Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reyes' Troubles

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm a big fan of Anthony Reyes. I really think he can be a top-notch starter in the major leagues. Sadly, he hasn't managed to do this consistently, and he's currently stuck down in the minors, trying to get better control of his two-seam fastball and curveball (supposedly). I thought the demotion marked a good time to look at Anthony's career up to this point, and see if there were any trends that could be picked up on that might be guides to success, or hints as to his struggles.

So what I did was first remove the three relief appearences Reyes made in 2005 from his career stats. Then I put each of his 29 career major league starts (including postseason) into two categories - "good" or "not good". I based the decision on what ESPN's Game Score was for each start, assigning any start with a 55 or over to the "good", and all starts below 55 to the "not good" 55 was more or less an arbitrary decision, based on the fact that all the starts with scores higher than that seemed like ones where Reyes' pitching could be cited as a major reason the Cardinals won (or had a chance to win if they didn't). There are still some decent starts at lower scores, but more often the starts are ones where the best you could say is Reyes didn't hurt the team's chances of winning. I wanted to derive keys to success, so I'm focusing on his best work. It ultimately broke down that 11 of his starts were in the "good", 18 in the "not good". I tallied up the statistics, and then used rate stats to compensate for the different sample sizes. The various stats are listed in the table below (well, in theory, in practice it's kind of a mess), summaries and theories after that:

Stats Good Starts (11) Bad Starts (18)
Innings Pitched/Start 6.1 4.2
K/BB 4.06 1.35
K/9 Innings 8.47 6.14
BB/9 Innings 2.09 4.56
FB/GB 1.48 1.08
FB/9 Innings 11.21 12.61
GB/9 Innings 7.56 11.65
H/9 Innings 4.95 11.12
WHIP 0.78 1.74
HR/9 Innings 0.65 2.33
ERA 2.09 7.63
Game Score 64.55 39.33

Not surprisingly, all the stats are worse in the "not good" starts, which is, in its own way, a good thing. If he had better stats in his worst starts, I'd be confused. Walks rise (2.09 to 4.56), strikeouts fall (8.47 to 6.14). Flyballs increase a little (Note it's "flyballs", not "flyouts". That's how it was listed on ESPN, so I assume it means all flyballs, including those that drop for hits), but groundballs increase significantly, bringing Reyes - historically a flyball pitcher - close to an even flyball/groundball ratio. Hits per nine innings rise, and most unusually, so do home runs. You would think with more groundballs, homers would decrease, but that isn't the case.

Before I progress to my theory, I need to state my bias. It has long been my belief, since sometime last summer at least, that Duncan and LaRussa are screwing up Reyes by trying to force him to change his approach from "strike guys out, give up mostly flyballs", to match their "pitch to contact, groundball" philosophy. So I'm going to view the data through that lens. If you interpret it differently, let me know.

So, the theory. The bad starts represent times when Reyes attempts to approximate the pitch to contact style (and mostly fails), the good starts are when he sticks to what worked for him in the minors. Here's what I mean.

Duncan preaches staying down in the zone, on the corners, because it's harder to take a low pitch over the fence, and pitches on the corners are harder to drive, because you either overextend, or can't extend enough (if the pitch is inside). So Reyes tries to keep the ball down. he succeeds a little, thus the increase in grounders. But to do that, Reyes relies on his weaker pitches, the 2-seamer and the curveball. He has less control over these, and so misses the zone more often. Thus, the more than doubled walk rate. Walks also mean he's falling behind in the count, which is going to force him to throw strikes when the hitters know they're coming, like in a 3-1 count. The pitch Reyes can most consistently throw for a strike is his 4-seamer, which as nice as it may be, isn't going to work as well when the hitter can just sit on it. Nobody's fastball is fast enough when the hitter knows it's coming (see 2006 NLCS, Billy Wagner, So Taguchi). That's why you see the increase in hits, and especially home runs. Reyes falls behind because he misses low, and has to come back well inside the strike zone with a fastball the hitter is waiting for, and it it gets teed off on.

Conversely, in his good starts, Reyes works up in the zone more, relying on his 4-seamer and changeup (his two best pitches). Because he's up in the zone more, fewer groundballs (as you're more likely to get under a high pitch than you are to get on top of it). He throws strikes more consistently, because he has better control of what he throws, so fewer walks, fewer hitters' counts. That means that even though the hitters are pretty sure he'll throw the fastball up in the zone, they can't be certain, so they can't just sit on the 4-seamer, which makes it more effective when he does use it. Instead of being his primary pitches, the 2-seamer and curve become suggestive threats, something to remember he might throw.

What this suggests to me is that Iron Bill has been in the past, and should be in the future, allowed to pitch the way that worked for him in the minors, and has had his greatest success that way. Of the 11 "good" starts, 8 came in games where Reyes had more flyballs than groundballs. One came when the ratio was even (against K.C. in '06), and twice with more groundballs than flyballs (Sept. 3 and 27 of 2006, both with 7 groundballs and 5 flyballs). Granted, Reyes also has 9"not good" starts with more flyballs than groundballs, but it's still a better ratio than for the other two outcomes (see table below).

FB/GB Ratio Good Starts (11) Bad Starts (18)
FB < GB 2 6
FB = GB 8 9
FB > GB 1 3

25% good start rate with more groundballs and with equal numbers, but 47% good start rate when he has more flyballs. If not for that disastorous start he didn't expect the last day of the '06 season, it'd be fifty-fifty (his flyball to groundball ratio that day was 1/0).

So I think Anthony is best served by attacking the hitters high, getting the Ks and the flyouts. Do his career numbers reflect it? I did one final table, breaking his starts down into four categories: starts where he had more groundballs than flyballs (GB starts, 8 total), starts where the numbers were even (Balanced starts, 4), starts where he had more flyballs than groundballs, but not twice as many (Moderate Flyball Tendency MFT, 8 starts), and starts with twice as many or more flyballs than groundballs ( Heavy FB, 9). That table is below, with x representing the FB/GB ratio, and with discussion following:

GB Balanced MFT Heavy FB
IP/S 5.2 5.1 5.2 4.2
K/BB 2.18 0.92 3.6 1.75
K/9 Innings 7.46 4.56 7.14 7.45
BB/9 Innings 3.43 4.98 1.98 4.26
FB/GB 0.54 1.00 1.39 3.21
FB/9 Innings 7.66 12.03 12.1 16.38
GB/9 Innings 14.31 12.03 8.73 5.11
H/9 Innings 10.28 8.71 6.94 7.66
WHIP 1.52 1.52 1.00 1.32
HR/9 Innings 1.01 1.25 1.39 2.77
ERA 5.44 4.56 5.36 5.11
Game Score 46.25 47 51.5 49.78

Huh. Not really a trend here. Of course, the obvious caveat is the small samples, as none of these groups have more than 9 starts. It would seem Heavy FBs (2x as many FBs as GBs) should be avoided, though his World Series start did fits there, but so did that ugly start on short rest the last day of the '06 regular season, as well as his one bad start in September of that year. But still, high walk and home run rates make this a dangerous option, because it increases the odds someone is on base when the ball leaves the yard. His K/BB ratio in Balanced starts is ugly, not something to be encouraged, and it's his worst WHIP, though the ERA is the best he's got.

But I really think it comes down to his GB starts, versus his MFT starts. Those are the ones where he works deepest into games, and the starts he has the best K/BB ratios in, though the walk rate in the MFTs is considerably lower. The MFTs also have slightly fewer balls put into play per nine innings (20.83 to 21.97), which reduces the chances of errors causing problems, or balls falling in for hits, which is reflected in both fewer hits per nine innings, and a lower WHIP (1 to 1.52) compared to the GBs. On the other hand, the GB starts have a lower HR rate, at just about one per nine innings, versus 1.39. That's a comes out 20 HRs over a 180 inning season, versus about 28 HRs. Of course, the MFTs still have a lower ERA, probably because there are fewer baserunners when those homers are given up.

So, what's the solution? The first step would seem to be to let Reyes pitch his way. After all, that's how he put up the stats that got him so highly regarded in the first place, and they're the reason why he was getting a chance in the rotation in the first place (well, that and lack of reliable alternatives). However, for all the crap I give him, Duncan's track record of helping (mostly veteran) pitchers is pretty impressive. I don't think it's a bad idea for Kid Reyes to work on being able to get grounders when he needs them. I just don't think that approach should be getting emphasized at the cost of what's worked for him in the the past. His stats say the Cardinals' braintrust has let him pitch how he prefers in the past (his career FB/GB is 1.31, but it's 0.86 this season), and so that seems like the best course to take for now. Quit trying to force Reyes to pitch a different way, when you haven't managed to prove his way won't work.

If Duncan and LaRussa wind up being right, well then, I guess Reyes will have to change if he wants to stick in the bigs, and seeing as how he hasn't gotten some ludicrous contract yet, he might want to work towards that. Sorry again about the tables being messed up, if something isn't clear, ask, and hopefully I can clarify.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Media Tools

'If there were an IQ test for baseball acumen - Reyes would flunk it. He makes Marquis look like a MENSA member.' - Bernie Miklasz

So that's a quote Bernie made in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch forums recently, in the wake of Anthony Reyes' demotion to Triple-A. Let me start by saying it's a cheap shot, and here's why: it's needlessly mean-spirited for one, but more importantly, it doesn't address the question Bernie was asked. The original commenter wanted to know about Kid Reyes' competitiveness, I guess because Iron Bill hasn't seemed all that fazed by his struggles so far this year, as opposed to Adam Wainwright, who apparently we can tell is very competitive because he acts more emotional. So the commenter wanted to know if Anthony just didn't care, or if he was just being mature, and not showing his frustration with his start to the season.

So yeah, ask yourself how Bernie's response answers that question. For the record, I've e-mailed Mr. Miklasz asking him just that (though I was more polite than I'm gonna be here). I figured it was more direct that way, plus I don't have to actually register or whatever is required to post on the forums, and I don't have to risk getting flamed by Bernie Backers who might be insulted that I dared to question him. If/when I get a response I'll add it to the post. But the quote at the top of this post raised some deeper questions in my mind, namely that the media might be getting used by the team.

The first time I heard such an idea, it was on a Cubs blog (probably IvyChat). There was a discussion about how as long as Cubs' (owned by the Tribune company) management believed in Corey Patterson, or Prior, or Dusty Baker, the Chicago Tribune (also owned by the Tribune company) would have articles and columns praising those players/coaches. They'd have positive quotes about how the player is "really working hard", or just needs a "few balls to fall differently", or they're "making solid progress in recovering from their injuries", or whatever. The point being, the paper would be supportive of the person in question, hopefully producing a similar response in the ticket-buying fans.

But at the point where management soured on the player/coach, you'd start to see negative columns, talking about how they "don't get it", or they "won't accept coaching", or "they've lost the team", or downplaying the severity of an injury, things designed to suggest the player and/or coach are holding the team back. That way, when the player or coach is fired/released/traded/allowed to leave as a free agent, the fans are glad they're gone, because the fans are convinced that the player was terrible, and that it certainly wasn't management's fault, or the coaches' (if it's a player), or the players' (if it's a coach).

So now I'm wondering if the Cardinals use the Post-Dispatch the same way. Thinking about, it seems like every time a player doesn't work out with the Cardinals (especially pitchers), it's the player's fault. Jason Marquis wouldn't follow the game plan, neither would Garrett Stephenson, and Brett Tomko had problems, too. They were throwing, not pitching (I believe Tony said that about Marquis last September). I've never once heard LaRussa or Duncan admit that maybe they took the wrong approach with a pitcher, and they were going to try a different tact with them. It just gradually becomes ingrained in the public mindset that the failures are on the player for not following the coaching staff, rather than the coaching staff not putting the player in the best position to succeed. And then nobody is really sorry to see that guy leave.

Let me say that I'm not saying that the failures of Stephenson in 2003, Marquis in 2005 and 2006, or Iron Bill's struggles this year are totally on the LaRussa/Duncan combo. The stats are so bad, it's hard to figure the player doesn't deserve some of the fault. But these are also players that at one point were key contributors to playoff teams (Garrett in 2000, Jason in 2004, Reyes last year), and by the time the first two left, most fans couldn't wait for them to get lost, because we'd been convinced they were bad eggs.

Or to use another example, remember when the Cardinals traded for Edmonds? We kept hearing that Jimmy was a bad teammate, that he was going to poison clubhouse chemistry, that he was a lazy showboater. I'll agree that Edmonds hams it up at times, but have we seen or heard anything about the other stuff? Not that I can recall, in fact Edmonds seems to be a vocal leader in the clubhouse, as opposed to Albert who seems to be a "lead by example" type. It's certainly possible that being traded was a wake-up call to Jim, and so he matured a bit, but it's also possible that the media in Anaheim was helping the team by convincing the fans it was good to trade Edmonds for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy (I still can't believe I thought that was a bad trade).

So, do you think sports teams use the local media as a public realtions firm, making players look good or bad to suit the team's plans? I'm just wondering, because if so, I think I may have been a little hard on Marquis this off-season.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cardinals' First Quarter Review

After 40 games, the St. Louis Cardinals stand at 16-24. That projects to a 64-96 record for the season, not counting the two games they may have to make up later. They're 15th in the NL in runs scored per game, and runs allowed. They simply can't get their shit together. When their starting pitching was good, the offense was dead. Now that the offense seems to be waking up, the rotation is getting clubbed like the proverbial baby seal. But this isn't going to just be about the bad; I'm going to try and look at the good for the Cardinals so far. I'll probably focus more on the good, to be honest, because I am all about the optimism. Whenever I'm not all about cynicism or pessimism that is. I'm not going to say much about the coaching, because I don't really know what they're advising the players to do, so it's hard to critique it too much. I do think TLR needs to stop telling his guys to try and steal so much. I love stolen bases, but this team is freaking terrible at it. Anyway, come along for the ride won't you? Man, that sounds lame.


Positives - Braden Looper. I would never have predicted an ERA below 3.30 after 9 starts for Looper. He's also the only guy in the rotation averaging more than six innings a start. What else? Thompson's had two pretty good starts so far, and four of Wainwright's starts have been quality starts. The Cardinals could have easily won any of Reyes' first seven starts, if they weren't so goddamn incompetent offensively (8 total runs scored in his first 7 starts? WHAT THE FUCK!?). Any other positives? Oh, if they keep playing at this pace, we won't have to worry about LaRussa and Duncan rushing Mulder and Carp back from their surgeries before they're totally ready (you know, in some scenario where the Cards are 3 out of the Wild Card, TLR brings them back to try and make a playoff push, screws up their arms again). Should say something nice about Wells. Hmm, he has lots of movement on his pitches!

Negatives - Wells has great movement, but no control of it. I watched Yady set up low and inside against the Dodgers, only to go leaping across the zone as Wells threw it in the dirt, outside the outside corner. Maybe he has bad eyes, like Rick Vaughn? I'm worried Reyes is going to get frustrated by the Cards not scoring runs when he does pitch well (this isn't a new trend, by the way). Wainwright says his arm hurts; Tony says they hadn't heard anything about this. Whether Wagonmaker's hiding things, or TLR's just trying to make the kid shut up and play by implying he's not really hurting, I don't like it either way. Looper's gonna hit the wall sooner or later. He's 32, never thrown more than 86 innings in a season. What happens when he hits 110 (and the # of pitches thrown that comes with it)? Can Thompson continue to succeed as a starter?


Positives - Ah, the only part of the game St. Louis has actually been good at this year. Izzy's surprised the hell out of me; I'm not a big fan of his (but I was of Dave Veres; go figure), but he seems to be avoiding those "bring the winning run to the plate" situations he was constantly in last year, and seemingly most of his time with StL. Helps the Cardinals don't have 9th inning leads often enough to overwork him, I suppose. Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin have been much better than I'd figured, though Franklin may be headed to the rotation if Wells doesn't get his shit together (Kip Wells: this year's Sid Ponson?). Flores has been pretty good, and that bases loaded walk against Colorado aside, Tyler Johnson's been pretty much lights out.

Negatives - All the minor league call-ups. Falkenborg, Jimenez, and Dove have combined for 17 and two-thirds innings pitched, but they've given up 19 runs. Ugh. I'm also worried about the relievers getting overworked, which could be a real problem if the starters don't start going at least six innings more often.

Infield Starters:

Positives - Yady's got a .714 OPS, which doesn't sound too special until you remember the .595 he put up last season. Plus, it's an OPS+ of 95, which means he's almost league average! The last time the Cards' catchers was hitting that well was Pagnozzi in 1996 (.734!). For once he avoided an early season slump. Albert's gotten his batting average back up again, he's taking some walks and he's going opposite field with the ball, which is always a good sign, because it means he's taking what the pitcher gives him, instead of trying to pull everything he sees out of the park. Kennedy got his average above .200, and Eck's above .260. Rolen. . . well, at least he's still playing good defense, right?

Negatives - Albert's power still hasn't totally come back, but that may be a result of not getting as many pitches to hit. Nobody to protect him these days. Kennedy's on-base is below .300 (career OBP - .331), and so is Eckstein's slugging (career SLG - .357). And Rolen? Well, I know it's early, but he looks done. Whatever he was doing to hit well in the World Series last year - guessing on pitches and swinging early? - isn't working this year.

Outfield Starters:

Positives - Chris Duncan continues to hit, he's the only starter other than Albert with an OPS+ above 100 (100 being league average). He's also the only person other than Albert demonstrating any power in his swing. Edmonds is starting to hit a little, though he can't pull anything, but that's still better than nothing. "Nothing", in this case, meaning Rolen. Aw, that's mean. Baseball-Reference lists Preston Wilson as starting right fielder this season (most at-bats at the position). The nicest thing I can say about Preston is he did a good job impersonating Juan Encarnacion while Juan was recovering.

Negatives - Like I said, Jim still can't pull the ball. Duncan's starting to see more breaking pitches, especially as LaRussa moves him down in the lineup to protect other guys. We're at a point where we're hoping Encarnacion can turn things around for us. I'm less than convinced. Right field has been a revolving door of mediocrity, at best. I think that about sums it up.


Positives - Scott Spezio is hitting a little, making himself the third Cardinal with an above-average OPS. Hooray! So Taguchi was hitting there for a little while (then he stopped). Ludwick, while not terribly effective, was at least a sign Tony was willing to shake things up a little. Aaron Miles basically duplicates Eck and Kennedy's skills, so there hasn't been much drop-off there. Gary Bennett, ummm, has nice facial hair?

Negatives - None of these guys (with the possible exception of Spezio) are very good. Miles is essentially the same player as Eck and Kennedy, just an inferior version, much like So and Skip are the same player. And Preston and JuanEnc. There just seems to be a lot of unnecessary duplication amongst roster spots, guys who all do basically the same thing, but bring little that's unique to the table. I know, then who should they have signed instead? I don't know, I'm just saying it's something I've noticed alright?

So looking ahead, I'm going to predict the offense continues to get more consistently average, and that the starting pitching will turn around (Reyes and Wainer will get things working again. Somehow), hopefully before the bullpen collapses. The Cards aren't going to contend for a playoff spot, but they could at least win 70 games. For whatever that's worth.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Conference Finals Preview

So the second round of the NBA playoffs are in the books, and all the high-octane teams are gone. Thank goodness, now I can focus on my thesis instead of watching basketball. I'm probably not serious (though I should be spending more time on my thesis), but I will admit I'm not fired up for the Conference Finals. So before we look ahead, let's recap:

Detroit/Chicago: Detroit could have swept, but chose to make things interesting and let the Bulls drag it out to six games. Credit to Chicago for not giving up, but discredit to the Pistons for not finishing them off. Whenever Detroit actually put its mind to it, they proved the Bulls didn't belong on the same court with them, which makes their periodically poor play all the more galling. Quit dicking around and finish them off, you know?

Cleveland/New Jersey: Well, I got the number of games right, but the winner wrong. My reasoning that the Cavs wouldn't be able to handle the Jefferson/Kidd/Carter trifecta seems to have fallen apart for three reasons: 1) Jefferson wasn't at full strength, and so not the player he normally is. 2) For all the areas where Jason Kidd's skills exceed Steve Nash's (defense, rebounding), or match them (ball distribution), the man frequently shoots like he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a fucking boat, as the old saying goes. Did have a hell of a series though. 3) Vince Carter doesn't seem to be what you call a "big-game player". He alternates good games with bad, the bad always seeming to be when the team needs him most.

Utah/Golden State: Got this one wrong too. For one thing, I was wrong that the Jazz wouldn't try to match the Warriors' frenetic pace. For the first two games at least, they did, and they beat the Warriors at it. Plus, I really underestimated Carlos Boozer. I had no idea the guy was this good. Of course, it helped that there wasn't anyone inside who could guard him, but that's why I wanted to see Houston play Golden State, to see how they handled Yao. If Boozer's series is any indication, the answer would have been "poorly".

Phoenix/San Antonio: For the record, I didn't have an actual team in the NBA playoffs this year. If I'm a fan of any team, it's the T'Wolves, but I admit I haven't been paying that much attention to them these last couple of crappy years (my NBA-fu is weak; what can I say?). That being said, I do like the fast-paced, high-scoring, "screw defense" teams, because I find it more fun to watch. So it's pretty obvious who I was rooting for. It just didn't pan out.

Credit to the Spurs, they played tough (mostly clean) defense. They aren't a dirty team (except for Bowen), they're just not all that exciting. They can be; with Parker and Ginobli they can run, and Duncan's good at hitting the open shooter with some pretty passes, plus he uses bank shots, which you've got to appreciate for the fundamental beauty (I never understood why the Sportscenter guys made fun of Tim and Grant Hill for using the glass. That's what it's freaking there for, why the hell wouldn't they use it!?). Plus Duncan's act when he gets called for a foul is like watching Rasheed Wallace's reactions. . . if they were being performed by a mime. That being said, I'm not all that excited to see the Spurs advance. I'm not ticked off they won. OK, I am. In fact, last night I had planned to start this section congratulating San Antonio, before unleashing a paragraph of expletives about how much I hated them. Time cools us off, I guess. But I'm not going to watch the Jazz/Spurs matchup rooting for Utah to win because I hate the Spurs, because I don't. I'm going to root for Utah because I think they ultimately make the playoffs more interesting. Besides, the Spurs are starting to turn into the Patriots of the NBA. How about letting some other teams collect titles for a few years, you've had three in the last decade!

Look, the suspension thing is bound to be brought up again and again over the years, so let's cover it now: The Spurs beat the Suns three times when Phoenix was at full strength, once when the Spurs were only at 95% (Yes, I only count Horry as being worth five percent, deal with it). Could the Spurs have won four of seven against a full-strength Suns team? Yeah, they're certainly good enough to to do that, but we'll never get to find out now. So fuck David Stern, screw Stu Jackson, and to hell with their idiotic rule. Diaw and Amare didn't even do anything, you twits! They got up and walked a few steps! No punches, kicks, profane gestures, nothing! You ruined the fucking playoffs, you suited bastards!

Sorry about that. On to the conference finals.

Detroit/Cleveland: So we've got a team that's really good, but goes onto cruise control easily, and a team with a record that says they're good, but who certainly haven't played like it so far. Look, if the Pistons played the whole series how they played their first three games against Chicago, I'd call it a sweep. But we all know they won't. They'll win the first two, sleepwalk through Game 3 in Cleveland, win Game 4 to establish the 3-1 series lead. In Game 5 LeBron will get all the calls, forcing a Game 6, which Detroit will lose, probably because they'll be too distracted bitching at the refs for the calls LeBron got in game 5. Then Detroit will finally focus and finish things off in 7.

San Antonio/Utah: I know there's almost no one giving the Jazz a chance in this, especially Spurs' fans, who seem a little pissy judging by their comments on Spurs' blogs I've seen. It's understandable; I'd be ticked if one dirty player got my whole team unfairly labeled that way. Personally, I think the Jazz are dangerous. In the first round they beat a Houston team that had home court, and two top-level players in T-Mac and Yao, leading to a dangerous inside/outside combo. Then in the second round, they quickly dispatched a Warriors team that runs like crazy, swarms from everywhere on defense, and has fans that were nearly berserk (until all the bandwagoners starting buying tickets, at least). Of the two, the Spurs play more like Houston, inside/outside with Duncan and Manu/Parker. The Jazz, unlike Phoenix, play good defense, and can run halfcourt offenses successfully, so I don't think they'll be bothered if the Spurs block their attempts to run. I'd also say they're stronger inside on the whole. That being said, can the Jazz triumph? Uh, sadly no. Spurs in 7.

Expect a Cardinals' post sometime tomorrow.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

First Round Recap

The start of the NBA playoffs means that it's time for me to actually pay attention to basketball, and I wanted to take a look back at the first round, now that it's over, and look try to predict the second round.

Eastern Conference: The East didn't sport a whole lot of competitive basketball, based on three of the four series being sweeps. But it seemed like a lot of those games were close, which at least made the individual games more interesting, even if it didn't help the overall series any.

Detroit/Orlando: These games were suprisingly close, but it was probably the Pistons playing down to their level of competition, more than Orlando being any kind of a challenge. I doubt Darko made Joe Dumars feel bad for trading him, though Joe probably still feels bad about drafting him. I feel bad for Grant Hill, because he finally has a season in Orlando where's he's healthy, and the team makes the playoffs, and his old team sends him home in no time flat.

Cleveland/Washington: Can't really hold it against the Wizards getting swept here, with them missing two of their three best players. I can hold it against Cleveland for letting the Wizards be in pretty much every game. I know the Wizards were busting their asses trying to win this series, but it seems like the Cavs ought to have been able to just blast them off the court. And did I hear right, were the Cavs getting outscored in the paint in these games? By who? Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas?

Toronto/New Jersey: The lone non-sweep in the East. I'd heard good things about the Raptors, but hadn't gotten to see them play. They've got some pretty good young players, so they ought to be a factor next year as well, but I think they were overwhelmed by being in the playoffs, against a team that's used to it. I also think Sam Mitchell missed a chance to cement his job in Toronto by not clotheslining Vince Carter as he ran up court during one of the games in Toronto. I think the Raptor fans would have loved him for it. At the very least, I'd have gotten a chuckle out of seeing it, and watching the talking heads on ESPN have coronaries about it. Jay Mariooti probably would have peeled his own face of in sheer indignation over it.

Miami/Chicago: And I'd like to take this moment to thank the Bulls for sending Pat Riley home early. Nothing against his current team; I've just had it in for Riles since all those godawful Knicks/Heat playoff series back in the '90s. Those things were an affront to basketball. At least Riley lets Wade run a little these days. Anyway, congrats to the Bulls for taking advantage of their home court to get an early series lead, then not letting the Heat up off the ground in Miami.

Pistons/Bulls: Game 1 is already in the books, with the Bulls getting hammered. They're up against another playoff-tested team, but one that isn't as decrepit or banged-up as Miami. I don't see the Bulls winning the series, but I don't see them get wiped out like in Game 1, if for no other reason than the Pistons seem to play to the level of their competition. I can easily see the Pistons going up 2-0, losing one in Chicago, then letting their foot off Bulls' throat in Detroit in Game 5, and this thing goes 7. Detroit in anywhere from 5-7.

Cleveland/New Jersey: New Jersey. Because they've got experience and they've got the scorers to cause trouble. Cleveland was getting close games from the Gilbert and Caron Butlerless Wizards; how much trouble will they have against Kidd/Carter/Jefferson? I see the Cavs losing a lot of close games here. Nets in 6.

Western Conference: Well, it was certainly more competitive out West. 2 five game series, one 6 game upset, and even a 7 game battle royal.

Dallas/Golden State: I've got nothing against the Mavericks, but I was rooting for the Warriors just because they were the underdog. It's more fun that way. And this was a fun series to watch. The Warriors were outstanding, just running up and down the court, driving to the hoop, launching 3s early in the shot clock. What fun. Plus, as a fellow fan of a long-suffering franchise, I've got to be happy for the Warriors fans, finally having something to be excited about. And watching Marc Cuban mouth "piss off" (that's what I think he said) to the cameraman at the end of Game 6 was hilarious from some reason.

Phoenix/Los Angeles: I was a little worried when Phoenix lost Game 3. It happens to them sometimes, where they're running and the shots aren't falling, and the other team takes advantage of the effect it has on their defense to blow them out of the water. Thankfully, they got their shit together and dusted the Lakers the next two games. That's good, they need the opportunity to rest so they can go full tilt at the Spurs. As for the Lakers, I don't hate Kobe, he's a great player and all, but I'm really glad his team lost. I'd much rather watch the Suns.

San Antonio/Denver. After Denver won Game 1, everyone brought up the playoff series in '05 where they won the first game, then lost 4 straight, but everyone was insisting this Nuggets squad was better and wouldn't go through that again. Whoops. For the record, I didn't think they'd beat the Spurs, but I figured Carmelo was better and that Iverson was too gritty to go out like they did. Of course, his "grit" might have better served the team if it had been used to drive the hoop and draw fouls, instead of trying to lob up ugly jump shots. You're not in Philly anymore Mr. Iverson. You have scoring help now. As for the Spurs, what can you say? They are the perfect playoff team. They cruise through the regular season, using it to integrate any new players into their style, while winning enough games to get a good seeding, but not going so gung-ho on that quest that they use up everything they've got. Then the playoffs start, and they do the same things they've been doing, just at a higher level. It's frightening in it's efficiency.

Utah/Houston: I confess I didn't watch too much of this series, but I did watch the second half of Game 7, and there in the last minutes I have to wonder: why wasn't T-Mac getting the ball more? It seemed like every possession the ball got thrown into Yao Ming, and most of the times he hit the shots, maybe drew the foul, which is what you want. But he's so workmanlike about it. McGrady could do those same things, but in a more explosive manner, one that would bring the crowd to their feet, and demoralize his opponents in the face of his sheer awesomeness. He's capable of it. He demoralizes me everytime I watch him hurl that sheep in those commercials, just because I know I can't match that. It's hard to get off the couch after that. So I feel bad for McGrady being kept out of Round 2 again. On the other hand, it means both architects of those hideous Knicks/Heat series are out of the playoffs. Woo-hoo! Yeah, I hold grudges awhile, but you have to understand, those were ugly games. I guess I should say something about the Jazz. Hmm, do Cavs fans wish they still had Carlos Boozer, or is there too much hatred? Because he looked pretty damn good in this series, and his inside presence would probably come in handy against New Jersey.

Phoenix/San Antonio: I want Phoenix to win. There, I said it. I may find the Spurs frightening in their efficiency, but I also find them mostly dull. I want to be entertained, screw lockdown defense. Can Phoenix win? Yeah. Will they win? Uh, probably not. Am I just saying that to avoid giving Phoenix the Kiss of Death by picking them? Yes, which is why I'm picking Spurs in 7.

Utah/Golden State: I admit, I wanted Houston to win, despite the presence of van Gundy. I just really wanted to see if the Warriors small-ball would work against a team with a real center, instead of Diop and Dampier. Maybe Mehmet Okur fits that bill too, but he spends so much time out by the 3-point line that I kind of doubt it. One thing is for sure: no matter how fast the Warriors run, Jerry Sloan won't let his team try and match it. They'll keep going along at the pace they usually do, but I'm not sure that's going to work for them. Warriors in 6.