Save The Hype

. Friday, September 12, 2008

If a Major League Baseball single-season saves record falls in the woods, does it make a sound?

That's the question I ask myself as Francisco Rodriguez prepares to break the record of 57, held since 1990 by former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen.

"K-Rod", as the kids call him, tied the record Thursday night by recording his 57th save in the Angels' 7-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

The record is a fine accomplishment in itself, but the hype that accompanies it is quickly becoming a problem.

It seems like the "Francisco Rodriguez for Cy Young" bandwagon is full steam ahead and there are plenty of calls for Rodriguez to be the American League's..*gasp*..Most Valuable Player!

That is one of the more ridiculous assertions I've ever heard. Not just because a closer should never win the Cy Young or MVP, but because quite simply, Francisco Rodriguez's season isn't as good as his save total would indicate.

Saves are a bit of an enigma, much like the RBI. Many fans make the mistake of assuming that because a player has a lot of RBI's, that must mean he's a great hitter. For example, if Player A has 120 RBI's and Player B has only 90, that must mean Player A is better right? But theres so many other variables that go into it, mainly how many times the batters in front of Player A and Player B are getting on base. If Player A's hitters are getting on base at a higher clip, it stands to reason that he'd have more RBIs.

The same general rule applies for saves. With so many stats at our disposal now, it's foolish to look at the guy who has the most saves and automatically determine he is the best closer. It seems to me that a closer on a great team would have a few more save opportunities than one on a poor team.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get this out of the way.. K-Rod not only isn't worthy of the MVP and Cy Young, he isn't even the best closer in baseball this season.

K-Rod, who is 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 72 strikeouts is playing for the team with the best record in baseball, and what is more astonishing to me is not the number of saves that Rodriguez has, but the number of save opportunities he has gotten. The Angels have played in an inordaniate amount of three-runs or less games for a team with the best record in baseball.

What is often the case is a that a closer on such a great team will often struggle to earn saves because his team is so dominant that he just doesn't get many save opportunities, whereas closers on middle of the road teams get more chances because their team plays in closer games.

The truth is, any number of closers in baseball could do what Rodriguez has done if given the same amount of chances. The Angels have bucked that trend this season and Rodriguez is reaping the benefits.

Rodriguez has 57 saves in 65 save chances. Compare that to Houston's Jose Valverde, who has the second most saves in baseball with 42 saves in 52 save opportunities. If he had 65 save opportunities at this point in the season, he wouldn't be at 57 like K-Rod is, but he would still be on pace to break the record. Although if you factor in that Valverde plays his home games in the launching pad that is Minute Maid Park (or whatever they call it these days), maybe he WOULD have 57 saves by now.

Joakim Soria has 36 saves in 41 save chances with a 1.74 ERA and 62 strikeouts for the putrid Kansas City Royals. K-Rod probably had more save opportunities at the all-star break than Soria will have all season. However, if Soria had Rodriguez's 65 save chances and judging by what he's done so far this season, the smart money would say that he would have already broken the record by now.

Then of course there is the guy who has probably been the best closer in baseball this season, Philadelphia's Brad Lidge, who has bounced back nicely after Albert Pujols nearly ruined his life a few years ago. Lidge has not blown a save yet this season, a perfect 36-for-36, with a 2.04 ERA and 80 strikeouts.

Does that mean that if Lidge had K-Rod's 65 save chances that he would have 65 saves now? No, but it's a safe bet that he'd probably already be over 57 if given that amount of opportunities.

Although it may seem like it, this is not meant as a slight on K-Rod's season. But Bobby Thigpen didn't break the record because he's the most dominant closer in baseball, and K-Rod won't either.

He's been fantastic this season and I'm sure he'll be happy to have someone like the Mets overpay for him in the off-season. But the harsh reality is that what he is doing is much more a statement on the odd amount of save chances he has gotten for an 89 win team this season, rather than a statement on his play this year.

So save your Cy Young votes for one of the starting pitchers that gets the ball to these closers in the ninth inning and your MVP votes for someone that, you know.. plays more than one inning every couple of games.

Tour de Farce

. Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's been 24 hours since American cyclist Lance Armstrong ended his three-year retirement and already the Tour de France frontmen are lambasting their event's greatest champion.

Race director Christian Prudhomme said Wednesday that Armstrong may compete in the event, but emphasized on four different occasions that the seven-time champion would have to clear the Tour's revamped drug-testing program.

Prudhomme's repetition of those statements was not said to be procedural or even serve as a warning, but more of a veiled threat.

Watch out Lance. The French cycling community is out to get you.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2005, the French sports daily L'Equipe reported that Armstrong used the banned performance enhancer EPO during his first Tour win in 1999. It took 2 hours for then-Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to vehemently praise the sport's testing policy and proclaim Armstrong as arrogant for thinking he could cheat the system.

In 2006, a Dutch investigator appointed by the Union Cycliste Internationale exonerated Armstrong, saying that the sample had been tampered with after it was locked away in the Tour's own secure storage facility.

It's been two years and the Tour has yet to offer any kind of response, let alone a retraction.

For a race that disqualified its 2006 winner, Floyd Landis, for a positive test and disallowed its 2007 champion, Alberto Contador, from defending his title because of his alleged connection to another prominent doping case, you'd think the Tour would embrace the return of the man who should be their golden boy. Instead, it continues to cast out aspersions like fishing lines, dissatisfied with the catches of yesteryear, hoping to hook one more yellow-jerseyed big one.

There is little question that Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour titles from 1999 to 2005 is the longest run of dominance in any sport. There is little question that come July 4, 2009, Armstrong will be the man to beat in France, despite his 3-year absence from the event.

And there is little question that the embittered French cycling community, which hasn't seen one of its native sons win the event since 1985, will do everything it can to ensure that doesn't happen.

In their eyes, Armstrong has never bested them, he's an excellent fraud who has bested their drug-testing system. He's the one that got away.

And he'll keep getting away, too. Because the farce is not the legitimacy of Armstrong's Tour victories, it's the unbiased portrayal of the body that governs cycling's greatest event.

Make no mistake, Armstrong will win the Tour de France in 2009. He'll again be touted as the world's greatest individual athlete. And that governing body will still be out there fishing, hoping to hook him.

The more things change, the more they stay them same.

NFL needs to end late nights

. Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How many times have you heard the saying "nothing good happens after midnight?"

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier was shot and critically wounded at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday and you can be sure that if he pulls through, the loved ones praying by his bedside will reinforce that mantra to him. If he doesn't pull through, you can be sure that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will reinforce that mantra to the rest of the league.

The 26-year-old Collier and former Jags teammate Kenneth Pettway were parked in Collier's Escalade waiting for two women they had met in a night club earlier that evening when a gunman opened fire on the vehicle, striking Collier several times.

The shooting was the third in the last 20 months in which an active NFL player has been critically wounded. Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in his limo on January 1, 2007 following an argument at a night club. Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died on November 27, 2007, a day after being shot in his home during a robbery. All three shooting occurred between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.

While these three are the most extreme of examples, there is no shortage of athlete-related altercations in the wee hours of the morning. Seemingly every week, an NFL player's name appears on a police report.

The "where" part of the equation is typically the same: late night, out on the town, in or around a bar or night club. The "why" also remains a constant: someone gets jealous, words are said, tempers flare and things get out of hand. The "what" varies only slightly depending on to what degree the altercation escalates. The "who" is the only piece of the formula that really changes.

The similarities between the shooting Collier was involved in and the one that killed Williams are strikingly similar. The one in which Taylor was shot at home was it an extreme rarity, the exception and not the rule.

Nonetheless, each of the three incidents shares that one indisputably common thread - time.
Goodell knows it. The NFL owners know it. And the players can no longer claim to be naive enough not to know it.

A mandatory curfew of 1 a.m. needs to be put in place. Not just on the night before games, not just every night of the season, but every night of the year.

A curfew would keep the headlines involving NFL players in the sports section and out of the crime log. It would mean that Williams would still be alive. It would mean that Adam "Pacman" Jones and Ray Lewis never would have been accused of conspiracy to commit murder. It would greatly help the image of the league, ensuring that America's favorite sport remains just that.

When punishing problematic players, a curfew would be something solid Goodell and the NFL owners could lean on rather than the vague description of the league's personal conduct policy. After all, while these athletes are commodities. The organizations with whom they are contracted ahve both a personal and monetary interest in protect their investments.

Would it be practically impossible to enforce, yes. But a 1 p.m. curfew would leave no gray area. There would be no flexing or shifting of the line in the sand. It would be in the same spot for both a franchise quarterback and a third-string linebacker. It would either be crossed or wouldn't be crossed.

If Richard Collier pulls through, you can be sure that he'll never cross that line again. It's high time Goodell and the NFL owners make it very clear where that line is and do it before tragedy strikes another one the league's players.