A commentary about sports, media, and interpersonal relationships encountered throughout everyday life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pennsylvania Debate: 1st Half, non-issue fluff. 2nd Half: Real Issues.

The first half of tonight’s “debate” between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton was absurd. The debate began at 8 PM Eastern and literally no real issues were covered for the first 50 minutes. The tide turned once George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson focused on the withdrawing of troops from Iraq. Before this turnaround occurred at 8:50 PM, anyone viewing the debate received tabloid garbage news from both Obama and Clinton.

But whose fault is this? Is it ABC’s for actually posing questions about sniper fire in Bosnia, racist ministers, and shady individuals know by each candidate? Not entirely. If you dig down into the belly of the beast, it is each of the politicians who are to blame. Looking back to a three-way attack Sen. Obama faced about his minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Watching this exchange, it seemed more like a trashy talk show than a Presidential debate.

However, it wasn’t strictly Obama who was on the receiving end of “issue” attacks. Gibson and Stephanopoulos also attempted to, again, make Hillary Clinton talk about how ridiculous her sniper fire story in Bosnia was. Is this really a pressing issue? This question counts as the third time that this absurd story has swept through the mass media. The first was when it initially “broke.” The second, when former-President Clinton decided to randomly bring it up at a talk he gave just over a week ago. The third comes tonight.

It really baffles me that these two stories that the American people have had force-fed down their throats are coming up again! Not only that… but taking away from the time that two candidates for the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES could be discussing REAL ISSUES! It is disgusting that the first hour of this two-hour debate was on nonsense that people really should not base their votes on. Especially since the second half of the debate hit real issues that people should take into consideration when casting their ballots next week and in November.

In the issue of Iraq, Hillary Clinton had her best showing thus far. She spoke about not knowing what will happen if US troops are withdrawn from Iraq. However, Sen. Clinton said that we do know that troops are continually in danger and dying in Iraq if the United States remains overseas. This is the first time that I can remember, that Sen. Clinton took a solid stance on the removal of troops from Iraq. She also listed three specific factors that remaining in Iraq will result in: (1) Iraq will continue it’s dependency issues and passive approach to independence so long as the US remains. (2) The U.S. Military will continue to be stretched thin as troops will be forced into third, fourth, and fifth tours of duty in the Middle East. Lastly, (3) The U.S. will not give its full attention to more pressing issues (e.g. the economy).

However, this strong position began to fade once Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama addressed the social security crisis. During this juncture, Sen. Obama called Clinton’s bluff about waiving a magic wand and fixing the social security crisis. At this point, I was expecting a specific approach or example that Sen. Clinton had up her sleeve. No. Her response was, “We’re gonna work it out, we’re gonna make it happen.” ABC went to commercial right after that “response,” and I sat back and wondered… Was that really just her response? If there was any chance of her running away with this debate, it fell flat at that very moment.

The debate closed with a lack of commitment on gun issues and a lack of furtherance on propositions of transforming affirmative action at some point down the line. It’s hard not to think that both candidates could have expanded on both of these issues that they danced around if the entire first half of the debate was not spent delving through non-issues. It saddens me to know that there are some people who turned off the debate after an hour or less. Those who did so only received information about irrelevant topics (like church minister and imaginary sniper fire) that could potentially decide for whom they case their votes, and that is a sad reality of our political coverage.

Coping With Soriano's Calf Injury: OPS Replacements

Seriously, who hops around while catching a fly ball? For those who did not witness Alfonso Soriano straining his calf muscle on Tuesday night in Chicago firsthand, it looked as though he was readying himself to turn a double play at second base. We’ve witnessed his unorthodox sidearm/sub-marine throwing motion in left field, but the whole dancing around an imaginary second base is unacceptable. All Lou Pinella can say is: "It seems like a natural move for him." No way, Lou… maybe that’s because people have been fooling themselves thinking he belongs in the outfield. Now before anyone busts out his outfield assist numbers over the past few years, answer this: Would you not try to run on a converted second baseman? Of course you would! Soriano surprised some people and raked up the stats in the process. There’s no way he and superior defenders like Jose Guillen, Ichiro, and Melky Cabrera should be in the same category.

However, that rant is for another day. By now, I’m sure you can tell that Alfonso Soriano is on my fantasy team and I’m quite ‘miffed’ about his potential DL stint. For anyone who’s looking for a potential replacement for Sori, I’ve come up with a few names who you may be able to trade for or pick up off waivers in the meanwhile. For regular readers of this blog, you know I’m working with Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones on my roster. I also have Rick Ankiel and Grady Sizemore to cycle through as well, so I’m not in the worst shape in the OF, but I’m still on the prowl for a hot bat to insert in my active lineup over hot/cold players like Jones and Damon.

For OPS fiends (like my main man Mike Plugh), I’ve looked back at Soriano’s three year average OPS (2005-07) .874 and compared it to other similar OPS’ over that span. Here are a couple names that jumped out at me:

Luke Scott, BAL: This kid is off to a hot start with the AL East leading O’s so far. He’s hitting .386(BA)-.449(OBP)-.614(SLG) which is entirely respectable for a stopgap player. In his last six games, four of his seven hits have been doubles, which explains the slugging percentage being this high. Could those doubles eventually become home runs? Well, he does play in Camden Yards, so anything is possible. For as good as he’s been playing, you’re not going to get any stolen bases from Scott. He has less than 50 in five years in the minor leagues, so any SBs that come from him are going to be a freak accident.

Bill Hall, MIL: Obviously, this guy is not going to be available in your league, but he may be worth trading for in this instance. Soriano was probably an early pick for you this year and your team is going to struggle without him. So far, Hall his hitting to a tune of .204-.218-.519 and was extremely undervalued entering 2008. So what does this tell us? Well, he’s not taking pitches enough to walk, BUT when he makes contact, it’s usually for more than a single. It looks like he’d be murdering your Roto team, but points leagues may want to take a flyer on him. If his 3-year average is in line with Sori’s, there’s a potential for these numbers to rise as the year rolls along.

Chris Duncan (and Ryan Ludwick), StL: Dear Lord they’re so streaky. Duncan is the player who came up when I ran a 3-year average of OPS, but Ludwick has been just plan crazy for the first two and a half weeks. Staying with Duncan for the time being, his OPS is at .900 for 2008 and, like his brother Shelley, he can go nuts with the long ball for weeks at a time. The whole question with Duncan, though, is health. Well… right now, he’s healthier than Soriano… and that’s all you need to know at the moment. Back to Ludwick, he’s definitely going to be available, but I wouldn’t dive all over him unless you’re in a really, really deep league (I’m thinking 14-16 teams).

So those are three players (technically 4…) who jumped out at me in the 3-year OPS search. Below are a few waiver-wire hotshots who did not show up on that search who you should take a look at in your league:

Nate McLouth, Pit: His OPS is over 1.000 right now, which is Big Papi-esque. He’s a great fill-in for Soriano… but he’s probably already been picked up in your league. I slept on him because he’s a Buck-O, so I’m not going to completely tear you apart for letting him slip through the cracks.

Carlos Quentin, ChW: The anti-Nate McLouth. His OPS is hovering around .750, which is respectable, especially hitting in White Sox potent line up. However, he’s not getting regular ABs, which frustrates me. I was one of the people who thought Quentin was going to explode with the D-Backs last year… and I guess I am still optimistic that this may occur with the ChiSox. Don’t dive on him now… but please monitor him.

Moises Alou, NYM: Every year he’s underrated because of injury and every year he goes nuts when he’s healthy. Unless you’re playing with multiple Met fans in your league, Alou’s probably buried in waivers right now. He’s not going to be a fill-in for Soriano because he’ll be starting up his rehab assignment this weekend. But don’t let another owner in your league pick up a guy who’s OPS has been over .900 over the past four years… I don’t want to see that happen to you.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Andruw Jones: Major League Enigma

Yesterday, Andruw Jones was released by a team in my fantasy league after new Dodgers Manager Joe Torre benched his high-profile center fielder (please notice my refusal to describe Jones as a ‘star’ center fielder). I jumped on the opportunity to stash Jones on my roster this early on in the 2008 season. Currently, I have Alfonso Soriano and Grady Sizemore as the two regulars in my outfield. The final spot consists of a platoon featuring Rick Ankiel and Johnny Damon (who I defend against fantasy critics here). Naturally, I thought Jones could only help this situation…

This transaction occured the same day Matthew Berry blogged about “regretting the Andruw Jones prediction” of batting .265 with 30 home runs in 2008. Baseball Prospectus knocks about ten points off the average (.256) with one less home run (29). Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster projects nearly identical numbers for Jones as well with a .254 BA with 28 homers. Aside from Berry’s Richie Sexson-esque prediction, BP and Shandler are eerily similar in their projections.

Now let’s look into what people thought about Jones before he began to take the same shape as his fat contract:

Baseball Prospectus: They look at Jones’ stats over the past three seasons as ask “was it a change in his skills, or just one of those fluke seasons?” Due to his age (31) and his somewhat robotic output of 30+ homeruns, 100+ RBI, and a .260 BA, BP views 2007’s lows as “one of those fluke seasons.” I’m sure the crew over at BP may be reconsidering that view as Jones has looked sloppy in physical stature and sluggish on the field as a member of the Dodgers.

Baseball Forecaster: Quite simply: “Lotsa oddness.” Shandler points out that Jones’ second half was more in line with his career batting peripherals. However, his power was still missing. Personally, I think the 51 HR / 45 HR Jones is gone forever, so I can’t really gripe about the lost power source in 2007; but Shandler’s right, once everything else (BA, OBP, SLG, Contact%) improves for the second half, it’s really a head scratcher that the power doesn’t follow suit.

Obviously, Jones has been absolutely putrid in April thus far. Let’s take a look at his OPS, HR, RBI, & Runs Scores in 2008 compared to 2007:

In 2007, Jones had 88 At-Bats in April that resulted in the numbers above. However, Jones’ current pace puts him nowhere near the April numbers of last year (which was recognized as a “bad” year).

This bring us back to my predicament: Am I certifiably insane for picking up this mess of a ball player for my squad? Maybe. But my thinking is that he’s, at most, 1/3 of a starter for my team. I’m not going to be relying on Andruw Jones to carry my team by any means, but (as Ron Shandler reminds us all) once a player demonstrates skills… he owns them. As I said before, I think the 45-125 Andruw Jones is lost and gone forever, but I think that he still possesses enough skill to be the man who Matthew Berry is afraid to stand by. My bold prediction is that Jones will win me at least one fantasy game this year… and for that, this transaction was well worth it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Clinton & McCain in Memphis on MLK's 40th Anniversary

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Commemorating this anniversary, Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton appeared in Fort Wayne, IN and Memphis, TN respectively to pay tribute to Dr. King’s life and the fight for equality that he died trying to achieve.

Earlier in the day, there were a number of different speeches were delivered. First, Senator Obama discussed Dr. King’s dream for equality in all spheres of life. King Jr’s dream to bridge the racial gap was also a dream to bridge the economic gap, as Obama pointed out. He continued, noting that Martin Luther King was in Memphis on the day of his assassination in order to fight for sanitation workers’ rights in the city. Obama, drew parallels to the economic divide that our nation witnesses today and how it is important continue the fight to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’

John McCain did not stand in a cozy gymnasium hundreds of miles away, he stood, under storm clouds and rain, in the very location where Dr. King’s assassination took place. Right off the bat, McCain talked about how he initially voted against having Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a national holiday years ago. He said he “made a mistake,” by initially voting this way and was sorry he did. Boo’s reigned down on McCain from the crowd as he struggled to maintain his political smile and composure. He repeated near three times that he “made a mistake,” as voices from the crowd gathered began to die down. One voice was heard through the podium microphone saying, “It’s okay, we all make mistakes.”

I am not a McCain supporter, but it was inspiring to see McCain go to the very place where King Jr was murdered and ask for forgiveness from the masses in attendance today. As the crowd’s booing died down, allowing McCain to finish his speech (miraculously without one of his bad jokes), I can't help but think that he won a few votes with his public apology and decent speech delivered today in Memphis.

At first, I was surprised not to hear from Hillary Clinton this morning. In fact, I was angered that she was not going to show up and speech about the life of Dr. King, especially since she appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno the night before. My anger subsided when she MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News all announced that she would be speaking in Memphis within the hour…

A question then entered my mind: Why is Barack Obama in Fort Wayne, Indiana? His two main competitors, Clinton and McCain, traveled to Memphis to pay homage to Dr. King’s life and sacrifice on a disgusting Memphis day, while he stood in a temperate, dry Fort Wayne gymnasium dozens of miles away. This is, in the least, a questionable decision by the Obama campaign and, in my opinion, could cost him in upcoming polls (not so important) and subsequent primaries (very important).

Again, I can’t say for certain that this will hurt him in the upcoming primaries, but Hillary Clinton, his competition, was on the West Coast less than 24 hours ago. If she can catch a flight across the country to be in Memphis on this important day, the least Obama could’ve done is the same…