Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Serpentine Baseball Draft Results

I've given up on hardcore fantasy baseball league work this year, but going completely cold turkey seemed like overkill, especially when I could join a head to head league and talk trash with a lot of people who I've known for decades. So here's this year's exercise in I know less and less about this game, and consequently may finally stop outsmarting myself.

What works about this draft is that I pretty much just surfed ADP for much of it, was able to load up on power guys who are mostly on the upside of their career, and bought in to a bunch of lottery ticket pitchers with upside and injury concerns late. I'm in trouble if any of the offensive guys go down, because I'm thin there, but in a head to head league, the whole goal is to just be live late enough of the year to surf the waiver wire to a win.

That, of course, implies that I'll be in contention that long, or have the time necessary to do the due diligence to keep this group afloat. But I think I've got a puncher's chance, which, considering that I might have spent less than an hour prepping for it this year, is as good as can be hoped/.

Oh, and I don't have to root for slugs like Ryan Braun and Justin Verlander any more. That helps. too.

1.(6)Nolan Arenado (Col - 3B)
2.(19)Max Scherzer (Was - SP)
3.(30)Starling Marte (Pit - OF)
4.(43)Rougned Odor (Tex - 2B)
5.(54)Kyle Schwarber (ChC - C,OF)
6.(67)Carlos Carrasco (Cle - SP)
7.(78)Jean Segura (Sea - 2B,SS)
8.(91)Seung Hwan Oh (StL - RP)
9.(102)Albert Pujols (LAA - 1B)
10.(115)Odubel Herrera (Phi - OF)
11.(126)Cody Allen (Cle - RP)
12.(139)Adam Duvall (Cin - OF)
13.(150)Jeurys Familia (NYM - RP)
14.(163)Kevin Gausman (Bal - SP)
15.(174)Byron Buxton (Min - OF)
16.(187)Steven Matz (NYM - SP)
17.(198)Julio Urías (LAD - SP)
18.(211)Carlos Rodon (CWS - SP)
19.(222)Álex Reyes (StL - SP,RP)
20.(235)Sonny Gray (Oak - SP)
21.(246)Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY - OF)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Sixers Are Failing At Tanking, And It's Delightful

RoCo Wing Span
So a few weeks back at the NBA trade deadline, the Sixers more or less gave up on the season. They traded Nerlens Noel to Dallas in a bone head move, shipped Ersan Ilyasova off to Atlanta for no real value, DLed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and more or less pulled the plug on anything that could be considered Fun. It was all depressing, but for a fan base that has endured multiple years of Process, that wasn't the most saddening thing. What really took the starch out of our sheets was that we thought those days were behind us, and that we got to root for a fun team again. Hopefully for good, or at least, for a while.

The team got ripped by middling Milwaukee and dull Detroit, and short of seeing if Dario Saric could counting stat his way to the Rookie of the Year award over Embiid, there wasn't going to be anything of consequence going forward. But then a funny thing happened. They went on the road and competed, leading games in the fourth in all four games. And sure, the Lakers and Suns are truly awful, the Clips and Warriors were racked by injury and the club blew leads to lose to both anyway, but still. Competition was nice. Competition meant you didn't feel dumb for watching.

Friday night, they absolutely ripped Dallas apart with a 40-point home win, in a game the Mavs had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Today, they beat Boston for the first time in 11 tries, coming back from 13 down in the third to put a dagger in the hearts of the C's hopes to get home court against the Cavs in the lEastern playoffs.

So what the hell is going on?

Saric, honestly. He was the best player on the floor for the home laundry tonight, tough late, truly multi-faceted and with more than a spark of nasty to him, honestly. He doesn't look anything like a rook anymore, shaking off a 1 for 6 start to end 10 for 20. But there was more to it than the Homey.

A few weeks back, I called the last quarter of the season as all about Richaun Holmes, and his 8/7/5/2/4 line tonight, in 29 selfless minutes, was glue-tastic. He didn't hang his head when Al Horford was having a monster game, and in the fourth, he did outstanding work on loose balls and defensive pressure.

Who else? Honestly, it was all over the roster. Robert Covington went 16/8 with his usual defense. TJ McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez combined for 15/6/14 with just 2 turnovers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, this year's low first round pick from France with athleticism, wasn't great, but he had his moments and no longer looks overwhelmed by NBA speed. (His corner three in the fourth was also absolute butter.) Nik Stauskaus took nothing but threes tonight and made three of them, adding 6 boards, 4 assists and a steal and two blocks. They overcame a 14 shot deficit at the line.

And sure, Boston didn't dress Isiah Thomas and only went 6 for 29 from the arc (Avery Bradley hasn't gotten the memo that he can't make that shot), and probably win if the downballot MVP played, but we're not going to shed too many tears for the opponent not being able to dress their best player.

Next up is a roadie in Orlando against a Magic team that might play people from the stands in an effort to better their draft position. The win drops the Sixers to 5th in the reverse standing for draft position, but honestly, we've been playing that game for so long, I just want to see fun hoop. This team gives us that again, oddly, amazingly. All credit to HC Brett Brown, who should honestly get some Coach of the Year votes for the way he's kept this group focused and developing.

And next year, when the try hard bunch slide back to their optimal bench positions, and (please, Lord, please) Embiid and Simmons show up to jump start the talent level?

Well, young teams don't generally win in the NBA. Neither do big teams; it's a guard-driven league with the arc the way it is. But a good, young, big team where the talent level is off the charts, with a defensive hammer, a coach that develops talent better than anyone in the league, with a do-everything small forward and many other assets?

You still need a GM that doesn't blow it, health and some luck. But that's less than a lot of other teams. And for a team that wasn't sure about its coach, and isn't likely to have 100% health in the future, since it's had anything but that in the recent past?

We'll take it. Along with 26 wins and counting for the season...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Real Meaning Of Nick Foles' Return To The Eagles

Nappy D Is Back
So the Eagles decided that spending $7mm a year on a guy that hopefully will never play wasn't enough, and decided to bring home one-time Young Gun QB Nick Foles, releasing one-year wonder why that happened Chase Daniel. The move comes with a cap hit, which might go away if Daniel gets a big money job with another NFL franchise, which is to say, the Eagles will get cap relief if pigs fly out of my butt. Seeing as I don't eat a lot of pig anymore -- that's pricey protein! -- we're not holding our breath. But let's get beyond the money being spent and into the personnel.

For a guy that supposedly knew the offense and had such a good rapport with HC Doug Pederson, Daniel never looked like, well, a guy that was at all comfortable here. He's small, not as mobile as you might hope for, and the ball just doesn't look good coming out of his hands. His preseason work last year was punctuated with nothing encouraging, and dude was seemingly asking for his release even before the Foles trade, because he's still got dreams of QB1. Which seems nuts to me, but what the hell, Cleveland exists, and multiple McNowns and Detmers have gotten snaps, so you do you, son.

However, honestly, why does anyone who is on path to make eight figures in lifetime earnings without having to put up with the life-threatening misery of QB1... really want to step up in weight class? Life is short, concussions are probably inevitable and not something everyone just gets better from, and QB2 is the cushiest job in football. No one expects you to win games, you are super popular so long as no one has to see you work, and so long as you don't raise a ruckus while you carry your clipboard, all is well. Maybe you have to do some special teams work and hang out with the kicker a little, but still. I've had worse gigs. You probably have, too.

As for Foles... well, he's got the fluke year to end all fluke years in Nero Kelly Year One, and his career won-loss record might be better than any QB2 in the NFL, given that the club went 6-2 when he was under center in the follow-up year. (Foles really didn't have much to do about that, and played shaky / was hurt enough to make Nero pull the trigger for Sam Bradford, but, um, Nero.)

Foles is, of course, tall as hell, about as mobile as a futon, turnover-prone and doesn't throw nearly as nice of a deep ball as you might imagine for a moose... but QB2 standards are quite low, and he's certainly more of a physical match for Carson Wentz than Daniel, at least until he actually has to move his feet. I'd prefer my backup to be mobile, because I generally suspect that QB2 got into the game because QB1 got hurt when the rush took him out, but we're not going to quibble about this. All you really hope to have here is a guy that gives you a chance, and Foles probably does that better than Daniel.

Unfortunately, money paid to QB2 still counts against the salary cap, and Foles is going to make even more than Daniel... which gets us to true WTFery. You'll notice that Smart Teams (New England, Seattle) never spend big on the back up, and yet they still get production out of That Guy, because they coach the hell out of them. The fact that the Eagles under Howie Rosemann / Doug Pederson keep hiring very expensive binkies should be seen as what it is: a vote of no confidence in a young coach that isn't elevating the talent.

So. Foles in for Daniel, and from an on the field product standpoint, probably a good signing. From a GM / what it all means standpoint? Not so much...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mad Structure

You Must... Fill Me
(Note: I wrote this for my corporate blog, but thought y'all might enjoy it here as well.)

As it's Selection Sunday as I write this, and I'm a very lapsed college basketball fan but a very strong professional one, I'm struck by the annual urge to dive into the tournament anyway.

Mostly because it's a teachable marketing moment.

Why? The absolutely perfect structure of the enterprise.

For all but the diehards, college basketball really isn't something you need to pay too much attention to before the actual tournament starts. Unlike the 82-game NBA regular season, the college game seems extremely skippable, since it's overlapped by other sports during its run time, and doesn't really matter beyond the highly transitory "who got snubbed" arguments. Sure, if you root for a school in a power conference and they win that title, it's nice, but it's forgotten as soon as the Madness begins.

A word about the timing. It's usually perfectly coinciding with spring celebrations like St Patrick's Day and some spring breaks. It's deep enough into the year that taking a couple days off for a 4-day orgy of bracket obsession is within reach of many workers. The highlight footage of dunks, last second shots, favorites asserting themselves, and so on translates to every platform in our digital age. There hasn't been a tournament yet that lacked for drama, because many of the games are coin flips, and a 40-minute basketball game falls into the small data sample that says anything can happen, and just might. The NBA more or less goes on mute during that initial blast, with networks switching over to the tournament. Football doesn't compete. Baseball is playing games that don't matter. It's a nearly extinct rarity in American media; a ceded time slot with a lack of competition.

The only actual problem is... the product.

Purists talk about how collegians care more and try harder on defense; this is not true, it's just that they are comparing playoff games in the tournament to not equal moments in the NBA. (Try to find lapsed defense in a Game 7, which is, in effect, what all NCAA tournament games are.) Others talk about how into it the crowds are, and sure, but again, Game 7s. The only real difference between the tournament and the NBA playoffs is the structure, which rewards luck far more than the meat grinder nature of the pro game.

Beyond the structure, there's no comparison. The NBA attracts talent from six continents at the height of their physical skills, puts them in the presence of the finest coaches in the world, then pits them against each other in a Darwinian endurance test to qualify for the post-season and acquire home court advantage. Next, it throws the same opponents together for a minimum of 192 minutes of court time to see who is best.

The coaches only coach; there is no recruiting. The players only play; there is no pretense at education, and if they choose to spend the whole of their lives at their craft, their teams will not suffer sanctions. The officiating is at a higher standard, and so is the sports medicine, scouting, practice time, strategies, and so on. It's just a better game.

And yet... that perfect structure. The bands, the crowds, the sense that if you aren't picking a bracket you are just denying yourself joy. Even though brackets almost never end in joy. The nostalgia, if you went to a school that's participating, for times gone by.

From a marketing and advertising perspective, we spend our lives seeking for similar business models and experiences. Structures that write themselves, creatives that play into such advantages, locked and loaded concepts that never fail.

We almost never find them, and even when we do, they don't endure like the NCAA tournament does.

Structure.

Find a perfect one, and everything else falls in its sway.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Eagles Get Actual Wideouts

2016 Eagles Wideout Storage
So my football laundry, after spending 2016 watching their prized rookie QB try to make a passing offense out of circus animals and pencil shavings, made quite the splash in free agency yesterday.

The small beer component of this is Torrey Smith from the Niners, and while Smith is something of a name from his time with Baltimore, he's probably not all that much. Smith's never really mastered more in life than the straight line deep ball, and as good as Carson Wentz looked last year, that part of his game? Not so much. At 28, Smith isn't exactly moving to the prized years of his life as a deep burner, but at least he keeps Little Nell Agholor and Bryce Treggs from failing to even stretch the defense.

No, the actual news is where the club got Alshon Jeffery from Chicago, and that's a guy who looked fairly special in his first three years in the league, with +2800 yards and 20 TDs in those halcyon days. The last two years have petered off to 1600 and 6 scores combined, with injury and suspension costing him 11 of 32 starts, but when he's on his game, Jeffery is a legitimate WR1, which is to say, the team's first since Jeremy Maclin. He's also 6'3" and 218 while still being quick; he passes the eye test and is a threat all over the field.

Which leads us to the not so hidden bummer factor here; Jeffery took a one-year prove it deal at $14mm, and all indications are that he's basically trying to break the bank with his next contract. So we might have a true ballhog kind of guy, which in theory isn't such a nice thing in the locker room, but in practice? I'll take it. Wentz isn't exactly a shrinking violet in terms of spreading the ball around, and Jeffery gets tolerable but secondary talents like Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz back to their correct place as WR2 and TE Whatever.

If you believe the hype, Philly was able to get Jeffery's name on a contract despite the presence of presumably better places like New England and Indianapolis, as well as Chicago's attempt to keep him around. So that speaks to top tier talent also believing in Wentz, and maybe even (I'm dreaming) HC Doug Pederson.

What I'm especially fond of here is that the club isn't putting Wentz's development at risk by repeating 2016's mistake of assuming he can elevate replacement level talent. There were an inordinate number of plays last year, especially as the season wore on and Wentz grew more comfortable buying time with his feet, where the wideouts just couldn't separate, no matter how much time they had to do so. Jeffery is big enough to just wall off a catch radius, and also fast enough to do that for more than marginal yardage.

So does this make the club a playoff possibility next year? Well, as nice as it will be to have actual threats on the wides again, the most important person on the offense last year was T Lane Johnson; his presence at the start and end of the year, bookended by his second suspension for a PED violation, more or less matched the time that the team was good. Jeffery also doesn't fix the problem that the team doesn't really have any good CBs -- yeah, cutting loose of Eric Rowe and Brandon Maxwell in the post-Chip Kelly purges might not have been the best move -- and in the NFL these days, you need at least three of those to compete, let alone zero.

But at least now they don't have to try to convince anyone that Agholor is a football player, that Dorial Green-Beckham will develop a working brain for something other than a slant and OPI/holding, that summer hero Paul Turner is a name you have to remember for any reason, and that Matthews is capable of being more than an acceptable slot guy with shaky hands.

Also, and this is absolutely killer?

That they can simply take the best available player in the upcoming draft, rather than going for need.

Since going for need is what led us to Agholor in the first place...

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Andersons... Must Be Stopped

We're Coming For You, Andersons
I'm not going to lie to you, dear theoretical readers... this is the time of the year where sports, for me, consist of just the NBA.

Baseball is weeks and weeks away, and my interest in the sport is at an Oakland A's-inspired (de-inspired?) low. Football was last month, and ended with my second or third least favorite franchise having what might be their sweetest moment yet, and the next day, my job unexpectedly ended, with my old manager being a Patriots fan, so, um, yeah. Screw football. I haven't cared about college hoop since I stopped going to college many years ago, and MMA, NASCAR, etc., just haven't cut through the clutter to me. Especially now that my free time is utterly theoretical.

Which means that the only sport that has any hold on me right now is the NBA, and that means a lot of the national telecasts of the games. ESPN, TNT, NBA TV, ABC. I pretty much put on one of these exclusively right now.

So I've seen the following ad enough times to commit it to memory. Painful memory. Let's deconstruct it, shall we?



We start with a Dad (hey, not a white guy for once! bold casting choice!) angry at his white friends for taking their kid to a basketball game. Honestly. So right away, we're in a pretty odd place of envy driving action, and Dad is a rage monster who hates it when his friends are having a good time. I don't know about you, but I want to be more like this guy!

Next, we have the opportunistic kid (note: I am not prepared to say son, due to what seems to be copious amounts of cosmetics and a sonically neutral voice, Not That There Is Anything Wrong With That), with tablet in hand, who has prepared for exactly this moment. They've got the site and device all lined up, ready to pounce on the opportunity for some sweet NBA action, and the fact that Dad can be goaded into major purchases by trivial provocation? Makes them truly dangerous. Don't let this kid near depressed people, or those in addiction programs, or anyone, really, with poor impulse control. So as bad as Dad is, the kid might be worse. Hey, people of indeterminate genders can all be equally awful. It's strangely uplifting, honestly. Role models for everyone!

"But the game is sold out..." offers Dad, maybe trying to walk back from his aggressively effective offspring, and save himself major bucks. But the camera needs to switch off to the presumed Mom, possibly the most smug person on the face of the Earth, as she prepares some juice-like experience in a kitchen that has clearly never been inhabited by humans, let alone used in food prep. Just look at her eyes closed smirk, and her deep knowledge that Dad is going to take a major economic hit for his lack of impulse control. She's probably poisoning his smoothie while she listens to this. In the world of the Anti-Andersons, she's a survivor.

"The games are never sold out," punctuates the kid with overly emphatic hand gesture, knowing that the prospect is on the hook and MUST NOT ESCAPE. Since the ad is for all NBA markets, we also have to just scroll up and down on the tablet to show all of the teams, rather than an arena floor plan, too. Any basketball game will do, even between the worst teams in the Association, because THOSE BASTARD ANDERSONS.

 "Never?" asks Dad, who doesn't know he's already dead. "And they are never fake," says the kid, going for the close, because Dad is pegged as not just a sucker, but one who can be goaded into action by fear of a wildly unlikely crime. The tickets are never fake? Why, I'd be losing money not to spend it!

"Your Dad's a genius," says our doomed soul, then proves he isn't really African-American by going for the hair touch that was in no way appreciated. Seriously,  consider the freeze frame at the top of this post, and tell me that kid's middle distance stare won't haunt your dreams. They know they are complicit and corrupt in the exploitation of an idiot, but they've made peace with it, because it's getting everyone out of the house and away from all of the horrors that the rest of the Impossibly Perfect House contains. Soon the Andersons, who, let's not forget, clearly deserve it for advertising their existence in a Nelson Muntzian Ha Ha Moment, will get theirs. Oh yes, they will get theirs.

"Grab the keys. We're going to the game," Dad says in full strut, as if he hasn't been fully played by life. The way he delivers the message to his wife, as if he's just dunked in her face, has more than a small whiff of misogyny, and the fact that he hasn't asked her if she wants to go or not is more of the same, but whatever, we're an American sporting audience, and misogyny is just table stakes. As he trails off, Mom and Kid high five behind his back, because another few hours of existence are going to pass without being alone in a room with this guy, and life is all about moments, really.

So, what have we learned?

> NBA fans are seething mounds of resentment that can be goaded into purchases through trace amounts of peer pressure

> The children of NBA fans lie in wait to take advantage of their parents with poor impulse control

> Everyone involved is impossibly rich, bi-racial, gender ambivalent and ready to change their plans for the day in 20 seconds of real time

> There is only one way to purchase tickets, and expense be damned, because criminals clearly use all of the other sites, and

> You can always go to the game, because attendance is a lie, money trumps everything, and you want to go, because you want to be like the worst people you've ever met, or their frenemies

Now, just show this 10 times a night for the next 5 years, and we'll all get the message!

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