Dr. Stefani’s research, there is no sport where home field advantage matters less than Major League Baseball. I recommend a visit to improvementguru.com to read the complete post – it’s interesting.

Basically, I am not sure I can provide a more compelling argument than Dr. Stefani’s statistical analysis. I can tell you that the Twins lost their first two at home, that the Giants split their home games, that the Rays lost their two home games, and that the Rangers lost their two home games. While that may be compelling to some, it is just a snapshot of a few days of baseball. For a game in love with statistics and history, isn’t it fitting that a historical, statistical analysis shows that it doesn’t really matter where a MLB playoff game is played?

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The 2010 MLB Trade Deadline Target Debate… Getting It Dunn in October

July 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Don’t hold your breath about a very exciting MLB trade season as the deadline approaches.

Realistically, I expect 2010 to be one of the more lackluster seasons we have seen in recent history regarding trades. There are plenty of teams in the league right now who are either holding on to slim leads in their division or are within striking distance for a playoff spot. All of them could use some real help to stay in post-season contention.

The problem is that there is an absolute dearth of pitching talent on the market, putting all of the emphasis on offense (and that pool isn’t much deeper).

As far as the pitching talent that IS available, Roy Oswalt COULD make for some interesting trade conversations, but the latest reports of his very high demands may have diminished his appeal somewhat. And when you consider the fact that Cliff Lee was dealt to the Rangers two weeks ago, the depth of available pitching talent is just not what it has been in recent seasons, when guys like C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee (the FIRST time around), and Roy Halladay were sitting on the block.

As for hitters, Prince Fielder is one who could certainly make a team in need of offense happy, but the latest out of Milwaukee seems to be that he is not going anywhere this season.

That really only leaves one viable trade option, and that is Washington Nationals first baseman, Adam Dunn.

The Nationals’ slugger has already notched 23 home runs on the season, tying him for the second most in the National League. Along with those homers Dunn has also knocked in 61 runs (the tenth most in the N.L.) and has a slugging percentage of .565 (the third highest in the N.L.).

While the Nationals have publicly expressed a desire to keep Dunn on the roster, the reality is that he will command far too hefty a salary as a free agent, and I doubt an organization that is five games away from crawling out of the basement WITH him on the payroll would be willing to ante-up as much as $60M, which is reportedly Dunn’s asking price.).

The Nationals are in a classic small-market pickle, and while it may not be an ideal situation, it is the perfect formula for a big-deal trade.

The likelihood of Dunn staying on in Washington after this season is very slim, so the Nationals are going to want to get some value for the slugger, rather than just watch him walk away. There are plenty of potential suitors out there, such as the Giants, Angels, and the White Sox, who would love to see Dunn’s bat added to the lineup. All three teams have expressed an interest in upgrading at the plate, and all three currently are either preserving or chasing very narrow leads within their respective divisions, likely serving as motivation to pull the trigger in order to stay on top.

The question boils down to how much the Nats are going to hold out for before they are willing to make a deal.

Washington’s general manager, Mike Rizzo, understands the value that Adam Dunn brings to the table, and I think he also understands the fact that they currently hold the rights to one of the only viable trade targets of the season. He will do his part to make sure the price tag for Dunn remains as high as possible, but in the end Dunn should wind up as a great mid-season acquisition for a lucky team who was looking for a little post-season insurance.

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The 2009 Trade Deadline Damage Debate – The Cleveland Indians Won’t Compete For A Long Time

August 3, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments on which team did themselves the most harm at the trade deadline.



You have to love baseball. For starters, the silly season lasts forEVER. First there is the off-season where players change organizations, highlighted by the winter meetings. Then there is the entertaining search for “that last player” a team needs to dominate a season during Spring Training. Then, the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31 comes, the best time to trade a player before passing them through waivers. Then the waiver-trading deadline a month later at the end of August.

For most teams it is a chance to make the team better for the remainder of the season. For others, they are preparing to be a contender for the following season.

For the 2009 Cleveland Indians, apparently they are preparing for contention in the 2012 season – maybe.

The season started with the Indians trading for versatile and consistent slugger Mark DeRosa and signing fireballing free agent closer Kerry Wood.

High hopes, right?

A couple of injuries later the season is derailed. Designated hitter Travis Hafner’s mysterious shoulder fatigue injury, an elbow injury to center fielder Grady Sizemore, some really awful pitching out of the bullpen, and a lack of consistent and timely hitting turned this season into a wash. Despite general manager Mark Shapiro’s best efforts, the Indians were no longer competitive in 2009. Time to sell off the players necessary to restock for 2010, right?

Wrong. Shapiro has done a great deal of damage to the team’s chances at competing for the next several years. Despite his weak reassurances and high-brow “I don’t need applause right now” comments, the Indians traded away enough talent to make it obvious that not only were the Indians in no position to compete in 2010, the talent received in return puts the team even farther behind.

Let’s take a quick look at some the trading season deals from the Indians that set them back so much.

Just last week the trade between the Indians and St. Louis Cardinals was finalized where the Tribe sent Mark DeRosa over for relief pitchers Jess Todd and Chris Perez. Something about Cleveland has not agreed with Perez as his performance in Cleveland has been spotty and subpar. Todd, who has decent numbers in Triple A this season, probably will not make his major league debut until September.

Formerly solid middle reliever Rafael Betancourt was traded to Colorado for minor league pitcher Connor Graham, who is not likely to reach the majors until 2010 at the earliest (if ever).

Next is first baseman Ryan Garko, a player who is arbitration eligible at the end of the season. The Indians traded Garko to the San Francisco Giants – straight up – for a Single A pitcher, left-hander Scott Barnes. While Barnes is excellent – in Single A ball – the move does not show the aggressiveness needed to compete in 2010. It’s also a suspicious trade considering Garko knocked in 61 and 90 runs respectively in the last two seasons – all without consistent playing time. Apparently those numbers are only good enough to get a Single A prospect in return. For fans, I am sure it is hard to understand how an established major leaguer is worth the same as a Single A player… who could fall victim to any number of problems in his still developing career that prevent him from ever making his major league debut.

Then, of course, there are the big trades. For the second consecutive season the Indians traded the reigning American League Cy Young award winner, this time left-hander Cliff Lee (along with outfielder Ben Francisco) to the Philadelphia Phillies. The return on Lee (or, ROL) was no cache of major-league ready players primed to make the Indians contenders in 2010. They received pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson. Of course no one knows the names. But, that’s not why there’s an issue with this trade. Lee did not have to be traded. He was under contract for next season (at an affordable $8M… good for a Cy Young winner – in Cleveland or anywhere). His value was not at its peak. More, the prospects Cleveland received in return did not include any of the big name pitchers in the Phillies minor league system. A Cy Young winner for a group of “might bes…” not even “probably wills.”

Last, the trade of catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez yielded just Justin Masterson – a reliever the Indians are going to convert to starter – pitcher Bryan Price, and pitcher Nick Hagadone. Price and Hagadone have had good seasons, but they are also single A players. It is unlikely that those players make an impact in 2009 or 2010. Plus, Martinez is under contract next season, and he was willing to stay with the Indians. He was a clubhouse leader the Indians badly needed, and a willing one at that. Instead, the future was traded for… the farther out future?

The entirety of the trade season, and the pieces Shapiro went after, do not indicate that the Indians are close to a World Series. Rather than trading for consistent bats (the Indians primary need along with the bullpen), Shapiro targeted a lot of relievers. It’s a misdiagnosis of the issues with the team. The Indians are not in need of a couple of relief pitching pieces to get over the hump, especially without rotation anchor Lee and star of the future Martinez.

Sure, Shapiro saved the Indians $16M in payroll for next season. But, at what cost… the cost of being a respectable, competitive major league baseball team next season? The cost of the present proved too high for the Indians, and they’ll again begin grooming the stars of tomorrow – who will likely blossom with another team. Look no further than Franklin Gutierrez’s success in Seattle this year for evidence of poor decision-making on talent in Cleveland.

Claiming competitiveness many years down the road is not acceptable to fans – whether they are season ticket holders or not. It’s offensive. The organization is taking the fan’s money for granted, showing they do not have to field a competitive team every year to get the fan’s money. Safe to say, even the penny-pinching Dolan family (who own the Indians) will not be able to accept another failure in 2010. The best way for them to get to that realization is by fans refusing to shell out their cash for an inferior product. It’s time for some accountability in Cleveland!

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