All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, three-time IceHouse Adult League Champion (twice as a Seal, once as a STRanger), have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

Nobody Cares About Pitchers’ Wins Anymore, So Let’s Make a Change

The quickest way to get me to “check out” of an intelligent baseball conversation is to discuss a modern-day pitcher’s win-loss record as a major factor in how good the pitcher is.  In an era in which good pitchers routinely exit games with a third or more of the game left to play, pitchers simply do not earn enough decisions to make the “wins” statistic pertinent. 

Given that most baseball fans place little relevance on the “wins” statistic, we might as well try to improve the stat, and I have one good way to do this.  The official scorer of a game should be given discretion to award a win to a starting pitcher any time that both of these criteria are met: a) His team has won the game.  (Obviously)  b) He has pitched at least five innings.

You might be wondering, “Nice work, Mike.  It has been that way since Doubleday invented the sport.”

True, but I have removed the third criterion, that which requires a pitcher to be the most recent guy on his team to have thrown a pitch as of the moment his team takes the lead.  This is my big change.  This rule is an anachronism.  It was created in the 1800s when pitchers routinely pitched complete games.  Additionally, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that managers started to remove pitchers who were pitching well.  Before that time, managers did not worry about pitch counts or fatigue.  If the pitcher was effective, he was remaining in the game. 

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As a result, there were relatively few cases in which a pitcher would pitch very well but not receive a decision.  In modern baseball, it is commonplace for a pitcher to exit a game in the 6th or 7th inning while clinging to a 2-1 or 3-1 lead or losing 2-1 or 3-1.  Of course, this means that bullpens have 3 or 4 innings to blow that 2-1 lead or 3-1 lead.  It also means that bullpens have 3 or 4 innings to keep deficits within 2 runs.  In either of these cases; if a team takes the lead to stay while a reliever is in the game for this team, which pitcher is most responsible for the team’s victory?  More often than not, it is the starting pitcher. 

Why not allow the starting pitcher to earn the victory in any case where he is the pitcher most responsible for the team’s win?  Let the statistic measure what it is supposed to measure.  If a bullpen coughs up a lead, but that teams wins anyway; why should the mediocre reliever earn the win?  By the same token, if three relievers pitch one shutout inning apiece to keep their team down 3-1, it seems to me that the guy who threw 6 innings of 3-run ball should earn the win if his team comes back in the end.  In fact, Jacob deGrom gave us a textbook example of my philosophy on Friday night against the Rays.  He pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball, left with the game tied at 1, and watched as Jose Bautista’s walk-off grand slam in the 9th inning gave the Mets a 5-1 win.  Jeurys Familia pitched 1 inning that night and earned the win, but that should be deGrom’s win.  Jacob was the pitcher most responsible for the Mets’ win, so he should receive credit for it.

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Of course, this is not my first time recommending a change to baseball.  Therefore, I know there is sometimes disdain for me trying to change things in a sport with many purists.  Therefore, I have two additional points before the angry mob comes for me:

1)     If you are worried that this change will inflate “Wins” numbers compared to guys’ totals in the past, stop trying to make intergenerational comparisons.  The pitchers from olden days will always be better than the modern-day guys because the past guys threw so many more innings.  With all the bullpen decisions that these current starters render, plenty of these games will become losses.  Therefore, the “Wins” totals from olden days will continue to stay well above the modern-day totals.  Remember that the modern-day pitcher also forgoes more wins than olden-day pitchers did to both injuries and sub-5-inning starts.

2)     If you do not like that the official scorer has discretion, be aware that he/she already has some.  The official scorer is, in fact, allowed to award a win to a relief pitcher who said scorer thinks has contributed more to the victory than the guy who was on the mound when his team took the lead.  The only caveat is that it is that the scorer must hand the win to a reliever, not a starter.  Perfect example: June 30, 2000: Second-best Mets game that I ever attended.  Mike Piazza capped the Mets’ 10-run 8th inning with a go-ahead homerun.  The official scorer gave the win to Armando Benitez, who came in for the 9th inning, as opposed to Eric Cammack, who was on the mound to finish the Top of the 8th.

 

Thus, official scorers already have some discretion.  I think it makes sense to give them a little bit more.  This would not make “Wins” a perfect stat for discussing pitchers’ greatness, but it would at least move the stat in the right direction.

Six Basic Rules for Calling Mike Francesa

As you New York sports fans know, the legendary Mike Francesa returned to WFAN in May.  I have actually found him to be much more delightful to hear in this second go-round than during the last few years of his first WFAN stint (which ended in December).  I think that the 5 months off gave him time to recharge and become a happier human.  Plus, as I have mentioned in the past, I think that 5.5 hours, which Francesa used to do, for one host is a ridiculous amount of time.  Now that he has to deal with only 3.5 hours, I think he is much saner and thus more enjoyable.

At the same time, it remains a valid expectation that any guy who calls his show will feel worse about himself after the phone call.  I know that I lack the spheres to call his show, but I do feel I have enough experience as a listener to provide advice to those who do wish to call his show.  Before I unveil these six pieces of advice, allow me to warn you all of the following.  There are three general ways in which Mike Francesa will respond to callers:

1)     The “You Are Lower Than Dirt” response: Mike will not even give your thought the time of the day, because it is the dumbest thing he has ever heard (or at least the dumbest thing he has ever heard since the last dumbest thing he has ever heard – which likely happened 15 minutes prior).  Mike will either hang up on you, mutter to Monz something along the lines of “Can you believe he waited on the line for an hour to say that?”, or keep you on the line for 15 minutes so that he can ridicule you with follow-up questions, each of which is more hostile than the previous.  Sometimes, these Francesan responses are warranted, such as when he responded to a caller predicting a Jets/Patriots tie for that night’s game (Pats actually won 45-3).  Sometimes, it is not – such as if a caller suggests making the Wild-Card Playoff a Best-of-3.  Mind you, Francesa and I both dislike this “Best of 3” idea.  However, it is not a cockamamie idea, and the premise of the show is to fill 3.5 hours with sports talk.  Thus, it seems silly to me to belittle a caller with such an idea.  Francesa feels the opposite of me in that respect.

2)     The “One Upper” response: Once in a while, a caller will actually make a smart comment that Francesa has never said.  Therefore, Francesa’s ego will require that he takes the comment a step farther so that he can take ownership of the quote.  He is the sports-talk equivalent of the great Kristen Wiig character, Penelope.  For example, if you call and say, “Mike, I think Bernie Williams was the most underrated Yankee of the past 30 years, because he didn’t last long enough to be part of the Core Four”, he might actually like your thought.  However, he wants to receive credit for the thought, so, within a minute, it is entirely possible that there is now a “Core Five” including Bernie.  All Francesa’s idea.  (Quick Note: It is my actual belief that Bernie is underrated for the very reason that I have stated.)

3)     The “I’m Gonna Zig When You Think I’m Gonna Zag” response: This is the one that must drive callers the most nuts.  Sometimes, Francesa will span 5 callers making the same response, waiting for callers to accept his idea.  Then, once a caller (say, Caller 6) finally accepts Francesa’s response, Mike flips the script and argues the other side.  For example, it is widely-known that Francesa wishes the Yankees had not traded for Giancarlo Stanton.  (Side note: this is probably partially because he spent his last month at WFAN in the fall stating that the Yankees would never get Stanton.)  Thus, it is possible for this scenario to unfold: 5 callers make their case that the Yankees would be better with Stanton, and Mike refutes all of these callers.  Then, when the sixth caller says, “Mike, I don’t know what these guys are thinking.  The Yankees missed the World Series by one game without him and are just not the same now that he’s here.”, I fully expect Francesa to say, “Come on now, these callers have good points.  The guy is a former MVP and homerun champion.  Of course, there’s a place for him on this Yankees team.  The team has already won a million games with him this year.”  Great stuff!

OK, enough preamble.  Now, for the main event.  Here are my six pieces of advice for calling the great Mike Francesa.

1)     Do not ask multiple questions.  His brain is not capable of handling two questions.  Never in all my years listening to his show have I heard him successfully answer multiple questions from the same caller.  Therefore, if you ask two questions, either a) he will answer only your second question (tough luck if your first question was better) or b) morph the two questions into one ridiculously silly question that you would never in a million years ask.  For example, if you ask him who the Yankees should target at the trade deadline and also ask him how he thinks the Cowboys will do in 2018, there is a decent chance you are getting a 5-minute lesson on why the Cowboys are not trading Ezekiel Elliott.

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2)     Have a woman call for you.  Quick note: If you are a woman, you may call for yourself.  OK, now that we have cleared that up, let me cut to the chase.  Anyone who says that chivalry is dead should listen to Francesa.  He is a million times kinder to ladies than he is to men.  If you want to suggest that the Mets should trade the Yankees Jacob deGrom for Ronald Torreyes, Francesa’s response will make you never want to leave your house again (if you are a man).  However, if you let a woman call, he will actually analyze the deal rationally and respectfully before nevertheless acknowledging that the Mets would never in a million years do the trade.

3)     Do not ask for a prediction.  This goes for anything – a game, a series, or a championship.  Mike will make predictions only when he chooses to do so.  If you try to force a prediction on him, he will become as angrily flustered as a kindergartener trying to do long division.  This especially goes for single baseball games, and Mike does have a point.  The results of single baseball games are too random for accurate predicting.  That said, if you try to elicit a prediction, you might get a classic “You’re asking me to make a prediction?  Honestly, I haven’t thought about it yet.  I really haven’t” rant in which he repeats those same three sentences for three minutes.  However, sometimes you do get lucky, and, in said rant, he actually makes a prediction.  “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it.  I really haven’t.  I mean, I like CC’s chances going up against a Blue Jays lineup that hasn’t hit lately, but I can’t make a prediction.  I haven’t thought enough about it.  Do I think the Yankees will win tonight?  Yes I do.  I am confident that they will win handily, but I just haven’t thought about the game.  I can’t predict what is going to happen in one game.”  That is a Francesan response right there.

4)     Do not ask him trivia.  I really could have merged #3 and #4, but I chose to drag things out to please our esteemed BTB advertisers.  That said, I advise Francesa’s callers to stay on the straight and narrow.  Mike always wants you to ask questions only about the specific topic he is discussing.  If you ask him trivia, he will show you utter disdain, and his response will be the same as in #3 but in regard to trivia, not a prediction.  That does mean though that you could get 5 minutes of him guessing answers while simultaneously saying he is not going to answer the question.  Classic.

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5)     Do not ask him hypothetical questions.  Again with the simple brain thing.  The other day, I heard someone call him up and ask if he would give up Gleyber Torres in a trade if it were a given that the Yankees would win the 2018 World Series.  For any other show, that is a smart call.  Do you take the guaranteed championship this year while giving up a potential perennial All-Star, a guy who could likely you bring you multiple championships anyway?  It is a great conversation piece, but Mike’s brain cannot handle that stuff.*  As a result, he answered the call by saying repeatedly that you can never guarantee that any move will bring a championship.  Thanks, Mike.  Glad you’re here.

*Note: When Mike interviews a guest whom he greatly respects (Jim Nantz, Bill Simmons, Troy Aikman – for example), his brain can handle anything.  Mike is actually quite smart, but he is selective about when he turns on his brain.  If Bill Simmons were to ask Mike the Gleyber question, Francesa would likely reply, “That is a great question, Bill.  It really is a great question.  I’d take the trade though.  Even the Yankees have to pick the guaranteed championship over the prospect of several others.  You have to take the free title.  You have to do it.”  Remember though: if you, the random caller, asks this question, you are getting the stupid answer from the previous paragraph.

6)     Under no circumstances should you ask him about hockey.  Obviously, in the regular season, he will go to the next call immediately.  In the playoffs, you will get the most basic of hockey clichés.  Yes, it is annoying that true hockey analysts speak mainly in clichés, but I like to know that the clichés are coming from a person who knows hockey, not from a guy in Francesa who speaks occasionally to Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire.  When the Rangers are in the playoffs (Joyously, this occurrence did not come to pass in 2018), expect Mike to say “Rangers need to show more passion”, “Rangers need to score more”, or “Lundqvist needs to make some big stops”.  That is all.  Tremendous insight.

This ends my tutorial on how to call Mike Francesa.  No, I will not be the one calling his show.  I remain a “no time, long time” listener to sports radio.  If I ever do garner the courage to call a show, I will definitely call Joe and Evan.  They are the best combination of sports knowledge and personality on New York sports radio.  I would have to be several calls deep into my career before I call Francesa, but, if I ever do, I will make sure to follow these six rules.

“Jersey Shore – Family Reunion” Was a Delight…Let’s Do It Again in 2023!

This week, MTV’s “Jersey Shore – Family Reunion” came to a close, and I am going to miss it.  The funny thing is that, when this season – essentially the seventh season of “Jersey Shore” (albeit with a 6-year gap between Seasons 6 and 7) – began, I did not think I would get into it.  By the time Season 6 had finished 6 years ago, I was fairly certain that the show had run its course.  Therefore, I figured that I would watch the first episode of “Family Vacation” for nostalgic purposes, and then I would stop.  This would not be the case.

Let us now flash back to the very beginning of the show, “Jersey Shore”.  Before its premiere in December of 2009, I had heard rumblings that this show was in the works, but I had not given it a moment of thought.  Then, a few episodes into Season 1, my then-girlfriend and her friend were watching these eight Italians (most of whom were not actually from New Jersey) on TV.  These alleged “New Jerseyans” were put in a house on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, and I did not know what to expect.  The first glimpse of the show that I saw was Vinny and Pauly D on a club floor, “fighting the beat”.

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I made fun of this line, but it did not keep me from watching.  I proceeded to watch the remainder of that episode and all other episodes that season.  I thought that Pauly D and Vinny were intentionally hilarious, while The Situation was unintentionally hilarious.  The Sammi/Ronnie drama was captivating, and Snooki was always good for laughs when she would drunkenly fall down.  These people were all twentysomethings, and I was 28 years old.  There had honestly never been a time when I truly enjoyed clubs; if you know me, you can imagine that clubs are not exactly my scene.  That said, it was fun to live vicariously through these guys and their tales of “grenades” (2010 was a big year for these; because, not only did “Jersey Shore” finish its first season, but Bruno Mars also released his great song, “Grenade”.) and “t-shirt time”.  Never being one to “pick girls up” at clubs, I was fascinated by this guido world.

As the show progressed through six seasons, two major things changed.  The first involves the guy who owned the t-shirt store, the place of employment for the “Jersey Shore” cast.  For any young readers, you might find it silly that these eight people who were cast on what Bill Simmons once called “Guido Real World” also had to work at a t-shirt store while on the show.  What you must understand though is that, yes, it was actually incredibly silly.  The cast members would show up drunk to work, and the store owner would seem mad at them.  Of course, his store was receiving free publicity, so he could not really be THAT mad.  However, as the show progressed, it seemed liked this guy stopped trying to act mad.  Instead, he would always have a “sh!t-eating grin” as he tried to reprimand the workers.  By Seasons 3, 5, and 6 (the remaining seasons that actually took place at the Jersey Shore), this gentleman knew that he was making a ridiculous amount of money off these talentless individuals.  How could he be mad at the eight people responsible for his presumable mansion, Ferrari, and yacht?

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Anyway, the second change that happened to the show was much more vital to the premise of the show.  The cast morphed from being nobodies in Season 1 to being megastars by Season 5.  In Season 1, the show achieved its premise of letting us watch these random people try to get strangers to “come back to the hot tub”.  These eight random people were no more recognizable to the other clubgoers than anyone else was.  However, by Season 5, nobody was allowed anywhere near the cast.  There were countless camera shots of the cast on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, as TV viewers could see spectators roped off far in the distance.  Nobody was allowed near these stars anymore.  This is why I started to lose interest in the show.  As with most reality shows, the show’s premise worked well when nobody knew the stars but fell apart once the stars had become too famous.

That is why the show’s 6-year hiatus did the viewers good.  We did not really need another season of trying to force the square peg of these massive celebrities into the round hole of having them try to hook up anonymously with strangers like in Season 1.  Therefore, with the 5-year gap, the cast was able to age 20 years (it seems).  Snooki and J-Woww had kids; Angelina and J-Woww had plastic surgery done on everything; Vinny stopped eating carbs; Ronnie has a kid on the way; and The Situation no longer drinks but might be heading to jail.  A lot of “life” happened for these people over the five years, and that made for a very entertaining season this go-round with “Family Vacation” (cast in a Miami house).

During this season, the cast admitted to having grown up.  The house members poked fun at each other on a regular basis, especially making fun of The Situation for his tax evasion.  Yes, these individuals went to clubs, but they were no longer trying to “pick up” people of the opposite sex.  Well, they were not supposed to do so, but Ronnie did bring some girls back to the hot tub even though he was in a relationship.  Tisk, tisk.  At the same time, Pauly D remained the best part of the show.  The guy is always happy; it is like he is perpetually covered in the “good slime” from Ghostbusters II.  He is even able to feign surprise when he is hired to DJ big-time gigs, even though he is probably the most famous DJ in the country.

Anyway, when the show reached its finale on Thursday night, JWoww led a discussion about how the cast should meet up again every few years.  I am sure that was a not-too-subtle way of hinting that MTV should do “Jersey Shore” reunions every five years or so.  If that is her plan, I am 100% on-board.  I would gladly watch one season of “Jersey Shore” every five years.  Let’s make it happen.  I expect the next reunion in 2023.

Three Silver Linings to Rooting for a Team as Terrible as the 2018 Mets

The New York Mets are a terrible, terrible baseball team.  After starting the 2018 season 11-1, the Mets have gone 20-44.  If you are wondering 20-44 equates to a .3125 winning percentage.  The Royals (.308) and Orioles (.299) are the only teams with worse winning percentages for this full season, but the Mets could easily drop below those two teams within the next day or two.  Are the Mets as bad as those two teams?  Absolutely.

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Photo via northjersey.com

If one has watched baseball for any considerable portion of his/her life, that person can tell pretty easily how good a team is.  I have watched the Mets regularly since 1990, so I can vouch for the fact that this team is as awful as its record indicates.  What are the main indicators that jump out at me in terms of the Mets being terrible?

1)     Jason Vargas got hurt before Sunday’s start, and the Mets decided that their minor leagues are so barren that they were better off starting reliever Jerry Blevins.  This required patching together 9 (actually 11) innings of bullpen innings from a bullpen with maybe 3 legitimate Major League relievers.

2)     Jason Vargas has been so bad that the afore-mentioned bullpen option worked out better than a typical Vargas start.  Speaking of which, please disregard this.

3)     Continuing with the “speaking of which…”, Jose Reyes has a batting average of .175 and an OPS of .507 yet remains on this team.

4)     Mickey Callaway has decided to bench prospect Amed Rosario for several games in a row so that Reyes can start.  Seriously.

5)     Since 2015, the Mets’ offense has dominated with Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup and been terrible with him out of the lineup.  Cespedes has played only 37 games this year.

6)     If the Yankees had kept Todd Frazier, he would be a bench player this year.  On the Mets, he hits in the #2, #3, and #4 spots.

7)     The first-place Atlanta Braves released both Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista over the past year.  Both of these people have had stretches of regular starts for the Mets.

8)     Kevin Plawecki has hit cleanup.

9)     Mickey Callaway said on Sunday that the Mets need to “sync up” the performance between their position players, starting pitchers, and bullpen.  That is the baseball equivalent of Ben McAdoo’s “complementary football”.  That ended up well.

10)  Most importantly, Jacob deGrom has an ERA of 1.69, a WHIP of 1.01, 16 starts, and a whopping five wins.

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Photo via sbnation.com

What a disaster.  For the second-consecutive season, the Mets enter summer completely out of the playoff race.  Obviously, this is a major disappointment for a big-time Mets fan like myself.  Summer is much better for a baseball fan when that fan is excited to watch his/her team every night.  I am not excited to watch the train wreck in Flushing.  Summer is much better when a fan can start to build excitement for a pennant race, when the fan can start to scoreboard-watch the team’s primary standings opponents, and when the fan can dream of thrilling October baseball.  Summer is much better when the fan can enjoy the highs of important wins and agonize over important losses.  I know it is weird for me to speak well of agony, but one does need to experience joy in order for him/her to fall into agony.  Only a complete masochist agonizes every time a terrible team loses.  Yes, some self-loathing Mets fans fall into this category, but thankfully I do not.

With all that said, there are three silver linings to rooting for a terrible team.

1)     I can enjoy the wins, but I never feel the agony!  Sure, I do not become too elated when a 31-45 Mets team wins a game, but I do feel at least a modicum of joy.  On the flip side, I do not feel any negative emotion when the Mets lose.  I felt negative emotion in April and May when the Mets descended from 11-1 to oblivion, but I am now far too deep into the learned-helplessness phase.  I expect the Mets to lose every game.  Plus, as I mentioned last year, I know that I am not going to loyally watch a team this bad once NFL season begins.  I have no false aspirations of the Mets making their way toward a pennant race or (Good lord) playoff baseball.  Therefore, I have nothing to lose right now as a fan.  For example, I attended Sunday’s surprisingly exciting 8-7 Mets’ loss to the Dodgers (the Vargas/Blevins game).  I was legitimately thrilled when Kevin Plawecki hit a game-tying three-run homer in the 8th inning.  However, when Justin Turner hit a go-ahead Los Angeles homer in the 11th inning, I matter-of-factly felt like the game was over.  I knew it would shortly be time for us to go home, but I was not upset.  How could I be upset about a team losing its 23rd game in 29?  It would be like being upset that Roadrunner evaded Wile E. Coyote yet again.

2)     I have zero time commitment to the team.  Again, it is disappointing not to have the thrill of a good baseball team to watch this summer.  At the same time, this truth means that I do not feel bad when I have to miss a game.  In 2015 and 2016, I was upset whenever I could not watch a game.  This year could not be any different.  Again, I know that I will lose touch with the team in September.  Therefore, if I miss more games in July and August, who cares?  It is also worth noting that my wife and I will be taking two honeymoons this summer – one in July and one in August.  If the Mets were halfway decent, I would currently be going to great lengths to make sure I can watch as many Mets games as possible on those trips.  Fortunately though, I am perfectly content to avoid going to those great lengths for this terrible Mets edition.  Therefore, from the “You don’t want to be bad husband on your honeymoon” department, thank God the Mets are awful.

3)     It is humorous.  If the 2015 or 2016 Mets chose not to use any starting pitchers in a game, I would have been angry.  When the 2018 Mets did it, I laughed.  Honestly, when I read 9 of the 10 things listed above, I laugh.  Only deGrom’s tough luck does not make me laugh.  He is one of the best pitchers of his generation, but he is toiling on a terrible team.  Everything else though makes me laugh.  The Mets daily trot out a lineup that is worse than the Yankees’ AAA lineup.  When something is this big a disaster, the only healthy thing one can do is laugh about it.

 

Photo via NY Post

 

Anyway, I know that it has been a difficult two seasons for Mets fans.  I hope that all of you Mets fans out there can use these three silver linings to get through the 2018 Mets season as I have and will continue to do.

For Once, Let’s Applaud Gary Bettman

One of the great pastimes for the modern sports fan is criticizing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.  This activity is actually one of the few things that both hockey lovers and hockey haters can enjoy.  I too have heaped plenty of criticism on the man, especially during the 2004-5 lockout.  In fact, that was when Bettman’s commissionership was at its lowest.  In the summer of 2005, he found himself presiding over a league that had lost an entire season, that had switched its broadcasting rights from ESPN to the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), that was in the midst of a brutal 5-year stretch of Finals matchups, and that had decided to become the first major American sports league to end games with a marketing gimmick (That, of course, was the shootout.  Loyal BTB readers know how much I loathe those.).

Yes, 2005 was a rough time for Bettman and the NHL.  In fact, by the spring of 2005, I had been discussing the NHL in past tense.  I figured that, if a league was in such horrible financial shape that both the owners and players could essentially get behind the idea of missing the entire season, the league was not primed to survive financially in the long run.  During the lockout, I would watch classic Devils games and figure that this was the only way I would ever be able to watch the Devils again.  This is why, when the NHL resumed play in October of 2005, I was ecstatic.  I was one of the few to feel this way.  As a big-time Devils fan, it was brutal for me to go a full season with no hockey, but many hockey fans did not come back after the season-long lockout.  Also, since we are talking about hockey, many people had never been fans in the first place.

This is where the TV deal comes into play.  At the time, I blasted Bettman for allowing the NHL to leave ESPN, regardless of how little ESPN was willing to pay for broadcasting rights.  I figured that the NHL needed ESPN at any price because all sports fans lived on ESPN back then.  We fans watched Sportscenter in the morning, Sportscenter at night, Baseball Tonight every night in the summer, NFL PrimeTime on fall Sunday nights, and NHL 2Nite when it appeared on ESPN2.  At night, if there was no appointment TV, many of us would turn on ESPN and watch whatever game the Worldwide Leader was showing.

Therefore, for the NHL to sell its broadcasting rights to OLN, a network that nobody knew existed and that many people (myself included) did not even have in our cable packages was a disaster!  I listened to many playoff games that year on Yahoo! radio, because I did not have OLN.  Yes, NBC did broadcast some of the weekend playoff games and Games 3 through 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals were not available in my home.  These games were on OLN.  One occasionally hears tales of how the NBA nearly collapsed in the late 1970s, a time when the NBA Finals was televised on tape delay.  That was 40 years ago.  In the NHL, a mere 12 years ago, many people like myself had hundreds of channels at our fingertips but could not watch some Stanley Cup Finals games and many other Stanley Cup Playoffs games on TV.  That is rough.

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Anyway, some people were upset that they could not watch the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals in their living rooms, but many people were actually OK with missing the Carolina/Edmonton matchup.  No, this was not the Gretzky Oilers, the Messier Oilers, or even the McDavid Oilers.  This was a #8-seed Oilers team that would have comfortably missed the playoffs if not for having a ridiculous number of shootout wins.  In fact, this Oilers team remains one of the all-time leaders in terms of “points gained because shootout wins are counted as real wins”.  (See my previous link about “shootouts”.)  Therefore, this Oilers team was neither a great team nor a big ratings draw.  However, because there was so much NHL-roster turnover after missing a full season, it did not feel like Edmonton was on a Cinderella run either.  Meanwhile, Carolina was a stellar team that full season, but they have never exactly been a ratings bonanza.

Therefore, the NHL had a run of finals that went like this: 2003 New Jersey/Anaheim, 2004 Tampa Bay/Calgary, 2005 Lockout, 2006 Carolina/Edmonton, 2007 Ottawa/Anaheim.  I enjoyed every one of those series, especially the 2003 edition, but that was a brutal run for the NHL and its ratings.  The events of this era made the NHL and Bettman very easy to ridicule.

However, it is time to give Bettman credit where credit is due.  Since that 2003-7 stretch, things have really turned up for Bettman and the league.  First off, the 22 Stanley Cup Finalists from 2008 through 2018 have been:

Pittsburgh (four times)

Chicago (three times)

Boston (twice)

Detroit (twice)

Los Angeles (twice)

Nashville (once)

New Jersey (once)

NY Rangers (once)

Philadelphia (once)

San Jose (once)

Tampa Bay (once)

Vancouver (once)

Vegas (once)

Washington (once)

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While I do believe that Bettman has overexpanded (I would prefer to have 28 teams – get rid of Florida, Arizona, and one other), the list above shows that he has ended up with great Finals matchups for most of the past 11 years.  On the list above, New Jersey, San Jose, and Tampa Bay are the only ones who are not really great for ratings.  For a long time, people would have assumed the same about Nashville or Vegas, but Nashville – with all its country-music stars – last year and Vegas – as an expansion team – this year have been great stories.  In fact, from 1995 through 2004, only two Finals saw an average of at least 4-million TV viewers per game – 2000 and 2001.  Those matchups were Devils/Stars and Devils/Avalanche.  (Therefore, it must have been the Mighty Ducks, not the Devils, that dragged down the 2003-Finals rating!)  Meanwhile, since 2008, only one Finals matchup has failed to reach that 4-million mark.  That was the 2012 matchup, when the Kings took a 3-0 series lead before the opposing team won Games 4 and 5.  I will leave the opponent nameless on that one, but the fact remains that people tend to tune out Games 4 and 5 when one team wins the first three games.

Anyway, many of you are probably thinking, “Why credit Bettman for Finals matchups?  He has nothing to do with that.”  Well, here is where he does get credit.  For the 2006-7 season, OLN became “Versus”, and more cable providers began picking up this channel.  Therefore, once we made it to the 2008 and 2009 Penguins/Red Wings finals, most people could now access these national-cable games at home.  Then, in 2012, Versus became “NBC Sports Network”, which is now a household name for any sports fan.

Of course, the biggest two things that happened from 2008 through 2018 were that ESPN went to crap and that people no longer turn to their favorite channels to watch whatever happens to be airing.  Could Bettman have predicted in 2005 than ESPN in 2018 would spend 50% of the time covering national-anthem protests and 50% of the time covering NBA-player Tweets?  Of course not.  However, Bettman could have reasonably expected that TV audiences would eventually become spread across more outlets.  He could have predicted that channel brand recognition would ultimately become a non-factor in the sports world, and that is exactly what has happened.

The NHL has a good thing with NBC and the playoffs.  NBC utilizes NBC, NBC Sports, Golf Network, and occasionally CNBC for playoff (and Olympic) hockey games.  In 2005’s ESPN world, it would have been a problem to have the games on so many different channels.   Fortunately, this is not a problem in 2018.  People do not turn on ESPN, NBC Sports, MTV, or any other channel to watch whatever happens to be on the network.  Life is now about watching shows “On Demand” or watching sports live (or occasionally on DVR) on any channel or medium necessary.  NHL fans know when games take place and turn to the correct channels to find those games.

Thus, the NHL is in a good place right now.  Also, while ESPN is a complete non-factor with the NHL, we hockey fans can easily find highlights on NHL Network…or in a million different places on the Internet.  Therefore, all teams actually have a lot more national coverage than they had in 2006.  San Jose, Nashville, and Vegas – the three most recent Cup Finalists from the West – probably would have been considered bad ratings draws in the mid-‘00s, but times have changed.  All teams, including those three, are much more marketable in the modern media landscape.  In fact, if we were to have Carolina/Edmonton or Tampa Bay/Calgary as a Finals matchup now, I do not think it would be terrible for ratings.  Most hockey fans are finally back after the 2004-5 lockout, and there are no casual hockey fans.

True hockey fans will find their hockey games (especially playoff games) on TV, and the league has made its games and highlights very accessible.  Bettman took a short-term hit in the ‘00s by leaving ESPN, but he is getting the last laugh.  He found the NHL a great TV home with NBC; the NHL does well in the modern media climate; and he avoided paying ESPN’s sinking ship a large sum of money  to be a second-class citizen.

Mr. Bettman, I have disagreed with many things you have done over the years, but I commend you for a job well-done on navigating the television world.

Mickey Callaway Cannot Fix a Flawed Team

During Spring Training, Mets manager Mickey Callaway earned great praise for the positive energy he had brought to Spring Training.  I also read of players complimenting the fact that all of the Spring Training drills had purposes, as if Terry Collins had always been orchestrating a bunch of useless drills in his Spring Training workouts.  That seemed like a bogus claim to me, but it was not the silliest thing that I heard this spring.  To the contrary, the silliest thing I heard was when Callaway mentioned that he wanted Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler to pitch 4 innings per start.  At the time, Callaway also discussed having relievers be able to pitch multiple innings to make up for those short starts. While the idea of having relievers pitch multiple innings was and is a good one, the idea that a bullpen could collectively handle such a massive workload was and is not.  Nevertheless, in the spring; reporters, players, and some Mets fans thought that all of Callaway’s ideas were wonderful.  I was not one of these people; I thought Callaway’s idea to use starting pitchers for so few innings was a recipe for disaster.

In fact, when I heard all of the premature praise for Mickey Callaway, it reminded me of the scene in Step Brothers in which Seth Rogen’s character compliments Dale and Brennan for showing up for a physical-education job interview in tuxedos.   “It’s ironic.  I get it.”  Anyway, why did the Callaway situation remind me of this scene?  First off, most things in life remind me of Step Brothers.  Secondly, I knew that there was no way that the bullpen strategy could work over a 162-game season.  Thus, applauding the strategy in March was like Rogen applauding the tuxedos.  I figured that, when the strategy ultimately blows up, and Callaway’s over-the-top positivity for a bad team quickly runs stale; all of his one-time sycophants would say, “OK, now the 4-inning starts (aka the “tuxes”) seem kinda f$%#ed up”.  If this analogy has gone over your head, please go watch Step Brothers immediately.  Then it will all make sense, and the movie is one of the funniest movies of all time.  You are welcome.

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Anyway, enough with the analogy.  I do give Mickey Callaway credit for the idea of pitching relievers for multiple innings.  I have been preaching this idea since 1998 when I first wrote to The Record, stating that, if Turk Wendell has pitched a good 8th inning, he should be allowed to pitch the 9th.  That part of Callaway’s logic makes perfect sense.  We know that Callaway rightfully includes warm-up pitches in his consideration for how much work a pitcher has received.  We know that he hates “dry humping”, and, by that logic, it is more efficient to have a pitcher throw 70 innings in 35 appearances than 70 innings in 70 appearances.  The latter means 35 more games in which the pitcher has to throw several warm-up pitches in the bullpen.  I agree with Callaway on all fronts here.  Furthermore, some days a pitcher “has it”.  Some days a pitcher does not.  Therefore, I have never liked taking out a pitcher who clearly “has it”.  If you go through 6 or 7 pitchers in a game, the law of averages says that at least one (and likely more) of those pitchers will not “have it” that day.  Therefore, you might as well stick with the guy who has been effective in that game.

That all said, the benefits of this strategy go out the window when you have three pitchers who rarely make it past four innings.  I should add that some of the unwarranted preseason praise for Callaway intimated that Callaway would be able to fix Matt Harvey.  That clearly proved not to be the case.  Meanwhile, I am not going to blame Jason Vargas’s horrific performances on Callaway, but the fact remains that we are stuck with three Mets pitchers who routinely exit after 4 or maybe 5 innings.  That was Callaway’s plan anyway, and it does not work.  You cannot sustain a bullpen under those circumstances.

It does not matter if you are using relievers for an inning apiece or multiple innings apiece; if you need five innings of relief three out of every five nights, you will destroy your bullpen.  If we assume that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard give a combined 13 innings per rotation, the Mets need 20 bullpen innings per rotation, and that equates to roughly 650 bullpen innings per season.  Keep in mind that a dependable workhorse reliever is good for 80 innings per season.  The standard modern workhorse, in that case, would make 80 appearances and average one inning per appearance.  Fortunately, Callaway has allowed pitchers to make multiple-inning appearances.  However, if a pitcher like Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman pitches 2 or 3 innings in a relief effort, he should not be pitching in the next two games or really the next three games.  THAT is how you maximize the effectiveness of a relief pitcher.  It is not only the longer outings but it is also the longer rest.  Ideally, a team should be able to use two relievers per game.  This would keep all relievers fresh, as they would regularly get two or three days off in a row.

The problem is that this idea would only work well in an era in which starting pitchers routinely pitch seven innings.  Such an era would require only 320 relief innings per season.  If a team has 4 good relievers, the team can satisfy the bulk of those 320 innings with only those four relievers.  Plus, if those relievers could make 2-inning appearances with some regularity, these relievers would receive enough rest to stay effective.

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On the other hand, the Mets need the afore-mentioned 650 bullpen innings.  Yikes!  Is the Mets’ bullpen terrible?  No.  It has four dependable relievers – Jeurys Familia, Lugo, Gsellman, and the injured Anthony Swarzak.  How many teams have more than four dependable relievers?  2?  3?  Many teams would be happy to have four dependable relievers.  However, when your team’s strategy is to have 650 bullpen innings (as I have projected for the Mets), and you have only four dependable relievers (who we will generously say are good for 80 innings apiece); you are stuck with the unenviable choice either a) coaxing 330 innings from the other relief pitchers, who are generally terrible, b) completely overworking the good relievers to the point where they are injured or no longer dependable, or c) both.  Actually, who am I kidding?  The only answer is “c”.  This is the sole logical result, given that teams do try to use the bad relievers; the bad relievers get bombed; and the teams must then use the good relievers.

Case in point: Seth Lugo on Memorial Day.  This guy has dominated all year, but he has been overused.  Callaway wanted Lugo to get a 2-inning save in the first game of a doubleheader, so that he could save Familia for the nightcap.  I do not think it is bad strategy, but it would have been much better strategy if Lugo had not pitched so many innings already.  Lugo has pitched 32.2 innings, and Gsellman has pitched 33.3.  Lugo’s 20 appearances are not bad for a 51-game stretch, but he, like Gsellman (25 appearances), is on pace to pitch more than 100 innings, an untenable total for a reliever.  (I would still love to swap Lugo and Wheeler; given that Lugo has been an effective starter and that Wheeler has an innings’ limit.)  Unfortunately, the Mets are burning out their best relief pitchers.

The funny thing is: this same exact issue happened for the Mets last year.  In fact, I wrote an article about how the Mets’ starting pitching was atrocious and responsible for the bad bullpen performance.  The Mets’ bullpen performed well at the beginning of last season too, but those relievers became overtaxed and lost effectiveness.

The truth is that there are only two ways for a team to be successful while having as many 4-5-inning starts as the Mets do:

  • The team must have at least 6 good relief pitchers.
  • The team must have fantastic position players.

 

It is great to have six good relief pitchers, because that would cover 480 of the 630 relief innings.  That is a workable ratio.  However, let’s be honest.  How many teams have 6 good relief pitchers?  The Yankees did last year, and so did the 2006 Mets (Billy Wagner, Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver); but it is a huge rarity.  No, the only way to expect success with such undependable starting pitching is to have a dynamite offense, and the Mets do not have that.   The Mets have a bunch of old guys who would be on the benches of most other teams, some younger guys who are currently no better than #7 or #8 hitters, and one phenomenal hitter who can never stay healthy.  Mickey Callaway cannot fix any of these problems, but he cannot fix the pitching problems any better than Terry Collins could.  That is why the preseason praise for Callaway seems as f$#@ed up as the tuxes.  I do not think he is a bad manager, but he does not have the ability to fix the major problems with the Mets’ roster.

Wrapping Up April

During my many months at “Below the Belt Sports”, I have managed to write long posts about the NHL points system, reasons why MLB should have an earlier trade deadline, and my dislike for preseason football.  Based on this, you are probably shocked that I have managed to experience these past three weeks without writing several long posts.  Nope, I have actually written nothing in three weeks.  Granted, if these three weeks were in late February/early March or in August, you could understand my inactivity.  However, these past three weeks have seen an NFL Draft in which both locals picked in the Top 3, Mike Francesa coming out of retirement, Matt Harvey being demoted to the bullpen, and the Devils playing and losing their first playoff series in six years.  (That is not to mention anything about the Yankees or NBA Playoffs, but I do not often touch upon those subjects.).  As for the four main topics that I missed, you are probably sick and tired of hearing of three of the four.  That said, you are loyal readers of my posts, and the five of you deserve to know what I think about these matters.  Therefore, here are my quick thoughts on each of the afore-mentioned topics.  You are welcome, Mom.

  • Mike Francesa’s return is as big a “d-bag” move as I have ever seen in the sports world, but I will listen to him anyway. Callers and guests spent a year and a half feting him for retirement, only for him to return four months after retirement.

Mike Francesa’s return has bumped “CMB” from 2-6:30 to 1-3.  That is a big step back for Carlin, Maggie, and Bart; and it is rather cruel to demote a show that has had a mere four months to grow.  Granted, I agree wholeheartedly with Chris Russo when he says that a) you should not have a new show with three hosts (Note: the successful three-host shows in the area evolved into having three hosts; they did not begin this way.), and b) you cannot have a sports talk-radio show in this area with someone who does not know baseball.  The latter describes Bart Scott.  Scott is great with football, but he does not know baseball….and WFAN’s shows talk Mets and Yankees from February to October and for plenty of the other three months too.

I actually love Maggie Gray.  I think she is fantastic.  She is an ideal Mets fan – she is very knowledgeable and falls perfectly on the Mets-fan spectrum between the annoying “sky is always falling” Mets fan and the less-often-seen “everyone on the Mets is awesome” Mets fan.  Plus, she is a Bills fan, which is a cool and unique dimension to add to football discussion.  Lastly, her voice is incredible.  I would actually watch golf if she were announcing it.

Meanwhile, Carlin too often interrupts callers before they have a chance to speak, and I do not like that he gives people silly nicknames when he answers calls.  That said, he is a Jersey guy who knows his sports.  He has done plenty of time on WFAN, and he is a good fit for New York sports radio.  He has plenty of the Francesa arrogance, but fortunately without the complete misery Francesa sometimes shows…

…but Francesa’s back.  As I have said, it is a total d-bag move.  However, I get why he did it.  He has a huge ego, and I think he assumed that people would be lining up to give him a lucrative contract.  He was wrong.  Apparently, there is not a large national market for a guy who hangs up angrily on 75% of his callers and who knows little about sports beyond the Mets, Yankees, NFL, horse racing, and college-basketball teams coached by his friends.  Thus, he is coming back to WFAN with his tail between his legs.

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It is going to be incredibly awkward in the beginning, and it is a d-bag move by WFAN to bring him back.  However, money talks.  I am going to listen to Francesa.  So will everyone else who has ever listened to him.  The awkwardness at the station will eventually fade away.  In fact, things will likely return to how they were in December.  Many people at WFAN could not stand him then; many people at WFAN will not be able to stand him now.

The truth is that I actually think his show will be better this time than it once was.  Francesa is the only person with a regularly scheduled solo talk show on WFAN or ESPN Radio New York. (Can you imagine anyone, post-Mad Dog, wanting to partner with such an egomaniac?)   Moreover, he hosted the longest show (5.5 hours) of any show on the two stations.  That is ridiculous.  Nobody should ever have a 5.5-hour show by himself.  That is insane!  It makes me understand Francesa’s crankiness a bit.  If I had to spend 5.5 hours in a row (OK, 3 hours minus commercials) answering the same questions about Matt Harvey over and over and over again, I might too lose my mind.  Therefore, having Francesa for only 3.5 hours as he is now scheduled should make him better.

Plus, he has realized where his bread is buttered – New York sports radio.  That is what he knows.  Even though he can be downright irascible on many occasions, he is the one person who can best sift through the bs with big topics. For years, he has been right about the big ideas with the Yankees, Mets, and NFL.  Additionally, he is the one person who can speak eloquently about controversial topics.

It is like he has an “a-hole switch” that he turns off when talking about touchy things.  In the months leading up to the 2016 election, he actually made some of the most cogent, non-extreme commentary on now-President Trump.  Similarly, Francesa is the only sports person I know who touched the Kaepernick issue, said the most important point of the saga, and generally avoided blowback: Protesting is fine, but you do not automatically have the right to do it when representing a large organization that signs your paycheck.  Had the NFL acknowledged Francesa’s logic early on, I think it could have better handled the whole issue, but I digress…

Francesa made a d-bag move.  He is taking a pay cut, but he is still going to make plenty of money off his d-bag move, and we are going to listen.  There are still times when he can be the voice of reason, even though he is often a jerk.  Meanwhile, Carlin has made no bones about his disdain for his former boss, and I applaud Carlin for admitting his disdain.  His reaction is human, and I think people appreciate his genuine emotion.  Maggie and Bart, who have much less history with WFAN, have taken the high road, and I commend them for that as well.  Maggie is delightful.  Have I mentioned that?  Hopefully, “CMB” become sympathetic figures, and hopefully this issue helps propel them to great radio futures.  As for Francesa, he made a d-bag move, but we are going to listen to him.  Moving on…

  • The NFL Draft happened. I am sure you heard about it.  Likewise, I am sure you know that I think it is time for the Giants to think about Eli’s replacement.  Actually, I am sure you are aware I thought we reached that time a few years ago.  That said, I have full faith in Dave Gettleman.  As I have advanced in age and now sit at the ripe old age of 36, I have grown to have a lesser appreciation for people who substitute clichés for reason and a greater appreciation for people who see through those clichés.  Well, after the draft, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan talked about how he likes all his draft picks, while Gettleman joked about the fact that every GM loves his own picks immediately after the draft.  Yes, it stinks to be a Jets fan.  I already loved Gettleman from his commentary on being offered hot dogs and bagels for the #2 pick but nothing more.  Now, his joking about “We love our draft” cliches put me over the top.  This guy gets it.  I would follow this guy over a cliff.  If Dave Gettleman believes that neither Darnold, Allen, nor Rosen is a franchise quarterback; I believe him.  It is time for Saquon to deliver Eli one more championship, and I greatly look forward to the Kyle Lauletta era from 2020 through 2039.

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One more draft thought.  It is annoying that people are mad at Josh Rosen for saying nine teams made a mistake by passing on him.  Rosen should absolutely feel that way.  Do you know who else is motivated by teams passing on them in the draft?  Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  How have things worked out for them?  People worry about Rosen being a rich kid who does not “need” football success.  First off, to me, that is silly logic.  If you really need the money, hate football, and are great at football; you are going to try to make it to the NFL.  However, if you do not need the money and are great at football, you will only try to make the NFL if you love football.  That said, if you cannot follow that logic, you should at least like seeing a guy motivated to dominate and stick it in the faces of the teams who did not draft him.  Great quarterbacks are always super-competitive.  Rosen seems to have this trait.

The people who have a problem with Rosen’s comments are likely the same people who lost their minds over Jay Feely’s prom tweet.  It is a joke, people.  I hate guns, and I will never be a gun owner….but funny is funny.

  • Matt Harvey is in the pen, and I love it! In fact, I wrote in the offseason that the Mets’ best path to success was to move Harvey and Wheeler to the pen and to sign someone like Jason Vargas.  I could not have been more correct.  The only things I messed up were that Wheeler is still in the rotation and has been decent, that Harvey has not yet done anything great as a reliever, and that Vargas’ Mets ERA is 22.09.  Everything else though has been spot-on.  Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.  Seriously though, I still think that Harvey has a chance to embrace the bullpen role, and I can envision him being a successful closer as the Mets make a 2018 World Series run.  I can see it happening!

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  • I am not going to write a post documenting the ins and outs of the Devils/Lightning playoff series. The better team (Lightning) won in 5 games, but it was delightful to attend two playoff games for the first time since 2012.  Hopefully, the Devils can build off this year’s playoff appearance to make a legitimate playoff run in 2019.

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