Thursday, November 30, 2006
Forget what the NFL is telling you about the success of its new Thursday Night Football package on the NFL Network. The people that truly drive football ratings - gamblers - have spoken, and they're saying "who cares."
Before each week's NFL games, the New York Post publishes a pull-out Bettor's Guide. Aside from definitive game lines (used here to make NFL picks), the Post also provides a listing of every televised sporting event all weekend. For $0.25, it's a bargain (although you do have to throw out the other 80 pages of newsprint).
The Bettor's Guide is published on Fridays, in plenty of time to get your picks to your bookie. But the week of Thanksgiving, they put it out on Wednesday so you don't miss picking the holiday games.
I was wondering whether the Guide would keep coming out on Wednesday for the rest of the year, to encompass the Thursday Night Football game. Nope. It didn't appear yesterday, and it's not there today. If the NFL Network broadcast a game on Thursday night, and nobody bets on it, does it make a sound?
For the record, Wisdom of Crowds takes CIN -3 bal.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
This MLB offseason, we've seen the dawn of a new economy, with teams offering big-money, long-term contracts to players who aren't exactly hall of famers.
Juan Pierre, he of the career 727 OPS, got five years at $9 million from the Dodgers for his age 29-33 seasons. Alfonso Soriano's set to make $17 million a year through 2014. Sori was tremendous in 2006, but only two guys are signed through 2013: Soriano and David Wright. Wright will be 30 that year; Soriano will be 38. And now, Gary Matthews, Jr will get $10 million each season from the Angels while he's 32-36 , despite a mediocre career line of .263/.336/.419.
All of these guys are past their prime, yet their average yearly salary is but $2 million less than that of Albert Pujols! What's the one thing Pierre, Mathews and Soriano (not to mention Mark DeRosa and Nomar Garciaparra) have in common? They're all available now. Teams are spending like there's no tomorrow, busting their budgets on mid-level talent, but the smart GM's should wait till next year.
Looking at a list of players who will hit free agency in 2007, who would you rather have...
- CF: Juan Pierre or Milton Bradley (pictured)? Bradley is a year younger than Pierre and has a career OPS over 50 points higher, 783 to 727. Bradley hit more home runs in 2006 than Pierre's hit his entire career.
- CF: Gary Matthews Jr. or Andruw Jones? Andruw is almost three years younger and has a career OPS almost 100 points higher, 850 to 755.
- CF(?): Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells? Sure, Soriano's a 40-40 guy, but Wells is more than a year younger, plays gold-glove defense in center, and has a career OPS of 828 to Soriano's 835.
- 1B: Nomar Garciaparra or Adam Dunn? Dunn is more than six years younger, has stayed injury-free, and his career OPS of 893 isn't far off Garciaparra's 907.
- 2B: Mark DeRosa or Marcus Giles? Giles is almost three years younger and has a career OPS of 809, compared to DeRosa's 735.
Other marquee 2007 free agents? Chris Carpenter, Carlos Guillen, Ichiro, Michael Young and Carlos Zambrano. If your team missed out on the Skyline Matsuzaka sweepstakes or has thus far failed to sign anyone, don't complain that your GM is sitting on his hands. Instead, praise him for saving money today so he can spend it next year, when a real free agent class hits the market.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Here's the headline from today's San Jose Mercury News:
Jetyer settles for 2nd in MVP race
The Associated Press reports that if all Jeter votes were totaled with Jetyer votes, Morneau would have finished behind the Yankee shortstop.
In other news, the guy who voted for A.J. Pierzynski claims he voted for Jetyer too, but his spellcheck was broken.
For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 59-42 on such games (.584). Published on Get Untracked, we're 6-5 (.545). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:
DET +3 mia
tb +11 DAL
KC +1 den
giants -3 TEN
BUF +3 jax
pit +3 BAL
cin -3 CLE
MIN -6 ariz
STL -5.5 sf
no +3 ATL
car -4 WASH
NE -3 chi
gb +10 SEA
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Forbes reported on the company, which is 40%-owned by Ravens owner Art Modell. Like the other major turf company, FieldTurf, Sportexe installs artificial surfaces made up of millions of individual blades of plastic grass, with rubber pellets underneath to simulate dirt. The patented technology places fiber optics inside each blade of grass. Each blade acts like a pixel in a computer monitor, working together to produce a larger image.
The first-down line on NFL broadcasts is really helpful for viewers, but I'm not enamored with graphics that literally create a "red zone" when the offense drives to the 20. And do we really need an on-field graphic that explains a kicker's accuracy from a certain distance - right as the kicker steps into the ball? The least appealing aspect of the new technology is the certainty that it will be used to run advertisements on the field itself, perhaps even between plays.
I'm all for the onward march of progress, but am often disappointed by the way broadcasters choose to use it. (Who's this week's White Castle Steamer of the Week? Text your vote to 86648 right now!!!) At least everybody attending the Super Bowl wouldn't have to worry about DVR-ing the commericals.
Monday, November 20, 2006
I was lucky enough to win a 26" LCD in a contest last July. That screen was good enough to show the quality difference between regular and HD programing, which must be seen to be appreciated. But I've been researching current models so I could upgrade to something I wouldn't need lasik to view from nine feet away. If you're still without an HD set, even if you own the 35" Sony Wega that was all the rage two years ago, it's time to get primed for the playoff run.
As with most things in life, so it is with buying an HDTV. There are two types of people: People who want a television that will last them the next ten years no matter the cost today, and people who want an HD set that's perfectly fine for now without breaking the bank. Let's break it down.
The future-proof HDTV: Sharp Aquos LC-52D62U - LCD ($3,200)
This is the sixth generation of Sharp's bestselling LCD panel, and the best choice for someone looking to buy an HDTV today. The screen size is huge, especially for an LCD. Historically, LCD manufacturers had trouble selling such a large display at a reasonable cost. A year ago, Sharp was selling its 65-inch LCD for $20,000. I'm sure you've seen ads for larger HDTVs, but most of those are "DLP" TVs, which are not flat panels like LCDs or plasmas; DLPs weigh twice as much and are more than twice as thick. That means you can't hang a DLP on the wall. The elegance of a beautiful HDTV hanging on the wall is a key selling point you can use on your wife or girlfriend. One estimate shows women driving flat screen purchases over DLPs about 60% of the time, so if you've got a lady in your life, a flat screen is the way to go.
Aside from the large screen, the technical specs of this LCD put it far and above anything else on the market at this price. This LCD has true 1080p. That number refers to the resolution on the screen and measures the pixel count of the display. You've been able to buy an HDTV with enough pixels to display 1080p for over a year, but HDTVs sold before... well... pretty much now, couldn't accept a 1080p input. This Aquos does accept 1080p, which means that a few years from now, when you have a bunch of HD-DVDs or Blu-Ray discs (e.g., Playstation 3), and when all HD content is broadcast in 1080p, your HDTV won't already be outdated.
Two more reasons this screen is so great... Its contrast ratio of 10,000:1 (basically, how dark it displays the color black; most LCDs can only get to dark gray) and its screen refresh rate of 4ms (how well it displays fast-moving action like sports). Compare those specs to other LCDs and you'll see why, if you've got the free cash to spend, the Sharp Aquos LC-52D62U is just about perfect.
Honorable Mention: Sony Bravia KDL-52XBR2 ($5,500)
This Sony gives you the same ability as the Aquos to accept true 1080p inputs, the same screen size, and a slightly inferior contrast ratio and refresh rate. The price premium gets you a beautiful glass bezel around the screen and BRAVIA Engine PRO image processing. Image processing is the method by which your rectangular HDTV makes square pictures look good, and it's useful for people who watch a lot of regular-definition programming or standard DVDs. But in five years the importance of image processing will be diminished because so little programming will be shown in a format other than 1080p. If money is no object, the Sony is the better HDTV, but the Aquos' value gives it the edge in this comparison.
The HDTV to enjoy without breaking the bank: Panasonic TH-42PX60U - Plasma ($1,300)
After all that talk about accepting 1080p inputs and viewing 1920 x 1080 pixels, why would I recommend a screen that can only display up to 720p (1366 x 768)? Because sports are broadcast today in either 720p - on ESPN/ABC and Fox - or in 1080i on CBS and NBC. Right now the only 1080p content available comes from new high-definition DVDs and the Playstation 3. If you don't have either of those, you can get by with a 720p tv for at least a couple more years. In fact, Fox claims that 720p is better than 1080i (not 1080p, mind you) for viewing sports.
Because the Panasonic is a plasma not an LCD, a 10,000:1 contrast ratio is to be expected; the color black looks great on this screen. A plasma is thin like an LCD, so you can hang it on the wall. The drawback to plasma, that an image can "burn in" to the screen, is something you should be aware of, but if you're careful, this plasma will give you a much better picture than comparably-priced LCD tvs.
As Drew wrote: "You have your marching orders." Now, just don't fall for the extended warranty!
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Friday, November 17, 2006
Bill, How about Daisuke "Skyline" Matsuzaka. Here's what it has going for it:
1) It will remind everyone in New York, home of a world-famous skyline, that neither the Mets nor the Yankees, with all their cash, bid enough to get Matsuzaka.
2) It rolls off the tounge. Say it: Daisuke "Skyline" Matsuzaka.
3) Doesn't "Skyline" sound like an unbelievably expensive nickname that reflects the sky-high expectations Boston's gonna have for him?
4) Some geek made an excellent comparison of the pitcher to a car of the very same name.
For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 53-37 on such games (.589). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, as always using the Friday New York Post's Bettor's Guide for our lines:
JETS +7 chi
oak +9.5 KC
cin +3.5 NO
pit -3.5 CLE
atl +4 BAL
stl +7 CAR
HOU -2.5 buf
MIN +3.5 mia
ARIZ -2 det
SF +4.5 sea
DAL +1 ind
But college athletes are said to "declare early" or "go pro" when they don't finish school. When these guys screw up outside of their protected university environment, remember that we're talking about college dropouts. Maybe that's why the players introducing themselves on Monday Night Football often cite their high school rather than their college: it's the place they actually got their degree.
Name: Albert Haynesworth, III
College: University of Tennessee, Knoxville
College hijinks: Going after a teammate on the practice field with a metal pole.
Dropped out: After his junior season
NFL history books will forever celebrate The Catch and The Drive, but they hope to forget The Stomp. MJD did a fine job covering the suspension, and the Royal We made sure we knew what Keyshawn thought about all this. Because Haynesworth's expected to play on Sunday now that his five-game sabbatical is over, I point you to this 2002 Sporting News article about a certain defensive tackle prospect:
"Haynesworth, I honestly believe, will be a dominating player in this league," an AFC scout says, "if he can keep it all together upstairs." That always was the concern with Haynesworth--what was going on in his mind. But something happened to him before the 2001 season. It might have been the experience of becoming father to a son born last summer. Or it might have been the realization that time was running out on a career very few are afforded. Whatever it was, Albert Haynesworth found Albert Haynesworth. ... "I've matured," Haynesworth says. "I know what I have to do to be successful. It's a process."
Further maturity might be necessary to keep Haynesworth out of the Tyson Zone.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
When the White Sox let Thomas walk as a free agent, Beane saw a player who had been injured for most of the previous two years, but who continued to put up excellent OBP and SLG when he was available. Thomas's traditional 2005 line looked awful to the non-sabermetrically inclined. A .219 average, 12 HR, and 26 RBI would be a great Hacking Mass line if accomplished over 500 at-bats.
But looking a little deeper, those 12 HR were hit in only 124 plate appearances. Adding three doubles (and, no kidding, zero triples), Thomas slugged .590 in 2005. To compare, Albert Pujols slugged .609 that year. Thomas also continued to display the batting eye that's made him a Hall of Famer, walking in 13% of plate appearances. So Beane made sure Thomas was healthy and signed him to a no-risk deal. If Thomas hit, great for the A's. If he didn't hit, Beane loses barely more than the minimum veteran salary. We know what happened next. Big Frank hit .270/.381/.545 in 466 ABs. He was Oakland's entire offense for much of the season, leading the team to the brink of the World Series.
Ricciardi, the Blue Jays GM since 2001, is taking the Anti-Beane approach to signing a slugger. Thomas is coming off a monster year, is far past his prime (the proposed two-year deal will cover his age-39 and -40 seasons), and is clearly not undervalued by the market, even if the Blue Jays are the market. Gary Sheffield, who's one year younger than the Big Hurt, will get $14 million a year from the Tigers in 2008 and 2009. And those in the know are panning that deal too.
Last offseason, when Ricciardi signed two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, to big-money five year contracts, J.P.'s apologists argued that the cost was justified if the Blue Jays were to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox and that the scarcity of top pitchers made the contracts worthwhile. This year, after finishing in second place in the AL East, they'll say that Thomas is replacing a bunch of crappy designated hitters who combined for only 16 home runs all year, so the payout is necessary.
I don't buy it. Will Carroll won't give Thomas better than a yellow light in next year's Team Health Report. Toronto should be happy if Thomas's counting stats over the next two years equal his output in 2006 alone. Spending $10 million a year on a guy who may himself not hit 16 home runs next year? Maybe J.P. needs to re-read that little book Billy wrote.
Thanks to Will at BP for correcting my memory of J.P.'s job in Oakland. Seems like I need to re-read Moneyball too.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
So imagine my surprise when I learned that, starting this year, a third Thanksgiving game will be played. This year's night game will feature the Chiefs and Broncos. Thing is, you can't watch that contest unless your cable provider allows you to subscribe to the NFL Network. I should know: I live in the metro-New York area, where the two cable companies, Time Warner and Cablevision, don't make the channel available at any price. The battle's been brewing since July, when the NFL held the Thursday night package back from network bidders, leaving big bucks on the table in order to televise the games on its own cable channel.
The gist of the fight is as follows: Cable companies argue that the NFL Network is trying to gouge them with per-subscriber rates of 70 cents each, up from the channel's current price of about a quarter. The NFL Network responds that it has the country's most-watched programming, so the cable companies should pony up. For comparison's sake, ESPN is the most expensive channel for cable companies to provide, at nearly $3 per subsriber. As the parties head back to the bargaining table for one last week of negotiations, let's handicap this matchup.
Home Field Advantage
The game's to be played on the cable companies' turf because they own the infrastructure necessary to bring programming to your home. If everyone's home had an "unobstructed view of the Southern sky," we'd all have already switched to DirecTV to buy the Sunday Ticket package. As it stands, if you want sports programming, you pay for cable (and probably digital cable so you get the HD feed). It's the only way. Advantage: Cable companies. As we know, home field in the NFL is worth 3 points.
CBS and Fox paid $8 billion to broadcast the NFL through 2011 because pro football games are the most consistent ratings-generators in the television business (crappy MNF games like Panthers-Bucs or Seahawks-Raiders notwithstanding). The NFL Network knows it has a tremendous product, so it can realistically ask for high subscriber fees. However, cable companies don't want to pay (70 cents) * (all their subscribers) for a network most people wouldn't watch and that, oh yeah, happens to have a measly eight NFL games during only two months of the year. That's a solid argument. Slight advantage: Cable companies. This moves the line another point and a half.
The cable companies have been fighting this battle for years. You might remember the fight over the Yankees' YES Network or the fight over the Mets' SportsNet New York. They've got a gameplan: They offer to put the channel on a special "sports tier" of programming for which subscribers may pay extra if they choose. This way the people who subscribe to cable for the Food Network or MTV or HBO don't have to pay extra for sports they're not going to watch. On the other side of the boardroom is Steve Bornstein. He used to run ESPN, so he knows how important sports are to people like you and me. He'll use the time-tested strategy pioneered by George Steinbrenner and the YES lawyers - people really care about watching this stuff, so you better give it to them. That tactic works if viewers can't see 90% of a team's games over six months of a baseball season, but I'm not sure it'll work for a random slate of eight NFL games. Slight advantage: Cable companies. The line moves one more point.
I'm not referring to the Gambino crime family or point-shaving, though the pun was intended. I mean the dirty, unwashed public, otherwise known as the millions of television viewers who pay the subscriber fees keeping cable companies in business. The great unknown is how much of a stink people like us will make. When Cablevision refused to carry the Mets' regional network, SNY, so many Mets fans complained that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg inserted himself into the negotiation and the parties eventually reached a compromise. There's precedent for public opinion working hard against the cable companies, especially since each cable company is a monopoly in its viewing area. Advantage: NFL Network, but it's not the lock that you had with local baseball teams. My guess is that there's enough football on free tv and ESPN this time of year that those eight NFL games might not be missed. Move the line three points the other way.
Check my math, but totaling the above puts the cable companies as 2.5-point favorites going into this last week. I think you'll get the chance to watch the NFL Network games, but you'll probably have to pay for the special sports tier. Hell, Cablevision doesn't even offer ESPN2-HD on basic digital cable, so I don't see Cablevision handing the NFL Network a coveted basic cable spot. At least the NFL can rest assured that they can keep running their float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
It's only been available in Japan.
We Americans have trouble looking past our borders (unless we're at war or trying to build a fence to keep out Mexicans). Imagine if Ferraris weren't sold in the U.S. They might have the same cachet and name recognition, but I doubt it. The Skyline GT-R has only been sold as a right-hand drive model, so it's never made its way over here. Matsuzaka has pitched his entire career in the Japanese Pacific League, that country's equivalent of our MLB. (He never pitched in the minor leagues.) So you hadn't heard of Matsuzaka before ESPN started hyping him. That doesn't mean he didn't exist.
The statistics are undeniable.
Over the last four years, Matsuzaka's put up numbers in the Pacific League that compare to the 2003-2006 version of Roger Clemens, the 2004 NL Cy Young winner and 2005 ERA champ (1.87!). The Skyline GT-R will have a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V6 driving the rear wheels and a suspension tuned by Lotus. That's about 100 more horses than the BMW 650i.
It's been around a really long time.
Even though it's never been brought to American shores, the Skyline GT-R has actually been around since 1969. That's not as old as the Corvette, which debuted in 1953, but it's only five years younger than the Mustang, a car Ford just redesigned with retro styling cues. Matsuzaka has been a national hero in Japan since 1998, when he threw 250 pitches to notch the win in a quarterfinal game of the Japanese high school baseball tournament (think March Madness, now mulitply national interest by 17). In the semi, Matsuzaka played the outfield but got a save. In the final, he threw a freakin' no-hitter. The next year, he won the rookie of the year as a 19-year-old in the Japanese major leagues. Dwight Gooden was 20 when he won the NL award in 1985.
It opens up an entirely new market.
Sure, the Red Sox need a quality starter after their 2006 rotation of Schilling, Beckett, Clement, Wakefield and Wells didn't work out. Of course, Boston's ultrahigh bid was designed to fend off the Yankees. But more than anything else, this deal is about generating Japanese interest in the Red Sox. Of course there are stadium advertisements in the Bronx and Seattle, where Hideki Matsui and Ichiro! play, respectively. But have you noticed the Japanese ads in Toronto? The Yankees come through less than 20 times a year, but some company's paid to get its name in Skydome (or whatever they're calling it these days) just so it can be televised on the Yankee games broadcast back in Japan. Boston wants a piece of that, no doubt.
The same goes for the Skyline GT-R. Nissan sees an opportunity to get in on the luxury sport coupe market dominated by the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche. And note that the Skyline will be sold as a Nissan not an Infiniti (Nissan's upscale brand), as Nissan looks for a "halo car" to bring deeper pockets into its showrooms.
It's expensive, but worth it.
The MSRP on a z06 Corvette (the exclusive, high-powered version) is $70,000. Nissan plans to price the Skyline GT-R at $65,000. For those with the cash, the 2008 model will outperform the Z06 and a Porsche 911 Turbo while lending the exclusivity that an entirely new car can bring.
When the Sox sign Matsuzaka to the five-year, $75 million contract people expect Scott Boras to negotiate, the pitcher's total cost including the bid will be the same $25 million/year that everyone's favorite punching bag Alex Rodriguez makes with the Yankees. There's a reason A-Rod earned such a large contract: He was a Gold Glove-quality shortstop with unprecedented hitting skills (for the position) coming into his prime. Despite complaints about Rodriguez's lack of "clutchness," the numbers he's put up each year justify his high salary. Middle infielders - even if the Yankees play him at 3B - who hit 35+ home runs every year are not widely available. The Red Sox see Matsuzaka the same way. He's a Cy-Young quality pitcher just entering his prime, with the added bonus of a marketing gold mine to come.
Do I wish the Mets, who finished second with a bid of $39 to $40 million, had won Matsuzaka instead? Yes. Would I rather have a new Skyline GT-R parked in my garage? Yeah, I think I would.
These play-by-play and color men have the best intentions. We know they mean to say "on track." Somewhere along the line, however, it's become acceptable to mangle the phrase into its current incarnation. Common Errors in English explains it this way: "When things begin running smoothly and successfully, they get “on track.” Some people oddly substitute “untracked” for this expression, perhaps thinking that to be “tracked” is to be stuck in a rut."
I don't think that's it. These announcers aren't thinking, "Wow, the Buzzsaw that is the Arizona Cardinals sure is tracked. Dennis Green needs to get them untracked." Most likely, an announcer made the error unwittingly and the director/producer/other guy in the booth didn't offer a correction or call him on it. So each next time someone said "get untracked," there was a bit more precedent for letting it slide. Kind of like Al Michaels describing an injured tailback as "out with a knee."
I can't point an accusatory finger at the first mover for "get untracked," but I wouldn't be surprised if the offending party was a former athlete; therein lies the perfect storm of less-than-comprehensive vocabulary and enough status that nobody will make fun of him. The phenomenon probably began during the time Marv Albert was out of work, because Marv's broadcast partner wouldn't have gotten away with it. Could you imagine how Marv would have responded to Matt Guokas during an NBA on NBC telecast?
Matt: John Starks has yet to get untracked this afternoon.
Marv: Matt, we need to talk this over! That's not what you had in mind!
Anyway, welcome to the site, and here's hoping the name will, in a few years, be as obsolete as a certain ex-Cardinals catcher.