Thursday, March 24, 2016

Today In Liar Says What: Chip Kelly's Revisionist History

So there was a press conference today, and the worst GM in Eagles history... continues to say he wasn't really the GM, and it's just the Eagles' facackta management situation that kept things from being, well, still in power here.

As the Not GM.

Now, I get that you'd *want* to not own the GM moves of the Nero Kelly Era, much in the same way that despots have tried to whitewash history for, well, forever. But, Um, No. You're the asshat that released DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis because they were uppity. You were all-in on Mark Sanchez and Riley Cooper and Brandon Maxwell and Kiko Alonso and a dozen utterly useless Ducks.

And the idea that you keep saying this wasn't the case, and that stooge Ed Marynowitz had any real say, or maybe Jeff Lurie and Howie Roseman were somehow playing some kind of long game on you to saddle the team with all of those guys you didn't want...

You know what? I'm sorry, folks. I don't have to put up with this asshat any more, and yet, I'm still putting up with this asshat. He's 3000 miles away, on a franchise that won't be relevant again in a decade, in a stadium that's 50 miles away from its fan base, with a management team that hired one good coach in this century, then ran him off because he was getting too much pub.

It does not matter what he says, because he's a worthless liar, fad coach, crap talent scout, and historical footnote. The past two months of Roseman has had more good moves than the previous three years of Nero, because Roseman isn't an egocentric insane person.

So keep on saying whatever, Nero. But you might want to start working on your excuse as to why the Niners won't win, rather than sticking with why the Eagles didn't. Never hurts to get ahead of the angry mob...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Atlanta Braves Are Trying To Kill Their Patrons

This Is Not Right
You are looking live at the Burgerizza, a $26 thumb in the eye of evolution, sanity, and the idea of a non-ironic death.

You can buy this thing. Not in a strange sado-masochistic food dungeon, where some gimp does a Gordon Ramsey impersonation while he tries to role-play force feeding you until your heart explodes, but in broad daylight, in an MLB park. Atlanta, actually.

And I know what you are thinking: so close to Florida! We almost had a wonderful new tool for mayhem! But alas, Georgia Is On Your Mind And More Likely Your EKG Machine, because the current trend in baseball is for 30 teams to try to out-do each other with Bad Idea Food Combos.

From a burger with Krispy Kreme for buns to weightlifter levels of hot dog, baseball has embraced the idea that not only should you regard taking in a game live as rare due to its exceptional cost, both from a pure dollar and years off your life level.

And I get why Death By Bite will be preferable to the upcoming Rebuilding Year in Atlanta, especially as the team is in full Not Trying Mode until they get their new lily-white yard in the burbs... but at what point, honestly, does the pendulum swing back on nonsense like this, and an MLB team gets hit with a class action lawsuit, under roughly the same justification that worked out against Big Tobacco?

Yeah, I know... never. Because 'Murica. Pass the antacids.

FTT Off-Topic: Men In Cars Being Asshats

Not My Guys, But Similar
Not sports, move on or not.

Maybe it's me.

Maybe I'm crossed some inexorable Rubicon of appearance, where I am now a short little aging white man who the world feels it is very, very important to shout at from a moving vehicle.

Maybe I am someone encouraging this with my walk, my countenance, the way I dress, or something else. (Well, I do stay in some measure of shape.) Or maybe it's just that when you log about 27 miles a week on your feet, you are just out in the elements long enough to brook such hostility, from sheer weight of exposure.

To wit, this.

Three times in the last week, I've had full-grown people -- not teenagers, mind you, people -- who have felt compelled to scream their lungs out at me while passing in automobiles. 

In broad daylight, for, apparently, their idea of fun.
Just, I think, to see who can be the biggest asshat, assuming there isn't some kind of chemical issue at work here.

Needless to say, it's always guys. Same skin color as me so far, not that the race of your asshattery really matters. 

Each time, I've been startled, then angry, then wondered...

Why, exactlty, do these brilliant children not think I'm armed, given that I'm an American?
And that I would also be able to Stand My Ground, in that I'm standing on ground in America...

And honestly? 

I'm starting to see the appeal.

(And no, not enough to betray my convictions and get a pointless tool. But everyone's entitled to daydreams.)

Monday, March 21, 2016

More In What The Actual Hell, Baseball Prospectus: The Phillies Don't Deserve An Editor

I know that the Philadelphia Phillies are barely fantasy relevant, and hardly seem worth writing about, let alone editing... but take a look at this.

Yeah, they didn't bother to check that their lineout notes for pitchers. It's the same ones that were printed higher on the page, for hitters.

Does anyone actually edit anything any more?

Adam LaRoche, Or Fungible Family First

Father of the Year (Just Ask Him)
By now, I'm sure you've heard the story about retired ChiSox Adam LaRoche, who had all he can stands, and can stands no more, about his employer suddenly not wanting to provide constant day care for his 14-year-old son.

It staggers the imagination, really, that a guy making an eight figure salary for not doing his job very well, at the tail end of his very finite career, would do anything more than be as pleasant as humanly possible to his co-workers and management, right?

Adam LaRoche is not a very good baseball player. He's not even a very average baseball player now. You could make an argument that he belongs in the majors, but it's not a terribly convincing one, and it's not as if anyone made their decision to go to the park or not based on LaRoche's participation.

Even in his heyday, the guys was a take or leave presence in fantasy leagues, not a factor in All Star or playoffs, and when you wear six jerseys in twelve years while amassing 255 homers as a first baseman, that's just kind of, well, meh. He hit .260 and got on base .335 and was worth more than 2.2 Wins Above Replacement Player exactly once in those 12 years. If he gets a single vote for Cooperstown, it will be one vote too many.

For these efforts, he grossed about $72 million. Had he kept his mouth shut and/or let his 14-year-old hang out with other 14-year-olds until October, when the ChiSox will be free to golf with abandon, it would have been $82 million. Which might eventually matter, but leave that as it may.

I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I was not the smartest person in my school. I might have hung out with them, though, and something great might have happened by that act. I might have gotten a lot further than I otherwise would have, simply by being dragged along in their wake. Maybe I also had that effect on others, I don't know. But for a kid from a family where no one had ever been to college, to get those degrees wasn't a given. I did it because I became convinced that I had to, because my peer group did, and it was important to me to be like them.

When you home school, as LaRoche does, and how much schooling can there be, really, given how much time he spends on Papa's hip, maybe it's the best thing for the kid or your family... but it's a very open question as to whether it's the best thing for our country. It also makes everyone who wants to, well, let their kid be a kid with other kids wonder if they are, in fact, Doing It Wrong, and would be doing it better if they only made more money, or made their workplace less about, well, work.

Adam LaRoche is not about putting family first. He's about raising a kid as a kind of support animal, controlling his work environment through the introduction of elements that are Not Baseball, and being as self-righteous as humanly possible. The White Sox don't look great for how they've handled this, mostly because they haven't managed it from becoming a PR debacle, but if they are really a lesser team for not having this dead-ender around, their year was lost already.

So, a quick and sincere question for Adam LaRoche, a guy who is no longer a baseball player, and hence, is no longer anyone who needs to answer questions about anything, because who the hell cares about random rich douchebags with odd ideas about parenting...

Why do you hate America with your love for your family?

And as a follow-up...

If eight figures of income aren't worth seven part-time months of your life as a parent to your son...

Where the hell is your daughter during all of this, or do only sons matter to fine, upstanding religious folk like yourself?

A Brief And Obvious Annual Point About Brackets

No one, with the possible exception of you, cares about how you are doing in your brackets.

Now or ever.

So telling us about how much Michigan State screwed you, or how smart you were for putting Syracuse in the Sweet 16, or how you held your nose and took Duke and feel dirty and so on but there they are...

Is basically the equivalent of pleasuring yourself in public.

And if someone actually seems interested in this activity, rest assured that they are not, and are just waiting, patiently or not, to do the same thing for themselves.

(And yes, my bracket is utterly toast, as it always is, and always will be, and I'm clearly just bitter. Shut up. Please.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Baseball Prospectus: Money For What The Hell

Every year, in preparation for my fantasy baseball draft, I pick up an annual or two. I don't really know why I do this, because the insights are few and far between, and it basically means that I spend some of my not nearly enough free time reading about guys that will never be on my team... but I'm OCDish about this sort of thing. And every year, I wonder why I can't break the habit, especially when it seems like I'm the only one paying attention to their batspit projections and comparisons.

Which brings us to the curious case of Luke Hochevar.

If you know who Hochevar is, it's only because you pay attention to the baseball draft, where he was the top pick a long time ago, for a Royals team that got good in the past couple of years, after a very long period of being anything but. Hochevar was a big reason why those teams weren't good then, but he's been able to reinvent himself as a borderline reliever in the ludicrously deep Royals bullpen. He's 32 now, and if you are excited about his prospects for 2016, it's only because you are related to him, or have some other way to cash in on that sweet MLB per diem. He's slightly more fantasy relevant than me, but only just.

I read his entry because it's there, like I used to read "Gil Thorpe" in the newspaper when it was next to box scores. (Yes, I am very old. And remember "Gil Thorpe.")

So who does BP list as his comparables?

I swear that I am not making this up.

Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven and Mark Langston.

What the actual hell?

Hochevar isn't left-handed, like two of these three guys. He doesn't have a legendary out pitch, like Carlton's slider and Blyleven's curveball. He wasn't part of a package for Randy Johnson. He has never been the best pitcher on his team, let alone a recognized ace. He'll go to Canton the same way you and I will; via highways and admissions tickets. Other than being mammals, having vertebrae, and sharing a similar amount of DNA, and maybe also being men who have stepped on a mound in anger, um, no. Not Comparable. Of the literally tens of thousands of other guys they could have listed, none of these. Unless Carlton, Blyleven and Langston share names with career minor leaguers, and BP meant those guys.

So what the hell happened?

Well, clearly some kind of editing glitch, and you're probably wondering why I'm making a big deal about this, because mistakes happen. Plenty of them on this here blog, and the only difference is that it's a lot easier to fix in digital.

But seriously, you have a team of people, with presumably editors and standards and a revenue stream. You couldn't do better than this?

(And yeah, I reserve the right to add more howling BP errors to this post later. I'm only through the Royals now. Because, like an idiot, I read this thing. Like it's a book or something...)

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Last Days Of Kobe Bryant, Or Losing With Smiles

That Losing Smile
Tonight in LA, the Lakers hosted the Knicks in a battle of two teams that are going nowhere famously. New York led for much of the game, but the Laker subs, led by perpetual tease Lou Williams, made up the deficit and led by small amounts late. With the crowd in full throat and seemingly immune to the fact that they were watching a 14-52 team battle a 27-40 one, Bryant made a baseline jumper to give his team a 4-point lead with 92 seconds left. It was his fifth make of the night, on 12 attempts, and it's not as if he was giving the team anything else. Final line: 14/2/0 in 29 minutes, with a turnover, steal, and two fouls.

Carmelo Anthony made a three to cut the lead to one. Bryant missed a 14-footer. Anthony made a 21-foot pull-up to give his team the lead. Williams, the only Laker who took more than six shots on the night and shot 50%, connected on the Lakers' favorite play, Dribble It Up And Fire. Robin Lopez got to the line and made one to tie it up, and as the announcing team talked about what a wonderful game we were seeing, because Hero Ball Among Not Heroes Is Fun. After a timeout, everyone in the building knew what was coming. Bryant would take the clock down low, fire up something low percentage, and we'd either have overtime or a Laker win.

Only that's not what happened.

Instead, Bryant did his Old Man Not Accepting Limits routine on a One Against All drive and fire, catching nothing but air on a 12-foot jumper against, seemingly, the entire Knicks team, from the baseline with 9.9 seconds left. New York collected the rebound, called time to advance the ball, then held their very own spectacularly bad possession, barely avoiding multiple turnovers before Jose Calderon's prayer from 26 feet was answered. The Lakers called time with 0.2 left, but with no miracle on a tip three attempt from Bryant, that's your ball game.

Now, any other player, any other year? Would be chastised, correctly, for the decision to try a nearly impossible shot with time left on the clock. That player would also be asked why it's so hard to pass the ball late. Or why he's settling for low percentage twos, and not drawing contact for the bailout foul call. He'd also have his coach questioned about why a man who is shooting a career-worst 35.6% for the year, and would finish 5 for 15 on the night, took 3 of your last 4 shots, with no ball movement. Also, why the players that are the marginal future for this franchise (D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle) weren't out there in crunch time, gaining valuable and rare experience at executing in close and late situations. Especially as they might have had fresh legs.

Instead? Laker Fan stuck around to cheer on Kobe some more. The Lakers put yet another loss on Bryant's funeral pyre. People talked about how wonderful it was that Bryant's trying to manage his body, so that he can play in as many of the remaining Lakers games as possible.

And this is a legendary franchise, one that's won an absurd amount of championships, one that has had multiple Hall of Fame big men just show up, because being a Laker meant rings. One that seems to think that a reset is going to happen next year with a high pick, magical arrivals of new free agents, and, um, yeah, I have no idea.

Maybe they're right. Maybe they win the lottery, hit the pick, get good again fast.

Or maybe the defining highlight for the next five to ten years is cheering the guy who lost the game for you, who has spent the season as his own personal warm bath of losing and idol worship, in a circle jerk of nostalgia.

Even by Derek Jeter's standards, this is getting... well, frankly? Amazing.

And the best rebrand for the Lakers that this hater of their laundry could ever hope for.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: The Marketplace of Ideas, Or, In Praise Of Dog Whistles

Not sports, might annoy you, read or not.

In 2004, I spent many nights and weekends walking the streets of Reno, Nevada. Why Reno? Because Nevada in 2004 was a swing state, unlike California, where I lived. So I walked the streets as part a canvassing and get out the vote effort, eventually devoting hundreds of hours, and talking to thousands of people. It was a life-changing experience, for good and ill.

Here's the deal with states that have early voting. You start with strong and consistent people on your rolls, and try to "bank" those votes. Once that list is clear, you talk to people who vote less often, and eventually independents, or new voters. And the bane of your existence is the undecided voter, especially if they used to be strong for your side.

Instead of getting to the less hot portion of your list, the folks for whom a canvasser might feel they were making a difference, you keep pestering people who seem weak, either in their convictions or their intellect. It's a clear difference between candidates, and being undecided is increasingly rare. It's easy to denigrate those folks who are on the fence.

Or, at least, it was, until I had an epiphany while canvassing one day. I talked to a woman in her mid '60s... who was also the sole caretaker for another undecided voter. Her mother, in her late 90s, in very fading health. She wasn't undecided; she was exhausted. More than any person I had ever met, before or since. And in that moment, I lost my disdain for undecided voters, and kept a great philosophical truth in the back in my mind: Audi alteram partem. Latin for hear the other side. Believe that those who think differently than you do, could be doing so in good conscience. It's harder than just painting with a broad brush, but it leaves you in a world with hope, or one that you might want to live in.

There are people who, in this election cycle, want to tell me how a vote for Hilary Clinton is the same as a vote for whoever the Republicans nominate, because of the corruption involved in the system. That it doesn't really matter if someone like Ted Cruz is elected, because the eternal threat to Roe v. Wade has been in place for something like 40 years now, and that we've had Republican presidents and Senate and House control before, and yet Roe is still settled law. That voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil, that voting only encourages the continuation of a corrupt system, and that the current political climate has been wildly entertaining, or at the very least, Not Boring.

I'm trying to be charitable for these views, to hear the other side. But the marketplace of ideas has winning ideas, and losing ones.  And in my judgment, with clear facts as the basis for such decisions, the scorecard is easy to read.

In the matter of Roe, just look at what happens in states where the Republicans have clear and safe voting majorities, and how remarkably limited reproductive choice can become. How the view of jut 19% of the populace -- that abortion is never permissible, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, because those exceptions just open the door for wanton use -- have become the guiding force for the entire Republican party. And how even if Roe stays on the books, how it's becoming irrelevant if the woman in need doesn't have money, time off from work for repeat consultations that deal in the patient being told things that are not true, or access to easy transportation.

In the matter of the parties being the same, consider the number of wars started under the previous Administration (two), and the number started under this one (none). Or the relative tax rates on the wealthiest among us, the actual size of the national deficit, the unemployment rate, the price of oil, the percentage of people with health insurance, and so on, and so on. There is a difference, and voting for the lesser of two evils is what grown ups do. And if you don't believe that you ever compromise your time or fortune in that fashion, I'm sorry for you, and the state of your teeth, your tax returns, your body that never goes to the gym, and so on, and so on.

But all of that is the ordinary stuff. Instead, I'd like to address the Trump phenomenon, and speak to the merits of what's been referred to as dog whistles.

When a candidate strips away the very small veneer of artifice around obvious racism, it's not an act of bravery, or courage in the fact of some nefarious act of political correctness. Rather, it's a clear and dangerous call to establish a new and dramatically lower standard of discourse. It is aid and comfort to the worst among us, and a challenge for them to up the ante. To claim as truth, your opinion -- and an opinion that is based around generalizations.

So last year's concerns about voter fraud -- as if that's swung an election of note since the butterfly ballots and hanging chads of Miami Dade County in 2000, or possibly how Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960 -- become this month's profiling of rally attendees. Or how the plainly dishonest use of the Confederate Battle Flag, unseen in southern circles from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Civil Rights movement, is all about some 150-year-old celebration of a heritage that wasn't, well, entirely about slavery, or the "right" to not submit to the parts of being in the United States that you don't like. (Personally, as someone who has spent his life in PA, NY, OR, CA and NJ, my objection is that I've never lived in a state that has collected as much as it paid in federal taxes. It's fun, how the people who claim the feds can't do anything right, and that they are paying for everything, well, anything but. But moving on.)

The apparent rollback to racism isn't something that everyone who isn't an angry old white male is going to accept, of course. That's why Trump's rallies are violent and filled with protesters, unlike the campaign events for literally every other candidate in this election, and pretty much every candidate dating back to Pat Buchanan and George Wallace.

So please don't claim, as many will, that Trump isn't responsible for the acts of the trouble makers at his rallies, both for and against his cause. He's the architect of all of it, and could stop it, but won't... because to do so would limit the passion that his supporters are bringing to his campaign, and make him sound like, well, every other candidate. You know, the ones that want to be elected, rather than coronated. It wasn't a mistake when his campaign took his own sweet time in disavowing David Duke. It was a calculated move to energize his base.

I used to prefer Trump to his remaining rivals, under the most cynical of reasons. That he didn't really believe much of the over the top stuff that was being said. That he was the least likely to devote his time to making reproductive choice impossible, and that I prefer rule by an ineffectual thief to that of a devoted zealot. That his negatives were so strong and obvious that, in a general election, he'd lose to any Democratic candidate, and drag down the party so much that my side could even re-take the Senate or House, and that the country would continue the remarkable progress made, but without the remarkable obstruction.


Well, even if nominating Trump is the electoral equivalent of going all-in with 7-2 off-suit, even the worst starting hands win far too often to feel good about the gamble. Let alone what we will look like to the rest of the world with another 7.5 months of riots, racism, international concern over what will be regarded, correctly, as a national nervous breakdown, and so on.

I don't have a vote in the Republican primary, or a candidate that I can possibly support in the general election. But to any of you that think this is all been such a hoot and fun and great entertainment, one question:

How little do you care about your country?

And a follow up...

Is having one more reality show worth the trade off in lives, international reputation, coarsening culture and language?

And will you still feel the same way after someone dies from the injuries that they suffer at a Trump rally?

Sixer Win #9, Or The Most Minor Mission Accomplished

I'm not going to get too far into the confetti on this, but my basketball laundry has once again succeeded in not being alone as the worst team in the history of the Association. A 95-89 win over the somehow worse Nets of Brooklyn, who have nine more wins than my club, and somehow, an infinite less amount of hope.

Heroes tonight included the ever-professional Carl Landry, who ripped off a 16-8-1 line from the bench, Hollis Thompson, who had one of this fortnightly games where he looks like he belongs in the league, and Nerlens Noel, who filled up the defensive stat sheet. But mostly, this one was all about the Nets, who got all of 15 points from their bench, and serve as an abject reminder that no matter how bleak the tanking has been in the Dark Lord Hinkie Era, there's always the worst pain of rooting for teams with no plan at all.

But as usual in this netherworld which honestly has to end next year -- with a healthy Joel Embiid, a present Dario Saric, a studly point guard, and some measure of shakeout among the redundant and not versatile enough young bigs -- even the night when you feel relief are ones that are tempered with the sad. Tonight, that was when Jerami Grant's foot caught Robert Covington's face with a critical hit, and the swingman wound up going off on a stretcher. For a team that was already dealing with the news that Jahlil Okafor was going to miss the rest of the year with a patella tendon issue. It's more of a setback to the team's development than it's won-loss record, as Landry/Noah is a much better pairing right now up front, but this season has been about everything but wins and losses.

Hopefully, Covington and Grant (who was evaluated for a concussion and also did not return to the game) won't miss much time, because both men have some hope of being useful benchies for future Sixers squads that are more than candidates for Worst Team Ever. Besides, there's chance in hell that the team can actually manage a winning streak this year -- yup, they haven't strung back to backs -- and to do that, they'll need to handle Detroit tomorrow, at home, coming off a loss to Charlotte that slows down their personal dream of getting two home dates against the Cavs in the first round to add to their ticket and concession sales. Detroit Dreams Big!

And if it's not the Pistons tomorrow, maybe it's the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday, because honestly, we're far from out of the woods on getting Win Number 10 and avoiding Tied With Infamy. Especially if Covington gets shut down, because our chances of Good Hollis are, well, not great.

But hey... history averted, and maybe also paralysis and gruesome injury. Go team!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Eagles Sign Some Guys: Beware The Free Agents Of March

The guys with knives are agents
So my Eagles have been very active on the first day of NFL free agency, and this is where fans with a memory should curl up into the fetal position, right? Between the Nnamdi Asomugha Scream Team and Nero Kelly's Adventures in Less Running Running Backs, free agency has been the absolute misery for this franchise. It's also been more proof, not that anyone has needed it, that the draft classes have also been not up to snuff, given that there's always glaring holes for your shopping spree. Let's just close our eyes, go back to fantasy baseball draft prep, and not pay so much attention to...

Well, no. We can't, and not just because there's precious little else going on right now that won't encourage alcoholism. But I keep not meaning to write on my sports blog about politics, so let's exercise a little discipline. and keep it on the football.

Here's what the team has picked up so far:

CB Leodis McKelvin, from Buffalo, to a 2-year deal.

CB Ron Brooks, from Buffalo, to a 3 year deal.

LB Nigel Bradham, from Buffalo, to a 2 year deal.

G Brandon Brooks, from Houston, to a 5 year deal.

S Rodney McLeod, from St. Louis / Los Angeles, to a 5 year deal.

QB Chase Daniel, from Kansas City, to a 3 year deal.

I better hurry up and cover all of this before the list gets longer.

First, the ex-Bills. All of these guys are being seen as binkies for DC Jim Schwartz, who ran that defense before Rex Ryan got to town and made everything worse. McKelvin is the oldest at 30, and he works as a borderline litmus test. If he starts and gets CB1/2 snaps, the team is in trouble. If he backs up and/or plays the nickel, things might be OK. Brooks is seen as a depth guy and STer, but as an ex-4th rounder from LSU just getting off his rookie deal, he might be a little more than that. Bradham is pretty much the same story. The most notable thing about all of these guys is that training camp should be a lot more competitive, and McKelvin has returned punts in his past career, but not well recently, especially when it comes to ball security.

Next, Brooks the G. The football line nerdery that I read about him says he's big, quick and borderline freakish as a road grader, less so as a pass protector. While that doesn't generally make for Pro Bowls, the plain and simple is that Brooks is a quality NFL starter, and he just signed with a team that didn't have any of those to play G last year. I'm generally not a huge fan of locking down guys from poor franchises, but the Texans did make the playoffs last year (look it up!), and did so with something like a running game, and terrible QB play. This is one of those qualified enthusiasm moves that, if nothing else, makes sure that you don't have to reach for an OL in the first round if the board goes badly for you.

The single most satisfying move of the day for the bulk of the fan base will likely be McLeod. He's the first truly big hitter that the team has had at safety since the last days of Saint Brian Dawkins, and there's footage of a play where he vaporized Emmanuel Sanders that is downright porny. While the Rams weren't exactly a great defense last year, they certainly had some moments, and what McLeod put on tape is fun, even if it is a little worrisome that the league has tended to legislate this kind of violence out of existence. It's also the most that the team has ever committed to the safety position, when you combine his deal with the one they inked with Malcolm Jenkins. It's a long way from Nate Allen, Macho Harris, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman and way too many others, really. Or, at least, it better be.

Wrapping things up is Daniel, the undersized binkie for new HC Doug Pederson. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for him, in that he's always seemed like he's got a hair more arm and legs than expected. He's also got an awful lot going for him, in that he's Not Mark Sanchez, and honestly, being Not Mark Sanchez will probably be enough for me for the next decade.

What's different about this flurry of signings is, frankly, the expectation level. No one is counting on any of these guys winning your fantasy league, or being part of "Philadelphia is our pick to be a surprise Super Bowl contender" piece. No one is going to say the team won March with these moves, or that the rest of the NFC lEast is quaking in their boots over Howie Roseman finally having full control over the hiring and firing.

But what *has* been done here is entirely defensible by, well, sane decision making, or a method of building a team that you've actually seen before. No one is coming off an abuse carry year. No one is coming with dust for ACLs and unrealistic hopes of full bounce-back from career-threatening injury. No one cost the best RB in the team's history, got monster money to be a back up, or is famous to people who don't really watch football very much or very hard, or only ever watch where the ball is.

Oh, and most of these guys are just coming off their rookie deal, rather than getting their guaranteed final contract in the league.

We have no idea, and can have no idea, how all of this is going to shake out. It's extraordinarily rare for one of these to hit 100% on all picks, the same way that it's extraordinarily rare to hit on all of your draft picks.

But none of these moves is crazy on its face, irresponsible on the money, locks the club into an ungodly number of years, or prevents the team from taking the best available player with their picks. None of these moves screams out that Roseman is in over his head, making moves in a desperate and short leash fashion, or over-rating the talent on his roster.

So today? Probably a good day.

But more importantly?

Almost certainly not a disastrous one.

By the recent personnel standards of this franchise, that's about as good as you can hope for, really.

Calvin Johnson Leaves, And No One Survives Detroit

Exit, Stage Sad
Today, at the ripe old age of 30, Lions WR Calvin Johnson called it quits officially. He does so while holding 15 NFL records, including the most yards in a season (1,964), a half dozen Pro Bowl trips, seven years where he breached the 1,000 yard mark, and a clear path to Canton.

What makes the departure striking is how much it mirrors what happened with Barry Sanders, the best RB in the history of this cursed franchise. That player also left money and milestones on the table, and meat on the bone. Johnson didn't even come to a podium and take questions about his decision, choosing instead to send in his announcement.

I watched Johnson very strongly last year, having him on my fantasy team in a tight race, and while he wasn't quite what he was in past years, he was still clearly Detroit's best player. In their best game of the year, the Thanksgiving evisceration of the Eagles, he absolutely toyed with CB Eric Rowe, who more than held his own for the rest of the year as a rookie CB on an island.

No one has any real idea how hurt Johnson was, or is; that's the nature of football, where health is a constantly diminishing asset. But I do know that there has to be a fantastic sadness to the world of being a Lions fan. You don't get to see your heroes leave when its time; instead, they just go when the losing gets to be too much, and you have to wonder if they just couldn't take it any more. They fought against the dying of the hope, but in the end, it's Detroit. Hope never works out.

So why now?

Well, the money, probably. Johnson was due $24 million against the team's salary cap in 2016, one of those balloon payments that teams never wind up making. If he wanted to come back, he probably would have had to take less, for no good reason at all. There was a real chance that the team could have moved him along to some other laundry, which was something he just didn't want to do. He's never been in any kind of trouble, and probably banked enough to not have to do anything he wants to do for, well, ever. It's football; your brain is at risk, even when you aren't on the line.

It might also have to do with an unwillingness to accept anything less. Johnson's fought a bunch of injuries, and while the height and hands are still there, the speed really isn't. Separation is the first thing to go for a wideout, and Johnson's yards per catch dropped to human levels this year. If he wanted to go somewhere else, and retirement was all just a Carson Palmer-esque ploy, 31 other NFL teams would be willing to start him tomorrow.

But instead, he's just gone. Man alive, the idea that your franchise just ends people. How do you shake that off? Ever?

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Eagles Clean House, Or Night Of The Long Howies

Nero, You Broke My Team
When last we left the Phila- delphia Eagles, the off-season seemed relatively straight forward. Re-sign QB Sam Bradford for the least possible money and the least possible years, since he's an incredible injury risk, but also the best available option to start in 2016. Extend the small number of promising young and/or valued players (Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Vinny Curry, Najeh Goode, Malcolm Jenkins) to club-friendly contracts. Cut the obvious dead wood (Riley Cooper, DeMecco Ryans). Prepare for the draft with, preferably, a bolstering of the front office, since Prodigal GM and Jeffrey Lurie Compromising Photographs Owner Howie Roseman looked out of his element in doing this before.

But there were aspects of the 2015 club -- Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, LB Kiko Alonso, CB Brandon Maxwell -- that, while clearly over-valued and over-paid by disgraced ex-GM / Coach / Franchise Killer Chip "Nero" Kelly, well, probably weren't going to go anywhere. Finding another club that would take on their salaries, let alone picks of any value, was going to be difficult, especially for a quasi-noob GM. We were just going to have to live with these guys, and hope like hell that competent and sane coaching might get something more out of them, especially on defense. And since the unit wasn't likely to be out there after 18 seconds of non-offense, or have the no adjustment stylings of ex-DC Billy Davis, well, there was hope for that.

Well, until Roseman decided that today was the day he was going to go into Full Purge Mode.

Maxwell and Alonso, shipped out to Miami. Murray, off to Nashville. Ryan Mathews, said to be on the trade block, though one expects with Murray gone, maybe (maybe) not. And suddenly, this franchise looks like it's going to be as changed and unsettled in 2016 as it was in 2015.

Now, there's all kinds of speculation as to what the pick and contract cap situation is going to look like after this. Most of the hubbub puts this work at pick swaps in the first, and maybe late picks, rather than the missing second round pick from the Bradford deal. There's every possibility that, given that Roseman chose dance partners that aren't known as the sharpest knives in the drawer in Miami and Tennessee, that Green won this deal clean, and got rid of three poor clubhouse guys in the meantime. The list of guys who find stardom on their third team, which will be the case for all of these players, is not long.

But man alive, what a whipsaw this franchise has been in the past year. Three different RB1s, three different CB1s, and oh by the way, they now are in the market for secondary help for what only seems like the tenth straight year. We won't even get into the offensive line.

Teams that are worth a damn take time to gel, rather than just auto-assemble like Legos. If Roseman isn't right with the rest of the season -- and hell, even if he is -- the idea that the Bradford signing made for a competitive 2016 might just be NFC lEast fool's gold.

But in the meantime?

We don't have to hold our nose and root for any of those guys any more. Murray with his slide runs from contact, Alonso running away from blockers like a skittish golden retriever puppy, Maxwell taking penalties all over the field, or trailing guys into the end zone...

Well, it's not as is if Kenjon Barner, Nolan Carroll and Goode have as high of a ceiling. But somehow, that's so much easier to root for.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Sixers Fail Charity

Miss And A Prayer
Imagine the following narrative.

In the Patriots-Broncos game that decided who would go to the Super Bowl for the AFC, the Patriots were unable to defend Von Miller, in particular, from pressuring Tom Brady. It might have been the margin of the game.

So, rather than snap play after play in which Miller disrupted the offense, they just went to the ref before the play began, and told him that they were going to hold Miller on this play. The refs would then make Miller try a field goal, and if he missed, the Patriots would benefit.

That makes no sense at all, right?

Let's try baseball instead. Justin Verlander plunks David Ortiz, but rather than taking first base, the Boston slugger takes a moment to contain himself, then gets to face a batting practice pitcher for two throws. If he can hit a home run to a certain area of right field on either of the next two pitches, Boston gets a run.

That's also nuts, right?

And yet, this is pretty much how basketball is run, because the game is just, well, like that. Players have to do lots of different things, and an uncontested shot that seems easy and borderline effortless, and yet is missed by the best shooters in the history of the game at least 1 time out of 10, because the context of when it happens is in the midst of an exhausting athletic contest.

Since free throws are just something that happens so often as to be trite, while still being more or less unparalleled in any other sport, people don't generally think about them very much. But I do. Free throws are, to me, a supremely hidden statistic, both from the matter of how often they occur, and as to how many points are left on the table. And they are also a fine indicator, at some level, of the overall quality of the player, especially when it comes to guard play. (I also have a relatively functional case of OCD, and I do analysis for a living. So.)

Look at the top players in the league when it comes to free throws made per game. You'll find James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Paul George -- in other words, some of the best offensive players in the league this year. With the exception of Cousins, all of them shoot in the mid to high 80s from the stripe. And it seems like an easy corollary to make. Good form in free throws, good ability to draw contact and get to the line, hey presto, effective offense. If this is true for players, it's true for teams.

Now, let's take a look at free throw percentage at a team level.

Philly is 19th in the league on free throw attempts per game. That may not sound too bad, but it actually is, because they play at a faster offensive pace than most. Then we get to how many of them turn into points, and there's where the rubber hits the road. Third fewest, or 28th, because from a percentage standpoint, only Detroit is worse. 68.8%, and in general, the league average is just over 75%. On a team average of 20 to 25 attempts per game, that's a hole of 2-3 points, just from the stripe. (To be fair, Philly is also terrible at avoiding turnovers, and in the past month, defense. But I digress.)

It's not even just a case of one terrible shooter who gets hacked when the team is ahead, the way things work for Detroit, Houston or the Clippers. Philly has a half dozen guys that make between 1.8 and 2.5 free throws a game (the list: Jerami Grant, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Ish Smith, Rovert Covington and Isaiah Canaan), and only Covington and Canaan are actually any good at it, coming in at over 80%. (Notice that they aren't actually very good at it, just better than average.)

The rest? Ye gads. Noel is at 61%. Smith is at 65%, and honestly, that's inexcusable for a point guard. Grant and Okafor troll around 68%, and even the shooting guards who rarely get there because they only shoot from the arc, Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson, come in at 68 and 72.

So while it seems like a relatively small thing, it's really not, given the pace they play at. It's more like a five points per game hole that this team has to try to crawl out of. It's one of the big reasons why they've been utterly terrible at protecting fourth quarter leads. It's unlikely to turn around next year, even if the team gets a massive infusion of significant talent (Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, several high draft picks), because all of that new talent is going to do the same thing that the young talent does...

Which is, well, struggle to make their free throws.

Look back to that list of individual players that I referenced earlier. Notice anything in common?

Yeah, none of them are all that new to the league, right?

So maybe next year they get a little better about this. Maybe they get to 2 or 3 points a game in the hole. But it's not going to become a net positive for a long while, and for a team whose best assets are inside, rather than outside...

Well, if you are looking for reasons to doubt The Process, you aren't lacking for reasons right now. And until this gets to the point where the team has an edge at the line, rather than a hole?

That's when they might be able to win a game when everything *doesn't* go right...

Friday, March 4, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: Why So Mad?

I'm going to try, and in all likelihood fail, to not talk about politics very much during this election year. It's not that I don't hold such views or have opinions about these things, it's just that (a) I can't imagine you care that much, and (b) I also can't imagine that I'm going to change anyone's mind about, well, anything.

That's one of the wonderful things about our age of disruption and social media. Everyone's not only entitled to their opinion, it's almost as if they are required to have one, and the less informed, the better. I'm the first person in my family to go to college, and I hold a political science degree from one of the best schools in the country for such things. At no time, in the 25+ years since I achieved that diploma, has anyone that I am related to deferred to my more qualified viewpoint. All while praising to the skies my accomplishment and alma mater. It is what it is.

But having said all of that, let me take the broom out of the closet and go push the ocean for a few words. To wit, this:

To my friends and relatives who are very much against the Obama Administration, and convinced that things are so bad that we should get enthused about a self-promoting serial failure of a businessman who would be the least qualified major party candidate in this country's history, um...

What, exactly, is going so badly in the country to justify your electoral equivalent of grenade addiction?

I fueled up my car today for $12. (No, seriously.) I did so in a country where the unemployment rate is approaching historically low levels, with the rate of unemployed people dropping every month. When I drove to work, I did so on a road that included cars from American companies that were saved from bankruptcy, and paid back all assistance, by the Administration that you oppose.

My home is worth about 90% of what I paid for it... coming up on ten years ago. The reason why that valuation dropped though the floorboards was stuff that happened due to the actions of the second Bush Administration, which pretty much threatened the economy of the entire world. When the value fell to 65%, this Administration worked to make sure that I could refi my home anyway, and save thousands every year on interest rates.

Last year, my job went away, and for a time, I needed health insurance. This Administration's signature program allowed me to save a few thousand more over what COBRA would have cost, when I really needed it. This let me start a consulting business without having to cash in my 401K or kill my kid's college fund. It also let my wife and kids go to the doctor despite my troubles. Last year really stunk, but without this President, it would have been much worse.

There are people in this country, who were born with a condition that they did not chose, who get to marry each other, raise kids and have a relatively normal life now. They only get to do this because of this President, and none of that cost me, or you, a dime. In all likelihood, it made us both money, since all of those folks started spending on such things. Fewer of our countrymen are at war now than before this President. The national debt, which is a bullspit concept that only seems to matter when a Democrat is in office, is down, and the percentage of federal spending is also historically low. We've probably *hurt* our economy because we're not *more* in debt, given the amount of easy and necessary infrastructure projects that have gone waiting, but it's not as if this Congress was going to approve deficit spending anyway. Despite, well, two majority voting wins.

Want more? There really hasn't been a defining scandal of the age. Obama hasn't presided over a Katrina disaster, committed infidelities in office, reneged on a tax promise, traded weapons in a blatantly illegal scheme, and so on. You also really can't claim that the media has hushed up anything that might come out, given the fact that your side has media channels, and such things get noticed.
Let me back this up with a few points. I'm really not in love with the guy, honest. I grant that he might play golf too much, irritate with a professorial attitude, and pander to his base. None of that's what really bothers me, though. I'm much more concerned by the drone strikes (cheap warfare, terrorists will have them within a decade), the wiretapping and Guantanamo Bay's continued existence. I worry that we haven't done enough on global warming, ocean acidification, and that fracking is going to cause massive tectonic problems later... but you aren't, and in the grand scheme of things, in seven years, that's relatively light. By nearly all statistical and quantifiable levels, he's been one of the best Presidents in the history of the nation, and in my lifetime, maybe the best. (Yes, I understand your side's love for Reagan, but you don't get to cry national debt only when it suits you, and Reagan went nuts on that.)

Now, I get why people wouldn't want to vote for the person I'm going to vote for. I'd much rather have a third Obama term, and a Congress that wasn't historically obstructionist, then what we're likely to get. Clinton's decision making on Iraq, willingness to play the big donor game, and constant triangulation to a mythical middle is the reason why Bernie Sanders has gotten so much oxygen. Bernie's not electable, because he'd get wiped out by strong public scrutiny, and I'm too old for noble causes, anyway. (That progressive ship sailed with Dennis Kucinich in 2004, actually.)

But what I don't get is why you are all so convinced that the world's ending, that the country is going to hell in a handbasket, and that any time your guy isn't in office, the person that is in office is a strong candidate for Antichrist status. (When your guy is in office, I usually just think Thief, or maybe War Criminal, and by the way, Trump would just be the former. It's not that equivalent.) That your 19% viewpoint that abortion is never acceptable, unless its your kid and kept very quiet, is in any way defensible. That your gun hobby is more important than any other public safety concern, despite how the rest of the world does it. That there's nothing that can be learned from how the rest of the world handles health, or law, or education, or, well, anything.

Honestly. My side isn't competent enough to vote in midterm elections, let alone run a death panel, conspire to give the world away to the UN, enforce Sharia law, turn your kids gay, make Hollywood re-make "Ghostbusters" for no good reason, and so on, and so on.

So can you maybe take down the anger and hate a notch or twelve, and maybe stop beating the crap out of people who disagree with you, or threatening them with your guns?

Because no matter who wins the train wreck that we're in right now, and the train wreck to come, we all have to live near each other, if not quite get along.

At least, until y'all secede, and we get to see how committed you are to building walls...

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