The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


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Hall of Robbie

Roberto Alomar is up for the Hall of Fame this year, as you may have heard. The internet’s totally queer with speculation about his chances, which I think is sort of dumb. It seems pretty clear to me that Robbie Alomar would be going to the Hall even in normal times, and, nowadays, since steroids have made everybody forget about trivial, non-baseball-related things like hitting and home runs and winning, and everybody just cares about grit and hustle and beating your wife, I’d say he’s a shoo-in. I mean, come on. Robbie Alomar is going to get so many votes he’ll be able to build a giant Vote Boat and sail it directly into Hall of Fame Harbour, where they’ll build a giant statue of him right next to Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby and all the other second basemen who were actually good. Because Robbie, he’s a colourful character, but he’s only a little bit above average as a baseball player. He had four good seasons, a lot of mediocre seasons, and three miserable seasons at the end of his seventeen-year career. He was okay, but he’s nowhere near Hall of Fame calibre.

What you get from Roberto Alomar: seventeen years of a 116 OPS+ and league-average defense at 2B. And since nobody but Ozzie Smith ever seriously gets into the Hall because of defense, and nobody at all gets into the Hall for being average at defense, really you’re just talking about that 116 OPS+, and that number, she is not enough. What does an OPS+ of 116 actually mean? It means you’re in the same offensive category as noted Hall of Fame luminaries Steve Garvey, Jim Northrup, and Dusty fucking Baker, all of whom have one thing in common: none of them are in the Hall of Fame. Actually, believe it or not, no player with a career 116 OPS+ is in the Hall. Not even Thurman Munson, who was an excellent defensive catcher, and arguably redefined his position like Cal Ripken Jr. did shortstop. When all you bring to the table is your 116 OPS+ — since your defense and baserunning are totally average — you’re just not really Hall material, is what I’m saying.

Not that I’d complain about having an average-defense, 116 OPS+ 2B on my team. That’s a pretty good player. One might even say a very good player. But, as Colin Cowherd is going to start telling the people who listen to assholes like Colin Cowherd every time somebody calls in to complain about Bert Blyleven still not getting into the damn Hall: this is not the Hall of Very Good.

Let me be upfront about this. The "Hall of Very Good" joke is beyond awful. It was sort of cute the first time I heard it, which was in 1888. But idiots like Cowherd repeat it like a mantra, like it really means something, and like they have any idea what that meaning is. The point, though, is that it’s not designed as like the gold watch you get when you retire from baseball. Congratulations, Robbie! In recognition of your distinguished service, we award you a plaque with your full name on it. My father got that when he retired from the electric company after 35 years, and his OPS+ was only like 112. That’s not what the Hall of Fame is. The Hall of Fame is the elite gentlemen’s club where the very best baseball mans go to get their names on plaques. And, sorry, Robbie, but you’re not in that group.

Not that Cowherd has any idea this is what he means. He’d rather yammer on about how it’s the "Hall of Fame," so only "famous" baseball players should get in. And I’m thinking, hey, I know Ryan Theriot’s name, Google brings up 213,000 search results for him, and he’s on national television 160 or so times every year, so… first ballot?

Face it, gang: we live in a world where Roberto Alomar is going to the Hall of Fame, and Bert Blyleven is not. Also Mark McGwire. FTH?

Here’s a brief history of the Hall of Fame:

1839: Abner Doubleday is hit on the head with a baseball that falls from the baseball tree he’s been napping under, and spontaneously formulates the Theory of Baseball, originally stated as "what goes up with heart and grit and hustle must fall down to the bottom of the standings unless it can get the fuck on base occasionally. Also there is pitching."

1905: Ty Cobb begins playing baseball. Injures many opposing players with his sharpened spikes and dick-kicking skills. Knifes a black man for being "uppity." Dives into the stands to attack a fan for suggesting that Cobb didn’t really hate the black man he knifed.

1914: Babe Ruth begins playing baseball. Drinks himself stupid almost constantly. Plays drunk from time to time. Gets really fat, cheats on his wife, and has a candy bar named after him.

1936: Hall of Fame established with a clause in the requirements for acceptance instructing voters to consider the "character" of the player in addition to his baseball skills. Cobb and Ruth are among the five players inducted in the first class.

1998: Mark McGwire takes a lot of steroids and hits a lot of home runs.

2007: Ditto Barry Bonds.

2009: Naked pictures of Grady Sizemore appear on the internet.

2010: Mark McGwire once again does not get into the Hall of Fame because he once took drugs to make him play baseball better. BBWAA members rationalise this on the grounds that it violates the "character" clause. Many of them show no restraint in voting for players such as Dave Parker, however, who were manifestly less good at baseball and also took a whole lot of illegal drugs that made their teams do worse. They also vote en masse for Roberto Alomar, a man who allegedly intentionally gave a woman AIDS.

2011: Naked pictures of Alex Rodriguez appear on the internet, depicting him as a griffon.


November 30th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Small Man Comics: Henchman AI

Henchman AI

November 29th, 2009 Posted by | Games, Small Man Comics | no comments

Fire seven different dudes from A.V. Club

I figured, hey, A.V. Club is an Onion property, right? So this is probably satire, right? Stephen says not so. So I guess this insane list of the 15 best video games of the last decade is on the level. Are you ready for some pretentious drivel about video games? Well, fine, but I’ll FJM it up for everybody’s benefit, and then we’ll take a look at some fun facts about this article at the end. Now what do you say?

Well, suck it up. We’re doing it anyhow.

We keep coming back to videogames for the same reasons we always have. Or do we?

Or do we? Or… do we? [crash chord]

Games in 2009 look considerably different now than they did in 2000, and not just because the graphics have improved.

Quick spoiler for the benefit of the impatient: on the evidence presented in the article, yeah, actually, it’s just because the graphics have improved.

What was once a lonely pursuit has gotten social, whether by way of a party-friendly round of Rock Band or a late-night online session of Modern Warfare.

You hear that, Ultima Online and Everquest and Goldeneye and Starsiege: Tribes? You were all lonely, lonely games that lonely nerds played in their lonely living rooms and never ever had any social interaction.

The thrills have gotten more complicated, too. Even the shoot-’em-ups aren’t just about shooting ’em up anymore. (Or at least not shooting ’em up without some careful planning.)

You hear that, Half-Life and No One Lives Forever and Goldeneye again? You were all about shooting ‘em up and required no strategy or planning whatsoever. Unlike the number one best game of the last ten years, which was known for the hefty strategy involved.

As the ’00s close, The A.V. Club offers our picks for the 15 games that pushed things forward.

It didn’t even take one full paragraph before the point of this article changed from "best games" — like it says in the title — to "games that pushed things forward," which means nothing and lets you get away without doing any research or thinking, and thereby allows you to begin the meat of your article by saying:

15. SSX 3 (EA Sports BIG, 2003)

What?

After the first two games in the SSX snowboarding series spread their action across a disparate bunch of wacky, gimmick-heavy tracks, it seemed like an unwise departure for SSX 3 to condense its competitions onto a single mountain.

For those of us just tuning in, A.V. Club has named the third installment in an EA sports series of snowboarding games the fifteenth best game of the last decade. For reference: there are no other sports games on this list. Ergo, SSX 3 is the best sports game made in the last ten years. And get this: it only had one mountain! Which I guess matters for some reason. Me, I don’t care if it tells me all the tracks are on the same mountain or if it tells me they’re all on different mountains. It’s kind of… the same.

But SSX had always been about maintaining your flow—whether racing at top speed or executing elaborate mid-air tricks—and SSX 3 extended that sensation of flow to the entire experience.

Criterion for video game quality: must extend the sensation of flow.

Instead of hopping between individual competitions, SSX 3 instills the sense of a single journey through a gorgeous, tactile landscape.

This is a snowboarding game. You know, snowboarding? And the A.V. Club is praising it for instilling the sense of journey and extending the sensation of flow, neither of which, incidentally, is a thing.

With only two lackluster follow-ups since 2003, the series appears to be in cold storage, a baffling case of neglect given that SSX 3 holds up better than any other sports game of its generation.

And now they say it straight-up. SSX3: best sports game of the last ten years.

14. The Sims (Electronic Arts, 2000)

A sensible choice. Let’s see what babble they write in the justifications, though.

More than anything else, The Sims is about breaking the simulation-game genre down to its most basic components.

Is that what it’s about? I thought it was about trying to get digipeople to have sex and then getting bored and inventing new ways of killing them.

By keeping the focus on a single household, the game allows for a previously unimagined amount of detail in your characters’ personalities, looks, and life paths.

If by "unimagined about of detail" you mean that there’s a lot of detail the game doesn’t bother to imagine, you would appear to be right. Since, frankly, the graphics weren’t impressive even in 2000.

It doubles as an exercise in architectural design, as the engine for building and furnishing homes gave players free rein in building the home where they spend all their time with their characters. While some condemned The Sims as simply a virtual dollhouse, the ability to build people from the ground up to watch them grow, build families, and achieve their goals

… It’s in here somewhere…

or capriciously ruin their lives

There it is!

provides nearly endless hours of play to satisfy control freaks.

Apparently, only control freaks will enjoy this game. Thanks for being assholes, A.V. Club.

13. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo, 2004)

A questionable, but not indefensible, choice. Let’s watch them indefend it.

No other form of media values doing cool shit over logic and common sense to the extreme that videogames do.

The people who wrote this article are not familiar with: books, movies, magazines, comic books, television, radio plays, or the entire expressionist and surrealist movements.

The quintessential example of style over substance is 2004’s reboot of the arcade and NES-era classic Ninja Gaiden.

The quintessential pretentious backhanded compliment is: that.

The head-scratching story of ninja Ryu Hayabusa appears to pride itself in making as little sense as possible.

The people who wrote this article are not familiar with: video games and everything ever said, written, or filmed about ninjas.

The game also prides itself on its brutal difficulty. Only the most dedicated gamers ever saw it through to its final, nonsensical battle, but those who did were treated to a unforgettable dose of the nutty, old-school challenges that have become painfully rare in the games of recent years.

Criteria for video game quality: must be hard, must not make any sense, and must lack substance.

12. Braid (Microsoft Game Studios, 2008)

Oh, I can’t wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Few game designers can speak so lucidly or argue so forcefully about games as Jonathan Blow.

Comedy name aside, he’s actually kind of a babbling nutcase who wastes most of his breath on complaining about commercialism and rationalising the disconnect between that and how he sells products for a living.

His lectures and interviews would be valuable enough if he hadn’t brought his talent to bear on Braid.

Well… no. You never would have heard of him. Which is why you never had heard of him until Braid came out. Do you see?

The game’s signature success is that it conveys a set of ideas that Blow could only explain through the game itself.

Well… no. The game’s signature success is that it has one really bitchin’ level. The set of ideas that it conveys are actually sort of lame. "Nuclear bombs are bad" doesn’t count as a bold artistic statement in the year 200fucking8. The perspective thing is like first-year philosophy student stuff. No, the good thing is the way the perspective idea is conveyed in the game’s one awesome level — not the idea itself, mind you, but the presentation.

Players are introduced to new ways of moving through time and space, which they come to understand by mastering Blow’s puzzles.

New way of moving through time == rewinding if you miss a jump like in that Prince of Persia game.
New way of moving through space == running and jumping like in that game with the plumber and the mushrooms.
Mastering puzzles == looking up on the internet that you need to stand there and wait two hours for that cloud to move over to where you can jump on it.

It’s a short game, as Blow never wastes time with redundant content.

Except for the final world, which is the exact same level four times in a row.

And it’s difficult, but Blow implores you not to look up the answers.

Well fuck him. If he doesn’t want me to look up the answers, he has a responsibility not to make the puzzles as gigantically lame as "stand there for two hours waiting for the cloud to move."

As the only true indie on this list, Braid epitomizes some of the scene’s clichés: the text, the music, and David Hellman’s illustrations are lovely but precious, and the auteur behind the game is demanding.

True Indie: the story of one man’s quest to make a mind-numbingly pretentious platform game. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jonathan Blow. Also starring the staff of A.V. Club as some dude giving Arnold Schwarzenegger a really sloppy blowjob.

"Auteur," incidentally, is French for "bullshit hippie internet cred."

But Braid also demonstrates how successfully a tiny team can marry intellectual rigor to addictive, intuitive gameplay.

Successfully enough, apparently, to have made the best platformer of the last ten years. Because there are no other platformers on this list.

11. Advance Wars (Nintendo, 2001)

Fire Joe Morgan once did a routine about a theme park called Left Field Land. If I recall, it had a fried chicken restaurant called The Fowl Pole, and a waterslide into a giant swimming pool shaped like Ted Williams’ torso. And no women or minorities were allowed into the park.

I only mention this because I’m pretty sure this choice came directly out of Left Field Land.

(My joke: 2/10)

Advance Wars hit store shelves on the inopportune street date of September 11. And at first blush, its candy-colored, carefree approach to warfare seemed horribly out of sync.

How inconvenient! If only the game had launched one day earlier, it would be the ninth best game of the last ten years. Since, in those innocent times, we all thought of war as a happy, cheery experience full of sunshine and unicorns.

But in the months to come, the game’s streamlined, turn-based battles—the perfect gateway drug for the tactically curious—provided a kind of Zen escape, allowing players to control the simple, ordered machinations of military units from a safe, Ender-like distance.

This paragraph contains:
• A drug metaphor
• A homosexuality metaphor
• A badly-placed, uninformed reference to Zen Buddhism
• A reference to Ender’s Game
• The implication that most video games are controlled from a point so close to the action that you could actually get hurt

You didn’t just play, you were consumed—compelled to conquer every challenge, earn every S-rank, unlock every extra map.

Translation: In Soviet Russia, entertainment consumes you!

Advance Wars may be a naïve bit of paramilitary escapism,

A fact which somehow makes it stand out among video games.

When it comes to digesting the real horrors of war, that’s just how we Americans roll.

Fuck the heck? Dude. Seriously. I don’t care what Lt. Col. Grossman says, you have not experienced anything resembling the "real horrors of war" just because you played fucking Advance Wars.

10. Left 4 Dead (Valve, 2008)

Fun fact: Left 4 Dead 2 came out a few weeks ago. It took slightly longer than one year for the sequel to be made. That’s how much content Left 4 Dead games have.

After years of educational and "serious" games claiming they teach social values or life lessons, Left 4 Dead has finally done it.

Left 4 Dead, for those of you who don’t know, is a game about shooting zombies in the face and running away and eventually dying no matter what you do. According to the A.V. Club, these are life lessons that thank god our children are finally learning.

Total strangers on the Internet learn to work together, share their knowledge, and even give up their health packs, because the game’s demands are so clear: Work with your teammates, or you’ll die.

Hey, A.V. Club? Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Tribes, Tribes 2, Unreal Tournament, Splinter Cell, and nearly every other game made in the last ten years are on lines 1-inifity for you. They want to talk to you about maybe playing some video games before you write your article about video games.

Incidentally: don’t capitalise after a colon. Are you sure you’re professional writers?

Good aim helps, but not as much as patience and attentiveness.

For fuck’s sake. That was the case in Wolfenstein 3D. That is the case in every shooter ever.

The seemingly random onslaughts dictated by the AI keep players constantly on edge, and while each campaign has a thin framework, their stories never get in the way of the one you create on the fly.

Translation: there is no story.

Lifelong friendships are tested by the final scene, as you witness which of your friends will come back to free you from a mob and haul you to safety—and which ones turn tail and run.

Anybody whose lifelong friendships can be tested by a video game needs to fucking relax. Maybe take some Xanax.

9. Final Fantasy XII (Square Enix, 2006)

FYI: Final Fantasy XII is not the best Final Fantasy game to come out in the last ten years.

It would have been enough had Final Fantasy XII eliminated random encounters. The tedious cycle of "walk three steps, fight a battle, return to step one" had dominated console role-playing games for an unacceptably long time, so Final Fantasy XII ditched it, then went further. Borrowing the best ideas from the MMO sphere, the game not only brought the bad guys out in the open where you could see (and avoid) them, it also cut way back on tedious menu navigation with the Gambit system, freeing players to make larger strategic decisions.

Hey, A.V. Club, have you ever played a video game before? I’m serious. Have you? Final Fantasy XII was so far from being the first game to have mobs you can see before entering combat with them it’s not even funny. I mean, I literally can’t say what the first game that had that was, but I know that Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals on the SNES (published in North America fully ten years before FF12) had a whole suite of mechanics involving manipulating the movement and actions of the monsters to get through tricky situations. Final Fantasy XII doesn’t do that. It just has… monsters you can see outside of combat. As did one other vastly superior JRPG released the very same year that I can think of off the top of my head.

Also: the gambit system? Dragon Warrior IV on the NES — street date October 1992 — had that. Only it was better in Dragon Warrior IV, since you didn’t have to fucking collect the strategic choices before you could use them, like you do in FF12. And you didn’t have to do half as much micromanagement, so you could make those "larger strategic choices" instead of spending hours fucking around in the menus.

By removing the separation between exploration and combat, Final Fantasy XII created a seamless world whose various locales rewarded repeat visits.

Translation: there’s lots of grinding.

Vibrant art direction and a straightforward story about the temptations of power complemented the huge improvements to battle

"Straightforward" is a kind way of describing the story in FF12. I’d have gone with "bog-standard." And this is probably the only Final Fantasy game ever made where I will not agree with your comment about vibrant art direction — Final Fantasy 12 is the brownest game I have ever played in my life. The graphics are technically very sound, but everything is brown and drab and desperately boring to look at. Here is a screenshot. Here’s another. And another. I didn’t cherry-pick these: they all came from the first page of Google image search results for "Final Fantasy 12." I took the first three that weren’t like box art or shots of the sky, which, thankfully, isn’t brown.

As I said to Stephen: Counter-Strike was a realistic, gritty anti-terrorist game set in the desert. It was less brown than Final Fantasy 12.

making Final Fantasy XII the most enjoyable Japanese RPG since Chrono Trigger.

This is my favourite line in the whole article. No, not just because it’s wrong. Not just because it’s not even the most enjoyable Final Fantasy game since Chrono Trigger. Not even just because there was another JRPG released just one month earlier that was infinitely superior. It’s my favourite line because of a fact about Chrono Trigger.

In Chrono Trigger, you could see the mobs on the map before combat.

8. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar Games, 2002)

Decent choice. If you’re going to pick a Grand Theft Auto game, this is probably the right one.

The Grand Theft Auto series is known for masking clever satires of American culture with gleeful violence

Is that what it’s known for? I thought it was known for being a free-world game where you could kill police and run people over.

Mafioso in Hawaiian shirts, polyester-clad cocaine lords, and petty moguls form the cast of caricatures the series does so well, populating a world where the excesses of its crime-spree gameplay feel appropriate.

Mafioso is singular. You’re looking for either mafiosos or mafiosi. Don’t use foreign languages if you don’t understand how.

Also, isn’t it a game about crime? Be a bit weird if crime seemed inappropriate. Not sure you should hold it up as a stunning triumph in that way. That’s like praising Super Monkey Ball for creating a world where monkeys rolling around in balls feels appropriate.

GTA’s intelligence is often lost in the hullabaloo over its violence, but Vice City simply asks players to be as absurd as the characters around them, creating a plausible, neon-soaked fiction that’s as funny as it is canny. Rockstar burdened San Andreas with too many disparate activities and rendered GTA IV with inappropriate gravitas, making Vice City the best whole-package showcase of the series’ brilliance.

This is probably the best section of this entire article from a non-drivel perspective. It’s still stuffed with pretentious bullshit words, and i’d like them maybe to mention the gameplay for a change instead of raving about "plausible fiction," but it’s basically okay.

7. Ico (Sony, 2001)

Translation: This game is way popular among the kind of internet geeks who read about video games on A.V. Club, so let’s pander! I’m going to quote this blurb in its entirety:

Ico is a clever-enough hybrid of action game and brain-teaser, but its story of a nameless horned boy rescuing Yorda, a spectral girl, captured gamers’ imaginations with its subtlety. In a world of lonesome cathedrals and threatening shadows, the two must cross a language barrier to cooperate, expressing ideas on platonic love and universal language by poignantly—and now iconically—holding hands. It was an introduction to the minimalist directorial vision of Fumito Ueda; cemented in the later Shadow Of The Colossus and in 2010’s highly anticipated The Last Guardian, his worlds are rich with the suggestion of narrative, but they leave players to fill in the blanks. With Ico, Ueda became one of the earliest designers to introduce the idea that games can be art, and the title must be considered an essential milestone in the medium’s emotional maturation.

Fuck the heck? I’ll go ahead and say that this paragraph is the Ninja Gaiden of game reviews — it is the quintessential example of style over substance. That paragraph says absolutely nothing, but it uses the entire GDP of Mali in ten-cent words to do it.

Also: "cemented in the later Shadow Of The Colossus and in 2010’s highly anticipated The Last Guardian, his worlds are rich with the suggestion of narrative, but they leave players to fill in the blanks " is not an independent clause, unless the "worlds" were "cemented," which makes no sense. That entire sentence is literally nonsense. It cannot be parsed. And also it refers to a game that doesn’t come out until next year in the past-tense and claims knowledge of it. Are you guys really sure you’re professional writers?

6. World Of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004)
Blizzard has faced plenty of competition since it all but conquered the MMORPG market with World Of Warcraft.

If there’s been plenty of competition, I’m not 100% sure it’s accurate to say that Blizzard conquered the market. Just FYI.

Anyhow, this entry is mostly fine. I’m skipping it.

5. Portal (Valve, 2007)
The legend of Portal starts with a fledgling team of still-in-school gamemakers who pitched a concept to Valve’s Gabe Newell, walked away with a deal, and eventually delivered a masterpiece.

The legend of Portal — handed down on papyrus preserved in a hidden cave since the long-ago days of 2007! That’s not a 100% accurate retelling of the legend, either. But we’ll let that slide.

Their brilliant portal mechanic and the extensive playtesting that perfected the puzzles made this an excellent game.

The game development process according to the A.V. Club:

1) Have brilliant idea
2) Playtest
3) Receive your internet award for making the fifth-best game of the last ten years

But credit also goes to Valve for what they brought to the table

Such as: making the game, distributing the game, financing the game, and also I think they did the playtesting too.

a writing team that stitched the levels together with hilarious but meaningful dialogue; one of the decade’s best villains, the complex, conflicted GLaDOS; the subtle integration into the wider Half-Life universe; and the fact that GLaDOS not only eludes you at the end, but comes back and sings you a farewell, penned by geek troubadour Jonathan Coulton.

That’s pretty badly written, and nobody had ever heard of Jonathan Coulton before Portal.

Who thinks of something like that? Valve, that’s who.

Damn right, sucka! Nobody ever had the brilliant idea of making a funny game before. Only Valve thought of that!

That or you’re wrong about your brilliant idea — playtesting — awards methodology, and it has more to do with nobody else getting it right before.

4. Rock Band (MTV Games/Electronic Arts, 2007)
The four-player experience accommodates precise, determined players and drunken fools all in the same session. What other party game can satisfy all of the people all of the time?

Mario Kart? Also Smash Bros. And Super Monkey Ball. And, actually, pretty much all of them. Have you ever played a party game before?

It was made by musicians for everyone; its devotion to music is evident in song selections that skirt the mainstream and animations that replicate onstage performance as lovingly as Madden seeks to mirror football.

Rock Band is the fourth-best game of the last ten years because the animations of bands on stage look like bands on stage. And also because the producers couldn’t get the rights to anything good, so made a whole collection of B-sides and insignificant acts instead of popular songs like those other hacks did.

Where prior music games were limited by static disc-based releases, a constant supply of optional downloadable content makes Rock Band the only music game that persistently thinks beyond the boundaries of physical releases.

Except for Guitar Hero III, which came out before Rock Band. But that’s fine.

3. Fallout 3 (Bethesda Softworks, 2008)
Some games have great storylines; some have great worlds.

And some games have gameplay, but you wouldn’t know it from this article.

Bethesda Softworks’ update of the Fallout series is a world-building triumph.

Fallout 3 is not a world-building game, but you wouldn’t know it from this article.

Fallout 3’s crowning achievement is structuring the Wasteland as a framework in which players can pick and choose how they’ll combine those ingredients to tell their own story.

If you try to combine the ingredients from Resident Evil 5 to tell your own story, Capcom will send people to your house to punch you in the face. True story.

Is the Wasteland the basis for a traditional Western, a cautionary Mad Max tale, or a balls-out action saga? It can be all of the above, and much more.

Those three things are, after all, not at all the same.

The measure of a game should never be a bottom-line summation of playable time, but the fact that Fallout 3 offers easily a hundred hours of post-apocalyptic storytelling can’t be overlooked.

What if I am — by your own admission above — providing all the storytelling myself? Can’t literally any game do that? I can play Kool-Aid Man on the 2600 for a hundred hours and make up all kinds of stories. Does it get credit for that? how about if you’re going to play the length card we focus on how many hours of gameplay it has?

2. Katamari Damacy (Namco, 2004)

Outrageous, complete goofball choice at #2? Check.

Indie games existed long before 2004, but there’s a good argument for pegging Katamari Damacy as the catalyst that helped usher in the new wave of low-fi, handmade games.

Sounds good, right? Next line:

Of course, Keita Takahashi’s quirky game wasn’t independently made.

Seriously, A.V. Club. What the hell are you talking about?

Incidentally, for those people who are interested in correct things: that catalyst that ushered in the new wave of indie games was low-cost downloadable game services. It was Steam, and Xbox Live Arcade, and WiiWare, and there’s probably something on the Playstation 3 also but nobody owns one so who cares. Having the ability to distribute your game to a wide audience without massive upfront costs? Being able to make money from it without some dodgy shopping cart software you need to maintain yourself? That’s the catalyst, dumbshits. Not Katamari Damacy.

He tricked his bosses at Japanese publisher Namco into letting him make an oddball game about rolling all the detritus of consumer culture into a huge ball, then launching it into space.

He didn’t trick anybody into shit. Namco is arguably most famous for making quirky, oddball games. I’m serious. Here’s the list of Namco games. They made a whole lot of the most well-known oddball games of all time, very much including Dig Dug and Pac-Man, which you may have heard of. And also an RPG about the life and works of Chopin. Katamari Damacy is like par for the Namco course, screwball.

And in doing so, he cemented all the themes that would define the independent spirit of gaming: a quirky tone, experimental mechanics, twee art, and cooler-than-thou music.

Ken’s Labyrinth came out in 1993, and was an independent game with all of those themes. Just a heads-up.

1. BioShock (2K Games, 2007)

Bioshock is like the seventh-best game on this list. But go ahead.

A three-word pleasantry—"Would you kindly?"—set up the most stunning plot twist in gaming history and made BioShock a lasting icon.

You were stunned by Bioshock’s plot twist? It was broadcast, like, hours in advance. You really didn’t see it coming? Hey, here’s a suggestion: be maybe a little bit less drunk when you play video games. I, as somebody who played Bioshock while, like, awake, wasn’t even slightly shocked by it. You know what game had a better plot twist than Bioshock? I’ll give you a hint: it came out a month before Final Fantasy XII and was a much, much better JRPG.

Also Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. And that’s a goddamn Professor Layton game.

Many games have stolen its moral-choice device—witness the recent glut of "Press A to kill, B to rescue" situations—but the copycats miss the real insight of the "Would you kindly?" moment, which showed players that the notion of choice in a game is just an illusion anyway.

Not killing people? Bioshock invented that? Neverwinter Nights came out in 2002, and it had a fully-developed alignment system that impacted a lot of stuff throughout the course of the game, whereas Bioshock had one repeated binary choice that determined in aggregate which of two endings you would receive.

Also: Bioshock demonstrated that choice in video games is an illusion much more compellingly through its shitheaded insistence on making important moments play out in cinematics.

It’s all in how you execute the illusion, and BioShock uses every tool of the medium to tell its story of extreme libertarianism gone awry:

Bioshock tells its story of extreme libertarianism gone awry by establishing a totalitarian police state and then having the central government get paranoid. That’s a tool of the medium, I guess.

richly characterized dialogue, the gloom of a crumbling Atlantis, the limitations of the first-person viewpoint.

That really probably is every tool of the medium these idiots at A.V. Club are aware of. They don’t seem to know what gameplay is.

Other tools used by Bioshock to tell its story:
• Non-interactive cutscenes
• Non-interactive radio chatter
• Non-interactive recorded diaries
• Pipe Dream

It was a visionary effort, one that set the bar high for games that would follow—especially the upcoming BioShock 2.

If you’re talking about atmosphere: yes. If you’re talking about gameplay: well, Bioshock had like four different types of mobs, all of which could be trivially killed en masse without ever firing a round or using a magic power. And it had a whole lot of Pipe Dream.

So, now that we’re done with the list, let’s take a look at some fun facts!

• Advance Wars
• Final Fantasy 12
• World of Warcraft

Think for a minute: what do these three games have in common?

Give up? They are the only games on this list — of fifteen! — that are not Xbox games.

Seven people wrote this list. Now, just as a thought experiment, let’s set aside World of Warcraft — its prominence in culture pretty much guarantees it a spot on any list like this. So we have seven writers, fourteen games, two of them non-Xbox. Fourteen divided by seven is two, right? So if they picked two games apiece, it starts to look like six of their seven writers only ever gamed on the Xbox.

This is a possible explanation for the absense of several high-profile titles that never received Xbox releases. Also for the absense of several games that were available on the Xbox in inferior versions.


November 24th, 2009 Posted by | Games | 12 comments

Bill Simmons update!

Dave tells me via AIM (because I guess nowadays he’s too cool to post comments so other people can read them too? Fucking choker) that when Bill Simmons uses the term "Zombie Sonics," he’s apparently talking about the Oklahoma City Thunder. As you do.

Looking at Durant’s numbers that year, he looks a lot better. He still has not very many rebounds, assists, and steals, which may be part of it. I don’t really know — I don’t know anything about basketball, remember? But I do know this: dismissing a metric as useless because it says a star player is hurting the team means you have to believe that Derek Jeter plays plus defense at short.


November 23rd, 2009 Posted by | Games | no comments

I don’t know anything about football

But I know that Bill Simmons is an idiot.

I was going to leave this article alone. Dave’s been trying to goad me into posting about Simmons for a while now, but I’ve been shrugging him off — Simmons writes for Page 2, for pity’s sake. Page 2 is like a remedial sportswriting workshop; it’s where ESPN sticks the people whose opinions are so boneheaded and whose writing is so awful that there’s no way to take them seriously, so even people like Simmons — who writes every word in absolute earnest, gravitas dripping from each syllable — are presented basically as figures of fun. Page 2, in other words, is ESPN’s way of trolling the readership. Criticising a Page 2 article is like admiring a mousetrap, but deciding that that cheese looks fucking delicious.

Well, I’m bored, and I’m in the mood for some cheese. This looks pretty safe to me!

In baseball, statistics permeate every aspect of the game. And they should.

These are the two most sensible sentences Bill Simmons has ever written. Yes, statistics should be omnipresent in baseball — fundamentally, they’re a record of the success and failure of various things attempted on a baseball field. If baseball is a multi-billion-dollar industry — which it is — it would be complete lunacy to ignore the wealth of available information. Which, I’m sure, is what Bill is about to say.

It’s an individual sport.

I… what?

This isn’t going to go well. I’m three fucking sentences into Bill Simmons’ ten thousand word magnum opus, and he’s already completely flipped his shit. Baseball is an individual sport? Do you even know what baseball is, Bill? Because I believe you are thinking of bowling.

The comedy highlight of this whole section is that it took Bill Simmons three sentences to be maddeningly wrong about baseball in an article about football.

If a major league team hired a computer programmer to build a GM program over hiring an actual human being, the GM program probably wouldn’t embarrass itself.

I submit that most of the reason for this is because most general managers are complete nincompoops. I’d like to see the computer program that can out-general-manage, say, Billy Beane or Theo Epstein, both of whom are very good. Q-Bert could beat Kenny Williams.

Do you even need to watch baseball anymore to have an educated opinion? It’s unclear.

Of course not, you goof. That’s the whole reason newspapers started reporting about baseball a couple two-three weeks ago: because people can’t always see every game, but they want to stay informed. So people who do watch the game share their observations with the people who don’t, and then everybody can have educated opinions, yeah? I kind of thought that was the entire point of writing.

Incidentally, Bill, there are — as I’ve said before — 2430 regular-season games every single year, many of which take place at exactly the same time. If you couldn’t know anything about baseball without personally watching all of them, baseball would be the Berry Number of sports — we all know it’s there, but it’s perfectly unknowable.

But isn’t this article about football? I mean, the first word in the title is "Belichick." You want to take some time off from being wrong about baseball and maybe try being wrong about football for a while?

In football? Statistics can help. Absolutely. But you still need to watch games to have an educated opinion.

That’s more like it! Now, I repeat: I know nothing about football. I don’t watch football, and I don’t particularly follow or understand football statistics. But I guarantee my opinion about this football subject that Bill is going to write about is more educated than his, on account of he will do nothing but assert his gut feeling over and over again. Let’s watch!

After my beloved Patriots threw away Sunday’s Colts game with one unnecessarily dangerous decision, my educated opinion was this: "That’s the second dumbest thing I have ever seen any Boston team do."

educated, adj.
1) Having an education, especially one above the average.
2a) Showing evidence of schooling, training, or experience.
2b) Having or exhibiting cultivation; cultured: an educated manner.
3) Based on a certain amount of experience or factual knowledge: an educated guess.
4) Blindly stated with no logic or evidence provided for support, especially when phrased like something Maxwell Smart would say.

Looks like you win this round, Simmons! That’s an educated opinion after all!

At the time, I remember watching the Patriots line up — fourth-and-2, up six, 123 seconds to play, own 28-yard line — and thinking, "It’s OK, they’re trying to get the Colts to freak out and burn their last timeout." Then, they snapped the ball. Huh? Kevin Faulk hauled in a pass on the 30.3-yard line. It was spotted at the 29. These are the things that happen when you double on a 12 against a six because you believe — fervently — that a slew of non-face cards are coming. You might be right, but you shouldn’t do it.

Remember Simmons’ blackjack analogy here. Note carefully exactly what he’s saying: he’s saying that the right thing to do is play the percentages, regardless of what your gut feeling tells you is about to happen. That is the exact meaning of this analogy he uses here. Keep this in mind.

When your coach lets you down with a decision that makes no sense, it’s like riding in the passenger seat of a friend’s car and helplessly watching as he plows over a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Wait, what just happened? Didn’t we hit that guy? I could swear we just hit that guy. (Everything slowly starts registering.) Wait, we have to go back!!!! GO BACK! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GO BACK!!!! WE HIT THAT GUY!

Patented Bill Simmons Educated Analogy ™! When you absolutely, positively can’t make your point with fewer than ten exclamation marks.

That’s the thing: There’s no going back. I always thought we were in good hands, especially in close games, thanks to an incredibly prepared coach with a knack for making shrewd moves at the right times. Can we say that anymore?

Bill Belichick calls for one play that fails: asshole. Choker. Head-case. Does that remind you of anybody?

Did I throw my remote control on Sunday night? Of course I did. Did it break? Sadly, not the way I wanted. Did it feel good? Not really.

Any guesses from the readership on what way Simmons wanted his remote control to break? Of all the weird things he writes in this article, I think probably the flat-out weirdest is his lament about his remote control breaking the wrong way.

I walked my dog, did some robo-sulking and went to sleep believing I would wake up with a nation of football fans who agreed that, yes, the fourth-and-2 call was one of the dumbest in recent sports history.

… Except for when he makes up the incredible term "robo-sulking." I do not believe robo-sulking is a thing, Bill Simmons. And, even if it is, it probably involves something like this, and I don’t think you’re qualified to do it.

See, I never expected that fourth-and-2 call to turn into a lively sports debate.

Because part of having educated opinions is a firm, unshakable conviction that you are right, and refusal to believe that other people may have different opinions.

And I certainly never expected statistics to back up what seemed to be an unforgivable decision. The numbers were crunched by a variety of people, including ESPN’s own Alok Pattani, who reported the win probability variables for all three scenarios on fourth-and-2.

Do you hear that, ESPN’s own Alok Pattani, which isn’t your real name on account of it isn’t anybody’s real name? You can "crunch" your "numbers" all you like, but they just prove how uneducated you are unless they support the prearranged conclusion reached by educated people. All of whom agree.

Scenario A (if the Pats converted): "The Patriots’ average win probability [was] 92 percent."Before Sunday night, "the league average going for it on fourth-and-2 over the past two seasons [was] 55.7 percent (49-for-88)."

So — and, bear in mind, I am completely disqualified from having an educated opinion, because I have not satisfied Bill Simmons as to how much football I watch — it seems to me that what these (horrible, seditious) numbers are telling us is that the Patriots were more likely to succeed at the conversion than they were to fail, and that if they did succeed, they would almost definitely win, yeah? Okay.

Scenario B (if they failed to convert): "[Colts ball] on roughly the New England 29-yard line with 2 minutes to go. The Patriots’ win probability in this situation would be 66 percent."

… And, even if they fail the conversion, these (evil, meretricious) numbers tell us that they’ll still probably win. Cool! So… why shouldn’t they do it, then?

(Important note: If you were sitting next to a bookie after the Pats blew fourth-and-2, and that bookie said to you, "The odds of the Colts winning here are 34 percent; I will give you 3-to-1 odds that they score," would you have taken that wager in a millisecond or a kajillasecond? I think we can throw that number out. Whatever.)

(Important note: Bill Simmons has just said that it’s important to trust your gut feeling instead of playing the odds. Remember the blackjack analogy? Yeah. Dear Bill: please read your articles over before submitting them, because, when you contradict yourself like that, you really look like an ass. Love, everybody.)

(Important note 2: Bill Simmons used the educated word "kajillasecond," and then provided the highly educated evidence "whatever" to support his educated opinion.)

Scenario C (if they punted): "Using Patriots punter Chris Hanson’s average of 44 net yards per punt in the game, the Colts would have gotten the ball at the Indianapolis 28. The Patriots’ win probability in this situation would be 79 percent."

Okay. 79 is greater than 66, so they’re better off punting than failing. But, on the other hand, 79 is not greater than 92, so they’re better off succeeding than punting. And they’re more likely to succeed than they are to fail.

Combine all these variables and what do we have?

I’m getting there, Bill. Would you relax? Let me see. They have a 55% chance of getting a 92% chance to win, and a 45% chance of getting a 66% chance to win. So my maths tell me that adds up to an 80.3% chance of winning if they try the conversion. Checking my work… yep, looks like that’s greater than 79. So they should try it. And if Belichick and his staff actually ran those numbers on the sideline, I am fucking impressed. We need dudes like that in baseball.

According to a formula called "Expected Win Probability When Going For It," Pattani believed that the Patriots had an 80.5 chance of winning the game. By punting, they had a 79.0 chance of winning.

That is a goddamn terrible name for a formula. You sure you didn’t make that up, Bill? Well, I’ll let that slide, because right now I’m pretty pleased with myself for getting the right answer.

So my argument (made on Monday’s podcast) that Bill Belichick should have "played the percentages and punted" was technically wrong. Barely. Belichick did play the percentages if you took those percentages at face value.

"So my argument… was technically wrong… barely… if you took those percentages at face value." Wow. That is the very lamest mea culpa I’ve ever heard in my life. Sack up and deal with it, Bill: you were 100% completely wrong. You used the phrase "play the percentages" to support your idea that he should have tried a lower-percentage play. That’s not "technically, barely" wrong. That’s completely wrong.

Here, Bill. I got you a nutsack. Seems like you could use one.

I am not disputing the numbers or the methods for achieving them. But by Monday night, based on various columns and message boards (as well as e-mails to my reader mailbox), you would have thought Belichick was a genius for blowing the game. He played the percentages! It wasn’t as crazy as it looked!

Bill Simmons is disputing neither the numbers nor the methodology. No points for guessing whether or not he’s disputing the lack of attention people paid to bad mojo and gut feelings. And now Bill Simmons is using an article he got paid for by the "worldwide leader in sports entertainment" to argue with forum posts.

By this logic, Belichick also should have held a loaded pistol to his head on the sideline, spun the chamber and tried to shoot himself like Chris Walken in "The Deer Hunter." If those 1-in-6 odds came through and he succeeded, we could have said, "Hey, he played the percentages: 83.6666 percent of the time, you don’t die in that situation! You can’t blame him for what happened!"

That analogy is mind-numbingly bad. How many problems can you spot? I’ll get you started:

1) Comparing losing a football game to shooting yourself in the head — in print, for a major news source — is stunningly inappropriate.
2) If the reward for succeeding were commensurate with the penalty for failure, then, yes, Belichick should take that chance. If the only reward is not getting shot, then clearly not. You can’t see the difference there?
3) 5/6 is 83.3333, not 83.6666.

Which brings us back to statistics. Yes, they enhance the discussion. Many times.

Except when they contradict the a priori Bill Simmons Educated Truth ™.

(FYI: The "to punt or not to punt" numbers, in general, are interesting. You can make a strong case that good offenses should almost always go for it on fourth-and-short beyond their own 40.)

(Bill’s losing his argument a little here. We need to assume he means "except this particular good offense in this particular situation, due to voodoo and hexes.")

There are also times when statistics make that same discussion dumber. For instance, a former Mavericks statistician named Wayne Winston recently debuted a complicated plus-minus statistic for basketball that included the following two revelations:

1. Kevin Durant made the 2008-09 Zombie Sonics worse.
2. Tim Thomas is underrated.

Remember how I keep saying I don’t know anything about football? Well, I know even less about basketball. Like, I’ve never even heard of either of these two gentlemen. And if there’s a team called the Zombie Sonics, I’ve never heard of that, either, though I’ve already decided I’m a fan. Who wouldn’t be?

I am, however, capable of looking things up using my computer. And, doing this, I can determine that Kevin Durant did not in fact make the 2008-2009 Supersonics — which I’m assuming is what "Zombie Sonics" translates to — worse, on account of he does not appear to have played for that team in that year. So unless this is a statistic that purports to track a player’s "aftereffect," like some sort of voodoo mojo hex colada thing — in which case I agree that it’s a bullshit statistic — I assume that, perhaps, Bill meant the 2007-2008 Zombie Sonics. No problem, Bill; educated people don’t ever check their work. That’s why we have trouble with the repeating decimal on that pesky 5/6.

Anyhow, looking here, we can see the roster for the 07-08 Zombies. I gather from this — and I know nothing about basketball, remember — that Durant’s field goal percentage wasn’t great, and his three-point percentage was abysmal, so, yes, there’s a chance he was making the team worse, since he was clogging up the courtpaths for more minutes than anybody else on the team. He was pretty awesome at free-throws, anyway.

Now, I can’t really judge Tim Thomas’ underratedness, since, frankly, I’ve never heard of him, so I have no idea how well he’s rated. I can say, though, that he appears to be awesome at three-point shots, which I understand is the highest-scoring play in basketball (which I guess doesn’t have grand slams? Lame). So, I dunno. If people are saying he’s ass at three-pointers, well… I guess he probably is underrated. Let’s see what insight Bill brings to these stupid statistics!

I don’t want to get into my thoughts about plus-minus data and all the inherent problems with it. Some other time.

My guess: the main inherent problem is that it doesn’t always agree with Bill Simmons.

We’ll ignore the Durant lunacy for now.

That’s what educated people do — they just dismiss an opposing argument with a snide remark, and refuse to discuss it.

But to argue, insinuate or even blink that Tim Thomas is underrated — by any metric — cannot be allowed.

please dont hurt me mr simmins omg im worried

Forget statistics; here are hard-core facts.

That might be the greatest sentence ever written. It would probably still be the greatest sentence ever written even if Bill hadn’t fucked up his cliché — that’s "cold, hard facts," Bill. If you say hard-core facts, it makes it sound like you’re about to give us the straight dope on some serious porn. Which, frankly, I would probably pay to read.

Thomas mailed in five years of a six-year deal in Milwaukee and Chicago, tried hard for four months in Phoenix, roped the Clippers into another four-year deal, then went on cruise control again.

Those facts are hard-core! That is some hot fact-on-fact action right there. Forget all your bullshit stats — those are just records of what dudes actually did. Who cares about that? Get this: he mailed shit in. That, my friend, is a fact. And it would fuck your sister if you gave it half a chance.

I will pay Bill Simmons one kajilliadollars if he edits this article to include the line "’Nuff said" right here.

You know how I know this? I went to the effing games.

If there’s anything lamer than actually swearing in a print article for a proper news agency, it’s not actually swearing. You should make your articles more like AOL chat rooms, Bill. It’s professional.

And hard-core!!

I watched Thomas jog up and down for 48 minutes with the intensity of a drive-through attendant. I watched him stare at JumboTrons during timeouts like a stoned college student gazing into a fish tank. I watched one game in which I was convinced he had made a bet with someone that he could play four quarters without ever crossing either 3-point line. He sucked defensively, made no effort to connect with teammates, reacted to loose balls as though he was allergic to them and took ill-advised shots at the worst possible times.

Bill Simmons watched this man play for ten years, and remembers — acutely! — every detail of that ten-year career. This is because Bill Simmons is more than just a man. He is hard-core. Your pussy stats? They don’t remember shit. That’s all just computer stuff.

The losing bounced off him like a racquetball.

I hate to break this to you, Bill, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s nonsense.

Two years into his contract, I nicknamed him "The Thief" because he was basically stealing from the Clippers.

So? People called Alex Rodriguez "Choke-Rod" because he never came through in the clutch. Meanwhile, for four years he put up the very very best offensive numbers in all of baseball, won some MVPs, played decent defense at what wasn’t even his natural position, and almost never missed a game.

My point? Fuck this Tom Timson dude. If he’s as bad as A-Rod, I don’t want that shit on my team!

If you’re creating a formula that determines Tim Thomas is underrated, the thesis has to be this: "You might think Tim Thomas is totally useless and a one-man swine flu for how he infects a team spiritually and psychologically, but actually, he’s only 96.7 percent useless, and here’s why."

Topical "one-man swine flu" joke: 0/10

I saw the fucking Exorcist. If Tim Thomas infects his team spiritually, I think they’re going to kick some shit. I imagine demonic strength is probably a pretty big asset in basketball. And how cheap would it be if they could fucking float?

Anything else? I cannot accept it unless it’s offered with the caveat, "As soon as my formula told me that Tim Thomas was underrated, I erased that formula from my hard drive, then set my computer on fire with a blowtorch."

So now we learn the following about having an educated opinion: it is important to avoid at all costs actually acquiring any education. If you begin to learn things, purge yourself with fire before it gets any worse.

The "Belichick made the right move" argument was nearly as dense. In the biggest game of the regular season, when a football coach tries something that — and this is coming from someone who watches 12 hours of football every Sunday dating back to elementary school — I cannot remember another team doing on the road in the last three minutes of a close game, that’s not "gutsy." It’s not a "gamble." It’s not "believing we can get that two yards." It’s not "revolutionary." It’s not "statistically smart." It’s reckless. It’s something that should happen only in video games, and only when you and your roommate are both high.

I accept that Bill Simmons is the high tribunal of football, on account of he watches twelve hours of football every Sunday, whereas I — a man with a job — do not have this luxury. I would like to know, however, how one determines that a given game is the "biggest of the season." Is the biggest game of the season always a week ten game against a non-division team? I’d think it would be maybe closer to the end, or an elimination game, or maybe against the second-place team in the division or something. But, then, I know nothing about football, and Bill Simmons is a robo-sulking football-tron from the future. So never mind me.

Topical pot reference: 1/10

Again, this wasn’t a blackjack-type situation in which you can have a computer break down those fourth-and-2 variables a katrillion times, then break down the percentages definitively. Let’s examine every possible defense of that decision.

I’d like to point out that, even though Simmons begins this paragraph with "again," he hasn’t actually said this before. I really think he’s writing this stream-of-consciousness. Also: "katrillion?"

Inane Angle No. 1: "Statistically, it was the right move"

Educated people usually refer to all counterarguments as "inane" before they’ve bothered to refute them.

So we’re saying 55.7 percent, huh? That’s the success rate for a road team playing its biggest rival, in a deafeningly loud dome, coming out of a timeout — a timeout that allowed the defense to get a breather and determine exactly how to stop the obvious five-receiver spread that was coming because the offense’s running game sucked — along with that same defense getting extra fired up because it was being disrespected so egregiously/willfully/blatantly/incomprehensibly. I say lower. By a lot.

Hey, Bill, the Jets are on line 1. They’d like to talk to you about rivalries vis-á-vis the Patriots.

Statistics — backed by research and math — say 55.7%. Bill Simmons — backed by fairy stories about nothing — says "lower." You make the call!

Statistics can’t capture the uniqueness of a particular moment, and in this case — with the Pats self-combusting, with a sure victory suddenly slipping away, with the crowd going bonkers, with a fired-up defense gearing up to stop them, with an obvious play looming (a short pass), and with everything happening during a drive that was already so disjointed that they had called two timeouts — I find it really, really, REALLY hard to believe they would have completed that play 56 times out of 100 times with how they lined up.

Remember: fuck the odds. Go with your gut! Exactly unlike that blackjack analogy Simmons thoughtfully provided earlier.

So he’s provided a whole list of reasons why this play will fail, exactly one of which — the defense anticipating the play — has anything to do with football. Not a great argument.

Given these realities, if you’re feeding me "Here’s what happened in this situation historically" numbers, shouldn’t we be looking at the data for two-point conversions?

Well… no. The Patriots had a lot more room to work with — a lot more room — here than they would on a two-point conversion, because of the non-trivial detail that they weren’t at the end of the field.

In the past two and a half years, road teams successfully executed two-point passes 22 of 65 times (34 percent).

That’s not what the Patriots were doing here. If the defense had tried to play this like a two-point conversion, the Patriots would have made a medium-depth pass and probably scored a fucking touchdown, since the entire defensive line would be within like five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Also, take note: educated people sneer down their noses at statistics, except the ones that support their own arguments.

Admittedly, the Patriots have a better passing offense than just about any other team; they also were throwing the ball effectively against Indy’s battered secondary.

"Admittedly, I’m wrong, and, also, I’m wrong, but… never mind that. I’m still right."

You cannot tell me the odds for success here were 55.7 percent for that specific formation at that specific moment in time. You cannot. Just stop.

Well, no, Captain Hindsight, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, I am forced to tell you that the odds of that specific play succeeding at that specific time were in fact 0%. That’s how odds of specific occurrences in the past work. However: 55% chance of success is barely better than even. I think you are the only person in the entire world who cannot accept that something could be 55% likely to occur and then not happen.

One other note: The "disrespecting the defense" card doesn’t show up in stats. There’s no way to measure the collective ability of a defense to raise its game for one play, as the fans shout the team on with every ounce of air in their lungs, while being fueled by a legitimately mind-blowing slight.

Florid prose: 0/10

Actually, Bill, there is a stat for that, as you’d know if you knew anything about anything. The ability for the defense to raise its play when it gets "disrespected" is expressed according to the following formula (caution: math!):

0

Bill. Seriously. These men are professional, elite athletes. I know you dragged your feet in gym class; everybody did. But that is not what is happening here. These men play their fucking hearts out on every play, disrespected or not. You do realise that in order to "raise their game" when disrespected, they’d have to be half-assing it the rest of the time, right? Mailing it in, like you were pissed at that basketball dude for supposedly doing? Real life is not Dragon Ball Z, Bill. They can’t just do like the Kaio-Ken and raise their power levels to over 9000 and then Kamehameha the other team to fucking death.

Insane Angle No. 2: "If they punted, Manning would have rolled down the field and scored, anyway."

I’m going to skip most of this one, on account of: it’s wrong. Are people saying this? If they punted, they had a 78% chance of winning. We covered that. I’ll just call out this part that’s completely wrong:

The Colts weren’t exactly on fire. Admittedly, I am terrified of Manning and have written as much. But Indy had already started and completed two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter against a good defense. Had the Patriots punted, Indy would have had to pull off a third long touchdown drive to win the game. I asked Peter Newmann to research the number of times a team started and completed three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit deficit and win an NFL game since 2005.

You see, Bill, this is why people hate stats. Because assholes like you misuse them so egregiously. These are independent variables, Bill. Their third touchdown drive is not weighted down with pathos from their past history. It’s just another touchdown drive. Ignore the first two, because they don’t matter. Here’s the stat you want: how often do teams successfully make a touchdown drive starting on their own 28, with two minutes to play and one timeout?

I don’t know. I know nothing about football. But I know something about thinking, and that stat you made up is awful.

In 78 weeks of football dating back to 2005, it happened a whopping four times. Four! If you’re playing the statistics card, why not play that one? By punting, the Patriots would have been asking Peyton Manning to pull off something THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN EVEN ONCE EVERY EFFING SEASON. You’re damned right I just went all caps. Hold on, I have to repeatedly bang my head against my desk again.

(Ow.)

(Damn!)

(Ouch!)

(Uh-oh, my left eye is starting to swell up like Brad’s after Darrell whupped his ass on "The Ruins" this week. Let’s keep going.)

For those keeping score at home, Bill Simmons just:
1) Typed an all-caps sentence
2) Talked about how he just typed an all-caps sentence
3) Swore
4) Declared that he was going to hit his head on the desk
5) Acted it out
6) Swore again
7) Made a reference to what I assume is a TV show
8) Swore again

This man got paid to write this article for a publication that calls itself the "worldwide leader in sports entertainment."

Insane Angle No. 3: “I thought we could get the 2 yards.”

The first angle was "inane." The next two were "insane." Bill Simmons is "a sloppy writer."

That’s what Belichick said after the game. Look, I’m glad he felt that way. But isn’t life about resisting the urge to try something reckless just because you thought you could do it?

Well, no, Mr. Precautionary Principle, it isn’t. Most people, I’ll wager, would say that life is a lot less about that than it is about weighing risk vs. reward. Which, as we discovered when we ran the (smelly, nasty) numbers earlier, proved that trying the conversion was the better choice.

Simmons then tells a long, terrible, badly-written anecdote about how he got a speeding ticket. I won’t quote it here because it’s boring, but he swears some more, makes some Sopranos and Pulp Fiction references, and then he reaches this conclusion:

I was also relying on two variables that weren’t certainties: One, that I’m good at sniffing out cops when I drive too fast, and two, that I’d be able to weasel my way out of any speeding ticket in Seattle. Both variables failed. I was reckless. And now, I owe $299 to the state of Washington for excessive speed and failure to signal while changing lanes.

"I thought I wouldn’t get caught" is no different from "I thought we could get the 2 yards." It’s just not. You either know or you don’t.

Bill is, as usual, wrong. They are very different. First off, Belichick (we’re assuming) actually ran the odds on the play, and knew that it improved his chances of winning the game. Simmons just went with his gut feeling — which, note, he’s saying Belichick should have done — and it blew up in his face. Also important to note is that Simmons had nothing to gain by speeding except the satisfaction of driving fast. There was no reward balancing out the risk.

Also worth noting is that, according to Bill Simmons, no football team should ever run a play that it isn’t absolutely sure will succeed. If Bill Simmons were a coach, he’d call both of his time-outs consecutively right at the beginning of every game and then forfeit, because, hey, you need to be sure. And then at the end of the season he’d write a bitchy article about how all those seamheads said his plan wouldn’t work.

Insane Angle No. 4: "The Pats acted like men! They went for the kill! Had they converted that, they would have made a strong statement to everyone that they were back on top and everything was right with the world!"

Are people saying that? Because it’s not a good reason to do anything. That’s the exact reason you chose to go 90 mph through Seattle and got a $300 speeding ticket, remember?

As the great Herm Edwards once said, "You play to win the game. YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!" That’s really it.

I’m not completely sure Herm said it in all caps like that, but, yeah. Though I probably would have gone with Sun-Tzu instead, who said the exact same thing a bit more eloquently.

The Patriots dominated that entire game

… except for the fourth quarter

played better football

… except for the fourth quarter

and deserved to win.

… except that the Colts scored more points.

The bigger issue: Let’s say they punt, then Indy rolls down the field and scores for the victory. We spend the next few days saying, "Wow, I can’t believe the Pats blew that game, they had it, Manning is so great, holy crap." Then the whole thing dies. This happens all the time in football. Every week, at least one team dominates a game but urinates it away. There are never significant aftereffects because it’s a long season and, really, those defeats can happen to everyone.

Try not to get too close to Bill here, because he’s just taken a sharp left turn off into Crazy Ravine. Bill Simmons apparently doesn’t even care if the Patriots were more likely to win trying the conversion than punting, because if they punted and lost it would be an insignificant defeat. Does that make sense to anybody?

I guess it’s like what the great Herm Edwards once said: "You play to make sure you lose in an acceptable fashion. YOU PLAY TO MAKE SURE YOU LOSE IN AN ACCEPTABLE FASHION!"

But losing because you went for it on fourth-and-2 on your own 28? Much more damaging.

No. No, Bill. No. Exactly as damaging. I don’t know what you’ve been told, here, but the Patriots were given the exact same number of losses as they would have gotten had they punted and lost.

The reward (of converting it) did not match the risk (the fallout from a demoralizing loss and a week’s worth of "What the hell happened?" questions, not to mention its impact on the team’s psyche).

Note: the reward (of converting it) did, in fact, outweigh the risk (of failing). We proved that with math earlier — math Bill has already said he has no argument with. So, instead, he’s decided that the reward — i.e., winning — was not significant enough to outweigh the risk — i.e., psychological scars from losing. Fuck the heck?

This week, the Pats made a big stink about looking forward and not letting that defeat affect them. How can it not? How?

Because they’re professionals who have all lost football games before? I’m serious here: what the fuck is it with sportswriters and their fixation on athletes being fragile little pixie creatures? If you’re going to play the mumbo-jumbo psychology game anyhow, why not assume that suffering such a hard loss is going to get the Patriots all fired-up and they’re going to elevate their play for the next game like you assume the Colts can do when they get disrespected? I really don’t get this.

Insane Angle No. 5: "The decision might not have worked out, but it came from a well-thought-out place."

This is just number 1 again. I’m not sure if Bill’s aware that he’s repeating himself. He appears unable to edit. I’m not going to bother with this section, since we’ve already been through it. Suffice to say: it’s more "looks like, feels like, screw numbers and go with your gut" nonsense like he’s been saying for the whole piece, sans his brilliant blackjack analogy.

So that’s it. Except for one little snippet at the end where he’s wrong about baseball again:

Either way, he remains the most fascinating coach in professional football — something that hasn’t changed since 2001, by the way — and I remain thankful that he runs my favorite team. Give me Belichick with a few miles off his fastball over just about anyone else.

Miles is a unit of distance, Bill. I think you mean miles per hour, a unit of velocity.

This took me three hours to write and I am now going to take a shower to wash the stink of this article off. If you see anything in the news tomorrow morning about Bill Simmons being murdered with a hatchet, just remember that I was somewhere else at the time.


November 22nd, 2009 Posted by | Games | 6 comments

Jayson Stark is off his nut

This is great. Stark wrote this whole long article detailing many of the ways in which teams exploit baseball’s current equality-enforcement systems, and then reaches the most unreal, indecipherable conclusion that is humanly imaginable. I’ll link the article at the end, because the title’s a spoiler, and I’d rather you get the buildup and then the crazy-man reveal as I’m sure God intended them to be read. Buckle up!

If you live in Pittsburgh or South Florida, you’ve probably gotten so used to blaming The System for all your team’s problems, there’s an excellent chance you never noticed something every fan of these two "small-market" operations should know:

What’s that? That the Marlins won the World Series in 1997 and 2003? That they contend every single year? Or is it that the Pirates’ problems have nothing to do with the Yankees’ payroll and everything to do with their ownership and front-office consisting entirely of barbary apes?

Your team collected more money this season — before it ever sold one ticket — than it spent on its entire major league payroll. In fact, it collected more than it spent on its major league payroll and its player-development system combined.

Well, yeah. Revenue sharing and the luxury tax are jokes. Mainly they’re excuses for small-market owners to line their own pockets at the expense of the big dogs while still doing exactly the same things they’d be doing anyhow. This is news? It’s been going on as long as these systems have been in place. Systems and exploitation of systems go hand-in-hand there, Jayson.

Just a few days ago, everybody’s favorite agent threw baseball’s pooh-bahs into a serious froth. All it took was Boras telling the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo that some teams are collecting $80 million to $90 million from Major League Baseball just in revenue sharing and central-fund welfare — and essentially stuffing much of it in their mattresses. Well, not quite.

Not that there weren’t some shreds of truth in there someplace. But we’ve run those figures past all sorts of people who ought to know. None of them thinks that particular number adds up.

I have no particular comment on this section; I just included it here because you need to remember it for later. It’s important. Because just two lines later in the article, Stark says this:

If we just use the raw numbers, it appears that at least 10 teams collected $90 million-plus this year before they opened their ticket windows, let one car into their parking lots or sold one slice of pizza.

So. What happened here? Stark jumps up Boras’ ass for his figure of $80M – $90M gained by revenue-sharing. Then he himself arrives at the figure of $90M+ for revenue-sharing plus local TV. So how much is local TV worth? According to Jayson Stark:

We know that 29 of the 30 teams make at least $15 million a year in local broadcast money, and no team rakes in under $12 million.

Ignore the fact that that is probably the very weirdest way he could have phrased that. Let’s just note that $90M+, minus $15M for local TV, amounts to $75M+. Which is, fundamentally, exactly what Boras said in the first place.

Jayson Stark, for nitpicking at the difference between $75M+ and $80M, you are a very weird man.

Central fund (includes national TV, radio, Internet, licensing, merchandising, marketing, MLB International money): Each team, from the Marlins to the Yankees, gets the same central-fund payout. And that check comes to slightly over $30 million per team if you deduct the $10 million in pension and operations fees, or just over $40 million if you don’t.

Fun fact: if you deduct the $5M ops fee and the $5M pension fee from the central fund payout, you can indeed make revenue sharing look a good deal smaller than it actually is. This, it turns out, is the key to Stark’s entire anti-Boras screed: he wants to subtract the fees from the revenue sharing and call it only $65M+. Or, in short: he’s splitting odd, semantic hairs for no discernible reason. Jayson Stark, you are a very weird man.

Even if you ignore the regularly scheduled Boras conspiracy theories, most agents make no secret of the fact that they believe baseball is exaggerating its financial throes in a $6 billion industry.

This. This right here… this is adorable. Jayson Stark apparently listens to agents when they tell him that baseball could afford to pay their clients — and, therefore, the agents themselves — more money than it’s letting on. I absolutely love how apparently it’s only Scott Boras who makes up "conspiracy theories" — none of those other agents would ever stretch the truth to try to get more money! Agents said it, so it must be true!

If you think that’s good, wait until later, when he starts believing the union negotiator:

Are there teams that collect more money before they sell a ticket than they spend on their major league payroll? MLB’s chief labor negotiator, Rob Manfred, doesn’t dispute that. What he vociferously disputes is the meaning of those figures.

I find it stunning and unbelievable that the guy whose job it is to placate the MLBPA would say that players maybe aren’t being wronged! That means it’s true.

"When you evaluate a baseball team," Manfred said, "you need to understand that these teams have expenses in addition to the 25-man roster on the field."

This is the only occurrence in this whole long article about how teams spend their money of anybody mentioning that teams have expenses other than player payroll. The only occurrence. Unfortunately, Manfred appears to lose his way shortly thereafter, because then he says this:

"They have multimillion-dollar benefit costs. They have the cost of paying 15 players on the [40-man] major league roster who are not in the big leagues.

"They have the cost of their player-development system, which averages $15 million [per team] a year. They have the cost of acquiring [amateur] players through the [June] draft and internationally, which averages $9 million [per team] a year. So for anybody to take a club’s revenues and say that 60 percent should go to major league payroll, that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of this business."

Oh, Rob. Oh, Rob, Rob, Rob. You’re still just talking about player salaries, you know that? Not one mention of facilites upkeep, support staff, executive salaries, scouting costs, marketing… anything. Nor any mention of that fact that, if you were interested in truth and not in stirring the public outcry pot, this is where you’d put those $10M in fees. Added on here, not subtracted weirdly from the central fund.

So what do we do about it all? Well, we can’t solve all of this. But we do have an idea that has gotten great reviews wherever we’ve floated it. So …

Get ready. You’re about to head off the crazy cliff into nonsense-valley.

Our final conclusion: Don’t just tax the Yankees.

Let’s get back to where this column began. If this sport has problems, they don’t begin and end with the Yankees.

At least the Yankees take the revenue they generate and plow it back into their franchise. At least the Yankees finance more than just their own little $215 million baseball team. They also pay $150 million a year (in luxury taxes and revenue sharing) to help finance everybody else’s baseball teams, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Those are the rules. That’s the system. And that system gives the Yankees a choice — to roar beyond the payroll threshold and pay an extra 40 percent in luxury taxes for doing it. But if they do, they understand both the upside and the downside of that choice.

So our idea is: Why not extend the same choice to the teams that opt not to spend what other teams spend?

If the Marlins, Pirates or Padres think it’s unnecessary to spend $70 million or $80 million — or even $50 million — on their big league payroll, hey, no problem.

Just tax them for it. That’s all.

Tax the smaller teams for not spending enough money. That’s your idea. I… fuck the heck are you talking about? First of all, you’re assuming, in the face of that last dude you quoted telling you otherwise, that every team could afford to spend your arbitrarily-determined amount of money on player salary. Fuck, Jayson, do you even read your own article? The one dude you interviewed for this thing — or, at least, the one dude you told us about — flat-out told you your idea is nonsense, and you printed that quote, and then you steamed on ahead anyhow. That’s just looney-tunes, man.

A few years back, during a previous labor negotiation, MLB proposed a minimum payroll, which we believe this sport needs. It was the union that rejected it, for philosophical reasons. We think that was a mistake, but nobody asked us.

Which is for the best, since you’re a lunatic. Who has arbitrarily started referring to himself in the plural. You need to lie down, Jayson?

So why not impose the same sort of tax on teams with payrolls below some minimum threshold, exactly the way baseball taxes teams like the Yankees that spend over the maximum threshold?

Because it’s insane and stupid? That’s a reason. Oh, here’s another reason: because it wouldn’t fucking work. According to your madcap numbers above, a team with a $47M payroll, like the Pirates, is unable to compete due to poor finances, but a team with a $50M payroll would be fine? What? Seriously, Jayson. How does forcing them to spend $50M, or $70M, or whatever the fuck meaningfully close the gap between the low-payroll teams and the high-payroll teams, chief among which spent $215M on player payroll this year? It fucking doesn’t is how. Your system would accomplish absolutely nothing except shitting on teams that legitimately can’t afford your arbitrary cutoff. Since they’ll be taxed, they need to take that into account in their finances, which means they can spend even less on player salaries. Which means those poor teams you plan to help by taxing them hard will be fucked even more. Good plan, Jayson!

And, by the way, what happens to all that tax money? Don’t say you’ll hand it out to richer teams that didn’t have to pay the poverty tax. Because that’s even stupider than the previous stupidest thing ever said: the rest of this article.

How would it work? Well, we hear teams argue constantly that sometimes, the only way to get better is to blow up their roster and start over. So we’d allow for that.

First time a team goes under the threshold — and we’ll let the owners and the union figure out whether that "minimum" should be $60 million or $80 million or something in between — we’d impose no tax. None.

But if a team stayed below that "minimum" for a second year in a row, we’d tax it at 20 percent for every dollar below the threshold. The third straight year, that tax rate would grow to 30 percent. And for every year afterward, it would be 40 percent.

Good system! I don’t see any way it could be exploited. Oh, also, Jayson? I guess you’re kind of ignorant and bad at math, but 40 percent of the Marlins’ 2009 budget shortfall — assuming your apparent new minimum-allowed number of $60M (which is not the same as the $50M you said in that other paragraph, but that’s fine) — is $9,278,602.40 You would tax the Marlins nine million dollars for being poor? Fuck the heck? That’s twenty-five percent of their entire payroll. Good plan, fuckhead!

Incidentally, if we choose the $80M payroll floor, then the Marlins pay an astonishing $17,278,602.40, which is just under half of their payroll. That’ll larn ‘em, Jayson!

Clearly what would happen under your "system" is that the Marlins would sink their payroll completely under the sea — like, 40 league-minimum salaries — and save the remaining money to sign $60M of one-year free-agent contracts for the next year and avoid the spiraling death of your insane tax burden, which grows every year they have to pay it. This would, of course, completely destroy the Marlins, a team which has won the World Series twice since 1997, since they’d never be able to keep any player for more than one year and wouldn’t have the luxury of being selective about the free agents they do pick up. Good job saving baseball from a problem you made up, Jayson!

Would we solve all this sport’s problems with that tax? Heck, no. There still wouldn’t be enough pitching, for one thing. And owners and agents would still find whole new reasons to be suspicious of each other.

There would be plenty of pitching, because about twelve teams would go out of business.

But it’s one small step toward fixing a broken system. And who knows? Maybe it might even inspire everyone else to take one giant leap toward repairing the rest of it.

That’s true. Maybe the rest of the teams would get sick of this nonsense and take up football instead.

After that self-gratifying line, Stark begins talking about free agents. The very first thing he talks about is the Cubs potentially trading Milton Bradley for Eric Byrnes, which made me so angry I smashed my computer with a mallet.


November 20th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Two last things that bug me about Mass Effect

Okay, last two. I promise.

The first one’s about the game’s alignment system — there are a few points in the game where it’s just entirely out of whack. The most notable is during a particular side-quest, when you have to deal with a blackmailer. If you elect to scare him into leaving the lady alone by threatening to kill him, you get evil points. That’s fine; makes sense. Where it gets weird is that if instead of threatening to kill him you just outright do kill him, you get good points. Am I the only one that doesn’t make any sense to?

The second one is such a big thing, but, at the same time, such a complete nitpick that I’ve been hedging on whether or not to post it. But, hell with it. Here’s the deal. There’s a major plot point in the game that hinges entirely on the people of the galaxy not knowing anything about the Keepers or the inner workings of the Citadel. It’s quite literally the case that if anybody ever studies these subjects, this whole sweeping plan will come to absolutely nothing. It is imperative for the success of this plan that nobody ever learns about the Keepers and the Citadel.

The people of the galaxy live on the Citadel. Where the keepers are. It is the absolute centre of galactic civilisation. This was also part of the same plan. And all races of the galaxy — the humans, the asari, the salarians, the turians, the volus, the elcor, the hanar, on and on and on — are united in their abject lack of intellectual curiosity as to the nature and function of the giant space station they live on and the mysterious bug creatures that maintain it.

I’m sorry, but that is completely unreasonable. I won’t speak for asari and such, but I’ve met me two or three humans in my day, and if there’s one thing I can say about humans it’s that they are curious about the nature of things almost to a fault. One of the very earliest pursuits in human history was the study of the Earth — what it is, how it operates, what its purpose is. We study even the tiniest and least significant of the creatures around us, trying to understand everything we can about their role in the cosmos. I refuse to believe that the humans — to say nothing of all these other species — never, in all the time they’ve lived on the Citadel, even so much as bothered to figure out the architecture.

Especially since the game’s setup relies upon the idea that all these different species previously discovered other, similar pieces of alien technology and investigated them to find out how they work. That’s what united the races of the galaxy in the first place.


November 20th, 2009 Posted by | Games | no comments

Free agents!

More baseball. I’m getting the jones, man. I’m thinking about getting into football just so I’ll have something else to care about during the offseason. How ’bout them Bears, huh? They’re… pretty awful.

Ahem. Tim Brown’s written up a thing about the highest-profile free agents in this class. Let’s take a look!

Let’s not take a look at the first part. It’s some hyperbole about the Yankees, which is fine. Hard to talk about the 2009 free agent class without some hyperbole about the Yankees, and Tim doesn’t cross the line into not-at-all-classy land. But we’ll skip to the meat, because goddamn if I feel like talking about the Yankees’ payroll any more than I already have.

This is among the biggest days of the year at Scott Boras Corp., when franchise owners are cordially invited to lose their fiscal minds. The best part, the spirit of it all lasts for months, ending, usually, with Boras himself waving from the balcony while the crowds below cheer.

The funny thing about this is that it’s not very far off from being literally true. Really the only part about it that’s hyperbolic is the balcony — Boras is usually standing on a dais.

Like his Mark Teixeira auction of last winter, Boras again has the showiest pony, though this one – as Cardinals fans might recall – lacks Teixeira’s defensive standing.

Oh no he didn’t!

Cutting commentary about his hilarious LDS gaffe aside, Holliday’s not bad defensively. BP thinks he’s just about average, assigning him one entire FRAA for his career. Fangraphs likes him a little better, giving him 32.5 career UZR, for a 150-game average of 6.9. So he’s not really a drawback in the field. Teixeira, meanwhile, clocks in at 25 FRAA, so BP likes him better, but Fangraphs has him at only 11.6 UZR (1.7 UZR/150). So call it a wash, Tim? Oh — also, Teixeira plays 1B, and Holliday plays LF. So maybe more like advantage: Holliday.

So skip down a few paragraphs, and there’s a whole separate entry also about Holliday:

• Matt Holliday, LF. The list of teams that could use a corner outfielder who hits like a corner outfielder is long. The list of teams that can afford one in the prime of his career is considerably shorter. In a winter with no competition beyond Bay, Holliday, like Teixeira before him, probably is bigger than the economy. The possibilities: New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs.

"Bigger than the economy" makes no sense, but we’ll let that pass. My guess is that he goes to the Giants, who definitely have the jones for a power-hitting left fielder now that it’s been a few years since the last one retired was forced out of baseball by a huge conspiracy the MLBPA will expose in exchange for huge kickbacks for its officers. The Giants also are recently suffering the sting of seeing their playoff hopes ruined by finishing fifth-from-last in all MLB in runs scored. They’d probably like to get something going while Cain and Lincecum are still good and under their control, so expect them to make a big move like this.

• John Lackey, SP. Lackey’s market is all over the place, mostly because he’s the only available ace, even if he qualifies more in attitude than body of work. He’s had some arm issues the past couple seasons, but likes to finish what he’s started, isn’t afraid and is a commanding clubhouse presence. Estimates have him pulling anything from A.J. Burnett money (five years, $82.5 million) all the way to Barry Zito money (seven years, $126 million). The possibilities: Los Angeles Angels, Mets, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, Mets, Red Sox, Yankees, Washington Nationals (he won’t pitch for the Nationals).

I really enjoy that Tim lists the Mets twice here, because the Mets are where Lackey is going to end up. The Mets will drastically overpay for Lackey, who is, by the way, not very good. But the Mets don’t know that. They just throw money at mediocre veterans because they’re the Mets. They are so lucky Brian Sabean out-Metsed them for Sexy Barry Zito.

• Jason Bay, LF. Bay’s agent, Joe Urbon, has called his man "the most complete player in this free-agent class," a direct assault on Team Boras. Rumor has it the players’ union has scheduled a debate for the lobby of the winter meetings hotel in Indy, for which both agents have been asked to wear cups and mouth guards. Bay, 31, remade himself in Boston (a polite way of saying people noticed him when he got out of Pittsburgh) and had another productive season. His possibilities include almost everyone who loses out on Holliday: Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, Angels, Giants, Mariners.

Unless Matt Holliday is missing some organs I don’t know about, Jason Bay is definitely not the most "complete" of this year’s class. He’s an absolute butcher in the field — BP has him at -37 FRAA, and Fangraphs at -13 UZR — and he’s a few years older than Holliday, to boot. But he’s a good offensive player, and will probably end up staying with the Red Sox. They have the money, and they seem to like him well enough.

• Chone Figgins, 3B/LF. In a pinch, he could even play a little center for you, or second, or even short. While he dampened a wonderful season with yet another soggy October, Figgins, 32 soon, embodies the game’s post-steroid lean toward speed, touch and gap-to-gap hitting. He’s an AL lifer, but has NL skills – in interleague play he has batted .309 with a .376 on-base percentage. Possibilities: Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Mets, Angels, Mariners.

What does it mean that Figgins has "NL skills?" He’s good at hitting pitchers who bat? I think the days of the AL being a fastball league and the NL being a curveball league were over a long time ago, Tim. Rumour has it the Chicago Cubs are also interested in Figgins, and lord knows they could use somebody who gets on base, but I don’t think it will happen. He’s too sensible a choice. Probably ends up staying with the Angels — of all their free agents, I expect Figgins is the one they’ll resign.

Incidentally, Chone, your name is pronounced "coney," like the island, no matter what you say. Get down with that.

• Johnny Damon, LF. He just turned 36, just muscled up on the new Yankee Stadium for 24 home runs (matching a career best) and just won another ring. Damon still has a certain something, as evidenced by his Game 4, ninth-inning dunk and dash, providing the pivotal few minutes of the World Series. He might already be a DH, but might have another get-by season in left. Possibilities: Yankees, Red Sox.

Damon’s steal of two bases on one pitch was one of the awesomest things in this year’s World Series. He had a resurgence this year, but he’s well into his decline at this point, and, as you say, is almost complete junk in the field. I don’t think the Yankees will take him back — he’s asking too many years for what he has to offer, and I expect they’d rather have Matsui to DH. Not sure there’s a place for him on the Red Sox either. If I had to guess? White Sox. Kenny and Ozzie love old broken-down dudes with reputations for being "scrappy."

• Adrian Beltre, 3B. Seattle – the ballpark, the distance from L.A., the direction of the club – never seemed to fit. Amazingly, Beltre is just 30 and ready for a second long-term contract. We’ll see how the market treats him this time. He’s healthy and catches everything, but is a career .265 hitter with runners in scoring position (Figgins, by comparison, has hit .312 in those situations). Beltre does some things well, and could indeed end up being a bargain. Possibilities: Phillies, Angels, Orioles, Mariners.

Away with your goddamn batting average with runners in scoring position. Beltre’s career batting average is .270. That is exactly the fucking same, Tim. Just like, you know, everybody’s ever. Beltre has had one good year in his entire career, and the Mariners overpaid for him. If I had to guess, I’d say he goes to the Phillies — they love dudes who make lots of outs and once hit for power in the long-ago days of yesteryear.

• Marco Scutaro, SS. Another guy who’ll show up and play his position every day, or a utility type in case of emergency. Few players have worked harder for a rewarding free agency than Scutaro, who turned Cito Gaston’s admiration into a full season at shortstop for the Blue Jays and the best numbers of his career. Possibilities: Toronto Blue Jays, Phillies, Angels, Orioles, Oakland Athletics.

The best numbers of Scutaro’s career: .282 / .379 / .409 / .789. Yikes. This is the only year he’s ever been above average OPS+-wise, and normally he’s way under. Anybody who buys high on Scutaro is in for a disappointment. Probably he stays with the Blue Jays to soothe their Eckstein withdrawl. But at least he shows up and plays every day! I mean, his career high for games played in a season is 145, but still. I imagine he showed up those other days and just maybe played the Game Boy in the locker room. Because he’s a gamer.

• Andy Pettitte, SP. Looks like Pettitte has another season or two in him, if he wants them, after 14 regular-season wins and four more in the postseason. At 37, Pettitte could start thinking about Hall of Fame numbers and keep pitching. Possibilities: Yankees, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers.

Yeah, Pettitte can still pitch. He’s not anybody’s ace anymore, but he’s a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter. Probably the Yankees keep him, since they don’t exactly have pitching to spare; if he’ll sign another one-year, $5M-or-so deal, I can’t see why they’d let him go. And, yeah, Pettitte can start thinking about Hall of Fame numbers any time he wants to — maybe Clemens can let him borrow some, because Pettitte won’t be sniffing the Hall. He was very average.

• Randy Wolf, SP. Since returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season 2006, the left-hander is 36-25 with a 4.10 ERA. He just threw a career-high 214 1/3 innings, made a career-high 34 starts, and had a 3.23 ERA. The Dodgers, of course, thought so much of him they pushed him back to Game 4 of the NLCS, a poor decision. He’s better than you think he is. Possibilities: Los Angeles Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Rangers, Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks.

This was Randy Wolf’s only good year since coming back from surgery. Pro tip: he didn’t have too many good years before then, either. Turns out he’s exactly as good as I think he is. I’m thinking he’ll parlay his one good year into an overlarge contract with a team that likes to sign lousy pitchers. Oh, the Rangers are hiring? Excellent!

• Jose Valverde, RP. Depending on preference, there are plenty of potential closers to choose from (Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Billy Wagner, Fernando Rodney, J.J. Putz, Takashi Saito), and Valverde could be the best of the bunch. He went 47 (for the Diamondbacks), 44 and 25 (Astros) in saves the past three seasons, and has been effective if you don’t mind unsightly. Possibilities: Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, Astros, Orioles.

Valverde’s been wildly inconsistent, but when he’s good, he’s really good. The Astros have a very high payroll and no clear idea what they’re doing, so I sort of expect they just resign him by rote. Not the worst move they could make.

• Aroldis Chapman, SP. Everyone sees Chapman’s potential. And everyone wonders if he has the drive, aptitude and attitude to make something of it. Of course he has the big fastball. His secondary pitch, the slider, is not nearly as impressive. He’s young and athletic. He also was barely out of the Red Sox’s offices when unflattering photos of him surfaced on the Internet. The very definition of risk assessment here. Possibilities: Yankees, Mets, White Sox, Red Sox, Braves, Orioles, Cubs, Cardinals.

Never played a major league game, so I have no real opinion on his abilities. My Hendry-sense is tingling, and telling me the Cubs are about to offer him something idiotic like $50M over three years entirely on the strength of that fastball and the interest from the Red Sox and Yankees.

• Vladimir Guerrero, DH/RF. Big Daddy had trouble staying on the field in ’09, so his numbers began to reflect the way he carries himself to the plate and back. He hit pretty well from May on, hit nine home runs in August and had some huge at-bats against the Red Sox and Yankees in October. What he has left, at 34-ish, is anyone’s guess. But, by the end, he looked like he could still hit, and he insists he can still play right field. We’ll see. Possibilities: Angels, Rangers, A’s.

I very much doubt that Vlad’s done. I think probably the idea that he’s done has gotten around, though. The Angels probably won’t want him, since he doesn’t run a lot; in all, he seems like the kind of guy the A’s will pick up: underappreciated veteran slugger.

• Hideki Matsui, DH/LF. He still hits lefties and righties, but, like Guerrero, is starting to look a lot like a full-time DH. The early word had the Yankees choosing between Damon and Matsui and letting the other one walk, which could still happen. Possibilities: Yankees, Mariners, Rangers.

Godzilla is a DH at this stage in the game. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I think the World Series MVP is the deciding factor on this one: Yankees. They’ll pick his amazing batitude over Damon’s two-base steal.

• John Smoltz, SP/RP. The question general managers have: Can Smoltz deliver 25 to 30 starts? In 15 last season split between Boston and St. Louis, his ERA was well into the 6’s. Maybe another offseason will heal his body, which, by the way, is 41 years old. And maybe this means a return to the bullpen. Possibilities: Cardinals, Mets, Dodgers, Rangers, Astros, Cubs.

Smoltz is looking really cooked at this point. He allowed eleven hits per nine this year, which is very not good. He’s also 42 years old (yeah, 42, Tim, not 41 — they have this information on the internet if you want to check your work sometime), and not likely to be getting better any time soon. On the plus side, his walk rate has stayed constant, so he still has his command of the strike zone; it’s just that he’s not getting dudes out anymore. If Smoltz is willing to work out of the pen, a team with a weak bullpen and a love for expensive old ex-Braves pitchers — like, oh, say, the Mets — might make a move.

• Joel Pineiro, SP. Just in time for free agency, the 31-year-old right-hander dropped his best big league season. He’ll stand in behind Lackey with the second-tier guys, maybe just after Wolf and Pettitte, before Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Jon Garland, Jered Weaver and Carl Pavano. Possibilities: Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, Twins.

Tim. You just put James Richard Harden in the same category as Jered Weaver and Carl Pavano. You crazyass.

Pineiro sucks. I don’t think his walk rate is going to stay at a freakish MLB-best 1.1 — probably it goes back up toward his career average of 2.6. At which point he’ll be looking at a WHIP of about 1.4 and an ERA+ of about 90, just like he always is. I say either Mets or Brewers, depending on whether or not the Mets pick up Smoltz.

• Jarrod Washburn, SP. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in October, the need for such a procedure almost certainly explaining his bumpy second-half starts for the Tigers. He had pitched effectively for 20 starts in Seattle and, at 35, would seem to have capable years ahead. Possibilities: Brewers, Twins, Mariners.

Washburn was unreal for Seattle this year, and then got traded to Detroit and immediately sucked. It was hilarious and I loved it. Probably next year, when he ends up on the Brewers, he’ll revert to form and be a slightly-below-average pitcher who gets hurt a lot. They love that shit in Milwaukee.


November 19th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

This’ll mess with your head

I just checked out, on a whim, Fangraphs’ data on batters, sorted by value according to their "wins above replacement" metric, which includes both offensive and defensive contributions, and also a positional adjustment. It’s pretty much what you’d expect. Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer — your soon-to-be NL and AL MVPs — are 1 and 2. After them, a list of exactly the guys you’d expect: Utley, Jeter, Han-Ram, Longoria, Zimmerman, Fielder, so on. Pretty standard stuff.

Except that I lied. I told a pernicious lie. Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer are not numbers 1 and 2 on this list. They are 2 and 3. Number 1? Get this:

Ben Zobrist.

Yeah, that Ben Zobrist. It turns out he hit really, really well this year, and also fielded his position(s) like an insane crazy man. Everybody agrees that Zobrist was super-good this year, but it’s totally wild that Fangraphs has him as the most valuable player in all of baseball. For what it’s worth, BP does not agree — they have him tabbed at 7.7 WARP3, which is incredibly, shockingly good for Ben Zobrist, but not better than Mauer (8.8) and Pujols (12.7).

Just a little bit of baseball weirdness to cheer up your evening.


November 19th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

NL Cy Young dynasty!

Freakish cartoon marionette Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive NL Cy Young today. I still can’t decide what I think about that. The field is really goddamn close this year. What I do know is that Tim Lincecum getting the award is no injustice to anybody. He wasn’t some moronic pick who just happened to have a shitload of the almighty W — actually, he only had fifteen. Fifteen wins! I love that. It’s enough to make me think that maybe — just maybe — the BBWAA is capable of learning after all. Will Carroll and Keith Law get to vote these days, anyhow, and that can only help.

Speaking of Carroll and Law, Carroll cast a vote for Dan Haren, and Law for Javier Vazquez. Those were the only votes cast that were not for Lincecum, Carpenter, or Wainwright.

Here’s how the five Cy Young candidates matched up in terms of non-preschool stats:

Scarecrow: 2.48 ERA, 225.1 IP, 1.047 WHIP, 0.4 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 10.4 K/9, 3.84 K/BB, 176 ERA+, 3.00 DERA
Carpenter: 2.24 ERA, 192.1 IP, 1.007 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, 3.79 K/BB, 183 ERA+, 2.70 DERA
Wainwright: 2.63 ERA, 233 IP, 1.210 WHIP, 0.7 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, 3.21 K/BB, 157 ERA+, 3.28 DERA
Haren: 3.14 ERA, 229.1 IP, 1.003 WHIP, 1.1 HR/9, 1.5 BB/9, 8.8 K/9, 5.87 K/BB, 146 ERA+, 2.93 DERA
Vazquez: 2.87 ERA, 219.1 IP, 1.026 WHIP, 0.8 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 9.8 K/9, 5.41 K/BB, 143 ERA+, 3.22 DERA

Wow. That is really super-close. My thoughts on this:

Eliminate Carpenter first. The low IP does him in. In a field this close, the fact that he pitched forty innings fewer than everybody else is a killer.

Of the remaining four, I’m skeptical of Wainwright next. His DERA is high (relatively speaking — 4.5 is average!) and his K/BB is unexciting, which leads me to believe he’s largely a creation of the Fat Louis defense. The only thing that jumps out at me about Wainwright is his league-leading IP, which is a plus, but isn’t higher than the rest of these guys (sans Carpenter) by a whole lot.

Vazquez I think is the third to fall. Again a relatively high DERA, suggesting that the rest of his stats owe a lot to Atlanta’s gloves, and he has the next-lowest IP after Carpenter. His K/BB is a lot better than Wainwright’s, but, really, I see nothing to recommend Vazquez over Haren except for a fairly small difference in HR/9. I think that’s overcome by Haren’s other advantages.

So that brings us down to Haren and Lincecum. Haren pitched a few more innings with a better DERA, and he didn’t walk as many dudes. Unfortunately, he didn’t strike out as many dudes, and he gave up about three times as many home runs. This is a really tough call, but, in the end, I think the HR rate tips it for Lincecum. I thought at first the difference might be Chase Field, but a quick glance at this year’s park factors makes it clear that Chase and AT&T are actually fairly close together in HR.

So, my ranking:

1) Lincecum
2) Haren
3) Vazquez
4) Wainwright
5) Carpenter

Which is in agreement with exactly zero members of the BBWAA. Just for kicks, let’s see how Fangraphs sorts them by Wins Above Replacement:

1) Lincecum (8.2)
2) Vazquez (6.6)
3) Haren (6.1)
4) Wainwright (5.7)
5) Special guest star Ubaldo Jimenez (also 5.7)
6) Carpenter (5.3)

So it looks like my off-the-cuff analysis actually came up with very nearly the same answer that Fangraphs’ much-smarter people got! I rule. Where the hell did Barack Ubaldo come from?

El Presidente: 3.47 ERA, 218 IP, 1.229 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 3.5 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, 2.33 K/BB, 132 ERA+, 3.47 DERA

I’m not really seeing it. Maybe it’s park factor? Coors is, as always, first overall in park factor. But, man, 3.5 BB/9? Yikes.

So, in conclusion, I cautiously agree with the BBWAA’s choice of NL Cy Young, though I do think Vazquez and Haren getting one vote each was bullshit. Carpenter and Wainwright were overrated. How much you want to bet the reason they got so many votes was this:

Lincecum: 15 W
Haren: 14 W
Vazquez: 15 W
Carpenter: 17 W
Wainwright: 19 W

Now read the part of this article that says voters aren’t looking at wins anymore when placing their Cy Young votes. My ass they aren’t.


November 19th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments