The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

The Boots (September 2, 2008)

Boot Up: Cleveland Indians recent play – The Cleveland Indians recent ten-game winning streak is a certain sign that things are sure to improve n 2009 for this very young team. Despite this past weekend’s three-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, the Indians have played above average baseball throughout the second half of the season. When the Indians traded C.C. Sabathia just after their game on Sunday, July 6th, they had just lost to the Minnesota Twins and fallen to a record of 37-51 in the days before the All-Star break. Since that time, and despite the fact C.C. Sabathia may be a possible Cy Young candidate in the National League (which could include a no-hitter, pending an MLB report on whether or not a lousy infield single is ruled an error from Saturday’s game) the Indians have been 29-19. The Milwaukee Brewers, on the other hand, were 49-39 before the trade, and have been 31-18 since. This shows that since losing their best pitcher, the Indians have played right on track with one of the best teams in the National League: a team that currently has a 94.6% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus.

Taking a look at the Indians statistics since the All-Star break, you can see how they are finally beginning to fulfill expectations. In this time period, the offense has exploded, and the pitching has been led by the current favorite for the AL Cy Young award, Cliff Lee. On offense, Kelly Shoppach has led the way with a .283 average, 10 home runs, and 26 runs batted in (prompting this article) while Shin Soo-Choo (.318 average, .407 on-base-percentage, and 6 home runs), Jhonny Peralta (.308 average, 5 home runs, and 26 runs batted in) and Grady Sizemore (.261 average, 8 home runs, and .399 on-base-percentage) have all been very impressive. Cliff Lee is an amazing 8-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and newcomer Anthony Reyes is 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA in his five starts. Rafael Betancourt (3.24 ERA in 16.2 innings), Jensen Lewis (3.68 ERA with 7 saves in 22 innings), and Rafael Perez (3.71 ERA with 2-2 record, 2 saves and 7 holds in 26.2 innings) have all returned to near 2007 form, and along the way have shored up the formerly inconsistent bullpen. All in all, the Indians of late July and August look extremely dangerous, and are certainly in line to be American League contenders as soon as their slate in wiped clean in the 2009 season.

Boot Up: College Football Season – In case you were relaxing for the past month (like me), and missed the start of the first week of the college football season, I am here to clue you in on what just happened. As showcased on the College Football News website, the college football landscape changed quite a bit over this initial weekend. The ACC took a huge hit as league contenders Clemson, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Virginia all suffered crushing blows to Alabama, East Carolina, South Carolina, and Southern Cal, respectively. The magnitude of these collective losses, along with the poor performance of Maryland, and and North Carolina, shows how the ACC is clearly the worst of the BCS conferences. Their record in BCS bowl games has been absolutely atrocious, and former powers Miami and Florida State are nowhere near their talent levels from the mid-to-late 1990’s. Several other highly regarded teams had a disappointing start to the season this past weekend, as Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Michigan all lost, and Auburn and Ohio State were hit hard by the injury bug.

I have no real pity for Michigan’s 25 to 23 loss at home against Utah, but I was deeply saddened to see the result of the Bowling Green and Pittsburgh game. Pittsburgh was supposed to be one of the best teams in the Big East this year, coming into the 2008 season fresh off of their incredible 13-9 upset victory over West Virgnia in the final game of an already lost season in 2007. Despite that, they start the season in 2008 in the same fashion as 2007 under fading coach Dave Wannstedt, as they lost to a MAC team at home. Ohio State fans across the nation are still awaiting more information on the condition of star running back Chris “Beanie” Wells. The junior stud out of Garfield High School in Akron, OH, is the leading returning running back in the nation this season, as his 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns are enough to make him one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy in 2008. My guess is that he will be limited for this week’s showdown against Ohio University, and then will be all hyped up for the big match-up against Southern Cal on September 13th over at The Colosseum.

Boot Up: LeBron James as the best player in the world – After all of the hype and all of the speculation, the United States men’s basketball team lived up to the media’s expectations as the “Redeem Team.” Leading the way for the team this season were a trio of youngsters from the 2003 NBA Draft in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, along with fellow developing All-Stars Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard. The team dominated the field throughout the competition, and evoked many comparisons to the original Dream Team of 1992. My argument, as would probably be in agreement with the analysis on The Wages of Wins Journal, and from the book How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer, is that this Olympic team was the best compilation of All-Stars in the history of the game. Imagine the power and brute of Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh, going up against Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Christian Laettner, or Patrick Ewing. Or better yet, picture the physicality mismatch presented by Tayshaun Prince, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James against Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin, and Scottie Pippen. Sure, I will agree that Michael Jordan is definitely better than just about any current player on the Olympic team, but the average All-Star in today’s environment is much bigger, faster, stronger and better than the All-Star from sixteen years ago.

Stories about LeBron James have popped up all summer long, as his performance in the Olympics undoubtedly helped improve his image as the greatest basketball player in the world (sorry Kobe). The most relevant of any story, however, might have been the one reported by Pat McManamon in the Akron Beacon Journal last week. His reporting, along with recent work from the Waiting for Next Year blog, indicates that the Cleveland Cavaliers will certainly have the ability to field a very competitive team by the time LeBron James could possibly leave town in free agency. Even in the next year, the Cavaliers will lose around $25 million off the books with the expected loss of Anderson Varejao, Eric Snow, and Wally Szczerbiak. Their work reports that the Cavaliers will certainly have the ability to give one extra max contract to another player along with LeBron James by the time he hits free agency in the summer of 2010. Whoever this extra star is should definitely help convince James to stay in Cleveland, along with Maurice Williams, Daniel Gibson, and J.J. Hickson (the only other players signed through the 2010-2011 season) instead of chosing to go over to New Jersey or New York.

Boot Down: Spinning the Bristol Palin pregnancy story – In the most bizarre change of events in the election thus far, Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was unveiled to the world on Monday. Palin, the first-term Governor of Alaska who was appointed as John McCain’s vice presidential nominee on Friday at Wright State University in lovely Dayton, OH (about ten minutes from where I am right now,) made a press release earlier today in order to shut down multiple reports on the internet that stated Bristol was the mother of Sarah’s four-month-old baby Trig, who was born with down syndrome. Bristol, who is seventeen, and a senior in high school, intends to keep the baby and marry the father, Levi, and will be supported by her parents throughout the situation. The real story within this announcement however, will be how this pregnancy will be spun by both sides of the political spectrum. While some individuals out there will suggest that this unplanned pregnancy by her daughter Bristol (who is in fact named after Bristol, CT, the home of ESPN) makes the Palin family seem genuinely average and more American, others will prompt “Sarah Barracuda” to discuss her plans for abstinence-only education in schools. As my favorite blogger Nate Silver reports on Five Thirty Eight, her thoughts on abstinence-only education is way out of line with the popular American belief that sex-education should be taught in schools, and this story could hurt her in this fashion.

I will tell you one thing with 100% certainty about this whole Sarah Palin situation. McCain’s decision to make her his vice presidential candidate has made this entire campaign much more compelling, and certainly much more dramatic. Along with the fact her seventeen-year-old daughter is pregnant, the investigation currently in progress concerning Palin’s alleged actions against her ex-brother-in-law in Alaska will come to a conclusion just days before the general election in November. While the Palin selection has certainly excited many conservative-leaning individuals in their fight to elect John McCain to the White House, it has also greatly angered many liberals, women, and most importantly, former supporters of Hillary Clinton. The nomination of Sarah Palin has been stated as being the riskiest VP choice since Dan Quayle in 1988, and she still has the ability to make or break the McCain campaign over these next two months. For now, with the democrats struggling to find a consistent reaction to her nomination, she is serving as an asset for recently turned 72-year-old McCain and the fading republican party.

Boot Down: Browns preseason struggles and NFL notes – Well that was certainly a lot of fun! Over the last month of preseason action, the Cleveland Browns have fallen from everyone’s favorite dark horse to win the Super Bowl in the 2008-2009 NFL season, to a team with several injuries and in a situation to fall 0-2 very quickly. The Browns travel to Dallas to take on the NFC favorites next week, and will be without several key contributors including Rex Hadnot, Joshua Cribbs, Brodney Pool, and others. These injuries, including the ones that will make Derek Anderson, and Braylon Edwards only probable for the game, have limited the Browns in the early going, and were a key reason why the Browns went winless in the preseason. Sure, the preseason means nothing, and might very well be cut short within a few years, but the Browns have only added to Cleveland miseries in 2008 thus far.

In other NFL news, the most surprising cut of the preseason might have been former Cincinnati Bengals star running back Rudi Johnson. Johnson, who ran for at least 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns from 2004 through 2006, was cut by the team because of assorted hamstring issues, that also limited him to only 497 yards in 11 games last season. As of Monday evening,  Johnson has come to terms on a one-year contract with the Detroit Lions to compete with rookie Kevin Smith as the starting running back…. It is a very sad time to be a Cincinnati Bengals fan. Along with the fall of their former All-Pro running back, Chad Javon Ocho Cinco (yes, he officially changed his name), and Carson Palmer each missed significant time in the preseason. T. J. Houshmandzadeh, the team’s other talented fantasy receiver, might be their most important piece to the puzzle this season, if they have any chance of being competitive in the AFC…. Just so it is on the record, I am predicting that the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys will meet in this year’s Super Bowl. I think the Browns regular season schedule will prevent them from getting a relatively high seed in the playoffs, and by that time it will be way too difficult to beat any combination of New England, Indianapolis, San Diego or even Pittsburgh in consecutive weeks.

Boot Down: Craziness in the Major League standings – I’ll admit it… I have not been paying that much attention to Major Leauge Baseball this season. From the disappointing Indians, to the suprise stories in the AL East and NL Central, this year has been very difficult to follow for a NE Ohio fan stuck in the 1990’s. In this column, however, I look to breakdown what anybody (including me) could have missed just by avoiding the standings throughout the entire season. Here is the most worthwhile I got out of researching a little bit more into the standings:

  • Tampa Bay just keeps getting better, for no obvious reasons. Sure, their pitching has been incredible this season (their 3.993 runs allowed per game is second in the Majors, trailing only Toronto at 3.868,) but their run differential shows an expected record worse than the Boston Red Sox, who they currently lead by four and a half games in the standings. This reminds me a lot of what happened with Arizona last year, who despite a poor run differential, managed to win the then best division in the National League with a stellar record and a young core of talented hitters.
  • Are the LA Angels really that good? That is a question bugging a lot of people these days. Sure, they own they have the third-best record in the Major Leagues only a game and a half behind Tampa Bay, but their run differential shows an expected record about eight games worse than where they currently stand. Despite acquiring Mark Teixeira, and already having stud offensive players in Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, and Torii Hunter, they have not been able to produce runs at a very impressive pace. Their 4.618 runs scored per game is tenth in the American League, so it should be very interesting to see if their pitching can be enough to lead them to post-season success.
  • Well the Cubs and Brewers both can’t win it… Both teams have been extremely impressive this season, and in the process have over-shadowed surprise stories in both St. Louis (still eight games over .500 despite having a starting rotation led by Todd Wellemeyer, Brandon Looper, and Kyle Lohse) and Houston (28-15 since the All-Star break). The Cubs clearly have the edge in terms of their outstanding run differential, but the Brewers are just as good since the All-Star Break. Whoever wins this division (looking like the Cubs) should be the clear cut favorite to win the National League.
  • Whatever happened to Cleveland and Colorado.. The two most surprising teams from the 2007 MLB Playoffs are finally starting to show a little bit of their promise, but it is certainly too little, too late. The Indians, as previously noted in this article, are 25-17 since the All-Star Break, and have a very impressive run differential that would place them somewhere around eight games over .500. The Rockies, on the other hand, still have a rather poor run differential, but have been the most impressive team in the NL West in the second half with a 26-17 record. In fact, they are only six games out of the division lead, which could still be within reach as they proved last season.
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September 2, 2008 - Posted by | The Boots | , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. About the tribe, idk if you caught the WFNY article about Shoppach, but they threw out some numbers that surprised me. They said that, number wise, he is the 3rd best catcher in the league minus victor, and he’s played in significantly fewer games than the likes of Soto and Mcann. I think if Victor can make the permanent move to first, we’ll be set at those 2 positions for a very long time and maybe we get something for Garko

    Comment by Kunal | September 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yeah I did read that article, I thought it was really interesting. I am trying to integrate more outside stuff into my articles now, so I am glad you checked that out… Yeah Shoppach has been incredibly productive this season. I just still am not entirely sure I would be 100% comfortable to have him as my long-term catcher of the future with no backup just yet in sight (Sal Fasano? Wyatt Toregas and Chris Gimenez still are a step away.)

    Ryan Garko is another interesting case. He has made enough impression at every level in the game to warrant having the every day first base job for the Tribe. The only problem seems to be he has lost his slugging and even his batting prowess this season, and for some of last season. I would give him more time, along with players such as Josh Barfield, just to see if they can fill in important roles for this team in the long run.

    Comment by Jacob Rosen | September 7, 2008 | Reply


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