Friday, September 19, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Being a Tigers Fan

I recall a discussion over dinner at a friend's house. This friend was married to a woman from the Dominican Republic, and her dad was there along with another Dominican couple. In classic Dominican fashion, about 3 or 4 different conversations were being carried out at the same time, loudly, and in heavily accented Spanish. It was REALLY hard to follow, and I'm pretty fluent.

At one point, in an attempt to contribute, I remarked to my friend's father-in-law that I'd heard that in his home town there were a lot of times when they were without electricity. He kind of laughed and said, "No, where I come from there are a few times when we HAVE electricity."

This distinction came to mind recently when I was thinking about the Tigers' closer, Joe Nathan. He doesn't have periods of unreliability, he has a few periods of reliability in between all the unreliability. Check his game log: He gave up 6 runs in 10 appearances in April, 6 runs in 11 appearances in May, 9 runs (plus 1 unearned) in 10 appearances in June, 3 runs in 9 appearances in July, 4 runs in 11 appearances in August, and now 3 runs in 6 appearances so far in September. His WHIP is 1.57, a terrible number for supposedly the strongest arm in the bullpen and much higher than his career 1.12. His ERA is at 5.10, higher than his career ERA of 2.90, and more fitting of a guy you would trot out in a 10-2 laugher, not in the 9th inning of a close game.

Fans have been clamoring for Joakim Soria to take over the closer role, and rightly so. After a rough start with Detroit in July, he's allowed 1 run in 6 appearances in August & September. Unfortunately, Ausmus seems to be dead set on sticking with Nathan, who has done little to deserve the loyalty he's getting. Ausmus even suggested he might start using Soria more in the 6th inning of the upcoming (and very crucial) Royals series. I'd actually be okay with this if it means that Ausmus plans on using Soria when the game is most in jeopardy, regardless of the inning. I suspect, however, that it means Soria can pitch either the 6th or the 7th, or the 8th is Joba isn't available, and Nathan still gets the 9th no matter what.

This isn't even based on old, crusty managing. The specialization of inning-specific pitchers didn't emerge until the 1990's, and has been largely viewed as a fallacy by advanced stat-heads. You want your best pitcher pitching when the game is on the line. If that's in the 9th inning, then fine, but that moment may come in the 8th, 7th, or even the 6th inning. The game may be tied, or the Tigers may even be down a run and in danger of being down even more. Why not use your best reliever when you need him most instead of when the 9th inning rolls around?

As much as I loved the David Price trade at the time, I had some concerns about it. Price is on my fantasy team, so I knew the Tigers weren't getting the same guy that won the Cy Young award 2 years ago. And sure enough, Price hasn't helped as much as Dombrowski hoped when he made the deal. To make matters worse, Drew Smyly has been a virtual ace since arriving at Tampa Bay, going 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.755 WHIP, and 44 Ks in 47.2 innings and has only pitched 1 game where he allowed more than 2 runs (he allowed 3 on 8/5 vs. OAK). Price, on the other hand, has gone 3-5 (for a better team) with a 4.09 ERA, 1.22 WHIP (ok, not bad...), and 66 Ks in 61.2 innings (ok, that's not bad either). He's allowed more than 3 runs on 4 of his 9 starts, including two 5-run outings and an 8-run start. Yikes.  

And I like Rajai Davis, but getting rid of Austin Jackson didn't completely open up CF for Rajai. The Tigers have played Ezequiel Carrera there when the matchup didn't favor Davis, and Carrera is basically a replacement level bat. Jackson hasn't exactly been tearing it up in Seattle, but losing him weakened an offense that has gone through its share of dry patches.

Despite the struggles of some of the more notable pitchers (Verlander, Price, Nathan), Cabrera seeming more human than usual, and some questionable use of the bullpen, the Tigers are half a game ahead of KC (really a full game ahead, since KC still has to make up that 1/2 inning that got rained out in the 12th after Cleveland had scored 2 runs). Verlander faces Vargas, the big matchup is tomorrow with Scherzer getting James Shields, and then Porcello wraps it up on Sunday vs. Jeremy Guthrie.

KC isn't playing good ball right now, but then again Detroit just dropped 2 out of 3 against the TWINS, who are not a good baseball team. This Detroit team has been a roller coaster, and they don't look like a World Series team to me, but crazy things happen in the playoffs. Anything could happen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Broad Strokes & Free Passes

I was on the road practically all day Saturday because I had to pick up our car from a mechanic roughly 3 1/2 hrs away from home (LONG, long story there). As a result I experienced the entire Michigan game via radio broadcast, and I gotta say, Jim Brandstatter gets a D- so far as a play-by-play guy. He's not bad as a color analyst, but his play-by-play is often inaccurate, meandering, and for lack of a better word, "talky".
Brandstatter never had to economize his speech to the point where he could get the information out using as few words as possible. He's been a decent color guy for Beckmann and still for Dan Miller, but he's always had them to put the ship back on track when the action starts. By way of example, instead of saying "third and seven from the Michigan 31," Brandstatter might say "it's third down, Michigan is on their own 31 yard line and need to get to the 38 for a first down." It doesn't seem like much, but it takes 10 seconds longer to say, by which point the play has already started and he has to catch up.
Some of this may come in time, along with a better back & forth with Dierdorf, which has been cumbersome so far. But I wonder if Brandstatter will be able to really pull it off with all his years of color commentary habits getting in the way. Good play-by-play should paint a picture of the game, give you all the necessary information of what's happening, and ramp up the energy at crucial moments. It's really hard to do. Ken Kal is probably the best at it in this area, edging out Dan Dickerson because hockey is MUCH harder to call than baseball. Brandstatter has been in radio since the mid-80's, but despite his experience I suspect he won't be able to convert his talent for color commentary to be a successful play-by-play guy.

There isn't much I want to say about Michigan's performance on the field Saturday. If I'm giving Brandstatter/Dierdorf a D- for announcing, the actual football team gets a C-. They were playing a pretty weak Miami of Ohio team and went into the half up only 7, thanks to a bunch of Michigan turnovers (not the good kind).
The Wolverines came out in the second half and held onto the ball, but did little else differently from the first half. They were basically playing against themselves, and I wasn't particularly impressed. I'm of the opinion that Devin Gardner won't ever "get it" but Morris isn't ready yet, so we're stuck with Gardner. The offensive line is atrocious. As well as the running game carried the day, there were a LOT of negative/short plays (including a failed Big Boy moment - 3rd & 2, stopped short) considering the size advantage Michigan's offensive line had over Miami's defense.

The Big Ten (or whatever they are now) is REALLY weak this year, so Michigan could finish as well as 8-4 despite the fact that they feel more like a barely-.500 team.
Utah is going to be a tougher challenge than most suspect. Michigan are 5.5 point favorites, but the offense is mediocre and the defense, while having performed reasonably well so far, is largely untested. My biggest concern are the turnovers. Michigan has committed 8 through 3 games, while only causing 1. Utah has committed 1 turnover in 2 games and caused 1 themselves.  If Michigan doesn't get on the right side of the turnover differential in this game, they lose. They know this.

A lot can happen in the NFL from week to week, and the standard response from fans is to overreact. After the week 1 win over the Giants, I was guilty of that (although it was mainly for comic effect). I'm not going to do the same this week. There were a number of factors playing into the loss to Carolina.
  1. That defense is incredible. SHOULD the Lions have been able to break it? Well, yes, but...
  2. A revolving door would've given Stafford more protection at RT than he got from the Reynolds/Lucas combo, although that doesn't excuse the poor play from both Stafford and the receiving corps
  3. Sometimes you just are off. Stafford was off, underthrowing CJ on the interception, etc, and the receivers were off, dropping many of the passes that got to them. CJ only had 6 catches on 13 targets, notably dropping a TD pass and a 3rd down pass that would have converted
The real causes for concern were problems in week 1, only NYG wasn't the kind of team that could exploit them. The Panthers have the best LB in football to compliment a SOLID solid defense, and they exploited the hell out of them. There are three major causes for concern going into week 3:
  1. The run game hasn't come around. The Lions are 28th in the NFL in rushing offense. I don't expect it to get much better if RT Waddle is still out, although Green Bay is 26th in the league in rushing defense (caveat: GB was facing 2 run-first teams, and Detroit is hardly run-first, run-second, or even run-third). Expect this "weakness v. weakness" storyline to get pounded hard by any media outlet covering this game. I'd like to see Bush get more carries than Bell this week
  2. Team depth is a serious issue. Martin Mayhew has not distinguished himself with very deep drafts, as has been reported earlier this year. In a retrospective, ESPN gave the 2011 draft the lowest possible grade, and that was before Leshoure got cut! From the 2012 draft, only Reiff (starting LT) and Tahir Whitehead (LB/spec. teams) are currently making a significant contribution. Broyles & Bentley are injured (again, in both cases), and most of the rest of that draft have been cut. Suh is the only one left from the 2010 draft (Willie Young is playing well elsewhere). 2013 was Mayhew's best draft, but early returns on the 2014 draft (and my vague impression) suggest it will be more like the 2010/2011/2012 drafts than 2013.

    THIS IS ALL TO SAY - injuries have hit this team hard through games 1 & 2. An already weak defensive backfield (thanks Mayhew!) is now all but holding an open tryout (Ihedigbo - missed 2 games, day-to-day, Bentley & Lawson - out for season). A position of strength, RT, is now a question mark after starter LaAdrian Waddle got hurt in the first series of game 1 & his very competent backup Hilliard got knocked out for the season later the same game. Additionally, the Lions drafted Kyle Van Noy to balance out the LB position, which was pretty strong with Tulloch & Levy.
    Well, you can guess what happened. A depth chart, already shallow from a number of weak drafts, is suffering greatly. The Lions are like a ship that springs a leak from the weakest part of the hull, the strongest part of the hull, and all the places they've patched before. And they are using seaweed to stuff the holes. Yikes.
  3. The kicking game has been... (looking for a word more expressive than "craptastic")... ABYSMAL.  This team cannot afford to leave points on the board. New kicker Nate Freese has missed kicks of 43, 49 & 49 yards. His longest make so far was 28 yards, meaning the ball was on the 11. In the NFL, if you miss a FG under 50 yds you are leaving points on the board. The two misses last week prevented that game from being competitive down the stretch. The hope is that Freese is just having some rookie jitters and starts kicking straighter, but Mayhew & Caldwell probably screwed up BIG in going with Freese over Tavecchio in the preseason kicking competition. Now they're stuck.
The Lions are good enough to beat Green Bay, but they are also bad enough to beat themselves. This is why I don't trust this team AT ALL. I naively got sucked in last year, which is the natural inclination of most fans (unless you're the type that loves bringing out the SOL acronym).

 The Tigers are fun to watch again, but I'll save that for later this week. Instead, how about we take a look at the one athlete in Detroit having a worse week than Nate Freese... Jayru Campbell. Campbell was listed as a 3-star recruit by ESPN with offers from Alabama, MSU, and Notre Dame, and had committed to play for MSU in the 2015 season. On January 22nd he body-slammed a security guard at Cass Tech, purportedly for the crime of hassling him to take of his hat. Campbell decommitted from State, took some anger management classes, and went to jail on July 28th. He was let out at noon last Friday and wasted no time, making it to Cass Tech a little later in the day & pushing his gf down while he checked her texts. (Interesting side note - Campbell's attorney is named Walter Pookrum. You're welcome.)

There is a flood of football players in the news for some form of domestic violence - Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, et al. It's gone so far that CBS has pulled a Rihanna song from its Thursday Night Football rotation because of her association with domestic violence (I'd like to point out the insanity of this since Rihanna was a VICTIM not the abuser, so penalizing her for being in an abusive relationship is like SUPPORTING domestic violence, right?).

The main ingredients of the problem seem to be "athlete in a violent sport" + "tends to get his own way". Campbell was given a break on the initial sentencing back in May, but don't expect him to catch any more breaks. Another common thread is some random friend/family member saying something like "he was always a good kid, this is totally out of character," and this Jayru Campbell Story is no exception (check the Ogletree quote in the 4th paragraph). Excuse me, but no it isn't. That's crap. I guarantee you in every situation there is a silent minority who have directly experienced the poor character of these men, only those people have been shouted down by adoring fans and those who hope to benefit from the athlete's success.

The NFL is getting its nose rubbed in this right now and rightly so, but Jayru Campbell is an example of a deeper societal problem. We glorify athletes to the point that we excuse their actions because we admire what they can do on the field, until those actions are caught on camera like Campbell's body slam and Rice's elevator punch. When we see the viciousness and ugliness they are capable of, we demonize them and dismiss them. But aren't we a little bit guilty? We've been handing out free passes like crazy, why are we outraged when someone takes advantage of them?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Lions are back and so am I

Ok, it's been awhile but I'm going to skip all the catching up business (my last post coming in March, a lot has happened) and get to the point. Football.

The NFL regular season, week 1 is in the books and the Lions performed about as well as they are capable of on Monday night. Naturally, Drew Sharp wasted no time in posting his annual "turd in the punchbowl" column following the 35-14 win over the Giants (roughly 2.5 hrs after the game ended). Anyway, breezing by the guy that likes to sneeze on the birthday cake (for the record, Mitch Albom is Drew Sharp's polar opposite), let's get to the action.

Sorry about the quality, but the NFL (No Fun League) is doing a great job of keeping recent game footage off YouTube and no longer provides the embed code for videos, so this was the best I could do. For better res, try this link out, or full highlights here.

Anyway, this play sort of encapsulated a lot of the things the offense did well. The offensive line did a pretty good job in pass protection (the rush came from a guy that dragged the RT Waddle down by his facemask), Stafford used his newfound mobility to slide step the rusher and buy time, and Calvin Johnson used that time to get absurdly open.

I'd read a couple of articles on how Stafford now has a QB coach for the first time in his NFL career (imagine!), and they were working on his footwork and that sort of thing. This piqued my interest, since Stafford's footwork has always been the main thing holding him back. If he could figure his feet out...

Let me take a moment here and extrapolate. Going back to last season's collapse, fair or foul, I've always believed that Stafford was primarily responsible. His QB rating went from 96.2 in September, to 93.5 in October, to 78.9 in November, and finally 63.8 in December. He essentially went from Romo/Roethlisberger territory to Kellen Clemens to sub-Geno Smith. With solid footwork, the Romo/Roethlisberger scenario would be Stafford on a BAD day. So, fix the feet to fix Stafford, fix Stafford to fix the Lions, and the sky is the limit.

...Ok, sorry about that. Not that I want to go all crazy-giddy-psycho-fan on you (LIONS, SUPER BOWL 2015!!!), but if this version of Matt Stafford is legit, you can start buying Lions playoff stock. Other things I liked - the new offense seemed to be well run (for the most part), the defense put decent pressure on the QB (Ansah and Levy were all over the place), I LOVED the turnover differential (although Levy probably dropped his INT), and I liked how the Lions closed the game. After the first quarter, they seemed content to sit back and kick field goals, leaving the door open for a Giants comeback. Then they slammed that door shut with Stafford's scramble TD, then the soul-crushing 12-play TD drive with the Fauria 2-pt conversion to cap it off.

What I didn't like:
  • The penalties! Detroit gift-wrapped the Giants' first TD with the roughing the kicker and pass interference in the end zone penalties, and Raiola had a 15-yd facemask that negated a 25-yd CJ catch and killed a drive, to name a few. Still, the silver lining is that after chalking up 8 penalties for 85 yards in the 1st half, the Lions cleaned it up in the 2nd half
  • The Lions run game, apart from the last TD drive which featured 8 rushing plays for 37 yards, was pretty anemic. New York seemed to stack a little against the run, oddly enough, but I expected the line to be more effective in the run game than they were
  • The defense held Eli Manning's offense to 14 points, but a lot of that is due to how crappy that offense is right now. I liked the pass rush and linebacker play, but that secondary... I don't remember much good or bad about Mathis' performance, but Slay had plenty of both. When the nickle corner, Bentley, went down, followed by the remaining starting safety, this team's primary weakness was on full display. Fortunately the Giants weren't capable of exploiting it. I'm hoping Champ Bailey isn't as washed up as Denver and New Orleans think he is
Last year I predicted that the Lions would finish 11-5. Unfortunately, they defied the odds and DIDN'T (come on, after 9 games everyone was saying 11 wins, minimum). I'm not going to put a number on this season, I'll go for a range and hedge a little. Best case scenario, they finish with 12 wins and take the division. Worst case, they end up with 7 wins and everyone comes to the conclusion that Stafford won't ever get it.

Most likely it'll be somewhere in between, but get ready. Cam Newton & his busted ribs are up next.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Back at it (kind of)

Pt 1
I’ve been out of commission for a while now, just getting back into blogging on a limited basis. What’s happened since my last post?
  • Personally, I completed a marathon (despite still recovering from a leg injury) with a respectable time of 4:16:39, my first child was born (a lovely girl), and got recalled to a (supposedly) permanent position. Sadly, the Detroit sports teams have not fared as well as I have…
  • The Lions solidified their place in the history of pathetic sports franchises by spectacularly choking away the playoffs after the NFC North was practically gift-wrapped for them
  • The Pistons parlayed a couple questionable off-season pickups, a questionable draft pick, and a questionable coaching hire into yet another losing season, almost certainly missing the playoffs and likely losing their 1st round pick as well
  • The Wings have been banged up all year and Jimmy Howard has underperformed, leading to the possible end to the longest active playoff streak in sports
  • Jim Leyland retired (like) to be replaced by Brad Ausmus (like). Jim Schwartz was fired (like) to be replaced by Jim Caldwell (dislike). Mo Cheeks was fired (like, with qualifications) to be replaced by John Loyer (hopefully not permanently)
I’d like to touch on that last point, briefly. It’s strange to me that the Tigers appear to be the best run franchise out of the four (I put them over the Wings based on recent history). During my formative years the Tigers were a laughingstock, the Wings seemed like they could win the Cup every year, the Lions at least made the playoffs every other year (always losing in the 1st round), and the Pistons at least had Grant Hill and made the playoffs from time to time.

I think to discern the quality of each franchise, all you have to do is look at the coaching situation. The Pistons are the most poorly managed team of the four. They’re on their 6th coach since 2006, look no further than that (if you WANT to look further than that - which I wouldn’t advise - you could look at 6 straight losing seasons, blown draft picks, bad trades, bad free agent signings, and the fact that they gave up a pick in the most loaded draft in recent memory). The Lions closely follow the Pistons, being a bit more stable but bad nonetheless. The Wings are in a similar boat to the Tigers, but Babcock has probably been there 4 years too long. Not a bad coach, but he’s just getting old for this team and will likely miss the playoffs this year. Leyland left at the right time and the right replacement was hired, putting the Tigs on top. I’m most optimistic about them making the playoffs, and they have an outside shot at winning it all.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Little clearer picture of the Lions

Before the preseason kicked off, I predicted (admitting over-optimism) an 11-win season for the Lions in 2013 AND a playoff win. I stand by my prediction (and the over-optimism qualifier) because THIS IS FOOTBALL, and no one ever succeeded in football by being a wuss. Right? Right. However, after the 3rd preseason game I think there are a few tenuous conclusions we can make. 

1. Matthew Stafford is a 3rd-tier QB.
I thought Stafford might be a 2nd tier guy, maybe even high-2nd tier. Well he isn’t. Not yet anyway. The presence of Calvin Johnson pushes Stafford’s production into 2nd tier. Without CJ in the passing game, Stafford was unable to move the offense with mediocre receivers. I’m not exactly BLAMING Stafford for the offense’s ineffectiveness, but he certainly hasn’t wowed me. The 2nd tier of QB’s would include guys like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and possibly Matt Schaub. I just can’t put Stafford with that group.

2. Secondary aside, this defense should be solid. I don’t think the secondary will be as good as it was when Eric Wright manned the CB spot opposite Chris Houston, but it should be ok if Slay cleans it up a little in coverage. Right now Slay and Bentley are still figuring things out and it’s, well, BAD. The S and DE spots are upgraded (Avril/KVB/Young/Lo-Jack < Jones/Ansah/Young/Idoneje and it’s not close), and I think whoever ends up with the other LB spot will be an upgrade over Durant last year. Possibly the biggest change/improvement is Suh taking on the leadership mantle. The D line is younger, faster, and has an edge that wasn’t there last year. They’ll score some points.

3. Special Teams will go from being a minus last year to a plus. This is a bigger deal than most people think. Sam Martin will be a top 5 punter, if he can remain consistent. Akers will adequately replace Jason Hanson (it’s sacrilege to say it, but the last couple of years Hanson lost distance and reliability on his FG’s), Martin is VERY good on kick offs, kick coverage is MUCH better, and kick returns are also improved. The Lions can chalk up a couple of losses (maybe even several) last year to poor special teams play. I don’t think they’ll WIN any games because their special teams, but they should have an edge over the majority of their opponents.

4. This is way late, but Mikel LeShoure was a wasted draft pick.
So were Titus Young, Jahvid Best, and a dozen others I could name in the Martin Mayhew era. Not exactly news. This just struck me last night though – they traded up to get LeShoure in the 2nd round 2 years ago, and a few months later they picked up Joique Bell off of Houston’s practice squad. Who’s the better RB right now? I say Bell. 

The Jury is still out on...
- The offensive line. This unit will get fewer penalties than the previous group, but Reiff is not ideal at LT, and I’m not sure what I think of Fox or Warford just yet. We just haven’t seen enough of them to get a good assessment.

- The new-look offense with Reggie Bush. Evaluating this offense without CJ is like scouting an outfielder by watching him shag flies in batting practice. Plus, I think Linehan kept the playbook REALLY thin for the preseason. At least I hope he did. Anyway, there are a lot of options on how to use Bush and Linehan didn’t show us much. Basically I’m saying don’t rush to judge the offense based on what we’ve seen so far.

- Ziggy Ansah. He’s made some BIG plays, and he’s also disappeared at times. He’s probably ahead of the curve from where I thought he was on draft night, but is he a starter yet? I don’t know. Willie Young might be a shade better right now. I feel like Ansah will either take 3-4 games to really get going, or it might not happen this year.

The Lions need a few things to go right for my 11 win prediction to look good. The offense needs to get better at finding the end zone. The secondary needs to get tighter at the other CB spot. They can’t afford an injury to CJ, Bush or Suh. I feel like that isn’t asking a TON, and Chicago and Minnesota are overdue to come down. They would probably need 4 wins in the division (sweep CHI, split with MIN & GB), which is asking a lot but is believable.

Breaking down preseason is kind of silly, so I’m going to try & analyze Thursday night’s game in a regular season light. Let’s put on our hypothetical goggles and take another look at the game.

Stafford struggled to move the offense in the red zone, or to ever get on a roll offensively. This was largely a result of his receivers’ inability to get open. IN A REAL GAME Calvin Johnson would’ve put a Band-Aid on his bruised knee & suited up. CJ can get open anytime, and also opens things up for everyone else. Not saying the offense would’ve blown the doors off, but they probably would’ve gotten another 1st half TD.

With 2 sacks and a fumble recovery, you could argue that the player of the game for Detroit was DE Jason Jones (in fact, his buddies DID make that argument on the sidelines). IN A REAL GAME Belichek would’ve schemed to chip the ends more, or made some other adjustment in the 2nd half to quell the edge rush, like shorter drop-backs & quicker passes. The 2nd half would likely have been a different story, with the DE’s needing to get their hands up to knock down passes.

Tom Brady & the Pats limped into the half down by several scores. IN A REAL GAME I don’t think the halftime score would’ve been much different, maybe even skewed more toward the Lions’ favor. However, in real games the starters play the 2nd half as well. Belichek is VERY good at adjustments & would’ve come up with a few more ways to exploit the Lions’ weak secondary. The Lions are a better 2nd half team as well, mainly because Stafford is just a slow starter. I think both teams would probably have traded scores with New England playing a little better than Detroit, and the game’s outcome would not have been decided until the final minute (I believe I just lapsed into preterit-future-imaginary-subjunctive tense).

In conclusion, the preseason is WAY too long. Can we start this up already?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tigers and Umps Oh My!

I had a post ready to publish about how great it was that the Tigers were winning all these games, running the table on the Indians and coming up with the clutch hits. I went into examining what changed over the winning streak that accounted for the change and how great it was to be a Tigers fan. Before I had a chance to make the final tweaks – insert highlights, links, etc – they lost a series to NY. Ok. Then they lost another series to Chicago. Meh. Then they lost a series to KFC (Kansas Freaking City). Officially concerned here.

Throwing errors, starting pitching falling down, relief pitching exposed (Coke & Alburquerque shouldn’t see the light of day), big hitters coming up with big outs in big spots…

This isn’t supposed to happen to this team. The Tigers have the best starting rotation in baseball. They have the best hitter in baseball. They have REALLY good middle defense – C, SS, 2B, CF (although the catchers can’t throw out the garbage) – and they’ve had solid hitting in the top ¾ of the lineup. But often in baseball, the unexplainable happens.

Saturday, for example. Fister threw a pitch in the dirt that the batter waved at for some reason & fouled off. Pena, the catcher, asked the ump for another ball except the ump wouldn’t give it. Pena was confused. Chris Getz was on first and decided to go for it, making it to 3rd before Fister picked up the ball that the ump inexplicably had ruled a wild pitch. Leyland came out to argue, the umps conferenced (next year this will become a reviewable play, but for now we have to put up with this BS) and ruled it a wild pitch, runner stays. Leyland argued, went back to the dugout (under protest, I presume), and then got thrown out by the ump on the opposite end of the field (I’ll never comprehend how that guy understood what Leyland said at that distance when I can hardly understand him when he’s got a microphone in his face). The runner on 3rd ended up scoring of course, Pena apparently made some comment while looking away from the home plate ump & got also tossed. I feel I should mention that this was John Hirschbeck’s crew that was umping this particular game, which probably explains the quick trigger.

What’s amazing about this? Well, a) calling a foul tip is relatively easy because you just listen for the sound AND the ball changes direction, b) none of the other umps heard or spotted anything despite BOTH the pitcher & catcher knowing it was tipped, and c) the umps gave the Tigers NO rope to argue once the call was made despite suspecting their ultimate call was incorrect. I’ve heard a lot of excuses for umps over the years – it’s a hard job, it’s a thankless job, the rules are often ambiguous, the speed of the ball is sometimes too fast for the eye to pick up – and these are all true… But on the other hand, there’s a LOT more at stake for the Tigers than there is for the umps (Fortunately the Tigers would go on to win this one with a walkoff in the 9th). 

There is no metric for how good an ump should be, little to no consequences for screwing up call after call (Angel Hernandez has been one of the worst umps in the league for a while & he still has a job). If a player displayed the incompetence of some of these umps, he’d get sent down or cut. If a manager, he’d be fired. If a GM, he’d be fired. There are consequences for failure (THAT sounded like Dr. Evil) at every job in baseball except umpire (and commissioner I guess). Expanding replay will help them get a few more calls right, but the underlying problem remains until the league figures out how to expand accountability.

It's very possible, given the state of umpiring today, that few of them would ever overturn a call based on replay.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm afraid the Lions are the mistake by the milake...

The Lions absolutely crapped the bed in their last preseason game vs. Cleveland
. Really, I could care less if they win or lose in the preseason (always remember, 4-0 in 2008 led to 0-16), but I certainly want to see the starters play well. They didn't. They continued their penchant for getting whistled for rough play and the more annoying tendency not to score points or cover anyone. After all the moves they made (drafting Slay this year, Bentley last year, getting Quin in FA), the secondary still sucks. At the moment it seems they're willing to patch in cheap vets until one of the younger kids rises to the top.

Another problem is TE play. Pettigrew still can't catch. This is a problem. Stafford isn't good enough to overcome mediocre talent at every receiver position unoccupied by Calvin Johnson. He REALLY needs help at the TE spot, and he's not getting it. I know it's only preseason, but this offense is what will win Detroit games. It stalled too often last year, and I'm not sure how that gets fixed with the current personnel. Pettigrew looks more & more like a giant waste of a draft pick (drafted after him were Percy Harvin, Michael Oher, Clay Matthews, and Hakeem Nicks). Nobody besides CJ seems willing to step up.

I think a lot of this is on Stafford though. Yes, he has - outside of Calvin Johnson and probably Bush - ineffective tools to work with. He's able to do some basic QB things, but he hasn't shown much of that next level stuff like throwing a receiver open, or extending a play & making something good happen. His stats got a LOT of help from CJ last year, so I think they should be taken with a smallish grain of salt. If the Lions are going to make the playoffs like I hope (and predicted), Stafford will need to step it up.