Do The Green Bay Packers Have Trouble Putting Opponents Away?

January 26, 2011

Before I get to the Green Bay Packers, I just want to quickly comment on three items that appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. My criticisms are petty and brief, but I can’t let these slide. The common thread? A mainstream sports media that is seemingly incapable of delivering commentary simply or without hyperbole.

  • Seth Davis comments on Kansas’ Thomas Robinson losing his mother to a heart attack this past weekend. Of course, it cannot just be called a “heart attack.” It must be an “untimely heart attack,” which is so obviously dissimilar from those auspiciously-timed myocardial infarctions. I suppose timely heart attacks exist – right before Kim Jong-il presses the “Initiate Nuclear Launch” button would qualify – but in this situation, it goes without saying that the heart attack was a bad thing.
  • Andy Katz says that Kansas deserves tons of credit for winning a conference road game while grieving for Robinson’s mother. At the risk of being insensitive, there is no way that her death made it more difficult for Josh Selby, Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor, and the Morris brothers to play basketball. Kansas does deserve credit, however, for winning a conference road game against an improved Colorado squad.
  • In the wake of Michigan State dismissing guard Korie Lucious from the team, Seth Davis says that “a tough season just got a lot tougher.” Right, because losing a junior who can’t hit 40% of his twos or 30% of his threes is a huge loss.

Now, please watch this clip:  Read the rest of this entry »


Steve Phillips Suggests Trading Strasburg For Oswalt, Outdoes Himself

May 24, 2010

I thought this was the low point for Steve Phillips, I really did. At the time, it seemed impossible for someone to say something dumber than, basically, “a center fielder that is hitting .370/.467/.584 is hurting his team.” But I think I’ve finally learned to never, ever underestimate Phillips’ singular and unparalleled penchant for stupidity. Because today, Phillips said he would trade Stephen Strasburg for Roy Oswalt if he were running the Washington Nationals. If you are already as avid a baseball fan as I am, then I don’t need to explain to you why this ludicrous. But if you aren’t, I’ll explain it to you, because I’m your buddy.

Here’s exactly what was said during his interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa: Read the rest of this entry »


Sympathizing With Some Bad Analysis

May 21, 2010

I reacted to Eduardo Perez’s column exactly as you’d expect me to: with fury. In the column, Perez offers three simplistic and misguided explanations for the National League’s superiority:

  1. The American League has a particularly weak crop of designated hitters this year, making the league’s advantage less pronounced. This ignores the fact that even a weak DH is almost always a better hitter than a pitcher.
  2. The NL has many young and talented pitchers. This ignores the fact that the AL also has many young and talented pitchers who are pitching against lineups that don’t include fellow pitchers.
  3. The NL’s closers are having better years than their AL counterparts (of course, his argument is based almost entirely on saves). This ignores the fact that the save is a meaningless statistic that should never be used to evaluate reliever performance.

The gross oversimplification and frequent inconsistencies in logic made it extremely tempting to write a mean and scathing critique. But then, in an effort to not become entirely predictable at the tender age of 23, I channeled my inner Joe Posnanski and tried to find a more understanding, nuanced, and sympathetic take on Perez’s work. Shockingly, I think I actually managed to do that. Read the rest of this entry »


Another Joe Morgan Chat

April 27, 2010

This was another solid showing from Mr. Morgan. Let’s get serious:

Joe Morgan: One thing that I’ve taken notice of this year has been the fact that the stars are still being the stars. They’re being consistent from the beginning of the season. Whereas, we’re finding that a lot of teams that were supposed to be at the top of the division are struggling, but the star players are still playing like stars. I’m specifically talking about guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jeter. Guys like that are playing consistent. I think that separates them even more from the pack.

What do Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Lee, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, RYAN HOWARD, Matt Holliday, and Michael Young have in common? They are “star players” that have gotten off the bad starts. Morgan’s opening statement is gibberish. He is making things up.

Q: What are your thoughts on A-Rod walking over the mound against Oakland?

Morgan: I have to admit that I have been corrected, because I didn’t know that unwritten rule. I’ve seen different reports. One said that he stomped on the rubber. The other said that he walked over the mound. But I was never told or thought about the fact that you should never walk over the mound. The pitcher said that was his mound, but it could be the Yankees’ pitcher’s mound too, right? If he’s standing on the mound, I understand that. But I don’t think he was. If that’s the case, then pitcher’s shouldn’t stand in the hitter’s batting box. I find it humorous that it was a big deal other than the fact that it was A-Rod. I still think that players are jealous of him because of the money he’s made. I guarantee you that he’s not the only one that’s run over a mound this year.

So help me God, I agree with the last three sentences of Morgan’s response. Let’s move on before I think about this too much.

Q: Is Ryan Howard really worth 25 mil/year?

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO.

Morgan: Well, let’s put it this way. If Joe Mauer is worth 23 or so. A guy that hits 40 plus HRs and drives in 140 runs a year and Joe Mauer has never done that, then I would say yes. Howard produces numbers and that’s what we’ve come to in this game is about numbers. I don’t necessarily like the fact that it’s about numbers, but he produces them. It also begs to question, what is Albert Pujols worth?

Ugh. Okay, so I was going to devote an entire post to the absurdity of Ryan Howard’s fat new extension. But now I see an opportunity to criticize Joe Morgan’s analysis and Howard’s deal, and I can’t pass that up. I’m not even going to make a big stink about how Morgan, like the Phillies, looked at Howard’s RBI totals and decided that he’s worth $25 million a year because of them. Rob Neyer has already written about this, and if you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be convinced that RBI is a worthless statistic. Instead, let’s just focus on two things that the Phillies apparently chose to totally ignore: Howard’s (gasp!) performance and his age.

Contrary to popular belief, Howard is not an elite player. Part of this is that the offensive standards for first basemen are quite high. The other part is that, well, Howard’s performance is not elite. He can’t hit lefties. His career .225/.308/.442 line against southpaws, which is already bad, masks the fact that this ability has been in steep decline since 2006. Look it up, it’s striking. His walk rate has also been declining since 2007. Add this to his mediocre defensive ability and it paints a pretty grim picture, once you get past his huge RBI totals.

Also contrary to popular belief, Howard is not all that young. He’s 30 years old. Many people seem to forget that Howard’s first full season (2006) came when he was 26 years old. This isn’t entirely his fault; the Jim Thome era was winding down in Philadelphia, and the Phillies didn’t have a place to play Howard. But 26 years old is still awfully late to be making a full-season debut. Howard’s meant that he broke into the big leagues right at his prime. Sure enough, his 2006 season (.313/.425/.659) was monstrous even to statheads like me. He was quite good in 2007 too, but since then, there have been hints of decline. And let’s not forget how big, lumbering, unathletic 1B/DH types tend to break down earlier than other players. Howard’s top five “most similar players” through age 29 are Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, and David Ortiz. Not auspicious.

There’s an argument to be made that Howard is only the fourth most valuable Phillie (certainly behind Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, probably behind Jayson Werth, and possibly behind Jimmy Rollins). Extending his contract – needlessly, and right at the beginning of his decline phase – is poor business by itself, and even worse when his salary will be the second-highest in the game. Read the rest of this entry »


Reports of Free Throw Shooting’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

February 28, 2010

It must be fun to talk about the “lost arts” in the three major American sports. It must be an ego-boost to wistfully lament the disappearance of good, old-fashioned, fundamental athletic skills. I suspect these things because broadcasters have been doing it for as long as I can remember. In football, we often hear about how contemporary running backs prefer to avoid contact, or how wide receivers just don’t go over the middle with the same fearlessness as their historical counterparts. Baseball is a gold mine for these sorts of things too. The bunt is a lost art. A properly-executed hit-and-run is rare. Players are too focused on hitting home runs instead of just putting the ball in play, pitchers nibble at the strike zone too much, and so on.

Basketball is what I want to briefly discuss today, and it, too, has in-game components that many believe are dead. The mid-range jump shot is a popular choice of analysts. Ambidexterity around the basket is believed to be gone too. Criticizing current players’ willingness to play defense seemingly never goes out of style. But I would argue that the most popular lament in basketball is about the death of free throw shooting. Especially in college basketball, where it is easy to latch on to youth and laziness as reasons for the skill’s theoretical demise, broadcasters love to complain about how kids just can’t hit their free throws like they used to.

I was reminded of this perpetual fad during Saturday’s Vanderbilt-Arkansas game. You know you were watching it. An Arkansas player was at the free throw line – Michael Washington, if we’re playing the odds – and bricking his shots. The SEC Network broadcasters, who might well have been beer vendors pulled from the crowd if the telecast’s production value was any indicator, instinctively sunk their teeth into the matter:

Broadcaster #1: “It seems like free throw shooting is at an all-time low. No one seems to want to practice shooting free throws anymore.”

Broadcaster #2: “It’s a basketball-wide epidemic, is what it is. And there’s a simple cure for it: hard work, getting into the gym early, and practicing your free throws. But nowadays, kids just want to run up and down the court in the summertime and play pickup games.”

Broadcaster #1: “And dunk and shoot three pointers.”

Broadcaster #2: “You’re exactly right.”

Even for a condemnation of modern free throw shooting, this seemed pretty strong. What’s more, there’s not just a statistical argument going on here. Most obviously, there’s glaring ageism in this exchange. This is essentially the basketball equivalent of “when I was your age, we had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow,” a defense mechanism for former players and coaches against the superior athletes in today’s game. That’s one non-statistical aspect of their exchange that makes it difficult to take seriously. The other part of this exchange is more troubling. Whether they meant to or not, their comments played on common stereotypes of black athletes specifically (lazy, favoring style over substance), and black males in general. And to say this while covering a sport that is overwhelmingly black is problematic. Like I said, I have no idea if these broadcasters knew how their comments would come across. But if their complaint was truly and only with the modern state of free throw shooting, I’m sure there was a better way to word it.

The major problem, as you might have guessed, is that these guys are simply wrong. I hopped on to Kenpom.com and looked at college basketball’s free throw shooting since 2004 (I would have looked further back, but for some reason it’s impossible to find season-by-season free throw shooting percentages for the entire NCAA). Here’s what I found:

  • 2010: 68.8%
  • 2009: 68.9%
  • 2008: 69.1%
  • 2007: 69.1%
  • 2006: 69.2%
  • 2005: 68.7%
  • 2004: 68.8%

These numbers are shockingly consistent, but as a fan of sample size, I was somewhat wary of relying on such a small set of data to disprove the broadcasters’ assessment. Luckily, however, I discovered this story from The New York Times (almost exactly a year ago, coincidentally). It’s worth a full read, but the pertinent facts are the following:

  • since the mid-1960s, the free throw percentage for each season has been roughly 69%
  • the lowest free throw percentage for a season was 67.1%
  • the free throw percentage for a season has never been higher than 70%
  • the free throw percentage for an NBA season has been roughly 75% for 50 years

For whatever reason, it’s been impossible to break the 69% plateau in college basketball. It’s also been impossible to sink below the 67% mark. So, you see that the exact opposite of what our broadcasters said is true. Free throw shooting isn’t worse than it’s ever been. It’s exactly the same as it’s always been. And as is too often the case, perhaps the people who are being paid to analyze the game should spare us their clueless declarations of the sport’s deterioration and focus more on truly educating their audience.


Worst. Chat. Ever.

February 24, 2010

Does it make me insensitive or a racist to criticize Joe Morgan in a chat that was held as a part of ESPN’s tribute to Black History Month? I hope not, because I’m going to do it anyway.

Joe Morgan (12:00 PM): It would be impossible to record black history without recording what baseball has contributed. From the Negro Leagues to Jackie Robinson breaking of the color barrier, baseball has contributed a lot towards our society moving forward together.

Poignant. Note the time.

David (Florida): Hey Joe!Who do you think is the best improved team this year?

Joe Morgan (12:02 PM): I guess you would have to say the Giants in the National League because they have made the most moves. If their moves work out or not, we’ll have to wait and see. In the American League I’ll say Seattle. On paper both teams did a good job of improving themselves.

“The Giants improved the most because they made the most changes. I’m not sure if the Giants improved themselves. Like Seattle, the Giants improved themselves.”

victor ( monroe,la): what are the cubs chances on winning the n.l.central this year?and do you think aramis ramirez will remain in chicago?

Joe Morgan (12:03 PM): I think the Cubs chances are pretty good in that they have a lot of talent but they always seem to find a way to under achieve. Until they get over that, it’s always a mystery to see what they will do. I especially like their starting pitchers.

“I don’t know! And I’m ignoring your second question even though I could just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY): Between Joba Chamberlain & Philip Hughes who do you think will be the 5th starter for the New York Yankees?

Joe Morgan (12:04 PM): I think Hughes will be the fifth starter. Chamberlain is a late inning set up man and maybe a future closer.

Joe Morgan proves that he is, in fact, capable of directly answering a simple question. Victor in Monroe fumes.

alex (dc): Joe how long till my nats can make a run for a wild card considering the moves we have made

Joe Morgan (12:06 PM): I think they defiantly improved their team and they do have some veterans like Ivan Rodriquez that can lead this team. Like everyone else, we’re waiting to see what Strasburg can do. I defiantly think they have an improved team this season.

Wow, so much defiance. Why would the Nationals improve themselves in a defiant way? I know not much is expected of the Nationals, but there’s no shame in self-improvement. Good for them. And good for you too, Joe. Nice job coming down hard with your opinion and stating it firmly. You should try that more often; a fairly common criticism of your opinions is that they aren’t, well, opinionated enough.

Oh. Wait.

You meant “definitely.”

Oh.

Joe Morgan defiantly (definitely works too) refuses to learn how to spell “definitely.”

Joe Morgan (12:18 PM): I would like to end this chat with one of my favorite quotes. “A people without a knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots”. All this is saying is that African Americans should really think about our ancestors and what they had to endure in order for us to be where we are at today. Thanks for taking the time out to chat.

I, too, would like to share one of my favorite quotes. It goes “a baseball analyst with a habitual aversion to analysis, a horrid grasp of English, and a stubborn refusal to improve either is like an infant with a bazooka.” It comes from Tortola, I believe.

Note the time.

Talk to you later, Joe!


How Jimmy Dykes Is Insulting Your Intelligence

February 10, 2010

UPDATE AT THE END

As I’ve mentioned with some frequency, I’ve been trying very hard over the last year or so to change the tone of my blogging. Initially, the content was snarky and malicious. It wasn’t above name-calling and other sorts of juvenile attempts to demean and persuade. I stand by what I wrote, and I believe that there were legitimate points to be made in every case, but I’m now fully aware that the tone was an impediment to being taken seriously. By writing more open-mindedly and with greater care, I really do feel like the quality of the blog has dramatically increased. I’m very proud of many of the things I’ve written (whether they’ve gotten four hits or 400) because I believe that these discussions are truly intelligent, perspicacious, and interesting. I’m enjoying this new and mellow approach to writing, and I think the quality reflects that.

Sometimes, however, I have to remind myself of why this blog emerged from the depths of my cranky imagination. Fan Interference began because a friend and I were really tired of the stupid things that sportswriters and analysts would write or say. They would write or say things that were disingenuous, narrow-minded, or factually incorrect, and it was annoying. And while I’ve tried to get away from posts that are no more than incredulous mockeries of ridiculous statements, it’s still the rock upon which the blog was built. So, right now I’m going to return very briefly to the basic purpose of this blog: pointing out and correcting the stupid things someone who is paid to analyze sports has said.

There is no more deserving recipient of the old treatment than ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes. Dykes is an incredible and unique case because every time I watch a basketball game to which he’s been assigned, I know with absolute certainty that he is going to say something so outrageously and insultingly stupid that it’s going to make me legitimately angry at his continued employment. Not even Joe Morgan has this effect on me. Dykes is so blatantly incompetent, so aggressively dumb, so obviously misguided that I’m confident that he is the worst analyst I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. The fact that he is paid to educate us about basketball is a prolonged joke at best, and a devious insult at worst. I thought all of these things as far back as last March, but in compliance with the self-imposed moratorium on crude behavior, I simply kept them to myself. His commentary during last night’s Tennessee-Vanderbilt game (go ‘Dores!), however, combined with some of his recent and more stupid than usual analysis to push me over the edge. Read the rest of this entry »