Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fernando Rodney has Been Bad

The Fernando Rodney Experience has always been a thrill ride. Throughout his career he has had a way of building up the drama and the tension during all of his appearances. For the last several season he has managed to get himself out of the jams he creates and post some of the best results based stats in MLB. However this year the Experience has turned into a straight up horror show.

Looking at the normal stats Rodney's year has been terrible. He has an ERA of 5.50, 4 blown saves, and has managed to lose his job as the closer to a rookie. These stats show us how bad he has been but don’t give us a clue as to why. Let's dig deeper into the advanced stats to find a source for the abysmal performance.

Looking at Rodney's advanced stats we can see that his pitch selection this year of 64.3% fastballs and 35.2% changeups is right in line with his career averages. As far as pitch selection goes he doesn't seem to have changed anything. So it doesn't seem to be an issue with the pitch type he is throwing but instead what is happening to those pitches after he throws them.

During Rodney's career his ability to throw faster than most other pitchers has been one of his biggest assets. Rodney throws fast, with lots of movement, and with medium amounts of control. This has made it hard for opposing batters to catch up with his pitches and actually make good contact. They were left guessing, which has let him rack up strikeouts.

This year Rodney's strikeout percentage (K/9) is down. He has only been able to ring up 7.00 batter per 9 innings. This is his lowest rate since he was a rookie. However, his walk rate (BB/9) is holding steady. We see him giving up 4.25 free passes per 9 this year, which is actually slightly below his career average of 4.40  So he still isn't able to control his pitches, but that randomness isn't resulting in confusion for the batter anymore.

Let's take a deeper look at his pitches. His average fastball speed is 95.1 mph compared to his career average of 95.7 mph. He doesn't appear to have lost the speed that brought him success. However, his swinging strike rate (SwStr%) is down to 8.2% from a career average of 11.3%. Despite still throwing hard Rodney isn't able to make people miss and when a batter doesn't miss a 95 mph fastball bad things can happen.

In 2015 Rodney is giving up home runs on 16.2% of the flyballs that batters hit (HR/FB). This is a really high percentage. Of qualified relievers, Rodney's HR/FB is 13th worst in all of MLB. Additionally, this high rate isn't something to be expected. His 2015 number is the highest of his whole career. The previous worst was 12.8% with 2005 with the Tigers. Over the last five seasons the worst rate Rodney has posted is 7.1%. In recent history he has actually been pretty good at preventing homeruns.

So what does this all mean? If you want to remain optimistic it means Rodney has room to improve. He can work on regaining the movement of his pitches. Also he is probably going to stop giving up so many dingers. He has a good sample size and a recent run of success saying giving up homers just isn't one of his weaknesses. Basically Rodney has just had a string of self really bad luck that has been exacerbated by a changing in his pitch movement.

On the flip side, if you want to be a pessimist, this probably means Rodney has lost something and he probably isn't getting it back. The ex-closer is 38 years old now and the league has figured him out. He is showing that he can't make a baseball dance like he used to. Now instead of making batter look foolish he is giving those that can catch up to 95 mph something they can drive. When you can line up a 95 mph fastball you can make it soar, often into the stands.

Decreased swinging strikes and increased HR/FB are a receipt for bad results, which is exactly what Rodney has had so far.  Regardless of what you think the future holds for the Fernando Rodney Experience one thing is for certain, he was terrible in the first half. Let's hope something puts an end to the horror show.

Sources: Fangraphs

Monday, July 13, 2015

Expand the All-Star Skill Competitions

Tomorrow, July 14th, is the MLB All-Star game, which is being played in Cincinnati this year. The approach of this game got me thinking about All-star games in general. The concept of getting all of the best players in a professional league together and having them play an exhibition game seems like a good one. However, all three of the major sports leagues, NBA, NFL, and MLB, have generally boring All-star games. None have held my interest in years. However, all of the leagues do feature various skills exhibitions (e.g. Home Run Derby and Dunk Contest) prior to the actual game. These events are fun to watch. I try to make sure I see them every year. I think it is time we just cancel the NBA and NFL All-Star games and just focus on skill events.

The various All-Star games have turned into drawn out and boring affairs filled with lackadaisical performances and too many commercials. The play is sloppy and subpar. Only MLB manages to put on a watchable show. In the NFL and NBA games the defense is basically non existences which takes away a major part of the sport. The primary factor for this is the fear of injury. None of the stars or their teams want to risk injury in a game that doesn't matter.

Sports like basketball and football are very team centered games. Throwing together All-Star caliber players and asking them to play together with little or no practice is bound to result in a sloppy game. That is exactly what the NBA Al-Star game and NFL Pro-Bowl are. In the NBA there are turnovers and missed shots galore. Basically players start playing hero ball and isolation. You miss out on the beauty that is the fluid game of team Basketball. The NFL's game is full of blown routes and missed throws. You can't ask a group of players to gel at the level required to create great football.

It would be terrible for the fans the teams and most importantly the platers to suffer a major injury  during a basically meaningless game. Imagine the outcry if a star quarterback suffered a major injury during the Pro Bowl because some DE wanted to prove he was the best pass rusher in the league, but instead got caught on a block and awkwardly rolled into the knees of the passer. In an instance the team next season is wiped out and potentially the players next payday and future financial security. It doesn't make sense to play hard defense during and All-Star game and risk season or career altering injuries. That means it also doesn't make sense to play the game at all.

The skills competitions that the leagues put on have little or no risk of injury. The NBA's skills competitions are probably the most dangerous. The Dunk Contest, Three Point Contest, and Skills Challenge all require running and physical effort near game level to compete. However, they are all performed by world class athletes in a non-defended and non-contact environment. Guys shouldn't get hurt throwing down a 360 tomahawk jam.

Speaking of 360 tomahawk jams, watching Dunk Contest is fun. Although the event still has way to many commercials and takes longer than it should, it is generally a good time. Similarly the MLB Home Run Derby is a fun spectacle for a summer evening. I witnessed the events live at Safeco Field in 2001, it was a blast (pun intended). In both leagues they are able to bring out stars to compete in most of the events (the NBA does fail to do this in the Dunk Contest from time to time). This allows fans to see their favorites, while putting them in different non game situations that are fun to watch. It is way more fun than the All-Star games.

One of the things the that hurts the NFL's All-Star experience, the Pro Bowl, is a lack of a skills challenge. They eliminated the events after the 2007 events. Reading online it appears that the NFL never gave a great explanation for why the competitions were ended. Now all they have left is a boring no touch version of a football game that nobody watches. Clearly they cancelled the wrong events.

MLB is the only one of the big three with an All-Star game that shouldn't be eliminated. The baseball game is interesting for the first couple of innings when all the starters are still playing. However, by about the 5th or 6th all the best players are out and the game starts to drag.

Even with the only All-Star game worthy of surviving, MLB should considering expanding their skill competitions. Currently the only one is the Home Run Derby. They could easily add a fly ball or ground ball shagging contest. Imagine Andrelton Simmons and Elvis Andrus seeing who could scoop up the most grounders and make an accurate throw to first. Maybe points for range and accuracy of throwing. The league could easily add a stolen base race. They could have Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton see who can go first to second fastest. I would tune in to see that.

Two of the three majors leagues, the NBA and the NFL, should seriously consider cancelling their All-Star games. All three should instead focus on skills challenges. This would give players more time to rest and heal, while providing fans with a fun break from the regular season. It would eliminate the yearly complaints about none of the players giving any effort during the games. It would still give fans a chance to see the stars and enjoy the fun the comes with these slightly silly events.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sounders Success is Bound to Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins

Three weeks ago the Seattle Sounders were the best team in Major League Soccer. They sat upon the points leader board with 29 points. Their attacking duo of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey created such consistent pressure on the opposition that the teams occasional defensive lapses were hidden. Martins and Dempsey were just so good that they raised all the other players around them to a higher level. They were clearly one of the best duos in the league and the pair was the key to the Sounders success. Then on June 16th in a US Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers the wheels came off the cart.

Games against the Sounders chief rivals, the Portland Timbers, are always tense. The players take the rivalry as seriously as the fans and on the field the matches can be foul filled affair where tempers flair. This Open Cup match up was no different. The Sounders had three players ejected including an incident where Dempsey ripped up the referee's book. His action caused MLS to suspend him for three games. The game also saw a hard foul on Obafemi Martins result in an injury and him being carted off the field. At the end the Sounders only had seven men on the field.

The loss to the Timbers was a disappointment to be sure. The Sounders have owned the US Open Cup during their MLS life. The players and coaches take the competition seriously. However, the US Open cup result was disastrous more so because of the loss of Dempsey and Martins than the actual scoring outcome. Both players will miss a minimum of three games, all of which have been Sounders losses. Most likely the pair will miss six games each, which could set the Sounders really far back in the standings.

The absence of Martins and Dempsey has made it painfully clear how irreplaceable they are to the team. They are the keys to the entire Sounders team. In the three games without Dempsey and Martins the Sounders have managed just one goal and conceded seven. The offense is flat and the defense is struggling to keep opponents from scoring chances.

As the single goal highlights, the forwards just cant cut it. None of them have the skills required to create scoring opportunities for themselves. The two main fill-ins, Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett, are finishers not creators. They lack the vision and instincts to find scoring opportunities. Their is no one left to feed them the ball. The Sounders offense has looked confused and directionless, with their possessions often ending in an errant pass.

On the flip side, without the attacking pressure created by Martins and Dempsey the defense has cratered. The side was already short-handed because of the injury to Ozzie Alonso, which has resulted in a huge downgrade in the center of the field. However, without Martins and Dempsey, the defense is giving up a huge amount of quality shots and forcing Stefan Frei to make way to many saves. Frei just isn't good enough to stop the on-slot. The key to the defense was a strong counter attack that kept the opponent from sending more than a few attackers forward. With the offense floundering the defense is seeing a lot more of the opponents players in the offensive zone.

The magic that led to the first places standing three weeks ago is gone right along with Martins and Dempsey. When they are missing it is like watching a completely different team. If it was ever in doubt, the scoring duo's absence has solidified into fact that they are the keys to the Sounders success. Seattle's soccer hopes and dreams rise and fall with Obafemi and Clint.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lebron James is the Best Basketball Player in the World

During a press conference following the Cleveland Cavaliers game 5 loss Lebron James stated what everybody else was already thinking. His exact quote was "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world." Personally I think he might be silly to feel confident, especially when you consider the other scrubs currently donning Cav's jerseys, but he is definitely right about the  best player part. His effort in the NBA Finals should put to rest any debate about Kobe or Durant being better than James.

Through five games he is averaging 36.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, and 8.8 apg. He is probably performing at the highest level of any player ever in the NBA Finals. As the USA Today points out, he should win the series MVP regardless of the eventual Champion. He has clearly been the Most Valuable Player on the floor. Lebron James has turned what could have been one of the most boring and most lopsided Finals since last year (try to remember the Heat vs Spurs series, you might have blacked it out).

Although I am rooting for Golden State to win (their style of play is just way more fun to watch), I won't be upset if the Cav's force a game seven in California.  This series is so much fun I dont want it to end. I want to keep seeing how long James can keep this up. Although I suppose it is good it maxes out at seven games. I don't want to energy being exerted by James to do am permanent damage. I want him to come back and put on a show again next year because Lebron James clearly is the best player in the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Few Tidbits from Around the Web

Time for some links to sports related articles and a video clip that I find interesting. I think you should click them and digest the content. Then, if you happen to see, we can talk about your favorite bits.
  • Floyd Mayweather recently won his 48th professional boxing match against Manny Pacquiao. Despite his win in the biggest fight in recent history, Mayweather is still a terrible person. We should all remember that he is a serial women beater and never pay money to watch his fights.
  • This New England Patriots fan makes a case for why the Tom Brady suspension is ridiculous. Although I shutter while I type this, I have to say he does make a few good points. 
  • In case you think I have gone soft on Patriots fans, here is another piece pointing out how delusional many of them are.
  • In game seven against the Memphis Grizzlies the Warriors punched their ticket to the Western Conference championship. The game was a good one and highlighted exactly why the Warriors are so great. It also had an amazing bit of ridiculousness when Steph Curry drained a 3/4 court shot with time expiring in the half.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Soccer Statistics: A New Era

Advanced statistics have been making their way into every sport over the last ten years or so, and it's all Billy Beane's fault.  The fact that Billy Beane doesn't have anything to do with it (and probably isn't even all that great as a GM) doesn't matter here: what matters is that stats have taken a great leap forward.  In baseball, it's commonplace to talk about BABIP and team's are shifting more than ever before.  In basketball, team's finally realize just how valuable the three-point shot is, especially on Daryl Morey's NBA 2k fanboy Rockets, who refuse to take any shot that isn't a dunk, three pointer, or Josh Smith doing whatever it is he gets paid for.  In hockey, we have uh...uh...Deryk Engelland being considered a hockey player still.

So it's not a perfect world, to be sure.  One of the toughest areas for advanced stats to take hold has been in soccer (or, as the English call it, crisps).  This isn't because of any sort of good ol' boy traditionalism so much as it is that it's really, really hard to measure things in soccer.  Normal counting stats like goals or saves exist, but tell you almost nothing about the game.  Clint Dempsey gets a goal for this just as much as he does for this.  Passing numbers are nice to look at too, but there isn't really a ton to be gained from knowing Andres Iniesta completed 7000 passes in a game other than that Barcelona loves possession just so much you guys.  Plus, it can be hard to break into soccer because so much of the skill is in the little things.  Basketball's great because you can obviously see when a good play is made and can understand where advanced stats are coming from.  Soccer relies so much on things like a good first touch that it can be hard to really know what to look for.

There needs to be more accessible, informative statistics for soccer, really.  American sports fans love the fantasy aspect of sports, where we can argue about why Michael Beasley is better than Corey Maggette even while knowing in our heart of hearts we're both wrong.  Stats are wonderful.  That's why we need more of them for soccer.  Here's just a few that can really make any person's fandom that much better.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Seventh Round Mock Draft

The greatest sporting event of the year is here!  The NFL Draft begins tonight!  Hope springs anew amongst all fans.  Yes, it is truly the best weekend of the NFL calendar starting today.  That is, the best weekend excluding any of the weekends with games and, more importantly, all the weekends without games in which we don't have to pretend we're not ok with rooting for spousal abusers to run for 100 yards a game.

By now, there have been more than enough mock drafts written.  Every expert has weighed in and, by now, everyone knows exactly what will happen in the first round.  Therein lies the problem, however. The first round is all taken care of, but nobody pays attention to all our favorite rounds!  Anyone can say that Buccaneers should draft Jameis Winston or JaMarcus Russell or Ki-Jana Carter, all can't miss NFL superstars.  It takes a real expert to know what will happen in the draft's final round.  That's when all the players we truly care about are drafted anyway.  Marques Colston, Trumaine McBride, DeVon Harrison, and Scott Mruczkowski are all pillars of our NFL fandom and only one of them is a made-up name.  That's why Unique Sports Theme Name is committed to giving you the most comprehensive, most accurate Round 7 Mock Draft that has ever been written.  Be wary, as the revelation that we can see the future can be rough for some.