Thursday, May 17, 2012


I now believe every allegation that the NFL has on the New Orleans Saints.  Did they have bounties?  Of course.  Did they get caught using franchise money for the bounties?  I'm sure.  Are the suspensions warranted - absolutely! - Certainly as warranted as the suspension given Cole Hamels after he admittedly plunked Bryce Harper. (Of course, Jordan Zimmerman should have been suspended as well but that's another story for another time.)

The reason I'm certain these allegations are true you ask?  Because you have to be downright foolish to let Drew Brees get to this point in the contract negotiations and that kind of stupidity has to pervade the entire franchise. 

The Saints knew this contract was coming up.  They watched Brees have another sensational season at the helm putting in his best statistical season as a professional; career, franchise and NFL records for 5476 yards passing, 71.2% completion rate and 342 pass yards per game.

Will Drew Brees ever be this good again?  Doubtful.  But has he earned every cent of his contract and more?  Absolutely. 

Drew Brees has to be asking the Almighty what more he needs to do?

Franchise quarterbacks are rare.  So rare in fact that if you look historically since 1970 at quarterbacks drafted in the first round, meaning the intent of becoming a franchise QB, the average number of starts for all those quarterbacks (85, not including the four taken this year) is 78.  That's under five seasons worth of starts.  Considering the investment made in the past in these guys coming out of the first round, particularly in the last 20 years, that's not a great return on investment.  Only 28 of those players (some still active) have made 100 or more starts giving their owners six full seasons.  So a little more than one in four will make it that far.  Familiar names that didn't make it to 100 starts include:

David Carr
Tony Eason
Bert Jones
Jim McMahon
Chris Miller
Chad Pennington
Doug Williams

Names that didn't make it to 78 starts and some active guys that still won't include:

Todd Blackledge
Kyle Boller
Tim Couch
Jim Druckenmiller
Rex Grossman
Joey Harrington
David Klingler
Ryan Leaf
Byron Leftwich
Chuck Long
Tommy Maddox
Mark Malone
Todd Marinovich
Cade McNown
Rick Mirer
JaMarcus Russell
Akili Smith
Andre Ware

Recognize some of those?  All these quarterbacks and more were drafted in the first round.  All of them failed to be true franchise quarterbacks that warranted their first round selections. 

Keep in mind that if a first round pick such as this fails, it has numerous repercussions.  The first is who might you have taken instead that would have filled a different positional void on the team.  The second is the fact you still don't have a reliable field general leading your offense.  The third are the budgetary problems most of these guys cost their teams (the new CBA has since rectified some of that issue).  Lastly, it may have cost or cost the current management one or more jobs in the future, leading to a rebuilding that could take years.

Yet the New Orleans Saints, having essentially stolen one of the best franchise quarterbacks from San Diego for nothing, have tagged Brees with the franchise label but haven't worked out a long term deal.  This, on the heels of their GM, Head Coach and several key franchise players facing season-long or partial season suspensions.  The franchise is a mess right now, and perhaps the one guy that can right the ship for not only the ownership in New Orleans, but for the season-ticket holders and fans is still without a multi-year deal.

So I believe the Saints must have done everything wrong the NFL has accused of them.  Because any team ownership not smart enough to make re-signing Brees as easy as possible can't be smart enough to cover their tracks when committing questionable acts. 

Friday, May 4, 2012


The Brain with the spots showing CTE

I love football.  I always have.  It was one of the few sports I could compete against and hang with the older kids when I was four or five years younger.  I had good hands.  I could run solid routes.  I understood it. 

I was never allowed to play organized football.  My parents forbade such a thing, as I was rather thin boned and small, and they were worried I would be taken off the field on a stretcher.

These days, forget about the stretcher.  How about being removed in a coffin?

After the death of Junior Seau by apparent suicide, the discussion has once again leaped to the forefront of the NFL pundits as to whether this was another death due to the brain condition CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease that results in behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, according to researchers, CTE has a clear environmental cause (repeated brain trauma) rather than a genetic cause. In other words, CTE is the only preventable form of dementia (see complete medical definition here)

Whether or not Junior Seau's death was caused by CTE or not, he is now the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers Super Bowl team to die and all before age 45.  Most have died of heart related issues that could have simply been related to their massive size or unnatural defects, lack of care of their bodies, etc.  One had a (accidental) drug overdose.  The offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been plagued by what appear to be CTE- caused suicides --   Hall-of-Fame Center Mike Webster died of a heart attack, but word of his years of post NFL torment, along with drug and alcohol use were documented before and after his death.  He was prescribed Ritalin after he was diagnosed with brain damage.  Lineman Terry Long drank antifreeze and died.  Justin Strzelczyk was killed when he slammed his motorcycle in a truck while evading police.  According to some friends he had called the night prior to make peace.  He was found to have the early signs of brain damage from football.  He was 36.  Then there's the case of 26 year-old Chris Henry, who was killed after he lost hold of the roof of his girlfriend's truck that was traveling at high speed.

Justin Strelczyk's death was likely caused by CTE

It is already difficult enough for the majority of professional athletes to adjust to retirement after a sport.  It comes early in their lives often and for a large number of athletes, leaves them feeling alone and useless.  With the spotlight gone, the daunting task of trying to find what to do with the next half to two-thirds of their lives seems difficult to say the least.  ESPN the magazine reported the 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within five years of retirement.  The fall is even faster for NFL players - 78% are bankrupt just two years after hanging up their cleats.  Now, for the participants of high-contact sports, NFL and NHL players find an added wrinkle; that of trying to stay sane after compounded brain injury.

The NFL has been trying in their own way to make the game safer while still appetizing to its contact-hungry fans.  The sport is by definition dangerous.  It is a warrior's game.  However, in the light of continuing deaths of these players, how will the NFL be able to sell the future of this sport to parents and their children?

To put it in a more personal context, would I now allow my son to participate in full contact tackle football?  Would the short term pleasure or even the possibility of a lucrative career be worth trading years of future life?  I can't answer that question so easily anymore.

My parents told me I'd thank them when I got older, but they could not have known the wisdom of their words.  They thought it was because I'd be able to walk on two solid knees.  They never suspected it was so I wouldn't try to kill myself by the time I reached my 40s.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

FANTASY BASEBALL - Players watch (updated)

Each April brings a new fantasy baseball season where everyone walks away from their respective drafts pondering just how soon they'll be able to do the victory dance.  And each late April finds fantasy owners aghast in panic over players under or over performing.  Here are just a few guys I can tell will be causing owners ulcers (including yours truly) but need to be considered, as well as some waiver wire guys you might not have thought of yet.


ERIC HOSMER - Oy what an April.  Hosmer's sweet swing has not brought owners sweet success except in the HR category where despite hitting under .200 he's swatted you five.  However, I've been watching Hosmer most of this early season and I can tell you that this man has been riddled with bad luck.  His BABIP or hit rate is a pitiful .164 and yet he's hitting line drives over 18 percent of the time.  His BABIP last year was .314 and throughout his minor league career has hovered at around .300.  Consider also Miguel Cabrera is hitting liners 18.1 percent clip and his BABIP is .277 (which is low for him as well).  Also consider that Hosmer's contact rate is slightly higher than Cabrera's.  Now, Eric Hosmer isn't a Miguel Cabrera (at least not yet) but based on Hosmer's past hitting, his sweet swing and that low BABIP, now is actually the time to go get him.  He's due for a correction and it should be a nice one.

ADRIAN GONZALEZ - Last year is looking a lot like this year.  He hit just one home run in his inaugural year with the Red Sox while batting .314 in April.  This year his average is at .284 and he's only gone yard twice.  He's traded several points in his line drive percentage and added those to his fly ball percentage, certainly better than if he were placing those balls on the ground.  His BABIP is pretty much in line with his career, and his contact rate is even a bit higher than normal.  Half of Gonzalez's 81 ABs have gone to an 0-1 count, meaning pitchers are coming right at him so far this year.  And from what I've seen Gonzalez isn't waiting if he gets a good first pitch.  It's early in the season, and right now he's not quite hitting the fastball the way he can.  Adrian's power will heat up much like it has in the past and his timing will get better.  He's a streaky power hitter and you don't want him on your bench when the hot streak begins.


PEDRO ALVAREZ - If you can look past the ridiculous 38% strikeout rate, Alvarez's bat is coming around in scary ways.  His ISO is a hefty .291.  Of his twelve hits, five are home runs.  He's beginning to look like a Carlos Pena.  He doesn't make great decisions at the plate and often shows no patience when the situation calls for it, but he's got a quick bat which seems to effortlessly pound the baseball to great distances.  His average will probably barely scrape .250 when all is said and done, but he might also scrape 30 home runs, and considering he's only owned in 24% of CBS leagues, that kind of pop at a weak position (3B) is well worth the investment.  As I finish this he's hit his sixth home run.


EDWIN ENCARNACION - Encarnacion has a current ISO of .356.  Sixteen of his 29 hits have gone for extra base hits and eight have been home runs.  His greatest season to date occurred back in 2008 when he played for the Reds.  That year he managed 26 home runs and 68 RBIs while striking out less than 17% and walking just over 10% in 146 games and 582 plate appearances.  The 29 year-old third baseman might be in his prime, but he's gones 10-for-23 (.434) over his last seven games  Though his contact rate has increased for the last three seasons and his FB rate has gone up, his low line drive percentage of under 14% tells me he's not hitting the ball as well as often.  Combine this with a hefty 53% FB rate and his 20% HR/FB ratio, Encarnacion will definitely regress.  His numbers do portend he's an improved player but his injury history should be of the greatest concern, considering his 134 games last year was his highest number of MLB games played since 2008.  Depending on your team makeup, he's not a bad sell high candidate.


STEVE CLEVENGER -- Geovany Soto has Clevenger's oblique to thank for keeping his starting position.  Clevenger posted a .500 average in 22 pro at-bats so far this year.  Soto's struggles have continued since his promising rookie campaign.  His K rate has gone up exponentially and his average has suffered.  While Clevenger is a guy with a ton of pop, Sabremetricians should check out his wRC+ and wOBA numbers.  He's got a career wRC+ of 227 and posted a wRC+ of over 116 of above when he's played in 80 games or more.  His current weighted runs is 150 or 50% better than the league average.  His wOBA for his career is .511, clearly helped along by this year's .536.  Now, that number won't hold, but for his entire baseball career his wOBA has been less than .350 just twice.  We're talking about a catcher here and one that's going to get on base a lot and hit for a good average.  For his career in the minors, he's nailed 28% of the runners attempting bases on him compared to Soto's 26%.  His numbers remind me a bit of John Jaso's 2010 season with the Rays.  This guy could easily supersede Soto this year, and in two catcher leagues, adding a catcher who won't hurt your average is not bad pickings.  Keep an eye on his return.