Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Pitch From Shooter is Low, Ball One

I am not here to dump on Shooter Hunt- who was a warrior at Tulane. But I was prompted by one of the comments yesterday to dig into where he is right now.

The answer is still Class A ball with the Fort Myers Miracle- and it does appear his minor league career consists of three wins over three years. Worse, he has only made 40 appearances, a mere 21 starts.

Apparently, he is experiencing serious control issues. Non-insane blogger commentary from last year:
You remember Shooter Hunt, right? The Twins prospect was drafted 31st overall last season, assigned to E-town (rookie level) and absolutely tore $#!@ up, to the tune of 34 Ks and a 0.47 ERA in 19 innings. Plus, it’s worth noting he walked just 6 batters.

Cut to the present. The reality of today is that it’d be a challenge to think of a more horrendous start than Shooter Hunt’s 2009 campaign. To start with, he began the season with the GCL Twins back in rookie ball, which seemed a dramatic demotion considering his promising ’08.

But now we know why: the kid all of a sudden can’t hit the broad side of a barn from point blank distance. After issuing 19 walks in 14 innings at the GCL, he was strangely promoted to Beloit, where he promptly walked 33 more guys in just 17 innings. He then fell off the map for a few weeks while the team worked to straighten him out. At that point, it was clear Hunt was faced with a bigger challenge than a mild tweak in his mechanics. This problem was upstairs.

After another return to rookie ball and a few shaky starts, Hunt’s career hit a low point yesterday. Here is his line (those with weak stomachs may want to avert your eyes): 0 IP, 0 hits, 6 BBs, 1 HP. That’s seven batters in a row reaching base without having to put a ball in play.

I have no idea what on earth has happened to this guy, but his Ankielesque meltdown this season may sadly result in the end of his promising young career.
Here are his current numbers. They seem to be trying to recast Shooter as a relief pitcher via the low minors (ed.note: you can’t just quit on your big dollar, first round pick). Still has control issues: 19 walks in 29.1 innings- add in 18 hits and his resultant WHIP is awful. And that ERA of 4.60 ain’t gettin’ him out of A ball.

But he is striking out an outstanding 1.5 hitters an inning- so his arm still appears very lively. That sort of strikeout ratio makes big league teams dream back-end of the bullpen.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Symptomatic of Mediocrity

My father sent this article as part of a taunting missive about a month ago demanding that Frank Helps You Think It All Out comment. Surely, it is depressing- as depressing as the straits the Tulane baseball team has fallen into. Really, they are Shooter Hunt away from four years of irrelevancy. But I wrote about that last year, feel no need to repeat it exactly word for word again this year.

Back to the article- relevant excerpt here:
Patrick Swilling Jr. had choices - in sports and colleges. He could have chosen football or basketball. He chose basketball. He could have chosen Tulane, UTEP, LSU or Mississippi . The son of former New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl linebacker Pat Swilling chose Saint Joseph's.

The Hawks were very late players to the Swilling sweepstakes, but their pitch won out. So Swilling, a 6-3, 210-pound guard from Brother Martin in New Orleans, whose body type resembles that of Villanova great Randy Foye, will be joining a freshman class of four that could swell some more.

"The coaches, the school, the academics, the campus, the new facility," Pat Swilling said of what convinced his son. "We got a great feel for what coach Phil Martelli is trying to do as far as getting them back to when they had Delonte West and Jameer Nelson." After the team lost 20 games last season, that seems a ways off. The road back, however, has to start somewhere. And, by all accounts, the Hawks have assembled a terrific recruiting class.

Patrick Swilling was attracting serious football interest as a linebacker. He is such a good athlete that he played cornerback for the football team last year. But the success of the basketball team this season convinced him to play hoops.
Great, right? Now what convinced this kid to pick up and go a zillion miles from home to another leafy, urban campus that will make him behave and go to school?

The arena? Nope, Hagan Arena is just like Fogelman- an aging 4000 seat gym that underwent some renovations. St. Joesph’s probably spends ten percent of what Tulane does in athletics (admittedly due to football)- but the Hawks are resource constrained of the first magnitude.

Answer: the Hawks hit on the right coach. Proof: he lured away young Swilling right away from the low risk, inexpensive non-entity Tulane hired. Pick a coach with no juice, you lose out to a coach with said juice.

It is only anecdotal evidence- but it is evidence. And you will see this story about Coach Conroy from mighty Citadel again and again.

Thus the lesson for the Tulane community: given the option between spending zillions on infrastructure or a couple million in order to "buy" a coach a step up from what Tulane deserves on merit, I choose the latter option. Unfortunately, in this test- Coach Conroy is found wanting right away.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Awarding of the Prince Of Wales Trophy

As a boy, I watched the 1976 Canadiens end the era of the Broad Street Bullies. I will never forget Montreal defenseman Serge Savard classless summation, stating:
"This is not only a victory for the Canadiens; it is a victory for hockey. I hope that this era of intimidation and violence that is hurting our national sport is coming to an end. Young people have seen that a team can play electrifying, fascinating hockey while still behaving like gentlemen."
Tell it to Doug Risebrough. If Serge thought he was a Lady Byng candidate, perhaps he was drinking. In a later note, authorities later stepped in to keep the Senator from driving drunk- so the guy’s class quotient is pretty consistent.

Serge might put the metaphorical bottle down and think about how that is working out for the Le Tricolore right now- pounded by the Flyers for the second time in three years for the exact same character reasons. Those colours do seem to run from the corners a bit, eh? Sure, Montreal’s handshake line was outstanding- orderly, respectful- because they’ve had practice! Extra delicious: Scott Gomez looking very, very disappointed- these teammates were not Devils tough. And you can find some gentle feelings toward Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge here– gentle like the Montreal collective of wingers! A dream season though? Not sure if the ghosts of the Mont Royal Arena would have agreed. Now it is a Provigo supermarket.

Turns out Montreal can generate chances when trading them with the Caps and Pens, but ain’t so much on putting the hardhat and generating their own. Cammalleri and Gionta- where were the goals in traffic? Did Tomas Plekanec even show up? It was electrifying hockey all right- all the toughness of the KHL stars in this year’s Olympics.

Then add in a the second goalie in three years that we were assured was an emerging elite player but cannot handle net traffic, and a whole city in Montreal is left to cry “where were all the obstruction fouls we were promised?”

Twice in three years.... just who are the character players on the Canadiens roster? Not with the reputation, but actually were rooted night after night in front of the Philadelphia net. Who scored even a pair of garbage goals? Who outchanced Arron Asham?

The Flyers obviously are in a good place right now. Leighton might be the third goalie on the depth chart- but fortunately it turns out he is also is the best one. The Flyers top nine forwards are playing and healthy- and they actually added another as Leino has simply exploded. They’re blessed to have some of those character players who are also guys who can play on the top two lines: Richards, Giroux. By shifting Timmo to the second pair, the top four defensemen are as good as anyone’s in the NHL. Even Briere is playing defense on about half his shifts. If Leighton remains good, they can win this thing.

The League office must be sick- wishing they could cancel the Final, left dreaming of their awesome, thwarted San Jose-Montreal conclusion. Seriously, if you polled Toronto officials, that is the Final they wanted: NHL-style vindication of the cap (allowing Canada teams to match payroll) versus bogus Sunbelt outfits.

If Serge’s victory in 1976 was one for “hockey”, than this Prince of Wales trophy is emblematic of victory over the new NHL. No Crosby or Ovechkin. Instead two teams that play with “intimidation and violence”. Mike Green is seemingly in every single television ad, yet Duncan Keith and Chris Pronger are in the Final? Disaster! Worse, two big American hockey towns that feature many North American players. Real hockey fans might actually watch.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Blog Is Closed

Frank Helps You Think It All Out is going on vacation- off to Hilton Head for a week. Thus, this blog will be closed through Memorial Day.

Then, we will begin wailing on the Phillies in earnest.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quick Thoughts

The Flyers crushed Montreal last night to open a 1-0 lead in the conference final. I'm not sure the magnitude of the beating is indicative- there is no pro-sport where it easier to play with a good lead.

But the Flyers went to the front of the net with impunity- whacking away until the puck went in the net, loitering without retaliation fifteen feet from the net. Just because Montreal could control the shifty, skilled forwards of the Caps and Pens does not necessarily translate to being able to clear the Flyers out from the slot consistently. That is a real problem from last night- and if Montreal doesn't get that fixed, they'll be out in five. We saw a few years ago, when Montreal was physically whipped badly in five games. Hopefully they haven't solved that guts problem.

As further evidence, when the Flyers get that sixth goal last night... doesn't someone on Montreal have to start a fist-fight?


Friday, May 14, 2010


Wow. Now Boston, that is the sort of civic stink that will take generations to remove- thirty, forty, fifty years. Just like the grainy 1942 footage of the Toronto Maple Leafs heralded an ancient comeback from a 3-0 in games deficit, sometime in 2060 our 3-D vision centers will look charmingly weird as flat footage of this game, this great victory, is replayed as some other outfit closes in on the miracle.

Honestly, if you are a Bruin fan, I don’t know what the honorable thing to even do is. Not go to work for six months? Throw things on the ice? (ed. Note: Done!) You have to consider it.

It is late- so this will be quick. Ultimately, once Gagne and Ville added some needed forward depth, the Flyers had a path to four goals most night- which Boston could not match. Tonight, the Flyers dopey penalty brigade- as always, Hartnell and Briere- could not stay out of the penalty box taking needless fouls. The one thing the Flyers could not do- help the hapless Bruins’ offense score- Philadelphia did early.

But after falling down by three goals, the Flyers stopped helping them- and the Bruins could not score again. Meanwhile the Flyers worked their relentless formula to four goals. All hoopla aside- and not to mark down the Flyers repeated unwillingness to quit- but the Flyers had a formula to get four markers a night, the Bruins did not.


The Seventh Game

Last night, I was remarking to my father that I have followed the big American team sports for almost forty years. I have watched an absolute ton of best-of-seven play-off series- won and lost some thrilling seventh games. But never this. Never have the Phillies, Sixers or Flyers been left for dead, down three to love- and rallied back to even force a ultimate game. The only I can think of that compares was the Phillies in the 1980 NLCS. That was down 2-1 in a best-of-five, looking at Nolan Ryan and repeated deficits late.... two days, not a week plus of must win.

It is sort of exciting to simply be a fan of it- reminded of why watching sports in compelling in the first place despite its non-importance. It is not important- but it is damn interesting- a truly unscripted story that never fails to throw a wrench in there somewhere.

So I am in fan mode tonight- no criticism from me today- just root, root, root for the home team. Truly, it is encouraging that game six was much like game five. Boston has seemingly forgotten how to score- no goals without an extra attacker in two games now, and only one overall. The Bruins have played a lot of the last three games down multiple goals.

You can’t blow a three game lead without a little “choke”- and Boston has many of the required elements: players forced into scoring roles due to injury, some key older guys (Savard, Satan, Recchi) looking increasingly worn down, a rookie goalie. Even Thorton and Chara are further into their 30s than you think.

The Bruins probably are not, right now, as good as the Flyers. But, of course, that wasn’t true a week ago, until the injury situation flipped. So facts like that can change on a dime. And Boston is at home. Faced with adversity, they may have laid down in Philadelphia- but they have a good crowd and building there. Unlike Pittsburgh, the Bruins will show up.

Nevertheless, the emergence of Leino and Briere (his best one week run in three disappointing years) have given the Flyers two lines to get markers- and I don’t know if the Bruins even have one group now. The Flyers top four defensemen, after a shaky start to this series, are back to being the best part of this Philadelphia outfit- throttling the Bruins like they did the Devils. Flyers win tonight. Tout est bien qui finit bien. Bring on les Habitants.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Halfway Back

Down three to love, the Flyers have rallied back by a pair with a pair of good and gutsy efforts- including an official 4-0 drubbing last night up in Boston. There is an old saying: that is why they play the games. The rules say Boston needs a fourth win- and they have blown half their chances.

The papers say that the Flyers became just the eighth NHL team out of 111 in a three-games-to-none hole to force a Game 6- and only two have completed the comeback. Watching the series, I’m not sure if that is a real relevant benchmark.

To find a team that can rally from that sort of big deficit, spend a week digging out of a hole it took another week to construct, is not about finding a bad team that has been dominated yet has some ability to get lucky. Rather, you are looking for a team that is down three to nothing despite not being terribly outclassed- that has maybe been a little unlucky. With the cap in the NHL, you have a lot more night-to-night parity- no Montreal or Islander or Maple Leaf multi-year dynasties to routinely stick hapless teams to said big deficit. I have no evidence, but I bet since the League has been capped there have been a lot fewer 3-0 series (even with all the one-eight, two-seven seed series)- and even in those situations, the losing team is more “alive” than ever before.

That is what you have here. Of the three games the Flyers lost, one was in overtime, another was late in the third with a definite next goal wins mentality. The Flyers won a game in overtime. The Bruins were a bit lucky to get up three games, all that was needed to reverse the series back was a switch in fortune.

The Flyers had 88 points in the regular season; the Bruins 91. If the Flyers’ disappointing mark was caused by injuries, wild in-season inconsistency and some disappointing regular seasons (Richards and Pronger), the Bruins were felled by an inability to score goals (208 goals-fewest in the east). So cap parity rears its head- over a potential seven games these teams are reverting some: Bruins can’t score, the Flyers' inconsistency meter is creeping back toward “good things are happening”.

Accordingly, the series parameters have changed- almost to the exact letter. The series began with the Flyers having two of their top six forwards out- but one is back (Simon Gagne) and the minor leaguer they stuck on the second line might not belong in the NHL (Ville Leino) but he is scoring goals, a plus for the series and taken one minor penalty in 90 minutes of TOI. The Flyers are getting real scoresheet offense and ice time from Leino- which is plugging that missing top winger gap for now. Meanwhile, it is now the Bruins who have to scratch two of their top six forwards night after night. No wonder all of a sudden the Flyers look like the Bruins and the Bruins look like the Flyers.

Of course, with Boucher now out again, the Flyers have to try a new goalie who hasn’t played in recent memory: Michael Leighton. Leighton was good- even very good (17-9-2 is no joke). Frankly, Boucher had reverted recently to pretty decent journeyman play… which I think Leighton can match for now. The Flyers were always going to have to overcome the goalie in this series- but maybe the Boston rookie goalie Tuukka Rask is starting to really, really appreciate the pressure involved here. He hasn’t played great back-to-back nights.

Of course, the NHL in its infinite wisdom will show neither Game 5 or Game 6 to North America- blacking out two of America’s greatest national hockey fanbases to show its secret League fantasy: a Canadian team versus Sidney Crosby. I guess you have to show the seventh game (ed. note: maybe)- but last night to not show Philadelphia-Boston to the national hockey audience... dumb, just dumb.

The NHL is so stuck on selling us Sidney Crosby. The blinkers are astounding. The best part is, like most national relationship building the NHL does, it simply isn’t working. Worse, a goodly number of national sports fans that know his game well think he is a diving fink. Hard to build your League around that guy.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Old Man Pitcher

How about the old man? Jamie Moyer, age 47, shuts the Braves out on two hits. Why yes, the Hall of Fame will be demanding some souvenirs!
The previous oldest pitcher to ever throw a complete-game shutout was Phil Niekro, who was 46 years, 188 days old with the Yankees when he shut out the Blue Jays in 1985.

Moyer passed him by nearly a full year.

He is the first pitcher in baseball history to throw shutouts in four different decades. The first one he threw was 24 years ago on Aug. 16, 1986. ("Hmm. That's a few years ago," Moyer said.)

On Friday, Moyer faced one batter over the minimum. He allowed just two singles - both to Troy Glaus. "That's impressive regardless of how old you are," righthander Roy Halladay said. For the record, Halladay said he will be fishing when he is 47 years old.

Moyer began the ninth with 96 pitches thrown. Nate McLouth popped out to third. Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske grounded out to first.

The sellout crowd rose and began chanting, "Jamie! Jamie! Jamie!"

Omar Infante grounded out to shortstop to end the game on Moyer's 105th pitch of the night. Ruiz raised his fist in the air, but Moyer barely flinched. He hugged Ruiz and patted the catcher on the head.

At one point, Moyer retired 17 straight Atlanta batters.

Frank Helps You Think It All Out
is an unapologetic Moyer fan. Moyer has not been in Philadelphia for four complete seasons yet- but he has 51 wins, a very respectable 18 games over .500. I bet there aren’t a dozen National League pitchers with more wins over that span. He keeps the Phillies in games and takes the ball a lot – he has made thirty or more starts each full season he has been here and won double digit games. Bottom line: he is a quality starting pitcher.

Plus, you hear complaints about teams that don’t try or give 100%. But Moyer pitches, his teammates are the hardest “trying” team in baseball. The Phillies give 300% on Moyer's turns. They play up-on-their-toes defense, hit a ton, work hard to get him back in games. Moyer does throw some stinkers out there- but no one ever complains, they dig in to get him off the hook. The Phillies good culture stems more from Moyer’s presence than is acknowledged. They rally around the old man- and he is one of the personalities that makes this organization fun to root for. The Phillies and Moyer are easy to pull for.

So extra doughnuts to celebrate this morning.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

We Need Some Goals

It is hard to be angry at the Flyers’ effort in this series, now down 3-0 in games to Boston. They competed in the must-have match last night: got chances, outshot the Bruins (35-20) badly.

Nevertheless, the old Flyers- the team that was .500 for the entire season, the team that is no way one of the top four teams in the NHL- has reasserted itself in the face of the Bruins grinding, disciplined, good goal-tending effort. Philadelphia gets mostly decent, better than deserved goaltending, the top four defensemen are quite “good” but not top five squads in the NHL style “great”, the forward depth is consistently ravaged by injuries. When healthy up front, they are no disgrace- probably in the top dozen outfits in the NHL, capable of eliminating a play-off outfit with issues (New Jersey: they can’t score).

But the Flyers are trying to get to the best four teams in hockey right now. The new measuring stick is substantial. What part of their team- forwards, goalie, or defense- is top-four quality? And yes, after dispatching the Sabres and Flyers, Boston can lay a truthful claim to "top four playing right now".

Look at the twelve forwards the Flyers dressed last night (list here-page down a bit). How many are even definitely above average? Or further, would play on the top two lines for a top four team (like Chicago, San Jose)?

Richards definitely. Giroux. Maybe Briere (maybe- he is a -25 in his time in Philadelphia). No one else. No wonder Philadelphia has only three goals from forwards other than Briere and Richards. This lack of forward talent- particularly guys who can carry the puck- makes Boston's trap even more awful. Did you notice the third period was as boring as the old Devil's match-ups back in the 90s? Same trap, same immobile forwards.

Of course, Philadelphia has three quality forwards out, including two on the above list, currently scratched for various maladies. That is probably what is missing here to make this series credible. I’m not saying the Flyers would be winning this series- but they probably aren’t looking at getting swept either. The NHL Power Play tournament does require some luck in keeping people upright and productive over these eight weeks. Teams get bounced all the time for running out of gas and players. Philadelphia is a pretty good team when healthy, only okay when banged up. Their time is probably up.

Lastly, I'm going to add a new blog to the BlogRoll: Broad Street Hockey. I've enjoyed it through the play-offs.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Don't Tase Me Bro'

As a passionate Philadelphia fan, I assure you many of us in Section 204 at the Linc simply need a good tasing once in awhile.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What is the Formula?

I don’t really know what to say about this Flyers 2-0 hole to the Bruins. Philadelphia is banged up bad up front (three of their top nine forwards are out). So, for two games in a row, a decent effort forged by demanding ice time for the remaining wingers, wore out late- leading to a pair of one-goal losses: one in overtime, then late in the third period. Somewhere in the spectrum of “played well enough to steal one” and “did not play well enough to steal one”, the Flyers fell just short of the former.

Consequently, they are playing two lines: Briere, Giroux and Richards played over twenty minutes. They dressed three forwards who didn’t see seven minutes of ice time: Arron Asham, Jared Ross, Andreas Nodl. Note: if Asham is only fit to play six minutes after dressing for 72 regular season games, scratch him and find someone you trust to play. Perhaps the most damning indictment of the forward rotation is watching Scott Hartnell play himself out of the League (a -5 with zero goals in the play-offs, after a horrid regular season) yet almost skate twenty minutes last night. Hartnell contributes nothing offensively for months- and still, because of the penalties, was on the power play last night.

The NHL play-offs are about finding a recipe for success you can repeatedly execute. The script against the Devils- get competent play from the top four defensemen and goalie and the Devils cannot score enough to win- isn’t working here.

The Bruins can score some- their recipe to get to three goals every night seems solid. In the first round, the Flyers defense and Boucher shut the Devils down- but since the Devils were poor offensively, the question remained just how much was actual Flyers’ competence and great goaltending? So far, it seems the Flyers have a competent goalie and blueline rotation- but nothing that is going to steal a series. So the Flyers need to score some here too- but other than Briere, Richards and Giroux- the goals aren’t forthcoming. Zdeno Chara doesn’t seem to shut down the Flyers top forwards- but he and his peers seem death on the second and third tier. Chara is a plus two thru two games- and if your top defensive pair is a plus matched up against the other teams top players, you’re winning more often than not.

You’re never done until you lose a home game- and the Flyers have not been outclassed, just out-worked late in games. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if coming home is a tonic for those woes- this isn’t a match-up problem, but a question of reinforcements. Perhaps in their own building the Flyers can get forwards like Nodl and Asham and Ross via the last change on the ice in situations they feel survivable- and cut the ice time for the top guys by a few minutes? That is kind of like pretend reinforcements.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Wrong Again?

Like normal, this year’s Kentucky Derby is a complete mystery- and I will no doubt miss again. As Frank Helps You Think It All Out rolls on and on- more and more misses hit the wall: here and here and here and here and here.

That being said, some of the misses have been close- and since I’m always wagering on this lottery for a big score, I’m optimistic that a bit of luck will bring the big payday. Plus, it is cowardly to not have a selection.

I don’t like the favorite, Lookin at Lucky, all that much. It normally takes a 100+ Beyer figure to win this thing- and Lucky hasn’t managed that. These California horses run on the synthetic dirt- form that tends to translate better to grass than dirt. He could win- but is no more likely than a bunch of other horses with 90-ish figures- some of whom managed to do it on “real” dirt. The second choice, Sidney’s Candy, shows has suspect this field is. Here is a horse that has never run on dirt- with a horrid post position (#20- all the way outside), yet no colt (or the singular filly) with a more advantageous draw and real dirt experience sees likely to draw more money. Needless to say, for reasons similar to the favorite (no real dirt form, bad post, lack of a 100 Beyer), I pass.

This race, loaded with talented colts whom have only made a few starts in 2010 (only two have made as many as four), normally is won by the colt that wakes up and realizes his talent. With nineteen choices plus that girl, normally someone does. It could be Lookin at Lucky or Sidney’s Candy- but like trading with Goldman Sachs, the return probably doesn’t justify the risk. So I am going to try and find a colt that could wake up- but at a bigger price.

Ice Box, Super Saver and Jackson Bend all figure to go off at better than 10 to 1, all have good 90-ish real dirt figures in good preps at major racing centers. Awesome Act and Stately Victor have decent credentials on dirt too. The filly has good Beyer's too and dirt form- but her form outside of the Bonnie Miss stake is frankly bad. Too much value to have to add the “will she decide to run today?” question.

So let’s play a slew of $2 exacta with Ice Box, Super Saver and Jackson Bend on top and wheeling the same three, plus Awesome Act and Stately Victor on the bottom. That is 12 bets = $24 dollars.

As you all know, along with dosage and other strategies, one of the Derby’s most potent betting signals is my father’s selection. My father’s selection (for those in the know, this is a powerful wagering angle!!): Awesome Act.

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