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Top 10 MLB pre-playoff chokes

In MLB on September 30, 2011 at 11:39 PM

“7-20 in September. We go 9-18, we’re where we want to be. 9-18 is what, winning a third of your games? The worst teams in baseball win a third of their games.”
–Theo Epstein

First of all, I recommend checking out the timelines of what went on Wednesday. Having three games like that happen at once doesn’t happen in the playoffs, that might be more memorable than anything I have to say about how historic the “collapses” (euphemism for choke) were.

Here are three good timelines:
HuffPo
MLB
ESPN

Obviously the Rays have returned to the playoffs with a vengeance, but the main topic I still want to talk about is how they and the Cardinals got there, and I also wanted to give some historical perspective on those collapses. That’s why I don’t blog about baseball much. By the time you sit down to think about it and research and so forth, something else important is going on. The Yankees/Tigers game was postponed as I was writing this, so that helped me finish without too much distraction.

I mentioned in a couple of places after the Red Sox had the 3-13 stretch (or some approximation thereof) that I couldn’t find another team that had ever done that in September, not even the 1964 Phillies, who had a 10-game losing streak in September. Those Phillies went 4-13 for one stretch, but that was followed by two wins (in the last two games of the season) and preceded by a 3-game winning streak. The Phillies were 2 ½ behind in the second-to-last game but technically were not eliminated until the next day. So that was also less dramatic.

Looking at the full month though, it’s not even closer. The Phillies won 13 games in September ’64, the same number the Angels (a team I follow a good bit) won this September. The Angels gained 6 ½ games against the Red Sox in the month. After the 3-13 stretch by the Red Sox and before the Angels finished with four consecutive losses, the Angels had gained 8 games on the Red Sox for the month.

So if you compare the Septembers of the 2011 Red Sox and 1964 Cardinals, the Red Sox would have lost 13 games against the Cardinals. So that’s about twice as many games as the Phillies lost (the Phillies actually lost 7 games in the standings from the beginning of the month to the end, but that regular season actually ended on October 4; the Phillies lost 6 ½ in the last 28 days of their season, so by that calculation, it is twice as many games).

I did notice the coincidence of the Phillies playing the Braves on Wednesday and helping to send the Cardinals to the post-season yet gain. It’s also a coincidence in that by causing the Braves to lose, that’s arguably another team that passes up their 1964 team in choking.

The Braves’ 9-18 September record ties the Phillies’ (the rest of this discussion will be about the 1964 Phillies of course) worst 27-game stretch. The Braves preceded that with a 2-3 stretch and the Phillies preceded that with a 3-2 stretch, so that’s inconclusive. But the Phillies’ largest September lead was 6 ½ games as compared to the Braves’ largest September wild card lead of 8 ½.

What clinches it for me about Braves’ choke as being worse is the competition. The Braves played only 9 games in the month of September against teams that won 85 games or more on the season. The Phillies played 17 or 18 such games, depending on how you count the last month of the season. If you limit it to just September and eliminate the two October games, it’s still 16. The Phillies’ entire 10-game losing streak was against teams that won 88 games or more on the season. From September 1 on, the Phillies only lost one series against a team than won fewer than that, the Dodgers, who finished 80-82. The Braves’ opponent in their third-toughest series (based on record) was…the Dodgers, who this year finished 82-79, pretty similar (the Braves lost that series as well). The only team the Phillies played in the last month who finished with fewer than 80 wins was Houston, whom they beat 2-1 in a series on the road. The Braves played 11 such games, 6 at home, and went 6-5 in them. Also, the Phillies had two teams chasing them: Cincinnati as well as St. Louis got really hot late. In the last month, the Phillies played the Reds 5 times and the Cardinals 5 times. That alone is more than the 9 games the Braves played against 85+ win teams (actually against any team that won over 82) in the last month.

Highlights of the seven other biggest pre-playoff chokes
(I didn’t bother to rank them, but if you’re so inclined, this is a good starting point: http://baseball.about.com/od/majorleaguehistory/tp/pennantcollapses.htm. These are my next 7 though.)

The 2007 Mets
Those Mets are similar to the ’64 Phillies in that they also had a late lead, 7 games on September 12, but it was down to 1 ½ only 6 days later. But what sealed it for the Mets was ending the season by losing 6 of 7. So they went a total of 4-11 from September 14 through September 28. (Their last off day had been September 13.) It also helped that the ’07 Phillies won 12 games from September 13 to September 28.

The 1995 Angels

This was more of a long-haul choke, as the lead was 11 ½ in August. On the morning of September 1, the lead was already down to 7 ½ and it was never 7 ½ again after that. The Angels had a 9-game losing streak from late August through early September and only won 3 games from August 16 through September 3. It was the second 9-game losing streak (9/13 through 9/23) that was the problem though. That one cost the Angels 8 games, as they went from 6 games ahead to two games behind. The 6-24 stretch is worse than any 30-game stretch of any by the higher-rated teams on this list, but half of that was in August, and the Angels actually rallied at the end of the season, winning 6 out of 7 before losing the one-game playoff to the Mariners. That’s the only reason 4 teams are ahead of them.

The 1978 Red Sox

This was actually the only 3-14 stretch I noticed. So not even this year’s Red Sox did that. The problem was this one started August 30. These Red Sox were at one time up 9 games, but after their last August game (on the 30th), they were 6 ½ ahead. But they had already lost the lead for good on September 13. They had an even better finish than the ’95 Angels, winning 12 of 14 to force a one-game playoff against the Yankees (which they lost). The end-of-season tie was the first since losing the lead.

The 2009 Tigers
I mostly remembered the microscopic choke at the end. They lost 3 games in a 4-game period. Their magic number was 2 after they beat the second-place Twins on September 30 and they played those same Twins the next day, but the only decrease to the magic number would come on October 4, the last day of the regular season. This also required a one-game playoff, which the Tigers lost. There was a prior 3-10 stretch from September 8 to 19 that cost Detroit 5 games. The Tigers’ lead had peaked at 7 games after the games of September 6.

The 1951 Dodgers
This one gets a lot of fanfare because there were two New York teams battling for the pennant, and New York does tend to create attention for itself. 13 ½ games on August 11 is substantial of course. But rightly, the Giants get more credit than the Dodgers get blame. Brooklyn went 26-22 to end the season. That would normally be more than enough (see the Epstein quote), but the Giants won a ridiculous 37 of 44 to end the season, not counting the 3-game playoff. The Dodgers did have a 4-8 stretch from 9/17 to 9/28 that dropped them into a tie from being up by 4 games. The Dodgers were also up 4 ½ as late as September 21 pre-game (the last originally scheduled game was 9/30).

The 1969 Cubs
Back to the New York/East Coast bias topic, you don’t ever hear about the team that lost the race to the Mets in 1969. The Cubs also didn’t have enough of a lead to start out with for a really high-quality choke. Although they once led by 9 games, their largest September lead was 5. After they lost 11 of the next 12, they were already 4 ½ games behind and, despite playing 10 of the final 13 at home, never challenged again, finishing 8 games behind. Also, the 5-game September peak only came after a 5-game winning streak. Before that winning streak, the Cubs were only up 2 ½. If the Cubs’ 8-18 stretch (which included the 5-game winning streak) had been to finish the year, they would have an argument for the top 5. For the record, they were up 8 games before that stretch began with a loss on August 20 and 4 ½ behind when it concluded on September 15.

The 1993 Giants
I’m going to share my own story about this. This is the first one I remember and although I grew up in Louisiana and the first team I really supported was across the bay in Oakland, I never disliked the Giants. Also, I never liked the Braves. I would either watch one of the Chicago teams or whatever big game the networks saw fit to show instead. I don’t know what it was about that team, but I just did not like to watch them. I was also annoyed that they were on so much. The Cubs were at least competitive in the late ’80s, and the White Sox were pretty good around this time, so that didn’t bother me as much. I eventually started to dislike the Cubs too, because I didn’t like that so many people just went along with the herd and followed the Braves or the Cubs because they were on TV so much. Anyway, my anti-Braves sentiment was furthered by fervently cheering against them when they played the Pirates (twice…I liked skinny Barry Bonds), the Twins, and the Blue Jays. Three of those series went to 7 games. Even if you start out only marginally liking one team more, usually a 7-game series will make it more intense. I probably would have cheered for the Iraqi national team to beat the Braves in the 1992 World Series and in the 1993 regular season. By the way, skinny Barry Bonds had moved on to the Giants.

This was in part another matter of timing for why they aren’t a more prominent example. The Giants slipped 11 games in the standings from the start of play on August 23 to the end of play on September 15, but the reason this one is even farther down the list is they won 6 games during this period. The end of that stretch was an 8-game losing streak (which was followed by a day off for the Giants, when the Braves increased their lead to 4 games), but that was followed by 14 wins in 16 games. Both teams were tied before their respective last games of the season. Neither game was very interesting, but the Giants lost 12-1 to the Dodgers to miss the playoffs despite 103 wins. The wild card began the next season (although the wild card would not be awarded until 1995 because of the strike). Of course, I was happy that the Braves didn’t make the World Series that year, so I wasn’t that upset in the long term, but I wasn’t happy that the Braves won something that came down to the last game again (although they had lost to the Twins in that situation).

Honorable mention?
I also considered the 1987 Blue Jays and the 1962 Dodgers for this list, but they were both examples where a team had a really good stretch and then a not-so-good stretch, but over the last 20 games in each case, the team was .500 or better. The Dodgers finished 40 games above .500 before the playoff games, and the Blue Jays finished 30 games above .500. The Dodgers maxed out at 5 ½ ahead for the season in early August (4 in September), and the Blue Jays were only a high of 3 ½ ahead, albeit with 7 games to play (but with 10 games to play, the Blue Jays were only ½ ahead).

The other teams listed by about.com didn’t seem to really choke at all, the other team in contention just seemed to do really well. There weren’t any meaningful September losing streaks or bad stretches to elaborate on. One of them had a 1-9 stretch in August, one of them lost 6 of the last 7 after barely being in playoff position, but those aren’t chokes to me. To me a choke is when you have it right in your grasp and you blow it, not when you have a somewhat decent chance and you don’t do much with it.

NOTE: It’s still nothing like my TSN numbers, but last month more than doubled my previous best month on this site (I got just under 500 views), so thanks to whoever is out there reading this.

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Week 4 Top 25 and Commentary

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 28, 2011 at 10:47 PM

I’m going to have a blog tomorrow or Friday about end-of-regular-season collapses in major league baseball, but I promised this tonight. So even though I got a bit distracted, here it is.

I guess I need to put up front what I looked at here before getting into comments about the results this week. I compared undefeated teams ONLY on how good I think the opponents have been so far, with emphasis on the best opponent (meaning if I think it’s the best win anyone had all year, it might count for more than someone else beating two average teams). For teams with one or more loss, I mostly looked at what they did apart from that loss in a similar fashion, but of course there was some decision-making based on the quality of the team(s) that caused those losses.

Since I used this approach, the rankings this week will not be what I call internally consistent. For instance, I’m going to give Alabama a good bit of credit for beating Arkansas, but since Arkansas hasn’t beaten anyone, I won’t be ranking Arkansas. So I’m only allowing my subjective opinion about Arkansas to factor into their quality as an opponent, not their quality as a team for the purposes of ranking.

People have complained about my changing how I do things from week to week, but I believe that’s the logical way to transition from the purely subjective (“on paper”) preseason rankings to the purely objective rankings (results only…with opponents evaluated on results only as well), which I begin using in early October every year. Otherwise, what I would have to do is have the preseason rankings but not factor them in at all after week 1. Every team that beat an FBS opponent would be tied for first since all opponents would be the same 0-1. After Week 2, every team that was 2-0 with two 1-1 opponents would be tied for first, although I suppose I could add a requirement that those 1-1 opponents had to beat teams that were also 1-1 through two weeks.

Anyway, as far as last week, I feel vindicated with Temple’s win (which makes Penn St. look better) and by Notre Dame’s and Michigan’s wins (both of which make Michigan look better).

I can’t believe people thought I was ranking Big Ten teams too high, although obviously Wisconsin fans again aren’t going to be happy with me.

If Wisconsin beats Nebraska, I’ll give the Badgers some credit, but nothing they’ve done so far deserves very much. I did mention a couple of weeks ago that I thought Wisconsin’s 35-0 win over Oregon St. was relatively decent as compared to Nebraska’s close game against Fresno St. (based on what we knew at the time anyway), but there is no way that should be a reason for a high ranking. Since I mentioned Nebraska, I’ll also note that Washington (Nebraska’s opponent last week) beat formerly undefeated Cal, keeping the Huskies otherwise undefeated. In other Pac-12 news, Oregon St. lost to a fairly weak (at least so far) UCLA team to remain winless. To make matters worse for the Badgers, UNLV, another Wisconsin victim, was embarrassed by Southern Utah, which I don’t think has even been an FCS/I-AA team for very long.

None of this is to say Wisconsin won’t beat Nebraska. These rankings are NOT predictive at all. The preseason rankings were predictive, and I allowed some time for teams to prove themselves as I transitioned away from the preseason, but from now on, this is all about what these teams have done this season. This includes how good the wins are and how bad the losses are. I don’t mean margin of victory, but how good the teams played are. I try to approximate a blind resume like they use for comparison of college basketball teams.

My 100% objective mathematical ratings are still on track to begin next week, but that’s more of a hope than a promise.

Anyway, going back to Maryland/Temple, it took a little bit out of Maryland’s ranking of course, but before making it really interesting against West Virginia, the Terps had beaten Miami, who was otherwise undefeated with a win over Ohio St. But Miami also lost to Kansas St. People might accuse me of “penalizing” West Virginia too much for losing to my #1 team, but mostly, their ranking reflects the loss in quality of the Maryland win.

I’ve already mentioned Alabama briefly and Penn St., who lost to Alabama. As to Oklahoma, #2 going into this week, Missouri (losers to the Sooners on Saturday) hasn’t really beaten anyone, like Arkansas hasn’t. But I don’t put Missouri in the same category as Arkansas and Penn St., larely because Missouri has an outside loss (despite playng fairly well). I also don’t put Florida St. (also losers to the Sooners) that high since the Noles lost to Clemson. So that’s why there is a change to #2.

The USC game was the only mild surprise, but it was closer than the final score indicated, and there had been signs of concern for the Trojans against Minnesota especially. Not that I’m sold on Syracuse and Utah.

Still, there were some significant changes in rank. The first group of teams are undefeated with multiple wins over teams that seem good (that would be top 40 or thereabouts, subjectively…I think it’s too soon to try to rate opponents based solely on what they’ve done on the field this season). This list is only 6 teams long. For South Carolina, the only team that I would put in that top 40 category is Navy; Georgia and Vandy are borderline, but I thought three average and above teams should get a little more credit than Michigan’s two seemingly good teams and two non-Big Ten Michigan teams.

Moving on from the multiple “seems good” opponents, I had to get liberal with some of the wins I gave credit for, but I did so as long as the team in question was undefeated. Nebraska and Florida beat more average sort of teams than “seems good” teams, but I let it go, especially since each had a potentially respectable (but not there yet) second win. Boise St. has beaten Georgia, which has another loss (albeit to South Carolina), and Tulsa, which has two other losses (albeit to Oklahoma and Oklahoma St.). I’m going to go out on a limb and say one of those two teams is most likely in the top-40 vicinity despite the early losses to seemingly very good teams.

After that, we have teams with losses. At this point, I would rather a team with a loss that I feel beat someone than a team who I feel has not played anyone but who is undefeated. Ignorance is not bliss. Maybe the undefeated team would have lost to both (or all three?) good opponents that the team with a loss (or losses) faced. If I’m wrong about the ranking, I honestly look forward to the aggrieved team proving themselves against someone. Wisconsin/Nebraska is a big example. Also, someone will win the Texas A&M/Arkansas game. Good for whomever that will be, but the only decent opponents so far were losses for each team.

Along the same lines of Boise St., I retained Oregon in the top 15 based on the combination of Nevada and Arizona (I think there is a good chance at least one of those might be better than average), BUT they moved down compared to teams with better wins, especially if those teams didn’t have a loss. I also didn’t rank Oregon lower because I think it’s in order to give Oregon some credit based on the schedule as compared to other teams at this precise moment in time. (I don’t want someone telling me Oregon has a schedule comparable to LSU’s, for instance, later in the year just because I’m giving them credit now though.)

Anyway, the main rule here is if the team lost to an undefeated team (or to undefeated teams), I don’t have a problem with that as long as they’re lower than those teams. I didn’t have an absolute rule about being below a fellow beaten team, but chances are, the winner will be first in that instance with so few games having been played so far. Also of course, multiple-loss teams tend to go lower.

There ended up being a couple of win chains to fill this out after #14. Illinois beat Arizona St., who beat USC, who beat Utah (who hasn’t really beaten anyone, except for BYU, who isn’t very credible right now, but I think they’re good and they don’t have any other losses either). Temple (which lost to Penn St.) and West Virginia (which lost to LSU) beat Maryland, who beat Miami, who beat Ohio St. (whom I did not rank in preseason, but they were up there…see Utah, although I did rank the Utes in preseason). Kansas St. also beat Miami.

Washington is the last team here, because there is a very understandable loss (to Nebraska), and there is a win over Cal, which I think might be somewhere between average and top 40.

Fans of the 8 exiled teams and Texas (exiled previously despite not losing)…If your team has a loss (or losses), better luck next month. If your team does not have a loss, please either wait until your team plays and beats someone good (possibly next week) or write a letter to your athletic director. It might help if you promise to make a donation to his or her establishment despite any losses that might result from playing better opponents. I’m just some guy ranking teams in a way which I think is fair at this point and only at this point. As can be seen, I am willing to move teams up and down dramatically as more information is received, so do not think a low or nonexistent ranking now will prejudice future rankings, even if any of the powers that be gave a damn what my pre-bowl rankings will be (I’m fairly confident they do not). Those future rankings will be based on mathematical formulae giving credits for on-field results and not based at all on the subjective opinion that goes into this anyway.

I don’t have a whole lot of faith in any of the teams I added, but I’m trying to keep my faith in a team or lack thereof out of it.

rank / team / prior
1 LSU 1
2 Alabama 3
3 Oklahoma 2
4 Clemson 18
5 S Carolina 7
6 Michigan 17
7 Okie St. 24
8 Baylor 12
9 S. Florida —
10 Florida 9
11 Nebraska 8
12 Boise St. 6
13 TCU 16
14 Penn St. 14
15 Oregon 4
16 Temple —
17 W Virginia 10
18 Kansas St. —
19 Illinois —
20 Arizona St. —
21 USC 13
22 Notre Dame —
23 Maryland 11
24 Miami —
25 Washington —

Out of rankings: (5) Florida St., (15) Utah, (19) Texas A&M, (20) Va. Tech. (21) Arkansas, (22) Stanford, (23) Wisconsin, (25) Texas Tech


Prior rankings:

Week 3
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

Some closing thoughts on the Angels

In Me, MLB on September 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM

NOTE: My college football rankings will be released on Wednesday. People will have less time to complain that way.

If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I don’t get around to blogging about baseball much. Much of my baseball time is spent either watching games (there are a lot of them) or looking at box scores and other stats (there are a lot of those too). The reason I find football so blog-worthy is all the time between games to reflect. It’s not, “Well, that was nice, but now we have to make sure we win the series, not just the game. Who’s our starting pitcher tomorrow?” My favorite teams are the Mets (for whom I gave up hope some time ago, not that I ever had too much) and the Angels. Since moving to Southern California seven years ago (where does the time go?), I’ve become more and more of an Angels fan, since they’re on TV almost every day, and it’s not all that hard for me to go to Anaheim to take in a game either.

At least as far as the Angels, there is now plenty of time to reflect. I didn’t expect the Angels to be completely eliminated this soon after being so alive yesterday. I’ll recap why. But on the other hand, when they had elimination magic numbers of 4 and 5 six days ago, I didn’t give them much of a chance.

Anyway, the Angels should have been only one game behind Tampa Bay and two behind Boston headed into tonight.

But with the Boston/New York night game still to go yesterday, All-Star rookie closer Jordan Walden absolutely choked. After the Angels gave up two runs in the top of the 8th–their first two runs given up of the game–Walden did get that final out with no drama. Then the Angels padded their lead from one run to three in the bottom of the 8th. They seemed to be on their way to victory, and a Boston loss would have meant that they would have trailed both Boston and Tampa Bay by only a game each. The Rays began a three-game series at home against the Yankees today, and the Red Sox began a three-game series in Baltimore against the suddenly good Orioles. Starting today, the Angels face the Rangers, who have sewn up the division, at home for a three-game series.

One game behind going into these series would have given the Angels a fighting chance. So in this context, Jordan Walden returned to the mound to hopefully complete a 1 1/3- inning save of Joel Pineiro’s start in which he allowed no runs over 6 1/3 innings. Walked allowed three hits and one run out (HR) in his first four batters faced. But then he fielded a ground ball with a chance for a double play. Not only did his throw prohibit a game-ending double play, it resulted in no outs as it sailed into the outfield and allowed the A’s to score yet another run to get within 1 and leaving runners on the corners. This was followed by a double, which put runners on second and third and tied the score. Mike Scioscia had seen enough and had Walden intentionally walk the next batter and then removed him from the game. Walden left to some fairly heavy boos (in light of the shock of some and relatively laid-back attitude of others [Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers fans… people just enjoying the day] in attendance). The A’s took the lead on a sacrifice fly, and the Angels got a baserunner in the bottom of the 9th but never seriously threatened.

Anyway, for the format, I decided I wanted to write open letters to both Walden and the fans who booed.

Dear Jordan,

First of all, congratulations on your first full season in the big leagues. We’re lucky that we happened to have a closer as capable as yourself on the team without having to pick one up through a trade or free agency.

Pleasantries out of the way, you screwed up. I’m sure you’re well-aware of this. Next time if you’re nervous or not confident in a throw, it’s all right. We’ll take one out in that situation. Maybe you’ll get taken out of the game. So what? It happens to the best of pitchers. Maybe you’ll get a loss, but not likely. Runners on the corners with two outs and a one-run lead is not a terrible situation. Even if you allow another hit, then it’s just a tie game unless the hit clears the bases. That’s not a loss.

I know closers are generally more emotional than starting pitchers, but watch Ervin Santana when you get a chance. He can give up a multi-run home run, and all he wants to do is concentrate on getting the next out. Keep perspective and don’t feel like you have to win the game on your own because you allowed a few hits. You can’t control what’s already happened.

That’s even true of Sunday. A win could have helped complete a miraculous wild card comeback, but it was one game. There were 161 others scheduled this season, and there are 162 scheduled next season. We know you’re not going to get a save in every opportunity, but if you can get a hold and someone else gets a save, that’s all right. If you blow a save and someone else on our team gets the win, that’s all right too. It didn’t work out that way this time, but there will be times where the hitters will come up with one more run than they were planning on needing.

I’ll get into this more with my next open letter, but we don’t expect you to be Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, or Mariano Rivera in their prime when to be honest I had never heard of you going into this season. I know you pitched a few times, but the race was over and if I watched, it wasn’t intently enough to notice you. Every save you got was more than I expected and probably more than some of those baseball fans who watch every pitch of the whole season expected. If you become one of those guys (and I see no reason why you can’t), great, but do what you can do first.

Please don’t let one inning negatively affect what you do this offseason or what you do from here forward. Also, don’t let the fans’ reaction get to you. Even many of those who have been complaining about blown saves since long before Sunday still want you to do well and want to support you. Some of the anger is because of other close losses this year, some of it is because of frustration with what used to be a consistent playoff team losing the division two years in a row and not even making it interesting at the end. Or if you’re so inclined, forget the fans. I’m sure there are people in your life who are proud of you. I can’t imagine someone I even know in passing being in your position. Enjoy it. Be proud of yourself.

Also, maybe part of the thing with the fans is the ones who can play baseball know they could have gotten at least one out there. Of course, you could have as well, but that’s what I mean by doing what you can do. If it’s not a perfect double-play throw, you’re not the shortstop, it’s not the end of the world. But you can do better than that every time.

Dear Booing Fans,

Booing this guy, really? We didn’t spend $10 million on him. $400,000 is a lot of money to us (and I know what you’re thinking, pay me 1/10 of that and I’ll throw to second instead…yeah, we’ll let you know when there are designated mound-fielders [MF’s for short]), but find me someone in major league baseball with paid fewer dollars per save.

He was just sort of around the organization and pitched a few decent innings in the last month of last season. If you’re not happy we had him this season, you’re crazy. Go cheer for the Yankees if you can’t appreciate that kind of season-long effort from a previously anonymous player, especially a 23-year-old rookie.

Yeah, I know, it was a pressure situation, and he choked. But this is the team that lost 3-1 on Friday and lost in extras on Monday and Thursday. They also lost by 1 to the Yankees a couple of weeks ago due to a fielding error, and about a week before that, they lost to the Mariners 2-1 without allowing an earned run. Sure, this game, the bullpen had what should have been ample room for error (in the strict statistical sense and otherwise), but we all know there wasn’t quite enough run support for a number of pitchers throughout the year, so there were more tense situations like this one than there should have been. Boston won anyway last night, Tampa Bay won today, and we just lost to a guy named Hamburger (loss by 1 again). Just like I said above, this was one game or 162.

Other pitchers generally had someone else’s error to blame or someone else’s failure to get a hit with runners in scoring position (for example), but a fielding mistake by a relief pitcher? Say it isn’t so. Come on, and a rookie on top of it?

Boo someone who doesn’t run out a ground ball. Boo someone who lazily lets the ball drop right in front of them. Don’t boo someone for trying too hard to fix their own mistakes, which if he had done, it would have made you all happy, at least temporarily. We can all appreciate trying hard on some level, but how many of you were ever in a similar situation? You can’t say the pressure wouldn’t have gotten to you in that moment or that wouldn’t have been the one time you screwed up. If you don’t want him to be the closer, first, you’re crazy if you thought we had better options on the team this year, and second, I don’t care if you boo the manager’s decision to put him in. I don’t mind booing in that situation. To me it says, “Skip, I’m paying attention, I care, but I disagree with what you’re doing right now.” Nothing wrong with that (not that Scioscia causes people who know what they’re talking about to want to do that very often). Just don’t boo when the manager takes him out.

Week 3 Top 25 and commentary

In College Football, Rankings on September 18, 2011 at 4:10 PM

This is going to bother some people, but I moved several teams down to the bottom of the top 25 (the last seven teams in fact) due to not having played much of anyone so far. If they beat someone decent, I’ll move them back up, so no need to make a big deal out of it. At this point, I don’t consider Arizona to be a good team, but if they start better than 1-4, I might give the teams who beat them more credit.

A couple of teams had a loss as their only quality opponent, but if the team didn’t look like it belonged, I’ve already moved it accordingly. I’d rather a team play with a top 10 team and lose than not play any top 100 teams (for instance) and be undefeated at this point.

On the other hand, fewer people are likely to complain about Boise St.

I am giving slightly less weight to margin of victory, but Texas is an exception because they so narrowly beat BYU at home and then Utah (a loser to USC) beat BYU so handily on the road Saturday, I didn’t think giving Texas credit for that as a quality win was appropriate. Also, BYU’s first game was a one-point win over Ole Miss, who got absolutely destroyed by Vanderbilt on Saturday.

So even though I ranked BYU in preseason, I feel like that has been proven wrong at this point.

rank / team / prior
1 LSU 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Alabama 3
4 Oregon 4
5 Florida St. 5
6 Boise St. 13
7 S Carolina 14
8 Nebraska 12
9 Florida 17
10 W Virginia 19
11 Maryland 20
12 Baylor 21
13 USC 23
14 Penn St. 16
15 Utah —
16 TCU 25
17 Michigan —
18 Clemson —
19 Texas A&M 6
20 Va. Tech 7
21 Arkansas 8
22 Stanford 9
23 Wisconsin 10
24 Okie St. 11
25 Texas Tech 18

Out of rankings: (15) Michigan St., (22) Texas, (24) Arizona St.

Prior rankings:

Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

Week 2 Top 25

In College Football, Rankings on September 14, 2011 at 9:07 PM

A little more complicated this week. #25 was a close call. I went with TCU because they had a convincing win over a challenging team on the road (Air Force) after a 2-point loss to a challenging team on the road (Baylor). I didn’t rank Baylor or Air Force in preseason, but both probably would have been in my top 35. But the fact that these two games were on the road helped to encourage me to give TCU the edge over Auburn even though TCU has a loss and Auburn doesn’t. I do think TCU played the clearly better game in Week 1. The two teams each went undefeated last year and had very few returning starters, so they were comparable. Auburn of course will have many more chances to prove itself, and we’ll see how well it does on the road and whether the Utah St. or Mississippi St. game was an aberration. I’m not sure which, and also, Mississippi St. may not be as good as I originally projected (although I expect tomorrow’s game will be worth watching).

Nos. 21-24 each had a narrow win (2 in the case of USC) but no losses. Penn St. and Oregon are the only other teams with a loss, but I didn’t think they were losses that showed any inaccuracy in the prior rankings. The same is arguably true of BYU, whom I considered retaining, but the combination of a 1-point win over Ole Miss (who I question as being a good team) and a 1-point loss to Texas (which is a developing team, I would say) seemed to be worse than the other teams in that vicinity.

Other than moving losing teams out, the only other slight adjustment made was moving Nebraska down two spots. The Huskers had a very close game against Fresno St. until the closing seconds, while Wisconsin and Oklahoma St. each won in impressive fashion against respectable Pac-12 programs (although Oregon St. of course lost to FCS/I-AA team Sacramento St. in Week 1).

At this point, I’m not penalizing those teams who haven’t had a quality opponent, but that will begin to change next week. Also, I will give less weight to how close the games were as we progress toward early October, when I begin to use strict mathematical computations.

rank / team / prior
1 LSU 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Alabama 3
4 Oregon 4
5 Florida St. 5
6 Texas A&M 6
7 Va. Tech 7
8 Arkansas 8
9 Stanford 9
10 Wisconsin 11
11 Okie St. 12
12 Nebraska 10
13 Boise St. 13
14 S Carolina 14
15 Mich St. 16
16 Penn St. 18
17 Florida 19
18 Texas Tech 20
19 W Virginia 21
20 Maryland 22
21 Baylor —
22 Texas 17
23 USC 23
24 Arizona St. —
25 TCU —

Out of rankings: (15)Mississippi St., (24) BYU, (25) Utah

Prior rankings:

Week 1
Preseason

Week 1 Top 25

In College Football on September 7, 2011 at 4:47 AM

Not too much to say. I kept the top 14 in tact. I just wasn’t even mildly surprised by any of it, and I don’t want to penalize Oregon for losing to a team I already had a few spots higher. The Ducks fell behind due to (forced) mistakes, but I don’t think they were that clearly inferior to LSU that they needed to be moved down, especially when you consider the lack of competition the rest of the top 10 faced.

I took Notre Dame out and put Maryland in. I think Notre Dame picked the wrong quarterback, and I wasn’t blown away by South Florida. I considered ranking both Maryland and Miami in preseason, so I felt that the winner of that game made more sense. Any number of unranked teams probably could have beaten Notre Dame on Saturday.

You can see a few teams that I moved down for close wins, but maybe Ole Miss and Minnesota are better than I thought, so I didn’t want to take out BYU or USC. The other games weren’t close enough to seriously consider removing teams.

1 LSU 1
2 Oklahoma 2
3 Alabama 3
4 Oregon 4
5 Florida St. 5
6 Texas A&M 6
7 Va. Tech 7
8 Arkansas 8
9 Stanford 9
10 Nebraska 10
11 Wisconsin 11
12 Okie St. 12
13 Boise St. 13
14 S Carolina 14
15 Miss St. 17
16 Mich St. 15
17 Texas 19
18 Penn St. 20
19 Florida 23
20 Texas Tech 24
21 W Virginia 25
22 Maryland —
23 USC 16
24 BYU 21
25 Utah 22

Out of rankings: (18) Notre Dame

Earlier rankings:
Preseason

2011 Preseason top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 2, 2011 at 3:56 PM

I’m starting to write this as the season is about to kick off, so I know it won’t be done by the time the first games are over. I promise to ignore what I’m sure will be riveting Mississippi St.—Memphis and Wisconsin—UNLV games. These are sometimes close, but only if the major-conference team plays abysmally, so it won’t be that much of a sacrifice to ignore these. Full-time jobs always find a way to ruin some of the the fun, such as the fun that can be had by taking ones time and digesting all the different prognostications and competing arguments.

I’m excluding special teams with my returning starters until the list at the end. I just don’t have time to worry about that. I’ve always sort of felt compelled to qualify these situations. It’s just a weird area that’s hard to predict. I don’t think it’s as important whether you’re a returning starter there. There a few kicks here and there than can come down to experience, but I think it’s easier for someone with the talent to be really good right away than it is in a lot of other positions. And having the right returner can matter as much or more than the kicker being experienced, and I’m certainly not looking into that.

For the first time ever I’m picking LSU #1 going in. (But I’ve picked Oklahoma and Ohio St. three times each, so LSU has some catching up to do if you look at recent national titles won.) I know, it’s easier to pretend to be right for a few weeks no matter how bad the pick is, so a lot of people aren’t going to pick them for that reason with at least a reasonable chance of a loss in the first week. There is also a major question mark at quarterback, but I think Alabama has an even bigger issue there. I would pick any of LSU’s three quarterbacks (and maybe even Russell Shepard) over either of Bama’s options.

As for Oklahoma, that’s an easy team to pick, and an easy team to be wrong about, almost every year. But you don’t look too foolish because they don’t play that many games with a high chance of a loss and with Texas not being very good and Nebraska out of there, they have a great chance at a BCS game, maybe the highest odds of any team if I were to set them right now. “OU” (even though the name of the school starts with “The University”) last won the national championship in 2000, and they’ve had teams that have looked better than this one going in, and it didn’t pan out. They have a relatively easy schedule, great. But that makes them a good team why exactly? Their 15 returning starters match LSU’s number (and Alabama’s number too).

I have more about my past preseason #1s below.

Who else is a contender for #1? Oregon? They got ink for the offense, but the reason they made the national title game (having avoided a loss in a low-scoring game against Cal) and had a good chance of winning it was defense. Only 5 starters return there. Now, it’s possible LSU’s offense was make the defense look adequate to good, but if they have another Cal performance on offense, they’re in trouble. It’s not like the whole offense returns either, 7 starters. So that’s a total of 12. I’m not buying the Ducks.

Stanford has the quarterback but not the support. That’s not a really tempting #1 anyway. The Cardinal return 11 starters, for the record.

Boise St. returns only 14 starters. That’s not bad, but it’s not almost the entire team like last year, and they lost to Nevada last year and only got to the Las Vegas Bowl.

These are some other teams that I couldn’t seriously consider, but I skimmed over anyway:
Wisconsin
Florida State
Nebraska
Texas A&M
Oklahoma State
Virginia Tech
Notre Dame
Arkansas
TCU
South Carolina
Michigan St.

Florida St. has 18 returning starters, and if this were 2001, I might be inclined to pick them with a new QB, but no thanks.

Virginia Tech and Nebraska were two other teams that seemed more appropriate several years ago, but even if I wanted to go with them, they only return 12 and 11 starters, respectively.

Others that seemed in conceivable contention for national titles lately (returning starters): Wisconsin (11), Oklahoma St. (11), Arkansas (12), TCU (7).

Those are big enough stretches of the imagination, so I’ll stop there.

But I do have to put these teams in some order.

I’ll go with Oklahoma #2, maybe they would lose the national championship game in respectable fashion, sort of like a repeat of 2003 (the BCS Championship game will be held in the same place, by the way) without that annoying team from downtown L.A. being involved and without the Sooners losing a conference championship game (there won’t be one anyway). Alabama #3, which you can’t expect much higher as the second-best team in your division.

Oregon #4. Not because I’m impressed, I’m not (yet), but because I don’t see a better option. They showed in last season’s title game they can be tough even with the prep, so I don’t see how anyone would be surprised if they win a BCS bowl. I think the difference in defense could just be for one or two games where the offense doesn’t do that well, so that doesn’t preclude #4.

Florida St. #5. The only game last year that they weren’t right there in it was Oklahoma. Experience could make the difference this year. There has to be a really good ACC team eventually, right? Right?

Texas A&M #6. This could be too much, too soon as well, but there is certainly the offense there. The defense wasn’t good despite being 34th in scoring, but most of it is coming back, so if it continues to improve, this could be a tough team. I’m slightly amazed there are so few teams with big numbers of returning starters that I would even think about making this pick, but it’s also the fact that it’s hard to stay on top of college football now, so sometimes it just makes sense to pick a couple of teams to have a resurgence.

Virginia Tech #7. I may be going with the one more returning starter and recent legitimacy as a sort of tiebreaker, but they did win 11 in a row last year before losing to Stanford in the Orange Bowl.

Arkansas #8. Went to the SEC West a third time already. I think their QB will be fine, despite a couple hiccups here and there. They also have 12 returning starters, as I mentioned. This seems like it’s going to be a competitive team on a yearly basis now.

Stanford #9. They do have about half of their starters coming back along with an experienced QB, after beating that #7 team last year. I think they can weather the coaching change to an acceptable level, and they should be tough to beat once again.

Nebraska #10. Obviously, things didn’t end that great last season. There was a close call against Iowa St., then starting a couple of weeks later, the Huskers lost three of four (although two of those were by a field goal each, and they were playing Texas A&M and Oklahoma, respectively). But the quarterback got hurt, he’s coming back healthy, there will be a good running attack to go with the defense. It might not be pretty, but they have a shot. Even with a loss, Nebraska doesn’t look like they’d be escaping anyone in the conference schedule and they might be able to get revenge if the loss is to a team in the other division.

I’ll stop the detailed reasoning there. I’ll recap the top 10 and finish out the top 25.

Key:
Position. Team (Returning non-special-teams starters, special teams starters)…final ranking last year

1. LSU (15, 0)…8
2. Oklahoma (15, 2)…3
3. Alabama (15, 2)…13
4. Oregon (12, 2)…5
5. Florida St. (16, 2)…18
6. Texas A&M (16, 2)…17
7. Virginia Tech (12, 0)…19
8. Arkansas (12, 2)…12
9. Stanford (11, 1)…7
10. Nebraska (11, 0)…20
11. Wisconsin (11, 2)…14
12. Oklahoma St. (11, 1)…10
13. Boise St. (14, 0)…6
14. South Carolina (14, 0)…24
15. Michigan St. (12, 1)…11
16. USC (14, 0)…35
17. Mississippi St. (15, 1)…21
18. Notre Dame (17, 2)…25
19. Texas (12, 1)…71
20. Penn St. (14, 1)…45
21. BYU (15, 1)…54
22. Utah (15, 1)…16
23. Florida (10, 0)…78
24. Texas Tech (12, 0)…36
25. West Virginia (10, 1)…27

(Italics indicate the team was out of the top 25, and if you follow my link, you have to then look at the “full ratings”.)

TCU and Auburn just had too few people coming back, and I don’t believe in honorific preseason rankings the next year. My team is playing both Auburn and West Virginia, and I’m more worried about West Virginia (who happens to be the 25th team on the list). If LSU were playing TCU, that wouldn’t be a bigger concern either. I gave both Auburn and TCU adequate credit last year. I’m not going to give the remaining 1/3 of those teams a bunch of credit unless they earn it with the new 2/3 coming in.

Past Pre-season Nos. 1

1996 Tennessee
1997 Tennessee
1998 Ohio St.
1999 Florida St.
2000 Florida St.
2001 U. Miami
2002 Oklahoma
2003 Oklahoma
2004 Oklahoma
2005 USC
2006 Notre Dame
2007 USC
2008 Ohio St.
2009 Florida
2010 Ohio St.

If you look at it quickly, it might seem really good, but Tennessee didn’t win in 1996 or 1997, they won in 1998. Oklahoma didn’t win any of the years I picked them, they won in 2000. USC didn’t win either of the years I picked them, they won in 2004. Florida won in 2006 and 2008, not 2009. Even if you look at runners-up, Ohio St. was the runner-up in 2006 and 2007, not 2008 or 2010.

But in addition to my two correct picks (1999 and 2001), I did have some close calls. I picked the eventual BCS/Bowl Alliance runners-up as preseason #1 in 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2004. My preseason #2 team eventually won the BCS in 2004, 2005, and 2007. And my last two picks each won the Sugar Bowl and finished with only one loss.

Maybe it’s about time I’m right rather than almost right.