Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wrapping Up and Not
By Ben Valentine

Yesterday was a Tale of Two Sports day. For those of us who really don't care about Red Sox v. Yankees, then yesterday was baseball's Opening Day. Why was baseball's real opening day not Sunday? Because one game doesn't qualify as an opening. It's more like a preview. Plus, there were still exhibition games being played Sunday. Monday is when the real action began and 2005 Mets opening day quickly reminded me of why I wanted 2004 to end already. More on that later.

Yesternight was the NCAA Men's Basketball National game, starring the Fighting Illini and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Or more accurately, UNC forward Sean May in the lead with supporting roles in the show going to the Illini trio of Dee Brown, Luther Head, Deron Williams, and cameo appearances by Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton. I had the Teels picked to win it all from the start, so yesterday's win proved to me what I had already gathered from watching them sporadically this season: they're the best team in the country with loads of talent and when they play a great game, nobody is beating them.

Well last night was a solid, though not great game. But it was enough because Sean May was spectacular. He was the most dominant force in the tournament; so good that his precense was enough to offset the loads of illegal screens resulting in threes the Illini got away with. I could go on with my analysis of this game, but I'll shorten it to a few quick points.

-For all the talk about coaches, this game was decided by...get this...the players. Once again the coaches didn't have a stellar game. Roy Williams deserves credit for switching to the zone to save Felton when picked up two 1st half fouls, but then again he didn't have much choice. Bruce Weber didn't do anything to get the Illini back into the game; he kept calling for those screens to free up shooters. It's easy when you can set moving picks and not get called. In the end, Weber couldn't diagram anything to stop Sean May and got his best defense against him, James Augustine, a grand total of NINE minutes on the floor thanks to foul trouble. Oh yeah, he fouled out anyway with nine minutes to go in the game. Note to coach Weber, if Augustine is reaching in and picking up ticky tack fouls, tell him NOT to reach in anymore!
It was May day in early April. What a night for the the birthday boy.

-Sean May is good. REAL good. A good coach would have gotten May 35 points last night. But Roy Williams seems to have little control over his players half the time. It seems as if half the time UNC comes down the floor, they settle for a pull up three. When you've got one of the top front courts of the country, you go INSIDE and then kick out when the doubles come. As Sportszilla pointed out to me after the game yesterday, UNC is a rich man's UConn. The difference? May is a more dominant college player than Charlie Villanueva.

-The Fighting Illini were the best jump shooting team in the nation. What does that get you? Notta much come tournament time. To win it all, you need some sort of a compentant big man. Someone who can bang and provide interior defense and can do a little offensively. Otherwise, you're in trouble when you run up against a team that has size. That's why Arizona was up in their game against the Illini and should have won. Salim Stoudamire was shut down but Channing Frye dominated. That's why I felt confident UNC would win last night. In the end, a dominant big man is more valuable than a great three shooter. He not only grabs boards and can alter a game defensively, but he scores on a high percentage of his shots. Think about it, a three versus a five foot shot. Which do you think has a higher percent chance of dropping? Oh by the way, Sean May was 10-11 last night from the field. I don't think he took a shot from further than five feet, except the one he missed. Meanwhile the Illini trio were 19-47.

-Championship games aside, when picking for a pool, you have to make a choice somewhere along the way;
Oh just one more Pittsnogle pic for the road. Thanks to him and his teammates, yesterday had an added bonus for me.

are you going to play a favorite for the national champion or are you going with a somewhat of a surprise team? That decision affects how you pick your entire bracket. If you go with the latter, then you might as well toss out the rest of your bracket. If your team wins, you do too. If you go with the former, then you should do your best to find a surprise team in the field and pick them to go deep, knocking off a team that many people had picked in the process. There always is at least one. My surprise team; the West Virginia Mountaineers. My bracket nearly collapsed after the second half of my championship game, Washington, lost to Louisville. But West Virgina's upset over Wake Forest gave me points only one other person had. I won the pool I was in by one point over someone who picked UNC over Illinois. The West Virginia win over Wake was worth two points. How big was that?

What a Mess- Version 2.005

Just kidding with the title, though yesterday's loss in Cincy was a miserable one to watch. But remember folks, it's one game. Every team blows a lead like that at some time in the season, even the Yankees. Hey the 2003 Red Sox did it, and they came 5 outs away from the World Series.

What does this loss prove? The Mets bullpen isn't a strength. Well congrats, you've stumbled on the worst secret in baseball. But I challenge you to find me a team where bullpen IS a strength. Even the vaunted Yankees have some weakness. Flash Gordon? Remember him in the playoffs last year? Mike Stanton? Did anyone watch him last year? The guy was awful. He was so bad the Mets for all their bullpen woes, took Yankees trash (Felix Heredia) just to get him off the team. Now I'm supposed to believe because he puts on the pinstripes, Stanton is suddenly a productively lefty again? Sorry, I'm not drinking that Kool-Aid.

Middle relief is the biggest misnomer in baseball. Nobody has it. Some teams are better at trotting out mediocre pitchers than others. The best middle relievers usually become closers. The rest stay middle relievers and bounce around from team to team. You can make the playoffs without a good pen. The Braves of the late 90's featured great pitchers like Brad Clontz and Alan Embree. What about those Sox of 2003, or even 2004. Mike Timlin anyone[Editor's note: Alan Embree was on those Red Sox teams]?
Jose Reyes and his legs will have more to say about the 2005 Mets than Dae Sung Koo will.

Folks, the F-Rods and the Lidges only come around so often. When compared with the rest of Major League Baseball, the Mets middle relief will blow as many saves as anyone else. Braden Looper scares me a bit more, but in the end, he'll still average.

The Mets will be better than last year because Carlos Beltran is a better player than Shane Spencer/Karim Garcia. They'll be better because David Wright will be up for the whole year and because Jose Reyes will be healthier (or at least Met fans hope).

But Willie, please don't pitch to Adam Dunn late in a close ball game.

//Editor's Note-This piece has received serious editing because when Ben doesn't get enough sleep, concepts like grammar, spelling, and factual accuracy tend to go by the wayside//


Blogger David Arnott said...

The Angels, Dodgers, and A's all have excellent middle relief. In the case of the Angels, and to a lesser extent the Dodgers, teams fear facing three or four guys in the bullpen more than the guys at the back end of the rotation. In the case of the Angels, none of their middle relievers are considered future closers because they're all considered to have hit their ceilings. The Dodgers and A's have guys who great or should be great, but either A)haven't really made a big league track record, or B)have someone named Gagne in front of them.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Teams can be lucky enough to put together a mediocre bunch who perform decently for a time, but the truth is I doubt any of those teams truly wants the game in the hands of their middle relief if it were on the line. In the 7th inning of a 4-3 game the Dodgers need to win, they are hoping Odalis Perez has something left in the tank to get them to Gagne in the 8th. The Dodgers pen is better than most, but it is by no means great. It's a mix of young guys who COULD be good and old mediocre pitchers. Same thing with the A's, except their closer isn't very good. (And I like Dotel, but he's blown as a closer) In the end the Dodgers pen is deemed more reliable than most because it's guys could be closers down the road. Emphasis on "could" once again. They could also fare poorly as many relief pitching prospects have. Dotel was going to be a good closer too but it hasn't happened. Plus middle relief is shaky from year to year. Some middle relievers go from great to bad very quickly; usually because they're one or two pitch pitchers and hitters figure them out. Bottom line, if they were dominant pitchers, they'd be starters or a closer. If they're in middle relief, then there is usually a good reason: they aren't very good. Most middle relievers strike fear into no one... I mean look at Rincon for the A's. Good lefty, but his career is up and down. And he's one of the top setup guys. A few years ago Felix Rodriguez was a great reliever. Now he's rarely even talked about. Middle relief is a shaky prospect, end of story. Teams that get by normally have a good closer, which the Mets don't have. Braden Looper will kill the Mets far more than anyone else in that pen will.

6:07 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

First, I think you're missing a trend of the past three to four years, which is that teams are developing guys specifically to be relievers instead of trying to make all the "best" guys into starters and relegating the rest to the bullpen. There are now guys in the majors who have not been starting pitchers since they were in high school. Thus, there are very good quality pitchers in major league bullpens, guys who, in other eras, might still be in the minors trying to develop stamina and fourth pitches. Second, I also think that you of all people should be aware of the dilemma presented by small sample sizes. Most relievers pitch so few innings in a given season that their numbers are subject to big swings thanks to two or three bad outings, or two or three great outings. So, you kind of have to use more subjective methods of evaluating bullpens, such as determining how many guys have nasty stuff, and how nasty is that stuff? Look at all the setup guys in the majors. I think that batters would rather face more fourth starters than setup guys, and that's a function of most bullpens getting real attention instead of being just collections of pitchers not good enough to be starters.

1:00 AM  

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