Category: Sports Media


This is a picture of Yu Darvish. I wrote something about him.

This is a picture of Yu Darvish. I wrote something about him.

There are plenty of topics that the average Dallas sports fan should be concerned about, but Yu Darvish should not be one of them. It is simply mind-boggling that writers, fans, and even long-tenured employees of the Texas Rangers, a notoriously pitching deficient franchise, can watch a legitimate number 1 starting pitcher (an “ace”, if you like), take the mound every fifth day with video-game stuff and still say he needs to be better. The numbers are out there for anyone to find, but by all accounts Darvish is easily a top 10 pitcher in all of baseball, and a top 5 in the American League. His 2.68 ERA is third in the AL. With apologies to Ranger mythology and romanticized Texas legends, If Darvish simply maintains his current performance level for another 4-5 years, he will go down as the best starting pitcher in Texas Rangers franchise history. Better than Nolan. Better than Fergie. Currently, in all of Major League Baseball, only 6 pitchers require less from their offense than Darvish does in order for their team to win a game in which he starts. That is true, top of the line, Cy Young, good-as-it-gets, ace performance. So what are we talking about here?

On a personal level, I must admit that I seriously second-guessed myself when I discovered who was on the side that says Darvish needs to be better. As it turns out, the great Eric Nadel is pretty active on Twitter, and was gracious enough to respond twice to questions I sent him about Darvish. His tweets to me made the following points:

@TimDevine: Believe me, I take no joy in being right at the expense of the great @nadeler

@Nadeler: @TimDevine hahaha…none of your stats addresses the real issue with darvish…appreciate the kind words though. really.

@TimDevine: @nadeler you sir are a legend, but I can’t wrap my head around why it matters when Yu gives up 2 if he only gives up 2…it’s on the line-up

@Nadeler: @TimDevine when the team busts it’s butt to get u a lead in the 6th inn you have to shut it down. That’s why.

This is the legend of the “SDI”, or “shut-down inning”, and it speaks to one of the more, shall we say, intangible aspects of the game. The idea is that when an offense gives a team a lead, it is extra important that its pitcher keep the other team from scoring in the following half inning. If a pitcher fails to execute the SDI, then the team feels some emotional letdown that carries over into offensive and/or defensive performance. (Somehow, the failed SDI must have some effect on player performance, otherwise it wouldn’t really be worth talking about.) This is the factor, according to some, that Darvish lacks; this is what keeps him from being “great”, or where his “issue” lies. (Note: to be clear, I am not in any way insinuating that Nadel, Newberg, etc do not think Darvish is a very good pitcher. Newberg says in today’s report that Darvish “is an ace” but “needs to be better”.)

To truly appreciate the no-win situation in which Darvish finds himself, one needs only to be reminded of the popular early season Darvish narrative:

@newbury1310: Darvish has given up 23 runs this year…11 have come in the first inning (5/27/13)

@vincebaseball: No shock that you want to get to Darvish early…9 of his 20 runs allowed have come in the first inning this season (5/21/13)

@espn_durrett: That’s 9 runs given up by Yu Darvish in the first inning. He’s allowed just 12 all year. #firstinningissues (5/5/13)

@JeffWilson_FWST: Chicago, the worst hitting team in the American League, has scored two first-inning runs against Yu Darvish. #Rangers. (4/30/13)

So what keeps Darvish from being considered great? Why is he not an ace? For the first few months of the season, the reason seems to be his problematic early inning performances. Now, it’s his inability to execute the “Shut Down Inning” late in games. It seems as though Darvish’s real issue is not actually when he gives up runs, but that he gives them up at all. A truly “great” pitcher doesn’t allow runs early in a game, or late, or after his team has just scored…but there are no 0.00 ERAs in baseball history, so at some point he must allow something without it meaning he “needs to be better”. If he were allowing runs at an alarming rate, say 2 in the first AND 3 in the 7th, this might hold water. But he ERA currently sits at 2.68, good for 7th among starting pitchers in all of baseball. Opponents are hitting .191 against him this season. He leads the league in strikeouts by a considerable margin (don’t buy the narrative that strikeouts are a “glamor” stat. Pop-outs and ground outs can still be productive outs; they can advance or even score a runner. Pitching to contact opens the door for errors, poor fielding decisions, balls getting lost in the sun or taking bad hops, missed calls by umpires, etc). Given these facts, the note that the Rangers are 14-11 in Darvish starts is a pretty meaningless stat as far as critiquing Yu goes, and deep down, most people know that to be true even if they don’t want to admit it. Want proof? If the playoffs started today, is the any, and I mean any question at all who starts game 1? Of course not. Yu Darvish is on the hill; he’s your ace. If that 14-11 record were any real reflection on Darvish, there’d be at least some hesitation about starting him given the team has a much higher winning percentage with their other starters.

The bottom line is when a starting pitcher consistently goes 7 innings and gives up 2 runs, he should win most of those games. If he doesn’t, that’s on the offense (or maybe the opposing pitcher’s stuff was just that good). No one seems to dispute this fact when Darvish has those stats but gives up 1 in the 3rd inning and 1 in the 5th instead of 2 in the 7th; that is usually considered an ace performance, and if the Rangers lose 2-1, the narrative will center around the ineptitude of the offense. “Sorry about baseball, Yu”.

Nadel seems to criticize Darvish for demoralizing the team if his 2 runs allowed come right after the Rangers take a 2-0 lead. But again, if the Rangers can only muster 2 runs of offense, isn’t that where most of the responsibility lies? If one is making a list of who needs to be better, doesn’t it start with any number of Ranger hitters? How demoralizing must it be to know that you have to be perfect (which Darvish has almost been on a few occasions) in order to beat the White Sox? Isn’t the real “demoralizing” factor that Darvish is shutting down opposing line-ups, dominating them, making them look silly, knowing he will hold them to around 2 runs per 7 innings and it still might not be enough? Maybe it shouldn’t be if he’s opposing Felix Hernandez or Verlander, but those aren’t the guys shutting down the Rangers in Yu starts lately. Incidentally, Adam Morris (@LoneStarBall) tweeted the following W/L records for other “aces” when their run support is 2 or less:

Chris Carpenter: 13-49
Felix Hernandez: 19-52
Jared Weaver: 10-35

Also this: “@LoneStarBall: Justin Verlander, in his 8th major league season, has won 6 games in his career when getting 0-2 runs of support. Yu has already won 3.”

If a team is “demoralized” because their starting pitcher allowed 2 runs when they could only score 2 themselves, that’s on the line-up to be better. It’s basically asking the starting pitcher for a 0.77 ERA because the offense could only muster 1 run. Maybe the fact that Darvish gave up a 2-0 lead in the half-inning after it was given to him illustrates, as Jamey Newberg implies, that Darvish currently lacks an “extra gear” that great pitchers have. Maybe. Or maybe Darvish is a full-time, maximum effort player that presses for perfection without letting up. Maybe he doesn’t “have an extra gear” because we’re seeing it all the time, in every start, every inning, and that’s how he’s striking out 12 hitters per 9 innings while keeping opposing line-ups below the Mendoza line (or at a .594 OPS, good for 6th best in all of baseball, if that’s your thing).

Put it this way: if a team is offered a pitcher that is guaranteed in every start to go at least 7 innings and give up 2 runs, that team would take it every time, put that player and his 2.57 ERA at the top of the rotation, and watch him compete for Cy Young awards for years to come. That player would be the #1 starter in a playoff series for almost any team in the league, and at least in the discussion to start over Hernandez, Verlander…pretty much anyone not named Kershaw. That team would not first ask when those runs would be allowed; they’d simply say something to the effect of “if we can’t score 3, most nights we don’t really deserve to win anyway”. Truthfully, the best critique people seem to have of Darvish is that he’s something like 27th in innings pitched, but he usually goes 7, and with bullpen specialization the way it is now, Washington is probably using Nathan in the 9th of a close game anyway.

So with all the tangible, measurable numbers suggesting Darvish is as good, if not better, than most other “ace” pitchers in the league, why does he still have something to prove? Who knows. Truthfully, the debate between whether Darvish is very good or great seems to hinge on when he allows his two runs a game to score. For me, the fact that he only allows two makes him an ace, and I have a feeling that without the microscope of obsessing over his every start, most would feel the same. Obviously the criteria as to what is “fair” or “unfair” criticism is subjective, but without a doubt Darvish has the smallest gap between actual performance and maximum potential on this team. Beltre’s been great, for example, but he has more room for improvement this season than Darvish does. No one on this team is maximizing his talent better than Darvish this season, which means that he really doesn’t need to be any better. Could he be better? Technically, everyone could, I guess. But to say that he “is an ace” but “needs to be better” sounds a little like the baseball equivalent of criticizing Jonas Salk for failing to cure Cancer after successfully curing Polio. I guess technically he could have done more, but…

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Fantasy Football

The sh*t is hitting the fans

Fans of the NFL, it’s time to admit the ugly truth; we are in an abusive sports relationship. Whenever this lock-out finally ends, players will be able to get more money and have less required of them; no more training camp two-a-days, fewer OTAs, limited workouts in full pads, and so on. The owners will be better off because of rookie wage scales and lowered salary caps. The fans? We’ll still be required to pay full price for preseason games. And we will. The owners know it. The players know it. We know it.

That’s why the attempts by the owners, players and media to portray the useĀ  fans’ “good will” as a bargaining chip is ridiculous. ESPN tries to kill time on SportsCenter by debating on which side of this stand off the fans’ sympathies lie. Do we blame the owners or the players for this mess? (submit your answer online now!). Yesterday, the owners apparently (and I say apparently because I don’t really care enough to find out the fine details) voted to approve a proposal that the players hadn’t seen yet, allegedly as a way to put the onus on the players in the eyes of the public. The NFL may have done this for strategic reasons, but I can assure you “public perception” isn’t one of them. How do I know? Because both the players and owners know that whenever, however they decide to settle this, we’ll be waiting with open arms wallets. Public perception has zero affect on either side, and for the NFL and media to pretend otherwise is adding insult to injury. Yes, we know that no matter how the NFL treats us, we’ll be back when they tell us to be, cash in hand. It doesn’t matter who we blame; it doesn’t matter if we are anti-owner or anti-player; tell us when to be there, and how much it’ll cost, and we’ll pay it.

Aren't we cute?

I’m not asking for an attitude adjustment from the fans. Maybe one day in some alternate universe, fans will actually pull off a “fan strike” and leagues will have to take us into account. All I’m asking is that ESPN, the NFL, and the NFLPA stop mocking us by pretending that public perception means anything to the union or the owners. If and when we have our first preseason game, the stadium will be full, and people will be so grateful that the lock-out is over that any sort of anger or resentment towards the NFL will be forgotten. We will happily buy our $10 beers while we sit and cheer Joe Something-ton lead the Bengals’ third stringers onto the field.

So please, NFL, stop pretending that you give a damn about the fans, and just get this thing done. Stop acting like any sort of public pressure could intimidate one side or another into making a deal, when both sides are well aware that when the NFL snaps its fingers, we will come running. We’re not proud of ourselves for it; please stop taunting us. Please don’t say it is important to get this done for the fans. You care about the fans because they pay your bills, and you know that you could cancel the September 11 game in New York on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and would (at worst) have to deal with a light smattering of boos before the kick-off of the next game. What we think doesn’t matter; certainly not to you. Stop using the media to negotiate. Stop sending out press releases. Stop trying to paint yourselves as martyrs. At this point, we hate all of you. But we’ll be there.

Please get this done so you can take our money and we can go back to pretending that you care.

 

MAVS NEED TO WIN OR ELSE THEY WON’T

He's my favorite sportswriter

 

The Mavericks need to win game 2.

Believe it.

If the Mavericks are going to win game 2, they need to start making shots and try to keep the other team from making a lot of their shots. That is going to be hard to do, because the Heat have LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Those are good players.

Also, there is a rumor that Dirk is engaged, and will soon get married after the end of the finals. He has been thinking about this a lot during the finals. So much so, that it may be affecting his play.

Some fans are now going to argue that Dirk’s engagement is a distraction.

Stop it.

Dirk is as good as ever. Fans need to remember that what goes on in an athlete’s personal life is just that. Personal. Dirk doesn’t owe you anything. It is none of your business, which is why I reported it just now. To prove a point. Now that you know about it, you shouldn’t care about it. But I wrote it.

Deal with it.

The bottom line is that the Mavericks need to win tonight’s game if they have any shot of holding a lead at the end of game 2 when the clock runs out. To do that, Terry will have to shoot the ball in a way so that it goes into the basket instead of it not going inside the basket. So will Peja. In fact, Peja’s shots ususally count for either 2 or 3 points, which means that every time he makes a shot, the Mavericks get either 2 or 3 points. Unless it is a free throw. Then it counts for 1 point.

Count it.

If the Mavericks do not win this series, they will not win the championship. And without a championship, Dirk will not get a ring. Ask Mark Modano how it feels to play for a long time and not get a ring. He was a Dallas Stars legend who went to Detroit to chase a Stanley Trophy, and still came up short. For better or for worse, people still think of Mark Modano as a Dallas athlete who was great at goal scoring but never got that championship for his team.

Will that be Dirk? Only time will tell.

You know it.

You.

Know.

It.

Go Buckeyes.