Friday, December 22, 2006


I'm posting this from O'Hare, where my flight has been delayed for an hour and twenty minutes. I'll be back in the Southland tonight and hanging around until the 3rd, with a possible run up and back to the Bay Area. The bad news is that I waited too long to buy my ticket, and it's costing me a little under $700. The good news is that part of that includes a first class ticket on the way out, which is nice. Last time I flew first class it was because I missed my flight and had to go stand-by. Ended up a row or two in front of Keith Foulke and Bill Mueller on their way to Phoenix for the all-star break. Anyway, I'd be looking forward to the warm weather with more excitement if it hadn't been fairly warm here lately, though a little wet.

Big one for the Bruins, tomorrow. Michigan comes in with only one loss, though they haven't played a particularly tough schedule. Still, they've got some skill, and a lot of athleticism, especially Petway, who can jump out of the gym. Last year the Bruins constantly double teamed the ball in the post, and it was a very successful strategy, though they still needed a key late steal by Aaron Afflalo to seal the win. On paper, this year's game shouldn't be as tough, but the Bruins haven't exactly been firing on all cylinders for 40 minutes lately, and as poorly coached as Michigan is, it won't be as easy to put together big runs, the likes of which put away Sam Houston State and Oakland. A common explanation for the sluggish play in those games is that they've been looking ahead to Michigan and conference season. Let's see if they play like it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

John Lackey Unfiltered

Baseball Prospectus has a new blog section called Unfiltered. I imagine you have to be a subscriber to get access to it. I'm a subscriber, so I get it. Anyway, the other day, Nate Silver did a bit on "The Most Underrated Pitcher in Baseball":
PECOTA says that he’s the 20th most valuable pitcher in baseball long-term, more valuable than Roy Oswalt, Dontrelle Willis, or Justin Verlander. He’s one of just eleven pitchers to post a VORP of 40 or higher in each of the last two seasons. He pitches in a major media market, is in the prime of his career, and has no red flags in his injury or health performance record. And yet, he’s never received a vote for the Cy Young award, never made an All-Star team, and has barely one-fifth the Google hits of Barry Zito.

Who is he?
Well, assuming you read the title of this post, you know who it is. It's John Lackey. Included in that entry are the ten other pitchers who hit the VORP requirement, and of those ten, Lackey's last two seasons have been at about the bottom of that list, behind all but Brett Myers. Anyone who's been reading this site a fair amount over the last couple of seasons is aware of my frustrations with John Lackey. I love the guy, and I think he's a great pitcher. But he's incredibly frustrating to watch. He's got a horrible habit of getting ahead of guys 0-2 or 1-2, then taking about 10 more pitches to finish guys off. As a result, he'll routinely hit the 100 pitch mark around the sixth inning. Now, Nate and I know each other fairly well. He's a Chicago guy, and we knew each other through Primer before he started writing for Prospectus. I sent him a quick email with my observations, and he did a little digging, resulting in today's post, which I'll excerpt with his permission:
...Lackey has wound up walking the batter 4.7% of the time that the at-bat starts out with an 0-2 count. That struck me as a high percentage...and in fact it is. I took a sample of 25 arbitrarily-selected starting pitchers,....[O]nly two of these pitchers walked the hitter more often than Lackey. [ed. note: the list contained all quality starting pitchers, ranging from Johan Santana at the high end of the ability scale down to probably Eric Milton at the low end]

Score one for our Angels fan [ed. note: Woohoo!]....

But is walking the hitter following an 0-2 count a bad thing?

Lackey’s OPS allowed following 0-2 counts if .405, which is a low number; the average for pitchers in this sample is .465....

It turns out that there is a correlation between walk rate on an 0-2 count and OPS allowed, but it’s quite weak (.26).... Lackey’s hyperaggressive strategy when ahead in the count might be frustrating to his fans and his managers, but there’s no evidence that it’s poor pitching.
That's a great point, and as I responded to Nate, my problem isn't so much that Lackey gets hurt more often than he should when he gets ahead, but rather that he sends his pitch count to a level that leads to Scioscia bringing the hook early than he might want to (and definitely earlier than I want him to). For what it's worth, I have no recollection of complaining about Lackey giving up too many two out hits (though for all I know, I may have complained about this before).

Considering the strength of the Angels bullpen over the last few seasons, early removal of a starter who is otherwise pitching well isn't the problem that it would be on a team with a crappy bullpen, so the net result is probably negligible. That doesn't make it any easier for me to watch him pitch. And ultimately (and this goes for Ervin Santana, too), if he could develop an ability to take advantage of those counts and save himself some pitches, he could add 2/3 of inning to his per game average. That's an extra 20-25 innings per year that he could take back from the pen. FWIW, his innings/start is pretty comparable with Zito, Willis, and Brett Myers, although he trails behind Brandon Webb, and that's before taking into account the fact that Webb plays in a league where he may occasionally be removed for a hitter even when he's going good on the mound.

It's nice to see some respect for Lackey from the new media, and thanks to Nate for digging a little deeper into the numbers. I'll continue to like Lackey, and I'll continue to get frustrated with his inability or unwillingness to put guys away earlier in the count, but if he keeps putting up seasons like he has the last couple of years, the frustrations will be fleeting.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lots of doings last night

The Kings, Lakers, Illini, and Bruins were pretty much all on TV at the same time last night, so it was a workout for both the DVR and the split screen, but I caught a sufficient amount of each game, except maybe the Lakers game, which quite frankly, I didn't really care that much about anyway.


For the seventh straight season, the Illini walked off the court in St. Louis with the Busch Bragging Rights trophy, having down Missouri yet again. It was actually a very entertaining game. Tons of lead changes, lots of runs by both teams, a very quick pace, and a lot of fun to watch.

Coming off a 22 turnover performance against Belmont, this one looked a little scary for the Illini. Mizzou, under new coach Mike Anderson, is running Nolan Richardson's old 40 minutes of hell system. High pressure, turnover inducing basketball. But Chet Frazier rose the challenge, turning the ball over just three times against the press, off-set by his three steals, while dishing out six assists and scoring eight points in nearly 40 minutes of action. But he wasn't a runaway player of the game. Sean Pruitt scored a career high 19 points to go with nine boards. And Brian Randle made big play after big play, adding 10 points, seven boards, and two steals of his own. He made a huge block down the stretch, and kept a possession alive when he tipped a rebound of a missed free throw out to a teammate in the final minute. Still, the Tigers hung tough, and had a chance to tie with under four seconds to go when Stephon Hannah fumbled away an attempt at a three.

Despite some other (better) takes, I actually thought the Illini looked pretty good, and the performances by Pruitt and Randle are something to build on. Warren Carter had a bit of an off night before taking a shot to his hip flexor, but it was good to see that they could win when he doesn't have a big night. Conference play is right around the corner.


Fortunately, the Illinois game kept me from paying a great deal of attention to the first half. It was really an awful performance. The funny thing is, if you look at the numbers, the game doesn't look that bad. They shot a great percentage from the field, from beyond the arc, and from the free throw line. They held Sam Houston State to relatively low numbers from the field, and the led the rebounding battle. But they got behind big early, and with the slow down "Princeton" style that SHS plays, it took them a long time to get back into the game. It was a definite trap game, coming a few days before Saturday's test with Michigan. School's out as well, and the home crowd was less than intimidating (quick aside: Why can't this team draw for shit? I can't think of another storied program, ranked number one, that wouldn't have sold out this game, and it's not like Pauley is a big venue).

Leading the way again, surprise surprise, were Josh Shipp with 18, Aaron Afflalo with 12, and Darren Collison with 11. I thought Russel Westbrook, despite only playing 10 minutes, had probably his best game aesthetically. He dropped in seven point on three for four shooting, and moved the ball well despite not picking up any assists. The kid can score, maybe a little better than Collison could at this point last season. If ha can mature a little more this season, he'll be nice option when the Bruins need an extra offensive punch, and I especially like the lineup this team would be able to put out against a team like Missouri (they aren't scheduled, but I use them as an example) if they wanted to go small and litter the court with ball-handlers and scorers. Michigan awaits on Saturday.


Slow start again, down 2-0 early thanks to two bad goals allowed by Cloutier, and the Kings never recovered. Despite the heroic efforts of man-child Anze Kopitar (two more goals and an assist), the Kings never got closer than a goal down. Both of Kopitar's second period goals were answered by Flames who pretty much waltzed into the crease to re-extend the lead to two goals each time, and despite dominating the second period, the Kings had nothing to show for it. When Kristian Huselius cherry picked his way into the Flames fifth goal with about 7:30 to play, the deal was done. Dustin Brown added his ninth of the season on the power play to cut into the final margin.

Not sure I would have gone away from Brust in this one if I were Marc Crawford. The kid looked as good in his two games as Cloutier has looked in his two best games this season. Probably should have given Cloutier a couple more days of practice to get back into the action, but hindsight it 20/20.

The bad news is that Kings seem to be taking one step forward, one step back. On the plus side, that's a big improvement over the one step forward, three steps back they were routinely taking a couple of months ago. There's a lot of season left, and these guys aren't going to make the playoffs, but the guys who need to progress are progressing, and the guys who aren't progressing aren't going to be a part of the next good Kings team anyway.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Weekend

Not to be confused with "The Weak Ender". Pretty slow weekend as far as sports that I care about are concerned. Slow starts doomed one team, and almost doomed two more.


This game wasn't on TV in my part of the country, but from the looks of things, the Bruins didn't get things going until late in the first half. The big scorers were the guys you expect to be the big scorers, Afflalo, Shipp, and Collison. For one of the few times this season, the Bruins didn't enjoy a large turnover margin (they only forced 16 while turning it over 14 times). Especially discouraging was the rebounding margin. They were outrebounded by the Golden Grizzlies 35-31. That has to improve. Weird stat of the game: Mike Roll scored 8 points on 4-8 shooting, which means he made four two point baskets, and no three pointers. I would not have expected a stat like that in his entire career.

Positive: They held their opponent to 32% shooting while making 51% of their own shots. On the year, they haven't been a great field goal percentage defense, making up for that with forced turnovers. Negative: 55% from the free throw line. At some point this season, that's going to kill them if it doesn't get better. Altough, I should point our that four of their eight misses were from Josh Shipp (3-7), who is really not a bad free throw shooter. Still, it's been a team issue all season.

Oh well, first game in a week, and they were sluggish, as is to be expected. They still coasted in the second half, and found minutes for Keefe, Wright, and Westbrook. Still, a game against an opponent like this should have featured a lot more garbage time.


Another slow start. Back and forth game for the first half. Belmont (who faced UCLA in the first round of last year's tournament) is a three point shooting team and it seemed in the first half like every time the Illini opened a six or eight point lead, Belmont would hit a couple of threes and get back in the game. The second half was another story, though, as the Illini went on a big run to start the half that essentially put the game away.

Warren Carter, who's been absolutely outstanding this season, led the way with 21 points, despite only going 4-9 from the free throw line and turning the ball over six times. He's not a bad free throw shooter, so hopefully that was an abberation. Sean Pruitt added 13, and Brian Randle had 10 to give the Illini frontcourt a big advantage over their opponents. Both teams hit eight three pointer, but Belmont needed seven more shots to get there, and their second half shooting was awful. Chester Frazier had a surprising 11 rebounds, and six assists against three turnovers. Turnovers were a problem, with the Illini giving it away 22 times. That's not a very Bruce Weber-like statistic, and it will have to get better in Big 10 play for the Illini to have a respectable season. Again, like UCLA, they had a week off, and it's not surprising to see them come out flat in the first half.

Bragging Rights Game against Missouri is Tuesday night. The Illini are riding a Bragging Rights Game winning streak that goes back to my second year in law school, but it actually looks to be in jeopardy this season. Should be a good game.


They didn't do anything this weekend....slackers.


A poor first period was a little too much to overcome on Saturday against Dallas, despite a terrific second period and a solid third. Still, they pulled a point against a team that has completely owned them this season. The last couple weeks, they've looked like they really belong in the NHL, which is a nice change. Ironically, they've been getting their most consistent goaltending ever since they all started getting hurt. Brust has looked pretty darn good in his two starts. They showed a lot of resilience coming back from a two goal deficit, despite blowing a late lead before going to overtime. The shootout kind of sucked, though.

I really shouldn't be surprised at the success they've had the last month or so on the power play. They have a lot of offensive talent, and they've got a ton of skill and experience on the blue line for those situations. But they've been so inexplicably bad with the extra man the last couple of years that I'd pretty much given up hope. Of course, the PK is still pathetic.

The good news is that they've played most of their games scheduled against the Ducks, Sharks, and Stars, so the schedule should get a little easier in the second half.