Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions

The time is upon us. After a 5-month layoff, baseball is back. It's been a fairly crazy offseason, which hopefully means we're in for an entertaining year. Instant replay will be used to a whole new extent, and collisions and home are now outlawed. Sort of. But before the lines are chalked and the umpires yell "play ball" I figured I might as well put my predictions in writing.

Division Winners

NL West- Have to go with the Dodgers here. I'm a whole lot less confident in this pick with the news that broke yesterday about Kershaw going on the DL, but I'm hoping it's nothing too serious. If he can come back and even be 80% of what he was last year, the Dodgers are set up to make another deep run in the playoffs. Their biggest concern is of course injuries. But if they can get and stay healthy, they match up with anyone across the league. And they should considering how much money they've spent recently

AL West- Quite possibly my favorite division in baseball. The teams spend money like it's going out of style, other than Oakland of course, but never get the desired results. Is this the year the Angels finally get what they're paying for? Can the A's continue out-playing their division rivals despite having the 6th lowest payroll in all of baseball? Will the Rangers get back to the playoffs? Honestly, I have no idea. I'm going to go with the A's again. They're scrappy, they good starting pitching, and they don't seem to pay attention to anyone's opinion of them. I love that.

NL Central- Cardinals. It's always the Cardinals. The Pirates were a nice surprise last year and I sincerely hope they build on the 2013 season, but I can't go against St. Louis. They're just too good.

AL Central- Much like the NL Central, the AL Central is dominated by one team. The Tigers have one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in baseball in a pretty mediocre division. The Royals could make some noise, and the Indians were certainly a pleasant surprise last year. But until someone dethrones the Tigers I see no reason to go against them.

NL East- The division should be decided between the Nationals and Braves. The Nationals have the same issue the Dodgers do, injuries. If they can stay healthy and perform at the level we all know they're capable of, they should take the division with relative ease. The Braves lost Hudson and McCann, two guys who were big parts of their success.

AL East- Easily the most stressful division. Can the Red Sox repeat? Will the Rays make yet another run? Sorry Yankees fans, but I don't believe in your ancient lineup. As for the Orioles, you never know what you'll get from them. I'm gonna be a homer and pick the Red Sox simply based on their pitching, but it won't surprise me one bit if the Rays end up taking the division.

Wildcards- In the National League the Braves and Pirates should both make the postseason again in 2014. It won't surprise me if either end up winning their division, but I don't have enough confidence to just pick them outright. As for the American League I'm going with the Rays (or Red Sox if the Rays end up winning the division) and the Angels. The Rays are yet again a very good team, and I think the Angels are finally going to get some results out of their ridiculous payroll.

World Series- Is this the year the Dodgers finally bring a title back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988? They're certainly built to. They have an abundance of outfielders and a fantastic pitching staff. They should win the World Series. In fact, I'm predicting a rematch of the '88 Series. LA over Oakland, only this time in 6 games. I love the Red Sox, but being able to capture the magic they had last season again is nearly impossible. The Tigers were pushed to the brink by the A's last season in the ALDS and I think the experience the A's gained last year will only serve to push them over the top this year. But LA has the best shot at winning the World Series this year.

Individual Awards

NL Rookie of the Year- Billy Hamilton, Billy Hamilton, Billy Hamilton, Billy freakin' Hamilton. I think this guy is really going to be a game-changer. If he gets on base he's going to steal. There are no two ways about it. Between putting himself in scoring position and disrupting the pitcher's process, he can have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. I really think he's going to excel.

AL Rookie of the Year- Xander Bogaerts. We all saw what he did in the postseason last year. His slash line was .296/.412./.481 in the playoffs. His average in the ALCS was .500, against the Tigers. The guy can hit and he's sure-handed in the field.

NL Cy Young- Of course I had Kershaw penciled in here. He is the best pitcher in baseball. But this injury has me worried. He's never been on the DL before. So not only does he have to get healthy, but how will he respond when he does come back? I'm still picking him as the favorite to win the award.

AL Cy Young- Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander are the most popular picks by the "experts" but I'm going in a different direction. I'm going with Jon Lester. I think this will be the year he pitches as well in the regular season as he does in the postseason. Will I be surprised if Darvish or Verlander end up winning it? Of course not, but it's no fun picking the same person as everyone else.

NL MVP- I can't help but wonder why I see so many people picking Bryce Harper here. The kid is a fine ballplayer, but so far he hasn't been anything special at the plate. His lifetime, mind you that's only two seasons, average is .272 and he strikes out far too often in my mind. He did cut his strikeout total by nearly 30 last year compared to his rookie season, but his home run, RBI, stolen base, doubles, and triples all dropped as well and his total walks only went up by 5. He has a long way to go. Anyway, I'm going with Hanley Ramirez. He's in a contract year and if he can stay healthy and do what he did last season (.345/.402/.638) he could run away with the award.

AL MVP- Mike Trout. Definitely should've won it in 2012 and probably should've won it last year too. He's the best all-around player in the game. If the Angels make the playoffs he should be the clear winner. Finally.

There ya go. I have less confidence in these picks than any other predictions I've written about. This season should be ridiculous. Between Cano in Seattle, Jeter's farewell season, Puig's first full year, and everything else we can't predict, it's going to be a fun year.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

March Madness Bracket Tips

As usual, RJ Bell of put out his extensive list of bracket tips and trends. It's a comprehensive list that takes a bit of time to read, but he points out things that the common fan, and even some die-hards, might normally miss.

Let's start with some astonishing numbers that will put into perspective how unlikely a perfect bracket really is.

***2014 NCAA Tournament Action:

Over $12 BILLION worldwide expected to be wagered on NCAA Tournament
That’s more action combined than on the Super Bowl!
Less than 1% of worldwide sports betting occurs in Nevada

Over 100 million people expected to take part in tournament bracket contests!

***Perfect Bracket Odds:

  • There are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible brackets (9.2 quintillion) That's the number nine followed by eighteen zeros! That’s ONE MILLION times bigger than 9 TRILLION!
  • Some examples of just how big this number is: If everyone on the planet each randomly filled out a bracket, the odds would be over ONE BILLION to 1 against any person having a perfect bracket.
  • If one bracket per second was filled out, it would take 292 BILLION years to fill out all possible brackets (that's 20 times longer than the universe has existed).
  • If all the people on earth filled out one bracket per second, it would take over 42 years to fill out every possible bracket.
  • All possible brackets on normal paper would circle the globe over 21 MILLION TIMES.
  • All possible brackets (on standard paper) would weigh over 184 TRILLION TONS (that’s over 500 MILLION times more than the Empire State Building weighs)

Yeah, no wonder Warren Buffet is offering a billion dollars. Alright, on to the actual tips and trends for the tournament and your bracket. By the way, I expect a cut of the billion if you read this and end up striking gold.

68 vs. 64 teams:
The calculations above assume a 64 team bracket – if expanded to consider 68 teams, multiple the figures by 4.

*** 14 Bracket Picking Rules from Vegas!
(all records since modern era began in 1985 unless noted)

TIP: Pick ZERO #1 or #2 seeds to lose.
#16 seeds are 0 for 116
#15 seeds are 7 for 116

TIP: Pick at least ONE #13 or #14 seed to win.
At least one Top 4 seed has lost in the first round 25 of 29 years
#13 and #14 seeds combined win 18% of first round games

TIP: Don't be shy picking upsets with #12 through #9 seeds.
#12 seeds have won at least one game 23 of 25 years
#9 seeds are 4 wins above .500 vs. #8 seeds

TIP: Advance #1 seeds into the 3rd round unless very good reason not to.
88% of #1 seeds advance to the Sweet 16

TIP: Keep advancing any #12 seeds you picked to win in Round One.
#12 seeds win nearly half the time in Round Two
#12 seeds have more Sweet 16 appearances overall than #7 seeds
A double digit seed has made the Sweet Sixteen 27 of 29 years

TIP: Pick at least ONE upset of a #2 or #3 seed.
Only ONCE in 29 years has all the top three seeds (#1, #2, #3) made the Sweet Sixteen

TIP: Do NOT pick any seed worse than #12 to win in the 2nd round.
Only 9 of 464 teams (less than 2%) advancing past Round 2 were seeded worse than #12

Sweet 16 round picks:
TIP: Advance exactly three #1 seeds into the Elite 8.
71% of #1 seeds make the Elite 8
(that's a higher percentage than #5 seeds that win a single game!)

TIP: Advance no team worse than a #11 seed into the Elite 8
26 seeds worse than 11 have made it the Sweet 16
but only ONE (of 232) Elite 8 teams seeded worse than #11

Elite 8 round picks:
TIP: Advance exactly ONE or TWO #1 seeds to the Final Four.
The Final Four has included exactly one or two #1 seeds 23 of 29 years

TIP: Advance no team worse than a #9 seed to the Final Four.
Only 3 of 140 Final Four teams (since 1979) have been seeded worse than #9

FINAL FOUR round picks:
TIP: Advance NO team worse than a #6 seed to the Championship game.
Only ONE team worse than #6 has made it in last 28 years

TIP: Do NOT advance TWO #1 seeds to Championship game
Since tournament seeding began 35 years ago (1979)
only 6 times have two #1 seeds made the finals

TIP: Pick a #4 seed or better to win it all.
For 25 straight years the champion has been a #4 seed or better!

There you have it, I told you that was going to be a ton of information. But where else are you going to find that many tips and trends in one place? You aren't. Bell is simply the best at what he does and I'm grateful he shares this information with me so I can then pass it on to you. Good luck!!!!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hall of Fame Solution

Rather than just sit here and complain about the Hall of Fame, I'm going to offer a solution. Granted, no one who is anyone is going to read this, but I don't care. I'm sick and tired of people talking about the PEDs issue with potential Hall of Famers and how it's unfair to judge them because of the use of amphetamines throughout much of MLB's history.

Here it is, elect players based on what they did on the baseball diamond. I know this seems like a ridiculous concept. However, I'm not done. For guys like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and eventually A-Rod (puke), they get their own special wing in Cooperstown. I've actually written about a little bit about this before. Members of the 1919 White Sox would be in there. Pete Rose would finally be home. All of the steroid guys, who "deserve" to go in, could go in. The selection process would be the same, but don't give them the induction ceremony. No speeches, no celebrations, just a plaque/bust/exhibit commemorating their achievements in the game and explaining why they are in this special wing. I feel like this would truly represent their career. Which is what the Hall of Fame is supposed to do.

You cannot deny the contributions made to baseball by the guys I mentioned above. However, I fully understand why this won't work. People like Ken Gurnick screw up this idea. His notion that he'll never vote for any Steroid Era players screws this up.  But having this option might actually open his mind. Instead of these guys he's so dead-set against going in to his coveted Hall of Fame with all the glitz and glamour of the players he deems clean, he could actually vote for people who were the best of their era.

I realize this poses a ton of problems. In Gurnick's mind, Maddux, Thomas, and Glavine all played in the Steroid Era and he won't vote for them. So maybe in his mind he thinks they should go in the wing with Rose and McGwire. But the vast majority of people don't think any of those three used PEDs and should be given the full enshrinement. So maybe he still wouldn't vote for those guys. Or maybe he would, who knows? And what would the criteria be for a player going into the "tainted" wing? A positive test? An admission? Overwhelming evidence? I'm sure there are people much smarter than me who could figure that out, but I doubt they'd get everyone to agree with them.

It's time to stop ignoring history and start learning from it. You don't want to glorify Mark McGwire because he admitted using steroids? Fine. Then use it as a teaching moment. When a kid goes to the Hall of Fame and reads about everything he did in that magical season of 1998, including the PED use, and then sees that he's not in the same part of the Hall as Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, maybe that kid will understand.

Again, I know this is pretty much just a rant. But I'd love to know what other solutions there are. Don't tell me drugs should keep a player out of Cooperstown. Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays have all said they used amphetamines when they played because it helped them perform. But I don't see anyone arguing that they should be removed.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

UFC 168 Preview

The biggest rematch since Serra vs. GSP II goes down on Saturday when Chris Weidman faces Anderson Silva. Last time around, as we all know. Weidman put Silva to sleep and ended what many believe to be the most dominant era in MMA. Silva toyed around with the wrong guy and he paid for it. No one had challenged him since Chael Sonnen nearly beat him back in 2010, though that victory would've been most likely vacated since Sonnen test positive for illegal substances. But when push comes to shove, Silva ran the Middleweight division for years. He has a chance to get back on top of that mountain on Saturday.

Weidman is a huge match-up problem for Silva. He's very good on the ground, and as we all witnessed, he has one-punch knockout power. Silva took Weidman lightly the first time around, which was pretty much his style. While I think Weidman has the capability to retain his title, I don't think he will. Silva has waited years for someone to rise to the challenge, someone to motivate him to care, to try, to really train hard again. He has that in that in Weidman. Silva should take this fight more seriously than any fight in his career. He was exposed the last time he was on in the Octagon. He doesn't want to tarnish his legacy by having back-to-back losses to the same opponent. I think Silva takes this fight by unanimous decision.

The other big fight, another rematch, on the UFC 168 card is Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate. This matchup stems from their recent stint as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Their dislike for each other is well known and probably only grew from TUF. Rousey seems to take it much more seriously than Tate for whatever reason, and it does border on annoying. However, I wouldn't put it past Dana White to tell them both to do whatever they can to hype this fight up. Rousey was first supposed to face Cat Zingao but she ended up blowing out her knee and was replaced by Tate. Nothing against Miesha Tate, but she's not in the same class as Rousey. Ronda should absolutely dominate this fight and win it with an armbar in the first round. Does that mean Tate can't pull the upset? Absolutely not. She is fully capable of jumping on Rousey if she makes a mistake and making her pay for it with her title. Rousey needs to put her emotions aside when she steps in the Octagon and not let her mind get the best of her. She absolutely should win this fight in dominating fashion.

The only other fight on the card I'm interested in is Uriah Hall vs. Chris Leben. Both guys are pretty much fighting for their job. Leben hasn't won since he beat Wanderlei Silva back in July of 2011 and has also failed a drug test since then. Hall has yet to notch a victory in the UFC despite his immense potential. He ran through his season of The Ultimate Fighter until the finale when he looked completely disinterested. He lost again in August in a fight where he just seemed to be bored. Leben is probably closer to the end of his UFC career, but if Hall can't pull off this victory his will most likely be over before it even starts.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mack Brown Leaving Texas

Quite a lot has changed in the last 24 hours for the Texas Longhorns football program. Just yesterday head coach Mack Brown said he would stay there if it were up to him. However now, according the the Longhorns Network Twitter account, he's informed the team and recruits that he'll be resigning after their bowl game.

I can't say I'm surprised. Texas has been average at best recently, and that's just not good enough. For them not to be in contention for a BCS bowl is unacceptable at that school. Brown had a great run, but it sounds like it's coming to a close. 

The biggest question will of course be, who replaces him? Saban has already agreed to an extension to stay at Alabama. I'd think Harbaugh would be insane to leave the 49ers. You and I have a better shot at getting the job than Lane Kiffin does. So who is it going to be? Stay tuned for updates.

UPDATE- The University of Texas has confirmed that Mack Brown is resigning his position. So it looks like this one is actually for real this time. Though nothing at this point would surprise me.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

10 Commandments of Turkey Bowl

With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, it’s time to address a tradition that many people hold near and dear; The Turkey Bowl. All across this great nation of ours, friends and families will gather to face off in an annual game of blood, sweat, tears, bragging rights, and gravy. I give you here the 10 Commandments of  Turkey Bowl.
  1. Three-drink minimum per person. Turkey Bowl cannot be successful if all participants (excluding minors of course) do not have some sort of liquid courage.  This not only helps dull the pain that will undoubtedly be suffered, but it also encourages to wildest and wackiest of plays. Not only that, but diving for a pass seems like a much better idea if you’re well lubricated. You must be able to stay upright, but after that, it’s fair game. Halftime beers and/or shots are also a must.
  2. Trash talking is required. Sure we’re all friends and family, that’s even more of a reason to psychologically torment your opponent. I’m not saying you should get all Richie Incognito on anyone, but a healthy dose of taunts is a must. This ranges from making fun of dropped passes, missed tackles, to getting juked and terrible throws. Basically, anything you can think of.
  3. Turkey Bowl should be tackle football. Yeah, I said it. Two-hand touch invariable leads to tackles anyway. No one has enough socks to supply an entire team for flag-football. Sack up. Play tackle.
  4. All touchdowns must be celebrated. This goes along with #2. If a TD isn’t celebrated by the dancing of at least 2 members of the team, including the scorer, a 15-yard penalty will be incurred following kickoff. Bonus points for choreographed routines.
  5. At least one female per team (no limit though), and yes, they must score. Not only that, but the girls aren’t allowed to cover each other. This will of course lead to an interception and/or multiple tackles by a female. This is when you will immediately refer to rule #2. Ladies, please feel free to jump in on the trash-talking as well.
  6. If available, play in the mud. Turkey Bowl should of course take place on a grass field. But if there has recently been rain in a nearby area, you should travel to said area and hold your game there. Mud leads to much more entertaining games, not only for the players, but for the fans. And yes, you must have fans for it to truly be a Turkey Bowl.
  7. Losers walk. You get scored on, you walk to the other end of the field and prepare for kickoff. No arguing, just do it. You don’t want to walk? Don’t get scored on. This also aids in keeping it fair in terms of field condition and wind.
  8. There needs to be some sort of trophy. I don’t care if you hot-glue a toy car onto a piece of scrap wood. The winners deserve to be awarded with something. Of course they have bragging rights for a year, but a trophy is so much more. “Turkey Bowl” should be emblazoned on this trophy in some form, and a record of the winners should be kept as well. The stealing and holding hostage of said trophy is not only encouraged, but expected.
  9. No more than one rushing play per series. This does not include reverses. Trick plays are a necessity, and the fans are there to watch you air it out. A ground game is fun for exactly no one.  So line up wide and throw the ball. Remember that liquid courage? Yeah, it helps a ton in this area.
  10. The most important rule of all, have fun. Turkey Bowl comes but once a year. The memories however live on forever. Take it just serious enough so it means something, but not so serious that it ruins dinner and makes people not want to play next year.
There you have it, my 10 Commandments of Turkey Bowl. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. 

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Red October: World Series Preview

I won't even try to suggest I'm not rooting for the Red Sox here. Obviously I am. That being said, I did some research and made my prediction based off that. Yes, I want the Red Sox to win. But that doesn't mean I'm too biased to ignore what the numbers say.

Wainwright and Wacha are clearly the two pitchers that the Cardinals are banking on, and with good reason. Wacha has been arguably the most impressive pitcher in the postseason and Wainwright is already a household name. They give St. Louis an immediate advantage in any series. However, St. Louis doesn't have the home field advantage, which could negate their aces. Wainwright's ERA on the road is nearly a run higher than at home, 3.36 compared to 2.53. I realize that's not much, but considering how evenly matched the two teams are, any edge is going to be huge for either team. Wacha's road ERA is over 2 runs higher than his home ERA, 4.34 compared to 2.15. Granted Wacha didn't pitch on the road in the NLCS, so it's doubtful he starts Game 2. I would assume that means the Red Sox will pitch Lackey in Game 2, who was excellent on the road in Game 3 of the ALCS and throughout the season was much better pitching at Fenway. I'm going to assume this means Buchholz throws Game 3 against Wacha, and I'll give him the edge even though he hasn't been nearly as sharp during the postseason as he was throughout the regular season.

I also have to give the edge to Boston when it comes to the bullpen. Their ERA is a full run lower than the St. Louis bullpen and they've thrown 2 more innings. Koji Uehara, the ALCS MVP, has been the most impressive reliever in MLB this year. He throws nearly nothing but strikes and has the stuff to get anyone out. Yes he did give up a walkoff home run to the Rays, but he hasn't looked back since. If the game is on the line, there is no one else in baseball I'd trust more than Koji.

The team batting stats also favor the Red Sox. They've hit .236/.325/.365 while the Cardinals have hit .210/.285/.325 throughout October. Both teams faced some of the best starting pitching in baseball in their Championship Series and the only offensive explosion was the Cardinals in Game 6. Even then they still trail the Red Sox in hitting.

The players I'm most interested in watching throughout the series are Carlos Beltran and Xander Bogaerts. One a 16-year veteran outfielder who is finally getting a taste of the World Series. The other a rookie who has a seemingly long, illustrious career ahead of him. Which one will rise to the occasion and which one will be outshined? It won't surprise me however it shakes out. Beltran has been a monster in the postseason throughout his career. His career batting average in the playoffs is .337, certainly something to be concerned with if you're the Sox. Xander actually reminds me of Beltran too. Kind of quiet, unassuming, but undeniable talent. His ability to get on base is a huge boost to Boston's lineup.

Lastly, the Red Sox ability to come from behind has been ridiculous. Two grand slams late in ALCS games, clutch bullpen pitching, and a never give up attitude pushed them into the World Series. The Cardinals didn't face adversity like that in the NLCS. They outmatched the Dodgers, as much as it pains me to say, I'm not so sure you can say that about the Red Sox. Yes, Boston deserved to win when it all boiled down, but beating the Tigers when they trotted out Scherzer twice and Verlander was amazing. I believe they have a mental edge over the Cardinals.

All in all, I have to pick the Red Sox. I highly doubt it's going to be easy, I'm thinking at least 6 games. But given the depth of their bench, bullpen, and the fact that they have home field advantage (thank you, AL All-Stars) I have to give them the edge. Should be a great Series, and I can't wait for it to start.


UPDATE-The Cardinals will send Wacha to the mound in Game 2, which is definitely not what I was anticipating. I think that game could be the pivotal one in the series. He's been their ace so far, but the pressure of the World Series and pitching in a place like Fenway has to be intimidating for the rookie. Will he step up and dominate like he did in the NLCS, or will he be hittable like he was during the regular season on the road?

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