Saturday, January 14, 2006

All hail Reggie Rivers

Rivers, who played a little running back in the 90s and now writes novels about the mob fixing NFL games, is writing stuff about tomorrow's game that we want to read. Being too good in the regular season had the 15-1 Steelers a little tight in the 2005 playoffs. Hmmm. Here's hoping Rivers is right.

Rag Smash

Sounds like the name of a drink. I like how Ed Eagle calls Tracy's brainchild "sadistic." Wilbur, explain how that's advertising & not journalism.

This Jim Tracy is a piece of work.

"The environment was very loose, which is what I like to see, and yet within the framework of that looseness was a very businesslike approach."

It's quite a change from Joe Liggins. Pretty much all he did was cuss, right?

Capping the Steelers-Colts game, part 2

One thing going for the Steelers tomorrow is the fact that this is their second straight road game. Recently, all visitors, regardless of the spread, have won about 42% of all games. If you break that down into teams that are coming off a home game and teams that are coming off a road game, the team that has just hit the road wins about 41% and the team playing the second consecutive road game wins about 45% of all games.

Before you read on, keep in mind that all of this is alchemy and for entertainment purposes only. I don't wager real money on NFL games, mainly because you must win 60% or more to break even under the current tax laws.

In games where the home team is favored by three or more points, those numbers fall considerably for the visitor. Here the visitor wins about 27% of the time, with the visitor coming off a road game winning 31%.

Also favoring the Steelers here is the fact that visitors coming off a convincing win (SU and ATS) do better than visitors who only won, only covered, or lost miserably the previous week. To a lesser extent than baseball, football is a game of streaks. You can do OK by simply riding the hottest teams.

In games like tomorrow's case, with the visiting team coming off a road game in which they won SU and ATS, since 2002, the visitors won 13 of 38 games in which the home team was heavily favored. That's 34%, which is a robust winning chance for a heavy-underdog visitor.

So there are factors here that make me like the Steelers a lot ATS. (Visitors covered 25 of 38 in that same sample, or 66% of the time.) They are on the road again. And they just won convincingly, and thus can be fairly judged as on the rise. And I like the under, as I explained in the previous post.

I know the Steelers lost by 19 points in their last game, when their offensive line, quarterback, and running game were not close to full strength. The current line of about ten points measures public opinion more than it measures a scientific difference between the teams. In the Sagarin ratings, for example, the Steelers trail the Colts by three points overall and by only one point in "PREDICTOR," his best measure for forecasting games. Given the state of the Steelers the last time they played, and their improved health now, I'd say a more rational line would be in the four to six point range, which includes three points for home-field advantage.

I like the under and for sure I like the Steelers to cover that spread. Will they win the game outright? That's all that matters. I guess their chances to win straight up are better than most believe. I bet the number is 34% or more. Maybe 40%. As a Steeler fan, I've been on the wrong side of this kind of playoff game too often. It's not easy dominating all season long, then playing a home playoff game as a heavy favorite against an experienced and long-winning team. The Colts will have a struggle.

My gut says the game will play something like the Steelers-Patriots playoff game last year. The Steelers pounded the Patriots in the regular season, and then they got pounded in the playoffs. As the Sports Pickle reminds us in that satire (previous post), the Colts do not have a lot of positive playoff experience.

That said, it's more likely that a bunch of false start penalties and a porous third-down defense will give the game away. It's hard to see how the Steelers should be favored to win outright.

But the Steelers have more than a fair shot to shock the world and win this thing.

I'll go out on a limb and offer a prediction in which the Steelers win. Should they win, I see something like a 24-16 nailbiter in which they get a lead, sit on it, dominate the time of possession in the second half, and turn back a last-minute no-huddle drive for the tie.

Colts to start Tee Martin

There goes our chances to win this thing.

Colts have Steelers playbook

Gerry Dulac explains.

Walter Young DFA'd

Young is the ginormous guy the Pirates released a few years ago. Baltimore cut him to make room for Kevin Millar.

Craig Wilson signs

He'll make about 3.3 million, which is on the low side of what has been discussed as a probable arbitration number. Not that anyone knew what they were talking about when the $4M number was thrown about.

Pirates Minicamp

DK has been bringing mostly good news from Pirates mini-camp. On Thursday, he reported that Burnett and JVB are both throwing and looking good.

"I'm like a kid in a candy store," Van Benschoten said, smiling. "It's like a whole new beginning, a new arm, new everything."
Burnett's a little further ahead in his surgery recovery and conceivably could make the rotation this spring.

Yesterday, DK had the Kip Wells angle. Colborn is working on instilling mechanical consistency and mental positivity into Erratic Kip.

"I can tell you Jim Colborn has had success in getting results out of pitchers with a lot less talent than Kip Wells," Tracy said.
Tracy speaks the truth, as Colborn somehow got a 1.25 WHIP out of Jose Lima, who BTW, claimed that he's had negotiations with the Bucs.

More good news comes today, with Jose Castillo reporting fully recovered. Plus Ollie's "whistling fastball after fastball in free and easy fashion." However, Colborn "cast a more critical eye" and busted Ollie's chops over the mechanics.

"The more experience Oliver gets, the more he'll know when to get funky and when to go with his standard stuff," Colborn said. "If he wants to do a Luis Tiant twist, go sidearm, whatever, that's fine by me. I don't have a problem with how Oliver Perez pitches. It's entertaining to me. And you don't want to get in the way of a guy's style. But my job is to help him understand what's strong and what's weak about what he's doing."
If Kip and Ollie rebound, and Duke and Maholm continue to excel, the Bucs could break .500 this year, even with all the new gimpy vets.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Steelers reading

Ryan collects stuff for you. Scroll down below the shameless plugs and sci-fi geek out. (What is it with bloggers and sci-fi? I haven't geeked out on science fiction since I read Gibson's "Neuromancer" in Analog magazine in like 1984. Maybe I am missing something.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

OPS primer

You don't have to be shackled to a cubicle or worship the Boston book learning to appreciate the merits of OPS. Dan Fox for the Hardball Times offers this introduction to the stat & why it's useful.

The problem with OPS is that it overstates the value of low-OBP, high-SLG hitters. And it underestimates the value of high-OBP, low-SLG hitters. A player who hits .330 with a .390 OBP and a .460 SLG is more productive than a guy who gets his 850 OPS by hitting .260 with a .320 OBP and a .530 SLG. For that reason, BRA (mentioned in the article) is a better measure of overall run-making value.

The problem with BRA is you can't talk about it or calculate it in your head. There, .190 or .200 is the line between OK and really good. That will never make sense as a TV graphic. OPS does, and we'll continue to see it spreading through the mainstream.

See the Ballgame with Google Earth

Zoom in on PNC Park and you see a game in progress. Looks like the late innings of a Pirates day game and, from the size of the crowd, I'd guess the Pirates are getting clobbered. There's a man on first and a right-handed hitter at the plate.

Heinz Field looks worn and still shows the paint from a Pitt game.

Google Earth is finally available for Macs, which is why I'm just now using it. Go get it. I don't have the link handy, but I'm sure you could, uh, google it.

...Looking at the other stadiums, I find people in Citizens' Bank in Philadelphia. Looks like four or five guys standing around home plate. Game also in progress in Yankee Stadium. Curiously, Petco is not even built yet in Google's satellite photo.

Sure sign of spring

You know the baseball season is close when the Bradenton paper starts reporting on the Pirates.

Cincinnati hearts Sean Casey


If the Pirates keep him healthy and do not play him while hurt, as the Reds obviously did, they should get good performance from Casey at the plate. We'd rather see 450 quality plate appearances than 600 mediocre-to-poor ones. And if Casey can perform as well at the plate as a first baseman must, then of course the Pirates should sign him for 2007 and beyond.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Capping the Steelers-Colts game, part 1

The over/under is 47. In the average game, the teams combine for about 40-42 points. This big spread, medium-to-high over/under is typical for Colts home games this season. Unlike the Dome Rams of a few years ago, the Dome Colts have not had consistently enormous over/unders out of respect for their defense. They have not been predicted to win shootouts but to win blowouts.

In 2005, the Colts hosted four bad teams. The schlubs were Cleveland (the line was visitor +13.5, over/under 46.5), St. Louis (+13.5, 46.5), Houston (+17.5, 44.5), and Tennessee (+15.5, 50.5). (I am throwing out week 17.) We don't see many games with medium totals (44.5) and huge spreads (17.5) since they forecast scores like 31-13. That's a ballsy prediction. Anyone bettor who believes in parity or even the "any given Sunday" proverb should be all over those unlikely predictions. The Colts went 4-0 against those lousy teams, covered 2 of 4, and went over 2 of 4.

But so what; those were Homecoming games for Tony Dungy's team.

The Colts faced three quality opponents at home. They were Pittsburgh (+8.5, 45.5), Jacksonville (+8.5, 45.5), and San Diego (+7.5, 51.5). The Colts won two of three. They covered only once, and all three games went under.

So even when the Colts were firing on all cylinders, they were generally overrated as scoring machines. Even when they won and stifled the opponent's offense, they failed to score enough to drive the total over.

The Steelers covered six of eight on the road, and they were favored in all but two. In only one road game they failed to cover (the Indy game). The Steelers went under in every one of their road games, except the San Diego game, which went over by two points. The under must be a good bet when you like the Steelers to win. Knowing how they like to win games, it makes sense.

So without even capping the Steelers' chance of winning this straight up, I am liking the under. It makes sense. The Steelers D has been very good on the road, and the Colts' offense has been overrated at home.

I don't expect a high-scoring game. My guess is that there's maybe a sixty percent chance the score is at or below the 23-21, 21-17, 24-17 range.

In the next installment, I'll look more at winning and losing.

Matos rumor

Are you sitting down? This one, from Beaver County Times beat writer & Baseball America writer John Perrotto, is a real doozy:

The Pirates have talked to Baltimore about possibly trading for outfielder Luis Matos as insurance in case Chris Duffy, who hit .341 in 39 games as a rookie last season, isn't ready to be the everyday center fielder. Matos, 27, hit .280 with four homers, 32 RBIs and 17 steals in 121 games for the Orioles last season.

Seriously, I don't know what would be the price of Matos. I know two things, however. First, we need a lot of centerfielders with that big left field. Second, this is probably about Burnitz's ability to play center. If he's not a legitimate option out there for a few days, then we need a fifth outfielder. It would not be wise to use Nate McLouth as a fifth outfielder if the team hopes he might some day be used as a regular starter. It would probably be better for his development to play every day at AAA.

People say that all the time; I'm not sure it's true. I would probably rather be a bench player studying big-league pitchers and making notes for flash cards I would study in the hotel room. Others seem to think you need to keep hitting something every day if you are going to continue to improve as a hitter. My hunch is the Pirates would rather not carry McLouth, who they regard as a prospect, as a fifth outfielder.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Coach Noll

Just heard that my eight-year-old brother fought with his older brothers and my father about the name of the Steelers' coach this past Sunday. He insisted it was "Coach Noll." It took some work to persuade him otherwise.

More evidence that Steelerism is an inherited trait and not a learned behavior. How else would the eight-year-old manifest that atavism?

Pitching depth

One annual story we get to follow is, "Who will grab the fifth starter's job?" This one bores me since most every team uses eight to ten starters over the course of a season. A run through the yearly stats shows the Pirates have been giving five or more starts to eight or nine guys. Six or more will get ten starts.

The Pirates have lined up, in no particular order, Zach Duke, Oliver Perez, Paul Maholm, and Kip Wells. They'll have the first crack at twenty-five starts. Only two to four will manage that many.

Just as no four players will combine to produce the 2800 plate appearances the team will enjoy at 1B, RF, CF, and LF, so will no four pitchers combine for anything even close to 162 starts.

Even March rotations comprised of "proven veteran" starters rarely produce more than two to four twenty-five game starters. So it's no knock on our top four to speculate that more than half the 2006 games will be started, in all likelihood, by other pitchers.

The competition for the fifth starter's job will tell us a lot about April, but maybe not so much about August and September. No one shed any tears if your boy loses out on the fifth starter's job. If he's any good at pitching, the odds are good that he'll still have plenty of opportunities to become a mainstay in the rotation.

People are talking about Jeff Weaver. Since the Pirates have (in no particular order) Ryan Vogelsong, Ian Snell, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten, Tom Gorzelanny,and Victor Santos worth a look, and even perhaps Bryan Bullington and Brandon Duckworth, they are pretty stocked. All of these guys are unproven, but so is the rotation. The Pirates can line them up, let them take turns, and reward the ones who pitch well with more turns in the rotation. We didn't add Manny Ramirez in the offseason. We're still relying heavily on unproven position players. I don't see much need for "proven starters."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Four more years

As he ran off the field through a tunnel ringed by delirious Steelers fans, Bettis was serenaded with chants of "Four more years, four more years" -- a plea to the 13-year running back not to retire at the end of the season.

That from Gerry Dulac's report on the Steelers win.

Can you imagine what Bettis would look like four years from now, in uniform for the 2009 season?

He'd look great. They should expand the NFL rosters by one or two spots. With strict restriction--every team has to use them for geezers.

The Catchers

Ed Eagle's take:

The plan heading into Spring Training is for Doumit and Cota to split time. However, the team's brain trust would probably love to see Doumit emerge as the everyday catcher.

Cota showed last season that he could be a serviceable big-league starter. He improved his defense and game calling, and he came through with more than his fair share of clutch hits. But Doumit has a higher ceiling because of his potential to be an offensive threat from both sides of the plate. If he can turn that potential into production, Doumit will get the majority of starts behind the plate.

So what about Ronny Paulino? Will he wait for a Cota trade? Theoretically, you'd hope the team would do better than carry three catchers.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

All hail the Bengals

Seriously, hats off to those guys for turning things around and playing like a serious football team. If my team went twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years without a winning season, I don't know what I'd be doing as a fan. I'm sure I'd be all sad.

Thank God that's never happened with one of my teams. But for the grace of God, however ....

Murray Chass on the Burnitz signing

As Keano suggested in the comments, we might all want a look at this article by Murray Chass on the Burnitz signing. He did not take and fail a physical, as Gammons and others suggested.

Who dey?

Who dey that think they can beat the Bengals?

Wild-card Sunday

Big game in Kentucky. I've got the red beans on the stove and the porter in the fridge, and I'm thinking about frying some chicken.

Anything could happen today. All the pre-game coverage has done the Bengals a favor. They arrive with more to gain and less to lose. All the talk about Roethlisberger drowning in the 2005 playoffs, for example, has considerably lowered the bar for Carson Palmer. He'll have a good game, I expect.

That said, I would not want to play the Steelers right now.

Blue Jays covet Craiggers

Geoff Baker reporting for the Toronto Star:

"We've always liked him, but I don't know what his availability is," Ricciardi said.

The Pirates have said they're going to hold on to Wilson, but that sounds like posturing by the budget-conscious team. Ricciardi said he'd only do a "one-for-one" trade for Wilson, meaning a current major leaguer or a better minor-league prospect, but no more packages like he did in the Lyle Overbay trade with Milwaukee.

The more I think on it, the more I like the Burnitz signing if the Pirates keep Craig Wilson. Odds are, he will see plenty of playing time. I don't buy the argument that the Burnitz signing eats significantly into his play. He won't start on Opening Day, sure. But he'll see plenty of action. And if one of the middle-of-the-order guys goes down with an injury, he can step in. If the rookie centerfielders flop, he can play right and Burnitz can play center. If everyone stays healthy and productive, the Pirates might enjoy a pretty good season. And Craig Wilson will make a much bigger difference as a pinch-hitter than Noonie or Bobby Hill.

They need to keep this guy if they are serious about being a better ballclub in 2006. They've told us repeatedly that money is not an issue. They can prove this is more than posturing. If I ran the circus, that's what I would do. And I would enjoy doing it.