Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – Baseball Swings & Misses On Hamels Suspension

Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher Cole Hamels

For a guy who says he’s “old school,”Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels certainly has a new way of looking at things. Hamels was suspended by Major League Baseball this week for five games after admitting that he intentionally threw at Nationals phenom Bryce Harper on Sunday.

Hamels plunked Harper on the back. The reason given: Harper is a highly touted and talented 19-year-old rookie and the veteran pitcher felt it was his “duty” to take Harper down a peg.

The mission was not exactly accomplished. Harper got the best possible revenge. He didn’t rush the mound and start a big brawl or even get into a shouting match with Hamels. Harper merely brushed himself off, walked to first base and ended up stealing home during that sequence. For Harper, it was mission accomplished and message sent. You won’t get me off of my game that easily.

Hamels did something strange after the game, though. Unlike almost every other pitcher in baseball today does: he admitted freely that he hit an opposing player on purpose.

”I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said to reporters in his post game comments. ”I’m not going to deny it. I’m not trying to injure the guy. They’re probably not going to like me for it, but I’m not going to say I wasn’t trying to do it. I think they understood the message, and they threw it right back. That’s the way, and I respect it.”

Monday, MLB announced that Hamels was suspended for five games as a result of his actions. At first, this sounds like a lot, but for a starting pitcher, five games is one turn in the rotation. In fact, all this suspension does is push back Hamels’ next start by one game, hardly much of a penalty.

Hamels was fined an undisclosed amount, but the five game suspension was not “without pay,” so there is little doubt the Phillies pitcher would have lost a lot more money if the commissioner’s office simply didn’t pay him for 5/162 of his salary. The NHL may be inconsistent with its suspensions, but at least fines in the NHL cost players real money since they lost part of their season salary for each game they have to sit out.

According to baseball tradition, beaning a player for spiking a teammate or showing up a pitcher or for throwing at a teammate is accepted as part of the game (unofficially or as an unwritten rule), but what Hamels did is anything but standard practice. He had no legitimate reason for throwing at Harper except perhaps that Hamels was jealous of the attention the rookie outfielder was receiving from scouts and the media.

The bottom line is that this suspension was light. Essentially, Hamels just moves back one game in the rotation, barely loses any money by baseball standards and certainly does not learn a lesson that would
deter him from doing this again.

In fact, the Phillies pitcher was almost proud of what he did and there is little doubt he feels free to repeat this action. MLB lost a chance to send a message to Hamels and other pitchers that this behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Don’t be surprised if something like this happens again.

Steve Kallas (TheSTN) – What Does The NY Knicks Win Really Mean?

LeBron James defends against Carmelo Anthony in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

An exciting Game 4 Knick win, a snap-the-all-time-NBA-playoff-losing-streak win, a probably-guarantee-that-Mike-Woodson-gets-hired win.

But what does it really mean?

A GOOD SEASON

All in all, it’s been a good season for the New York Knicks. Not really for what they’ve done this season (certainly, at a minimum, they were expected to be a playoff team). But for what they’ve done looking forward to next season. The Knicks were well on their way to going nowhere this year when the accidental, Jeremy Lin miracle occurred. Lin, arguably, the MVP of the NBA in February, turned the Knicks around and made them relevant again. While there are still some who don’t understand what he brings to the table (court vision, fearlessness, an ability to make other players around him better), it’s clear that he is already, with virtually no NBA experience, a good to very good NBA point guard (see Kallas Remarks, 2/16/12). Those who think he can’t go left don’t know what they are talking about (see Kallas Remarks, 2/17/12)

WHAT ABOUT THIS WIN?

Well, it was important for this Knick team to win a playoff game. It’s good for their collective psyche, it did end a terrible record (13 playoff losses in a row) and it does set them up for a belief that, next year, they can do better.

WERE THEY FORTUNATE TO WIN?

They were, but they hung in there, they lost yet another point guard, they lost their defensive star very late in the game and still held on to win. That will stand them in good stead when they play a series that they can actually win. Next year.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED DOWN THE STRETCH?

Well, the Knicks, as they are wont to do, gave Miami every chance to stay in and win the game. In the modern NBA, foul shooting, for the most part, has become an afterthought. Carmelo Anthony misses the first two of three foul shots up three with 25.9 seconds left in the game. Amar’e Stoudemire, who may be given, in the modern NBA, the Comeback Player of the Series Award (for coming back from a self-inflicted injury), misses one of two foul shots with 14.8 seconds, leaving Miami down two with the ball with 13.2 seconds left.

Miami obviously made a decision to let Dwyane Wade take the final shot (despite his own horrific 4-11 from the foul line). So Wade gets the ball inbounds, gets a switch he wants to Amar’e, makes a move to the basket, loses the ball, gets it back and misses a forced, contested, fall away three at the buzzer to give the Knicks their first playoff win since 2001.

While some people actually think that Wade and Miami wanted to take a three to win the game, that reasoning is ridiculous. Wade really had no choice after he made his move and lost the ball. Here is his quote after the game: “I had a lane and then I kind of lost the ball. When I lost it, I knew they’d recover by then so it made me dribble out. We got the switch and I got a little step on Amar’e and I was about to go to my shot. I was about to go to my shot but I fumbled the ball a little bit.”

Clearly the plan was to tie up the game. The Knicks, by the last possession, had already lost their only point guard (Baron Davis, the once-upon-a-time “savior”) and, more importantly for purposes of a potential overtime, had lost their best defensive player (Tyson Chandler, who had fouled out with 20.3 seconds left).

If the game went into overtime, Miami was a virtual lock to win it.

And while the Knick win most likely just puts off the inevitable, it is a big win for the team, the fans and the future.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, STEVE NOVAK?

Well, you didn’t really have to have a deep understanding of basketball to realize what was going to happen to Steve Novak in this series. A wonderful story, a guy who has clearly made himself a place in the league, he’s simply not a guy who can create his shot. It was pretty obvious months ago that, the day a team decided to focus on Novak, he simply wasn’t going to be able to get his shot (see Kallas Remarks, 2/16/12).

He was so good this year that Miami decided to shut him down. Again, once that was decided, it was a done deal. How do we know? Well, Novak himself was quoted as saying that whenever he came into a game, all five Miami guys were yelling “Novak’s in, Novak’s in.” That’s not a good sign for Steve Novak.

But it was even more obvious from the actual play of the Heat. Early in the series, Carmelo got a pass at the foul line and turned to go to the basket. He went in for an uncontested, thunderous dunk that was played in every highlight real. What was missed, however, was the fact that, when Carmelo turned and went to the basket for the one-dribble dunk, Mike Miller was actually there.

What did Miller do? Well, against all common (basketball defensive) sense (you know, stop the guy going to the basket), Miller literally ran out to the corner because Steve Novak was waiting there all alone. Miller paid more attention to a guy standing behind the three-point line than to the Knicks’ best scorer going in for an uncontested dunk. THAT’S how badly the Heat had decided that Steve Novak wasn’t going to hurt them.

So the numbers are not at all surprising: over 20 minutes a game (a total of 82 in the four games) and only NINE shots (making four of seven from three, by the way).

Unfortunately, this is what a team can do to Steve Novak once they decide to shut him down. What about the notion that the Knicks would have gotten Novak a lot of open looks if Jeremy Lin, who can get his own shot, had played in this series? Another mistake since, clearly (see the Mike Miller example above), the Heat had made it part of their game plan to shut down Novak.

And, frankly, it worked to perfection (people who continued to say that Novak had to “go off” in this series simply didn’t understand what they were watching). The only way Novak “goes off” in Game 5 is if Miami changes its defensive strategy (unlikely, given their rousing success so far).

Steve Novak has a good future as a Knick but he might actually be better off with the Heat, the best team in the NBA for getting guys open threes (cause if a team cheats off of guys named Lebron and Wade to stay home with a three-point shooter, those two will each score a lot more per game than they already score).

WHY BRING BACK JEREMY LIN?

What’s the point? It was only a matter of time before Lin got hurt this season. With the compressed schedule (one that has lead to an incredible amount of injuries – did the Players’ Association understand this when they agreed to this wacky 66-game schedule?) and Lin’s limited playing time until the miracle occurred (remember Mike D’Antoni with his ill-fated “I’m going to ride him like friggin’ Secretariat” quote – how did that work out?), you had a sense it was going to happen. Especially given Lin’s propensity to drive in among the trees (which is one reason he has made it in the NBA).

The notion that the Knicks can win this series is a dream. No team has ever come back in the NBA after getting down 3-0. This is not the year (nor is this the series) for that miracle to happen.

If Lin sets foot on the court during Game 5, no matter what he does, it’s a big mistake.

Why potentially sacrifice the future?

BRING BACK MIKE WOODSON

This guy has easily handled the pressure of New York and, even if he did benefit from Carmelo playing harder after D’Antoni quit (or got fired?), he deserves the job. Whatever you think of the odd timing of D’Antoni’s departure (he decides to coach non-winnable games on the road in Boston, back-to-back in Dallas and San Antonio, etc. and then leaves when the Knicks are going to play a dysfunctional Portland team at home and other winnable games (Indiana home and home and Toronto at the Garden)? Come on), Woodson got these guys to play hard and even buy in defensively.

That’s a tough thing to do in today’s NBA.

Besides, why would Phil Jackson want to hurt his legacy by proving Red Auerbach right? (you know, Jackson never built a championship team from scratch or coached a championship team without multiple superstars).

Maybe the Knicks can get another one in Miami.

But it says here that’s highly unlikely.

Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – Browns Never Gave Colt a Fair Chance

Has Colt McCoy already lost his job as Browns QB?

The Cleveland Browns brass has made one thing perfectly clear at the NFL Draft this year: they do not believe Colt McCoy is good enough to be their starting quarterback. Too bad they never even gave him a chance to prove he could do the job.

McCoy has just completed his second NFL season. During that time, the third round pick out of Texas has started just 21 NFL games.

Sure, his second season was uneven, but McCoy did show some improvement, finishing 2011 with more touchdown passes than interceptions (14-11) despite the fact that he was surrounded by one of the poorest offenses in the NFL.

The Browns offense didn’t have a great stable of talent to begin with and then they were decimated by injuries. Their top offensive weapon, Peyton Hillis, had a horrible season that was marred by injuries and questions about his attitude. Cleveland ranked 28th in the league in rushing yards which certainly didn’t give McCoy much support.

His receiving corps also left a lot to be desired. The Browns had an up and coming wide receiver in rookie Greg Little but no other receivers or tight ends who struck fear in the hearts of opponents.

The offensive line was also banged up and mediocre. Other than Joe Thomas, the front line lacks All Pro talent and the results were obvious: a running game that didn’t have very many holes to run through and a quarterback who was consistently under pressure from opposing pass rushers.

Basically, McCoy didn’t have a chance to develop as a quarterback and show what he can do. Most NFL quarterbacks still require three years for the game to slow down as they gain knowledge of their team’s system and what it takes to be successful in the NFL. McCoy had barely half that amount of time and little talent to around him.

No matter how talented a quarterback is, he won’t put up great numbers if receivers are not open, defenders are always in his face and he is always facing third and long because his running game isn’t very effective.

The Browns selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft in Brandon Weeden who will be 29-years-old before the 2012 NFL season gets underway. McCoy will be only 26. Weeden has no NFL experience and will face a learning curve that McCoy is already part of the way through.

With the exception of franchise QBs like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, teams rarely get value if they use high picks in the draft to select a quarterback. The NFL is a passing league and the supply for
signal callers is not as great as the demand.

It would have made more sense for the Browns to give McCoy one more year to develop before trying to find another quarterback. If he developed in year three, the Browns had the QB they can build around. If he fails to show enough improvement, Cleveland would have been in a good position to draft one of the top quarterbacks coming out in the 2013 NFL draft.

Colt McCoy may be heading out of Cleveland before the new NFL season begins. And Browns fans may never know whether or not he could have been the answer behind center that the team has been looking for since
Bernie Kosar left town roughly 20 years ago.

Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – Valentine May Not Be a Good Fit in Boston

It took Bobby Valentine all of two weeks to get himself into hot water as manager of the Boston Red Sox. Granted, that’s a week longer than it took Ozzie Guillen to create trouble in Miami, but still…

Valentine called out veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis, questioning his effort and his heart and wondering if the 33-year-old may be starting to slip from among the league’s elite.

Boston Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine

Valentine was a good manager on the Texas Rangers and New York Mets dating back to the 80s and 90s. But both of those teams had something in common: they were filled with younger players who had yet to
establish themselves as Major League stars.

Valentine made the Rangers contenders and then took the Mets all the way to the 2000 National League pennant. Those teams were both overachievers, teams whose accomplishments exceeded their expectations. In both cases, Valentine’s aggressive style in which he often spoke his mind and criticized his players to the media, worked well and his players responded.

The Red Sox are the exact opposite of those earlier teams Valentine managed. There are 12 players currently on Boston’s active roster that are at least 30-years-old. They include established stars like Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Josh Beckett.

These players are not only stars, but they have been teammates for a long time and many of them have won at least one World Series for the Red Sox. It is clear they have loyalty to one another and feel that
they don’t need Valentine’s button pushing. Pedroia quickly backed Youkilis in the media and it seems like the battle between Valentine and his players is on.

Red Sox’s management had to expect that Valentine would be himself: opinionated, often brutally honest and always the center of attention. They also had to know that some of these veteran players may not take
kindly to Valentine’s antics.

Times have changed since the 70s where teams like the Oakland A’s or New York Yankees could unite around their hatred of an owner like Charlie Finley or George Steinbrenner or a manager like Billy Martin. In the
Majors these days, a fractured locker room is usually not a winning locker room. If the players hate their manager, they are less likely to perform for him.

Valentine backtracked Monday. He actually apologized to Youkilis, an uncharacteristic move for Bobby V. But will his players believe him and accept his apology?

Much like Guillen in Miami, it didn’t take long for Valentine to create controversy in the Red Sox clubhouse. Now it remains to be seen if he can win in Boston. If he doesn’t, it appears his stay at Fenway could be a very short one.

Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – NHL Loser Point Makes No Sense but Isn’t Going Away

The NHL has a unique feature that none of the other three major North American team sports features: instead of using winning percentage to determine its standings, the NHL uses points.

Until the lockout, each NHL game had two points at stake to be divided among the competing teams. If a team won they got two points, losers received no points and if the game ended in a tie, each team got one
point added to their season totals.

After the lockout, the NHL added the shootout and vowed to eliminate ties which they said were unsatisfying to fans. They also wanted teams to “go for it” in overtime as opposed to playing for a tie, so in an effort to add excitement to the game, the league established what I call the “loser point”. Now, teams that win a game get two points, teams that lose a game in overtime or in a shootout get one point and teams that lose in regulation still walk away with no points.

No other sport features this “loser point.” In baseball, teams do not get half a win for reaching extra innings. NBA teams do not get any additional credit in the standings for losing in overtime and in baseball, an extra inning loss is treated the same way a nine inning loss is when you look at each club’s record.

The result is that in the NHL this year, out of 30 teams, only eight clubs are below .500 (if .500 is considered getting one point for each game played). But the statistic is very misleading. In every other team sport, if you add up the record of all the teams in a league, it should equal .500. In the NHL, it’s well above the break even mark.

Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 76 games, they Leafs have 75 points or an official record of 33-34-9. But what does that record actually mean? It means that in 76 games, Toronto has lost 43 times, giving them 33 wins and 43 losses. However, because in nine of those losses, the Leafs lost in overtime or a shootout, they actually received a loser point in the standings for coming close. Toronto has lost 10 more games than it won, but they are only one point below .500 because of the loser point.

To be more fair, the NHL should change the point system and make three points available at each game. A win in regulation should be worth three points, a win in overtime or a shootout should be worth two points and a loss in a shootout or OT should be worth one point. A regulation loser should still receive no points in the standings.

Despite the confusion and unfairness of the “loser point”, it does have one important advantage: It keeps the standings very close. That is why it isn’t going to change its point system in the near future. Weaker teams can lose to superior teams and still earn a point in the standings for their effort. Unlike the 70s and 80s, there are practically no teams in the NHL that are so awful that their season is over by January
1st. The salary cap and the loser point help make this possible.

As of right now, with each team having five or six games remaining on their schedule, only four teams out of 30 have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The playoff races keep fans interested and keep them buying tickets and showing up at games. Remember, more than any other league, the NHL depends on ticket revenue to make money.

So while it isn’t fair, and it makes almost no sense, don’t expect the loser point to go away anytime soon. For the NHL, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – What Are The NY Jets Thinking?

If Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum were to write a book, a good working title would be “How Not to Build Up a Quarterback.” Since the end of last season, the Jets have run hot and cold with starting QB Mark Sanchez and seem to be changing their strategy as to how they want to build their team on an almost weekly basis.

Tim Tebow Addresses The NY Jets Media

A quick review of the Jets actions this off-season shows how confusing the team’s commitment to Sanchez seems. Let’s review:

1) After finishing a disappointing 8-8 and out of the playoffs, the Jets dismiss Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. They hire former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano as his replacement. Sparano
favors a more run oriented “ground and pound” offense which was the formula the Jets used during the 2009 and 2010 seasons when they reached the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back years.

2) The Jets pursue free agent QB Peyton Manning. Manning would run anything put a “ground and pound” offense and would not be a good fit for Sparano’s system. Manning spurns the Jets and eventually signs with the Denver Broncos.

3) Shortly after Manning said no, the Jets signed Sanchez to a contract extension. Coach Rex Ryan says the new deal shows how committed the Jets organization was to Sanchez as their quarterback going forward.

4) The Jets sign former Lions backup QB Drew Stanton to be Sanchez’s backup.

5) After the Broncos sign Manning, they announce they are looking to trade Tim Tebow. Naturally, the Jets go out and trade a pair of draft picks to acquire Tebow, one of the league’s most popular players.

What the Jets have done by trading for Tebow is guaranteed themselves a quarterback controversy. Jets fans, Tim Tebow fans and the ever present New York media will be all over Sanchez. Any time he has a bad game, or perhaps even a bad series, the cry will go out for Tebow. Certainly, Sanchez, will have to be looking over his shoulder. Tebow will cast a long shadow and the threat of him taking Sanchez’s job will always be there.

Also, Sanchez and Tebow run very different types of offenses. Sanchez is a pocket passer with limited mobility. Tebow is a stronger runner than passer and probably is strongest running an option style offense. If Sanchez were to get hurt or replaced by Tebow, the Jets offense would require a major overhaul to be effective. Simply put, the players you put in place to build an offense around Sanchez are not the same type of players who you would choose to build an offense around Tebow.

Last year, Sanchez already had enough problems gaining the confidence of many of his teammates including wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Introducing Tebow into an already volatile mix will only serve to further undermine Sanchez’s authority in the huddle and the locker room.

So good luck, Mark Sanchez. Please know that Jets management is standing behind you. The only thing that isn’t clear is whether or not they are supporting you or trying to push you out the door.