Saturday, July 7, 2007

Everyone will love A-Rod in 2012

Start getting ready to love some A-Rod.

As Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez hastily makes his way toward the 500 home run milestone and catches another all-time great in homers, it made me think. Why does the general public have a distaste for Alex Rodriguez?

He's pretty arrogant. But, he has earned the right to be. He's that damn good. Besides, what team in baseball doesn't have a handful or arrogant players? It's baseball after all, the arrogant player's sport.

He makes more money than any other player in Major League Baseball, but who cares? It's not like he's hurting the Yankees' salary cap situation since one doesn't exist. Are people subconsciously jealous?

He doesn't exactly seem very approachable, but then again, not seeming approachable doesn't necessarily make you an unpopular guy.

Honestly though, for the fans in the general public who dislike A-Rod, I think it mostly boils down to the amount of money he makes and his unwavering success; people are jealous by nature. But honestly, who cares right now? At this point in his career, he isn't approaching any milestones anyone else hasn't already reached several times. Hell, this season alone, he is one of five players who will likely achieve some significant home run milestones, so isn't like his story seems like anything special. With Sammy Sosa breaking 600, Frank Thomas breaking 500, Ken Griffey Jr. possibly making a run at 600 and Barry Bonds inching his way toward the all-time mark, A-Rod's 500 is seen as just another step for him, like it's something that has always been expected of him.

What the general public fails to foresee is the eventual love and admiration for A-Rod that is coming in about five to six years. With the everlasting hatred being directed at Barry Bonds, baseball-loving America will be looking for someone to right their record books. If someone can come along and unseat Bonds, no matter who it may be, America will embrace that person to no end. Enter a 37-year old Alex Rodriguez.

With more home runs at his age than any other player in history (Jimmie Foxx is second with 464 at age 31), he's on an unbelievable pace. Hell, he's had more home runs at his age than anyone in history ever year since he was 25 years old. His pace far outreaches Griffey, who had 460 at age 31. At his current pace, A-Rod should finish this season with 524 home runs.

Considering he finishes this season at his current pace of 58, he will have averaged 44.5 home runs over his past five seasons, an accurate enough sample for his career. Let's do a little career analysis on what we can look to expect from A-Rod as compared to some of the all-time great home-run hitters. We'll exclude Barry Bonds as his data would skew the results of this for some pretty obvious reasons.

Hank Aaron
  • Peaked at 37 years old with 47 home runs
  • Had an incredibly level career, fluctuations in home run totals never deviated very far from the mean
  • Didn't start missing any games to speak of until he was 37 years old
  • Played until age 42

    Babe Ruth
  • Peaked at 32 years old with 60 home runs
  • Averaged about a 10 percent decline in home runs after 32 (not including final season in which he only played 28 games)
  • Only significant injury was a nasty case of gonorrhea at 30 years old that only let him play in 98 games that year
  • Played until age 40

    Willie Mays
  • Peaked at 34 years old with 52 home runs
  • Took a pretty big hit after his peak with an 33-percent decrease in home runs after the 1965 season (percentage decline excludes his final three season in which he combined to play 154 games)
  • Didn't miss significant time until he was 38 years old, a season in which he played 117 games
  • Played until age 42

    What does this tell us definitively? Absolutely nothing. A-Rod could very well pull a Griffey and start breaking down physically at 32, which is A-Rod's next birthday. But, Griffey had some injury issues even before breaking down for three seasons. In 1994 and 95, he combined for 183 games, part of which were missed with a hand injury. After becoming a full-time player in 1996, the fewest games A-Rod has played has been 129 in 1999 when he suffered a minor knee injury. He still finished that season with 42 homers. Excluding that, he has been almost injury free, and for the sake of this argument and the hope of baseball fans everywhere, let's assume that he doesn't just wilt like Griffey did for 3 1/2 years.

    So, let's assume the following things about A-Rod in accordance with the information we have about him, Aaron, Ruth and Mays.
  • A-Rod will average 45 home runs in 2008 (32 years old) and 2009 (33 years old)
  • A-Rod will finish the 2007 season with his current pace of 58 home runs
  • A-Rod will peak in single-season home run total when he is 34 (an average age of the three players) with 60 home runs in 2010
  • His home run totals for each subsequent season will decrease by 10 percent (a reasonable estimate mostly based upon the logical decline of Ruth)
  • He won't miss significant time to injury
  • He will play until age 41 (average of the three)
  • When he is 40 and 41, he will play half a season due to his inherent oldness

    If so, we can expect his home run totals to look like this:
  • 2007: 58 HR (524 total)
  • 2008: 40 HR (564 total)
  • 2009: 50 HR (614 total)
  • 2010: 60 HR (674 total)
  • 2011: 54 HR (728 total)
  • 2012: 47 HR (775 total)
    And that's the record...assuming Bonds calls it quits at the end of this season, which he will.

    Just for the sake of fun, let's see how many A-Rod should end up with:
  • 2013: 44 (822 total)
  • 2014: 39 (861 total)
  • 2015: 18 (879 total)
  • 2016: 16 (895 total)

    Obviously this extrapolated data will not necessarily pan out this way, but it's interesting to look at where A-Rod should end up in the not so distant future anyway. Barring some catastrophic injury, he'll pass Bonds' record without a doubt. He may not get there as fast as this data suggests, but he will get there, and you will love him if for no other reason than the fact that he has a normal-sized head and a lack of the word "steroids" ever entering the same breath as "A-Rod."

    Reasonably yours,

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  • Friday, July 6, 2007

    Solving the contract-year menace

    Please God, don't let them see me for the fraud that I am.

    Imagine a scenario with me.

    An NBA player is entering the last year of a multi-year deal. He plays as hard as he can and busts his hump harder than he ever has before. He's practically salivating at the prospect of all the money he's going to earn next year. He's averaging career highs in almost all of the major statistical categories and makes sure to play even harder when his team is playing on national television. He knows that once he earns that massive contract during the summer, he can go back to putting up an 80-percent effort for the remainder of his contract until another contract year comes up. Life is sweet.

    As free agents are being snapped up by the dozens, several of which have likely duped their respective teams by a stellar contract year, it makes the mind wander into scenarios that would curb such situations. Now, I am absolutely acknowledging that the NBA Players Association would never, ever, ever approve of ideas like these, but for the sake of argument and interest, we'll map out two potential solutions.

    Have teams provide more incentive bonuses and less guaranteed money
    Instead of just guaranteeing every chunk of a contract to players, make their performance reflect the due they earn. Every player could still be paid a base salary which would still provide a substantial portion of a player's salary. But if 1/4 of a player's salary was determined by how many games he was able to play in a season (punishing oft-injured players and pansies), an expected minimum PER or other expected statistics such as rebounds, blocks or field-goal percentage (punishing lazy or suddenly inefficient players) or team wins earned (rewarding the team as a whole for success), you could keep players honest and focused toward a common goal of succeeding throughout the season. With clearly established individual and team goals, you can help keep players from "shutting themselves down" and reward them for continuing to produce a professional effort.

    Have a team option of voiding one contract per year
    At the end of the season, if a player has shown himself to be completely unworthy of the contract bestowed upon him, the team could feasibly void his contract completely, making him an unrestricted free agent. The catch is the team could only void one contract at the end of each season, so you would really just need to play better than another overpaid weak link. There is one facet of this possibility that would have to be worked out before it was implemented.

    Some teams would inevitably sign a player for far more money than the market dictates. Because some teams would have the shady vision of cutting the player at the end of the season so they don't have to pay his salary, in essence renting him for one season, penalty provisions would have to be put into place to discourage teams from making unethical decisions, knowing they can just void their way out of it. So, as a penalty for voiding a lazy player's contract, the team would have to pay a quarter of the salary remaining on the players contract to the player, and a quarter of the remaining salary to the league as a penalty.

    So, when Vince Carter is loafing his way through the middle of his enormous deal with the Toronto Raptors, the Raptors could simply cut him to go wherever he wishes, and only end up paying half of what they still owed him. It would free up salary cap space immediately, and allow them to possibly lure in a more honest player who won't laze up the final three years of his contract and demand a trade because he's bored. It would also encourage Carter to continue to play as hard as possible, and would kill some of his leverage to force a trade elsewhere. It's a sticky situation that would have several pitfalls, but the current system certainly has plenty of pitfalls as well.

    In reality, for this problem to be solved, owners would have to start exercising contract responsibility, something of which they have obviously shown themselves to be incapable. So, as long as the Vince Carters, Erick Dampiers, Tim Thomases and Mike Jameses of the world continue to bust their hump for one year, idiot owners will continue to throw salary-cap destroying amounts of money at them for all eternity.

    This year's candidates? Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Gerald Wallace and Mikki Moore. If I'm a betting man, I'm betting this year's production from these guys will pale in comparison to last year's. Happy signing!

    Reasonably yours,

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    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    Stick to the field with your sports criticism

    Barry Bonds, Johnny Damon, Pacman JonesThere's an epidemic going around. It spreads in newspapers, gyms, slow-pitch softball games, churches and pretty much anywhere that sports are discussed and debated. It's called I'd Never Do That syndrome.

    In the sports world, there is always debate. It's inevitable that people want to offer what they feel that professional athletes should do with their lives. Second guessing in-game decisions as well as off-field decisions are the easiest arguments to make.

    On-field issues are easy to discuss and criticize for several different reasons. We have the benefit of gruelingly reviewing plays through instant replay and discussion, which gives us some kind of perceived omniscience about the game that is almost always skewed and incomplete. Some who played the sport (no matter how briefly) feel they have some kind of extra knowledge that some egghead who just watches that particular sport doesn't have. Never mind that they probably played for two years in the long, long ago; they know the sport because they played it.

    But, despite the annoying proportions that in-field criticism reaches, it isn't that bad. After all, that's many people's reason for following sports: to live the sports dream by proxy. No, the most egregious sports opinions are the ones that have to do with issues surrounding sports that don't involve in-game analysis. That's where INDTs strikes truest.

    Everyone has heard it before. "Look at Barry Bonds, what a cheater. I never would have taken steroids. That just isn't right." Another classic: "How could he abandon his teammates for a few extra million dollars? I would have taken the pay cut." And finally, my favorite: "How could that guy go out partying like that? He makes millions, he could buy the party and bring it to his place. I'd never have gotten caught doing something stupid like that if I made his kind of money."

    Just stop it. As I addressed in my article about LeBron James' Darfur situation, unless you have the money and face the situations these athletes deal with, you have no basis for saying how you would react.

    Some people may possess the fortitude to say "no" to using steroids and making millions of dollars in salary and endorsements that come from it, but its moot. Until that situation is staring you in the face, you have no right to pass judgement on a pro athlete who decided he would use a substance that wasn't illegal to earn himself more money than you'll ever know. Players who allegedly used steroids like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi are rich men, and many of their kind are unapologetic about their pasts. They saw a pile of money waiting for them and sacrificed some of their long-term health and dignity for a lot more money. But, inevitably, some yahoo next to you at a bar will still be spouting on about how "they should give the money back, they cheated." Well, I hate to argue with you (seriously you're probably an idiot), but it isn't cheating because Major League Baseball screwed up and didn't make it illegal until the integrity of the sport was already compromised. So, any player out there that used performance-enhancing drugs before MLB outlawed them had the choice to take their health into their own hands as well as all the money they'd be making, or keep plugging along with their natural talent alone. On a personal note, I don't want Barry Bonds to break Hank Aaron's home run record. It's not because he played in a tainted era or used steroids. I just can't stand the guy. He's an insufferable jerk. That's far more of an offense than doing something that was within the rules at the time.

    Salary issues are also a favorite point of contention. In December of 2005, Johnny Damon signed to the Yankees as a free agent for a few million more than the Red Sox had offered him. Red Sox fans were outraged. How could Damon just throw the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry to the side and sign with the enemy like that over a measly few million dollars? It should have been obvious. Your goofy rivalry doesn't mean a damn thing to him. You'd probably have taken the money too, hypocrite. He wanted more money and a new situation, and he took it. You thought he owed you some kind of break in playing for Boston when all he really owed you was to play the best he could while he was there. If anything, they should have been angry at ownership for not stepping up and paying Damon. Stop giving the team your money if you're that mad.

    The most fun point of criticism involves off-field mischief players get into. I usually like to restrict my criticism to "What a dumbass" and try to leave it at that. But I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone remark about how they can't believe a player would continue to go out to clubs when trouble usually finds them. Well, guess what? They have tons of money and like to have fun, it's really not a novel concept. It doesn't make their activities smart, but it's not like it doesn't make any sense. As a general rule, people like to have fun. If they have the means to do it, they're likely going to have fun and bring all their friends along for the ride. So, get off your high horse and put a lid on it, you have no idea what their temptations are like unless you are put in their situation.

    The bottom line is this: just because you follow sports and watch them religiously doesn't give you some kind of expert license to know what it's like to be faced with a pile of money and an endless amount of decisions concerning it. Stick to criticizing the on-field moves, it's a lot more fun to act like an expert that way.

    Reasonably yours,

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    Tuesday, July 3, 2007

    Sonics made a good call: Start from the ground up

    Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis
    In case anyone was wondering if Seattle was starting over completely, the last nail has finally entered that coffin. According to reports, free agent Rashard Lewis will join the Orlando Magic in a five-year, $75 million deal.

    After making the playoffs in 2005 and winning in the first round, things have gone badly for the Sonics. After going 52-30 in that season, they followed it up with a lackluster 35-47 season and won only 31 games last year. With their best player Ray Allen not getting any younger, and their up-and-coming star Rashard Lewis likely working himself into quite a bit more than than the Sonics want to pay him, they were at a bit of a crossroads as an organization. Actually, they were and still are at a huge crossroads. With their new ownership considering a move from Seattle, there could be huge changes coming their way. Regardless, before the lottery winners had been announced, the Sonics were likely wondering what direction to go concerning their roster. And then, the lottery answered all their questions for them.

    That's when they made a conscious decision to start from scratch. Let the two the links to the past go. Even if they are stand-up guys like Lewis and Allen, allow your youth to develop in a trial by fire. Allow your future core to learn together, improve together and mature together.

    So, the Sonics saw a good deal on the table for Ray Allen and took it. In turn, they received the number five overall selection, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak. They selected Georgetown forward Jeff Green with the pick, and now new golden boy Kevin Durant has a sidekick to start fresh with. The Sonics didn't want Durant being a sidekick to anyone to start with, and that's fair from a marketing standpoint and from a basketball standpoint.

    Now the Sonics will likely roll with a lineup that looks like this:

  • PG Luke Ridnour, 26 years old; Backup: Delonte West, 23 years old
  • SG Wally Szczerbiak, 30 years old (the lone grandpa); Backup: Damien Wilkins, 27 years old
  • SF Jeff Green, 20 years old; Backup: Mickael Gelabale, 24 years old
  • PF Kevin Durant, 18 years old; Backup: Nick Collison, 26 years old
  • C Chris Wilcox, 24 years old; Backup: Robert Swift, 21 years old

    The Sonics finally realized what most teams never do. Sometimes it just makes sense to strip it down the foundation and build a new house. Don't just remodel it or buy some new cabinets or paint the living room a new coler. Bulldoze it.

    Why keep some older holdovers on the roster when you can start something completely new? Screw the two years or so that would won't be competitive, the dividends when the players mature will pay off more than you can imagine. Strangely enough though, hardly anyone considers this an option. At least in the NBA, no one ever seems happy with completely blowing up the team and starting over. Call it a fear of alienating the fan base, fear of lost revenue during the rebuild or whatever you like, but the alternative to these decision will be so much better. The New York Knicks are proof positive of this. This is a team that reloads itself with different overpaid, overrated players every year. The have put themselves in such a hole under the salary cap, there appears to be no way out. And the reason? Who the hell knows. I assume it's because the money keeps pouring in from television contracts. That is their prerogative, but Knicks fans know the difference. And eventually, Knicks management might have a revolt on their hands.

    So, while the Sonics rebuild for the brightest of futures, other teams should consider the same. That is, if it's still possible.

    Reasonably yours,

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  • Countdown to a glorious meltdown at the Garden

    Thank you Isiah Thomas for constantly keeping me in stitches. And thank you Zach Randolph for being a nutburger-crazy man who has overrated stats and makes buckets of money.

    This is going to end so gloriously, hilariously awful.

    The big story during the draft had the New York Knicks acquiring Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones from the Portland Trail Blazers for Channing Frye and Steve Francis.

    For one of those rarest of moments, Knicks fans actually applauded throughout the Madison Square Garden theater, capped off by long-time Knicks fan Spike Lee putting his support behind the transaction for all the world to see.

    Knicks fans and some writers have been complimenting Thomas, the Knicks coach and President of Basketball Operations, for finally having made a good decision. Lord knows he's made plenty of bad ones.

    So, now Randolph (listed extremely modestly at 215 pounds) joins a frontcourt that also includes Eddy Curry (285 pounds and growing) and Jerome James (listed at 280 pounds), the Knicks will look to outeat outscore teams in the post. I say outscore because none of these guys play a lick of defense and offer absolutely nothing other than scoring and rebounding. Curry and Randolph combined to average 0.7 blocks per game last year. How is it even possible to play center or power forward without lucking into at least a block a game? These guys combined to block 55 shots last year. And that's the big-man tandem you want to go to compete with? So, I will acknowledge Randolph averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds last year, but I will also point out that he averaged 3.16 turnovers while only handing out 2.2 assists per game. Additionally, for a post player, he only shot 46.7 percent, which is pretty bad considering that most of his scoring is done so close to the basket.

    Another misconception floating around (see 6:14 here) is that the Knicks tossed out Steve Francis' bad contract in the deal, which was something Isiah Thomas had been wanting to do ever since he realized trading for him was a horrible idea in the first place. Here's the thing though, Francis' contract ($33.5 remaining) is up at the end of the 2009 season, so he only had two years left under contract. He also gave up Channing Frye who will make about $2.4 million in this, his final guaranteed year. By contrast, Randolph will make $61.2 million on the remainder of his contract that runs until 2011. Some kind of salary relief fantasy in this deal is completely out of the question. The Knicks almost doubled the money they took on and will be on the books for such for four more years. You think they're ready for four years of Zach Randolph?

    On top of all this mess, there is Randolph's flawless record of behavior to consider. You name it, he's done it or been accused of it. Sexual assault, DUIs, punching a teammate, flipping off fans. You name it, his name has been in the same sentence with it. Isiah is deluding himself into thinking Randolph will turn over a new leaf in New York City of all places. Why would someone leave a quiet city like Portland and all of a sudden stop acting like a knucklehead in New York City? There's a whole other world of naughtiness to jump into in New York. Come on, this is the guy whose high school coach famously remarked "I just don't want the day to come where I pick up that paper and it says he shot someone, or that he was shot. Every day that goes by that I don't see that, I feel good." So, while Isiah and Knicks fans beguile themselves into thinking Randolph will help them to the playoffs, I'll just sit back and throw some popcorn in the microwave. I can't wait for the honeymoon to end.

    Reasonably yours,

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    Monday, July 2, 2007

    Warriors have to be wanting some Yi

    As I discussed at the end of my last post, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Yi Jianlian with the sixth overall pick in Thursday's NBA draft. Yi's request to have a team that was in a large metropolitan area with a high Chinese population select him obviously went on deaf ears, and he is now headed to Milwaukee...for now.

    My theory is that as soon as Milwaukee selected Yi, Don Nelson and his cohorts with the Golden State Warriors immediately started making moves to get Yi in Oakland.

    As I am sure the Warriors were intently watching, the Charlotte Bobcats selected Brandan Wright with the eighth overall selection. Michael Jordan, who is evidently calling the shots for Charlotte personnel moves had publicly stated he was tired of losing as the Bobcats have been since their inception in 2004. It looked as if the Bobcats were looking for a veteran who could make a big impact immediately. Golden State saw this opportunity and jumped right on it.

    So, now Golden State holds the player that was selected two picks after Yi, readying them to offer Milwaukee a do-over and obtaining a player the Bucks would have been justified in selecting at the No. 6 pick. Depending on how enamoured the Warriors are with Yi and how impatient the Bucks get with Yi's lack of desire to play in Milwaukee, an even swap could be in the cards. The Warriors don't have very many spare pieces laying around with Matt Barnes likely leaving to be overpaid elsewhere and Mickael Pietrus becoming a restricted free agent. I could see them packaging Wright with their bonehead draft selection last year, Patrick O'Bryant, in an effort to convince the Bucks to part with Yi.

    The reasons the Warriors are likely so high on getting Yi to the Bay Area has to do with several factors.

    First and foremost, Yi is the exact type of player Don Nelson can mold into a success in the NBA game. See Yi as Nellie's latter-day Dirk Nowitzki. Nellie is accustomed to dealing with language barriers, coaching players who aren't interested in playing defense and being viewed as a Godfather-type figure. If he can get Yi to work up to his potential, he'll be canonized with God-like status as he was with Mavericks fans before Mark Cuban started villianizing him.

    Secondly, Yi would be a perfect fit in Oakland because of the Bay Area's huge Asian population. San Francisco and Oakland combine to have the second most Chinese Americans in the country (behind New York City) and have easily the most Chinese Americans per capita of any area of the United States. Financially, Yi's presence in such an area would pull a windfall of support from a faction of fans that probably never would have attended a game before, but now will be attending games, buying T-shirts, and generally putting wads of cash into Warriors owner Chris Cohan's pocket.

    Third, from everything I hear and read about Yi, he seems perfect for the system that Golden State employs. Athleticism, jump shooting and ball movement are cornerstones of their success, and these are what Yi excels in. Notice defense isn't listed there, which means he'll fit in perfectly with Golden State.

    There is word out that Yi would consider not reporting to play for the Bucks if they don't trade him and that it is a distinct possibility he will never play for the Bucks.

    My feelings on the subject have always been very cut-and-dry. If you enter a draft for a sport, you are submitting to the possibility of going to whomever chooses you. That's why it's called a draft. Yi is already getting close to being Dead to Me in the sports world, joining John Elway, Steve Francis, Kiki Vandeweghe, Eli Manning et. al. For what's it's worth, I currently wish for a career-ending injury for anyone who pulls this move. Call me vindictive, I feel very strongly about this issue.

    So, on one hand, for basketball sense, I hope Yi gets traded to the Warriors. For personal sense, I hope his knees explode in a glorious, career-ending injury if he forces his way out of Milwaukee. I'm sure he's losing sleep over my feelings right now.

    Reasonably yours,

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