June 28, 2011

Playing "What If" With Potential Steroid Users: Ken Griffey Jr. Edition

     The last two "what ifs" dealt with players who used steroids.  This time, we're going to travel to a very bizarre alternate reality and give PED's to a player who we really, really hope was clean:  Ken Griffey Jr. 
     Imagine that the 1999 season has just finished.  Griffey has just hit 398 home runs in his first eleven MLB seasons and has hit at least 48 in each of the last four seasons.  Yet his consistent play is being overshadowed by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who both hit 60+ home runs in 1998 and 1999.  Feeling jealous of all the media coverage those two are receiving, he starts taking a full regimen of performance enhancers, much like Barry Bonds did in our universe.
     Version 1:  Griffey hits 61 home runs in 2000, good enough to lead the majors.  The next year, he ties Sammy Sosa with 64 HR's in just 111 games while batting .371.  He follows that up with 3 fantastic yet injury-shortened seasons, one of which involves him batting .431.
     In 2005, Griffey comes back in a big way, hitting 58 long balls.  By this time, the only way pitchers can think of to stop him is to injure him again, leading to Griffey being hit by 63 pitches that year, which breaks a 109-year-old record.
     After MLB cracks down on intentionally beaning batters, Griffey hits 60 home runs in 109 games in 2006.  That's when things get really weird.
     Being fueled by hatred from opposing pitchers and fans who are now finding out about his past doping, Junior finally breaks the single-season HR record he has been seeking for so long, hitting 114 in 2007, at 37 years old.  MLB tries to find a way to suspend him, but he is no longer taking steroids and there is nothing they can do about it.
     Griffey adds 82 home runs to his career total in 2008 and 95 in 2009.  After playing 33 games in 2010, Griffey decides he's bored and really doesn't care about baseball anymore, and he opts to retire mid-season.  Ken Griffey Jr. finishes his career with a .309 batting average and 1022 home runs.

     Version 2:  Griffey hits 59 home runs in 2000, good enough to lead the majors.  The next year, he gets 52 HR's in just 111 games.  He follows that up with 3 great yet injury-shortened seasons, one of which involves him batting .404.
     In 2005, Griffey comes back in a big way, hitting 60 long balls with a .371 average.  He follows with 54 in 2006 and 65 in 2007.
     However, after that season Griffey returns to pre-steroid form at the plate, hovering around 40 home runs for each of the next two seasons while dealing with scrutiny from the media about his past abuse of illegal substances.  Having broken the career home run record in 2007, Griffey feels that playing baseball has become stale, and, after going homerless in 33 games in 2010, he opts to retire mid-season.
     Griffey fails to gain the single-season home run record that inspired him to dope in the first place, though he does finish his career with a .307 batting average and 839 home runs.

*Notes about the stories above:  Both versions are based from actual projections I did.  None of the numbers were just made up on the spot.  Both versions were made by dividing Barry Bonds's actual stats for each year by his projected stats from the post I wrote before.  Some random outliers in that result were changed to more closely reflect the trends being shown; namely, the 2005 HR stats and the 2005 HBP stats.  This Bonds Factor went through 2007 (as did Bonds' career), so the 2007 factor was also applied to 2008-2010. Version 1 is the result of Griffey's career projection, as done in the previous two What If posts, multiplied by the Bonds Factor.  Version 2 is Griffey's actual career multiplied by the Bonds Factor.  The reason I did one of each is because I thought using the underwhelming end to Griffey's career would be unfair to him.  Blame Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron for the 114-HR season.  They both played really well at age 37.

June 25, 2011

Playing "What If" With Steroid Users: Sammy Sosa Edition

     A few weeks ago, I did a projection of Barry Bonds's career without steroids.  This time, I'll be focusing on one of my favorite relics of the Steroid Era:  Sammy Sosa.
     Sosa amazes me because he's a guy with over 600 career home runs and a pretty good batting average, yet he's a Hall of Fame afterthought.  It's safe to say he wouldn't have those numbers if it weren't for PED's, but could he have gotten close enough to still make the Hall?
     I designed this experiment much like the Bonds one.  Though I didn't hear anything about Sosa failing a test until 2003, let's just assume for this exercise that the doping started with 1998, when he jumped from 36 HR's to 66.  I used the stats from age 23 to 28 as the baseline, so the players' adjustment years wouldn't affect the outcome.

The Results:
     Real Sammy would go on to hit 60+ home runs in 3 of the next 4 seasons.  Clean Sammy went on to hit 33, 32, 39, and 30 in those seasons.  His final career stat line:

Hits:  2288  (2408 with 'roids)
SB:  313  (234)
BB:  631  (929)
SO:  2344  (2306)
Avg:  .250  (.273)
OBP:  .300  (.344)
SLG:  .453  (.534)
RBI:  1481  (1667)
HR:  456  (609)

Applying the same 15% penalty I gave to Bonds, Sosa's stats would look like this:

0.213 AVG, 388 HR, 266 SB, 1259 RBI

     This case is more intriguing to me than Bonds's because Sosa taking PED's could be seen as a good idea.  Nobody cares about a .250 batter with 456 HR's.  Getting to 600, no matter the method, is going to put you in the discussion though.

     Other Possibilities for this series:  Ken Griffey Jr. with steroids, Albert Pujols non-aided projection, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez

June 22, 2011

A Celebration Of Personalities In Sports

     Athletes have become increasingly predictable in their interviews, doling out large portions of "it is what it is" and "one game at a time" whenever they get the chance.  They've been trained to do these things because any deviation from the usual script leads to ESPN questioning your motivation, character, effects on other teams' performance, and things like that.  Fans seem to like players who are emotionally invested only in their craft (but not too much) and show as little personality as possible.  I, on the other hand, enjoy seeing different types of people interacting on the same field of play.  I also like athletes that are willing to be honest with us because I want to know what they're actually thinking.
    With that being said, I'd like to celebrate the athletes who have made sports fun to follow not only on the field, but off of it as well, such as:

-Nyjer Morgan, for slamming your glove down after almost giving up a home run, and also for bringing the pain again tomorrow (Aaaahhh, I gotta go!)

-Dwyane Wade, for telling your hand that it's hot

-Reggie Bush, for actually admitting that not going to offseason activities is really nice
-Albert Haynesworth, for admitting that you hate playing the 3-4
-Vince Young, for caring way too much when people boo you
-Allen Iverson, for talking about practice
-Dwight Howard, for impersonating Arnold Schwartzenegger, Shaquille O' Neal, Stan Van Gundy, and pretty much everyone else on the planet
-Ryan Braun, for that time you called out your GM for giving you terrible pitchers (a valid complaint)
-Shaquille O'Neal, basically for existing
-Ricky Davis, for caring perhaps a bit too much about getting a triple-double

And a bunch of other people I can't think of right now.

Thank you.  Please don't change.

June 17, 2011

Two Reasons The U.S. Open Is Great

1.  It's designed with a winning score in mind.
     I find it amazing that the USGA tries to manipulate the U.S. Open courses so that the winner will be at even par.  I find it even more amazing that they get it as close as they do.  The last seven U.S. Open champions finished with a score between -4 and +5.  Taking a course like Pebble Beach, which plays like most other courses during the AT&T Pro-Am, and trying to shave off just enough strokes by expanding the rough and watering greens less often and things like that is a ridiculously tough task.  In 2010, they did just that.
     It's also interesting as a viewer to watch the competition between the players and course designers unfold.  Even when you think someone will win with a great score, you can never know for sure.  Last year, I was really annoyed by Dustin Johnson and his 3-stroke lead at 6 under par after the third day.  But somehow he managed a collapse on the last day and Graeme McDowell won with, you guessed it, even par.

2.  There's no other golf tournament like it.

     A tournament with the best players in the world facing a course designed to keep them over par.  It's brilliant.  The other majors are only interesting to us because they have a lot of history, rich guys wearing green, or because the PGA feels the need to have a "championship".  Really, they're normal tournaments like any other.  The U.S. Open brings that extra something the other majors don't have.
     I think golf needs more gimmicks like the U.S. Open.  Challenges in golf are often too subtle for the casual viewer to notice.  Things like a greenside bunker that the wind blows toward, or a green with a weird break to the left.  I can only think of three awesome gimmick holes:  the island green at Sawgrass, the random fairway tree on 18 at Pebble Beach, and the cart path cutting through the 18th fairway at St. Andrews (which is too close to the tee to really come into play because, well, it's a cart path).  If the PGA is really worried about getting better ratings, they'll add holes with things like:
     -a random strip of cement 300 yards off the tee, so someone can bounce their drive off of it
     -a fairway littered with rocks, trees, tiny water hazards, tiny bunkers, etc. so you never know what will to happen to that shot
     -drives and approaches over trees that are just the right height to be annoying
     -shots from or onto a tall cliff
     -a green with one of those mini-golf volcano-looking hole locations
     -extreme fairway slope
     -a 50-yard mini-version of the Sawgrass hole, just to watch a pro botch a 50-yard tee shot
     -inverted bunkers a.k.a big hills of sand

     Maybe that would be too much for golf to handle.  But I think if you had all of that on one course, that would be the most entertaining tournament to happen every year.

June 14, 2011

Introducing "The Dump"

     Some ideas are hard to put into 200 or 300 word articles.  I didn't want to mix them in with my legit, well-developed posts, so I created a random mind dump for them, affectionately named "The Dump".  You can check it out by clicking the link on the left hand side of the page.  Since it's not actually a post, you won't get updates on your dashboard, so make sure to check if anything else was added to it every time you read W17L.  Provided, of course, that you actually care.  I hope you enjoy it!

June 13, 2011

LeBron And Wade: A Double Standard

     I understand ESPN has never been a fortress of journalistic integrity, but they've reached a new low with the way they're bashing LeBron James while putting Dwyane Wade on a pedestal.  And it's annoying me so much that I'm going to go right to the examples because I can't come up with a better sentence to put here.

     By now you've probably seen or heard about the video of Wade and James mocking Dirk Nowitzki's Game 4 sinus infection.  The criticism has been strong and unending.  Today I heard some random ESPN guy say that LeBron needs to "just shut up" and "maybe he'd be funnier if he could score in the 4th quarter".  First of all, I don't know how the ability to put a ball through a net makes someone better at insults.  Secondly, why is no one emphasizing the fact that Wade started it?  He's the one that turned a random cough into a "Look at me, I'm sick" joke.  LeBron just went along with it because he and Dwyane are friends.  If he had told Wade to knock it off, everyone would be talking about chemistry issues between the two.
     It's not just the cough video.  LeBron has a reputation for being immature, though the only thing I can think of that he did this year is the often-cited preseason celebration, where he promised Heat fans "not five, not six, not seven" championships.  What else was he supposed to say?  "Well, hopefully we win the title this year, but if we don't we still have a few more years together to possibly win one"?  Of course you tell your fans you're going to get them a bunch of titles for them!
     Meanwhile, we seem to have forgotten a couple of gems from Wade, namely the Heat losing/World Trade Center comparison from before the season and the downright whiny "This is what everyone wants" when the Heat were losing a lot mid-season.  (Both of which are valid in my book, but the media usually hates that kind of thing.)  If anyone on the Heat is immature, it's Dwyane Wade.

     One of the staples of LeBron criticism is his lack of crunch-time fortitude.  Look at this year's Finals:  James only scored 11 points in the first five 4th quarters.  But in the Conference Finals it was LeBron who took over late in the game while Wade struggled.  If this was any other team, the two would be lauded as good teammates who are willing to defer to the hot hand.  When LeBron is involved, though, all of his great moments are forgotten and Wade is said to be carrying the team.

     Could this be the reason Dwyane Wade gets a free pass on everything?  Because he got a ring in one of the least respected NBA Finals ever?  Even if the Heat win a championship in the next few years, somehow it won't count for James because he asked for Wade's help.  Why wasn't Wade criticized for recruiting James and Bosh to come play with him?  If Wade wants to be one of the best ever, then he should be trying to win by himself, right?  Speaking of that, why does LeBron always get compared to Michael Jordan when Wade is one ring closer?  It is because LeBron is better and Wade has no shot at becoming that legendary?  Then why is Wade considered the star of the Heat?
     None of this makes any sense to me.

June 11, 2011

Why I'm Rooting For An NFL Lockout

     That's right, I said it.  I'd like to see an NFL lockout.  Yes, I mean one that lasts into the season.  Before you come after me with all manners of weapons, let me explain.  One reason we like to watch sports is the possibility that we'll see something we've never seen before.  I've been watching football for roughly ten years, and in that time span I've seen an 0-16 team, a 16-0 team, a 5-seed beat an 18-0 team to win the Super Bowl thanks to a near-sack followed by a helmet-aided catch, a 7-9 team make the playoffs, an 11-5 team miss the playoffs, a rookie set a single-game rushing yard record, two 2,000-yard rushing seasons, a 6th-round draft pick win 3 Super Bowls and throw 50 TD's in one season, and Chad Johnson putt a football with a pylon.
     But every year, each team played 16 regular season games and 4 or 5 preseason games.  I find the lockout fresh and interesting.  I'm curious to see what an 8-game season feels like.  Maybe the extra pressure of each game would make for better, more exciting football.  And I could probably get my fix of football for the other 8 weeks by watching college or the UFL.  It wouldn't be terrible.  If people have to turn to the UFL, maybe it will gain momentum and we'll have even more quality football to watch in years to come.

June 9, 2011

A Safer Kickoff Rule I Didn't Come Up With

     Week 17 Legend is dedicated to coming up with unique solutions to problems in sports, but when we can't do that, we're fine with just mentioning other people's ideas.  (I have no idea why I just referred to myself in the plural.)  So today brings an idea to improve the safety of kickoffs in football, courtesy of Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.  Did I mention it involves removing kickoffs completely?  It's a totally bizarre idea, but I think it could work.  The UFL should give it a try.

     Check out the details on Sports HR.

June 8, 2011

Playing "What If" With Steroid Users: Barry Bonds Edition

     It's a hot topic every time Baseball Hall of Fame voting season comes along.  What do we make of the Steroid Era?  Should we ban all users?  That's not exactly fair to guys like Bonds and Clemens, who were Hall-quality players without PED's.  If you want to cite "character issues", then Ty Cobb ought to be removed from the Hall, right?  At the other extreme, what if we take all stats at face value?  That's not fair to players who were clean but not as great as they could have been.
     I'm curious how much of an effect steroids had on some of the most notable offenders.  So I'll be conducting a number of "experiments" to try to figure out what kind of numbers these players would have put up had they not resorted to performance enhancers.  And who better to start with than the most notorious of them all, Barry Bonds?
     Warning:  Here's the boring rundown of how I set up the experiment.  Read at your own risk.

     The first thing I had to do was determine which seasons would be considered tainted.  A semi-thorough Wikipedia search brought up a failed test in November 2000.  So the 2000 season would be the first to be removed.  It made sense:  Bonds had a then-career-high 49 homers at age 35 while bumping his slugging percentage from .617 to .688.
     The next task was developing a baseline to use from his clean years.  Thanks to baseball-reference.com, I compiled an average statline from the 10 years spanning age 25 to age 34, so MLB entry age wouldn't affect the numbers.  I converted all the stats to a per-plate-appearance basis.
     After that, I used the similarity scores on the website to find which players were most like Bonds after age 34.  Bonds would be expected to drop off at the same rate as similar players did.  I used 5 of the top 6 (Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Jeff Bagwell, and Gary Sheffield; Vlad Guerrero was #5 but he's still playing), and compiled their stats the same way.
     Then for each similar player, I turned their stats from each year after age 34 into per-PA numbers and divided them by their 10-year baseline.  That yielded a measure of how much a certain stat had deviated from that player's normal.
     For each year of age, I averaged the year-to-baseline numbers of the 5 similar players to get one projected value for each stat.  If a player had retired by that age, they didn't count at all in the average.  Since all 5 players had retired after age 40, I used the numbers from age 40 for Bonds' 41st and 42nd years as well.
     The final step was to basically run the conversion process in reverse, using Barry's baseline and his actual number of plate appearances for each year.

The Results:
     Clean Barry would go on to hit 33 home runs in 2000 and 31 in 2001, compared with Real Barry's 49 and 73, respectively.
     Finally, the results of Extreme Makeover: Barry Bonds Edition:

Hits:  2848  (2935 with 'roids)
SB:  531  (514)
BB:  2147  (2558)
SO:  1668  (1539)
Avg:  .277  (.298)
OBP:  .402  (.444)
SLG:  .527  (.607)
RBI:  1862  (1996)
HR:  614  (762)
IBB:  381  (688)

     I dare anyone to say that's not a Hall of Fame player.  That's what makes Bonds' steroid use so troubling.  He was one of the last people that would have needed it.  He ruined his whole legacy just to get a piece of a 5-year-long home run fad.
     So what to make of his Hall-worthiness?  What would happen if we took Clean Barry's projected numbers and just gave him a steroid penalty?  If we take 15% off of Clean Barry's numbers, we get something like this:

0.235 AVG, 522 HR, 451 SB, 1583 RBI

You make the call.  Is Clean Barry Hall-worthy?  Is Clean Barry + Penalty Hall-worthy?  Is Real Barry Hall-worthy?  And who else would you like to see get an Extreme Stat Makeover?

June 7, 2011

The One Instance When "Vacation" Is A Bad Thing

     I love strange occurrences in sports.  I love when a 7-9 team makes the playoffs, when an NBA player plays 85 games in one regular season, when a team throws a no-hitter and loses, and things like that.  But I draw the line at vacating wins, championships, and awards that have already been earned.  The idea that something happened and then suddenly didn't is just too weird for me.
     Consider these cases:  In 2008, Kansas won the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament after beating a team that officially went 0-0 that year.  The 1996 Atlantic-10 champion, UMass, went 30-5 but did not officially play in the NCAA Tournament.  Nobody won the 2005 Heisman Trophy.  USC played Oklahoma in the 2004 BCS National Championship, but no team won the championship that year.
     Another problem I have with vacating things is that nobody takes it seriously.  Nobody would say that USC has won 4 BCS bowls.  Most would say they won 5, but one got vacated.  So what's the point?  It's still there.  It's impossible to make something un-happen.  The NCAA and BCS should worry more about preventive measures like removing scholarships and postseason bans, instead of trying to change history.

     On a lighter note, this whole lack of a 2004 champion would make for a great ESPN special in 2024.  Imagine:  The losers of the championship game, Oklahoma, taking on Auburn, the team that should have gotten in that game instead of the ineligible USC, in a football game 20 years after the fact, with bragging rights on the line.  Not with college players, but with the very alumni that were affected.  There would be very few things better than watching middle-aged Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, and Adrian Peterson in one last hurrah for the pride of their alma mater.  This needs to happen.

Coming soon to W17L:

Why I Want To See An NFL Lockout


Playing What-If With Steroid Users


A Statistical Analysis Of Clutch


Trying To Create A Formula For QB Greatness