Monday, August 31, 2009

If Joe Mauer Doesn't Win MVP, I Will Be Slightly Peeved for a Couple of Days

Like any self respecting Twins fan, I have a big old man-crush on catcher Joe Mauer. No, it's not just his boyish good looks, those darling sideburns, and his Minnesota nice charm. It has (slightly) more to do with his brilliance on the baseball diamond. This year Mauer is treading historical territory - he's hitting a ridiculous .368/.436/.615 playing the most demanding position defensively. Only Mike Piazza has come close to putting up these types of numbers as a catcher. It's no stretch to say that Mauer is not just having the best season ever by a catcher, but arguably one of the greatest seasons of all-time by any player.

All this being said, it appears that Mauer may get screwed out of another MVP. He arguably should have won last year and clearly should have won in 2006 over teammate Justin Morneau. This year is the biggest slam dunk choice yet. Mauer has almost singlehandedly kept the Twins afloat in the division and is leading the league in on base percentage (the most important stat in baseball probably) and slugging percentage. Oh, and he's a catcher.

Unfortunately, the one thing that Mauer isn't leading the league in is RBIs (runs batted in). Now I could write at least 9-10 blog entries about how terrible RBIs are and why anyone who cites them as an important baseball statistic should probably die in some way involving flame (and I just might if I continue to run out of ideas). It really does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that RBIs are determined largely by the players around you - you can't drive in runs if there's nobody on base. Justin Morneau racks up the RBIs in large part because he has the guy leading the league in on base percentage batting in front of him.

Seems pretty simple right? Unfortunately, our friends in the sports media aren't exactly the brightest crayons in the Crayola 64 box. Every year more deserving candidates are overlooked for the player who racked up a ton of RBIs and home runs. Positional value is rarely ever accounted for, which is why someone like Morneau wins over someone like Mauer. Defense is basically ignored entirely, even though teams like the Rays have proven that defense has a huge part in winning baseball games. They also almost always give it to a guy on a playoff team, using the old "if he didn't get his team to the playoffs, how valuable could he be?" argument. As if somehow Joe Mauer is to blame for Alexi Casilla, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto hitting like little girls in their first tee-ball game.

This year the de facto big RBI slugger on a winning team candidate is Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is not even close to Mauer in any statistics except home runs and RBIs and plays first base, the easiest position to find a good hitter at. However, he has those RBIs, and he has the storyline of "solidifying the Yankees infield" and helping them turn from a bad team last year into the AL East champs this year. Never mind that they added CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett to their rotation and are getting career years out of Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon -- in the media's eyes, it's all about Tex, and how he turned everything around singlehandedly. I won't even bring up the fact that Teixeira plays in the new Yankee Stadium, where I could probably hit a home run if I tried long enough (for reference I had one extra base hit in little league past age 8).

The fact that Teixeira's name (or anyone's really) is being brought in an AL MVP discussion versus Joe Mauer is absurd. Mauer missed a month of the season and has still been way more valuable than Teixeira or anyone else in baseball most likely. Unfortunately when the inevitable arguments begin on Baseball Tonight etc, we're just as likely to hear the analysts suggest that Teixeria or Kevin Youkilis deserve the MVP over Mauer. Believe it or not, these people are paid to analyze baseball and yet will likely get this simple fact wrong. I'm expecting the worst, but if Mauer doesn't win MVP I'm still going to be slightly angry, and may even not have my usual smiling and happy exterior the next couple of days. Now you know why.

Don't Look Back in Anger: A Tribute to Oasis (Pretty clever title, no?)

Yes, almost legendary britpop band Oasis broke up a few days ago. Led by the notoriously erratic Gallagher brothers, they rocketed to the top of the music world with their first two CDs, Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? in the mid 90s. When the Gallagher brothers weren't proclaiming they were the best thing since the Beatles or hoping that rival band Blur would "catch AIDS and die" they were usually fighting with each other and/or doing copious amounts of narcotics (listen to Be Here Now if you don't believe me). Their rampant fighting and self-indulgence caused them to release a steady stream of mediocre music the rest of their careers and finally led to their inevitable demise.

Oasis is a weird band for me. I've liked their music for a long time and think their first two albums are pretty spectacular, but they don't fit in as much with my current tastes since I became an indie rock hipster that is obsessed with female vocalists. Oasis wasn't original - in fact, a lot of their music could almost be considered plagiarism, such as the opening chords to "Don't Look back in Anger" which are ripped straight from "Imagine". Their lyrics often made no sense on any level. Both of the brothers were unmistakably enormous jerks who craved fame beyond anything.

I think what made Oasis great is that the band never tried to hide any of these facts. They didn't act like the lyrics to their songs were amazing or anything, and they were pretty up front about how much of their music was "borrowed" from The Beatles and other groups from the 60s. The brothers and the band had an over the top charm that made them extremely likable, even when they were saying horrible things to the media or smashing glass bottles over each others heads. They seemed like ordinary guys that just wanted to make fun music for people to listen to, and I think that is what got them so big in Britain and a little bit in the US.

There's also no denying how great some of their songs were. "Wonderwall" was a classic before every emo kid who picked up a guitar began playing it for his girlfriend. "Live Forever" will, well, live forever. "Don't Look Back in Anger" has one of the best sing-along choruses and an awesome guitar solo. "Champagne Supernova" is one of the anthems of the 90s, even with the incoherent lyrics. Oasis will certainly be remembered for these songs more than their squabbles and the crappy albums that followed them.

So even though their Wikipedia article reads like an entertaining episode of "Behind the Music", I think Oasis will be remembered for the right reasons. Of course, this probably isn't the end of the band forever, but they'll never come close to what they did on their first two albums. Then again, who will?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top Chef Returns!

The best cooking reality show on TV returns tonight, as a full new slate of cheftestants (don't you just love that word?) battle in Las Vegas for 250,000 dollars and a whole lot of Glad Ware. I fully expect there to be lots of drama, some cooking, and a few awkward moments between Tom Colicchio and the token gay contestants. Overall, this expects to be the strongest season of Top Chef yet.

The other entertaining aspect of Top Chef is seeing how low they can go when it comes to shameless product placements. Last year we experienced the Dr. Pepper Quickfire and the Quaker Oats Challenge intermingled with close up shots of Glad Ware and Monogram ovens. However, possibly the lowest point came when eventual winner Hosea Rosenberg talked to his father who had cancer, and we were treated to a close up shot of the new T-Mobile Sidekick he was talking on. Can Top Chef possibly go any lower? I don't doubt that they can, but we will have to watch to find out.

Short entry, but I'll probably write more after I watch the first episode. I'm very disproportionately excited for this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favre Signs with Vikings -- Let the Fun Begin

News just broke that the Vikings have signed Brett Favre to a one year contract. Yes, it actually happened. The idea of Favre in a Vikings uniform has been a divisive one amongst Vikings fans -- on one hand Favre is a hall of famer, on the other hand he's completely washed up and a total egomaniac who is clearly only returning for selfish reasons so he can get his petty revenge on the team that done him wrong, the Green Bay Packers.

Now I don't think Favre is a very good QB anymore, and might not even be better than Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson. Paying him 10-12 million dollars is an absurd contract that could potentially hamper the team this season. There's a pretty good chance Favre's "just having fun out there" attitude completely throws the Vikings season in the toilet. All this being said, I love this move. Love it love it love it.

Because in case Vikings fans haven't noticed, Brad Childress is our head coach. Yes, Brad Childress, the guy who calls a timeout to consider whether he should challenge a play. The guy whose favorite play is a 2 yard screen to a 260 pound fullback who runs a 5.5 40 yard dash. The guy who still sticks with an embarrassing zone blocking scheme that looks like it was drawn up by a 3rd grader. The guy who I'm pretty sure is a pedophile. That man is our head coach ladies and gentlemen, and anyone who thought we were going to win a Super Bowl with this idiot at the helm is out of their mind.

Which brings us back to Favre, and why this is such a great move. Here are basically the only two scenarios that can happen:

A) Favre returns to his former glory and leads the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Vikings fans everywhere rejoice.

B) Favre is a bust, the Vikings season is a failure (Anything other than the Super Bowl is really) and Brad Childress gets fired 0.5 seconds after the season ends. Vikings fans everywhere rejoice.

Notice how each scenario ends with "Vikings fans everywhere rejoice"? This is a win/win deal folks. We either win a Super Bowl with Favre, or Childress finally gets canned and the team can hire a competent coach who can maybe get us somewhere. The Vikings have nothing to lose in this deal and everything to gain.

Additionally, Favre will make all Vikings games must-see TV. His propensity for interceptions, Adrian Peterson's amazing playmaking ability combined with severe fumbleitis, and Percy Harvin's explosive talent combined with the IQ of a brick makes the Vikings offense by far the most entertaining in the NFL. Sure, some of the games may be frustrating, but if you detatch yourselves from the proceedings you will see how wildly entertaining Vikings games are with Favre at the helm.

So I say just strap yourselves in and go along for the ride. It's going to be a blast.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 Fantasy Football Preview

The NFL preseason kicked off yesterday, which means it's time for people to start thinking about everyone's favorite pseudo strategy game -- fantasy football. Yes, it is almost time for cheering against the running back that is playing against your own home team, hoping for various star players to get injured, and watching mid-season games between the Lions and 49ers with sweaty palms. Fantasy football offers every fan to be a football general manager. Well not really, but it's kind of fun I guess.

I'm coming off a strong fantasy season last year, when I showed my fantasy expertise by picking Tom Brady in the first round and then replaced him by trading for Carson Palmer. I think I've done enough research to at least duplicate that showing this year, and maybe even improve on it. Here are some fantasy tips that should help you in the upcoming season:

- Defense wins championships -- make sure to draft a defense/special teams unit in the first round.

- To try to find sleepers in the middle to late rounds, look for players who have struggled their entire careers and thus have something to prove. I've heard that Vince Young has come to Titans camp rejuvenated and focused, and is certainly worth a pick somewhere around the 6th or 7th round.

- Make sure to avoid prima donna players like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. While they may get a lot of yards and touchdowns, they'll disrupt locker room chemistry and eventually tear your team apart.

- It's no secret that the success of a running back is highly tied to the play of his offensive line. Draft a left tackle in the first round and then pick up the backs later.

- If a wide receiver puts up 60 or more yards week one and is available on the waiver wire, make sure to pick him up. It is almost certain he will maintain that production the entire season.

- To easily follow your fantasy players, get 12 TVs and NFL Sunday Ticket from Direct TV. If you stack them on top of each other you maximize your football viewing time and get the full fantasy experience.

- Make good use of the "handcuff" strategy of backing up one of your top players with a similar player who is currently in jail. Plaxico Burress maybe?

- To lighten up the mood on draft day, steal jokes from that ESPN fantasy ad such as "TJ Who'syomama" or take Adrian Peterson from the Chicago Bears in the last round and say "HEY I JUST GOT ADRIAN PETERSON." These jokes never get old, and your comrades will greatly appreciate the humor.

- Remember the rule of 370 -- don't take any running back that weighs more than 370 pounds. They will be likely see a significant decline in their performance.

- If your first round pick tears his ACL in the first game of the season... well, you're screwed. I can't really help you here.

- When trying to fire up your team on gameday, I find an inspired, Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday type speech usually does the trick. Remember, these players won't perform to their fullest unless you motivate them for your cause.

- If you draft Brett Favre, be prepared for the media circus that will ensue. He also likely won't show up for your team's training camp.

- Make sure to draft players that aren't gunshot prone.

You're welcome for the tips, and good luck in your upcoming fantasy drafts!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Don't Wear Jeans

By now most people are aware that I am insanely anti-conformist -- and not in the cool way. While the right amount of anti-conformity can be edgy and hip, I take it way too far to the point that it becomes ridiculous and actually kind of sad. In my highly liberal Jewish middle school I supported George W. Bush just to piss off my classmates. I wrote a paper in high school about how being in a soma universe would actually be kind of fun. I wrote another paper about how John Proctor from The Crucible wasn't a hero, but actually kind of an idiot. Basically, if there is a logical view-point that a vast majority of people agree with, I will almost always go the opposite way, often for no reason other than to be different.

This phenomenon best manifests itself in my disdain for jeans. Yes, jeans. You know, those comfortable pants that look good, are affordable, durable, and require fairly infrequent cleaning? I don't wear them. I can usually be seen wearing my usual cargo pants, with tons of pockets that I almost never use for anything.

I imagine most people who have met me have wondered why I don't just put some jeans on. They may even occasionally wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering "why doesn't Josh wear jeans?! THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE AND USEFUL." Well, another layer of mystery is about to be removed. Hopefully now you will sleep well.

Like a lot of things I dislike, the reason I don't wear jeans mostly comes down to their popularity. They're a good product that clearly a lot of people enjoy -- and that's the problem. The truth is, anything that is as popular as jeans are kind of freaks me out a bit. It makes me think that we're all close to becoming clones that all dress and act the same. I also don't really think people are particularly smart, so when the majority of the population accepts something, I automatically assume that it is wrong. This is the way my mind works, unfortunately.

The other issue is that I have pretty much lost my chance to ever be a jeans wearer. If I, at age 19, were suddenly to show up wearing jeans for the first time in my life, it would be a pretty wild scene. I can't imagine myself ever wearing jeans, and I doubt anyone else can either. That ship has sailed. It'd be like the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer finally puts on jeans, and all of his friends just laugh at him. I might as well show up with an eye patch or a monocle if I'm going to suddenly start wearing jeans now.

So now I don't wear jeans. Forever. I have made my decision, and now must live with the consequences. Fortunately, I don't think I'm missing out on anything too awesome. And when the entire jeans wearing world have become mindless drones enslaved by an evil race of aliens, I'll be standing on the side with my cargo pants on, laughing at everyone as one of our new alien overlords hands me a whip and welcome me as one of their own. Then we will see who is laughing. Or not, I don't really know what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Popular Things I Hate: Family Guy (Part One of a 5,000 Part Series)

A cursory glance at my "favorite TV shows" section of my profile will reveal a potentially shocking omission: Family Guy is conspicuously absent from the list, making me possibly the only college aged male who doesn't list it. Is that a mistake? Was I in a hurry and just forgot to mention Family Guy? Did I just figure that a 19 year old male liking Family Guy was assumed and feel it was unnecessary to even bother listing it? Nope. It was no accident. Believe it or not, I actually hate Family Guy.

In fact, hate may be a severe understatement. I do not just hate Family Guy -- I loathe it with every fiber of my being. While things like getting good grades and making friends don't really elicit strong emotions from me, just thinking about Family Guy makes me incredibly angry. If the punishment for getting a C in high school was being forced to sit through every episode of Family Guy, it's possible that I would be at Harvard right now.

But what exactly is my problem with Family Guy? Well, there are so many that I could probably get at least a week's worth of entries out of it. But let's start with the obvious: Family Guy is a sad, pathetic ripoff of The Simpsons. Peter Griffin basically is Homer Simpson, except much less funny. Even the Family Guy style of humor involving frequent flashbacks is completely stolen from early Simpsons episodes.

Unfortunately, Family Guy isn't even able to be a good Simpsons knock-off. The things that make The Simpsons great like satire and character depth are noticably absent, instead being replaced by a barrage of sophomoric humor aimed at the ADD generation. While an ending of a Simpsons episode could make you laugh and cry at the same time, the end of a typical Family Guy episode usually makes you wonder if network TV can possibly go any lower. While Homer Simpson is mostly a likable goof, Peter Griffin is a hateful, one dimensional slob. While The Simpsons aims high and usually has intelligent social commentary, Family Guy has a talking dog and an evil baby. To be blunt, Family Guy is The Simpsons for people that are too stupid to get The Simpsons.

There is also nothing more pathetic than when Family Guy attempts a "controversial" episode. Any TV show that goes out of its way to try be controversial is almost guaranteed to be terrible. Shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and South Park were able to be controversial and tackle taboo issues, but it always felt organic. When Family Guy does it, it feels kind of like that teen soap opera that shows two girls kissing and acts like it's a huge deal -- when about 900 shows have done the same thing. Like most of the things on the show, Family Guy's attempts at controversy are not even remotely original or funny, and usually have the subtlety of a guy getting mauled by a rhinoceros.

After all this is when Family Guy supporters usually the bust out the "whatever, it's subjective and I find it funny" card. That's cool, but to be honest, this many people finding Family Guy funny makes me sincerely worry about the future of human civilization. There is absolutely no universe in which Family Guy is ever better than The Simpsons, or pretty much every other animated show ever made. When people say they prefer Family Guy to The Simpsons, it makes me question whether this is a person I can ever have a meaningful, constructive conversation with.

Quite frankly, the success of this show boggles my mind. I consider myself an intelligent person who can usually look at things objectively and see what appeals to people, but Family Guy has left me questioning everything. Perhaps I'm naive to think that people like stuff because it has artistic merit, and not because it has a lot of funny fat jokes and AIDS jokes. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong for thinking that people should seek out original shows that actually challenge the viewer instead of an unoriginal show that offers crass humor that is sure to be understood by anyone with an IQ over 50. Or maybe I'm the only sane person in this crazy world we live in.

Whatever. I'm going to go watch some Simpsons DVDs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Analyzing the MLB Trade Deadline in a Nerdy, Inaccessible Fashion

The trade deadline has come and gone, with a decent amount of high profile players changing into different uniforms. However, many people are still unsure what to make of all the wheeling and dealing. If only someone would look at these deals and arbitrarily award a team a winner or a loser before any of the prospects pan out or the players play more than three games with their new teams! There is no need to fear ladies and gentlemen, it's 2 AM and I'm really bored, so I am your man. Turn off ESPN, those guys in suits don't know what they're talking about.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on some of the bigger deals:

The Padres trade Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell.

I think the Padres destroyed the Sox in this deal. Of course most people are still in "OMG JAKE PEAVY" mode and are ignoring that the White Sox gave up tons of players from their farm system, including top prospect Poreda and Richard, who is already producing in the majors.

A bigger issue I have is with Peavy, the centerpiece of the deal. For one thing he is currently on the DL and has injury problems, and is unlikely to pitch until September. The other issue is that, to put it bluntly, Peavy is just plain overrated.

Peavy has spent his entire career playing in a weak division in a weak league and in Petco Park, the best pitcher's park in baseball. In his career at home, Peavy matches his Cy Young reputation with a 2.83 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Away from Petco? Peavy has a merely solid 3.84 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. When you factor in that Peavy is going to be facing tougher hitters in a new park that favors offense, it's possible that the Sox traded all this for an average 4.00-4.20 ERA starter, and that's not even factoring in his many injury issues. Not exactly worth all those prospects, or Peavy's massive contract.

The Mariners trade Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles

This is another AL Central deal that got a lot of hype, as the Tigers added a solid starting pitcher in Washburn. Looking at Washburn's stats for this season, one would think this was a tremendous coup for the Tigers, when in reality it's not quite that good.

Washburn is so far having the best season of his career, with a superb 2.64 ERA. Unfortunately the Tigers, it looks like things are about to change. For one thing his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is a much more Washburn-like 3.75, so his ERA is already nearly certain to regress a decent amount.

Also working against Washburn is that he will no longer have the best outfield defense in the majors behind him. Much of his strong ERA was because of the great work of his team defensively, particularly Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. Moving to a team with a worse outfield defense (hello Magglio Ordonez), you can expect Washburn's ERA to drop further.

Wasburn's projection for the rest of the season is a 4.50 ERA according to the ZIPS projection system. The Tigers didn't give up that much in the deal so it's still a good trade for them, just not as good as it may look on first glance.

The Twins trade Tyler Ladendorf to the A's for Orlando Cabrera

Time for the obligatory Twins analysis. This is another in a long string of pointless moves made by the Twins, with the intention of making fans think they're busy and actually trying to improve the team.

Cabrera has historically been a decent player, but this year his defense has gone bad (this could be a small sample size, but since he's 34 it's a definite possibility) and he's continued to suck at the plate. While he hits for a decent .280 average, he never walks (a dismal .318 on base percentage) and doesn't hit for much power (.365 slugging percentage). Those are just this year's statistics though, and it's possible Cabrera rebounds to something more like his career .274/.322/.397 line. That's still not particularly good.

For the Twins, Cabrera certainly represents an upgrade over Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. Then again, so does a lamp post with a hat and a baseball glove taped to it. Punto and especially Casilla (who has no business being on an mlb roster) are two of the worst regulars in the game who will continue to receive playing time because they do the little things like bunt, run kind of fast, and slide headfirst into bases which do not require headfirst sliding.

The bigger problem is that there were better alternatives available, who likely would not have commanded a price much steeper than Cabrera. The Jays were desperately shopping their SS Marco Scutaro, who is a vastly better player than Cabrera thanks to a .389 on base percentage. His ability to draw walks and get on base would have been welcome hitting between fellow OBP machines Denard Span and Joe Mauer, right ahead of a solid line of power hitters.

Now I'm not going to pretend like I knew what the Blue Jays were asking for Scutaro, but it's hard for me to believe it was that much considering he's a free agent after this season and the Jays are out of contention. To me it looks like another case of the Twins still being cavemen when it comes to evaluating players, especially hitters. Time and time again, this team manages to pick the worse of two options, usually picking the slappy "fundamentally sound" player over the guy who is actually good at baseball. Instead of getting a legitimate option that could have put this team over the top, we got another typical Twins hitter who won't draw walks or get on base. While this isn't surprising coming from a team that let go of David Ortiz and chose Rondell White over Frank Thomas, it continues to be depressing. While the top teams in the American League are starting to embrace statistics and are evaluating players correctly, the Twins continue to fall behind by not simply looking at the "OBP" column.

Especially after getting thrashed two days in a row by the Angels, this isn't exactly a great time to be a Twins fan. Both of our division rivals upgraded their teams for the present (even if the White Sox sold out their future to do so) while the Twins once again made a minor, borderline pointless move.