Friday, April 28, 2006

Draft Experts afraid to go out on Limb.

Every year we get bombarded by NFL draft coverage. Everybody is breaking down players and rewriting somebody else's scouting report so they can get their face on TV. Sadly, nobody is taken to task four years later when the first two quarterbacks taken in the draft put their applications in at Wendy's. The worst is Mel Kiper Jr. who seemingly monopolizes the airwaves with his stolen expertise and hideous, Wayne Newton hair.

Give credit to Merrill Hodge for putting himself out there. Hodge is aggressively stating his case for draft day darlings Vince Young and Matt Leinart to be passed over until later rounds. Other commentators have bristled at his opinion, choosing to protect themselves by rating players exactly the way NFL scouts have them rated, but anybody who has paid attention to the draft knows that the experts are idiots. How else do you explain Brian Bosworth?

I like Vince Young. He's big strong and stood tall in the face of intense pressure. He was the only weapon Texas had against USC and he still managed to win that game, almost single-handed. I know he's a little raw and his accuracy is in question, but I have to defer to the big performances he turned in against Ohio State and USC. He might be a bust, but I think he's a gamble you have to take.

I'm not enamored with Matt Leinart. The guy is soft. He's what my mother would call a candy ass. Every time he's been hit hard he has shown cowardice. He crumbles like that sweet cracker crust on a nice cheese cake. That's facing the buttery soft defenses of the Pac-10. What happens in the NFL when Ray Lewis bloodies his chin on an ill-advised scramble? What will pretty boy do when Warren Sapp lays into him with all 330 pounds? Making matters worse, is the fact that Leinart throws like a sissy. He might be accurate, but if you can't throw a frozen rope 20 yards out, NFL DB's are going to eat you alive. Leinart's lobbing rainbows five yards down field.

Hodge has drawn a line in the sand and declared both QB's as potential busts. He could be proven wrong and people will hammer him for it. That's too bad. Mel Kiper Jr. spoke highly of Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch, but Mr. Draft Guru never took himself to task for failing to see the downside of those players. A year later he's telling the world how great Courtney Brown is going to be. Kiper's not an expert. He claims to be, but what he really does is picks the brain of NFL scouts and reports back on it. He talks about talent and potential, but he wouldn't know talent if he walked in on it sleeping with his wife. The guy is a clown.

Hodge might be too, but at least he's got the huevos to break from the crowd and take a stance on his own. It's easy to split hairs over whether Leinart or Young should go first, but to declare both of them washouts in waiting demonstrates that Hodge is doing his own work. And if history has anything to say about it, he'll be half right. That's more than you can say for the rest of them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Indians need to seek a real ACE

The Cleveland Indians are ready to make a run at the World Series. They knocked on the door last year, mounting an incredible late season surge that almost knocked the White Sox out of the playoff race, but Tribe skipper Eric Wedge took a metal vacation with 6 games left and gave the AL Central away. How he managed to keep his job after showing the world how not to manage a red hot team is beyond me, but Mark Shapiro loves a good yes man.

Lousy management aside, the Indians got off to a great start in 2006 and have shown the rest of the league that they are ready to contend for real. That is if the rest of the league will cooperate and agree not to abuse their suspect bullpen. The Indians have a lot of offense and solid starting pitching so if they can slap a bandage on the middle relief they have a great chance at winning their division or at least clinching a wild card appearance. With some quality pitchers in AAA, the Tribe should be able to shore up the pen, so fans shouldn't be overly concerned. With the bullpen.

Even though this team is ready to contend, they are still missing a key component that is necessary if they want to win it all. They need that stud starting pitcher. An ace. The guy who can grit his teeth and come up with seven strong innings whenever the team needs it. They simply don't have it.

The Indians believe, and have most of their fans convinced, that C.C. Sabathia is that guy. He is the number one starter...A towering lefty with a powerful arm. On paper C.C. Sabathia should be the best pitcher in baseball. At 25 he is in his sixth year, he's 6'7" officially listed at 290 pounds and reportedly throws close to 100 miles an hour.

Too bad the games aren't played on paper. After making a strong debut in 2001 striking out 171 batters on the way to posting an impressive 17-5 record, C.C. responded by eating a shortstop in the off season. Fat and sloppy in 2002, he went 13-11 with a 4.37 ERA. Since then he has yet to hear the wake up call, proving to be an average performer who is susceptible to nagging injuries and prone to giving up runs in bunches. He has no poise, getting frustrated easily and exiting games early typically leaving lots of runners on the bases for relievers to contend with. Throughout his career he averages six innings per start, which is great for a number three starter but far from what one expects of an ace.

Rumor has it C.C. lost weight heading into the 2006 season and people associated with the team had high hopes, but in his first start the so-called ace got touched up for three runs in 2 1/3 innings before he strained an abdominal muscle and made yet another visit to the DL.

It's obvious that C.C. Sabathia is not the anchor the Indians need in their starting rotation. Aside from an impressive rookie season, C.C. has established himself as an average starting pitcher who occasionally delivers a sensational performance. Much like the old version of David Wells. One might argue that if C.C. weren't left-handed, he might have been unloaded a couple of seasons ago. With a 4.12 career ERA and only 2 shutouts pitched in six years, it's obvious that Sabathia does not have the talent or desire to be that number one starter.

Sadly, that's a component that the Cleveland Indians will need if they want to win it all. Their immediate concern should be a struggling bullpen, but they have talent in their farm system that should be able to plug the gaps nicely as the season progresses. In the long run, however, the glaring hole on Cleveland's roster is the number one starter. If the Indians don't address C.C. Sabathia's glaring deficiencies, they'll simply qualify for the post season so a better equipped team can treat them like a playoff doormat. You've got to have an ace. C.C. Sabathia is more like a nine.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Second guessers always win

Lebron James scared Cavaliers fans to death when he pulled up lame after driving the lane against the Detroit Pistons in a game that was not only out of hand but completely insignificant as the Cavs had wrapped up the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Naturally this led people to question Mike Brown's decision to put Lebron in harm's way with the playoffs looming and nothing to be gained from a victory and his detractors make a great point, but is it really a bad decision?

There are two lines of thinking late in the season. You can rest your starters and protect them from injury in meaningless games, thus ensuring they'll be rested and ready for the rigors of the post season. Many coaches take this approach and it's a very reasonable course of action. Especially when your team's success revolves around one or two players. The Cavaliers have no chance to win a title if Lebron James gets hurt. They have other important players on the team and losing any of their starters is bad news, but Lebron is the best player in the league. The team is built around him.

The other train of thought is that you don't want your starters getting cold. For every team that has lost a key player to an injury in an unnecessary game there are five teams who have lost in the playoffs because their star players didn't step up. The Chicago Bulls struggled in early playoff rounds and only managed to advance because Michael Jordan did not have the mentality that allowed him to get cold. Had Jordan displayed the same characteristics of Scottie Pippen one could argue that the Bulls dynasty might have consisted of one or two titles over eight years instead of six. Look at what happened to the Colts over the past two seasons in the NFL. Disapointing playoff performances followed several weeks worth of rest for the starting players.

Why do you suppose Wild Card Teams win in the NFL and Major League Baseball? We just watched the Pittsburgh Steelers claw their way through the AFC after fighting tooth and nail to get into the playoffs. The World Series has been dominated by teams who would not have made the post season 15 years ago. In spite of risking fatigue and injury it seems that the teams who have to play hard down the stretch manage to maintain a sharp mental edge through the playoffs. That translates into wins.

The numbers don't lie. With so much parity in professional sports right now, teams can't expect to walk through the first round of the playoffs and improve as they go. They have to step up with the "A" game from the very start and not let up. There are no more free rides.

Knowing this, Mike Brown's decision to keep Lebron in the game when victory seemed impossible isn't so bad. It makes even more sense when you consider the fact that Larry Hughes has been sidelined for most of the season and never had much of a chance to develop his game along side James. Brown could use the remaining regular season games to give Lebron and Larry a chance to get on the same page.

One good thing that came from the injury is the fact that the Cavaliers were forced to play the Knicks with Lebron in street clothes. While the Knicks aren't much of an opponent, the game gave Mike Brown a chance to work his reserves out. Larry Hughes also had a moment to shine, getting back his confidence and showing his teammates that they can count on him to lead the way if Lebron is struggling. It also sends a message to playoff opponents that containing Lebron might not be the best way to stop the Cavaliers.

While Mike Brown probably feels pressure to hold his starters back, he can't afford to let them get complacent. The Cavaliers are a solid competitor and have a legitimate shot at getting to the finals. Don't let the huge loss to the Pistons fool you. The Cavs have the players available to give the Pistons serious trouble, but they have to be hot. Sitting them out in the last few games could have negative repercussions later.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bonds on Bonds? Classy

ESPN's turned into a monster. I didn't have a problem when they fired up a 73rd channel and I don't mind in depth coverage of the Junior World Curling Championships. Sports are great and frankly I find myself wanting more after five months of college basketball. Really. The Poker Championships are essential to my well-being and ESPN radio is the highlight of my day.

But this Barry Bonds quasi-reality show is going too far. I know ESPN's got to make money and Barry Bonds is the biggest draw in sport right now. Besides being at the center of a steroid scandal, he is on the verge of breaking long standing home run records. Somebody's going to do the show, so why not ESPN?

Well maybe because Bonds represents everything bad about sports. Even if you take away the steroids, he is a brooding, selfish, egocentric jerk. He's alienated teammates, fans and the press. He's not just bad for baseball, he's bad for sports in general. he might even be bad for America, bit I think that's a probable overstatement. If ESPN is going to offer Barry an soapbox to air his own personal pity party, they should follow up with an intensive investigation into the dark side of Bonds.

I don't buy the whining coming from ESPN reporters who see a conflict of interest. Let's be honest about journalism here and dispense with the pretense that the people who cover sports are really journalists. Sports is where the lines between news and entertainment have always been blurred and on the rare occasions sport writers have been asked to deal with real news, they've balked.

One only need look at the OJ Simpson case to appreciate how inept sports writers are when real news comes calling. Another fine example is how sports writers reacted when Congress started asking questions about steroids. Suddenly, sports writers weren't having fun anymore. The reason is because with real news comes real accountability. The job gets hard when libel becomes a reality.

There are some sports writers who actually take the time to do their jobs with journalistic integrity, but most get caught up into the hyperbole of sports and they lose their way. Most end up spouting their opinions rather than fact. They get nationally syndicated radio shows and preach from their ivory towers. So let's stop with this talk of the true nature of journalism and the conflict of interest that might exist if ESPN is paying Barry Bonds for his reality show.

Nevertheless, I think this is a lousy decision by ESPN. Not because they specialize in sports news, but because ESPN should have a vested interest in promoting the right things about sports. ESPN should avoid those issues that can tear sports apart. Barry Bonds has been subjecting the public to his own version of reality for 20 years. We don't need more BS from Barry.

In the first installment of the show Barry broke down and cried about how he doesn't care about the negativity because people have been trying to hurt him and his family all along. BULL! Barry has hurt himself. Barry has hurt his family. It wasn't the media who cheated on your wife, you did, Barry. The press didn't stick steroid needles in your butt, you did. Nobody asked you to hide behind your son at a press conference when your name came up in the BALCO case, you did that on your own.

Barry's whole tumultuous relationship with the press comes from his massive ego. His dad was a famous player who made lots of money so Barry got treated differently all his life. He entered the league with a massive chip on his shoulder and it grew almost as rapidly as that swollen head bobbling around on what used to be a neck. Steroids.

ESPN should have put the screws to Barry on this one. If Barry wants his show to air, then he should answer some direct questions about his steroid use. He talks about how he loves baseball, but yet he is the one who is tearing it apart with his illegal use of performance enhancing drugs. Does he love baseball or is it more likely that he loves himself?

History proves that Barry loves Barry. How many titles has Barry won? Zero. Is that his fault? Absolutely. Barry's the one who has a history of lackluster late season performances and he is the one who ran off the talented players who could have helped him win a title in recent years. Even though former teammates have been reluctant to tear into Barry, the fact that few of his former mates speak highly of him is telling. If you can't say something nice...Barry is a jerk on and off the field.

There's no question he is talented. Even without steroids, Barry was on track with greatness. Unfortunately he let his ego get between him and the game. He didn't want to miss out on setting records so he got on the juice. That's the reality ESPN should be reporting, not some fantasy world where Bond's is a misunderstood hero with a sensitive side.