Friday, November 19, 2004

the Nationals

Ugh. Note how they blamed Pittsburgh for the decision not to honor the Grays. Weak.

Off to feast

I'm leaving now for Rowdietta's toddler-room Thanksgiving feast. I don't know when we'd hear news of any roster moves today even if they are to happen today, but I'd check the Pirates' home page and the ESPN news wire. The wire should contain some other fun news such as the trade of Jose Guillen to the Expos Grays.

... P.S. If you're the first to know, do us a favor and drop the news and/or a link in the comments.

Brian Graham on the AFL Pirates

Ed Eagle reports that the Pirates were pleased with their men in the AFL.

You have to think they plan to make room for the guys here who need protecting. Last year, when the Pirates sent players to the AFL and they went unprotected and were taken in the Rule V draft, at least one Pittsburgh columnist accused them of "showcasing" that talent so they could make $50,000 per prospect lost. It would be pretty self-destructive to find the front office repeating this process two years in a row.

One of the week's best games

ESPN's John Clayton tags the Steelers-Bengals game as one of the week's best.

Ever since the week 3 game at Miami on Sunday night, the Steelers have been playing in one of each week's most important or interesting games. This is the advantage of a demanding schedule: teams don't let up when they are so obviously in the spotlight. Freaky upsets are more common in the shitty games than they are in the marquee matchups. The fact that the Steelers and Bengals would be playing in one of the better games was a factor in my decision to best-bet them this weekend. I'd be more worried if the Steelers were flying to Oakland to play a game that would be overshadowed by others also taking place at that hour.

NFL pundits pay too much attention to strength of schedule going forward. If team A only plays in two tough, obviously-marquee games, and team B has five gems on the schedule, I'm not so sure team A has that great an advantage. Team A may be more likely to win more of the remaining games, but team B may be ready to whoop it up on team A when they meet in the playoffs.

Time to protect guys

Today or maybe tomorrow, the Bucs have to make a bunch of roster moves to protect some of their best minor-league talent from the Rule V draft.

As Clay points out in the comments, Joe Rutter is on the story. Rutter writes:

Littlefield not only must decide which players to add to the roster, but which to subtract. Although he currently has three roster vacancies, Littlefield has at least seven minor-league prospects vying for inclusion on the 40-man. They are first baseman Brad Eldred, outfielders Chris Duffy, Nate McLouth and Rajai Davis, and pitchers Matt Peterson, Leo Nunez and Jeff Miller.

If those prospects aren't protected, they could be lost in the Rule 5 draft next month.

I'd say the situation is a little different. If they aren't protected, it's not that they could be lost but that they will be lost. Hour one of any team's preparation for the Rule V draft - after last year - is scouring the Pirates' farm system. Hour two is deciding what the hell, even if there's little chance we'll be able to keep a player on the 25-man roster all year, let's go ahead and select him anyway. Hour three is coming up with plans to trade these guys back to the Pirates, Jose Bautista-style.

I'm not one of those whiny fatalists - like Kris Benson - who think the Pirates can't compete on a limited budget. The thing is, though, that small-budget teams must pursue different strategies than big-market teams. And lately, the big-market team strategy involves collecting and/or manufacturing "prospects" that can be traded to small-market teams for big-salary players. If the Yankees had the Pirates' minor-league depth, they'd trade it in two weeks to acquire Randy Johnson and other players who cannot be traded without a sufficiently face-saving number of "prospects." It may very well be the case that unproven prospects like Rajai Davis would have more trade value for teams like the Yankees than possibly-more-promising guys like J.J. Davis, who have already been given a bite at the apple. I think we've reached a point where untested Rule V nabs may be more valuable to some teams than "proven failures" nabbed off waivers. I just can't believe that all the league wants J.J. Davis and Carlos Rivera as much as they want younger, less proven dudes that can be thrown into a deal to a small-market club.

I don't know the exact reasoning and calculus that determines if, say, J.J. Davis is more valuable to the 2005 and 2006 Pirates than Leo Nunez. I'm not going to embarrass myself by presuming to know more about the minor-league guys than the front office. Few fans are so knowledgeable that they can honestly put themselves in the position of making demands - the Pirates must protect so-n-so, the Pirates must release so-n-so, etc.

On the other hand, I do think we can safely guess that the rest of the league will feast upon whatever Littlefield leaves unprotected. Not protecting some of these guys is tantamount to cutting them. There can be no more surprise, feigned or otherwise, when the Red Sox claim one of our scrubby minor-league relief pitchers.

And for the record, I am rooting for those seven players Joe Rutter identifies. Part of being a Pirate fan these days is casting longing looks at the minor-league teams and indulging in mid-day reveries of these youngsters coming up and doing better than J.J. Davis, Tony Alvarez, and Carlos Rivera. We have a lot of hope tied up in those names and a lot of frustration tied up in the J.J. Davis crew.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Chris and Damon Liss, now using the Force

Regular readers know I'm a huge fan of Rotowire, which I plug now and again without incentive or even knowing any of the people involved with that site. During the football season, one of the weekly delights, for me at least, is Chris and Damon Liss's Beating the Book, a weekly feature where they roll out picks against the spread and then attempt to justify them.

Several years ago - I think it was 1999 - the Liss brothers were tremendously good at making the picks. They've struggled over the last few years, however, and last week returned them to .500 on the season and brought forth this week's manifesto.

One of the more amusing aspects of the weekly feature is how Chris and Damon regularly go over the previous week's selections and address each case where they were wrong, breaking the wrong guesses down into categories such as we-should-have-known-better, who-could-have-seen-that-coming, and that-will-never-happen-again. This is an exercise I don't recommend. It's one thing to go over where you went wrong, but it's another to assume that the final score was the only possible or probable final score. Just because a pick made you look stupid, that doesn't mean you are stupid. You have to expect to be wrong. And furhter, it's fun to look stupid once you embrace the accidental or random nature of looking stupid.

I wish I could link or copy the whole Liss brother pick 'em manifesto, but since they charge for access, I won't do that. Go read it (at the above link) if you have a subscription. Here's the thesis of this week's dissertation against the use of spreadsheets and formulas:

Picking games should be a spiritual pursuit, one where you have to master the limiting forces within yourself and connect with the purity of observation-derived insight.

God, I love that. They arrive at this after many paragraphs inveighing against the wisdom to be found in the usual offensive and defensive statistics.

The best person I've ever known at picking games against the spread is Dr. Bones, who usually claims to make all his picks in something under five minutes. For the most part, I believe he's telling the truth.

I've long thought that NFL statistics are mainly meaningless outside the context of wins and losses. I'll post long studies of Bucco hitters and pitchers using advanced metrics and what-not but you'll never catch me talking about the predictive meaning of things like Yards Per Passing Attempt. The statistics are useful as descriptions of what happened (e.g., Duce ran for 100 yards in four straight games) but useless as predictors of what will happen.

This is one of the reasons I fairly despise fantasy football. All that matters in football is the end result. The fact of winning or losing overshadows all other facts. In baseball, an individual's numeric performance says a lot about his contribution to the team's winning and losing. There's much more correlation between individual numbers and winning and losing. A quarterback can throw for 350 yards and lose. This often happens. Not too many baseball teams lose, however, when their leftfielder has six or eight RBIs. Fantasy baseball improves a regular fan's appreciation of the game; fantasy football, I think, only perverts it.

Good luck, Liss brothers, mastering the limiting forces within yourself. My one piece of advice would be to accept the real possibility that your wisest picks won't pan out. A corollary of this is not to take credit or adjust your opinion of yourself when things are going well. And oh yeah, I think it's a good idea to stop paying attention to things like how a team's rushing defense ranks or what kind of turnover differential they are currently running. You can avoid getting murdered by playing Pure Hunches provided you adopt the right attitude toward the various events that create or cause some teams to have greater Hunch appeal than others.

DL answers questions

Over at, Ed Eagle has posted another Q & A with the Pirates GM. He talks up some of the prospects we expect to see him protect tomorrow from the Rule V draft.

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: week 11

det 07.5 MIN ..det ..det ..det
den -4.5 NWO ..NWO ..NWO ..NWO
snf 07.5 TAB ..TAB ..TAB ..TAB
arz 02.5 CAR ..arz ..arz .CAR*
ten 02.5 JAX .JAX* ..JAX ..JAX
dal 07.5 BAL .BAL* .BAL* .BAL*
stl -1.5 BUF .BUF* ..BUF ..BUF
ind -7.5 CHI .CHI* .ind* .CHI*
pit -4.5 CIN ..pit .pit* .pit*
nyj -0.5 CLE ..nyj ..nyj ..CLE
snd -3.5 OAK ..OAK ..snd ..snd
mia 09.5 SEA ..SEA ..mia ..SEA
atl -2.5 NYG .atl* ..NYG ..NYG
was 10.5 PHL ..PHL ..PHL ..PHL
gnb -2.5 HOU .gnb* .gnb* ..HOU
nwe -2.5 KSC .nwe* .nwe* ..nwe

Asterisks indicate best bets.

Season to date:
Bones 79-65 .549
Scoop 78-66 .542
Rowdy 75-69 .521

Best bets:
Bones 25-20 .556
Rowdy 30-24 .556
Scoop 13-13 .500


Scoop: Kip sees lots of bargains this week. [Ed. note: The name of Scoop's football-picking horse is Kip Smells.]

Dr. Bones: I had to prognosticate all quick-like this week, as four-day weekend trip up the river looms. I saw firsthand many of the pistol-whippings Carson Palmer used to drop on the PAC-10 back in the day, so he's earned my respect as a true gamer. But while Cincy's a tougher opponent than the sorry Browns, they're still not good and Pit should cover easy. Cincy can't stop the run while we can, so look for another line-of-scrimmage and time-of-possession domination by the good guys. Steelers 31, Bengals 17.

Rowdy: I'm going back to Carolina at home. This is their fifth attempt to win their first home game. Every NFL must win some at home, so I'm guessing Rodney Peete and Nick Goings take care of the upstart Arizona team. The Bears have something going on. With no disrespect to the great Dwight Freeney, I'd say the Colts aren't so good on defense. They also appear to be running a dome offense. This team doesn't deserve to be touchdown-plus favorites at Soldier Field. That's nutty. I may be overreacting to what I saw on Monday Night, but I guess the Ravens will have no problem crushing Dallas' puny offense as they watch the scoreboard reporting the fact that the Steelers are taking care of business in Cincinnati.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Troy AFC Defensive Player of the Week

Add this to what is turning into a great sophomore season. What an improvement from the guy who looked so lost and tentative last year. A career that seemed to be slouching toward Bustville has taken off. Definitely an example of the game "slowing down" for a player. Way to go Troy. Pro Bowl is not out of the question.

That's four out of the past five weeks a Steeler has been a POW.

new Paul Meyer Q & A

Gather round. I was especially amused by the rant from Terry Mattee of Boise, Idaho.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Butler group make 2006 MLB schedule

Maybe we can work the refs and get these good people to take extra special care of the Pirates.

As for our wish list, let's see ... where to begin. Day games in April; April road trips to Arizona and San Diego, where they play day games; no road trips to Enron at all - the Astros can play all their division games with us at PNC Park; all Pirate opponents play six games in Colorado before coming to PNC.

What else should we ask for?

P.S. I found the link at Primer.

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: week 10 results

Scoop will be extra generous with the sugar cubes if he wants to get back into the good graces of the talking horses who help him in the pick 'em game. He had a rough week, going 4-10 overall with an 0 for 1 in the best bet department. Rowdy made a move with a 9-5 overall and 3-1 best bet performance. Bones now leads after a 6-8 overall, 3-2 best bet weekend. The totals now read Bones 79-65, Scoop 78-66, Rowdy 75-69, and Bones 25-20, Rowdy 30-24, Scoop 13-13.

Looking ahead, I see that week eleven looks like the first round in some mega-playoff tournament. Only one game features two teams with records better than .500: 7-2 Atlanta will play in 5-4 New York, where the Giants, evidently suffering from Big Ben envy, look for their own lightning-in-a-bottle from Eli Manning. Good luck with that, Tom Coughlin. Elsewhere, the better teams in the league are playing lower seeds. The 8-1 Steelers go to Cincinnati to play the 4-5 Bengals. The 8-1 Eagles host the 3-6 Redskins. The 8-1 Patriots travel to Arrowhead to face the 3-6 Chiefs. It's a whole day of such games, and there aren't many division matchups so many of them have a weird novelty. San Francisco at Tampa Bay. Miami at Seattle. Arizona at Carolina. Should be fun. Maybe. Or maybe not. We'll see.

The Bengals will challenge the Steelers, who were not challenged last week by the truly weak Cleveland team. Pittsburgh at Cincinnati may be one of the best-played games of the weekend, too, as both teams are executing and riding win streaks.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ed Eagle mailbag

Ed Eagle guesses that the Bucs will sign an Omar Daal or two from the free agent buffet. That's also my guess, perhaps because I read a lot of Ed Eagle's writing.

He also predicts the Bucs remove Noonie and Paulino and Davis, if they can trade him, to make 40-man roster room. He gives the deadline for these moves as November 20. I thought it was November 19, but that's just from memory, and I know better than to put too much stock in my memory.

All eyes will turn to David Littlefield to see how he negotiates the 40-man roster thing as the rosters lock down before the Rule 5 draft. I've always assumed he'll do fine and show he can learn from his mistakes. At the very least, if he lets a guy like Eldred go, I expect we'll get some kind of good explanation from him. Public relations is not the GM's job but the fans can fairly expect the GM to explain his decisions when they create an outcry. It's probably good for the Bucs for Littlefield to play his hand close to his chest, and it may even be good for the team to promote the idea that he's a moron, at least among other GMs, who may get overconfident in trade negotiations. But such an "edge" could look pretty negligible if the GM's "erratic" behavior enrages the fans and thus discourages advance ticket sales. I don't envy Littlefield his job, that's for sure.

Blitzburgh versus the spread formation

PFW also also reports that LeBeau's blitz schemes have done a lot to relieve the pressure on the Steelers' secondary.

That, I'd say, and recently owning a 2-1 time of possession advantage.

Running it up

Jeff Reynolds of Pro Football Weekly looks at the Colts game and faults Manning for running it up. I'm of two minds on this. For one, as a fan, I'd always rather win by twenty than by two. I'm not a sports fan because I'm addicted to adrenaline or have some need for cliff-hanging escape sensations. If my team can win big, I think they should.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that Manning is not playing Steeler football. A big win should be reflected in the time of possession as much as it's reflected in the scoreboard.

I've always regarded Manning as someone who cares too much about his fantasy stats. He gets a free pass on the character issues because he's such a motivational-speechifyin' huckster in the offseason. But that's just me. And I don't pay much attention to the Colts so take all that with the usual grain of salt.

The end of Redbird Nation

Brian Gunn has hung 'em up and retired Redbird Nation.

So long, Brian.

Mesa vs. Vizquel

Should be fun, in a William Green-Joey Porter kind of way, next April 29.

(Background here.)

Steeler JV wins in Cleveland

That is the accurate-enough theme of Ed Bouchette's report.

Butch Davis is toast. The Browns could lose out, or at least that's the impression I get from the great modern historian of the Brownies, Terry Pluto. Jeff Garcia doesn't sound happy, either.

Boller was decent in the Raisins' comeback win in New York. Both those teams are among the eight competing for a playoff spot in the AFC.

The Bengals dominated Washington in a game the Redskins should have won. If you can't win the non-division home games against non-playoff-caliber teams, well, then you can't win much at all. The Bengals now have my attention and not because they wear a new funny uniform each week. (On Sunday I expect them to come out with full Bengal-print bodysuits.) Winning leads to winning and the Cincinnati team has won two in a row.

In other AFC news, what has happened to the Titans? In my mind, I've always grouped Cowher, Wannstadt, and Fisher together. I expected more from Fisher's team this year. Wannstadt's current employment situation has me wondering if Fisher is also near the end of his tenure. We all know that before this season people were starting to question Cowher's future.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Steelers at Browns

The Joey Porter for William Green trade is not a good one for our guys.

Use this thread for comments on the game.

strange Steelers dream

Last night I dreamt that Max Starks lined up in the backfield, slipped a blitzer, caught a screen pass and rumbled downfield, juking left and right, for a three-yard gain.