Monday, August 8, 2011

We're moving on!

Ladies and Gents, this is officially the end for Seth Curry Saves Duke!

I'm purposefully not making a big deal out of this post for two reasons. First, I don't want to weep all over your internet.

Second, I don't see this as an ending. Seth Curry Saves Duke! is just growing into its next phase of life, and that phase is:


I will see you over there, my friends! In fact, I expect to see you there. This shit don't die. Thanks for everything.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Three Discussion Topics

1 - New recap piece up on Grantland. The feature is now called "About Last Weekend," and I'm pretty happy with today's post.

2 - Tobacco Road Blues launches in ONE WEEK!

3 - I'm now engaged. For REAL, y'all. Downtown Shane Ryan has become a legit human being. (You guys call me "Downtown Shane Ryan," right?) Anyway, I hope this will be just the first of many happy engagements for me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

29 Batters: A Visual Representation of Ervin Santana's No-Hitter

With gratitude to Jeff Sullivan for pioneering the form. Follow along here.

I believe in myself! With love and a little elbow grease, anything is possible!


First Inning

There goes your perfect game, amigo.

My bad, brah. Kinda fell asleep for a second. Looong night.

Gee whiz, talk about an unproductive out! Sorry, fellas!

Advance the runner, am I right? Fuggedaboutit.

There goes your shutout, amigo.

When you're right, you're right.

I still believe in myself! Life is an ongoing treasure!



Second Inning

Seriously, make a Santana joke. Just try it. I dare you.

Life ain't nothin' but heartache and strife. Might just as well ground out.

WASSSUP DUDES! I just watched that third strike like it was a 3-foot wave! This guy's good!

Third Inning

Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh. Yer awful pretty. Aw durnit a grounder.

Now if I just calculate the velocity and approach angle, this should be child's play OH BLAST A STRIKEOUT.

You got me this time, amigo, but we will see each other soon.


Fourth Inning

Golly, you hate to start an inning with a simple grounder. Yeesh and phooey!

Eh, what are you gonna do? Everyone strikes out. C'monnn.



Fifth Inning

I can just tell you want to say something about the guitarist who shares my name. I can just tell.

That's just one out closer to death, is all. Don't suppose the world could get much sadder.

WHOA, brosephs! Another out! That dude on the mound is straight jammin!


Sixth Inning

Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh. You want I should take yer photo? Aw tarnation I grounded it again.

This is nothing more than simple physics. I swing now, and OH MERCURY'S MOTHER, A GROUNDER.

Dios mio, brother, you have fooled me. But soon, you will dance with el diablo.


Seventh Inning

Shucks, if I wasn't raised to know better, I'd have a mind to wander off and curse right about now!

What do I care, I got three car dealerships in Jersey doing 10 mill in a bad month. Out the wazoo, BABY!



Eighth Inning

How the hell can I focus when everyone wants to make a mockery of my name! I'm NOT paranoid!

Sure, I reckon I'll walk to first. But a casket is every man's true destination, and his ticket shall be redeemed.

This is gnarley. I know I should be upset, but man, you gotta respect a dude who straight rocks it out.

Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh. I'd sure like to go a-courtin' with you. Aw hellfire, I plain swung at air.


Ninth Inning

Three outs until history! How could any man not love this bountiful earth!


Never lose that spirit, Travis! Now sit down.


Go on back to the dugout, son. I'm Tim Barrett, home plate umpire. Hello.

Oye, amigo! You may have got me out this game, but this isn't over! We will dance again!

Oh my, one more batter. I will be sorry to see an end to another wonderful day.

Oh, bushel corn! I've muffed it again! Mike Brantley, you are a preacher's cuss!

Christmas came early! I could just about cry!

(PS: Happy 700th post to this blog.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ron Gardenhire's Game Diary, 7/25

The Minnesota manager's account of last night's 20-6 loss to Texas.

Pre-game. 0-0.

Sweet Jesus, it's hot. But that's Arlington. What did I expect? It's got to be 100 degrees out here, and it's 7pm! What the hell temperature is it at noon? Why does any sensible person live here? You gotta be half crazy. But then again, Texans are half crazy. They're always trying to secede, God bless 'em. That, and they drink poison river water that changes the shape of their brains. I saw that on a science show one night in an El Paso motel.

I hope Morneau didn't forget the miniature hand-held fan. I told him if he's going to be sitting around on the DL, he might as well make himself useful. And having him hold a fan aimed at my head for nine innings is useful. It's also degrading, which I like. It'll motivate him to heal faster.

End of 1st inning, 3-0 Texas.

What a miserable. I'm ready to put my boot up Nick Blackburn's ass. Three runs? I wish I'd left this guy where I found him, outside an Oklahoma Denny's throwing old pancakes into a bucket. That should have been a warning sign. Plus, he only made about half the pancakes. What was I thinking? What were any of us thinking?

Then again, those were the early 2000s. In those days, we'd do just about anything to get our kicks.

End of 2nd inning, 6-0 Texas.

Well, this game's over. I'd get ejected if I had the energy to leave the dugout. It'd be easy. Mike Winters is behind the plate. All you have to do is remind him that his wife lost most of their life savings in an insurance scam, and bam! You're gone. I'd do it in a heartbeat, but I'm not getting up. Same reason Blackburn's still in the game. The hell if I'm going out in the sun. I don't care how much Rick Anderson stares at me. Everyone's replaceable, Anderson, you pompous devil! Even a pitching coach!

End of 3rd inning, 11-1 Texas.

I had to take Blackburn out. On the walk to the mound, it was so hot I hallucinated that Tom Seaver was out there. I tried to tackle him, but I ended up stumbling on the mound and falling. I hate Seaver so much. He was always so uppity. Uppity Tom, with his handsome eyes and his cackling laugh. I still have a tape of him laughing. I listen to it every morning if I need to feel angry.

Speaking of laughing, you could hear the idiots in the stands yukking it up when I fell over. I was so embarrassed when I got back to the dugout that I slapped Morneau right on the head. But in good news, we're on the board. Good job, Cuddyer. Good job grounding into a double play so a run scored. That's like cutting off an arm to lose weight.

I knew a guy who did that, actually. We called him Tipper, because he was always tipping to one side. Good man, great gambler.

End of 4th inning, 14-1 Texas.

I'm thinking of buying stock in these new Squish Teddies. A friend of mine from Hoboken told me about them. It's a new business, he think they're going to be bigger than Beanie Babies. A lot of people made money on those Beanie Babies, they tell me. My wife had one that looked like David Crosby until I accidentally burned it in the grill. They were the big thing. Now it's Squish Teddies. He wants $50,000. I think I'm going to pull the trigger.

End of 5th inning, 18-1 Texas.

Morneau is really getting on my nerves. He's starting to cry. Someone named Chuck James was pitching for us this inning. I can honestly say I have no idea who that is. I have never heard of Chuck James in my life. He's terrible, though. He's worthy of this pitching staff. I told Morneau to go piss in his locker to make an important point- giving up 4 runs isn't the Twins way. That's when Morneau started crying. But he did what he was told.

End of 6th inning, 18-1 Texas.

If I have to make another pitching change, I will literally walk out to the mound naked. It's something I've always wanted to do anyway. I've done it a thousand times in my dreams, and the people always love it. I just asked Morneau what he thought of the idea, but good luck getting a reaction out of that guy. He's one of the seven most boring people I know, and the other six all come from Canada.

So help me God, we're holding them to under 20. I'll bet my job on it.

End of 7th inning, 20-2 Texas.

You win some, you lose some. Like my friend Tipper. He won a weight loss contest, but he lost an arm. And he's still one of the happiest men I know. Happier than me, that's for damned sure. Phil Dumatrait is pitching now. How do you think you pronounce that last name? I've never had a conversation with him, so I couldn't tell you. He reminds me of an old photo of James Garfield from my 7th grade history book. God, how I hated Garfield. I cheered like a mad fool when I found out he was assassinated. It's still one of the ten best days of my life.

End of 8th inning, 20-5 Texas.

We're turning this one around! Jason Kubel just hit a home run. There's a man I can respect. He's got a beard like you used to see on movie stars, before Hollywood became a giant sissy factory. Jason Kubel could out-act any man in this country. I'd bet my life on it.

End of game, 20-6 Texas.

Three hours ago, I was dreading this game, but I have to say, I had a really good time. Morneau and I shared a lot of laughs, and Joe Mauer went 0-5. He's always rubbed me the wrong way. Somehow, this has been a pretty good night. It's just another one of the wonderful mysteries of this game we call baseball.

I hope the post-game spread is good. I could eat the head right off a horse.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Introducing: Tobacco Road Blues

Moody B's, Powders, and everyone in between:

A launch is coming.

Some of you may have heard rumblings about a supposed new site, My plan was to launch it way back in...March? April? I can't remember. One way or another, it didn't happen. Call it distraction, laziness, or the fact that whenever I tried to work on it, my attention was drawn to a quart of ice cream sitting in some cooler only a mile or two away (in other words, distraction plus laziness).

Anyway, that site is DEAD. Sorry. But I'll tell you what's alive:


From the creators of Seth Curry Saves Duke!, as they say, comes a new site devoted to Duke and UNC athletics. Here's how TRB will differ from SCSD:

1 - Focus. As much as I'd like to write about the Yankees all summer, the blog world isn't aligned that way. We're narrowing the field of vision to two schools, and those two schools will be covered like we're Nolan Smith and they're Kendall Marshall, circa 3/13/11. (As you see, a slight Duke bias will remain.)

2 - Voices. I'll be blogging for Grantland full time (check out this week's piece here), and while the majority of posts on TRB will still be mine, I welcome any and all folks* who'd like to lighten my load and write about any subject within the Tobacco Road sphere. I can pay you in gratitude and esteem, and I'll send you an autographed photo of me pretending to kiss a Coach K poster.

*Slight misspeak. There will be standards. But seriously, be in touch. Also, if your name is Laurie, I have this great idea for a feature called "Tuesdays with Laurie." All Lauries will have a huge leg up in the application process. Ditto for anyone named Corey or Tori.

3 - Content. Basketball will always be the jewel in the crown of TRB, but we'll be branching out heavily into football as well. Come the spring, we might delve into baseball and tennis and sports of that ilk. I have no idea what will happen in the late spring and early summer. I shudder to think that we might have to cover recruiting. Surely there's a way around that.

4 - Appearance. Unlike SCSD, which is the blog equivalent of a mistreated, waterlogged notebook, I'm going to try to make TRB look nice. And by that, I mean I'm soliciting help from folks who know how to do that kind of thing. I'm already working with a couple people, but if you feel you have something to offer in that regard, please be in touch.

5 - Car Chases. I've really dropped the ball on this one over the past two years, but believe me, that's changing. Every Wednesday, TRB will feature one of the internet's top car chases. Guaranteed to end in a crash.

Tobacco Road Blues will launch on Monday, August 7th. For a week, I'll be re-posting SCSD posts to ease the transition. Sort of a 'Greatest Hits' type of thing. The national championship post will go up, the Psycho T post will go up, the sportswriting post will go up. Anything that made people glad or mad to extremes. Then, starting August 14th, Duke is going to China! We'll be covering that trip in-depth, and I really, really hope the games are on television. If anybody knows something about that, dish.

Following that, it's football and soccer season, emphasis on football. I will personally be making Duke football my pet project this fall, in part because I love Coach Cutcliffe, and in part because they're at a really interesting crossroads. If we're ever supposed to take this rebuilding process seriously, it has to start this season. I've looked at the schedule, and I'd say there's a fair outside shot at 6 wins and a bowl berth.

So, that's the big news. Let me know what you think of the name. Follow me on twitter: @TobaccoRdBlues. And stay tuned to this blog in the meantime for news and updates. This is going to be good.

(Also: Happy Birthday, Nolan!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Living Up To Expectations

Why Detroit is primed for a fade and Milwaukee won't make the playoffs

Imagine a hypothetical 3-game series between two baseball teams. Team A wins the first game in a rout, 13-0. Team B recovers to win each of the next two games 1-0.

At that point, Team B obviously has the better record at 2-1. Their run differential, however, is -11; they've scored two, and allowed 13. Team A is behind in the standings, but boasts a run differential of +11.

The sample size is too small to draw any reasonable conclusions, but it's safe to say that in this short series, Team B has maximized their run scoring. If they maintained this exact pattern over a 162-game season, they would score 108 runs and allow 702, for a run differential of 594, but their record would be an excellent 108-54.

That's an extreme example that could never happen in major league baseball, but we see the phenomenon on a smaller scale every year. This season, the Detroit Tigers have been among the best in baseball at distributing their runs. With 419 runs scored and 437 runs allowed (-18 differential), you'd expect them to have won roughly 46.5 of their 95 games.* Instead, they've won 50. For the purposes of this post, we'll say Detroit's Wins Above Expectation (WAE) is +3.5.

*I'm using a simple formula that shows expected wins in proportion total runs scored and total runs allowed. The formula is (Runs scored x games played)/(Runs scored + Runs allowed).

On the other side of the table, the Toronto Blue Jays are two games below .500 at 47-49. Their run differential, though, is a respectable +17. Based on their runs scored, they should have won 48.9 games. Toronto's WAE is -1.9.

What conclusions can we draw from these numbers? The most obvious is that Detroit is winning close games, while Toronto is losing them. The stats prove the point- Detroit is 32-19 in games decided by three runs or less, but only 18-26 when games are decided by three runs or more. Toronto, on the other hand, generally wins the blowouts but loses the tight ones. They're 30-35 in three-runs-or-less affairs, and 17-14 when it gets lopsided.

More broadly, we can make some educated guesses. The two factors which logically seem most important in winning close games are opportunistic hitting, and a strong bullpen. We know Toronto is a power hitting team, so it makes sense that they beat up on bad pitchers and win some games by a lot of runs. Their pitching, on the other hand, is 50 runs worse than the best teams in the AL East, so they're vulnerable in games that are close near the end, especially in the division (though the Toronto bullpen is average- 8th in the American League in ERA).

With Detroit, conclusions are more difficult to draw. Their bullpen is the second-worst in the AL by ERA, and they actually score more runs than anyone in the AL Central. They also have the best power numbers in the Central, which means their profile is more fitting of a team like Toronto. So why, with a bad bullpen, are they winning 63% of their close games? There are two possible explanations.

1 - They're getting lucky.
2 - There's something inherent about the Tigers- call it clutch play, or opportunism, or whatever- that allows them to thrive in pressure situations, and which conversely makes them perform poorly when the pressure's off.

If you believe they're getting lucky, Wins Above Expectation can work as a predicting mechanism. If everything gravitates toward a statistical norm, Detroit is due for a correction- they should start losing games at a faster clip, and possibly end the season below .500 and out of playoff contention. Toronto, meanwhile, should start winning, though the pace won't be enough to catch their AL East brethren.

But using WAE to predict future outcomes is an exercise fraught with peril. While no team since the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks has made the playoffs with a negative run differential, as Detroit is threatening this year, almost every playoff team finishes with a positive WAE. This makes sense, since in theory WAE should depend on opportunistic hitting and a strong bullpen, two critical components of a successful team. Here are the WAE totals for last year's playoff teams:

Tampa Bay: +6.5
New York: +5.3
Minnesota: +6.9
Texas: +5.3
Philadelphia: +8.4
Atlanta: +3.5
Cincinnati: +3.2
San Francisco: +3.8

You have to go back to the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers to find a playoff team with a negative WAE- the Dodgers registered a -0.1 in a down year for the division. That same year, in Anaheim, the Los Angeles Angels posted a +15.3 WAE, the highest total for any team in the past four seasons.

Let's take a look at this year's WAE numbers by team, from best to worst. Bold italics denote a team currently in playoff position, and all numbers are rounded to the nearest tenth. Run differentials are in parentheses.

1. PHI: +6.2 (+88)
2. SFG: +6.2 (+12)
3. BOS: +4.5 (+113)
4. ATL: +4.4 (+61)
5. DET: +3.5 (-18)
6. TEX: +3.3

7. ARZ: +2.9 (+11)
8. NYY: +2.7 (+114)
9. CLE: +2.3 (+6)
10. LAA: +1.9 (+16)
11. PIT: +1.7 (+12)
12. TBR: +1.3 (+35)
13. STL: +1.1 (+26)
14. MIN: +0.8 (-65)
15. WAS: -0.1 (-10)
16. FLA: -0.3 (-30)
17. NYM: -0.6 (+12)
18. CWS: -1.1 (-7)
19. TOR: -1.9 (+17)
20. SEA: -2.0 (-33)
21. CIN: -2.1 (+29)
22. COL: -2.4 (-1)
23. BAL: -2.7 (-98)
24. LAD: -3.2 (-35)
25. MIL: -3.7 (-12)
26. SDP: -4.5 (-36)
27. CHC: -4.6 (-98)
28. OAK: -4.9 (-15)
29. KCR: -6.7 (-52)
30. HOU: -10.3 (-110)

As expected, WAE correlates pretty closely with actual winning- excelling in close games generally means you'll have a good record. The anomalies are where things get interesting. Detroit's success in spite of a bad bullpen and a negative run differential has already been mentioned. But the real strange bird here is Milwaukee. We already knew the Brewers were an odd team, but now they're threatening to make a playoff run with a negative WAE. That would be a rare feat, last accomplished by the narrowest of margins in 2008. The Brewers, though, are doing it in style, with a drastic -3.7 WAE.

Despite the difficulty in using these numbers to predict how the season will end, I'll go out on a limb and draw two conclusions:

1 - With a power lineup and a weak bullpen (third worst in the NL), it's no surprise the Brewers lose a lot of close games. That trend should continue as the season plays out. What is surprising is that they're atop the NL Central. With just under 70 games remaining, it's doubtful they can sustain their position. If you're looking for a dark horse candidate in that division, check out the Cincinnati Reds. They score the most runs in the NL, and their bullpen is 6th-best in the league. Sure, their starters are pretty bad, but their second half schedule is great- outside of the division, they only play 10 games against teams with a record above .500, and 26 against teams at .500 or worse. Their -2.1 WAE seems like a fluke of bad luck, while Milwaukee figures to continue losing the close ones.

2 - Detroit, with their second-worst bullpen ERA, can't possible continue to win 63% of three-runs-or-less games. In their division, Cleveland's offense scores almost as many runs, and their pitchers are better across the board (with a bullpen 3rd best in the AL). The Indians' +2.3 WAE seems a lot more realistic than Detroit's +3.5, and they're a good bet to outpace their rivals in the final two months.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Takes

Here's one take on the weekend recap, Grantland style, and here's another that only partly makes sense:

Today, we'll be looking back at the weekend in sports through the lens of important moments from the Women's World Cup final. Does that even make sense? Let's find out!

1. Abby Wambach's post-rattling shot in the 28th minute.

This one goes to the World Cup final itself. The shot was a microcosm of the entire match for the U.S. women; full of excellent chances that, through bad luck or error, went begging. Japan came back from the dead twice, scoring late goals in regulation and extra time to force the match to penalties, where they won the Cup 3-1. The Americans controlled play throughout the match, but couldn't reap the fruit of their attacks, at least enough to hold off the unflagging Japanese.

The prevailing post-match narrative was Japan's triumph in the wake of the tragic earthquake that devastated the country in March, but the humanitarian angle won't curb the regrets of U.S. fans who reasonably expected a win.

2. Wambach's header in the 104th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

It was the perfect ending, until it wasn't, and this moment goes to Darren Clarke, who did sustain his storybook finish to win the British Open. It was the first major victory for the easygoing Clarke, 42, and the jewel in the crown of a strong career. He also became the third Northern Irish golfer to win a major in the last two years. As you might have heard in the sporting ether, Northern Ireland is a nation of 1.8 million, and they've split the last six majors with the rest of the world (population: 6.9 billion).

Then again, the rest of the world managed to get their independence from Great Britain somewhere along the way. Am I right, Earth?? (If that comment plays any role in re-igniting The Troubles, I apologize in advance.)

3. Alex Morgan's breakthrough goal in the 69th minute to end the 0-0 gridlock.

To the Texas Rangers, who are in the midst of their own breakthrough in the AL West. They won their 11th straight game on Sunday, sweeping the Mariners and opening up a 4-game lead in the division. Texas always looked like the superior team in the west (the run differentials alone bear this out), but a sluggish start kept them in range of the Angels. Now, the cream is rising, and it would be a shock if Los Angeles- or anyone else, for that matter- could keep pace as the summer unfolds.

Speaking of the Rangers, did anyone else read the review of Kornheiser's great Nolan Ryan profile and feel really bad that Ryan played in an era before people realized the flaws of measuring a pitcher by wins and losses? We should all congratulate ourselves on living in a world where Felix Hernandez can win a well-deserved Cy Young with a 13-12 record. If the old mindset persisted, David Price (19 wins) or CC Sabathia (21 wins) would have won in a walk.

4. Aya Miyama's game-tying goal in the 80th minute.

The stunning equalizer gave U.S. fans the sinking feeling that the deferred celebration had transformed back into a war of attrition, but it was hardly less stunning than the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates are sniffing around first place in the NL Central. They beat the Astros in 11 innings Sunday to stay level with the Cardinals and a half-game back of the power-happy Brewers. The Reds are within striking distance too, and all four teams have benefited from the ineptitude of the Astros and Cubs, who are currently the two worst teams in baseball.

The winner of this horse race is anyone's guess. The Pirates have pitched the best, the Reds have hit the best, and the Brewers, with their -12 run differential, have either been very fortunate or excel at winning close games, depending on your worldview.

5. Homare Sawa's gut-punch goal - 117th minute.

If you're a pessimist, and an American, Sawa's goal probably gave you the sinking realization that fate or luck or karma or whatever was on the side of the enemy Sunday. For lack of a better candidate, we'll give this to the NBA and NFL lockouts. Good news seems to be on the horizon for the NFL, but a litany of issues remain unresolved as the preseason approaches with the looming threat of canceled games. In defiance of their own lockout, the NBA released next year's schedule while Deron Williams signed a contract to play in Turkey and Dwight Howard considered a similar path. Resolutions to both conflicts may be imminent, but in the meantime fans will have to suffer the byzantine twists and turns of the player-versus-management drama.

6. The U.S. collapse in penalty kicks

First, Shannon Boxx pushed a tentative kick to the right that was easily saved by Kaihori. Then the much-maligned Carli Lloyd sailed her attempt over the crossbar, and when Tobin Heath's weak shot to the left was kick-saved, America's hopes were all but snuffed out.

This one could go several ways. Phil Mickelson certainly qualifies; after a scorching start brought him within one shot of the lead, he shot a back-nine 38 to fall to a distant second. Or it could go to the woebegone Mariners, who celebrated the tenth anniversary of their 116-win season with 9 straight losses, and who boast the league's worst offense for the second straight year.

Instead, let's give it to Bengals running back Cedric Benson, who managed to get arrested for assault one week before the start of free agency, jeopardizing his expected contract extension. And if there's one thing we know about NFL football, no player ever comes back from committing a crime to have a successful career.

7. "Epic"

The one word which most aptly describes the entire match goes to the weekend's second-best game: Red Sox-Rays, Sunday night. A fantastic pitcher's duel between Josh Beckett and Jeff Niemann (8 scoreless innings apiece) stretched into extra innings, where the Red Sox finally won in 16. With a game that long (almost 6 hours), there's always the risk that fans will leave early. Luckily, this game was in Tampa Bay, so the fans had nothing else to do. Also, none of them showed up in the first place.