Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eighteen Culinary Uses For Selected Sports Equipment, In Ascending Order Of How Much Of A Mess You Will Make

by Klondike, 2007 KankaNation Laetare Recipient

Editor's Note: ND 27, Navy 23

#18: Football Dial-a-Down
Ready for the second course? Dial up the "2" on this handy tool.

#17: Hockey Puck
Four of these will make a classy coaster set.

#16: Baseball Plates
A ready replacement for actual plates, as far as keeping food off the table is concerned.

#15: Baseball Catcher Chest Protector
Stitch on a phrase like "kiss the cook" and you've got a cooking apron. These can also be used to smother grease fires.

#14: Baseball Mitt
These provide much more protection than your average oven mitt. Especially useful when handling hot potatoes.

#13: Protective Cup
The breathable versions can be used to separate egg yolks from the whites. Non-breathable models can be used for anything from soup cups to sundae bowls. Gross.

#12: Football Helmet
You can use these for salad bowls in a pinch. Also good to wear for those weekend chefs that forget to close the cupboard doors.

#11: Basketball Shot Clock
Great for cooking things in 35-second increments. If you're a professional chef you only get 24 seconds.

#10: Fencing Foil
Use this to super-size that shish kebab. You can also use this to spit a roast over the bonfire.

#9: Cricket Bats
These are handy for cooking pizzas and loaves of bread in masonry ovens. You can also flip those burgers from three feet away.

#8: Hockey Stick
If you're looking for a unique sushi presentation, look no further. Also good for passing foods across the table.

#7: Fencing Mask
A perfect colander. These can also be used for other sieve-related tasks, like sifting flour or finding the ring you lost in the soup.

#6: Golf Putter
Golf isn't a sport.

#5: Tennis Racket
With a properly applied forearm, you can dice just about anything with one of these.

#4: Hockey Ice Skates
Cutting the cheese has never been so easy! These can also be used to stomp-chop fruits and vegetables Riverdance-style.

#3: Jai Alai Basket-Glove
These can serve mashed potatoes at speeds exceeding 180 miles per hour. They also allow for the hands-free consumption of banana splits.

#2: Soccer Cleats
Another culinary necessity, with uses ranging from mashing grapes for wine to turning pancakes into waffles.

#1: Baseball Bat
The toughest meat in your freezer can be tenderized with one of these. It also works as a juicer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Assembling the 2008 Indians

I've had this idea in my head for a few days, and I see Blastings! Thrilledge already beat me to it. So let's build on their work and see what we can do for the Tribe. Part 1 will deal with the starting position players. Although I should warn you - this may end up being Part 1 of 1.

Blastings! Thrilledge
Some Baseball Notes (2007 league average VORP by position)
Baseball Prospectus (2007 Indians VORP)
Cot's Baseball Contracts

Let's start with who will be back, either due to a long-term contract or the fact that they're not yet eligible for arbitration:
Dave Dellucci
Travis Hafner
Victor Martinez
Jason Michaels
Jhonny Peralta
Grady Sizemore
Josh Barfield
Kelly Shoppach
Shin-Soo Choo
Ryan Garko
Andy Marte
Franklin Gutierrez
Michael Aubrey
Asdrubal Cabrera
Ben Francisco
Brad Snyder

The Indians don't have any position players with player or club options for 2008. The following players' contracts expired at the end of this season:
Kenny Lofton
Casey Blake
Trot Nixon
Chris Gomez
Luis Rivas

Now, let's start with the obvious guys to stick in the starting lineup. Without looking at the numbers, who would you say was a sure bet? Martinez, Sizemore, Hafner, Peralta, and maybe Garko, right? Well, the numbers would support you. All five posted above-league-average VORPs in 2007, so we'll keep them around.

How do we fill out the rest of the lineup? If you add up the league average VORPs, and assume the DH league average (which was not listed) is the same as the first base league average, you get a total of 215.95. The total VORPs for our five "keepers" above is 193.6. If you'll believe my shady math, that means the remaining four in the lineup need to total 22.36 to equal a league-average lineup.

Before we go on, there's something I'd like to point out. VORP is a "counter" stat that takes into account how much someone has played. Put simply, a player who bats .300 for a full season would have a higher VORP than someone who bats .300 for half a season. Taking that into account, I'm going to do some more shady math to get Gutierrez and Cabrera's VORPs closer to full season numbers. Everyday starters had 600+ at bats. Franklin Gutierrez had 301 at bats, so let's multiply his VORP times 2 to get a full season value: 16.6. I'll be modest and multiply Asdrubal Cabrera's VORP by 3 to get 22.8. Those are both decent numbers, so they get to stick around, barring any sophomore slumps or the negative effects of their first full seasons in the bigs. Adding them to the lineup, we already have a team VORP of 233.

What do we do with the other two spots? Negative VORPs are possible, so we need higher (more positive) than -17 VORP out of the last two spots to come up with a lineup that's above league average.

Michaels and Dellucci signed decent sized contracts to platoon in left. I'm going to assume we're stuck with them. That gives us a team VORP of 233 + 0.4 - 3.4 = 230. Still above league average, so we have some wiggle room.

The biggest question is on the infield. Some people have already written off Marte, others have written off Barfield, and some have forgotten about both. Assuming Peralta and Cabrera are definites, that gives us two options:
(1) Barfield 2B, Peralta 3B, Cabrera SS
(2) Cabrera 2B, Marte 3B, Peralta SS
VORP does not take defense into account, and most statheads realize that there isn't a truly good way to value defense just yet. So let's stick to hitting. VORP does take position into account (you're rated compared to others at your position), so let's do some more shady math to convert Peralta's SS VORP to a 3B VORP, and Cabrera's 2B VORP to a SS VORP.
(Peralta SS VORP)/(lg avg SS VORP) = (Peralta 3B VORP)/(lg avg 3B VORP)
26.3/25.22 = x/26.19; x = 27.31
(Cabrera 2B VORP/(lg avg 2B VORP) = (Cabrera SS VORP)/(lg avg SS VORP)
22.8/22.69 = x/25.22; x = 25.34

Next, let's find Marte and Barfield's full-season VORPs. We'll take Marte's times 10 to get -40. We'll take Barfield's times 1.3 to get -17.68. So our two options are now
(1) -17.68 (Barfield 2B) + 27.31 (Peralta 3B) + 25.34 (Cabrera SS) = 70.33
(2) 22.8 (Cabrera 2B) -40 (Marte 3B) + 26.3 (Peralta SS) = 9.1

The overwhelming choice, then, is:

Huh. That gets us in at just under the league average. How can we improve it? Well, Martinez's numbers will probably go down, and Sizemore's might as well, but Hafner's are due to go up - that's just the statistical trend of reverting to the mean. Barfield is due for improvement as well.

Personally, I'd like to see Blake and Lofton back. Blake is selfless and will play any position you want him to. Plus, if you've read any interview given by him or Hafner, you can tell the two are good friends. But where do you put him? He's not going to replace Garko at first. Gutierrez is a great five-tool player, and it would be an insult to take away his starting spot after the year he had. You could keep the lineup the way it is - Cabrera 2B, Blake 3B, Peralta SS. But watching Game 8 of the ALCS showed that sticking Blake and Peralta on the same side of the infield is not always the best idea. Plus, you have to believe that Barfield's 2007 was only a fluke, and that Marte will finally live up to his hype sooner or later. Blake is worth more than the $4 million he was paid this year, so while he might not mind coming off of the bench as a super-sub, the Indians could definitely find a cheaper player to fill that role.

Lofton is a victim of numbers. He was added this year after Dellucci's season ended. Now both Dellucci and Michaels are back with guaranteed contracts for 2008, meaning there's simply no room for Lofton. Personally, I prefer him to the other two options. But from a business perspective, the Tribe is stuck with Dellucci and Michaels.

As for the other three, they served their purpose while they were here. Save the playoffs, Nixon's performance on the field was far from memorable. He did, however, keep the clubhouse loose, initiating the tradition of pie-ing the face of whichever player was giving the post game interview. That loose, fun attitude no doubt led to some extra wins. However, $3 million is steep for a pie-thrower. Chris Gomez was a playoff veteran signed for the stretch run. Rivas was infield insurance. That means both will likely be gone without a second thought.

Where do the Indians go from here? It looks like the Indians will need another utility infielder. This is especially true if Peralta makes the move to 3B full time, because someone will need to back up Cabrera at short. Marte and Barfield hurt their own cases by only being able to play one position. A fifth outfielder will also be needed both as a bench player and in case Gutierrez falters. Will that be Blake or Lofton after all? Will it be Francisco or Choo? Or someone else?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hindsight and Optimism

Lots of hindsight can be thrown at this weekend's ND-USC game. The first that comes to mind is starting Evan Sharpley, a guy who holds onto the ball too long, against SC's tenacious pass rush. But there's no use crying over that now. This is a program that has been wandering in the desert for the past 10-15 years, but there is reason for hope. For the first time in a while, we at least have a head coach that actually wants to go undefeated, and is willing to do anything within the rules and within his power to do so. Maybe it's a sad comment on the state of the program when simply having a coach who wants to win is a good thing. But so be it. It remains to be seen whether Coach Weis will be the next Gerry Faust, who loved Our Lady's University with all his heart but was severely overmatched making the jump from high school to I-A, or the next Dan Devine, who brought home a championship but never gained universal acceptance due to his ups and downs. The key barometer - besides wins and losses, obviously - is recruiting. How good will Coach Weis' recruiting class be after this losing season, or - Our Lady forbid - two losing seasons in a row?

Also in hindsight, Indians fans should have realized that Curt Schilling's first start of the ALCS was a fluke, and that he was coming ready to play in game six. Still, that doesn't mean the Indians are out of it yet. Momentum is a fickle thing. The Tribe took two of three in Cleveland. But if, instead of winning games three and four like they did, what if they had gone two for three by taking games 3 and 5, or 4 and 5 instead? They still could have lost game six and not felt out of it. What's my point? I believe it's that this series isn't over yet. (Yes, I am writing this before tonight's Game 7.)

But there's also reason for optimism among Indians fans. Despite what the national media and east coast fans may think, luck had nothing to do with Cleveland winning six of their first nine playoff games. This is a team that tied for the best record in baseball despite playing in a competitive division. They did so with two legitimate Cy Young contenders, and a center fielder, catcher, shortstop, and two setup men who are all among the league's best. Cleveland's insane numbers with two outs in the New York series may seem fluky, but not when you have a balanced lineup that's produced all year. And I'm sure Boston will tell you how much of a knock-down, drag-out fight this series has been.

But I have another reason for optimism. This Indians team is going to be around for a while. Even with the ageless Kenny Lofton on the roster, the average age of the team is 29. Of the Indians core group of stars, Rafael Betancourt is the old man at 32, and Travis Hafner is the only other one over the age of 30 (and he's been 30 for all of four and a half months now.)

So Go Irish, and Go Tribe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007
Issue 8: USC

No regular preview again this week (unless someone wants to write one). As an aside, I couldn't believe how lost I was watching the BC game after not previewing that game. I humbly hope that at least a few of my readers feel the same way.

We'll start with some news: Evan Sharpley will start at QB for the Irish, and unless John David Booty makes a semi-miraculous injury comeback, Mark Sanchez will call signals for the Trojans.

I will leave you some video inspiration, in honor of the 1977 Green Jersey Game, which will be commemorated this Saturday. First, some game clips from the BGS Video Vault. Second, with all due respect to Irish Round Table, Fire It Up!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Boston College 27, Notre Dame 14

Quarterback: It's quite obviously a rebuilding year at this point. But here's the question: do you go with Jimmy Clausen (20-7-2, 60 yds), quarterback of the future, and let him learn the offense on the fly? Or do you go with Evan Sharpley (29-11-0, 135 yds, TD), whose experience and playmaking ability lets everyone else on the field learn the offense on the fly? In other words, yes we'd like Clausen to gain experience and learn the offense. But with Sharpley in there and able to throw the ball downfield more, the young receivers are gaining valuable live experience.

Running Back: BC has a stout run defense, and it showed. Not counting two sacks and an errant Geoff Price knee, the Irish attempted only 18 runs. James Aldridge ran 5 times for 17 yards, Armando Allen 3 for 9, and Robert Hughes 5 for 6. Allen added 3 receptions for 16 yards.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp had a decent day with the ball. He had 1 carry for 4 yards and 2 receptions for 22 yards.

Receiver: In this game, Robby Parris may best be remembered for the 4th and 1 playaction touchdown catch that was called back due to holding, and remembered second best for a handful of near-catches and drops. But Parris still had a decent day, hauling in 4 receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. Duval Kamara and George West had quiet days, with 2 catches for 19 yards and 1 for 3 respectively. David Grimes did not dress for this game.

Tight End: It was another decent game for John Carlson, but again not All-America worthy. The grad student had 4 catches for 29 yards.

O-Line: If you're looking for signs of optimism, all planned runs by the Irish at least got back to the line of scrimmage. The only time ND was stopped behind the line was on Price's kneel and two sacks of Evan Sharpley.

D-Line: Trevor Laws had another solid day, recording 11 tackles and a pass breakup. Pat Kuntz added 5 tackles while Dwight Stephenson got a hit on the BC quarterback.

Linebacker: Joe Brockington put in yeoman's work in this one. Maurice Crum missed most of the game with a leg injury, and Brockington was limping for most of the second half as well. But Brockington stayed in there, and led the team with 13 tackles. Stepping in for Crum, in a new position on the inside, Anthony Vernaglia had 5 tackles, one in the backfield. John Ryan added 4 stops and a QB hit. Meanwhile, the legend of Brian Smith grows. Smith only had 2 tackles, but also had a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Safety: My dad commented that Tom Zbikwoski hasn't impressed him this year. Sadly, I would have to agree. Zbikowski had 6 tackles and a pass breakup, but he hasn't been playing with the killer instinct you'd expect out of a 5th-year version of number nine. David Bruton had 6 tackles.

Cornerback: The Irish played a nickel formation for most of the game, with two linemen, two outside linebackers in three-point stances, and two inside linebackers. The nickelback was Ambrose Wooden, who for better or for worse had 5 stops. Darrin Walls had 2 tackles and 2 pass breakups.

Kicker: Brandon Walker missed a 41 yard field goal attempt. He had the distance, but was wide right.

Punter: Price did have the key blunder of picking up a bad JJ Jansen snap with his knee on the ground. But otherwise, Price averaged 42.2 yards on 6 punts. And in Jansen's defense, this is likely the first time I've ever mentioned his name because of a bad snap.

Kick and Punt Returner: Armando Allen, Golden Tate, and Tom Zbikowski were all decent, but none could manage a return longer than 18 or 19 yards.

Special Teams: Irish coverage teams did a decent job, holding punt returners to 11.3 yards per and kick returners to 18.5 yards per.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Know Thy Enemy:
Boston College

Sorry, running behind this week, so no BC preview. Well, maybe a brief one. Big time passing offense, very good against the run, mediocre against the pass. Should be fun, especially if any of the current players are old enough to remember the last few contests. ND 23, BC 21.

The Bricks House
Eagle in Atlanta
For Here Men are Men
Heights and Lows
News from the Hill
Fanblogs Boston College
FanHouse Boston College

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Notre Dame 20, UCLA 6

Quarterback: Sometimes you need to do just enough to win. As far as Jimmy Clausen is concerned, the important things I'm taking away from this game are his three QB sneaks. Only two were successful, but one was for a TD. More importantly, this is the first time I can remember Clausen running sneaks. This shows that he believes he has the toughness to get the first down, and that Coach Weis has faith in Clausen to execute the play.

Running Back: It was tough running again for the Irish, but James Aldridge did pick up 52 yards on the ground, and another 18 in the air. Armanda Allen added 19 yards on 3 rushes and 3 yards on 2 receptions. Allen also hit John Carlson on a ten yard pass late in the game. Is Allen becoming the poor man's Darren McFadden? Travis Thomas had another rough day, picking up 1 yard on two carries.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp was finally able to gain some positive yardage, picking up 2 yards on 1 carry.

Receiver: Robby Parris started for the injured David Grimes and picked up 3 catches for 13 yards. Duval Kamara added 2 for 20. DJ Hord and Golden Tate each tried one "man on an island quick screen. Hord's went for 2 yards and Tate's for 0.

Tight End: They weren't All America numbers, but John Carlson's 6 catches for 38 yards are a sign that the star tight end is finding ways to get himself involved with this offense once again.

O-Line: The line is still a work in progress. Clausen was sacked 3 times, and the team only had 46 net rushing yards. But when the team was asked to just bowl over the guy in front of them, like on Clausen's sneaks or Schwapp's dive, they normally got the job done.

D-Line: Lost in the shuffle, Part I: Pat Kuntz and Trevor Laws both had big days for the Irish. Kuntz led the team with 8 tackles and knocked down two passes. Laws added 5 tackles, one of which was a sack, and also knocked down two passes. Dwight Stephenson made two stops in the backfield.

Linebacker: As Notre Dame was working on its offensive touchdown, I got a call from my brother. He's in the marching band, and they were on the way back to school from an away game. I needed to pick him up, but I figured that I would have enough time if I left at the end of the 3rd quarter (there were 3-4 minutes left in the quarter at that time. But after Clausen plunged in and Brandon Walker converted the PAT with under 2 minutes left in the quarter, I figured I could rush to my car and pick up the game on the radio. Once I finally found a radio station 10 minutes later, I discovered that I just missed Maurice Crum's fumble return for a touchdown. What a day for Crum. At the start of the game, I couldn't help but complain about his missed tackles. Boy, did he ever shut me up. After pulling a Tom Zbikowski and ripping the ball out of the UCLA back's hand, Crum also recorded a fumble return for a touchdown, 2 pass breakups, and 2 INTs playing deep zone in the fourth quarter. Crum had 80 return yards on the day, more than the Irish punt and kick returners combined. Oh, he also had a sack, part of his 7 tackles, which was second best on the team. I think you can qualify Crum as a "stat sheet stuffer," as he hit every defensive stat on the chart except for a quarterback hit (one that doesn't result in a sack) and a blocked kick. Joe Brockington added 6 tackles, one for a loss. Kerry Neal has continued to see his playing time increase. He had 3 tackles and recovered a fumble that set up a field goal. Anthony Vernaglia quietly added 4 tackles. Brian Smith recorded his first career sack, while John Ryan notched yet another. Toryan Smith added a tackle for a loss. Notre Dame had 9 stops in the backfield in this game, and not all of those can be blamed on a freshman walk-on quarterback.

Safety: Lost in the shuffle, Part II: Both safeties had themselves solid games. David Bruton probably deserves honorable mention on the horse trailer, both for his interception, and for his big hits on special teams that stopped several Bruins returns before they even started. Tom Zbikowski had 5 tackles, including the sack that led to a fumble and an injured quarterback.

Cornerback: Darrin Walls did a great job of breaking up a pass in the endzone, but apparently wasn't credited with an official "pass breakup." Ambrose Wooden, taking advantage of playing time due to UCLA's multiple receiver sets, recorded 6 tackles. Terrail Lambert recorded an interception in the 4th quarter.

Kicker: Lost in the shuffle, Part III: Brandon Walker had a solid day all around, kicking two PATs and hitting both of his field goal attempts. The 26-yarder was nice, but the 48-yarder was downright impressive. Has Coach Weis finally found his kicker?

Punter: Lost in the shuffle, Part IV: A week after being benched for inconsistency, Geoff Price was back punting, and punting well. Price booted the ball 9 times for an average of 40.3 yards and a long of 48. He was solid during a game when an early shanked punt could have easily changed the momentum of this game.

Kick Returner: Armando Allen handled all three kickoff returns, averaging 24 yards per with a long of 31.

Punt Returner: Tom Zbikowski returned two punts a total of 1 yard.

Special Teams: The Irish held UCLA to a 20 yard average on kickoffs and a 2 yard average on punts. Impressively, UCLA was only able to attempt returns on 2 of Price's 9 punts.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007
Issue 6: UCLA

Sorry for the abbreviated preview; it's midterm week. Oh, and the baseball playoffs are on.

UCLA Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

36 Khalil Bell and 28 Chris Markey have shared time for the Bruins. Bell is averaging 20 rushers and 104 yards per game, while Markey is averaging 16 and 81. Bell has 4 rushing TDs to Markey's 3.
Trevor Laws now leads the Irish in total tackles with 41, and in tackles for a loss with 4.5. Maurice Crum is second on the team with 20 tackles, and Joe Brockington is right behind with 38.

ND Rush Offense vs. UCLA Rush Defense

James Aldridge is starting to see more and more carries for the Irish. He's now averaging 8 rushes and 43 yards per game. Armando Allen is averaging 6 and 20. Robert Hughes is trying to become the short yardage back; he's averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Travis Thomas has struggled, averaging just 1.2 yards per carry.
Linbackers 51 Reggie Carter and 55 Korey Bosworth each have 4 tackles for a loss, trailing only DE 44 Bruce Davis. UCLA's top three tacklers are defensive backs, which would normally be a good sign to opposing running backs. But the Bruins have had a very good run defense, holding opponents to only 89 yards per game.

UCLA Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

7 Ben Olson has established himself as UCLA's starter, but his numbers have been less than impressive. On an average day, Olson completes 16 of 30 passes for 230 yards, with a TD and an interception. He's completing only 51.6% of his passes this year. WR 1 Brandon Breazell is averaging 4-5 catches and 80 yards per game. Fellow WR 26 Joe Cowan and 9 Marcus Everett are the only other Bruins with double digit receptions. Cowan and 19 Dominique Johnson each have 2 TD receptions. There's definitely a pattern here: all of UCLA's reception leaders are wideouts; no tight ends, no backs.
Notre Dame is holding opponents to 145 passing yards per game. David Bruton, Tom Zbikowski, Darrin walls, and Kyle McCarthy each have an interception, and John Ryan leads the team with 1.5 sacks.

ND Pass Offense vs. UCLA Pass Defense

The only way Jimmy Clausen doesn't play is if he still can't plant his left foot comfortably. Classen and Evan Sharpley are each completing over 60% of their passes, for 164 yards per game. David Grimes, the team leader in catches with 15, is quesitonable for this game. That leaves George West (13 catches), John Carlson (12), and talented freshmen Robby Parris (12), Duval Kamara (11), and Golden Tate (3) to step up.
UCLA is giving up 273 passing yards per game, so you can definitely throw on them. But don't throw in the direction of CB 23 Trey Brown, who already has 3 interceptions. DE Bruce Davis leads the team with 3.5 sacks. Eleven Bruins have recorded at least a partial sack. The Irish offensive line will need to step it up in this one, and Clausen or Sharpley will need to remain on their toes. Considering Clausen's possible injuries and Sharpley's tendency to hold onto the ball too long, that could spell trouble once again for Notre Dame.

Special Teams

I'll stick to the big news here. FS 18 Matt Slater has an 85-yard kick return TD for the Bruins. For the Irish, Eric Maust has officially replaced Geoff Price at punter. Price isn't injured; it was a combination of Price's inconsistency and Maust's good play (43.7 yards per punt) that led to the change.

Look for a big game from Clausen, Parris, Kamara, Laws, Bruton.

ND 24, UCLA 21: UCLA's defense will give up some points. ND just has to stop their offense.