Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Mailbag

Headline in Boston: "Valentine focuses on fundamentals" The latest news from Sox training camp is Bobby Valentine's focus on fundamentals and making the players work hard... what are they talking about? What are the fundamentals of baseball and how do you train for them? Are there coaches out there that DON'T focus on hard work and fundamentals? If so, what do those camps look like? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

When you talk 'fundamentals' in baseball you're talking about bunting, hitting behind runners, taking infield/outfield, baserunning, fielding drills for pitchers, etc. It's not other teams DON'T focus on that kind of stuff, but some of these more veteran clubs tend to give the players more leeway in spring training. To some extent it's accepted that these guys are professionals and they're going to be able to do what it takes to get themselves ready for the season. When you look at the Red Sox team last year, it was a lot of veteran guys and while some teams are able to police themselves, it's pretty evident that things in Boston broke down last year. So Bobby Valentine is doing what he has to to bring the guys back in, and get them focused. Think Lou Brown and Major League.
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The only difference is that Lou's mustache was real:
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I get frustrated when I see professional basketball players miss free throws consistently... if you or I put an hour each day into shooting free throws, we could probably eventually shoot 85-90%... we don't, so we can't... but what is the excuse of a professional basketball player? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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Honestly, I have no idea. I mean guess I'm willing to give some of the shot blocking types, who are only in the league because they're big and who will just never be coordinated enough to shoot a basketball straight, a pass. And I suppose I'm willing to buy off on the argument that it's hard to shoot for some of these guys who just have enormous hands - I mean it's a lot easier for me to shoot a basketball than it is a golf ball. But for a lot of these guys, I don't know what their problem is. I mean look at some of these percentages:

Blake Griffin: 53.9 percent
Josh Smith: 55.4 percent
Antawn Jamison: 60.3 percent
Rajon Rondo: 61.5 percent
Andre Iguodala: 61.6 percent

Of the 123 players with enough free throw attempts to qualify for the league lead, only 4 (Anthony Morrow, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Ray Allen) are shooting over 90%. It's hard to say why. I don't really know what teams work on in practice, but you would think the best basketball players IN THE WORLD could make an uncontested shot from 15 feet nine times out of ten. Games are won and lost on the free throw line, and if you're the Magic or the Clippers, each of whom misses an average of about 8 free throws a game, that could be the difference in being a pretty good team and a championship team. And if you don't believe me on how important free throws are, just take it from Chuck. Make, make, make, make, make, make, make your free throws!

Which team is going to be moved to Seattle? Will they reassume the name Super Sonics (I think the "Super" was dropped in the late 90s)? Is it alright for me to still be pissed that Seattle should have the Championship contending team and not OK City? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

The two leading candidates are the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Hornets, but neither one is a sure thing to move. That said, I'd be shocked if at some point we didn't see an NBA franchise back in Seattle. As for whether or not it will be the SuperSonics, it's hard to say. Personally I like the sound of it. Some very nice alliteration. And it's not as if there isn't a precedent for something like this. See Cleveland Browns, Washington Senators, Winnipeg Jets, etc.
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In the meantime, yeah Seattle got a pretty raw deal here so you have a right to be pissed off. Just like Cleveland fans can be pissed off about the Baltimore Ravens leaving and winning a Super Bowl while their championship drought continues. Same deal with the fans of the L.A. Rams, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques, and possibly in the near future the Montreal Expos. But hey, on the bright side it's not as though Seattle has been devoid of championship basketball since the Sonics left. Give it up for Sue Bird and 2010 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm!!
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What is the legitimacy of the NFL combine? Are the stats and measurements taken strong indicators of future performance? Which stats for which positions are the best indicators (eg - Chris Johnson ran a 4.28 40-yard dash... he was good for a little bit then screwed my Fantasy team... or Brady Quinn... he probably rep'd a ton on the bench but now is backup to Tebow)? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

Ok, first I think it's funny that we talk about what a bad season Chris Johnson just had despite the fact that he ran for over 1000 yards. Now I get it that his yards per carry were down, he was limited to just 4 total touchdowns, and he was held to under 35 yards rushing in six of Tennessee's sixteen games. That coupled with the fact he just got paid a ridiculous amount of money this past offseason equates to disappointment and that's fair. But it wasn't that long ago that they had football cards commemorate 1000 yards rushing/receiving seasons. Am I the only one that remembers that? Check out this Barry Sanders card from 1989.
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And yeah, if you have good vision, that does say that Sanders ran for a whopping 1 yard against the Steelers in Week 4. I looked it up, it really happened. Anyhow, enough about Chris Johnson...

I don't think you can argue that the combine isn't at least somewhat legitimate. The problem is that it doesn't necessarily tell you how good of a football player someone's going to be as you pointed out, it just evaluates a player's athletic ability. And sometimes, that isn't enough. You can't purely look at combine results and figure out who the better player is going to be. And even with all the stats and combine results, teams still miss a lot of the time. Check out these undrafted players:

2010 - LeGarrette Blount, Sam Shields, Chris Ivory, Jake Ballard, Victor Cruz
2009 - Arian Foster, Kahlil Bell, Isaac Redman
2008 - Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Davone Bess
2007 - Matt Moore, Pierre Thomas, Eric Weems
2006 - Miles Austin, Brent Grimes, Tramon Williams
2005 - Josh Cribbs, John Kuhn, Cameron Wake
2004 - Malcom Floyd, Jabari Greer, Vonta Leach, Willie Parker, Wes Welker
2003 - Gary Brackett, Kris Dielman, Antonio Gates, Fred Jackson, Tony Romo

And that's just a snapshot of the list. And some of these guys aren't just good NFL players, they're ridiculous NFL players. How'd every team miss on that many guys? Is it too much looking at numbers?

At the 2009 NFL combine, Arian Foster (Tennessee) ran a 4.56 40 and put up 225 lbs 23 times at the bench press station. Cedric Peerman (Virginia) ran a 4.45 40 and did 27 reps and just for good measure added a 40" vertical. The Baltimore Ravens drafted Peerman in the 6th round. Foster went undrafted. Peerman has 5 carries in 3 seasons. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 and has made 2 Pro Bowls.
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In 2008 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Mississippi) ran a 4.62 40 and did 24 reps at the bench press station and had a 30.5 inch vertical. Cory Boyd (South Carolina) ran a 4.52, did 25 reps and jumped 33.5 inches. Tampa Bay took Boyd in the 7th round. Green-Ellis went undrafted. Neither player has ever fumbled in the NFL. The only difference is that Boyd played in one NFL game while Green-Ellis has 510 carries and 29 touchdowns over the past four seasons.

Some guys get discounted because of speed and strength, and others (Welker, Amendola, Woodhead, Bess) lose out because of size... I guess when it comes down to it, my point is that none of these numbers can really tell you if someone's going to be a good football player or not. They're helpful tools in evaluating, but things like running routes, making tackles, breaking tackles, catching passes in traffic, pass blocking... all that stuff can't be measured at the combine. So while the combine represents a piece of the puzzle, unless you're looking for guys to play exclusively on special teams, it's not worth planning your draft around the results in my opinion. 
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CSKA Moscow started their third choice keeper this week versus Real Madrid. Their reserve keeper is only 16 years old. Who's the youngest keeper ever to start a Champions League match? - Cory L., Raceland, LA

So far I haven't been able to find the answer for this one. I can tell you that Spanish keeper Iker Casillas is the youngest keeper to play in and win a Champions League final, which he did for Real Madrid 4 days after his 19th birthday. Casillas, like CSKA Moscow's Sergey Revyakin, also dressed for a Champions League game at the age of 16 but didn't play.
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The youngest field player ever to play in the tournament was Anderlecht's Celestine Babayaro who at age 16 (and 87 days) started against Steaua București on the 23rd of November 1994. He left quite an impression too as he was sent off in the 37th minute.
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Is Walter Samuel a Ukrainian mob boss? I mean just look at the guy. He looks like he's ready to break someone's kneecaps at a moment's notice. - Cory L., Raceland, LA

I don't think mob bosses break knee caps. I think they have guys who do that for them. One of the perks of being the boss, you know? Plus this is what google tells me a Ukrainian mob boss looks like:
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But could Samuel be an underling? Some sort of hitman? Let's look at the evidence. First of all, his name is Walter, and he's from... Argentina? Well, that's obviously fake. And check out his smile:
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That just screams cold-blooded killer. Kind of reminds me of this guy from Behind Enemy Lines:
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However, in the interest of not drawing attention from the Ukrainian mob, let's just pretend we never had this conversation.

What are the odds of seeing a Diego Forlan or a Michael Owen in MLS? I think both of these guys would be really exciting to watch and would draw more viewers to the league. - Cory L., Raceland, LA

It's hard to say, and at this point it's probably too early to tell. Forlán is in the first year of a two year deal he signed with Internazionale, and if his interview with Il Cacha is any indication, he isn't planning on leaving any time soon: "I still have several years of my contract remaining and I will respect them. I want to stay in Europe a little longer after that and then, permitting my physical condition, I will return to South America." That said, he was linked to the Seattle Sounders as recently as last year, so things can change. Would he be a good addition to the league? Absolutely. He's going to be 33 this spring, but this is a guy who won the Golden Ball at the World Cup in 2010 and has scored over 200 goals for club and country. We've seen the kind of impact aging stars like Thierry Henry and David Beckham have had on MLS. Forlán could have a similar impact if he chose to come here.
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Much of the same could be said for Michael Owen, except that Owen's future in Europe is more in doubt. Owen is on a one year deal with Manchester United, but has only appeared in 4 games across all competitions this year. Owen just turned 32 and finds himself at the far end of the United bench. While it would seem like he's ripe for the picking when his contract expires, there are those that question Owen's passion for the game and some speculate that he might throw in the towel if he doesn't catch on with a big time club. So to answer your question, I don't know that the odds are great for getting either player, but if I had to pick one of them Owen's contract situation makes it more likely that he'll join MLS.
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I know it's a little early to be talking about next season, but if you're Sir Alex, what do you do with Dimitar Berbatov next year? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Speaking of forwards stuck at the end of Manchester United's bench... I actually think Sir Alex's decision has already been made having stated in December that they intended to exercise their option on Berbatov for the upcoming season. While Berbatov has certainly seen his playing time drop off this year, he's still a valuable asset. Even in diminished minutes, Berbatov's proved to be a potent scorer as evidenced by his 7 goals in his last 5 Premier League appearances. I don't know that Berbatov will stick around beyond next year though. Bayer Leverkusen, mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia) have all expressed interest in the Bulgarian striker and in addition to being able to offer him cash, they'll also be able to offer him minutes, something that may be hard for him to turn down.

As always, a special thanks to all those who wrote in this week. Got a question for the mailbag? Email us at 

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