The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bill James and Clutch Hitting

There has been a veritable firestorm in some SABR circles lately about the existence of clutch hitting ability and clutch hitters. Actually, this is a debate that has probably raged for the past twenty or thirty years (at least with data to support the argument).

In his latest work on the subject (please feel free to download, link to, and share the linked file), which hasn't been officially published anywhere, but which James has shared via SABR and is willing to share with anyone, James clarifies something that I think many of us miss when discussing clutch hitting:
random data proves nothing—and it cannot be used as a proof of nothingness

This statement was made to clarify an assumption that has often been made about clutch hitting: that since it cannot (or at least it hasn't been done so far) be proven, clutch hitting must not exist. Instead, James is pointing out that studies of clutch hitting often merely find random data - which doesn't prove anything.

James goes on to say:
I take no position whatsoever about whether clutch hitting exists or does not exists. I simply don’t have any idea

In his article (link above) James references some criticsm and other articles that have been written in response to his work. Those can be found here.

Personally (and while I cannot quantify it), my belief is that clutch hitting exists. However, there is so much clutch ability in major league baseball that it is difficult to identify and quantify. Major League baseball players are a very select group. Even the "worst" major leaguers are among the most elite baseball players in the world. The difference in ability between the best and the worst big leaguers is not that great. To make it to the majors, a ballplayer has to (typically) succeed in his youth and earn his way up through multiple levels of the minor leagues. In my opinion, those players who lack clutch ability (whether they are hitters or pitchers) don't make it to the majors (or if they do, it doesn't happen very frequently).

To give a more "real world" example, it's like being in a graduate program at Harvard (or I'm assuming this is how it is) and trying to figure out who the smart people are. The answer is not that some people are smart and that other people are not. It's pretty likely that everyone in the room is highly intelligent - probably in the upper one or two percent of world-wide intelligence. Sure, there will be some variability in intelligence and abilities, but I'm willing to guess that nearly everyone is very smart.

I think the same holds true in Major League baseball, but in terms of "clutch" ability instead of intelligence. The players who are clutch make it. You have to perform in front of scouts - that's the first clutch test. Plus there are big games as little leaguers. All of the bench guys who you rag on used to come through in the clutch at lower levels. Now they're just not the best of the best anymore. And when we see a clutch pitcher go up against a clutch hitter in a clutch situation, someone is going to have to fail. That's what makes Major League Baseball so great; the players are at the top of their field and imperceptible subtelties often make all the difference.

Monday, June 27, 2005

CWS Ends

College baseball season is now over, as Texas swept Florida in the championship round. While I'm relieved that the Gators didn't take home the title this year, I would have liked to have seen one last game played tonight. Oh well. February isn't that far away.

In other college sports news (editorials really), Dan LeBatard wrote a piece over the weekend about how the transgressions of University of Miami athletes (those who have already left the school) seem to reflect more directly on the University than similar misdeeds of athletes from former schools.

It's an interesting piece. There are some factual errors - for instance Jon Vilma and D.J. Williams did not leave school early. Many attribute this phenomenon with Miami's athletes to it seeming that while athletes from former schools go on to become "former Tar Heels" or "former Buckeyes" no one becomes a former Cane. Once you become a Hurricane, you're a Hurricane for life. I guess because of that you sometimes have to take the bad along with the good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Following the CWS

I found a nice site today (Omaha's main newspaper, actually) to follow the College World Series, so I thought that I'd share it with you.

Here it is.

Also, they put together a list of the Top 25 Programs of All-Time. Miami comes in at #5. FSU is #12. UF isn't on the list. :-)

Monday, June 20, 2005

And then there were seven...

Tennessee was eliminated over the weekend, making them the first team, from the field of eight, to be eliminated in the 2005 College World Series.

Despite their quick departure, the Vols added what's sure to be a highlight to this year's CWS - though it happened after they were eliminated yesterday:

Moments after his team meeting broke up after Tennessee was eliminated by Arizona State, Tennessee left fielder Julio Borbon ran out to the wall to thank those Nebraska fans in the bleachers who cheered for him Sunday.

Borbon high-fived those hanging on the wall, and the fans gave him a standing ovation. Classy, on both sides.

You don't always see that sort of thing at a sporting event. But what's normally out of the norm seems to become the norm in Omaha.

In other news, Florida looked very good over the weekend - much to my disappointment. The Gators - along with the winner of tonight's Texas - Tulane matchup - are sitting on easy street, with a clean path to the finals, and the opportunity to rest until Wednesday.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Fish Stripes: Up and Down

Fish Stripes, and the other SB Nation sites, seem to be having some issues today. In case you can't get on to Fish Stripes today, but you do find your way to here, feel free to use this thread for today's Open Thread and Ichthyomancy.

Marlins and Angels get underway in a few minutes (around 3 Eastern time).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

CWS Picks

The College World Series starts tomorrow, so it's about time that I came clean about my horrible predictions. In the early going last weekend, my picks looked flat out horrific. Miami, Georgia Tech, and Florida State (each from the ACC) were all swept; I had them picked for Omaha.

Later in the weekend, Tulane, Oregon State, Texas, and Baylor all came through. That made me four for eight on picks (I was also off on the Arizona State - Fullerton series). That's not too sparkling of a record. I will say though that I called Oregon State a few months back. So that should count for something (I also picked Miami and FSU with my heart and not with my head).

Excuses over. Now on to Omaha talk.

The opening round features some interesting matchups. Texas and Baylor are very familiar with each other. So are Tennessee and Florida.

I'm still getting used to the new CWS format - where there are effectively two four-team regionals, followed by one two-team super regional to decide the national champion. This year the brackets are: 1) Tulane - OSU, Texas - Baylor and 2) Tennessee - Florida, Arizona State - Nebraska.

My personal favorite for the rest of the tournament is Arizona State. I grew up following Arizona State baseball and they're the closest thing I have left to a school that I have any allegiance to. The Marlins Paul LoDuca is also a Sun Devil. Plus, ASU's come-from-behind series victory is also a good story, particularly after they lost the opening game against Fullerton last weekend on a phantom balk call. Arizona State is the Cinderella of this tournament, along with Tennessee, so I'm happy to cheer for them.

Unfortunately, they face Nebraska in the opening game and the Huskers are loaded with pitching. Even if the Sun Devils survive the opening game, they're likely to have to face the Huskers later in the week (keep in mind that the CWS is double elimination).

There are a lot of great players (as always) to watch in this year's CWS. Many of the players you'll see in the next week and a half will be major league stars in the coming years. Nebraska features Jeff Gordon. Tennessee features Luke Hochevar. Tulane features Micah Owings and Brian Bougesvic. Texas has Taylor Teagarden, who has a name that's as cool as he is a good player. Florida features, well... who cares.

I like Tulane to knock out Texas in the "left" bracket (based on how the form is printed, I'm not trying to get political). On the right side, I'll take Arizona State to knock off Nebraska (although that's another heart and not a head pick). In the championship round (best of three), I like Tulane over Arizona State. That Tulane was able to come back against Rice last weekend was very impressive. They have a team loaded with future pros (maybe not major leaguers, but pros). There is depth at Tulane, plus a number of special players. That's a winning formula at the CWS.

Monday, June 13, 2005

CWS Update

My picks for the CWS are looking pretty horrible. Miami, Georgia Tech, FSU, and Fullerton all went down over the weekend. I could take an 0-for on my picks. That's pretty embarrassing.

I'd like to rant and rave about the Canes late season meltdown, but I just can't bring myself to. This was the weakest Canes team in many years. Other than Carrillo, the pitching just wasn't there. Offensively, there were plenty of nice players (the Figueroa brothers, Braun, and Jay in particular), but the team clearly missed Barket (Tulane), Dini (Tulane), and Hooft (Arizona State). Those three guys are all still playing today and the Canes might be too if they were all still in Coral Gables.

More than anything, this is college sports. And in college sports, the best stories aren't always the ones about who wins and loses. The best stories are often the ones that you might not always here. With the Canes, I'd wondered in recent weeks what was happening with the middle infield. One of last year's post-season stars for the Canes was SS Roger Tomas. This year, he struggled, and ultimately didn't play much late in the year. Tomas's performance didn't bother me in the slightest. I knew that he'd been dealing with a plethora of off field issues. Not seeing him in the lineup did make me fear the worst. While "the worst" isn't the case with Tomas, it's been a really tough period for this young man.

This isn't an example of one of "the best stories" that you'd like to hear about, but Tomas has proven himself to be one of the best in terms of heart. I'm really hoping that things work out for him and that he regains his health.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Super Regional Coverage

I suppose that now would be my last chance to clean up my predictions for the weekend, but I'll let them stand.

ESPN has some nice coverage of this weekend's games. There's a preview of each series with anonymous commentary from different coaches. The anonymity seems to make the insight pretty specific. Here are the links:

Miami - Nebraska
Rice - Tulane
Tennessee - Georgia Tech
Southern Cal - Oregon State
Arizona State - Fullerton
Texas - Mississippi
Clemson - Baylor

Schedules for each series are listed in the previews above, but a composite schedule can be found here.

Over at Boyd's World, there's a nice article about this weekend's slate of games. What's possibly the most interesting is that--per Boyd's numbers--Oregon State and Cal State Fullerton are co-favorites to win the title, at least at this point.

Miami gets underway at 1 PM today. Cesar Carrillo will start for the Canes, but rumors have circulated this week that the Huskers will save their ace for the Saturday (or Sunday) game. They'd have to be pretty confident about winning the final two games to try that strategy.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Best T-shirts I've Seen Lately

1. "I love Men" (with the "n" crossed out, and "love" actually being a heart - think the old "I love NYC" shirts) - it doesn't exactly work for me, but it's funny.
2. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" - this would get me out of a lot of trouble
3. "Stop Plate Tectonics"

I'd purchase the last two.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Super Regional Predictions

The first weekend of the college baseball post-season is in the books and sixteen teams are left standing. Here are the teams, and their matchups for this weekend (national seeds in parentheses):

Rice at Tulane (1)
Tennessee at Georgia Tech (2)
Miami at Nebraska (3)
Clemson at Baylor (4)
Texas at Mississippi (5)
Arizona State at Cal State Fullerton (6)
Florida State at Florida (7)
Southern California at Oregon State (8)

I really didn't go much out on a limb last week, but I predicted 12 of the 16 Super Regional Teams correctly (missing on Rice, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arizona State). That probably sounds nice, but isn't particuarly great considering that it was mostly top seeds that won last weekend. Southern California was the only non-number one seed pick that I was correct about. I'm not sure why I didn't pick Arizona State.

Here are my picks for this weekend (just as a reminder, the Super Regionals are a best-of-three set, beginning either on Friday or Saturday, depending on the specific regional):

Rice at Tulane (1)
I'd like to pick Rice, but there's no picking against Tulane. Rice will make it interesting though, but Tulane will win in three.

Tennessee at Georgia Tech (2)
If Tennessee gets a game, it will only be because of their ace, Hochevar.

Miami at Nebraska (3)
Nebraska is a legitimate team, but I have to go with my heart and take the Canes.

Clemson at Baylor (4)
Clemson won a tough regional. For it, they get no reward. Baylor wins in three.

Texas at Mississippi (5)
The Longhorns got shafted out of a national seed, and now have to travel to Ole Miss because of it. This is unfortunate because a UT - Ole Miss matchup is Omaha worthy. Despite the home field advantage and slightly better numbers, I'll take Texas here.

Arizona State at Cal State Fullerton (6)
The Sun Devils apparently have no one that loves them on the NCAA selection committee. In recent years they've found some very tough roads to Omaha. This year is no exception. CSUF will advance to Omaha.

Florida State at Florida (7)
The consensus here is that the Gators will romp. They're higher ranked, more highly touted, and playing at home. Florida State is better than folks give them credit for though. I think FSU will pull off the upset. Or maybe I'm just hoping for that.

Southern California at Oregon State (8)
This too will be a better Super Regional than most folks expect. While USC didn't host a regional last weekend, they were certainly deserving of the honor (as evidenced by the fact that they won on the road last week). Despite that, Oregon State will take out the Trojans this weekend.

So my picks for Omaha are as follows (with upsets claiming their victim's seeding):
1. Tulane
2. Georgia Tech
3. Miami
4. Baylor
5. Texas
6. Fullerton
7. Florida State
8. Oregon State

If that were to hold up, these would be the opening pairings in Omaha (keep in mind that with the new format, the College World Series is effectively two four-team brackets, with the winners facing off in a best of three series):
Oregon State (8) vs. Tulane (1)
Baylor (4) vs. Texas (5)

Georgia Tech (2) vs. Florida State (7)
Miami (3) vs. Cal-State Fullerton (6)

If my picks hold up, we'll have some very interesting matchups in Omaha. Sure, some teams (Oregon State and Tulane) are totally unfamiliar to each other. But others know each other inside and out (Baylor - Texas, and GT - FSU - Miami).

This should be another fun weekend of baseball.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Disappointed in The U

I'll get back to college baseball talk tomorrow (once all the regionals are decided). For today, I wanted to rant about some of the recent goings-on with former University of Miami football players.

For the past decade or so (yes, that's how long it's been - Butch Davis came on board with the Canes for the 1995 season), we've heard all sorts of talk about how Miami is cleaning up its image and its program. To a large extent, that has happened. Miami has continued to win football games (including the 2001 national championship and a 34-game win streak), as they have for 20-plus years. They've also turned out Academic All-Americans, including Draddy winner Joaquin Gonzalez (remember him? He turned down the Harvard scholarship and ended up earning an MBA during his five years at UM) and all-around All-Americans, such as QB Ken Dorsey.

During this current run, the Canes have also turned out a record number of NFL players. The stats and comparsions are too time consuming to make, so I'll assume that you can find them on your own. Maybe it's the volume of players that's the cause of what's bothering me (as any time more and more people from any school find their way into any profession, the more likely it is that some of them will not work out or will have colorful off the job problems).

Unfortunately I think the problem runs deeper than that. Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow's recent off-field issues may be limited to only them, but they reflect on the University of Miami as a whole. The University has done so much over the past decade to eradicate much of the reputation that it earned during the 80s and 90s - but all of those efforts can be quickly rendered meaningless if a handful of former players make headlines for the wrong reasons off the field.

Hopefully Taylor and Winslow are just isolated examples. I hope Miami is holding itself to a higher standard in recruiting football players (along with other students and athletes). The choice shouldn't be whether to recruit the best football players or the best student-athletes. The only option should be to recruit the best football playing student-athletes. The distinction is slight, but it's an important one.

At the end of the day, the general public doesn't remember that Taylor and Winslow left school early and without their diplomas. The public doesn't remember that the only time they hear about Jon Vilma or D.J. Williams is when it's football related or when they are doing something positive. The thing that sticks out in people's minds is that Sean Taylor went to Miami and that he's out waving a gun at people and that Miami's "f-ing soldier", Kellen Winslow, looks foolish for jeopardizing his career for a motorcycle ride. In the long run, those kinds of memories will stick with people longer than a 34-game win streak, a 5th national title in two decades, or inspiring stories like Willis McGahee's.

(Hey Kellen - if you're such a "f-ing solider" why don't you walk off your injuries and actually play some football this year? Why didn't you do that last year? Oh - what's that? It's physically impossible? Fine - then just be quiet and save your talk for when you've actually proven something. In the mean time, quit letting your dad tarnish his reputation by defending the indefensible.)

Friday, June 03, 2005

At the Movies

This isn't baseball related, but I'll talk about it anyway.

I was fortunate to be invited to a "premier" screening of Cinderella Man last night. It's the best movie I've seen in a long time. The movie has received a tremendous amount of hype - or maybe it just seems that way to me, since they've promoted it at every Marlins game this year - but it certainly lives up to it.

Actually, I liked the movie much better than I thought I would from the previews.

I'll spare you the details so that you can enjoy the movie yourself. It's a definite departure from Star Wars and Madagascar, but definitely a departure that you should take.

Well, you should take it with one caveat: the boxing scenes are very realistic (if not realistic, definitely violent). If that's not your thing, you'll probably have your eyes closed for a large portion of the movie. The boxing is critical to the story though, and how Ron Howard and team executed it is wonderful.