The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Archive for August, 2006

A reason to keep your transistor radio

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 August 2006

In the age of iPods and digital media, the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing their part to ensure that relics of the past, such as the transistor radio, are kept not only in circulation, but also in use.

That’s right, Austin Carr will be the game analyst/color commentator/guy who won’t shut up/etc for 30 games this season in a new deal that gives FSN Ohio the broadcast rights to 70 Cavaliers games. Scott Williams will do the remaining 40 games. Detroit Joe Fred McLeod will be the play-by-play man for all the games.

Seriously, why do the Cavs employ Austin Carr? Can anyone stand to listen to him? Last season he was mostly relegated to the WUAB 43 telecasts, with Williams smoothly gritting his way through the FSN Ohio telecasts. That was fine. Most of the games were on FSN Ohio. Most of the games featured Scott Williams. But those WUAB games were a drag to listen to. However many games Austin Carr bumbled his way through last season, it was n+1 more than should have been allowed. I’ve already discussed Carr (a wee amount) before, so I’ll end my brief tirade right now.

Who should rejoicing in the wake of this idiotic news? WTAM 1100. For all that’s annoying about WTAM (I promise not to get all Roger Brown on you now, so I’ll just leave my comments at that) the guys who call Cleveland sports games are fantastic. For the Cavs games, that man is Joe Tait, who, I hope, sees a marked increase in listeners now that Austin Carr is the other option.

Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers, flotsam and Jetsam | 3 Comments »

Petrov joins Aston Villa

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 August 2006

Soccer Spot provides all the coverage of the new Cleveland football team, Aston Villa. Before getting to his most recent article (below), I’d like to say that Euro2008, a huge competition among the many national teams in Europe, has started and, if you are unfamiliar with either Euro2008 or the teams, Soccer Spot is putting together a since set of previews as part of his all-encompassing coverage of the event. He’s also posting his predictions. Everything Euro2008 can be found HERE. Now back to the Villa.

Quick update to the Villa lineup:

In a move that should bring a measure of stability to a slightly sub-par midfield, Aston Villa has signed Stilian Petrov from Celtic for €9.6million/$12.3million (which could rise to €11.9million/$15.3million depending on appearances). Petrov is the Bulgarian international team captain. According to UEFA.com Petrov has been in the Scottish Premier League for seven years, making 224 appearances with 53 goals. He has also played for CSKA Sofia. Perhaps the most interesting part of this move is that for four of his seven years at Celtic, Petrov was coached by Martin O’Neill, the current Villa coach. Petrov will provide, at the very least, a little more depth to a midfield that really has no standouts. Petrov should be an immediate first-teamer alongside Gavin McCann, but with Jlloyd Samuel out injured there is a small gap in the defensive capabilities of the midfield that Petrov should more than adequately cover. It should be noted, however, that Samuel is a defender being used in a midfield holding role/5th defender, and so the tactical approach O’Neill takes from here on out could be somewhat different than in previous games as Petrov is an out-and-out midfielder. This should be — barring a miracle — the only major signing before today’s transfer deadline.

Also in Villa news, owner Randy Lerner is looking to create a £100million/$190million financial package which would include naming rights to the Villa Park stadium and other commerical interests, presumably high on the list being jersey rights.

Click HERE for complete Aston Villa schedule/results.

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League | Leave a Comment »

Peter King weighs in and the hope is for average

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 August 2006

Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King has gone through the schedules of every team in the NFL and has projected the best-case scenarios for all 32 teams in terms of wins and loses. How high should Browns fans be setting their standards?

8-8.

Here is how Mr. King sees the Browns doing, at best, each week.

Week 1: New Orleans: Win
Week 2: Cincinnati: Loss
Week 3: Baltimore: Win
Week 4: Oakland: Win
Week 5: Carolina: Loss
Week 6: Bye: Kellen Winslow not injured in freak Segway accident (win)
Week 7: Denver: Loss
Week 8: New York Jets: Win
Week 9: San Diego: Loss
Week 10: Atlanta: Loss
Week 11: Pittsburgh: Loss
Week 12: Cincinnati: Loss
Week 13: Kansas City: Win
Week 14: Pittsburgh: Loss
Week 15: Baltimore: Win
Week 16: Tampa Bay: Win
Week 17: Houston: Win

OK, Peter King did not write about Winslow avoiding a career-threatening injury during the bye week. I made that up.

Should Mr. King’s forecast prove accurate, here is what I estimate the emotional barometer will read each week in Cleveland:

Week 1: New Orleans: Sunny Optimism
Week 2: Cincinnati: Mild Contentment
Week 3: Baltimore: Pleasant Bouyancy
Week 4: Oakland: Bistering Confidence
Week 5: Carolina: Vague Paranoia
Week 6: Bye: Kellen Winslow not injured in freak segway accident: Relief
Week 7: Denver: Loss: Disgruntlement
Week 8: New York Jets: Win: Marginally Reassured
Week 9: San Diego: Loss: Disappointment
Week 10: Atlanta: Loss: Furious Wrath
Week 11: Pittsburgh: Loss: Sheer Rage
Week 12: Cincinnati: Loss: Bitter Anger
Week 13: Kansas City: Win: Pessimistic Incredulousness
Week 14: Pittsburgh: Loss: Severe Depression
Week 15: Baltimore: Win: Minimal Satisfaction
Week 16: Tampa Bay: Win: Tempered Joy
Week 17: Houston: Win: Sunny Optimism

What do I actually think the emotional barometer will read each week?

Week 1: New Orleans: Sunny Optimism
Week 2: Cincinnati: Mild Contentment
Week 3: Baltimore: Borderline Depression
Week 4: Oakland: Hopeful
Week 5: Carolina: Utter Despondence
Week 6: Bye: Winslow IS injured in a freak Segway accident: Outright Indignation with a touch of Bewilderment
Week 7: Denver: Hopelessness
Week 8: New York Jets: Guarded Cheerfulness
Week 9: San Diego: Annoyed
Week 10: Atlanta: Confused and Searching
Week 11: Pittsburgh: Sheer Rage
Week 12: Cincinnati: Bitter Anger
Week 13: Kansas City: Hopeless
Week 14: Pittsburgh: Suicidal
Week 15: Baltimore: Dead
Week 16: Tampa Bay: Deader
Week 17: Houston: Disgruntled Assuagement

In other words, I see the team going 4-12.

Posted in Cleveland Browns | 4 Comments »

Miles away from ordinary

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 August 2006

Travis Hafner hit his 40th home run of the season last night as the Indians beat the flailing Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 to improve to 15-5 in their last 20 games. (I offer that last statistic as a small diversion from the fact that in the last 131 games the Indians are only 62-69, good for fourth place in the AL Central.) Hafner is only the seventh Indian to hit 40 homers in a season and the first to do it since Thome belted 52 homers in 2002.

In an effort to further quantify Hafner’s enviable hitting feats I quickly searched around the internet and eventually stumbled across this site, which is an insanely impressive collection of information that can best be described as a physicist’s dream. What did this site teach me? Well, after tonight’s home run Hafner has hit over three miles of home runs this season. His average home run travels just over 400 feet. The ‘true distance’ of his longest homer this season is 450 feet, which he hit on August 20th in Tampa Bay off of pitcher Jae Seo. That homer looked like this to those who watch baseball with their eyes, and for those who watch baseball through a protractor and compass, it looked like this:

tropicanafield_rings_2006_4140.jpg

This season Hafner has yet to hit a homer truly to the opposite field, but he isn’t shy about hitting the ball to straightaway center or even the power alley in left, as you can see below in a plot of his home runs.

hafner_travis_scatter.jpg

During the game last night (or during any game, really) the Blue Jays’ outfielders played Hafner without a shift. The infielders’, however, were arrange thusly: 1B hugging the line, the 2B in shallow right field, the SS in the traditional spot of the 2B, and the 3B in the traditional spot of the SS. In his first at bat Hafner avoided the shift by hitting the ball into the bleachers. This was Hafner’s only hit. He struck out in his other official at bat.

Just once I’d like to see Hafner lay a bunt down the third base line against the shift. Were he to do so he’d be able to jump backwards on one foot to first base and still be safe by five feet. I’m not sure much would satisfy me more than seeing a hulking power hitter leg out an infield single by strategically bunting against a nasty infield shift. Hafner sure seems like a fun-loving guy. By now he must’ve considered that he is almost assured a hit if he bunts when the infielders all standing on the strong side of second base. Is there a better coda to a towering home run than a dainty bunt single in the next at bat? It would totally psych out the other team.

Speaking of which, during last night’s game, when Chacin walked the bases loaded and Jhonny Peralta came to the plate, did anyone else think that Eric Wedge should have sent Peralta to the batter’s box without a bat? It’s not that Peralta is a poor hitter–although this season he hasn’t made a convincing argument to the contrary–so much as it is that Chacin absolutely could not find the strike zone. Peralta eventually struck out (he would have walked had he not swung at a pitch about six inches above his eyelids), so Peralta without a bat would have been no less effective, but just think of the mind-screw a batless hitter would have cause this wayward pitcher. I’m 90% sure that Chacin would have thrown two balls, both of which would have missed by about three inches, and then would have thrown the third pitch into the ground four feet in front of home plate and the fourth pitch three rows deep into the stands. The Jhonny Peralta could have single-handedly manufactured a Rick Ankiel moment. It would have been fantastic.

There’s always next time, I guess.

Posted in Cleveland Indians | Leave a Comment »

Cavaliers roster analysis: Part I: Point Guards

Posted by disappointmentzone on 28 August 2006

I’ve gone back and forth on how to best reveal/stumble through/present a roster analysis of the Cavs. On one hand I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the past couple of weeks calculating the Wins Produced of every player in the NBA last season (there is a lot to say about this alone, but I would be remiss if the first thing I did say about it wasn’t: thanks David Berri) and I now have that information stored in a tidy spreadsheet. Wins Produced is the best metric for player production in the NBA and, therefore, forms a large portion of what I have to say about the players on the Cavs’ roster. Of course, I have only a fleeting interest–at best–with how productive, say, PJ Brown was last season. The Wages of Wins Journal is unveiling the Wins Produced of a new team every few days and is going in alphabetical order (through Charlotte now), so if you care to know how productive PJ Brown was last season, then you ought to follow their blog. Pretty soon they’ll write about the Cavs and I’m of the opinion that whatever glory can/will be derived from unveiling the Wins Produced of the entire Cavs’ roster should be theirs alone. Since my analysis will be heavily rooted in Wins Produced, one option for how to reveal/stumble through/present a roster analysis of the Cavs–by unveiling in one quick post the Wins Produced for every Cavs’ player last season–is reserved for the WoWJ, although that which will appear on the WoWJ will be concerned primarily with the 2005-06 Cavs.

Another option is to do a player-by-player analysis, but a) I’m not sure how much there is to say about an Alan Henderson-type player, b) I’m not sure how much I’d want to write about an Alan Henderson-type player, c) I’m not sure there is much to say statistics-wise for the slew of rookies joining the team, and d) I could easily see myself losing interest in the player-by-player analysis after about player #7. So that option is out.

Therefore I’ve decided to present an analysis of the Cavs’ roster by breaking down the roster into positions and then discussing what the relative strengths and weaknesses are of each position and how any recent trades/contract extensions affect both the position and the team overall. This seems like the best compromise among the many conflicting interests afflicting my decision-making–you’ll get a brief jump on the rest of the world in knowing the Wins Produced of a few of the Cavs’ players; I’ll get to share a piece of the work I’ve done with people whose last names aren’t the same as my own; the gun won’t be jumped on WoWJ for the entire Cavs’ roster; and I can see myself being able to commit to writing the analysis in five parts with much more conviction and determination than writing the analysis in 17 parts.

Without further introduction, then, here is the first part in my pre-preseason (or very post-postseason) analysis of the Cavs’ roster.

Point Guards

The biggest weakness position-wise for the Cavs is point guard. Eric Snow will enter the 2007-08 campaign as the starting point guard, a job he was supposed to lose last preseason to Damon Jones. As I’ve said elsewhere, Eric Snow is a problem for the Cavs insofar as he’s owed a ton of money–about $20 million over the next three seasons. If Snow were only being made the minimum salary for NBA veterans he’d be a steal. Snow is the Cavs’ best defender and last season often found himself guarding the opposing team’s best player who wasn’t a center. In a game against the Nets in early December Vince Carter blew apart the Cavs’ defense–a lousy rotation of Hughes and James–for 26 points in the first half. In the second half Eric Snow often guarded Carter and held him to only 12 points. In the playoffs Snow guarded Rasheed Wallace–Detroit’s power forward–more often than one would expect from a point guard. Snow is also valuable to the Cavs as a mentor to the team’s younger point guards. Plus he’s an upstanding citizen who has never, as far as I can tell, caused any internal conflicts on any team for which he’s played. These qualities are valuable, just not at $20 million.

Is there hope that Snow will return to form (form being a slightly above average point guard)? The outlook is grim. Here are Snow’s Win Scores per minute for the last four seasons.
ericsnow-ws.jpg

For reference the average guard will have a Win Score per minute of .130. In the last four seasons Snow’s Win Score has been cut in half. Snow is just not a productive player and there is no sign that he’ll improve next year. In fact, at his current pace Snow’s Win Score per minute next season will probably be about .61, by far the lowest of his career.

Why is his Win Score so low? For starters Snow does not shoot particularly well. His points per shot [(PTS-FTM)/FGA] last season was only .819, well below average for the NBA. If Snow were capable of knocking down the occasional three pointer his scoring deficiency might not be so pronounced, but Snow made only one three pointer last season, or the same number as Drew Gooden. Snow, however, had 10 attempts while Gooden attempted only three. Given the other players on the Cavs, in particular James and Larry Hughes, it is necessary that the Cavs have player capable of making jump shots. Eric Snow’s effective shooting percentage on jump shots last season was only .381. Snow also turned into an awfully foul-prone player last season. This might be attributable to the increased pressure on Snow to make up for the defensive lapses of his teammates.

Working for Snow is that he doesn’t turn the ball over for how many assists he records, which is a positive for any player and particularly a point guard, and he generates a high number of assists per minute on the court–.147, second only to LeBron James (.155). But, again, he doesn’t score–only 391 points in over 2300 minutes played. If Eric Snow learns how to shoot this off season it would go a long way to helping him improve as a player.

No one should expect Snow to improve as a shooter, however. This is precisely why last year GM Danny Ferry gave a lot of money (four years, $16.1 million) to Damon Jones to sign as a Cav.

In his first two full seasons as a starter–2003-04 with Milwaukee and 2004-05 with Miami–Jones’s points per shot were a respectable .964 and an outstanding 1.22, respectively. Since 2001-02 Jones’s effective shooting percentage has never dipped below 48% and topped out during his season in Miami at 61%. If Ferry were judging Jones solely on Jones’s season in Miami then certainly Ferry thought acquiring Jones at $4 million per season was a steal. Compared to Eric Snow’s contract, it sure looks like a steal. But is it?

Here are Damon Jones’s Wins Scores per minute for each of the past three seasons.
damon-jones.jpg

Two things are apparent from the chart above. First, Damon Jones had an above-average year in Miami. Second, Jones had an abysmal year last season with the Cavs. The good news for Cavs fans is that Jones is still a fairly good shooter despite his early season woes last year. In 2003-04 he scored .964 points per shot. In 2004-05 he scored 1.22 points per shot. In 2005-06 he scored 1.06 points per shot–about average. Jones’s effective shooting percentage on jump shots last season 53% and in the clutch (fourth quarter or overtime, neither team ahead by more than five) he shot a smooth 50%. And no one will forget his game-winning shot against the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. The drop in Jones’s Win Score from the previous season is not explained by his lack of shooting. So what happened?

Jones stopped playing like a point guard and started playing like a shooting guard or small forward. Part of the reason is because he was periodically on the court with Eric Snow and during those times he played more shooting guard than point guard. But the rest of the time he just plain didn’t play the position he was brought in to play. To wit: In 2003-04 Jones dished out 478 assists and in 2004-05 he dished out 350 assists–both respectable assist totals for a point guard. Last season? 119 assists. His per-game assist total last season fell by more than half from 2004-05, from 4.3 to 2.1. If the primary aim of a point guard is to guide an offense by setting up teammates for quality shots, Jones was certainly lacking in this regard last season.

Unfortunately, while he was firing up shots like a SG or SF, he wasn’t rebounding like one. Last season Jones grabbed 133 rebounds, or 98 fewer than he grabbed in Miami. In fact, Jones had the lowest total of rebounds per minute of anyone on the Cavs last season, averaging .064 rebounds per minute. The mighty Mike Wilks, who is five inches shorter than Jones, averaged .11 rebounds per minutes, to cite but one person who was a more prolific rebounder than Jones. Had Jones equaled his rebounding numbers from his year in Miami, last season his Win Score per minute would have been .128, or about average. Had he dished out the same number of assists, his Win Score per minute would have been slightly above average (.145).

At no point in his career has Jones been a stud point guard (or a stud shooting guard masquerading as a point guard). Based on his previous efforts the best the Cavs can hope for from Jones is to be about average. The keys to Jones’s future success in Cleveland are being more aggressive on the boards and adequately guiding the offense in the half court. I wouldn’t worry too much about his assist numbers. After all, for the foreseeable future LeBron James will be leading the team in assists, and this is a good thing. As long as Jones doesn’t turn the ball over his assist totals, should they remain about average for his career (253 per 82 games), won’t be a problem. Oh, and if Jones stops acting like he learned to play defense at the Steve Nash Academy of There He Went it would go a long way to ensure that he’s on the court more often than he was last season.

Last and certainly least is Mike Wilks. Since he is no longer a Cav and since he didn’t play much last season (only 250 minutes) I’m not going to say much about him. In fact, I’m done discussing Wilks.

So how productive were the Cavs’ point guards last season? Here are the Wins Produced and Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) for last season.
wppg.jpg
The Cavs received very little production from the point guards. In fact, the Cavs had the second-worst group of PGs in the entire NBA (only Utah was worse). Of all the areas in which the Cavs could really stand to improve, certainly on the short list is the point guard position. This off season no trades have been made (yet) to improve the team in this area, but the Cavs did draft Daniel Gibson, PG out of Texas, in the second round. Gibson will make the final roster and could see spot-duty at point guard, although this will depend almost entirely on his assist-to-turnover ratio, which was never high in college. As long as he’s a turnover liability he’ll struggle to contribute to the team next season.

WHAT WE’LL SEE NEXT SEASON: After starting the season as the starting point guard, Snow’s minutes will decline once it becomes clear that Damon Jones is the better option, although that’s not saying much at this point. It’s like chosing between death by suffocation or drowning–there really is no winner. In late-game situations Snow will be the primary point guard because of his superior defense. In end-of-game situations (last-second plays) on offense Jones will be tapped because he is a much better shooter than Snow. A lot of people are down on Damon Jones and probably don’t expect him to improve, but I wouldn’t be shocked if his numbers increase a fair amount next year–if anything I’d expect to see increases in both rebounds and assists. Of course, increases in rebounds and assists might simply be the function of increased minutes, but I think Jones will increase both his assists/min and rebounds/min totals. This is assuming Jones remains with the Cavs through next season. Jones being traded is entirely possible, however, because Eric Snow will never be traded–no one will absorb his contract, except maybe the Knicks, who have a track record of acquiring such burdensome contracts. If the Cavs were able to trade Snow and his monumental salary keeping Jones wouldn’t be such a huge problem. As it is, keeping two point guards for a combined $10+ million, both of whom are, at best, average, is not financially wise. If the Cavs have to trade one of them, it’s Jones, if only because he’s younger, cheaper, and better. But even his contract won’t set Ferry’s phones ablaze with offers. $4 million per season is on the high end for a player of Jones’s ability. What will Gibson do? Not much. Probably 500 minutes, 55 assists, 40 turnovers, 50 rebounds, and 85 points. I’m 75% certain that these numbers will be within a 25% margin of error.

Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers, statistics | 13 Comments »

Aston Villa: Best Cleveland-related sports team in the universe

Posted by disappointmentzone on 28 August 2006

Aston Villa is the second-best team in the English Premier League, trailing only Manchester United in the standings. Of course, the EPL season is very young. It’s best to think of Villa’s undefeated record as the soccer equivalent of the Indians’ 6-1 start to the 2006 season. But for the moment let’s not focus on such things. Villa earned win #2 yesterday, beating Newcastle 2-0. Soccer Spot provides the coverage.

Aston Villa 2 – 0 Newcastle

With a shutout victory at home on Sunday, Aston Villa moved into second place behind Manchester United with seven points from three games. They are technically tied with Everton at seven points with a +3 goal differential (5 goals for, 2 against). The game was the first since Randy Lerner became majority shareholder of the team and a nice way to welcome the new American owner. Luke Moore and Juan Pablo Angel scored in the 3rd and 38th minutes, respectively. Surprisingly, Villa made no substitutions throughout the match, which may signify that manager Martin O’Neil’s confidence in his side or a general lack of confidence in his substitutes.

The good and the bad:

The good signs are that Newcastle is generally regarded as a solid side and Aston Villa basically took them apart. Newcastle’s roster is full of solid upper-mid range talented players as well as Damien Duff, who is absolutely excellent. Villa’s roster, on the other hand, reads off like a who’s who of years past. Despite this, putting in a couple of good shows to start the season (and not yet having lost) is a solid way to go. At this rate, few teams should scare Villa, but it will be some time before Villa is truly tested: games away to West Ham, Watford, and one at home against Charlton before a September 30 visit to Chelsea (for a complete schedule, go HERE). It would be foolish to say Villa will enter Stamford Bridge with 16 points, but things are looking good so far. Team captain Gareth Barry has signed a contract extension through 2010, which is a nice security measure for the team. Barry is a solid player, if not the greatest. The exclusion of Milan Baros from the Czech Euro2008 qualifiers this weekend is a blessing for Villa, which should see its best player back to full fitness for the West Ham game.

The bad signs are, again, that Villa doesn’t look deep enough to truly contend for anything beyond the UEFA Cup. If O’Neill has his way, Lerner’s first real act as owner will be to drop a ton of cash on a few new players. If they can’t get a couple of solid role players (specifically in the midfield), it could be rough seas ahead against big sides like Liverpool who can dominate the center of the field and even against clubs like Tottenham who effectively control passing lanes. Also, despite the fact that Newcastle went down to ten men in the 60th minute due to Obafemi Martin’s knee injury (two days after transferring in a 10million GBP move from Inter Milan – sounds like the Browns), Villa was unable to capitalize on their numerical advantage, despite attacking. In my humble opinion it is never a good idea to sit back and absorb pressure for thirty minutes and it’s nice to see that O’Neill opted to at least attempt to score with Moore coming close to a second. The ability to kill off opponents is critical when playing against another mid-level club (as both Newcastle and Villa certainly must be categorized) and the lack of a goal is hard to overlook.

All in all: a good outing against Newcastle and the coming weeks should be good for the club. By late-October, Villa should be assured of surviving relegation, which is always nice to get wrapped up a few months before the midway point of the season (that’s more because Watford, Wigan, Reading, and Sheffield United should make sure there’s a massive points gulf between themselves and everyone else – though Wigan surprised me by surviving last year at the expense of Norwich).

Click HERE for the club’s official site.
Or, if you’re into shortcuts that redirect you, click HERE.

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League | 1 Comment »

Quick notes: Carmona sent down, Sowers shut down

Posted by disappointmentzone on 27 August 2006

Indians pitcher Fuasto Carmona was sent down to the minors yesterday. This is no surprise. Carmona has had, um, a few problems pitching recently. I’ll just leave it at that. Carmona will make two starts in Buffalo before being recalled to the team in early Septmeber. And this is where things get interesting.

Carmona (1-8) will likely replace rookie Jeremy Sowers, who has already thrown 168 innings — nine more than last season. Since the Indians are no longer in contention, they don’t want to overuse Sowers, who improved to 6-3 on Friday night.

At the start of this season Carmona was the most highly touted pitching prospect in the Indians’ farm system. He was called up early in the season to make a few starts in replacement of CC Sabathia and was about average–nothing spectacular, nothing horrible. Once Sabathia came back from the DL Carmona was moved to the bullpen, where he had a lot of success in middle relief (sub 1.30 ERA is 25+ appearances) and absolutely no success as a closer. Sowers followed a slightly different path. He got off to a tremendous start in the minors and was called up in June and after his first two starts (both forgettable) he’s been pitching very well since. It goes without saying that Sowers has solidified his spot in the starting rotation next season. Which is why benching Sowers for the rest of the season is a great move. He has nothing left to prove in what is being called Spring Training V 2.0. In a time when managers are becoming rebellious in their efforts to extract wins from their young pitchers (I’m taking to you, Jim Leyland) it’s nice to see the Indians make the wisest move possible for both the organization and the player.

Sending Carmona to the minors and then giving him starts in the majors in September could portend a trade this off season for one of Cleveland’s starting pitchers. Byrd and Westbrook are the two most likely candidates for a trade. Lee is often an aggravating pitcher–especially this season, particularly today–but he is under a reasonable contract for the next few seasons. Sabathia is here through the life of his contract and Sowers is not going anywhere soon.

There has been talk on a few Indians message boards about potential free agent signings this off season and, when the talk turns to pitchers, one name always appears: Jason Schmidt. When you consider the money saved from the fire sale in July, the TV money from SportsTime Ohio, and Dolan promising to spend a lot of money this off season, the Indians should have a lot of cash to spend when it comes to free agents. $22-$30 million is a fair estimate. Schmidt will cost a fair share, but if the Indians do make a run at him either Byrd or Westbrook becomes immediately expendable if Carmona shows signs of his former self. Even if Carmona doesn’t bounce back immediately there is no way the Indians will keep under contract six starting pitchers, five of which are making starter’s money. Spending $7 million on a sixth starter is not economically smart for the Indians.

UPDATE: Paul Hoynes is reporting that Sowers will make a couple more starts before being shut down for the season. He quotes Shapiro: “Based on where we are in the standings, why take the risk of an injury when we can take no risk?”

Posted in Cleveland Indians | Comments Off on Quick notes: Carmona sent down, Sowers shut down

A guide to the English Premier League

Posted by disappointmentzone on 25 August 2006

Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner is very close to taking over Aston Villa after two key shareholders, Villa chairman Doug Ellis and Jack Petchey, sold their share to the billionaire. Lerner now owns 59.96% of the club. He needs 75% to assume full control of the organization, and if he reaches a 90% ownership he can legally buy out the remaining 10%. There was a rival group interested in buying the club as well, but Lerner has squashed them in true American businessman form.

Aston Villa plays in the English Premier League, one of the richest and most storied sports leagues in the world. You can follow the happenings on the EPL on Fox Sports (or, better yet, Fox Soccer Channel) and occasionally you’ll find an EPL team playing in a Champions League match on ESPN and ESPN2.

The EPL is unlike any of the major sports leagues in the US (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS) and accordingly requires a bit of a primer for the uninitiated. But don’t fret–the league structure is simple and you may have even heard of a few of the top clubs. The Disappointment Zone will be tracking Aston Villa throughout the EPL season, but not without the help of my good friend at the Soccer Spot, who has graciously penned a quick guide to the EPL and will be providing semi-regular updates throughout the season. His words below.

A Quick Guide to the English Premier League (EPL)

The English Premier League is England’s highest soccer league, of which there are 5 professional leagues. All the leagues are part of the Football Association, better known as the FA, which is the governing body of football (soccer) in England. You can think of the EPL as the Major League of English Soccer, while the lesser leagues are kind of like AAA, AA, A baseball, only that most of the teams are autonomous. You can learn more about the internal structure of the FA HERE and the FA’s official site. A straight up Premier League breakdown is available HERE. The structure is fairly like other European club systems in that the three clubs who finish last (fewest points) in the EPL descend to the Championship League and the top three Championship League clubs replace those cellar dwellers for the next season. To keep the baseball analogy running, if baseball in the US worked like professional soccer in the UK, the Royals, Devil Rays, and Pirates would all be demoted to AAA while the best three AAA teams would be promoted to the Major Leagues. Only the three AAA teams to be promoted would not be farm systems but autonomous teams.

The clubs are ranked as an entire group; there are no divisions in the EPL. The point system used to determine who goes up or down in the standings is pretty simple: each win is worth 3 points, a tie is worth 1, and a loss is worth none because you suck. Each team plays every other team in the league twice during the full season, which generally runs from late August to early May. That’s 38 games, folks, in case you’re starting a tally.

A note about European competition and money:

The prize of prizes in English soccer is, obviously, the EPL trophy, but an international sought-after trophy closely follows the EPL title: the Champions League trophy. The Champions League pits the best teams from all the UEFA member countries against one another in a tournament spanning the length of the regular season (August – May) and at each step provides a cash incentive to clubs for advancing farther in the tournament. This makes it an extremely intense competition and the goal of every club in Europe. In order to qualify for the UEFA Champions League from the EPL a club must finish in the top four of the EPL the season year. The FA Cup and the Carling Cup are other, purely-British competitions pitting all the FA leagues against each other in a tournament. The FA Cup is the more important of the two.

In the end, England has several perennial Champions League representatives who therefore receive the bulk of the earnings in the league. There is no salary cap (see: Chelsea, the Yankees of European club soccer). This creates a disparity between “large” and “small” clubs – a fact that is true about every soccer league in existence with the possible exception of the MLS, but especially in Europe’s top leagues (Spain, Italy, England, Germany, France, and Holland – here they are ranked in order of their caliber, with all other European leagues falling somewhere below them). However, there are other opportunities for European glory and money for British clubs. The UEFA Cup, a sort of “runner’s up” behind the Champions League, is a competition for those who come in 5th through 8th in England and the UEFA Intertoto Cup is for those who come in 9th. So, in reality, almost half of the teams in the EPL take part in European competition every year.

A basic breakdown of the top clubs in the EPL is perhaps in order. This is not meant to be a guide to the upcoming season so much as merely a starter lesson for those who don’t understand the EPL system or its teams.

1. Chelsea is based in London and has become one of the dominate forces in England–as well as Europe–over the last few years. The reason behind this is Russian oil tycoon (and therefore billionaire) Roman Abramovich, who bought the club in June 2003 for 60 million GBP (~$120million). This turned out to be a tiny amount of cash to Abramovich, who has subsequently poured some 400 million GBP (lots of $$$) into buying a ridiculous number of extremely talented players from around the world. He was able to do this because of the soccer transfer/trade system which, if it unfamiliar to you, can be best explained here. It’s kinda like free agency in US sports, except all players are always free agents in that any player can be traded during specified transfer windows. If a player transfers teams a large sum of money is paid to the team the player leaves as well as the player. Basically, all of this Russian oil money (and there is wide speculation that it is not exactly legitimate since Abramovich can’t return to Russia for fear of indictment and imprisonment; think of George Steinbrenner as an Italian mobster) has bought Chelsea a fantastic squad and a genius coach, as well as the last two EPL titles. So far they have fallen short of a Champions League trophy, reaching the semifinals two years ago. It is my opinion that Chelsea is the Devil. They are ruining a beautiful sport by buying everyone in sight and making the EPL a one trick pony. If there’s any way back from this, I’d love it to happen. Especially if a smaller club could take the title away from the Blues. Chelsea’s men to watch are: Andriy Shevchenko, Frank Lampard, and John Terry. The coach is Jose Mourinho (Portugal).

2. Manchester United is Manchester’s biggest club and is currently the biggest threat to Chelsea’s dominance. Before Chelsea came around, the EPL was basically comprised of Man U, Arsenal, and everyone else who lost to them, which isn’t exactly a fun league to watch, but certainly better than the current format of “Let’s come in second to Chelsea.” The Red Devils, as they’re known, were one of the few publicly owned teams (a la the Green Bay Packers) until Malcolm Glazer (the guy who owns the Tampa Bay Bucs) became majority shareholder and now is changing a few things around (though basically leaving things as they are). Man U is always to be feared, but more so in England than in European competition where their tactics aren’t as successful. Man U’s men to watch are: Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Rio Ferdinand. The coach is Sir Alex Ferguson (Scotland).

3. Arsenal is arguably London’s biggest club, though with Chelsea flying so high, it’s hard to say. The Gunners won the EPL in 2003/04 and play a free-flowing game rarely seen in England. Their coach is French and most of their players are European imports and they like to open up the field to provide their strikers were more one-on-ones rather than over-the-top passes like most English clubs. It is the look that Chelsea is beginning to adopt more and more, itself having more and more foreign players (though Lampard and Terry are both English players). Their fourth-place league finish last year was the worst in several seasons, but they ended up coming in second to FC Barcelona in the Champions League. Arsenal’s men to watch are: Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, and Emmanuel Eboue. The coach is Arsene Wenger (France).

4. Liverpool is considered by many as having a legit shot at taking the EPL title this year, but that is probably a pipe dream rather than a serious prognostication. While the Reds are strong in almost every position, especially in the midfield, they lack a general cohesion that comes from playing together for several years and without the superstar power of Chelsea, will probably wind up third or fourth at the end of the year. What is being called the “Spanish Armada” has consisted of an influx of several Spanish players thanks to Liverpool’s Spanish coach. While the core of the team remains British, the tactics have slowly begun to open and the team is making tentative strides towards consistency. Liverpool hasn’t ever won the EPL (the EPL was created in 1994), but before that, Liverpool capture 18 league titles, the last of which was in 1990. It has been all gloom and doom since then, though Liverpool won the 2004/05 Champions League crown. Liverpool’s men to watch are: Craig Bellamy, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher. The coach is Rafael Benitez (Spain).

Below these clubs is everyone else, including Aston Villa. It is highly doubtful that anyone but these four will earn a Champions League spot next year, but in Tottenham’s last-second choke-job last year, a glimmer of hope appeared, though only because Arsenal faltered heavily throughout the year and only just came in fourth. All four of the above teams have qualified for this year’s Champions League. Manchester United currently sits atop the EPL with 6 points from 2 games, the only team with 2 wins. The most notable teams beyond the Big Four are Newcastle United and Tottenham. The three new teams to the EPL this year are Sheffield United, Reading (pronounced Redding), and Watford. Despite first day heroics, all three will probably descend back into the Championship next season.

It is interesting to note that of the coaches listed above, none are actually from England, but Gerrard, Carragher, Ferdinand, Rooney, Lampard, and Terry are all members of the England international squad, which would be frightfully good if they ever got a good coach – and new boss Steve McClaren looks like he might just be the man to solidify the team and bring home some bacon for the first time since 1966).

An in-depth look at Aston Villa will be coming shortly.

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League, Cleveland Sports | 13 Comments »

8 is great

Posted by disappointmentzone on 25 August 2006

The Browns traded a 2007 seventh round draft pick yesterday to the Chicago Bears for eight-year veteran Lennie Friedman. Friedman is the eighth center to be on the Browns’ roster this preseason and, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is expected to compete for the starting center job and could earn it by the opening game. I don’t know if this is a good sign or a bad sign. Friedman is the most experienced center on the team (who isn’t injured), having started 10 games at center in his career. This is most-definitely a bad sign. Ross Tucker, the current starting center, who was acquired from New England in a trade on August 8th, has four career starts at center. This is another bad sign. Tucker went undrafted out of Princeton in 2001 and has 24 career starts on the offensive line. Friedman graduated from Duke and has 35 career starts. When coupled with Tucker, Friedman should push the Browns over the edge and onto the short list of the smartest O-lines in professional football history. This is a good sign. But Friedman graduate from Duke. This is a bad sign. Duke is kind of like the Oberlin College of Division 1A football–good in the early 20th century; something less than good since. On ESPN.com’s list of worst football teams of all time, Oberlin is ranked 7th, Duke is ranked 8th. Here are two highlights from the readers’ responses to the list.

Oberlin, who’s first football coach was Heisman himself. Oberlin, who in their first season ever, went 7-0 and outscored opponents 262-30. Oberlin, the last Ohio team to ever beat Ohio State. Yes, for Oberlin to have fallen to the depth at which they are now truly makes them the worst team ever.
Matthew Stoecker
Bellevue, Wash.

I personally saw [Duke] get dismantled at College Park last year. Maryland was up 7-0 before we were done tailgaiting, and midway through the third quarter, the fans had already lost interest in the action on the field and just started doing the Tomahawk Chop (the Terps were playing FSU the next week). Bad.
Kevin Griener
Pasadena, Md.

In all fairness, Oberlin College football is on a slow rise to mediocre, a huge leap up from the worst football team of all time. Dukestill sucks. But that’s no reason to think that Friedman will suck. His sub-average eight-year career is enough to make one think he’ll suck at center all on his own.

Posted in Cleveland Browns | Leave a Comment »

Wednesday’s comeback, in graph form

Posted by disappointmentzone on 25 August 2006

This is what a 9-run comeback looks like in graph form. The early dip was Hafner’s homer in the first. The other big moments are highlighted with red dots and text. When Shin-Soo Choo hit his game-tying triple in the top of the ninth the probability of the Royals winning, according to the graph, was above 50%. Statistically this was probably true. After all, the Royals only needed to score one run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. But still, there was absolutely no way the Royals were winning that game after the Indians made such a huge comeback. Whatever morale remained with the Royals after they blew a nine-run lead by allowing the go-ahead run to come to the plate in the sixth inning quickly left the building, along with the hapless Royals faithful, after Choo rocketed a pitch down the right field line. The only way the Royals were going to win that game would have been if the Indians absolutely botched it.

Come to think of it, that 50% sounds about right.

Posted in Cleveland Sports | Leave a Comment »