Live podcast announcement: Enter the Pizza Cave

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Tomorrow morning, I will be joining the Pizza Cave Podcast, hosted by legendary Southeast Michigan restaurateur-podcaster Fredi the Pizzaman, live at 8:30 am Eastern to pick NFL, college football, and baseball games. Although you can listen to it later on, keep in mind that this is a live podcast, meaning that you can stream it as it’s being recorded, which I recommend.

Tune in Saturday morning at 8:30 by clicking here to listen live or check out the archives later on.

Catching Fire: Cabrera leads by example

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In an odd way, it’s tough to find an excuse to write about Miguel Cabrera in a season series like this one, because he’s so consistently good that, within his own context, his day-to-day achievements don’t stand out. If, from a coverage perspective, the greats miss out on talent-correlated attention during the season, though, they tend to make up for it during the big moments, like playoff races and the postseason.

The Detroit Tigers are in the final countdown for the 2016 season. Monday was their last off-day until the season ends on October 2. Their playoff odds have tumbled, but they’ve managed to keep pace at about two games back of the second AL wild card spot, meaning that their postseason hopes remain very much alive. The reason those playoff odds are low, though, is because they’re running out of time. Every remaining game is of critical importance, and while the Tigers really need to win each of these games (or, at least, a vast majority of them), even doing that won’t guarantee a playoff berth unless the teams ahead of them falter.

Cabrera knew the stakes last night, during the team’s first game of this crucial final stretch. Detroit already was missing two of its biggest bats– Cabrera’s Venezuelan countryman Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler, also an important vocal leader– due to a brutal triple HBP run by Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer (Cabrera also was a victim) in a costly win on Sunday, which meant Cabrera would need to shoulder even more of the offensive load than usual.

In the fourth inning, leading by a slim 1-0 margin, Cabrera decided to manufacture a run essentially all by himself, and not by way of a snappy home run blast. First, he stretched his single into a double; then advanced to third on a dangerously shallow fly-out; and, finally and amazingly, scored from there on an infield hit to the third baseman. Cabrera’s Billy Hamilton impression is one of the most impressive baseball moments I’ve seen this year (here’s the video), and he delivered it for the benefit of his teammates at the perfect moment. While it’s impossible to say whether the team’s subsequent offensive breakout– they ended up winning 8-1, with Cabrera also contributing a two-run homer– came as a result of this moment or the team simply (finally) catching up to bad Minnesota pitching, Cabrera’s baserunning in the fourth, which resulted in what ultimately proved to be the winning run, sent an unmistakable message to his teammates.   Continue reading

Carson Palmer, NFL record books in context

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At thirty-six years old, Carson Palmer is the second-oldest quarterback to throw a pass in the 2016 NFL season. In last week’s game against Tampa Bay, the Cardinals signal-caller threw thirty-one passes, completing eighteen of them for 308 yards, bringing his career total to 40,615.

Schrags is right: here’s Palmer right up there on the all-time list, ahead of both Unitas and Montana.

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It’s tough to write successful biographies while the subject still is alive, and it’s tough to evaluate the legacies of athletes while they still are playing, but you can be forgiven if you think Palmer might not quite belong in the company of Montana and Unitas.

The NFL has changed a lot since Montana was leaving his championship mark on the sport, and it’s changed even more since Unitas made waves simply by wearing hightops in a game. In short, the 40,000 passing yards threshold isn’t what it used to be, and the modern game is so different from prior eras that comments like Schrager’s, above, say more about those broad, sport-wide changes than they do about any individual achievements. Any longer, it simply isn’t helpful to our understanding of professional football and its players’ achievements to compare, for example, quarterback career passing yard totals.

A better way to understand how Palmer’s career achievement stacks up against those of Montana and Unitas is to contextualize it so we can better appreciate what it means for Palmer to have thrown for more than 40,000 yards in his NFL environment as compared to what it meant for Montana and Unitas to throw for over 40,000 yards in their NFL environments. Continue reading

A False Narrative Anywhere is a Threat to Truth Everywhere

As a first-time blogger here on ALDLAND, with hopes of semi-regular future contributions and an eye towards establishing a reputation for taking on the most popular burning questions of the day, my topic essentially selected itself.  Obviously, I’m compelled to address the issue that is certainly on the minds even of casual fans – the media portrayal of Georgia Tech’s struggles with third and long.  I know, I know, you are probably thinking that is a rather ambitious topic, but hear me out.

If you have watched any Georgia Tech games recently, or in the past 8 years, you have almost certainly heard the television commentators’ familiar refrain whenever Paul Johnson’s option offense gets off schedule.  “This offense isn’t really built for this.”  “This is not where Georgia Tech likes to be.” “Paul Johnson has a good offense, but here is the weakness.” Or my favorite, “they really need to be in third and manageable.”

Odds are, most of you have not watched many, or any, Georgia Tech games.  And those of you who have probably haven’t noticed these comments or paid them much attention.  The few of you who have noticed presumably nodded in relatively indifferent agreement, quickly moving on and largely forgetting the idea.  Meaning, it is just us die hard Georgia Tech fans who care enough to object, and believe me, the twelve of us can get pretty irked.  Downright inflamed at times. 

If you’ve already stopped reading, I urge you to continue.  I know, thus far, I have given you no reason to do so, but there is a chance I will successfully make a worthwhile point eventually.  Anyway, without further ado, here are the numbers from ACC teams since Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech in 2008.  These are compiled from cfbstats.com, and, for a fair and accurate if barely scientific comparison, only examine the 11 teams that have been in the ACC during this entire period.

3rd and 7 or More, All Plays

3rd and 7 or More, Passing Only

3rd and 10 or More, All Plays

3rd and 10 or More, Passing Only

Boston College

11th – 22.73%

11th – 25.49%

10th – 19.00%

11th – 22.34%

Clemson

4th – 30.49%

4th – 36.46%

5th – 22.92%

4th – 28.41%

Duke

7th – 28.61%

8th – 31.72%

6th – 22.40%

8th – 25.33%

Florida State

1st – 34.8%

1st – 42.48%

1st – 30.65%

1st – 41.22%

Georgia Tech

2nd – 32.7%

3rd – 36.92%

2nd – 27.59%

3rd – 31.84%

Miami

8th – 27.81%

7th – 32.14%

7th – 22.13%

6th – 26.48%

North Carolina

6th – 29.00%

5th – 34.34%

11th – 18.72%

9th – 23.37%

NC State

5th – 30.00%

6th – 33.09%

4th – 24.24%

5th – 26.86%

Virginia

9th – 26.42%

9th – 30.63%

9th – 19.21%

10th – 23.03%

Virginia Tech

3rd – 30.88%

2nd – 37.73%

3rd – 27.09%

2nd – 34.62%

Wake Forest

10th – 25.81%

10th – 30.44%

8th – 21.49%

7th – 26.40%

As you can see, Georgia Tech is among the best in the ACC at third and long.  Actually, Georgia Tech is even better than the chart shows, because in addition to being good at converting third and long, Paul Johnson’s offense is excellent at avoiding it.  This is important because, as the numbers illustrate, nobody converts third and long very often.  Georgia Tech faces third and seven or longer just under 8% of all plays, while the conference average is just over 10%.  Georgia Tech faces third and ten yards or longer just 4.4% of all plays, while the conference average is 5.69%.  Georgia Tech is first in the ACC in both categories.  Continue reading

Belated welcome to the 2016 NFL season

We probably aren’t going to have weekly wrapups this season, but I am kicking myself for forgetting to post this 2016 NFL season introduction. Even though Week 1’s already in the books (go Lions), this is too good not to share:

Continue reading

Braves finally strike a positive note in move to new stadium

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My opposition to the Atlanta Braves’ departure from their downtown home in Turner Field is well-documented in these digital pages, and it’s unlikely that we’ll make it to many games once the team moves to the corner of I-75 and I-285 (not exactly Michigan and Trumbull or 1060 West Addison). In the event we do hack our way through the asphalt jungle and make it to Cobb County, though, there’s good news. No, the team’s not likely to be much better next year, but at least Turner Field organist Matthew Kaminsky will be joining the Braves’ suburban exodus.

I didn’t know his name back then, but I remember Kaminsky’s work from my first Braves game, back in 2013. I even wrote about him here, in my post about that game:

It was good that we were closer to the game, too, because the Royals and Braves, who were off on Monday, were celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson day by having everyone wear uniform number 42 in his honor. This made it difficult to keep track of the players, particularly hitters and pitchers, a difficulty the apparent lack of an active stadium announcer compounded. Swinging hard in the other direction, though, was the overly detailed digital scoreboard in straightaway center that had almost too much information on it to be readily intelligible. Mitigating all of this, thankfully, was an organ player who kept the whole scene loose and made me smile by playing his or her own version of “Call Me Al” every time K.C.’s Alcides Escobar came up to bat.

Kaminsky’s signature is his musical puns or references played for the opposing batters’ walk-up songs, creating a fun game within the game for fans trying to follow his thought process. Other memorable selections include “Take Five,” a Dave Brubeck recording composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond, for Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, and various fish-related songs for Angels outfielder Mike Trout.

Kaminsky was a guest on a recent episode of The Ringer’s MLB podcast, hosted by Ben Lindbergh, which you can stream below. He discusses how he first was hired for the job; how he prepares for, envisions, and executes his role during games; and the particular musical equipment he uses. As mentioned above, he also discloses the news that he will be a part of games at the Braves’ new park next year, and that, as part of the move, the team will be supplying him with a real organ.

The segment with Kaminsky begins at roughly the halfway point, and is preceded by a Statcast conversation with Daren Willman (Baseball Savant) and Tom Tango (The Book) that also may be of some interest.

Kaminsky, who also plays for college teams (including Georgia Tech, Georgia, and Auburn), performs in a salsa band and a jazz band, and teaches music, takes suggestions for his baseball selections on Twitter.

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Previously
The political costs of a new baseball stadium
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Mercer favored over Georgia Tech in Honey Bowl XVI

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Bears like honey. Bees like honey. Tomorrow afternoon, Mercer and Georgia Tech will face off for the sixteenth time in the history of their in-state rivalry, and it already looks like the Baptists have beat the nerds at their own game. According to a just-released computer model, Mercer will prevail over Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium tomorrow by a 22-17 margin. A surprising result, most probably would agree, but a Mercer victory would not be unprecedented. In 1892, Georgia Tech opened its inaugural football season with a road loss to the Bears in Macon. The Yellowjackets won thirteen of the teams’ next fourteen matchups (the 1896 game in Atlanta ended in a tie), but they haven’t played each other since 1938 (Mercer’s football program was dormant between 1942 and 2012), so that 1892 game likely will loom large in the minds of both schools’ players.

Two other game notes: Bears coach Bobby Lamb has his own history of success against the Jackets, extending back to his days as a quarterback at Furman, and Tech will be without two of its running backs, who are suspended for team-rules violations.

ALDLAND will be live at this game, which kicks off at 3:00 tomorrow on the ACC Network.

Catching Fire: It Don’t Come Easy

With just under a month remaining in the 2016 MLB season, this is a good time to take stock of the Detroit Tigers and some of their key players.

Team Playoff Odds

Today, the team sits 5.5 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central, and one game out of the second AL wild card spot, behind Boston and Baltimore. At this point, the division likely is out of reach, but the wild card is in play. Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have moved in and out of the second wild card position, and, although it’s served them well to this point, the Orioles’ volatile combination of bad starting pitching and overreliance on home runs is subject to collapse at any moment.

Three sites– Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and FiveThirtyEight– take varying stances on spaces and the capitalization of letters in their names, but all three provide MLB playoff odds for every team. These represent the percent chance, based on to-date performance, that a given team will make the playoffs. Here’s how the Tigers’ playoff chances look today:   Continue reading

Swansongs, Vol. 2

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The first entry in this series featured a three-pack of defensive highlights from Atlanta Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. This series, like this website, is all about the hits, though, and now we’ve got one of those to share, in the form of Swanson’s first career MLB home run, which he hit last night in Washington.

For his first big-league four-bagger, Swanson made like fellow SEC-man James McCann and earned it the hard way. Video evidence of his inside-the-parker is here. Statcast’s breakdown video is available here. The humans who monitor that robotical statistical machine also posted this nugget:

Here’s another nugget from a non-robot-subservient human:

Call it a long-distance runaround? Yes.

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Previously
Swansongs, Vol. 1

USC vs. Alabama: Preview and Historical Analysis

In what likely is the marquee matchup of the 2016 college football season’s opening week, no. 20 USC and #1 Alabama will face off in Jerryworld. The game is tomorrow at 8:00 on ABC. Southern Cal is searching for a post-Hollywood identity, while Alabama has yet to identify its starting quarterback.

For further analysis, this historical footage of the two schools’ 1980 tilt should prove illuminating: