FanGraphs and Sabermetrics

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Have a listen to the Mr. Fundamentals podcast, with me, Josh Wilson.

The above images may seem foreign to most of you reading this. There are enough lines, dots, squares and circles to have your head spinning, but if you want to properly understand baseball, you would do well to look into graphs and tables, such as the ones above. While baseball is often seen as a conservative sport, less likely to welcome change, the sabermetic movement showed up on baseball’s doorstep, and it is here to stay. The game is no longer just about runs, home runs, runs batted in, pitcher wins, saves, etc. As other sports look more into statistical analysis and sabermetrics, baseball is already fighting its first battle with the old, curmudgeons who are anti-sabermetrics.

In more recent years, more and more MLB teams have gravitated towards using statistical analysis and sabermetrics to analyze player performance instead of using the stats on the backs of baseball cards, and the infamous “eye test.” While the eye test is certainly still very useful in the game today,  it has its time and place where is should be used, and others where it needs to tucked away. The eye can only take in and the brain can only store so much data. With graphs, data tables, and other useful tools, sabermetric databases can be used to help make the game better, the players better, and everyone smarter.

We’ve seen several examples of the usefulness of sabermetrics in the game so far. Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, is a perfect example of how teams can benefit from the use of these advanced statistics. Sabermetics throws out  all bias, levels the playing field, and allows one to take a deeper look into a player or team’s strengths and weaknesses. They allow teams to make wiser investments in players, after all, baseball is a business. We’ve seen several teams embrace the sabermetric revolution with open arms, including the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have Bill James, who is widely considered “The Father of Sabermetrics” in their front office. The game doesn’t change too fast, but our understanding of it does, so don’t be left in the dust.

 

For more information on sabermetrics, explore FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, SABR, and many more books and websites that use statistical analysis.

NCAA Championship Game Preview

After an exciting Saturday night of Final Four Basketball, Championship Monday is finally here. 68 teams began this tournament with a chance to win, and entering Monday, we are down to two teams. The #7 seeded Uconn Huskies will face the #8 Kentucky Wildcats in Arlington, Texas at the AT&T Center Monday night 9:10 ET. Both teams took exciting paths to make it here. The Wildcats capped off their impressive run with a huge Aaron Harrison three-pointer, which gave Kentucky a 74-73 lead over Wisconsin with just 5.7 seconds left. Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson gave the Badgers one last chance with a jumper from three feet inside the three-point line, but his shot rimmed out, and the Wildcats advance to Final Four.

Kentucky’s margin of victory across five tournament games is 18 points, the lowest total of any team, since the tournament’s expansion, to make it to the finals. The Wildcats will meet a Huskies team that has looked better and better as the tournament has gone along. DeAndre Daniels has been a key cog in the Huskies run, as he is averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds during their five wins during this postseason. The Huskies, unlike the Wildcats, rely on most of their play coming from their upperclassmen Daniels, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, and Lasan Kromah. Kentucky was the preseason number one, and a heavy favorite entering the season, but with an up-and-down season, they fell outside of the top 25 entering the tournament. The Huskies were ranked 18 in the preseason, and ended up back at 18 entering the tournament. Both teams will now look to make it up to number one on Monday night.

To hear my prediction, checkout my podcast as I breakdown the NCAA Championship game between Uconn and Kentucky.

American League East Preview

Here is my latest podcast. Matt Radowitz joins me as we preview the American League East.

NBA 2K14 With Rob and Josh

In this series of pictures, we see Rob and Josh playing NBA 2K14 on PS3. Rob plays as his favorite team, the Los Angeles Clippers, while Josh plays as his favorite team, the New Orleans Pelicans. No game on 2K goes without laughs when it comes to Rob and Josh. Here we have Rob getting […]

Slurs in Sports: The NFL Trying to Rid of the N-Word

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On July 31, 2013, a video surfaced of Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver Riley Cooper, a white man, shouting “I will fight every N***** here,” while at a Kenny Chesney concert. This event took place as football training camps were starting up, with Cooper’s words creating a divided locker room of those who were willing to forgive him, and those who weren’t. This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in the NFL’s eyes. The use of the N-word has long been taboo, especially amongst people who aren’t black. Following reports from this past week that say the NFL has proposed flagging a player with a 15-yard penalty for the use of the N-word on the playing field, there has been some backlash amongst athletes.

It’s hard for me to speak on the use of the word in the locker room, especially with the fact that I’m not around an NFL locker room much. However, I can tell you that the word has been used as a term of endearment on teams that I have played on, and I know it exists as a term of endearment amongst black, college and professional athletes. The word is certainly still used as an ethnic slur towards black people, however, many black people do use it without any intention to offend anyone, only as a way to address someone as a friend or acquaintance. But many people would like to rid of the term because of its historical meaning and negative connotations.

Hall of Fame linebacker, Harry Carson, perhaps put it best when asked about the use of the N-word as a term of endearment, saying, “I find it very disheartening that in our society today we’re having a debate about the n-words being used as a term of endearment. If that’s a term of endearment, go up to your grandfather, or an elderly black person, and use it on them. See how they react. For those who use it, I say they have no sense of history.”

I’m not here to focus solely on the usage of specifically the N-word in society, and sports, but other slurs that are used as well. While I applaud the NFL for trying to clean up the language on and off the field, this change will be very hard to enforce. While the NFL is working towards eliminating this hate speech towards black players, the league still has a team that uses a derogatory nickname for Native Americans. The NFL still hasn’t focused its efforts on what is one of the league’s most glaring issues. Not only is the NFL neglecting to recognize the issues that the Native American community has with the league, but they also are not doing their best to address issues with the LGBTQ community.

In the NBA, we’ve seen players get fined for using the term “f*ggot” during games, but the NFL has yet to address this issue. Now, unlike in the NBA, the players are much further away from mics, cameras, and fans, which means we’re hearing and seeing less, but the term is certainly used throughout the league. If the NFL wishes to stop the use of the N-word, then they can change Washington’s nickname, penalize the use of all derogatory terms and do their best to eliminate all hate speech, whether it is used endearingly or not.

An Early Look at March Madness

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With March just around the corner, the sports world is gearing up for one of the most exciting times of the year: March Madness. While the remainder of the regular season and conference tournaments still have yet to play out, it’s time to take an early look at what teams look poised for a deep run in the tournament, what teams may make an early exit, and what teams may surprise people. We’ll start with those who are ready to make a deep run in this year’s tournament.

The Favorites

Florida Gators
The Gators have rattled of 19 straight wins on their way to a 25-2 record. Led by seniors Casey Prather, Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, and Will Yeguette, the Gators are one of the older teams at the top of college basketball right now. Not only are they a more experienced team, but the Gators play nine guys 10 or more minutes per game. When March rolls around, it’s good to have some experience and depth, and the Gators have both of these.

Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers are the lone remaining undefeated team in Divison I basketball. Last year, Wichita State made a surprise run to the Final Four before being defeated by the Louisville Cardinals, who went on to win the national championship. The Shockers are led by senior forward Cleanthony Early, whose 15.8 points and 6 rebounds per game lead the Shockers. Alongside Early are guards Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton, whose breakout performances in last years tournament have carried over to this season. Like the Gators, Wichita State has nine guys playing at least 10 minutes a game, and their experience in March last year should help them make another run this season.

Duke Blue Devils
After dominating early on in the season, Duke began to struggle once ACC play started up. This was due, in large part, to the struggles of freshmen phenom Jabari Parker. In Duke’s last 10 games, however, they have gone 8-2, with Parker averaging 19.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Not only has Parker stepped up his play, but Duke’s team defense has been much better than it was earlier in the season, with players such as Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Tyler Thornton stepping up their games in recent weeks. With Parker, sophomore Rodney Hood, and a great supporting cast, Duke is ready to go deep into the tournament this year.

Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks have had the toughest schedule so far this season, so unlike Wichita State, this team is battle tested. With two of the best standout freshmen, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are one of the most talented teams in the NCAA. The Jayhawks have what many teams do not: front court depth. With Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black, and Jamari Traylor, Kansas doesn’t have to worry as much about their bigs getting into foul trouble. Of course, when the tournament comes, it helps to be able to score, and that is no problem for Kansas, whose 50.3% shooting from the field is second best in the nation. Look for Wiggins and Embiid to step up their game once March rolls around.

Michigan State Spartans
After being bounced in the Sweet Sixteen the past two years, the Spartans will look to make it much deeper into the tournament this year. Led by seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, as well as sophmore phenom Gary Harris, the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country at doing it all. They score, rebound, and defend better than most teams, but will need a healthy Branden Dawson if they hope to make a championship run. Dawson broke his hand in late January, but is expected to return soon. With Dawson healthy, and Payne, Appling, and Harris clicking, Tom Izzo’s squad should have to problems playing deep into March.

The NCAA Is At It Again

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As if we weren’t already tired enough of laughable penalties being handed out by the NCAA, they added another penalty to the list after they made three Oklahoma University football players were forced to pay $3.83 after eating too much pasta at a Sooners athletics banquet. Apparently the players ate more than their share of pasta, and were forced to make the payment. Fortunately, the NCAA wasn’t too exceedingly greedy where they asked for the $11.49 to be paid to the NCAA, but instead they had to pay this penalty to a charity.
This is just one of the several cases of stupid penalties that have been handed down by the NCAA. This once again harps on the question of benefits for student athletes, and how poorly student athletes are compensated. Whenever I hear people argue that a “free” education is a good enough compensation for student athletes, I can’t help but laugh. Many student athletes could get a free education or at least discounted education based on scholarly work alone. For all of the hours that athletes spend practicing, they are far from fairly compensated. They don’t have the time to work, so they have no income. Unlike other students who can play music, paint, work in labs, etc, athletes can’t use their skills to make money while they are in college.
I don’t know that there is a perfect system where all athletes can be fairly compensated, because like any other business (yes, college and college athletics are businesses), some people are worth more than others. I’m not saying college athletes need to be paid on a large scale the way professional athletes do, but certainly the NCAA could afford to share the wealth that they have accumulated of the years. I’m not putting it on the schools to pay their athletes because it has become common knowledge that many schools lose money from their sports teams. However, I do think it should be the NCAA’s responsibility to pay athletes considering all of the money that they make off of athletes. Is there going to be a perfect system? No. But I have no doubt that there can be a functional system with the NCAA paying the athletes at least a little bit, and drastically loosening up on some of these silly rules, that lead to athletes having to pay $3.83 for having too much pasta at an athletic banquet, or a women having to pay $20 for washing her car on campus. Come on, NCAA.

Michael Sam in the NFL

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Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? It should come as no surprise to people that we are still dealing with forms of discrimination in our daily lives. Of course, then, it should come as no surprise that we still see discrimination in sports. Racism and sexism have long been a problem in sports, but those problems have been faced head on with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, and Billie Jean King’s victory in the Battle of the Sexes. Now it’s time for the issue of discrimination against sexual orientation in sports to be faced head on. Michael Sam, an NFL Draft prospect and SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri, is certainly not the first gay professional athlete, and definitely not the first in the NFL. He is, however, the first openly gay active athlete in a major sport. He will be subject to the similar taunts and discrimination that athlete’s like Robinson and King faced when they were changing sports, and that athletes still face today, but he will find that his supporters far outnumber his adversaries.
There’s an idea that Michael Sam somehow isn’t man enough to play in the NFL. Dallas reporter Dale Hansen did a great job of putting that foolish idea on the back burner for the bigots who actually believed that this was true. But what makes a man isn’t his sexual orientation, it’s his character. Sam has the guts to do what the NFL’s culture has made it hard to do, which is be himself. Him being gay shouldn’t mean anything to his teammates, opponents, fans, the organization he plays for, what matters is your production on the field, and the person you are off of it. Michael Sam has shown nothing that would say he isn’t capable of being productive on the field, or an exemplary person on the sidelines.
As I mentioned before, there have been several gay athletes in sports, including the NFL, for a long time. Some haven’t even come out, while others have after they have retired. A gay man is nothing new to an NFL locker room. So when I hear someone like former New Orleans Saints linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, say “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?” (via Huffington Post) I respond by saying you would respond the same way you would to seeing a straight man. Just because a man is gay, doesn’t mean you are desirable to him, the same way that a straight man isn’t desirable to all straight women. We’ve all been in a locker room before, they are filled with naked men and women respectively. You are bound to look around and see someone naked, that doesn’t mean you are checking them out. Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? It doesn’t matter if the league is ready, because it’s happening. The second Michael Sam goes out on the field and makes a big play, he’ll just be one of the guys. Michael Sam has shown, throughout his life, the same toughness that Jackie Robinson exhibited when he was tearing down the color barrier. If we wait for the league to be ready, we are doing a disservice to the gay athletes who have already been oppressed for some time. I have no doubts that Michael Sam can fit into an NFL locker room, and hopefully help to improve its culture.

More Than Just Box Scores

This blog will serve as more than just a look at box scores. It will go far beyond the idea that sports are just games. I will discuss how sports play a large role in society, as well as take an in-depth look at the social and political aspect of sports. Acting as a mirror for society, sports often bring out the best and worst of people. To understand the way we as fans react to sports, it is important to be able to understand how we as humans react to different societal issues such as race, gender, religion, sexuality, and other social constructs. It is crucial to understand how the rules that govern our society outside of the lines of the playing field affect the games being played inside of them. I will discuss how the way we see the world affects the way we see our sports. But most importantly, I will continually provide evidence that show that there is much more to sports than wins and losses or numbers and records.

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