Last night, I met a friend at Professor Thom’s in New York City to grab a beer. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for a Professor Thom’s employee to bring up the Red Sox.
“We can put the Sox on whatever TV you want,” he said as I sat down at the bar, between two televisions. I ordered and explained that I was actually a Royals fan, but that he shouldn’t sweat it, because they were in Seattle and wouldn’t be on until 10.
In case you were busy doubling down on a profanity-laced tirade against your own fans, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard had two touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bengals dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers to 0-2 for the first time in the Mike Tomlin era with a 20-10 win. "The guy from The Other Sister! You gotta be kidding me," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said to Tomlin over his headset after Bernard's first touchdown. A confused Tomlin asked LeBeau what he was talking about, to which the renowned defensive coordinator responded, "I thought it was crazy too! Why would Marvin Lewis bring him in? He was wooden in Avatar, and I hear his new show, Dads, is terrible. I mean he wasn't bad in Saving Private Ryan, but he hardly struck me as an athlete, and that was long enough ago the Bengals still had Ickey Woods at the position. Guy's gotta be pushing 40." When Tomlin then asked LeBeau if he had confused rookie speedster Giovani Bernard with Boiler Room star Giovanni Ribisi, LeBeau went silent for 60 seconds before saying, "So, we might not have the schemes in place to stop this guy."
After a weather delay postponed the final round of the BMW Championship, Zach Johnson fired a 65 to outpace Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, winning the tournament at 16-under. "Man, what a super tournament," Johnson said after surging from behind to take the win. "Just a really sweet victory. And it's my title at 16-under. My super, sweet, 16 under wait that's not on tape is it? Shit."
James Shields has been one of the biggest bright spots on an improved Royals team this year. He's on pace to fire more than 200 innings for the seventh consecutive year, while also ranking among the league leaders in ERA. With an average fastball of 92 mph, he isn't a flamethrower like Matt Harvey or Stephen Strasburg. But Shields is a master of the subtle arts, changing speeds, mixing pitch types and locations, and escaping some tough jams.
There are few subtler arts for a pitcher than the ability to hold and pick off runners. R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus recently wrote an in-depth piece breaking down the various ways in which pitchers excel at that skill. Those include Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran's knee-buckle move, which has triggered a league-leading eight pickoff moves this year (and looks suspiciously like a balk).
Shields doesn't have anything quite that deceptive in his bag of tricks. But he still leads baseball in pickoffs over the past three seasons with 17, including a staggering 12 in 2011. We talked to Shields about the fickle nature of pickoff totals, and tricks he's learned to control the running game.
In 2012, the Kansas City Royals stunk. This was not at all surprising. They had stunk for eight years in a row before that, with 2012's lousy showing making it 18 out of 19 years of baseball that emitted a foul odor.
Understandably, this did not sit well with the people who run the Royals. In an effort to stink less, general manager Dayton Moore made some bold moves over the winter. The boldest was a blockbuster trade that sent one of the best prospects in the game, Wil Myers, plus three more prospects, to Tampa Bay in exchange for one of the best right-handed starters in the game, James Shields (and another pitcher). The deal slammed a wedge through the middle of the baseball community, its defenders hailing it as the big move the Royals needed to make, its detractors wondering if there might've been better ways to improve the pitching staff than trading away a potential impact player who had six-plus years of team control to offer and played a position where the Royals badly needed the help.
Seven months later, the Royals still stink. They stink a little less than they have in recent years, sitting six games under .500 but with just eight more runs allowed than scored. Still, 92 games into what was supposed to be a renaissance year for the franchise, KC's grand plan to return to relevance has produced nothing more than another losing team. Here's Dayton Moore in today's K.C. Star being completely delusional (or at least posturing). That lack of progress has led Moore critics to fire away at the architect of this losing team. Which is fine, in general; when a team disappoints, the person most responsible for building it deserves his share of blame.
In honor of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee coming up this Wednesday and Thursday, you will find one of the winning words from the last 10 years of competition in each entry. When they don't fit naturally — which will be always, if my prospicience can be trusted, since they're weird and useless for all practical purposes — I will heroically shoehorn them in like a stubborn cobbler.
Here now are the highlights from the upcoming weekend in professional American baseball.
10. How to Become Nationally Irrelevant — Move to Toronto (Saturday, BAL-TOR)
This is in honor of R.A. Dickey, who you may remember as the feel-good story of 2012 when he and his knuckleball amassed a 20-6 record and won the NL Cy Young Award. In New York.
Repeat: in New York.
You may have noticed after reading his name that we have not heard much from R.A. Dickey this season. Sure, he's lost some velocity, and that may not be as irrelevant as you think for a knuckleballer. And his stats — 4-5, 4.50 ERA — are much worse than last year. But I still have a few questions. First, how would he have done last season in a division where he'd be pitching about half his starts against teams that scored a combined 2,947 runs, as opposed to 2,724? And would his excellent story of overcoming adversity have been so prominent if he weren't pitching in New York? And would he have won a Cy Young that probably should've gone to Clayton Kershaw (well, OK, obviously not since he would've been playing in the American League, but you get what I'm saying)? This is all hypothetical, and predicting what might have happened is about as reliable as constructing a neanderthal Ursprache, but it does make you wonder. In any case, he was one of the best parts of last season, and here's hoping he's got some fireworks left in the old arm — the long-range kind, that can reach us across the border.
In case you were out meeting the Mets, meeting the Mets, stepping right up and greeting the Mets, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Golden State Warriors blew a 16-point lead, and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili hit a game winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the second overtime as the Spurs took Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal at home, 129-127. The final result overshadowed an epic performance from Stephen Curry, who played every minute of the game and scored 44 points. "It's too bad that I'm not allowed to come out of games," Curry said afterward. "I really could've used the rest at the start of the fourth quarter so that I didn't lose the accuracy on my jumper." He then paused and added, "It's weird that everyone else came out for at least a little bit. I wonder why the rules are different for me." Curry then shrugged, before collapsing in a fatigued heap under the weight of his own shoulder movement.
An injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls team shocked the defending champion Heat in Miami, 93-86. The Bulls closed the game on a 10-0 run, which once again raises the question: Can LeBron get it done in the postseason? Hold on. Let me watch some tape of LeBron from last postseason really quickly oh oh, wow, yeah, he totally can. Never mind.
The blockbuster trade that swapped James Shields and Wade Davis for a package of prospects headed by Wil Myers has triggered more heated reactions than nearly any other deal in recent memory. The pro-Rays side sees Myers as a future superstar, one well worth a couple of years of Shields and whatever Davis has to offer — and that's without three more attractive prospects coming to Tampa Bay. The pro-Royals side backs the acquisition of Shields and Davis as a bold and necessary move for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in Felix Hernandez's lifetime.
Read those takes. Definitely read Rany Jazayerli's opus, which examines the trade from multiple angles, tying in the Royals' long history of losing, and how surrendering Wil Myers and three other young, cheap players with upside will likely do more harm than good. What got me thinking isn't player service time, the Royals' window of opportunity, Myers's swing plane, or the success rates for prospects — it's something far less specific.
It's the rigid and binary ways that we — fans, media, even general managers — think about team-building. And how the most effective decision-makers rarely consider only two possibilities when making a move.
As the Winter Meetings near their end here in Nashville, the latest buzz has Zack Greinke potentially going somewhere other than the Dodgers. Which seems impossible, really.
The team with unlimited money and both a need and desire for a top-flight pitcher to pair with Clayton Kershaw would seem unbeatable in any bidding war for the top free-agent starter on the market. But multiple theories have floated as to why a top-dollar offer to play for a glamour franchise might not be enough. The L.A. Times’s Dylan Hernandez notes the Dodgers' reluctance to include no-trade clauses as the reason Greinke might sign elsewhere for less money — and why alternatives such as Anibal Sanchez and Ryu Hyun-jin could also have second thoughts. (In the case of Hyun-jin, he'd return to South Korea, and the Dodgers would be refunded their $25.7 million posting fee, if the two sides can't come to an agreement by 2 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday). USA Today’s Bob Nightengale says Greinke's potential reluctance to go (back) to the L.A. area might simply have more to do with being more comfortable in Texas. Texas's more favorable tax code could help the Rangers, too.
The series of tubes are still buzzing over Sergio Romo's parade-stopping T-shirt, and already we've got reams of Hot Stove news to sort through. Here are some of the biggest happenings from the past week:
We've officially entered the crazy times leading up to baseball's trade deadline. Luckily, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark is on the case. He and Jonah Keri break down the big moves of the past 24 hours, including Cole Hamels's new mega-contract with the Phillies, Hanley Ramirez's trade to the Dodgers, and the Pirates(!) making a go-for-it move in landing Wandy Rodriguez. Also discussed: the Rangers-Angels arms race, the Yankees' injury woes, and the status of Zack Greinke, James Shields, Matt Garza, Chase Headley, and other fine, baseball-playing blokes.
When Voros McCracken wrote his seminal piece on pitching and defense 11 years ago, he helped change the way people — fans, writers, even general managers — think about run prevention in baseball. Where once we used to throw most of the blame for a hit on the pitcher who gave it up, McCracken helped us realize that a slew of other factors go into whether a ball hit into play falls for a hit. For many people in the game and others who simply watch it, our ability to recognize the influence of defense, park effects, and dumb luck can be traced back to that one little article.
Today, we have multiple stats that can help us better understand a pitcher's influence on the game. Fair Run Average (FRA), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) all attempt to parse the events a pitcher best controls from those over which he has the least control. The fantasy implications seem obvious. If a pitcher, say, posts a much higher ERA than xFIP for a few weeks or a few months, we might expect luck to start working in his favor in the future, and for his ERA (and other fantasy stats) to start improving. If he puts up a much lower ERA than xFIP, you could argue that his good fortune might be due to run out soon.
The Tampa Bay Rays just did something no other team had ever done before: They marched into Fenway Park and held the Red Sox to three hits or fewer, three games in a row. Their starters just missed tossing three consecutive complete games against one of the best offenses in baseball, and the Rays are now on pace to win 88 games in what will likely be another solid season.
Too bad none of this makes a lick of difference. Not when your team plays in the AL East.