The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Archive for December, 2006

The dreaded third quarter

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 December 2006

The second game of a back-to-back in another time zone equals another loss. LeBron James went unconcsious for about two minutes in the third quarter and things looked rosey, but it was all downhill from there. The game got disgusting quickly, forcing me to flip back to the VT-UGA game, which means that I might be wrong about this, but I think the Bulls went on a 32-9 run. Or maybe it was 32-12. Either way, the Cavs got rocked out of Chicago in the third quarter. Even the last push in the fourth quarter never really looked too threatening. The Cavs cut the lead to four points, but the outcome was never in doubt. When playing back-to-back games the Cavs don’t win.

When in the third quarter the Cavs began to fall to pieces I was struck by a strong feeling of deja vu: didn’t we just see this the previous game, and the previous game, and the previous game? So I decided to quickly crunch some numbers. Instinct and impression can often lead to conclusions that are wildly unfounded. Not so with the Cavs and the third quarter.

OFFENSE

Here is a chart of the Cavs’ scoring by quarter. The first row of numbers contain the averages for all games. The next row for the second game of back-to-backs (less than one day’s rest) and the final row is for games following at least one day’s rest (technically that should be a greater than or equal to sign; whatever). The results are telling.

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Highlighted in red are the lowest averages. You can see that no matter the cirumstance the Cavs always tend to come out of the locker room at halftime a little sluggish. But whereas in all other games the Cavs usually bounce back in the fourth quarter, in the second game of back-to-backs the Cavs suck it up equally in the third and fourth quarters (18.625 ppq in both). The scoring difference between “no rest” and “rest” is quite dramatic. I don’t know if 15.3 points is a particularly large gap in the NBA, but a 15.3 point decline in scoring average is really tough to overcome for any team.

I wish I had advice for how the team could compensate for the decline in scoring in the third quarter. (Start Gibson instead of Snow in the third quarter?) But no matter the solution at this point I think it’s worth trying something. It’s painfully obvious that Mike Brown doesn’t like to mess with his rotations. But if that rotation is not productive then a change ought to happen. The philosophy that drives coaches and managers to always do the same thing no matter the circumstance drives me nuts (see: everything I’ve written about lineup optimization in baseball). The Cavs won’t win many games with such a huge dip in productivity in the third quarter.

DEFENSE

Here are the opponents’ scoring averages by quarter. The rows for days of rest are days of rest for the Cavs, not the other team. This is but one of the many reasons why the numbers for the opponents are not nearly as meaningful as the numbers for the Cavs. Anyway, if you look at the chart you’ll see that while other teams struggle in the third quarter, they don’t struggle nearly as much as the Cavs. The Cavs’ defense remains fairly good throughout the team; there are no wild swings from quarter to quarter. This suggests that the problems are with the offense. But you knew that already.

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Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers, statistics | 1 Comment »

Disappointment Zone power rankings

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 December 2006

Once again it’s time for another installment of the most critically evaluated, factually sound feature of this blog: the Disappointment Zone power rankings! Again, the rankings are painstakingly researched and of a purity of logic not found outside of university philosophy departments. Do not argue with the DZ power rankings. They make too much sense and are too important to the Cleveland, OH sports landscape to be triffled with. Unless you have something smart and/or funny to say. Then by all means say it.

1) Cleveland Indians

The Indians come in at #1 more by default than actual achievement — no other team deserves this spot. Keith Foulke looks to be on his way, but this isn’t the Foulke of 2003. Unless he’s equipped with new knees and arms I remain skeptical about the potential positive influence he might have in 2007. In other news, Mark Moulder has narrowed his choices down to the Indians and two other teams that don’t matter. The Indians already have a ton of starting pitching for this season, but more starting pitching is always a good idea. Plus, no Indians have suffered any serious injuries or developed any drug habits. And we still have Choo and Barfield. Consider the Choo. Consider the Barfield. Yes. Yes.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs are one of the best defensive teams in the league. This is something to savior. The Cavs do something well as a team. Lord knows the defense isn’t being carried by LBJ. Of course, if the Cavs were terrible on defense it would be incredibly hard to justify allowing Eric Snow to play organized basketball for pay. And even with the job he’s doing against the Joe Johnsons of the Association, which is a pretty good job, I must admit, it’s hard to watch him play every night. But good team defense. We can hang our hat on that one.

3) Cleveland Browns

Getting beaten by the Bucs at home is never a good thing. Losing your starting quarterback is also unfortunate. Starting Ken Dorsey because your starting quarterbacks are both injured is downright depressing. On the plus side: higher draft pick! So it’s a push.

4) The Ohio State Basketball Buckeyes

I think Greg Oden both has had children and has eaten them. I also think Greg Oden would make a really great clown. Reconciling these two points is not difficult, and for that reason I won’t drop the OSUBB below the fourth spot. Not getting killed by Florida would help them move up.

5) Aston Villa

Injuries and signings, signings and injuries. Aston Villa used to never lose. Now they never win. Looks like the Lerner touch extends beyond the pond. That said, they are still the best Cleveland-related football team in the universe. They just aren’t ranked as high as that other Cleveland-related football team this week. Try to wrap your head around that one.

6) The Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Sage Waldon still reigns supreme. Play a game, OSUFB. Stop cowering at home, maintaining your undefeated status not by winning games but by not playing games and therefore not losing games. BYU and Hawaii have won games since you last played. Hell, even Kentucky has won a game. You disgust me. Losers.

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians, flotsam and Jetsam, Ohio State Buckeyes | Leave a Comment »

Larry Hughes is a lot like Stephen Jackson

Posted by disappointmentzone on 29 December 2006

Against the Hawks Larry Hughes had another sub-40% shooting performance (5/14), his fourth in the last five games. 5/14 seems to be about the line he puts up each night. In his 17 games this season 10 times Hughes has made only 4-6 shots, or 4.8 on average, and in those games he’s averaging 13.4 field goal attempts. More often than not Hughes puts up a 5/14-type shooting line. The Atlanta game was not atypical. On the season he’s shooting about 42%. If you remove the two games in which he made 11 shots he is shooting 36%. 5/14 sounds about right.

The host of the WTAM post game show Wednesday night was going on and on about how we’ve yet to see the True Larry Hughes as a Cav because he’s been injured so often — ignoring the fact that an injured Larry Hughes is probably the True Larry Hughes — and how his most recent injury, a badly sprained ankle, was preventing him from playing as good of defense as he’s normally capable of playing and forcing him to take a lot of jumpers. His ankle is the problem. Once it’s healed (and assuming another injury doesn’t take its place) Larry Hughes will be the scoring machine the Cavs expected him to be when they signed him for an inordinate amount of money a couple of summers ago.

Whatever. I’m not buying it.

This season 79% of the shots Hughes attempts are jumpers. Last season 68% of his shots were jumpers. Last season he also had a bum finger and of all the ways to score points with a bum finger shooting long shots probably has to be the most painful. The previous season 74% of his shots were jumpers (2004). 75% the year before that (2003) and 75% the year before that (2002). When Larry Hughes does not have finger-related injuries he seems to be pretty darn fond of taking jumpers. 79% is an increase over 75%, but it’s a slight increase. If Hughes’s ankle injury is causing him to shoot more jumpers the difference is negligible. He always takes a lot of jumpers.

So you’d think he’d be a good jump shooter. He’s paid a lot of money to score points, after all, so you’d hope that the incentive in place for him to score points would lead him to score as much as possible. Since he’s not AI or LBJ, his shot attempts are a limited resource — he can’t just score more points by taking 54 field goal attempts every night — you’d think that he’d try to score as efficiently as possible since he’s only going to take about 15 shots a game. If 75% of those shots are jumpers you’d think he’d be a good jump shooter.

He’s not a good jump shooter. He’s also not an efficient scorer. These two facts are related. I’ve laid this out before in pretty clear terms. Hughes scores the points he scores because of the volume of shots he takes, not because he’s a “good shooter” or “good scorer”. He’ll probably never be a good shooter — if at this point in his career he still can’t make open jumpers then the good shooter ship has already sailed — but there is still hope that he can be an efficient scorer. The game plan is simple. It entails not taking 79% of his shots from outside the paint (62%-67% sounds pretty good) and that’s about it. If Hughes keeps attempting 15 shots per night but instead of taking 11 of them from the perimeter he only attempt 8 or 9 jumpers my guess is that both his shooting percentage and scoring average will rise.

So that’s the good news of this post: there is hope. The Cavs might be dropping $13 million on a shooting guard who can’t shoot, but perhaps Mike Brown and the other assistant coaches can put their heads together long enough to realize this fact and then make their adjustments accordingly. Now here’s the bad news.

Larry Hughes is Stephen Jackson.

On the surface the guys play similar games. Jackson averages 13.6/2.8/3.3 on 40.6% shooting. Hughes averages 13.8/3.6/3 on 41.7% shooting. When you dig a little deeper, the similarities become more striking, particularly this one: both Jackson and Hughes have an effective field goal percentage of .462. Jackson is a worse outside shooter than Hughes (such people do, in fact, exist) but he makes up for it by attempting fewer jump shots. Instead of 79% jumpers and 19% close range shots, which is Hughes’s split, Jackson takes 71% jumpers and 27% close range shots. His effective field goal percentage on his close range shots is a robust .622 compared to a dismal .387 on his jumpers. Amazingly, Jackson seems to recognize that his weakness is outside shooting, so he doesn’t shoot from the outside that much. Of the other starting shooting guards in the Central Division, all shoot a higher effective field goal percentage than Hughes and only Ben Gordon takes a higher percentage of his shots from the outside. But Gordon’s overall effective shooting percentage is .481, so him taking 84% of his shots from the outside isn’t hurting him (he’s also, strangely, the only one of these players who shoots better from the outside than from the inside). Every other starting shooting guard plays to his abilities better than Hughes. Here are the numbers (from 82games.com):

B Gordon:
84% jumpers, .488 eFG%
16% close, .444 eFG%
.481 eFG% overall

R Hamilton:
72% jumpers, .439 eFG%
28% close, .543 eFG%
.471 eFG% overall

S Jackson:
71% jumpers, .439 eFG%
27% close, .622 eFG%
.462 eFG% overall

M Redd:
67% jumpers, .456 eFG%
31% close, .656 eFG%
.523 eFG% overall

L Hughes:
79% jumpers, .432 eFG%
19% close, .526 eFG%
.462 eFG% overall

Any more talk of Larry Hughes being a superstar hampered by injury rather than stupidity (so many jumpers!) and inability (jumpers?) is no longer acceptable unless that talk includes gestures towards the superstardom of Stephen Freaking Jackson. Larry Hughes might be a better on the ball defender, but Jackson has guns and isn’t afraid to use them. Personally, I’d be more fearful of Jackson. Any talk of their defensive effectiveness also should take into account this point.

Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers, statistics | Leave a Comment »

Derek Anderson: QB Score: Week 16

Posted by disappointmentzone on 29 December 2006

I have waited long enough to post about Derek Anderson’s dismal performance against the Bucs last Sunday. On one hand I was pleased to see the Browns lose (Joe Thomas could be ours!) and as much as you can pin the loss on any one player Anderson deserves the nomination. On the other hand I had high hopes for Anderson. Sure, my hopes were mostly unfounded, but I figured that given the Browns’ recent history with quarterbacks we were due. It wasn’t so much Anderson driving my hopes so high — although watching him not look completely lost helped — as it was his timing. Certainly by now the Browns would have stumbled upon a slightly-below-average-to-average quarterback, so why not Anderson? It’s the rule of large numbers, right?

Anyway.

QB Score: -188
QB Score per play:  -6.27

Worst game of a Cleveland signal-caller this season. As his reward Anderson gets a bum shoulder and we get Ken Dorsey. I have no high hopes for Dorsey. He’s a known commodity. He’s not good. Which should make this week’s game a lot of fun.

Posted in Cleveland Browns, statistics | 2 Comments »

Aston Villa: a look ahead part II

Posted by disappointmentzone on 26 December 2006

Soccer Spot. Enough said.

Aston Villa review and Shopping List part 2

Aston Villa didn’t play a game this weekend. They didn’t lose to Manchester United and certainly didn’t get blown out 0-3 at home. Didn’t happen. All that happened was manager Martin O’Neill got a better understanding of what he’ll need during the January transfer window. That’s all. Really, though, Villa played decently at first, even hitting the post at one point, but then petered out as United began to get the upper hand and dominate both possession and chances. The main issue was defense, though obviously the inability to score was evident once again by the typical goose egg on the Villa side of the scoreboard.

Best news of the weekend, though, is that as of December 19, Villa have the third best player in the EPL: midfielder Gareth Barry. If you’re an EPL buff you probably don’t think of Barry just behind Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, but how can you argue with something “statistically proven to identify the best players“? So kudos Barry and kudos to Actim for knowing what’s what.

Good news coming from the BBC: Villa look like they’re going to offer Tottenham ₤12million (~$20million) for striker Jermaine Defoe, which should ease some of the concerns up front. If that is a suggestion that Villa have at least that much to spend on each midfield and defense, then Villa could make a second half run for a spot in Europe (though it’s probably too much to imagine a Champions League spot – they’re 8 points down on 4th place Arsenal). Darrent Bent has also been suggested as a potential striking addition and I’m not sure who would be better, Defoe or Bent—I think Bent would be a better value since he would probably cost less, though he has less of an upside. Even if these deals don’t happen (there is speculation that Tottenham won’t want to deal Defoe during January), it shows that Villa are willing to invest in their squad rather than limp through the remaining months of the season. One move that could be in the works is Celtic’s Shaun Maloney (22) who is currently refusing to sign a contract with the Hoops, which bodes well for anyone looking to grab him up. He’s young, energetic, and by all accounts worth a small transfer fee now instead of waiting for the summer when he’ll be free. He won the Scottish Premiership Football Association Player of the Year award last season as well as Young Player of the Year. So that would be a pretty good grab for Villa.

Anyway, here’s a short look at the midfield and defensive possibilities for Villa:

Midfielders

Manchester City’s Joey Barton would make a good addition to the squad, despite his occasionally questionable on-the-field behavior (I’d provide a link, but YouTube had deleted all the clips of his shirtless, mooning fun at Everton earlier this year). A pretty good guess for Barton’s price based on previously rejected transfer bids puts him at around ₤5million (~$9million). He’s young, 24, and fully capable of adding some steel to the Villa defensive midfield and some attacking power. West Ham United, however, are reportedly offering around ₤6million ($11million) for Barton, which could put Villa into an unwanted bidding war with another newly purchased and well-financed club.

According to the above-linked BBC article, West Brom’s Zoltan Gera is a possibility, but Barton would certainly be a better signing. Gera is a little older (27) and has less EPL experience, but is perhaps a more consistent and cheaper player. Gera is also perhaps more of a goal scoring threat (Barton takes penalties for Man City, which pads his stats a bit), but not by much if at all.

If Shaun Wright-Philips wants out of Chelsea (or if the club wants him gone, both of which should be the truth), why not at least make a bid for him? He’s a fantastic player and would certainly provide more width to Villa attacks. It’s more of a fantasy than a potential reality (especially since all rumor indicate a return to Man City), but there’s always hope so long as Villa have more money to spend than Man City.

Defenders

The most linked defender is Celtic’s Bobo Balde, who would lend some strength to the back line, but wouldn’t provide a long-term answer to Villa’s defensive woes. Otherwise there aren’t any high-profile defenders currently on the outs with their clubs and it will take some finagling to get anyone of true quality over January. But I wouldn’t discount O’Neill’s shrewdness and understanding of what it will take to make a mediocre player a solid one.

Goalies

According to the Football Transfer League, Wolverhampton’s Matt Murray is Villa’s target, though a ₤2million ($3.5million) price tag might put a dent in that plan.

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League | 3 Comments »

Santa delivers early present

Posted by disappointmentzone on 24 December 2006

About a week ago when I was looking at the likely scenarios of how the NFL season would end I said that the Browns were looking at a draft pick anywhere between #4 and #9.

But then Santa delivered on Christmas Eve a combination of wins and loses I never figured likely let alone possible. First, the Texans beat the Colts to improve to 5-10. Never thought that would happen. That game went final just moments after the Browns dropped an embarrassing home game to then 3-11 Tampa Bay. With Tampa Bay at 4-11 entering the late afternoon slate of games — this was Santa’s second gift — suddenly the Arizona-San Francisco game took on new importance. If only Arizona could pull off the upset! Clearly swept up in the giving spirit, Santa gave the Browns one more gift: an Arizona win!

With one game to go the Browns are in the driver’s seat for the #3 pick in the 2007 draft. So long, picks #8 and #9. As I see it the worst the Browns can finish is with the #7 pick (that would happen with a win next week against the Texans and with Arizona, Washington, and Tampa Bay all losing). If the Browns lose next week — and this is more than probable if Ken Dorsey is the starter — the Browns will finish with an identical record as the Bucs (I have TB losing to Seattle) but would get the #3 pick with the tie breaker.

I have no idea who Detroit and Oakland will take in the draft. There are a lot of websites dedicated to making these sort of predictions. Google them if you are interested. All I know is that there will be a lot of talent at the top of the board: Brady Quinn, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Gaines Adams, Alan Branch, Dwayne Jerrett, Ted Ginn, Marshawn Lynch, etc. No matter what happens with Detroit and Oakland there will be a slew of high-caliber players from which to chose. Or the Browns could trade down, which is even more likely with the #3 pick than it is with any lower pick (or so I think).

Anyway. Thanks, Santa.

Posted in Cleveland Browns | 11 Comments »

Larry Hughes is not a good basketball player

Posted by disappointmentzone on 24 December 2006

Outside of a few people who blog about the Cavs and a couple of friends, I have yet to witness anything remotely close to a sustained, thoughtful discourse on basketball in Cleveland. Not that I’m surprised: anything popular generates a lot of noise and finding the signal always takes a committed effort. It is unfortunate that there is no mechanism in place for sorting out the signal from the noise — like a really nice forum — but from time to time noise and signal become unified; the boisterous opinions speak as one and that voice is coherent and intelligent.

So it was at the Cavs-Pistons game on Thursday night. In the middle of the third quarter Larry Hughes missed a jump shot, which is to say he took a jump shot, and the people in my section actually paying attention to the game all slumped a little bit and let out a smattering of grumbles and moans. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around whenever Hughes took (that is, missed) a jump shot the grumbling and moaning that was apparent in my section in the third quarter was apparent to everyone in the arena because just about everyone was grumbling and moaning. A few people even booed.

I could not have been happier.

Larry Hughes is not a good basketball player. Any thoughtful discussion of the 2006-07 Cavs has to address Larry Hughes and the quicker the consensus is reached that’s he’s not a good basketball player the better that discussion will be. And allow me to be clear about one thing. Larry Hughes’s contract has nothing to do with how bad of a basketball player he is. This isn’t a Moneyball situation. Sure, his (in)ability would be more tolerable if he were paid $2M per year instead of $13M, but he would still not be a good basketball player.

He’s not terrible, mind you. He’s OK on defense. He can dribble. He is capable of making a positive contribution to the team, but he seems entirely unwilling to do the sort of things necessary to ensure that he is making a positive contribution whenever he steps on the court. It’s not just that he’s quick to shoot the jumper — I’ve heard some people complain about how whenever Hughes gets the ball he seems to do nothing other than shoot and that this is his problem — it’s that he shoots the jumper at all. He is not a good shooter. He is not a good shooter. He is not a good shooter. You don’t need any fluency in statistics to understand that when he throws the ball at the hoop he misses an awful lot. This point is really that simple. He is not a good shooter. When all he does is shoot — and this is essentially all he is doing on offense — it is impossible for him to be anything other than a bad basketball player. When you do something poorly and it’s all you do the only outcome is to be bad. That’s Larry Hughes as long as he’s shooting jumpers.

Now that we’ve established that Hughes is not good let’s move the discussion beyond “Hughes: good or bad?” to something more nuanced, such as How the Cavs can have success with Hughes given the current roster? Doing so will certainly increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

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We are in the heart of this holiday season of giving and good cheer and so I think it’s worth taking a moment to say thanks to everyone who frequents this humble site. So thanks. Have a happy holidays.

Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers | 15 Comments »

I’ve figured it out

Posted by disappointmentzone on 22 December 2006

I’ve studied the game tape, taken the notes, done the reading, everything. The Cavs’ offense is no longer a mystery to me. It’s no longer a complex symphony of five pieces moving in such a way as to baffle defenders, fans, scouts, and occasionally Damon Jones and/or Anderson Varejao. I hold the key and it came to me last night during the Pistons game. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised it took me so long to unravel the tangled web of genius that is the Cavs’ offense — everything is really so simple — but therein lies the genius: looks like chaos, plays like simple math. At the risk of spoiling coach Mike Brown’s current playbook — but really, how many NBA players/coaches read this blog? — I have diagrammed the two most frequently run plays. I hope these diagrams provide you with a little insight into the workings of one of the worst most impenetrable offenses in the league.

Play #1
“Motion”

Any time you see the Cavs jog down the court to set up the offense, more often than not they are about to run this play. “Motion” has two important pieces: 1) one person holds the ball out on the perimeter (usually LBJ) and 2) everyone else runs around. As demonstrated over the past month, at no point does the person holding the ball have to commit to passing it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the desired action undertaken by the ball-holder is no action followed by a 22-foot jump shot. When LeBron is the ball-holder he will occasionally defy dictates and instead drive to the basket. When Snow is the ball-holder little children weep. When Varejao is the ball-holder grown men laugh. Also, whenever Hughes gets the ball in a game — no matter what offense is being run — he often reverts to running a one-man “Motion”, which is to say that he will hold the ball on the perimeter and then shoot jumpers. Here is a diagram:

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Play #2
“Tired From Running ‘Motion'”

Since instituting the “Motion” offense over the summer, Mike Brown has insisted that the Cavs run it frequently — this is why you see the Cavs jog up the court so much. But running around almost aimlessly with great ferocity can wear a person out. So in addition to “Motion” the Cavs run a complimentary play called “Tired From Running ‘Motion'”. This play consists of no one doing anything except Ilgauskas and can best be understood as the exact opposite of “Motion”. In the fourth quarter of close games this play will not be run. Here is a diagram:

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With these two plays it’s almost hard to believe that last night the Cavs mustered only 24, 17, 14, and 16 points in each respective quarter.

Posted in Cleveland Cavaliers, flotsam and Jetsam | 4 Comments »

Aston Villa: a look ahead

Posted by disappointmentzone on 22 December 2006

I know I have been calling for the Browns to lose football games, but there is one Cleveland-related football team I hope wins: Aston Villa. Soccer Spot is here with everything you need to know. English soccer comes up often at holiday parties — like every single damn party — and thanks to Soccer Spot you won’t sound like a wanker (that’s British for, um, wanker) next time someone asks you about the upcoming transfer window. Knowing English soccer is a great way to sound cultured while remaining completely devoted to sports. There is nothing not to like. Without Soccer Spot the world would glow a little less brightly. His words follow.

Aston Villa: Previews and Shopping Lists

Before getting to the January transfer rumor and the inevitable guesswork involved, let’s look at the upcoming matches to be played during the Christmas bonanza that the EPL likes to employ every year. (This is, of course, in direct contrast with Spain’s La Liga, which takes a rather impressive break at this time of the year). It’s actually a Boxing Day slate of games for everyone (December 26) except Charlton and Fulham who play at The Valley on the 27th. What jerks. Then there’s another round of games on New Years Day, which I assume is to keep the players off the sauce.

Beloved Villa, for their part, have this fairly exhausting schedule ahead of them in the next two weeks:

1. Home to Manchester United (1st) Saturday, December 23

2. Away to Tottenham (7th) Tuesday, December 26

3. Away to Charlton (19th) Saturday, December 30

4. Home to Chelsea (2nd) Monday, January 2

Fortunately both ManU and Chelsea are at home, but you can’t overlook the Tottenham game as the Spurs have been putting together quite an impressive little run: 7wins in the last 8 games (all competitions: 4 of 5 in the EPL). What’s not good is that ManU are coming off of a loss to West Ham and will probably be looking for blood, meaning Villa are probably in for a torrid time. My hopes are resting on a draw, which wouldn’t surprise anyone. The Tottenham game is winnable, but since it’s an away game, another draw wouldn’t be a terrible result. What is a must-win in many ways is the Charlton game. Even though they’ll be a little leg weary by that time, Charlton will be too and they desperately need the win before Chelsea comes calling on January 2.

The transfer window opens in January and for one month manager Martin O’Neill will be able to throw a little cash around and pick up some new players. The good news here is that several injured players seem to be rapid progress towards full recovery. The BBC has a short piece detailing this happy trend. The most important player mentioned in the article is striker Luke Moore, whose early season exploits were a major part of Villa’s success. Something I’d failed to note earlier was that both Moore and Laursen were injured in matches against Chelsea. So that’s another reason to dislike the Blues and also something else to hope doesn’t repeat itself on Jan 2. It’s not unreasonable that O’Neill will add several players in key positions, but even he’s not sure how much money he’s going to be able to spend.

What Villa Needs

The Villa squad is not all that bad, but it is lacking star players in every skill position. A quick breakdown of the various needs is perhaps in order. I’ll start with strikers and move on to the rest in the next post.

Strikers

Milan Baros should be able to fill that role up front, but hasn’t been very productive since 2004/05. Some of that has been due to injury, but with only one goal so far this season (16 appearances – 9 starts, 7 substitutions in both the EPL and Carling Cup), he’s showing signs that perhaps Villa need to look elsewhere for a deadly finisher. However, Baros is young (25), so writing him off completely would be a huge mistake. After all, he scored 5 goals in World Cup qualifying while notching another 5 during Euro2004 en route to becoming top scorer; his injury during the World Cup may have made a difference in the Czech national team’s failure to get out of the group stage. That said, he needs to step up and play better, or offloading him in the coming summer may become a viable option. Juan Pablo Angel is showing some signs of age and some signs of being just another Julio Franco. He has 4 goals in 18 league appearances and 3 goals in 3 Carling Cup appearances, which is a better ratio than Baros, but, as with Baros, it’s not enough to win games at an elite level. Gabriel Agbonlahor has proven himself to be a versatile and solid player, if not a lethal striker. He’s a joy to watch, but he needs more support in the center in order to be truly effective in Martin O’Neill’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. This formation might be why Baros and Angel aren’t doing that well, but their failure to adapt is disheartening. With Luke Moore returning, Chris Sutton will occupy the bench even more, but could be called upon to play central striker late in games. Sutton was a patch over a gaping hole and while he’s doing adequately (1 goal, 3 assists in 7 appearances), it might be a wise investment to grab up a better striker to fill that role. I’m not particularly familiar with O’Neill’s old Scottish stomping grounds, so he might pull a good striker from there, but he might focus on other parts of the field first, especially with Moore coming back soon. If he does want a striker, there little doubt he’ll keep it economical and not attempt to drop $30million on a Ronaldo; I’d personally like to see him attempt to a grab for Florent Sinama-Pongolle, as unlikely and perhaps impossible as that may be (Sinama-Pongolle plays on loan for Recreativo Huelva in the Spanish Primera Division. His contract is owned by Liverpool which is the only way I see this as possible, which it maybe not be. I’m unfamiliar with the loan rules. Still, I rate him very highly.) The big rumor is currently Tottenham’s Robbie Keane, but that seems very unlikely, especially with Tottenham looking to solidify their position in the European section of the EPL table. Perhaps O’Neill will be persuaded, however, if he scores a few against the Villains in their upcoming game.

I’ll cover Midfielders and Defenders in the next post. For a pretty interesting read on Aston Villa transfer rumors, visit the Aston Villa blog rumor section. There’s a discussion there of Robbie Keane and also Preston’s David Nugent.

 

Posted in Aston Villa/English Premier League | 6 Comments »

My reply to John Hnat

Posted by disappointmentzone on 21 December 2006

In responding to a column I wrote for Swerb’s Blurbs justifying rooting for the Browns to lose the final two games of the season, John Hnat asks, “Does drafting higher, particularly at the top of the draft, improve a team’s chances of winning?

He says drafting higher does not improve a team’s chances of winning and he grounds his argument on three claims:

1) That drafting players is too difficult to ensure that a high draft pick means drafting a good player.

2) That drafting higher means paying more money, which hinders a team, particularly given that the compensation for the top picks is substantially larger than the compensation for lower picks.

3) That the money paid to top picks is critical given the NFL salary cap.

I do not take issue with the grounds upon which Mr. Hnat bases his argument. I think that drafting players is an inexact science, that drafting higher means paying more, and that the money paid to top picks is critical given the salary cap. These are largely uncontroversial claims.

But I do not agree that drafting higher does not improve a team’s chances of winning. A few points:

*Drafting players is indeed an inexact science (to wit: the Browns recent draft history), but a quick scan of the MVP list reveals that top picks become future MVPs at an exceedingly higher rate than players drafted in any other contiguous group. A team is far more likely to draft a future MVP if that team drafts in the top three. If we assume that MVPs are both good players and help their teams win, then the likelihood of a player becoming an MVP is an adequate standard for measuring whether drafting higher can lead to drafting good players. By and large, better players go higher in the draft. The science might be inexact over the entire course of the draft, but the best players tend to be drafted where you would expect the best players to be drafted.

For more evidence, look at this year’s Pro Bowl rosters. There are far more first-round draft picks than there are picks from the other rounds combined, and of the first round draft picks a disproportionate number were top-five picks. This is even more impressive when you consider that the success of one’s team influences the likelihood of making the Pro Bowl and players drafted higher are drafted to better teams. The top-five players were all drafted by bottom-five teams, and yet they are in the Pro Bowl and of these players only Andre Johnson (Texans) and Chris Samuels (Redskins) play for teams that definitely won’t be making the playoffs. This is not a counterargument to Mr. Hnats claim that the draft is inexact so much as a reason to believe that drafting highest (not necessarily higher) does help teams win (since MVPs and Pro Bowlers come predominantly from winning teams and winning teams don’t usually draft very high).

*Playing for a good team is evidence Mr. Hnat uses in his article to further his argument. He writes:

Another way to look at the issue is by asking the question: how many top picks have led their teams to the Super Bowl? From 1999-2005, of the 35 players drafted in the first five slots, three (McNabb, Jamal Lewis, and Julius Peppers) have played in a Super Bowl for the team that drafted them. By contrast, in that same period, no fewer than six of the 25 players drafted in spots 11 through 15 helped their teams get to the big game..

Mr. Hnat is quick to point out that this evidence might be flimsy, and I agree, but for a different reason: Good teams draft lower, so it should be no surprise that team that drafted 11-15 drafted more players that went on to play in the Super Bowl in the last six years than teams that drafted in the top five. My guess is that players drafted 21-25 played in as many Super Bowls as those drafted 11-15, if not more, simply because they were drafted by better teams. It’s also worth noting that there are a lot of journeymen players who get picked up by good teams and stumble into the Super Bowl. Saying that a player is good just because he’s played in a championship game is kind of silly (this seems to be the general thrust of Mr. Hnat’s example). So “number of Super Bowls played in” is a fairly weak criterion for determining the productivity of a player.

*Higher draft picks are paid more, and the first and fourth and ninth and thirteenth draft picks in 2007 will be paid more than their 2006 or 2005 counterparts. But the salary cap in 2007 will be higher than it was in 2006, and as long as the cap grows at the same rate as contracts (I don’t know if it does) then the amount paid to a high draft picks from year to year doesn’t matter (well, it matters to owners). What matters is not the absolute amount of money paid to these players but the percentage of the salary cap paid to them. If higher draft picks are in each year paid a higher share of the salary cap, well, that would be a really good argument against really high draft picks (or more specifically, paying really high draft picks more and more money).

That said, the only money that definitely counts against the salary cap is the guaranteed money. Contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed so if a draft pick turns out the be a bust the team has the option of cutting him without paying the rest he’s owed on his contract. The only money he’s due is his signing bonus. So if Player A is drafted second and signs a $30 million contract and Player B is drafted eighth and signs a $23 million contract, it’s as crucial (if not more crucial) to look at the guaranteed money as it is to look at the whole sum due to the players. If Player A is only guaranteed $6 million while Player B is guaranteed $21 million, Player A is probably more financially attractive to his team. Whole sums don’t tell the whole story.

Again, I would return to the example of last year’s draft. The difference in guaranteed money last year between D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the fourth draft pick, and Donte Whitner, the eighth, was only four million dollars. This is the range of draft picks the Browns are playing for. Is a difference in four draft spots worth four million dollars? I don’t know, but when the salary cap is above $100 million four million dollars doesn’t seem too large a price to pay.

*Particularly this year. This draft class is deep. There are a number of big names (Quinn, Thomas, Johnson, Peterson, et al.) who many teams will be dying to take. Which brings me around to my final point regarding the draft: the Browns can always trade down. If the Browns secure the fourth pick there is no dictate requiring them to draft a player and then pay him the sort of money the fourth pick demands. The Browns could get the twelth pick Mr. Hnat would prefer, plus another second round pick, say, or a late first round pick. On a team with as many holes as the Browns — and given that the draft is an inexact science — having many, many picks sounds like a good idea. The prospect of having many, many picks increases the higher the Browns start in the draft. It’s hard to role a mid-round pick into a nice collection of lower picks, but the fourth pick in a really deep draft, well, rolling that into a nice collection of lower picks is not an impossible task. In this year’s draft there is no reason to think that the Browns would be better off with a lower pick.

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To return to my article, I would like to make explicit my two (primary) arguments. First, the Browns ought to play the last two games of the season with an eye towards next season. Fellow Blurbs blogger Steve Buffum would liken it to September call-ups in baseball. You give a number of rookies a chance to play even though they might not be the best players to play if you want to win. Teams out of the playoff running, like the Royals or Marlins, probably finish with worse records for doing this than they might otherwise, but in the long term teams gain valuable insight on who can play, who can’t, and what must be addressed in the off season.

Second, rooting for your team to lose one or two games is not antithetical to being a fan. From time to time there are circumstances under which hoping your team loses makes sense, like when losing means the greater possibility of going further in the playoffs. Such was the case in the Clippers-Grizzlies game, and I would argue that the Clippers-Grizzlies game is somewhat analogous to the position the Browns are in right now. The difference in the Clippers-Grizzlies example is that losing would provide one team immediate gains — a better chance in the playoffs. The Browns losing does not provide immediate gains, but there is reason to believe that the team will be better in the long run if they do.

So I would rather see the Browns with the 4th draft pick and a final record of 4-12 than the 9th draft pick and a final record of 6-10, but I am only half-serious when I say that they should tank. I want them to lose, but I’d have a problem if they didn’t do everything possible to improve the chances of winning next season in the final two games of this season. Tanking would fall into that category. I think the team should play all the players they are unsure of (like Anderson) to get as good a look as possible at what these players might offer the team in the future. Playing these guys probably means losing, but I have no problem with this. Losing is the by-product under this scenario rather than the aim.

UPDATE: Derik Anderson is starting Sunday against the Bucs.

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