Thursday, March 15, 2007

Succumbing to the Madness...

We interrupt our regularly scheduled baseball discussions to give some attention to the Dance. Granted, the tastes of Voices run decidedly National Pastime, but I won’t ignore the NCAA Tournament.

Bracket fever has swept the nation in recent days. It seems that everyone is filling out brackets. Everyone has a method. Mascots. Team colors. RPI. Of course, some people take this far more seriously than others. For them, I offer the following guide to a successful trip through the four regions.

Following this formula will not only assure you of March success, but may even improve your tax return. So, here it is.

Point values are assigned based upon stringently researched and scientifically verifiable factors. Each round has different formulas, of course, since each round is a unique entity unto itself. Simply calculate the points for each team in any given game. The team with the higher point value moves on.

Without further ado, I present The Voices from the Outfield Guide to the NCAA Tournament:

1st round:
If a team has a directional marker in its name = 5 points.
If a team has a color in the name of its mascot = 11 points.
If a team is playing in the region geographically closest to its campus = 37 points.
If a team was assigned a seed between 1 and 3 = 91 points.
If a school’s name rhymes with “Doral Groberts” = 112 points.
If a team’s coach has previously won a national title = 261 points.
If a team’s alumni include Bill Walton and/or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar = 512 points.
If a team’s coach previously coached at Pitt = 5,006 points.

2nd round:
If a school’s name is one word or less = 93 points.
If a school’s name is between two and three words long = 101 points.
If a school’s name is more than three words long = 551 points.
If that school’s name happens to be Texas A&M Corpus Christi = -549 points.
If school is commonly referred to by way of an acronym = 2,967 points.
If the last three letters of that acronym are CLA = 8,496 points.

Sweet Sixteen:
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature numbers on the back = 1 point.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color red = 12 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color orange = 22 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color green = 65 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature the color baby blue = 4,621 points.
If a team’s uniforms prominently feature player names such as Aboya, Collison, Mbah-Moute and/or Shipp = 9,238 points.

Elite Eight:
If a team’s mascot has ever appeared on “The Crocodile Hunter” = 39 points.
If a team’s mascot has ever appeared on the endangered species list = 54 points.
If a team’s mascot rhymes with “Bay Pox,” “Faders,” “Gong Corns,” “Duck Ties,” “Toyas” or “Bar Reels” = 61 points.
If a team’s mascot is an inanimate object = 87 points.
If a team’s mascot is from the bear family = 1,267 points.
If a team’s mascot rhymes with “Ruins” = 6,343 points.

Final Four:
If a team’s home games are played in a “Fieldhouse” = 8 points.
If a team’s home games are played in a Dome = 13 points.
If a team’s home games are played in the state of California = 952 points.
If that team is USC = -9,821 points
If a team’s home games are played in a Pavilion = 2,348 points.

Championship Game:
If a team features a player with a criminal record in Kazakhstan = -426 points.
If a team features a player named Greg Oden = 986 points.
If a team features a player named Kevin Durant = 1,002 points.
If a team features a player named Aaron Afflalo = 4,090 points.
If a school has previously won 11 national championships = 9,585 points.
If a school formerly had John Wooden as its coach = 11,764 points.

As you can likely tell, this highly scientific method took years of trial-and-error research. Although it has had a few problems with the last few national champions, it has successfully predicted the last five Iowa gubernatorial races and the winner of the 2006 World’s Strongest Man competition.

After running all 64 candidates through the formula, UCLA emerges as a somewhat surprise victor. With a whopping 67,868 points, the Bruins project to win this year’s tourney, and, from the looks of things, the formula’s pretty convinced.

So, get on the Bruin bandwagon now. There’s still room, but only until Saturday. After that, you’ll have to cast your lot with Creighton. And the formula doesn’t especially like them.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movin' out...

Someone recently told me to stop writing so much sports stuff on my blog because, “It’s so boring and nobody reads it.”

I have considered this idea. I have pondered it. I have even mulled it over.

I have acquiesced. Sort of.

It’s moving day here at “Voices.” From now on, this site will be devoted specifically to sports. All the time. Like about 1/3 of my brain. Yet, I’m not abandoning the other stuff that often gets thrown around here, I’m just relocating it.

Beginning today, all non-sports stuff can be found here.

That’s the place to go for mostly true stories about school, substitute teaching and my wife. You’ll also find the random stuff that litters my brain well-represented. And occasionally, if you’re nice about it, I might even throw in something serious and theological. But, only if you’re nice about it.

See you on the Left Coast.

The starting five...

Part three of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the starting rotation.

Now that the Big Back Spasm has moved back the desert with the rest of the senior citizens, we can talk about those who remain.

At this point only three spots are nailed down: Wang, Pettitte, Mussina. While even those three come with issues—Can Pettitte and Mussina hold up? Can Wang ever strike anyone out?—for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll consider those spots resolved. Then there’s the mystery participant with the first name sure to be mispronounced by nearly every fan until at least the All-Star Break, Kei (as in the scorebook notation for “strikeout”) Igawa. Nobody knows, Yankee management included, what they have in this guy. Best case scenario, he’s Nomo at his pinnacle. Worst case is “Fat Toad” Irabu. We just don’t know. The early word out of Spring Training is that he’ll be solid, but this is Spring Training, after all, and his first start was less than brilliant. Yet, he’s only 27 and, even with a necessary adjustment to the Majors, should be good for at least 10–12 wins in the fifth spot in the rotation. (As an aside, is it significant that the best Japanese baseball imports have been position players? Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Tadahito Iguchi have all produced while pitchers have generally floundered. And so, what do both the Yanks and Red Sox do this offseason? Throw crazy money at Japanese starting pitchers, of course. Just thought it was worth pointing out. Maybe in August it will matter and you will think of me.)

And then, there is the walking Darwin Award, Carl “Porcelain” Pavano. Every major discussion of the Yanks that has been written this off-season—and especially once the Johnson rumors began springing up—slotted Pavano into the rotation. This should concern Yankees fans, and, preferably, someone in the organization. Pavano has a career record of 61–64. When the Yanks exorbitantly overpaid for him a couple of winters ago, he had a sub-.500 record. Nothing has changed. In 2005, he was only 4–6 before getting hurt. He “held” opponents to a .315 batting average. The numbers suggest that Pavano is just not good. He wasn’t when the Yankees signed him and there’s no reason to believe that he will be in 2007. And, that’s just the ugly math part of the equation. Let’s take a look at the biology.

Pavano cannot stay healthy. Whenever your player bio page includes “highlights” such as “Made his final start of the season on 6/27 at Baltimore,” “Also made rehab start for Single-A Tampa (FSL) on 8/3 vs. Vero Beach, allowing 6 H and 3 ER in 6 IP to record the loss,” and “Was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on 8/30,” something’s not quite right. He made zero—as in just less than one—major league starts last year because of injuries. On top of the fact that he was getting hurt, he was also lying about it. If there was a pool for “Day on Which Carl Pavano Sustains a Significant Self-Inflicted Injury in a Dinner Table Accident,” I’d take April 10. And this man is supposed to fill the fourth spot?

Granted, there’s been talk of Clemens. While that would be nice, that’s a Band-Aid, not stitches. Why not bump Igawa to fourth, and open up competition to the youngsters like Sanchez, Karstens, Rasner, and especially Hughes, and let them battle for the fifth spot? This is the long-term solution.

The Yankees have spent all winter stockpiling young talent while simultaneously dumping huge contracts attached to the 1998 All-Star team, which is a great tactic. Brian Cashman has been able to Jedi mind-trick other GMs into giving up young, inexpensive, close-to-major-league-ready talent in exchange for old, expensive, close-to-retirement-ready tealent. So, why not see what the kids can do? Whatever the result, it couldn’t be worse than Pavano, it’s a mathematical impossibility. The way I understand it, one start for cheap is always better than none for expensive. Bring on the kids!

Hughes already has Tampa abuzz, and will likely be in the Bronx well before the Red Sox annual late-August fade. So why not let him start the season in the rotation? Why not simply cut your losses with Pavano, admit he’s a bum and move on? Let Pavano be a long reliever. Sure, that’s a lot to pay for a long reliever, but is it worse to pay that much for no starts? Maybe Pavano will surprise everyone, stay healthy and put up 12–15 wins. But, is this really the guy you want blocking Phil Hughes and the start of his near-certain All-Star caliber career? I say no. Stick Pavano in the ‘pen, Hughes on the bump. Besides, any competition that prepares the youngsters will naturally serve the team well if and when one of the starters goes down with an injury. My money is on Pavano.

I can see the headline now: “Yankees starter injured while combing his hair, out 6–8 weeks.” Let’s avoid this now so we can begin reading headlines like, “Hughes dominant as Yanks open 5 game lead in division.”