A three-and-a-half year NCAA investigation into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina ended with no evidence of wrongdoing being found despite UNC student-athletes taking classes that never met, had no instructors, and required just one term paper to be written and graded by a secretary.
UNC was alleged to have directed student-athletes to classes in its African and Afro-American studies program that were easy A’s in an attempt to keep them academically eligible to play sports. The NCAA couldn’t punish UNC for its African and Afro-American studies program because while most of the students enrolled in the classes were student-athletes, some of them weren’t.
Since the NCAA couldn’t find evidence in support of Tar Heels basketball player Rashad McCants’ allegations that tutors directed him to the courses and wrote papers for him, no action can be taken against the university. The only sanction taken was against the African and Afro-American studies department chair, Julius Nyang’Oro, who is retired, and it only limits his ability to obtain a job in college athletics.
So all colleges have to do in order to keep their student-athletes in the game is offer courses that require no learning to take place. Courses like billiards and bowling are apparently not easy enough, since they actually require student-athletes to attend. At my alma mater, enrollees in bowling were required to bowl a certain number of frames in order to pass the course, which could be done in a day. That’s still more than what was required of UNC enrollees in African and Afro-American studies.
Now that the NCAA has proven its inability to govern scholastic standards for student-athletes, the U.S. Department of Education needs to step in and eliminate or improve courses that have no place in postsecondary education. I’m not talking about cutting bowling and billiards. Those courses still require attendance, and you might even learn something if you take them seriously. I’m not talking about eliminating online courses, either. But I think an investigation of the term papers for UNC’s African and Afro-American studies program would prove that these courses are not of the caliber associated with accredited colleges and universities.
UNC might not have been found guilty, but everyone associated with and aware of the African and Afro-American studies program should be ashamed for depriving Tar Heel student-athletes (specifically African-American athletes) the knowledge of African and Afro-American history and culture. So instead of these athletes being informed, culturally conscious citizens, UNC is guilty of producing athletic automatons -- fast-running, high-jumping yes-men and -women with little to call on to form their own opinions and beliefs of the world around them. It’s a shame and a sham.
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Prior to the Minnesota Twins taking on the New York Yankees to close out their regular season series in New York, I wrote that I thought the Twins were a better team than the Yankees in a five-game series. The Twins proceeded to be swept by the Yankees in a three-game series at New Yankee Stadium, proving me wrong and leaving an all-too-familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.
That all-too-familiar feeling is the result of 12 consecutive playoff losses by the Twins, nine of which came at the hands of the Yankees. And with 12/1 odds to win the American League pennant and 20/1 odds to win the World Series, the Twins are the short stack at the Major League Baseball final table.
On paper, the Yankees are overwhelming favorites in the American League Wild Card Game. They’re playing at home, where they will have played their final seven regular season games and where they have hit 134 of their 235 home runs this season. So the Yankees will be comfortable, especially coming off a three-game sweep of the Twins at home.
New York will run Cy Young candidate Luis Severino to the mound against Ervin Santana -- a right-handed, fly-ball pitcher in an unforgiving ballpark for right-handed, fly-ball pitchers. And Santana has been susceptible to the long ball, especially in New York. He allows one every five innings at New Yankee Stadium.
Santana did show improvement over his career numbers at New Yankee Stadium (0-5, 6.43 ERA, 1.714 WHIP) in his last start, however. He went five and two-thirds innings allowing seven hits and two earned runs, but he did allow a first-inning home run to Aaron Judge that might not have carried out of Target Field. The Twins will need the Santana who showed up that day to have a chance at ending the Yankee playoff curse.
Despite the Twins having so few at-bats against Severino coming into the game, they showed an ability to at least make contact in an 11-3 loss two days after Santana’s start. All three runs were charged to Severino, as he struggled to put Twins hitters away over the course of three innings and 71 pitches. The Twins connected on 21 foul balls to extend at-bats against Severino. That patience will be a key to success again for the Twins, as the earlier Minnesota can get into the Yankee bullpen the better their chances will be to win.
While the Twins are young, so are the Yankees. In fact, the Twins’ active roster has an average age of 28.1 to the Yankees’ 27.8, so the Twins are actually more experienced than the Yankees on average.
When it comes to playoff experience, though, the edge goes to New York -- big time. The Yankees have 14 players on their active roster with playoff experience to the Twins’ six. The Yankee players with playoff experience are more likely to get into the Wild Card Game, too.
Of the 14 Yankees with playoff experience, seven of them are position players. Of the Twins’ six players with playoff experience, just Joe Mauer and Jason Castro are position players. Mauer is 10-for-35 in the playoffs. Castro has just one hit in 14 playoff at-bats.
Yankee players have 466 playoff at-bats and are hitting .253 as a team in the postseason. Their starter in this game, however, has not pitched in the postseason, but Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman have.
The Twins can call on closer Matt Belisle and, perhaps, Glen Perkins, for bullpen arms with playoff experience. Perkins might not make the Wild Card Game roster, though, so no lead is big enough for the Twins on Tuesday in New York.
So if the Twins can score early and often and get into the Yankee bullpen, keep the ball in the ballpark and play clean defense, and score runs like they have since the All-Star Break (5.67 runs per game is second only to the Cubs), they can end the Yankee playoff curse. At least an incorrect call on a double down the third base line won’t be their undoing this time.
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Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price, backed by some members of his team, humiliated NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team’s chartered plane because Eckersley uttered the word “yuck” in response to Boston pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez’s poor stats that were displayed onscreen during the broadcast of a Red Sox game.
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed sports broadcasters and bloggers.
Price’s ire with Eckersley has been apparently building because Eckersley rarely visits the clubhouse. But Eckersley’s job isn’t to buddy-up with the Boston Red Sox. His job is to provide entertaining, insightful commentary during games, and sometimes that insight must be critical of the home team. It’s a lot harder to remain objectively critical of your friends, which is likely why Eckersley stays out of the clubhouse.
We all deal with criticism at work, but most of that criticism is kept inside the office and not broadcasted on live television. As a journalist for more than six years, I can somewhat relate to the criticism baseball players and other athletes deal with on a regular basis. Publishing an opinion in the newspaper is not unlike stating an opinion on television or radio, except the response isn’t immediate. I’ve had multiple responses to opinions I’ve published in the editorial sections of newspapers throughout Montana, and as an atheist socialist in a red state, none of them were in support of my opinion. That’s the risk you take in being critical.
I’ve also been threatened with violence for reporting a story, so I feel Eckersley’s pain. Like Eckersley, I didn’t get attached to the players I covered for fear of losing the relative objectivity required to be critical of them when it was necessary (and it becomes necessary more often than not). But NESN won’t defend Eckersley like a newspaper editor defends a reporter because the Red Sox pay the bills, and if a broadcaster isn’t on speaking terms with a star player, it makes it hard for the broadcaster to do his or her job. David Price sells NESN -- not Dennis Eckersley.
We run into similar issues at GCN. We have about 80 shows broadcasted from a satellite on the roof, and while just the hosts of our sports show, View From The Couch, are GCN employees, the network still has to keep the show hosts happy because the show hosts pay the bills.
Eckersley could be loved by NESN viewers and lose his job because David Price doesn’t like him. Judging by his interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, he might just resign or retire at year’s end given how tough this season’s been on him. He said he won’t change the way he broadcasts games, but Price thinks he’s been more positive since the incident.
This is a common struggle for local newspapers. Fans want to be reassured. They want to know things will improve and that the team is learning from its mistakes. As a sportswriter for many a bad team, I can tell you I’ve dug deep for positives in games that had very few. Sometimes it’s focusing on the important minutes young players got to play during garbage time. But you never ignore the mistakes. You can treat them as learning experiences for so long, but at some point after the same mistakes are repeated multiple times, it’s hard not to be critical of the team or player who doesn’t seem to be learning from the mistakes.
I can understand taking offense to public defamation, but delivering a derogatory comment on a player’s statistics is not public defamation. Commenting on performance is Eckersley’s job description as a commentator, as is painting the Red Sox in a favorable light that helps sell NESN. With 23 years of Major League pitching experience, he’s certainly qualified to comment on the performance of a pitcher. And while we’d all hope more insightful commentary could be provided than “yuck,” the comment is hardly insensitive. “The Red Sox are hoping those numbers are an aberration and not the new norm,” would have been better, but Eckersley was probably reacting to the statistics in real time. He didn’t have time to think of a way to present his reaction in a positive light.
It makes you wonder what Price would have done to Eckersley had he commented on how Price hasn’t lived up to the seven-year, $217 million contract he signed with Boston as a free agent prior to the 2016 season. Immediately upon signing the deal, Price’s ERA+ dropped from a career high of 164 in 2015 to 111 in 2016. A comment on Price’s lack of playoff success might have ended in violence (2-8, 5.54 ERA). Injuries have limited Price to just 66 innings on the mound this season, just the second of the seven-year deal paying him more than $30 million annually.
The moment local sports broadcasts stop being critical of local sports teams is the moment local sports broadcasters become the team’s public relations personnel instead of sports journalists. If Price’s idea of a purely positive, local broadcast is the future of sports broadcasting, I’ll take my baseball on mute.
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The report released Monday revealed the 41 year old pro-golfer had the following in his system when he was found asleep in his car on the side of the road while the lights were on and turning signal was flashing: Ambien, Xanax, Dilaudid, Vicodin and Delta-9 carboxy THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Woods had undergone spinal fusion surgery weeks prior.
Vicodin is a narcotic made of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is used for pain and most commonly prescribed post-operatively.
Dilaudid is hydromorphone, a stronger narcotic.
Xanax is a benzodiazepine used for sedation, relaxation and to lower anxiety.
Ambien is a hypnotic type of sedative used for sleep and works within 15 minutes of ingestion.
Delta-9 carboxy THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
None of these medications are to be used while driving. Additionally none should ever be used in combination. The respiratory depression of one narcotic combined with the sedative effect of the benzodiazepine or hypnotic could cause death.
Woods entered a plea of not guilty to DUI, as alcohol was not involved and a mixture of medications was to blame, but it's been reported a deal was made among prosecutors including a lesser charge of reckless driving and a stint in a “diversion program.”
Last month Woods stated he completed a private intensive program on his own. On Monday he stated, “Recently, I had been trying on my own to treat my back pain and a sleep disorder, including insomnia, but I realize now it was a mistake to do this without medical assistance.”
Polypharmacy, or taking multiple medications at the same time, can increase the risk of serious adverse events if the drugs act synergistically or mask side effects of one another.
Many overdoses occurring with pain pills may not always be a quantity issue with the narcotic but rather a mixture of the narcotic with another medication such as those taken by Tiger Woods. He was lucky to still be alive when found as were those pedestrians or drivers on the street that evening.
LearnHealthSpanish.com / Medical Spanish made easy.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.
A few months ago I wrote about how sports fans can save more than 50 percent on their cable and internet bills without missing their favorite teams’ games. Much of the savings came in the form of cutting cable and switching to online streaming services like MLB.TV and NHL.TV -- both operated by BAMTech.
Well, Disney is now the majority owner of BAMTech. So instead of enticing cable-cutting sports fans to re-enter the cable fray, ESPN will rely upon a stand-alone streaming service it intends to launch early in 2018.
The move to streaming is a big one for the “worldwide leader in sports,” as ESPN has long depended on cable subscribers paying $9 per month for its four channels -- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. But the network has lost 10 million subscribers to cable-cutting since 2010. That’s over $1 billion in lost revenue, which resulted in the termination of around 100 online journalists and television personalities.
ESPN executives hope to maximize revenue by meeting the needs of both cable-subscribing and cable-cutting sports fans, and apparently they know who’s who.
ESPN’s acquisition of majority ownership in BAMTech gives them access to the cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost, who are generally fans of sports not often televised nationally. ESPN will now get 75 percent of revenues from MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live, the Major League Soccer streaming service.
Also available via the ESPN streaming service will be the typical collegiate games available on the WatchESPN app, but not those televised on cable channels. Grand Slam tennis matches will also be streaming live.
Monday Night Football will still require a cable subscription, though. But if you live in the market of your favorite NFL team, a $25 digital antenna will get you most of their games in HD. Watching the NBA will also require either a cable subscription or NBA League Pass.
So what does this all mean for cable-cutting sports fans? Nothing really. It just means the majority of their money is going to ESPN rather than BAMTech. And while ESPN could roll MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live into its one streaming service and require customers to pay for all three streaming services, that’s likely a recipe to lose even more subscribers.
The real potential of the streaming services to ESPN is the advertising potential. If you’ve ever watched a game on MLB.TV, NHL.TV or MLS Live, you’re likely familiar with the “Commercial break is in progress” screen. This screen will likely appear less and less given Disney’s fat Rolodex of advertisers.
So not only will ESPN take back some of the 10 million cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost since 2010 via streaming services, it will also profit from filling the plethora of commercial breaks that have gone unfilled since the advent of sports streaming services. It should be a big win for Disney, and shouldn’t cost cable-cutting sports fans a penny more -- unless they see something advertised they just have to have.
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During Saturday’s wild game between the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers, Fox Sports North color commentator Torii Hunter revealed that if he got three hits in a game he’d wear the same dirty underwear in the following game. That probably doesn’t surprise most baseball fans given the long-standing superstitions associated with the game and its players.
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters and bloggers.
Buster Olney discovered that former Minnesota Twin Justin Morneau visited the same Jimmy John’s restaurant on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul, Minn. and ordered the Turkey Tom with no sprouts before every home game, washing it down with a red or orange slurpee mixed in equal parts with Mountain Dew. Pregame meal rituals hardly scratch the surface of superstition in baseball, though.
Some baseball superstitions are practiced by just about every player of the game, whether it be in little league or the Major Leagues, for no reason and with no reasonable explanation offered. Why baseball players avoid stepping on the baselines when taking the field is inexplicable. There’s no story of its origination. It’s such an old superstition it’s prehistoric in baseball years.
A reasonable explanation for not stepping on the baselines would be so you can see them, so there are no questions as to whether a ball is fair or foul, or whether a runner is inside the baseline. Preservation of the game’s playing field and its beauty is a logical reason for avoiding the baselines, much like replacing divots and raking sand traps on a golf course. But there’s no reason required for superstition to arise, except that acknowledging and engaging in the superstition resulted in a desired outcome.
A more likely explanation for the baseline avoidance superstition is that a player used it to explain his uncharacteristic or sudden success to his teammates, either jokingly or seriously. The player might not have known why he was hitting. If he hasn’t made any adjustments, the failures of opposing pitchers could be entirely responsible for his success. But you can’t tell your teammates the reason you’re hitting is because opposing pitchers -- those same opposing pitchers your teammates see -- aren’t any good. So you say, “I haven’t been stepping on the baselines when I take the field. Maybe that’s it.”
Eventually, a desperate teammate sinking into a slump will think, “It can’t hurt, right? Hell, it’s not even going out of my way. It’s not like I have to bunny hop over the baseline. Nobody has to know.” Since all baseball players go through periods of desperation, other teammates adopt the superstition in the same way, having told no one until their fortunes improve, and they’re asked to explain their success. Before the game is over everyone on the team is hopping over the baseline in unison as they take the field.
Superstitions provide an illusion of certainty in a most uncertain game. How uncertain? There are 18 symbols used to describe the outcome of a plate appearance when keeping score of a baseball game. Even without considering the nearly 300 pitches thrown in a nine-inning, Major League Baseball game and the possible outcomes of each pitch, the number of possible outcomes for every plate appearance is indicative of the immense uncertainty of baseball and why so many of its players adopt superstitions.
The average number of plate appearances per baseball game ranges from three to five per player, so if nine players from each team get four plate appearances each, that’s 72 opportunities for any one of 18 things to happen. So the total number of possible outcomes for every plate appearance in a nine-inning baseball game is somewhere between octovigintillion and novemvigintillion -- or 2.397 with the decimal point moved 90 digits to the right.
Thinking of sports as video games further explains baseball’s uncertainty and the penchant for players to adopt superstitions. If we were to consider the code used to write a basketball video game, the user’s input to pass to a teammate would trigger a question or series of questions the computer answers with either true or false. That question might simply be, “Is teammate X open to receive a pass?” If the teammate is open, the answer is true, and the pass is completed. On a shot, if the user doesn’t execute the input properly, the answer from the computer to whether the shot is true or false will be false, and the shot missed.
A baseball video game is also dependent on the user’s ability to amass “true” answers, but the degree to which those answers are true determines which of the 18 possible outcomes occurs during each plate appearance. The questions answered by the computer that would result in a home run, for instance, might be: “Swing timing? Truest. Swing location? Truest? Point of contact? Truest. Swing result? Home run.” For a ground ball to the second baseman by a left handed hitter, the questions and answers might read: “Swing timing? Early. Swing location? High. Point of contact? Out in front. Swing result? 4-3.
You can make or miss a pass or shot in basketball, soccer and hockey. You can swing and miss in baseball, or swing and hit the ball in or out of play, for an out or a hit, or an extra-base hit, or a home run. Or you can do nothing at all and still end up on first base. And that’s just considering what you can do when you’re at-bat. There are even more opportunities for inexplicable outcomes while in the field.
Pitchers are the most susceptible to inexplicable outcomes, though, which is why they tend to be the most superstitious of all athletes. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had to throw to the same catcher every time he pitched -- a superstition that’s now a common tactic taken by MLB teams. Turk Wendell is probably the most superstitious athlete of all time. He ate black licorice during games, performed a kangaroo hop when he completed an inning, brushed his teeth between innings, wore number 99 in honor of Charlie Sheen’s Major League character Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and demanded his salary ended in 99. A contemporary example would be Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana, who smells the baseball deeply before towing the rubber.
Pitchers are more likely to adopt superstitions because having an unreasonable explanation for inexplicable outcomes can be healthier than searching for a reasonable explanation. Flares, seeing-eye singles and the dreaded broken-bat blooper can turn a well-executed pitch into an inexplicable outcome. There’s likely nothing more frustrating for players and fans than a pitcher making a good pitch and getting the desired result only to see the ball land softly between three defenders for a hit. You and he are probably thinking the same thing: “Shake it off. That’s just dumb luck. Throw another one just like that.”
But there’s rarely just one inexplicable outcome with which a pitcher has to deal per game. So when the pitcher breaks another bat that results in another hit, and then soft contact results in another hit, and another, he’ll eventually attempt to explain the inexplicable outcomes in an effort to stop them -- unless he already knows the reason for the outcomes -- however ridiculous that reason might be.
“If you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you are!” -- Crash Davis, Bull Durham
Likely the most famous, fictitious instance of baseball superstition, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh starts wearing garters and begins pitching like a big leaguer. In his first start sporting the lingerie, he’s more worried about whether he’s queer for enjoying the “sexy” feel of the underwear than he is about his pitching. It’s a perfect example of how superstition plays a pivotal role in getting a player’s mind off the game so he can resort to more basic instincts and the athletic ability that got him to the big leagues in the first place. “Don’t think, just throw.”
Athletes aren’t the only ones looking for answers to explain inexplicable outcomes. Fans want answers, too, and generally go looking for them in the same manner as athletes who don’t subscribe to superstition. They blame themselves.
It’s all rather vain. We sports fans want to feel important. We want to feel like we’re part of the game and play a role in its outcome, even from the couch in our living room. So when the team loses it’s because we did something wrong as spectators. We wore the wrong clothes, sat in the wrong seat, ate the wrong food, drank the wrong drink or watched with the wrong crowd. The same superstitions players employ in an effort to get through the game are the same ones adopted by fans to do the same. If fans didn’t take sports so seriously, there’d be less superstition. But fans are fanatical.
As a fan, I subscribe to multiple superstitions. If my team wins, I wear the same hat until they lose, and then I change it. When football season starts, I’ll pull out my Minnesota Vikings Randy Moss jersey and wear it during the game. If the Vikings win, the jersey remains unwashed, hanging in the closet awaiting the next game when it will be donned again. The jersey doesn’t get washed until a Vikings loss occurs, which also requires me to don the Daunte Culpepper jersey. A losing streak forces me to break out my favorite Warren Moon t-shirt, and if the Vikings lose three in a row, the oversized, reversible Cris Carter jersey gets some air. Another loss and I flip the jersey inside out for next week. During March Madness, I wear the same jersey/t-shirt combination for every Duke game and don’t wash either until the Blue Devils are eliminated. So in 2015 and 2010 the ensemble was worn for six games before seeing the washing machine. I do make a point of taking off those clothes as soon after the game as possible to preserve some semblance of cleanliness.
There’s a new superstition I’m considering. On Sunday, Aug. 6 (published Monday), I pitched five trades my Minnesota Twins could have made in June to save their July. The Twins didn’t lose again until Saturday, Aug. 12, when I made the mistake of tweeting that watching the Twins was like watching that montage of the winning streak in Little Big League. They had erased a 5-0 first-inning deficit only to lose 12-11 via a walkoff home run by Justin Upton. Naturally, I blamed myself.
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The Minnesota Twins contending this season despite sporting the American League’s fourth-worst run differential is astonishing. While the Twins are scoring 68 fewer runs than their opponents after a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers, Monday night, the Twins sit just two games out of the playoff picture and 3.5 games back in the AL Central. And the run differential is just the tip of the iceberg.
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters and analysts providing coverage of select games.
The combined WAA (wins above average) between Twins batters and pitchers is -4.3 wins, meaning the team (excluding coaching factors) should be at least four games worse than average.
Given the games played as of this writing, the MLB average for wins would be 49.4, but the median is 48. The Twins have 49 wins, which means they have outperformed their WAA by almost four games using the average and five games using the median. All this while allowing 68 more runs than they’ve scored. It all screams regression, doesn’t it? In fact, I’d venture to bet there’s never been an MLB team that has overachieved more than the 2017 Twins thus far, and if there is one, it’s also a team from Twins history.
It’s fitting the Twins just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1987 World Series Championship team at Target Field this weekend, because the 2017 Twins are a lot like that team. The Twins organization established a reputation as underdog overachievers immediately upon finding the ultimate success in 1987 and have continued that tradition to a fault at times.
Most of the ‘90s were tough on the Twins and their fans. The pitch-to-contact approach started resulting in harder contact, and payrolls plummeted along with Metrodome attendance, as a slew of youngsters like 21-year-old shortstop Christian Guzman and 23-year-old center fielder Torii Hunter played almost everyday. I remember people joking about how the Twins wouldn’t beat most AAA teams, but everything came together just in time to quiet discussions of contracting the team.
A surprising second-place finish in the AL Central in 2001 that saw Matt Lawton grace the cover of Sports Illustrated blew new life into the Metrodome. And in 2002, the pesky piranhas were AL Central champions, fielding the youngest and fourth-cheapest roster in baseball. While the 2002 Twins entered the playoffs with the lowest run differential that year, they still scored 56 more runs than they allowed. But that squad had a combined WAA of +6.3 and finished 94-67, outperforming that WAA by a ridiculous seven wins over the average and 8 wins over the median MLB record in 2002.
Despite it all ending in the ALCS, that’s still my favorite Twins team. I feel like they did the most with the least, and the numbers seem to substantiate that feeling. It just feels better to win as an underdog overachiever, even if you don’t win it all.
The 1987 Twins did win it all, though, and did so despite entering the playoffs having posted a run differential of -20 during the regular season and outperforming their -.8 WAA. Those Twins went 85-77 in 1987, which would be outperforming their WAA by almost five wins based on the MLB average and median for wins that season.
The 1984 Royals are the only other team besides the ‘87 Twins to win the World Series despite a negative regular season run differential since 1960 (and likely ever). They had a -13 run differential and finished the regular season 84-78, outperforming their .1 WAA by almost three games on average and four games taking the median MLB record.
The team with the lowest run differential entering the playoffs was the 2005 San Diego Padres at -42, in a year when every team in the NL West had a negative run differential, and only the Padres had a winning record (82-80). They outperformed their -3.2 WAA by four games on average but just three games on the median MLB record.
Again, the 2017 Twins are outperforming their WAA by four games on average and five games given the median record -- with a run differential 62 percent lower than that of the 2005 Padres, 70 percent lower than the 1987 Twins and 182 percent less than the 2002 Twins!
The Twins making the playoffs isn’t just improbable. It would challenge everything we think we know about what makes a playoff baseball team, just as the Twins did in 1987. The 1987 Twins might have hit a lot of home runs, but they won games with defense. The only regulars with negative total zone defensive runs saved averages over the course of 135 games were Kirby Puckett and Tim Laudner (each at -8). And while three players had RARs (runs above a replacement player) above 40 (Puckett, Kent Hrbeck and Greg Gagne), most of the pitching staff had lower strikeout rates than the current Twins’ staff. Frank Viola averaged just seven strikeouts per nine innings and was the only starter with an ERA below three, so the ball was being put in play, and the Twins were picking it.
The Twins have improved their run differential from last season by 98 runs thus far, and it’s still the fourth-worst differential in baseball. That’s how bad the Twins were last season, and the roster has hardly changed, so there are some things working in the Twins favor.
If you think a weak AL Central is the reason for the Twins’ contention, then you also have to blame most of the American League given the Wild Card standings. While a drop in relative competitiveness allows more teams to hang in the race longer, it does little to explain the 98-run improvement.
Actually, the Twins’ schedule thus far has probably contributed more to their seemingly unsustainable success than a lack of competitive teams in their league. The Twins remain the second best road team in the AL behind Houston, but they’ve played nine fewer road games than home games going into Tuesday. And as of Monday, they had played 10 fewer road games than the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers, who are all still in the hunt. Translation: the Twins’ schedule is about to get tougher, as they saw first-hand on Monday when the L.A. Goliath finally knocked out the pesky David of the Midwest in the eighth. But instead of simply marveling at the Twins’ improbable season, let me attempt to explain the extent of its improbability.
There are some easy answers with regards to runs contributed this year that weren’t there last year, like Miguel Sano improving his RAA (runs above average) 19 points after a 2016 season spent lost in right field so Paul Molitor could accommodate Trevor Plouffe. Sano has arguably become the Twins’ best player at 24 years old -- three years younger than Kent Hrbek was when he was second on the 1987 squad with 21 RAA. Sano is also second on his team in RAA, which is why I say he’s arguably the Twins’ best player..
Enter Byron Buxton, the player for whom statistics like range factor and runs added from baserunning were invented. If Buxton was playing anytime before these statistics came around, I feel he’d have a much harder time sticking in the bigs. Buxton’s .604 OPS is last among center fielders with 250 plate appearances, and he’s 14 runs worse than the average hitter so far this season. He’s no ‘87 Puckett at the plate, but his ability to play center field and run the bases make that all matter a whole lot less -- a ton less, in fact.
Buxton is four runs better than average on the bases, and 18 runs better than average in center field, which is eerily similar to Greg Gagne’s defensive contribution for the ‘87 Twins (19). Gagne finished the year leading his team with 23 RAA despite negative contributions at-bat and on the bases. Buxton is on pace to lead his team in RAA this season, too
So despite his 62 OPS+, Buxton is worth 11 runs more than a replacement player because he can catch balls no one else can and score from first base on a single. Puckett couldn’t do that, and if Buxton comes back from his groin injury on Tuesday and hits, he could chase down Puckett’s incredible 44 RAR in 1987. Buxton’s RAR sits at 22, tied with Sano for the team lead amongst batters despite playing seven fewer games.
One of the Twins best pitchers has been Jose Berrios, who was living a nightmare on the mound in 2016 and has improved his RAA from -25 to 6. While his win-loss percentage with an average team (.551) is more comparable to the Bert Blyleven’s (.558) from 1987 than 27-year-old Frank Viola’s (.664), he’s four years younger than Viola, and hasn’t had to perform like him thanks to Ervin Santana.
Despite his inconsistencies, Santana has been the Viola for the 2017 Twins. While his .612 win-loss percentage with an average team is not vintage Viola, it has been 21 runs better than average, which leads the team.
It all up and that’s 54 runs of improvement between three players all under 25, and another two from Santana so far. So the kids are growing up just fine, and Papi Santana has set a great example for Berrios, in his good starts and bad.
Speaking of bad, there are plenty of Twins who have been worse than last year, too. Kyle Gibson’s RAA is 10 runs worse than last season (-17), Jorge Polanco’s RAA is down seven runs, and Ryan Pressly has been nine runs worse than average after posting a +3 last season. Our 56 runs of improvement is now 17.
The 1987 Twins were not without their Gibsons, Polancos and Presslys, either. The Gibson was probably Mike Smithson (-15 RAA in 20 starts). The Polanco of the 1987 Twins was likely Gene Larkin, who was in his rookie season, so he has an excuse for his -11 RAA in 262 plate appearances. As for the Ryan Pressly of ‘87, George Frazier was seven runs worse than average in 81.1 innings.
But who’s the Bartolo Colon of the ‘87 Twins? Easy: 42-year-old Joe Niekro was 20 runs below average in 96.1 innings pitched.
One of the biggest reasons for the Twins turnaround is the first move new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine made -- signing free agent catcher Jason Castro. I loved the move then, and still love it, despite having to watch Castro swing and miss so much.
Castro doesn’t hit well -- even for a catcher. His OPS is 17th out of 18 catchers who have at least 250 plate appearances when they wear the gear. If you lower the required plate appearances to 150, he’s well behind the Twins’ former catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is ninth amongst catchers with an .816 OPS.
Suzuki’s defensive contribution this season is also his best since 2012. The uptick could very well be that he has his legs under him (he’s caught just 345.1 innings), but even if Suzuki finishes the season having contributed 14 runs on defense, he still falls short of Castro’s contribution.
Like Buxton, Castro makes up for his woes at the plate on defense. Castro is worth 22 defensive runs above average over the course of 135 games. Suzuki checks in at 14 defensive runs above average this season, but is 12 runs below average per season for his career as a catcher. Again, even assuming Suzuki’s improved defense is not inflated due to sample size (it is), Castro, with the second-worst OPS at his position, is worth 14 RAR, and Suzuki, with the ninth-best OPS at his position, is worth just 11 RAR.
Furthermore, if we consider the performance of Twins’ catchers last year compared to this year, the net gain for the Twins is 28 fielding runs above average. That would account for almost a third of the Twins’ improvement, bringing our rough total to 45 runs of improvement.
There’s really no comparison for Castro from the 1987 Twins’ catching corps. The ‘87 backstops were a combined 39 runs worse than average. When it comes to win-loss percentage with an average team over 162 games, Tom Brunansky was fourth (.503) on the ‘87 Twins just as Castro is with the 2017 Twins (.502).
Eduardo Escobar is the ultimate utility man, not because he can play just about anywhere, including catcher apparently, but because he provides the energy and attitude the Twins need to make a push for the playoffs. His smile and charisma are infectious, and he’s an essential leader in the clubhouse. I thought Falvey and Levine might consider trading him given his value to a contender, but I’m glad the Twins have forced the front office to chase history so Escobar can stick around.
While Escobar’s runs above average numbers are mostly negative (except running the bases), all have improved substantially from last season. His RAR has improved by 12 compared to last year, which brings our total runs of improvement to 57.
Escobar is the Dan Gladden of this Twins team. Gladden managed to be 12 runs better than a replacement despite costing the 1987 Twins 15 runs swinging the bat.
Brandon Kintzler has been nine runs above average in the closer role this season. That’s four runs better than last season already, which makes 61 runs of improvement.
Reliver Juan Berenguer was nine runs above average over 112 innings for the 1987 Twins, but he wasn’t the closer, and I don’t think Kintzler should be, either. The bullpen is the area where the Twins could stand to improve the most (read: acquire Brad Hand).
While the 1987 Twins relievers posted a RAA of -49, current Twins relievers (excluding the catcher Gimenez, who has been just one run below average in five innings) are sporting an RAA of -87 already. Adding Hand’s 12 RAA would allow the 2017 Twins to act a lot more like the 1987 Twins.
Taylor Rogers has been fantastic until recently. His RAA was eight entering Monday’s game, and after allowing the go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning on Monday, it is now six. That’s still second amongst Twins relievers, and he’s a big reason the Twins have managed to hang in games despite a drop in his strikeout rate from last year (9.4 to 6.5 K/9).
I kept waiting for the regression given his 4.05 FIP, 2.15 ERA and 71 percent balls-in-play percentage, and I think we’re starting to see that regression with his blown hold in Los Angeles, Monday night. Ideally, he would be pitching the seventh inning if the Twins could acquire bullpen help before the Trade Deadline. He’s contributed five more runs than last year so far, though, bringing us to 66 runs of improvement.
When it comes to pace of play, Adalberto Mejia is the sloth of Major League Baseball. In his start Sunday the Twins set the record for the longest regulation game in franchise history: 4 hours and 23 minutes, I believe. As you fall in and out of sleep while watching Mejia, you’ll dream of comparisons like Les Straker. But Mejia’s 4 RAA better this year than last (70) and is just 24.
Robbie Grossman got my MLB All-Star vote at designated hitter because he had the highest on-base percentage amongst his peers, and walks are as good as hits. While he’s a liability in the outfield, his approach at the plate is straight out of the moneyball era. And in an era of home run or nothing at all, having a guy who can work counts and get on base before the free swingers is a nice piece to have available.
Grossman has 50 walks in 317 plate appearances and leads the Twins in that category. His .373 OBP is also best on the team, and while Grossman’s OPS+ is just 103, it’s better than Joe Mauer’s 101. His RAR of three doesn’t quite touch Mauer’s, though, and is the same as 2016’s, so no runs of improvement available here. But without Grossman, Twins fans would be forced to watch the struggles of Kennys Vargas, whose RAR is down three from last year.
Grossman also cost the Twins 21 runs playing defense last year. Molitor has managed to limit that damage to just four runs this season by keeping Grossman in the dugout more often. It adds up to a six-run increase in RAA for Grossman since last season (76 runs of improvement).
Joe Mauer is going to win the AL Gold Glove for his performance at first base this season, and it will have little to do with the fact he hasn’t committed an error as of this writing. His defensive runs saved (8) and total zone runs saved per year (6) is better than the defending Gold Glove winner, Mitch Moreland (7 and 1, respectively). Mauer’s range factor and his OPS+, which does matter despite it being a fielding award, are also higher than Moreland’s, and his 1.3 WAR just trails All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso’s 1.5. Mauer’s basically been Roy Smalley, which isn’t bad.
Twins hitters are a collective one run above average in 2017 but 58 runs better than last season. Twins pitchers are 62 runs below average this season but also 58 runs better than last season. That’s 116 runs of improvement, and given the 98 runs of improvement at which they currently stand as a team, the Twins’ run differential is likely to get worse barring any trades that might occur.
Jaime Garcia should help delay the inevitable. His RAA of three is 20 runs better than Gibson’s, who was demoted despite having his best start of the season on Saturday against Detroit. Falvey and Levine are going to stick with Colon for at least another start, which is fine. Gibson has been far from consistent, and you have to give the veteran a chance to see a lineup that’s not the Dodgers or Yankees before you ask him to gracefully retire. He kept the Twins in that game in Los Angeles, Monday, even contributing a sacrifice bunt to the delight of his teammates. His butt also puts butts in the seats.
While adding Garcia is like adding another Les Straker, the Twins don’t even have enough Les Straker’s let alone Frank Viola’s to make a playoff push right now. If they add an arm to the bullpen, though, the Twins could make history, and I think they should go ahead and chase history. Sure, if they make the playoffs they’d go down as the absolute worst team ever to do so based on run differential. But that would likely make them one of the biggest underdogs of all time, and if they continue to outperform their WAA at the same rate, they’d be right up there with the 1987 and 2002 Twins as the biggest overachievers in baseball history.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
If you’re a sports fan, you probably feel like you must watch your favorite team play almost every game of the season. That means you’re likely paying hundreds of dollars for cable or satellite service every month. Service in my area runs from $109 per month to $170 per month because I have to purchase almost 200 channels I won’t watch just to get my regional sports channel.
Just because we’re sports fan doesn’t mean we should let cable and satellite service providers take advantage of us, though. You can watch almost every game your favorite baseball team team plays, whether you’re in their area or not, as well as NFL regular season and playoff games, MLB, NBA and NHL playoff games, and NCAA men’s basketball tournament games for less than $55 per month. And that includes your internet bill! Here’s how:
Getting your sports fix all starts with the right TV antenna for your area. Do some research to determine where the television broadcast towers are near you. If you live in rural America, a traditional antenna mounted to the roof of your home would be best. These have a range of up to 150 miles and are still very affordable, with options under $40. Here are some options compared.
If you live near a city you can save a few dollars and some installation hassles by purchasing a 25-mile or 50-mile, indoor antenna. I bought a 50-mile, indoor antenna that I stuck to a wall in my apartment and receive more than 40 channels, most of which display in perfect HD. This cost me less than $25 and took less than 10 minutes to find the best location for the antenna. That’s a one time cost to watch every NFL playoff game, including the Super Bowl, every MLB playoff game, including the World Series, every Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals game, and select NCAA men’s basketball tournament games -- all in stunning HD -- for as long as you or the antenna lives.
You can save a ton of money on television by investing in your internet connection, and I’m not talking about paying for the highest bandwidth. You only need a 15 to 20 mbps download speed to stream 4K UHD video, so anything more than that is overkill, unless you’re downloading a lot of media. Regardless, you should protect your online history with a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN shields your IP address location from internet service providers and other spying eyes. You can change the perceived location of your IP address to anywhere in the world, which allows you access to foreign versions of Netflix and other streaming software. You can even use the VPN on other devices like your phone or tablet. The best part is, a VPN subscription runs around $5 per month or less, and allows you to get around MLB.TV’s blackout restriction.
If you live in the area served by your favorite MLB or NHL team’s regional sports channel, you can’t watch any game on that channel via MLB.TV or NHL.TV without a VPN. Don’t make the mistake of paying $45 per month for Sling TV for two months to basically watch your regional sports channel, and on a minute-or-so delay at that.
The real trouble with watching your local team on your HDTV is that you can’t run your VPN on your TV. You can run an HDMI cable from your computer to your TV, but why use two devices to watch TV when you could use one?
There are certain routers that allow for open-source, firmware installations that will allow you to shield the IP addresses of your entire network of devices. Then, when you connect your smart TV to the internet, it will take on the location you set using your VPN through your router’s client software. This will allow you to utilize the MLB.TV and NHL.TV apps on your TV or Roku device instead of connecting your computer to your TV every time the game is on.
The problem is that open-source software like DD-WRT and Tomato takes time to write, and new routers are introduced so often that it’s difficult for these coding communities to keep up. Translation: There aren’t many routers you can buy in a store that will be compatible with this open-source software. So if you’re not tech-savvy or just don’t want to take the time to “flash” your router and install the open-source firmware, you can buy routers with this open-source software preinstalled. Then it’s as easy as plugging it in and entering your VPN information in the client software and setting your preferred location.
If you’re willing to take the time and want to save a few dollars, a good place to start is by reading the forums at the DD-WRT and Tomato links provided above. I would suggest buying a router with open-source firmware pre-installed, though. Finding a router that’s compatible with DD-WRT or Tomato is harder than you’d think. While model numbers are printed on the router box, version numbers are not, so when you see a model number that’s the same as one that’s compatible, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily compatible.
The savings are worth the struggle, though. You could save $700 per year or more by cutting cable and employing these methods. Here’s a breakdown of what you'll spend and save by investing in a digital antenna and VPN compared to cable and satellite providers:
= $54.26 per month during baseball season
= $43.32 per month the rest of the year
With NHL.TV = $67.76 per month during hockey/baseball season (roughly two months)
With NHL.TV = $56.82 per month during hockey season (roughly six months)
Yearly total without NHL.TV = $595.48
Yearly total with NHL.TV = $749.72
The Xfinity Double Play is the cheapest cable or satellite option in my area that includes my regional sports channel. That runs about $109 per month after tax for the first 12 months, or $1,308 for the first year, and a lot more after that. So without NHL.TV I’d save $712.52 annually. With NHL.TV, I’d save $558.28 each year. I’m either saving 54 percent or 43 percent on my TV and Internet bills, and the only games I wouldn't get are those on ESPN and NBCSN.
So just because you’re a sports fan doesn’t mean you have to pay for cable or satellite service. You can save a ton of money on your TV and Internet bill just by taking these few, easy steps. The best investment you can make is in your internet service and the cheapest investment you can make is in a VPN. Don't let increasing cable and satellite costs make you sacrifice your love of sports. Force the cable and satellite companies to be more competitive with other options by using those options.
Editor’s Note: An update follows.
If you run into some trouble getting your router VPN configuration working, visit here. To find out if your setup is working, visit a site like WhatIsMyIPAddress.com and see if the location you set up in your DD-WRT admin panel is the one identified by WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. Then do a speed test at SpeedTest.net.
There will be quite a bit of bandwidth lost due to the VPN running on your router, but it should still be fast enough to stream HD video.
I’d recommend only running your VPN through your router when you’re watching the game. This is as simple as removing the command from your router’s admin panel that connects your router to the VPN, saving the text in a Word, Text Edit or Notepad document, and rebooting your router. When you’re ready to watch the game, simply paste the text back in the router management tab labeled “Commands,” save startup, and reboot. This will lengthen the life of your router, too, as running the VPN through the router makes your router work harder and hotter.
Don’t expect this workaround to work forever, but take advantage of it while you can.
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