Sports Outside the Beltway

Edwar and the disappearing Yankee offense

Fortunately, I was unable to watch today’s game (which the Yanks lost 7-0), so instead I watched last night’s Triple-A Scranton game. I was paying special attention to Edwar Ramirez, the 26-year-old Dominican reliever who’s been dominating the minors this year. His ‘out’ pitch is a nasty changeup that dives down almost like a splitter. He was perfect again last night, going three innings striking out six. He had good (not great) command of his 89-90 mph fastball (good enough velocity – I was afraid that a 26-year-old career minor leaguer meant he couldn’t throw hard), but great command of the change (I don’t know how much slower it is, but by the swings generated, it can’t be above 80 mph). He also seemed to have a little slider. Just marvel at his stats this year: 43.1 ip, .62 era, 80 K, 17 BB, 1 HR, .128 baa, .83 whip.
And it’s not just this year, as we see from his career minor league stats (prior to 2007): 211.2 ip, 2.90 era, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, .6 HR/9, 1.11 whip.
Extremely impressive numbers, which makes the fact tyhat he was released twice by Anaheim even more puzzling. Was their farm system so stacked that a guy like this couldn’t make it?

Watching Farnsworth, Myers, Vizcaino and Villone is making me sick. This guy has dominated throughout his career, and it’s time he gets a shot in the big leagues. Don’t forget about Chris Britton and Sean Henn, also guys that should be pitching in the Bronx.

As for today, the offense disappeared again. Today they barely escaped being no-hit (the only coming from Johnny Damon). Over their last 11 games, they’ve scored just 31 runs, which averages to 2.8 per game. A terrible slump for an underachieving team. I’m afraid Joe Torre’s job may become tenuous. Since last year’s ALDS, I thought a new manager should have been brought in (preferably during the off-season), but now would not be the right time. Hopefully, Joe steps down at season’s end, and is replaced by Joe Girardi.


Royals Week in Review – 6/29/07

Having swept the California Angels of Southern Antiqua, the Kansas City Royals look to the Chicago White Sox, a team that is one bad weekend away from taking over the cellar position the Royals have held for so long.

As this weekend will mark the halfway point of the season, let’s take a look at some of the notable stats from the first 79 games.

Offense & Defense

Mo   RS   RA   OPS  ERA
Apr  3.8  5.1  700  4.32
May  4.0  5.7  699  5.27
Jun  5.4  4.5  730  4.30

The offense has shown dramatic improvement in the last month, while the pitching has come back strong after an off month in May. Even the defense has stepped it up from the first month of the season, with only 5% of runs allowed being unearned in June, compared to 17% in April.


Reggie Sanders will probably end the season as the team leader in OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Average) as long as his sore hammy keeps him on the disabled list. These are the top three players looking to take over his 1.059 showing.

Buck      907
Gathright 851
Teahen    795

Even better for the Royals, the hot hands in June all look to play a significant role in the team’s future.

OPS June
DeJesus   885
Gordon    885
Buck      880
Gathright 851

Joey Gathright has been getting on base at a .446 clip since his call up on June 6. While he does only have three extra base hits, the speedster has also stolen five bags while only getting caught once.

From a pitching standpoint, the relief staff has an overall ERA of 4.06 compared to the starters at 4.95.

A look at June ERA shows that while the bullpen has really been heating up, the rotation still needs some serious work.

ERA June
Soria   0.00
Riske   1.42
Peralta 2.08
Dotel   2.53

Banny   3.00
Meche   3.98
DL Rosa 6.41
Perez   6.66
Elartn 11.15

Gil Meche has slipped a little, but still looks like a win for Dayton Moore, while Brian Bannister has held his own.

De La Rosa is a fantastic pitcher to have if the game were still being played without stadium lights (a 3-0 record in day games); Odalis Perez is looking a lot like the devil, and Scott Elarton can stay in Omaha forever as far as I’m concerned.

Winners & Losers
Thanks to the wonderful stats over at Fangraphs (track a game live and see how your emotions look in a line chart), we can see who has contributed the most to the Royals wins and losses this year.

The stat Winning Percentage Added (WPA) gives credit for every play made that increases or decreases a teams chance at winning a game. As such, it puts greater importance on plays made late in a game, where the outcome of the game becomes more certain.

Team WPA
Offense  -5.43
Starters -2.15
Relief   +1.08

Most observers believed that Kansas City getting a reliable bullpen would be a sign of the apocalypse. No four horsemen yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

Individual WPA
Soria   1.40
Grienke 1.27

Meche   0.95

DeJesus 0.54
Teahen  0.52

Elartn -1.18
Pena   -2.04

After some poor outings as a starter, Zack Grienke has ratcheted up his WPA by getting some big strikeouts as a reliever. Soria has been an absolute steal for the team, and one wonders if they shouldn’t begin stretching him out to be a starter like Minnesota did with Johan Santana.

The two guys who have hurt the team most have one distinct difference: fielding. While TPJ may flail away at the plate like a tee baller facing the high school kids, he has flashed some pretty good leather this season, something that isn’t accounted for much in these numbers.

Scott Elarton just stinks. One good outing in AAA will not convince me otherwise.

A young offense is coming around, and the bullpen has been a revelation. Dayton Moore must continue adding to the starting rotation. That is the key to this team becoming a threat in the American League in the very near future.


NHL Raise Salary Cap

According to TSN, the NHL has raised the Salary Cap $6-million from $44-million to $50.3-million. Under the terms of the post-lockout CBA teams are required to spend a minimum of $34.3-million.


NFL Europa Folds after 16 Seasons

The NFL has decided to shut the doors on its struggling European league.

The NFL folded its development league in Europe after 16 years on Friday, calling the decision a sound business move that will allow for a stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States.

The announcement came less than a week after the Hamburg Sea Devils beat the Frankfurt Galaxy 37-28 in the World Bowl title game in Frankfurt before a crowd of 48,125. Five of the league’s six teams are based in Germany, with the other in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

A statement on the German-language edition of the NFL’s Web site said the NFL decided to concentrate its “strategies and resources” on regular-season games outside the United States in an effort to reach as many people as possible. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thanked the fans for their support but said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the “best business decision.” The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season. “From now on we will focus on regular-season games and use new technologies to make NFL more popular worldwide,” he said.

NFL team owners decided in October to play up to two regular-season games outside the United States. The first such game is Oct. 28 in London between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants. The league said it is looking toward other regular-season games in Germany, Mexico and Canada, with Germany a strong candidate for 2008.

This once again demonstrates why the NFL is the best-run sports league. It simply didn’t make sense to continue to lose millions to develop a handful of marginal players. Meanwhile, the NBA continues to poor money into the WNBA.

More background, from Wikipedia:

[I]t was founded in 1991 as the World League of American Football (WLAF) to serve as a type of spring league. In 1995, when the league was revamped after a two-year hiatus, the league was renamed the World League. In 1997, the league rebranded itself as the NFL European League or NFL Europe. After the 2006 season, the league’s name changed again, this time to NFL Europa.

Here are the various logos used over the years:

World League of American Football LogoNFL Europe LogoNFL Europa Logo

Given the proliferation of cable options, NFL Europa had to contend with Arena ball and re-runs of classic NFL games with its stateside audience. Abroad, the sport had to rely on a dwindling population of American soldiers and expats. That’s not much of a business plan.


25 Best NFL Wide Receivers

Who are the best wide receivers in the NFL? ESPN’s Bucky Brooks ranks his top 25.

The top 10:

1. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: The ultimate offensive weapon has almost single-handedly carried the Panthers’ offense the past two seasons. Smith’s outstanding speed, quickness and leaping ability enable him to take over a game, which sets him apart from the rest of the receivers. With a league-best 13 100-yard performances in the past two seasons, Smith has proven to be a dominant force despite lacking a complementary playmaker on the offense. His dominance will continue as he and two-time Pro Bowl QB Jake Delhomme form the foundation of the Panthers’ new offensive attack.

2. Chad Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals: The flamboyant playmaker has led the AFC in receiving yards for four consecutive seasons. As a polished receiver with excellent speed and hands, he has thrived as the favorite target of Carson Palmer in the Bengals wide open offense. Still showing a penchant for getting deep, Johnson led the league with eight receptions over 40 yards last season. With Palmer rounding back to Pro Bowl form, expect Johnson to continue to post big numbers.

3. Roy Williams, Detroit Lions: As the “go-to guy” in Mike Martz’s high octane offense, Williams had a breakout season in 2006 with over 1,300 receiving yards and a league-leading 24 receptions over 20 yards. A big, physical receiver with outstanding athleticism and hands, he finally showed the dominant ability that everyone expected when he entered the league. Teaming with Mike Furrey and rookie Calvin Johnson, in the Lions’ version of “The Greatest Show On Turf”, Williams will see more single coverage this season, which spells big trouble for defenses.

4. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts: A polished route runner with excellent quickness and burst, he sets the standard for consistency at the position. As the lead receiver in one of the league’s most dynamic offenses, he has posted eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Even with the emergence of Reggie Wayne, there’s no reason to think Harrison won’t continue to be as effective in 2007.

5. Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys: The controversial superstar led the league in touchdown receptions in 2006, but suffered a down year by his standards. Though his season totals should have earned him Pro Bowl accolades, his high number of drops diverted attention away from his positive impact on the Dallas offense. Fully recovered from a wrist injury and playing in an offense that will accentuate his strengths, he will have a big season as Tony Romo’s favorite target in 2007.

6. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: The Texans’ "one-man show" hauled in 103 receptions without a legitimate threat on the other side. With an outstanding combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson overpowers smaller defenders in one-on-one match-ups. Though he is sure to see a lot of double coverage, he should see his production rise with new quarterback Matt Schaub under center.

7. Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre‘s No. 1 target is one of the most underrated receivers in the league. An outstanding playmaker, Driver has posted over 1,200 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons. After earning his first Pro Bowl nomination, he is finally beginning to get the recognition he deserves. With limited weapons in the backfield, Driver may shatter his career highs in receptions and yards in 2007.

8. Javon Walker, Denver Broncos: After posting a 1,000-yard season in his first season as a Bronco, Walker has established himself as Jay Cutler‘s favorite target. A vertical playmaker, he excels at double moves and deep routes off play action. With Travis Henry commanding attention in the backfield, Walker and Cutler should hook up for several big plays in 2007.

9. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals: This two-time Pro Bowler has been a dominant force since stepping into the league. Boldin has two 100-catch seasons and three seasons with over 1,200 receiving yards in his four-year career, and few defenders have found a way to slow him down. Using his outstanding athleticism to make up for unpolished route running skills, he does most of his damage as a runner after the catch. With promising Matt Leinart directing a new wide open attack, Boldin will continue to be a force in 2007.

10. Randy Moss, New England Patriots: Once viewed as the best receiver in the league, Moss has fallen from his perch at the top. After displaying lackluster effort and sloppy route running last season, his reputation as one of the premier deep threats has been tarnished. But he is poised to bounce back with a strong season in 2007, when he’ll team with Tom Brady to form a lethal big-play combination.

It’s hard to deny any of these guys are elite receivers, although I’m hard pressed to put a Detroit Lion ahead of Marvin Freakin’ Harrison. And I’m not sure Randy Moss deserves to be considered a top 10 guy until he puts together another good year; it’s been awhile.


Red Panties at Wimbledon?

Obviously this is the case.

Tatiana Golovin had the Wimbledon referee reaching for his rule book when she sought to appear on court for Thursday wearing red underwear.

Was Golovin violating the “predominantly white” dress code laid down by the tournament that is such a stickler for sartorial etiquette?

The fashion guardians of good taste at the world’s most genteel tennis tournament gave France’s Golovin the go-ahead after much discussion about hemlines and where they stopped and started.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Explaining the decision, a Wimbledon spokesman said on Thursday: “They were cleared with the referee in advance by the player. On the basis that they are underwear, they do not have to conform to the predominantly white rule.

“If they are above the hemline they are deemed to be underwear and not shorts.”

I do not follow tennis all that close but when I saw this headline on ESPN I immediately clicked on it. I had no idea that Wimbledon was so tight on there clothing restrictions.

Obviously though Tatiana Golovin did this for the attention, and I wonder what will be next? Maybe Sharapova in a thong?


Pirates Fans to GM Dave Littlefield: Drop Dead

The keepers of Bucco Blog have a gem from the Dave Littlefield radio program. Click over to listen. They kindly post a paraphrased transcript.

Dave Littlefield was asked by a Pirate fan when he plans to resign and Littlefield answered him by saying the current offense is not up to par, the players are in the 26 – 30 year old range and should be performing better, and the Pirates will score more runs when they do.

The second caller asked Littlefield what advice he has for suffering fans and Littlefield responded by saying there are better days ahead, the Pirates won three of four series before they went on the last road trip, the players must perform better, the players are young and in a funk right now, and he feels strongly it will be better.

The third caller was Dave Littlefield’s agent (just kidding – it was a fan) who called to say he was tired of people ripping on Littlefield, he thinks Littlefield is doing a really good job, and to hang in there. Littlefield’s response was that winning games was the most important thing and that’s what they are going to try and do.

Remarkably, the Bucco Bloggers merely glanced sideways at that third caller, without suggesting what to my ears – trained as a call screener for sports talk radio back in my college days – was clearly a planted call. Intrigues and conspiracies and aspersions, oh my!

The rational is simple. As I wrote to Brian Wilmer (whose mention of this story tipped me to it) of the Writer’s Radio (an excellent sports podcast (and live Internet Radio program):

When I was a humble call screener for the ACC Hotline call-in show, we had a guest and no callers, and sure enough one of the network employees called up, and asked an reporter like question, and primed the pump, so to speak.

But with the caller for Littlefield, he didn’t have anything else to say but positive, glowing stuff for the GM. A caller holding might want to voice support, but he’s still going to want to make his point. Calling a radio show is an act of narcissism that your opinion is worth disseminating. So is blogging! A caller would say his bit of support, then get on with why he called. A planted call though is there to stop the bleeding.

The call was one that successfully stemmed the tide of anti-Littlefield venom, and allowed the Littlefield to take command of the show back from the callers. Mission Accomplished! Still you have to admire the forthrightness of the two disgruntled callers basically asking the leader of their team, “why is it that after fifteen years, we still stink.” Hopefully, Littlefield, or the next General Manager of the Pirates will soon re-establish the winning tradition to a proud and dejected baseball town.


Top 25 NFL Players of Last 25 Years

The staff at USA Today is killing time before training camp by putting together a list of the best NFL players during the paper’s existence.

TOP 25 OF THE USA TODAY ERA (1982-2007)
To commemorate USA TODAY’s 25th anniversary, a panel of USA TODAY’s NFL reporters and editors has produced an anthology of the 25 best NFL players of the past 25 years. Working down from No. 25, we are unveiling one player each weekday until training camp season arrives:

They’re up to #18 so far:

Player Story
ultimate defender — Ray Lewis
brought double threat to new level
set new standard in backfield
wait, Young made lasting run into NFL history
blazed early path to NFL immortality

This will spark some interesting debates, as the one Tim McMahon has going on with Dallas fans over which other Cowboys players should join Aikman (I’d say Tony Dorsett, Larry Allen, and Emmitt Smith for sure; probably Randy White and Michael Irvin, too).

Nobody currently on the list is objectionable, although Tomlinson would presumably be higher on the list were he further into his career. One could argue whether Troy Aikman was really a better QB than Terry Bradshaw, for example.

That’s what these lists are for, though.


Down on the Farm: Cheers for Buchholz Rankle Fisher Cats

Clay Buchholz is drawing rave reviews while plowing through the Eastern League this season. He’s Boston’s top pitching prospect, and is showing signs of being capable of making the leap to the big leagues in 2008. The Red Sox may have an opening, depending on how Curt Schilling feels about coming back next year, and how Theo and company feel about him coming back. With all that hype, denizens of Red Sox Nation already know who Clay Buchholz is, and some are ready to name their next born after him.

So this week, when Buchholz shut down the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the folks in New Hampshire gave Buchholz a standing ovation. The Fisher Cats, who were ostensibly the home team, were not amused.

Some Fisher Cats felt slighted. One player, who requested anonymity, said he felt like vomitting during the ovation.

“When I came to the dugout after that standing ovation, players were not happy. I just think it rubbed my team, and especially myself, the wrong way,” New Hampshire manager Bill Masse said yesterday after a day of reflection. “These guys are out there competing every night and giving the fans some awesome games, and they came away feeling like they were the visiting team.”

This is the nature of locating a minor League affiliate in New England when you are not the Red Sox. Washington’s New York-Penn League entrant – the Vermont Lock Monsters – no doubt hear a fair few more cheers for the opposition when Boston’s NYP farm team – the Lowell Spinners – comes to town. Of course, those guys were likely disappointed when Spinners players got a lot of cheers during games. The Fisher Cats (and the Lock Monsters) have reason to be disappointed. Nobody wants to hear cheers from “your” crowd for the guy you’re trying to beat.

Buchholz may be destined for greatness, or perhaps his tremendous talent will not pan out. He is being managed carefully by the Red Sox, but still has managed to post 111 Ks in 80.1 IP. He’s got a microscopic 1.79 ERA and a OBA of .187. Those are numbers that will get you mentioned with Yovanni Gallardo, Philip Hughes and Homer Bailey. Red Sox fans are understandably excited. And they will not be denied an opportunity to declare, “I was there when…” about any once, current or future legend. My advice to the Fisher Cats: earplugs and and perseverance.


Upper Deck Attemps Topps Takeover

The baseball card market looks to get a little bit smaller as Upper Deck has launched a hostile takeover bid for rival sports card maker Topps.

The Upper Deck Co. said on Monday it would launch a hostile tender offer to acquire baseball trading card company Topps Co. Inc. for about $425 million.

Upper Deck, which publishes sports trading cards and other memorabilia, said its $10.75 per share offer was superior to Topp’s existing deal to be acquired for $9.75 per share by a private equity firm and an investment group led by former Walt Disney Co. chief Michael Eisner.

Upper Deck said its cash offer is not conditioned upon any financing arrangements.


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