Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 8: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Without a doubt, running back 25 LeSean McCoy is the star of this Pittsburgh football team. The workhorse sophomore is averaging 21 carries, 119 yards, and two touchdowns per game. That's right - two touchdowns per game; McCoy has 14 of the team's 20 on the season.

McCoy's backup is LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is averaging eight carries and 35.3 yards per game. Stephens-Howling has four rushing touchdowns of his own on the season. (Coincidentally, LeSean McCoy's father and brother are both named "LeRod.")

Indicative of Dave Wannstedt's smashmouth roots, fullback 30 Conredge Collins is averaging two carries and 9.4 yards per game. Junior college quarterback transfer 14 Greg Cross has been used as a change of pace, running four times in two games with a touchdown.

The Irish defense will have their hands full with the Pitt run game. Not only do the Panthers throw a variety of sizes at you (McCoy is 5'11", 210; Stephens-Howling is 5'7", 180; and Collins is 6'0", 230), but they also throw out a variety of looks, from the plays designed specifically for Cross to a "wildcat" package for McCoy. This is yet another game where Notre Dame's front seven will have to step up and help out their overworked safeties.

Of course, the front seven's play has been improving, although their stats may have been padded a bit by the performance Stanford and Washington's offensive lines. Harrison Smith now leads the team with five tackles for a loss, followed by Brian Smith and Pat Kuntz with four each and Justin Brown with three. Notre Dame has finally gotten the rushing yards per game stats in their favor - 122 yards per game for the Irish, compared to 120 for their opponents - but all that could change after facing a Pittsburgh team that averages an impressive 162.7 yards per game on the ground.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Pittsburgh Rush Defense

Notre Dame continues to use a three-headed running attack, but Armando Allen is establishing himself as the star of the show. Allen is averaging 11 carries and 51.4 yards per game. Robert Hughes is next with nine carries and 30.4 yards per game. James Aldridge, whose playing time and productivity have increased over the past few weeks, is now averaging seven carries and 31.8 yards per game. Allen and Aldridge are both averaging over four yards per carry, while Hughes is down to 3.3.

Golden Tate has now run three times for 35 yards and a touchdown. But since both the Tate end-around and Harrison Smith fake punt were used last week, you probably won't see them again this Saturday.

Pitt's run defense is giving up 122 yards per game, almost matching Notre Dame's offensive output. The Panthers like to spend a lot of time in their opponent's backfield, with 42 tackles for a loss on the season. They're lead by linebacker 40 Scott McKillop, who has 10.5 TFL, and lineman Jabaal Sheard with 7.5. Pitt has eight players with multiple TFL, thanks partially to rotation on the defensive line. McKillop also leads the team with 67 tackles.

But the fact that Pittsburgh has so many tackles for a loss and yet still gives up so many rushing yards tells me that they're a high risk, high reward defense. Can they be beaten by delays and misdirection?

Pittsburgh Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

11 Bill Stull has been effective but not flashy for the Panthers this season, but a concussion has him doubtful for this game. If Stull does not play, 19 Pat Bostick will replace him. Bostick would then find himself in a familiar place, as he became Pitt's starter after a Stull injury last year as well.

Pitt had a 39:17 run-to-pass ratio under Stull, and it no doubt will remain the same with Bostick under center. Pitt's leading receiver has been 81 Derek Kinder, averaging just over three catches and 35.3 yards per game. Not surprisingly, LeSean McCoy is tied for second on the team with 17 catches, matching the performance of wideout 1 Cedric McGee. Wearing the number one in Pitt colors with dreads poking out the back of his helmet, McGee may remind some of Larry Fitzerald, by look at least.

McCoy, Mcgee, and wide receivers 88 Oderick Turner and 9 TJ Porter are each averaging at least two catches per game. Four others are averaging at least one catch per game: receiver 82 Jonathan Baldwin, tight ends 80 Nate Byham and 2 Dorin Dickerson, and fullback Conredge Collins. The 6'5" Baldwin has two of the team's four receiving touchdowns, so look for him in the red zone.

Notre Dame is giving up 212 passing yards per game, compared to the 233 yards per game the Pitt offense averages. The Irish defense's goal should be to shut down the run and force Bostick to beat them. Pat Kuntz leads the team with three sacks, while David Bruton has three interceptions.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Pittsburgh Pass Defense

Notre Dame's young aerial assault continues to rack up numbers, led by Jimmy Clausen. On an average day, Clausen will complete 21 of 35 passes for 261.7 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

Clausen has shared the wealth equally between his top two receivers, as both Golden Tate and Michael Floyd now have 31 catches on the season. That means both are averaging four to five catches a game. Tate has the slight edge in yards per game - 80.7 to Floyd's 76.1 - but Floyd has five touchdowns to Tate's four.

Armando Allen is averaging three catches and 21.9 yards per game. David Grimes is expected to be back this week, hoping to maintain his average of four catches and 36.4 yards per game. Kyle Rudolph and Robby Parris are each averaging two catches per game, although Parris has struggled to find consistent playing time. Duval Kamara and Robert Hughes are each averaging at least one catch per game.

Pitt has been stout against the pass, giving up just 187.1. No doubt that number is helped by the push of the men up front. Of Pittsburgh's 42 tackles for loss, 21 have been sacks. Jabaal Sheard leads the team with 4.5, while Scott McKillop has 4.0 and 91 Greg Romeus has 3.5.

For what it's worth, Pitt also has 25 pass breakups and 23 quarterback hits on the season. Cornerback 17 Aaron Berry leads the team with four breakups, although most of the lineman have one or two. That means the Irish playcalling will have to plan around pressure and knockdowns at the line. Not surprisingly, Jabaal Sheard leads the team with six quarterback hits. Safety 31 Dom DeCicco leads with two interceptions.

Special Teams

37 Conor Lee is back for his third season as Pitt's placekicker, and he's been very accurate so far. Lee is 11-for-13, with his only misses coming from 40+ yards. Lee's longest make on the year was from 44 yards. That's not bad, considering Heinz Field's reputation for poor field conditions and the treacherous open end of the stadium that faces the river. For the Irish, Brandon Walker has made his last three attempts to improve to four-for-ten on the year. However, he's only one-for-five in front of the home crowd. Let's hope his recent streak has improved his confidence.

18 Dave Brytus Pittsburgh's punter. He's shown a strong leg with an average of 41.7 yards and a long of 60. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 54. You may notice that those numbers haven't changed from last week, as the Irish did not need to punt in Washington.

LaRod Stephens-Howling has taken most of Pittsburgh's kick returns, with a long of 21.4 yards and a long of 34. Reserve wideout 10 Aundre Wright has taken a third of the team's total kick returns, with an average of 20.3 and a long of 29. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.1 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a solid 16.3 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has taken most of the kicks and has a 22.1 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 21.8 yard average with a long of 29. In addition to long fields goals and punts, 24 Luke Briggs is the kickoff specialist for the Panthers. Briggs is averaging 62.4 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks in 38 tries. Pittsburgh gives up an even 20.0 yards per return on average. That gives opponents an average start of the 27 yard line.

Aaron Berry has returned three punts for the Huskies, with a pedestrian average of 5.4 yards but a long of 24. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, David Bruton, Kyle McCarthy


Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 24

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 7: Washington

Washington Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Washington looks to be without its top rusher, quarterback 10 Jake Locker, and will employee a running back-by-committee in his absence. Without Locker, a trio of young running backs have been carrying the load. 20 David Freeman is averaging seven carries and 45 yards per game. 27 Terrance Dailey is averaging 11 carries and 60 yards per game. 6 Brandon Johnson - as a sophomore, the old man of the group - is averaging six to seven carries but only 12.6 yards per game.

Freeman and Dailey's yards-per-carry averages have been respectable, 6.2 YPC for the former and 5.5 for the latter. Johnson's average is a mere 2.0 YPC, but he is the biggest of the backs and does have two of the teams 10 rushing touchdowns. That leads me to believe that he's the team's short yardage back.

That's right, the Huskies are very young at running back, and that's even without another freshman, the injured 1 Chris Polk. They've also distributed the ball very well on the ground, as a variety of running backs, fullbacks, and wide receivers have recorded carries. Of note, wide receivers 82 Jordan Polk and 11 D'Andre Goodwin both are averaging nearly one rush per game.

Backup quarterback 8 Ronnie Fouch has not been as mobile as Jake Locker, however. (Few quarterbacks are, of course). Fouch has netted -9 yards for the season.

Notre Dame's defense has given up 136.3 rushing yards per game this season. The good news is that they're going up against a Washington team that's averaged only 103.2 yards per game. Take away Locker's production, and that number drops to 73 yards per game. After a few impressive weeks, Pat Kuntz now leads the team with 4 tackles for a loss. Brian Smith, Harrison Smith, and Justin Brown each have 3 TFL.

Maurice Crum is tied with Brian Smith for third on the team in tackles, behind safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton. Crum is one of a dozen or so Irish fifth-year seniors who spent 2004 under Ty Willingham, and Saturday will be their last chance to perform in front of their old coach.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Washington Rush Defense

As mediocre as Washington's running game has been, Notre Dame is right with them. The Irish have a slight advantage in yards per carry - 3.2 to 3.0, but are averaging only 101.2 yards per game to Washington's 103.2.

The Irish are lead by Armando Allen, with 10 carries and 49.7 yards per game, and a 4.9 yards per carry average. Robert Hughes is also averaging 10 carries per game, but only 32.2 yards per game thanks to a 3.1 yards per carry average. James Aldridge, who finally recorded his first collegiate touchdown against North Carolina two weeks ago, is averaging six carries and 21.4 yards per game.

Washington's defense is giving up 5.8 yards per carry and 232 yards per game on the year, but Notre Dame's run game has been known to make poor run defenses look good before. The defensive star for the Huskies is sophomore linebacker 40 Mason Foster, who is leading the team with 50 tackles and an impressive 6.5 tackles for a loss. Perhaps telling of Washington's defensive struggles, safety 8 Nate Williams is second on the team with 43 tackles.

Washington Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Backup-turned-starter Ronnie Fouch is a bit undersized at 6'1". An average day for Fouch is completing 11 of 21 or 22 passes (50.5%) for 156.4 yards. Fouch has three touchdowns and four interceptions in five games this season.

11 D'Andre Goodwin leads the Huskies with 5 receptions and 75.2 yards per game. Behind Goodwin are freshmen 9 Devin Aguilar and 15 Jermaine Kearse, each averaging three catches and 33-34 yards per game. Behind the top three receivers, five Huskies pass catchers averaging at least one reception per game.

Jermaine Kearse leads the team with two receiving touchdowns. Tight end 86 Michael Gottlieb and running back 35 Brandon Yakaboski have the team's other two receiving touchdowns, so look for them in the red zone.

As mentioned above, no less than eight Huskies are averaging at least one catch per game, so the Irish defense will have to be on their toes. One nice thing for the Notre Dame secondary is that they won't have to worry about too many height disadvantages. Gottlieb is 6'5", but of the top three wide receivers, Kearse is the tallest at 6'1". Pat Kuntz, adept at knocking down passes at the line, is probably licking his chops at the thought of facing a "short" quarterback in Fouch.

Kuntz also leads the Irish with three sacks, while four other players have one apiece. David Bruton has two interceptions, while five other Irish players have one apiece.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Washington Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has showed sophomore growing pains, but he's also shown why he was such a sought-after recruit out of high school. On an average day, Clausen will throw 36-37 passes and complete 22-23 of them (61.6%) for 271.8 yards. On the season, he has 14 touchdowns to 8 interceptions.

Clausen's four main targets are each averaging around four catches per game. Golden Tate is averaging 86.3 yards per game, Michael Floyd 71.0, Armando Allen 26.7, and David Grimes 36.4. Tate and Floyd each have four touchdowns on the season, while Allen has one and Grimes two.

Kyle Rudolph is averaging two catches and 27.7 yards per game and has two touchdowns on the year. Duval Kamara, Robert Hughes, and Robby Parris are each averaging at least one catch per game, although Parris has struggled to find playing time with the emergence of Tate and Floyd.

The Huskies give up 250.2 passing yards per game. Cornerback 23 Mesphin Forrester is third on the team with 34 tackles. Mason Foster and corner 28 Quentin Richardson have the team's lone interceptions, while defensive end 66 Daniel Te'o-Nesheim has recorded all three of the team's sacks.

Special Teams

Washington employs two place kickers, and both are struggling. 13 Ryan Perkins is the short-yardage kicker, and he's made one of three attempts - a 35-yarder. 12 Jared Ballman is the long-range kicker, but all of his attempts have come from only the 40-49 yard range. He's two of five on the season. For the Irish, Brandon Walker is now two for eight on the year.

Jared Ballman is also Washington's punter. He's averaging just 38.8 yards per punt, but has five punts of 50 or more yards, including a 64-yarder. He's also had plenty of practice, with 32 punts in six games. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 54.

Jordan Polk has been Washington's primary kick returner. He's averaging 18.8 yards per return with a long of 38. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.0 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with an 16.4 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has taken most of the kicks and has a 22.1 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 21.8 yard average with a long of 29. In addition to long fields goals and punts, Jared Ballman also kicks of for the Huskies. Ballman is averaging 62.4 yards per kickoff, and seven of his 23 kicks have been touchbacks. That's a pretty good leg. Washington gives up 21.7 yards per return on average. Their website is also nice enough to list the average start for opponents on kickoffs: the 27 yard line.

Devin Aguilar has returned three punts for the Huskies, with an average of 7.7 yards and a long of 14. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Justin Brown, Maurice Crum, Terrail Lambert


Notre Dame 33, Washington 19

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why I'm Fired Up About the Tampa Bay Rays (in 1,000 Words or More)

Recently I was asked to explain in 3,000 words or more why I'm cheering for the Tampa Bay Rays this postseason. Forgive me for barely topping 1,200 words, but I hope you at least enjoy my tale.

You may think it's because I'm a bitter Cleveland fan on the outside looking in at a club that bested the Yankees and Red Sox in regular season AL East competition. True, I am a virtual card-carrying member of the Cleveland chapter of the Yankee-Haters Club.

True, my scorn of the Red Sox began before the 2007 ALCS, when for four years straight my once-a-year trip to Jacobs Field happened to be when the Indians were playing the Red Sox and the cavalcade of Boston bandwaggoners filled the Jake. But my own bandwagon Rays fandom was created by love of Tampa Bay, not hate of New York or Boston.

Like Peter Gammons, I've long been a fan of up-and-coming prospects. The Rays have been "Gammonsesque" since 2003, when Carl Crawford began his first full season, joined in the outfield by rookie Rocco Baldelli.

Crawford was billed as a five-tool stud. Baldelli, playing center field and wearing number 5, was hailed as the next Joe Dimaggio. But two players do not a Gammonsesque team make. Tampa Bay had the second overall pick in the 2002 draft and the first overall pick in the 2003 draft. Both years they took talented position players - BJ Upton in 2002 and Delmon Young in 2003.

But despite this promise, the years went on and the parent club struggled. To make matters worse, the young talent wasn't living up to its hype. Baldelli couldn't stay on the field. Upton was overmatched at shortstop and struggled to find a new position. Young and fellow outfielder Elijah Dukes became liabilities with character issues, as did 1999 top pick Josh Hamilton. Other top picks, like Dewan Brazelton, simply burnt out.

One nice thing about being a perennial loser, however, is that you can give extra chances to prospects that faded out elsewhere. Dioner Navarro was the Dodger's big reward in the three-way deal that sent Randy Johnson to the Yankees and Shawn Green to the Diamondbacks. Navarro did alright in LA, but he proved to be no Russell Martin.

Carlos Pena turned a few years of mashing Indians pitching into a big deal from the Tigers, but he quickly regressed and was then shown the door. After a brief stop in Boston (and an even briefer stop with the Yankees, where he never saw the field), he ended up in Tampa Bay, where he absolutely lit the world on fire in 2007.

The Rays started to show signs of life in 2007. The offense began living up to its potential. Meanwhile, in the middle of a mediocre pitching rotation and a horrendous bullpen, two staff aces emerged. Scott Kazmir was the big name, thanks to the now infamous trade that sent him from New York to Tampa Bay and GM Steve Phillips from New York to ESPN's studios in Bristol, Connecticut. But matching Kazmir pitch for pitch was second-year starter James Shields.

Realizing that they had depth in the outfield, Tampa Bay's front office traded away the controversial Dukes and Young. For Young, they got an impressive haul from Minnesota – shortstop Jason Bartlett and talented young starting pitcher Matt Garza.

Up-the-middle defense has long been a staple of winning clubs, and Bartlett helped shore up that defense at shortstop. Anything he added with the bat would be a plus. Garza stepped in as the number three starter.

Then the Rays got gimmicky. They decided to officially drop the “Devil” and become the Tampa Bay Rays. They fined employees a dollar – payable to the team's charity – for every use of the old term “Devil Rays,” and even went as far as sending letters to media personalities requesting they comply with the fines.

While this met much eye-rolling, I do think it was a clever way to help the Rays raise money for their team charity. (As an aside, I keep thinking that the team dropped the word “Bay” as well. After all, Tampa Bay isn't a city, but Tampa is. However, the Rays play in St. Petersburg.)

Lazy sportswriters predicted another basement finish for these new-look Rays, but those in the know foresaw much greater things. Tampa Bay was going to easily finish third in the AL East and possibly challenge the Yankees for second place. Some optimists who were tired of the Yankees and Red Sox hoped the Rays could even win the division, but that seemed like it might be too much, too soon.

Then things started clicking. BJ Upton took to his new position like a gazelle, racing across center field to make terrific catches, all while hitting the lights out. Kazmir, Shields, Garza, and Barberton, OH native Andy Sonnanstine formed a very solid rotation.

The team had focused on upgrading the bullpen in the offseason, and that was paying off as well. Troy Percival was the big pickup, but he broke down by the end of the season. So the Rays went bullpen-by-committee, always riding the hot hand. It's paid off so far.

Meanwhile, two more first round picks were tearing up the minors. 2006 pick Evan Longoria was originally held back to delay his eventual salary arbitration status, but he hit so well that the team threw that idea out six games into the season – and gave him a longterm contract to boot. 2007 number one overall David Price was having trouble finding a league that could contain him.

Longoria is now the favorite for Rookie of the Year, and Price was in the majors by September. The Rays kept winning meanwhile – the division was theirs to lose.

Then the playoffs started, with Tampa Bay coming in as AL East champs, and the “old men” had come full circle. Carl Crawford battled injuries all season and Rocco Baldelli faced a career-threatening illness, but both were able to sneak onto the playoff roster.

And oh what an adventure the playoffs have been. The heroes have been many, including Matt Garza, who twice beat a Jon Lester that the media thought was unbeatable. Then their was David Price's gutsy performance in Game 7. I'm sure the boys at the Baseball America offices down in Durham was just as excited as me to see Price come in not only to strike out the hot-hitting JD Drew in the eighth, but also to close out the game and send the Tampa Bay Rays to their first World Series.

As a postlude, yes, I am cheering for the Rays in the World Series. But the opposing Phillies bring with them closer Brad Lidge. Lidge is the latest star in the storied history of Notre Dame alumni in Major League Baseball, so whether the trophy goes to him or to the Tampa Bay Rays, I'll be happy. And I'll enjoy watching every minute of what is sure to be another great Fall Classic.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cleveland Browns: Regression, Injuries, and Schedule Strength

Cleveland fans are all too familiar with the story: a successful but unsatisfying 2007 season leading to a disappointing 2008 season. It started when the Cavs lost in the NBA finals and failed to repeat that success the following year. The Indians made it to the ALCS in 2007, but injuries and inconsistency kept them out of the playoffs in 2008. Now, it looks like the Browns are repeating that storyline. But how and why?


When teams and players play above their head one year, you can expect them to come back down to earth the following year. That may be the case for the team as a whole, but not necessarily for all of its players.

The Browns offensive core of Derek Anderson, Josh Cribbs, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow are all 25 years old this year. The NFL may have a rapid aging curve, but it's not that rapid. Anderson, Cribbs, Edwards, and Winslow are, in theory, still young enough to have an equal chance of improving with age as they are to regressing to the mean.


The 2008 Browns are eerily similar to this summer's Indians when you take injuries into account. Even those players who did recover from preseason injuries still showed lingering effects in the regular season. Prior to the Giants game, Braylon Edwards had more drops than catches. Joshua Cribbs, meanwhile, has rarely seen the other side of the 50 on his returns so far this season.

Injuries to an already thin wide receiver corps have also hurt the Browns this season. Joe Jurevicius has yet to see the field, and may not at all this season. Joshua Cribbs was nursing his preseason injury. Donte Stallworth was out until last week's Giants game, which was perhaps not-so-coincidentally a Cleveland win.

Before that, the depth chart had Edwards, Syndric Steptoe. No disrespect to Steptoe, but he was a seventh-round pick taken mostly for his return potential. Prior to Stallworth's return, opposing defenses could smother Edwards and Kellen Winslow and leave Derek Anderson with few other reliable options.

Schedule Strength

In 2007, the Browns had arguably the easiest schedule in the league, and were bound to have a tougher slate this year. I tried to play the optimist with this situation, reasoning that the players didn't necessarily know that their 10-6 record was a result of weak competition, and that it had given them the confidence to beat anyone.

Five games into the season, that may not be the case. To paraphrase that one commercial, Cleveland is 2-3 and knocking on mediocrity's door with many talented opponents on the schedule this year. This year may end in disappointment, but 2009 is looking good once again for the city of Cleveland.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

2009 Cleveland Indians: A Modest Proposal


How's that for a lineup in 2009? It just might work.


One way to construct a good lineup is to put above average hitters at every position. In the below table, each player is followed by two numbers. The first is their career OPS. Eventually I'll edit this to use their projected 2009 OPS, but for now I'll use their career totals.

The second number is the average OPS among qualified batter at that position in 2008. For example, in 2008 nine catchers had enough at bats to qualify for the batting title, and those nine catchers had an average OPS of .776.


The first thing that probably jumps out to Cleveland fans is the heavy assumption that Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner progress back to their career averages. If they do, though, they'll both be above average players at their positions.

The second thing that jumps out is that first basemen had the same average OPS as catchers, and were below second basemen. That's a statistical anomaly I should look into if I want to improve this study.

The third thing that should jump out is Jhonny Peralta's OPS compared to each infield position. Peralta is slightly above average as a shortstop, slightly below average as a second baseman (by 2008 standards, at least), and would be eaten alive as a third baseman. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, is already above average as a third baseman, and that doesn't count the mythical batting improvement of a catcher moving out into the field.

In the outfielders, many fans want the Indians to sign a hard-hitting corner outfielder. But that may not be needed. Both Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore hit better than the average left fielder - the strongest outfield position. That should be enough to outweigh Ben Francisco's center field-like hitting.

Combining all the positions above, you get an average-league-average OPS of .807, while the Indians give an average OPS of .817. Granted, that's not weighing everyone's plate appearances individually, but the basic numbers show good things for the Tribe.


The big thing here, of course, is how Victor Martinez would handle third base. He was signed as a shortstop, but played catcher his entire minor and major league career.

Jhonny Peralta's defense should improve by moving to an easier position. The team's defense as a whole should improve by having better defensive players at shortstop (Cabrera or Peralta) and catcher (Shoppach over Martinez).


I plugged these players into David Pinto's lineup analysis tool, and the results can be found here. The lineup listed at the top of this article isn't the best one the tool returned, but it's the one that makes the most sense. (Martinez and Hafner in the top two spots could get anyone fired.)

The only concern with the lineup is lefty-righty matchups. Five out of six consecutive hitters (counting Cabrera) are lefties. But they are broken up by Garko, who does much better against lefties than righties.


If the Indians want to get back to the playoffs, the parts may already be there. Sure, moving Martinez to third and Peralta to second is far-fetched. But am I any crazier than the professional sportswriters who think all the Indians' problems can be solved by signing Manny Ramirez, a guy who burned all his bridges in Cleveland long ago?

As I mentioned above, this is still a work in progress. I welcome any input on my methods or my conclusions.


ESPN's MLB stat page for the breakdown of qualified hitters by position
Fangraphs, for players' career OPS numbers

Monday, October 13, 2008

North Carolina 29, Notre Dame 24

You'll have to forgive me (and correct me when necessary), since I didn't get to see this game. Ohio State-Purdue was on at the same time, so ND-UNC was blacked out in my area. Because apparently Ohioans don't like the Buckeyes and need to be forced to watch them. Right. I also wasn't able to get the game to come in on the radio, although chances are the stations carrying ND would have been overrun by the OSU game as well.

This is what I was able to cobble together from ESPN's gametracker, texts from my sister to my dad, and the final drive video on (Oh, and the one play they accidentally showed on ABC before switching to OSU-Purdue.)

Quarterback: Sophomore with promise. That's Jimmy Clausen season in a nutshell. Clausen threw for 383 yards, scrambled when he needed to, and showed great poise on the final drive. However, he also had three second half turnovers, two interceptions and a lost fumble. This is a young team, no doubt. But the Irish were minus-five in the turnover battle and still took a top-25 squad down to the final gun.

Running Back: The gameplan called for twice as many runs as passes, and that showed on the opening drive. Still, when the Irish did run they ran effectively. Armando Allen ran 11 times for 60 yards, a 5.5 yard average. James Aldridge had a day to remember, finally picking up his first career touchdown. Aldridge finished with four carries for 23 yards, a 5.8 yard average. Robert Hughes added four carries for 12 yards, a 3.0 yard average. Perhaps most impressively, outside of Jimmy Clausen's sacks, Notre Dame's running game only had one yard listed in the "loss" category in this one.

Allen also came up big in the passing game again, gaining 47 yards on a team-leading seven catches. Hughes added one catch for 15 yards.

Receiver: Once again, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate racked up yards on deep passes. Floyd finished with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, while Tate had five catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Mired in a disappointing season, Duval Kamara stepped up with five catches for 58 yards, including a couple on that final drive. David Grimes added four catches for 19 yards.

Tight End: Kyle Rudolph had three catches for 30 yards.

Offensive Line: The AP writeup gives the line credit for giving Clausen time to throw most of the time, and the team did gain 472 yards. However, Clausen was sacked four times.

Defensive Line: Pat Kuntz added another sack to his tally. He and Ian Williams each finished with three tackles, while Justin Brown added two. Brown also had a quarterback hit.

Linebacker: Maurice Crum had a fairly productive day, recording five tackles a pass breakup, and two quarterback hits. But pass breakups and quarterback hits are "not quite" stats, because they're not quite interceptions and not quite sacks. Take that to mean what you will. Brian Smith added three tackles and a quarterback hit.

Safety: North Carolina did in fact keep the Irish safeties busy. David Bruton led the team with eight tackles. Harrison Smith added six tackles, one for a loss. Kyle McCarthy had four.

Cornerback: Hakeem Nicks stepped up for the Tarheels, catching nine passes for 141 yards. I'm going to guess he was covered by Raeshon McNeil, who recorded six tackles, more than the rest of the Irish corners combined.

Kicker: Brandon Walker made his lone field goal attempt, a 42-yarder. But it was the field goals he didn't attempt that were perhaps the difference in the game. Facing fourth and seven from the North Carolina 27 with more than 10 minutes left in the game, the Irish decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal that would have brought the score to 29-27. Had Walker made that one, he would have set himself up to be the hero on the final drive.

Punter: This was indeed a wild one, as Eric Maust only needed to attempt one punt. It covered 35 yards.

Kick Returner: Someone please fill me on in the squib kick at the end of the first half. I do know that number 25 fielded the ball, ran five yards, then fumbled. Notre Dame's roster and ESPN's game tracker say that number 25 is freshman Jonas Gray. But the box score says it was Gary Gray, who normally wears number 4. I'm assuming the box score just confused the two Grays?

While Armando Allen has taken most of Notre Dame's kickoff returns this year, Golden Tate was the main man in this one. I have to wonder if that was a coaching decision on Notre Dame's part, or if UNC consciously chose to kick it away from Allen. Tate had four returns for 92 yards, with a long of 29. Allen had two returns for 23 yards, with a long of 12.

Special Teams: Mike Anello had two tackles, and Notre Dame was near its season averages when it came to kick and punt coverage.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 6: North Carolina

North Carolina Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

North Carolina has run 165 times to 101 passes; those numbers may be due to uncertainty at the quarterback position (see below). Their leading rusher is 8 Greg Little, a tall (6'3") converted receiver. Little is averaging 13 carries and 44.6 yards per game. He also leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns. Little has been known to direct snaps in a wildcat formation, but the Irish have shown much more success against that look than they did in last year's Georgia Tech game.

Little's backup is converted safety (can't they recruit running backs?) 20 Shaun Draughn. Draughn is averaging 9 carries and 41.2 yards per game. He has two touchdowns on the year, and his 4.7 yards per carry average looks much more respectable than Little's 3.3 at this point. 87 Brandon Tate is one of several North Carolina receivers to register a rushing attempt on the season, so that's something else for the Irish to look for. Tate is averaging 2 carries and 28.6 yards per game. On the other hand, quarterback 11 Cam Sexton has been a non-factor in the run game.

North Carolina has thrived on running the ball and converting big plays on the ground and in the air. That points to a busy day for the Irish safeties. Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton can't be everywhere, and they'll need some help in the run game from the front seven if Notre Dame wants to win this one. That means it's time for middle linebackers Maurice Crum and Brian Smith to step up and take over the game. On the year, Notre Dame is giving up 139 yards per game on the ground.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. North Carolina Rush Defense

Notre Dame's running game has again had an up-and-down season. Armando Allen is leading the way thus far with 10 carries and 47.6 yards per game. Robert Hughes is averaging 11-12 carries and 3.1 yards per game. Each has two touchdowns on the ground. James Aldridge has become the third wheel of this trio, averaging 6 carries and 21 yards per game with no touchdowns.

The Tarheels are giving up 144.4 rushing yards per game this season, so there may be some hope for Allen and Hughes. Linebackers 41 Mark Paschal and 52 Quan Sturdivant lead the team with 41 tackles apiece, while Paschal has an impressive 5.5 tackles for a loss in 5 games. Breaking down the numbers, that's 8 tackles per linebacker per game.

Cornerback 16 Kendric Burney and linebacker 54 Bruce Carter are next on the team with 3 TFL each. So keep your eyes on the talented UNC linebackers, but don't forget about Burney. Carter has also been a terror on special teams, blocking 4 kicks already.

North Carolina Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

When quarterback 13 TJ Yates went down, it once again opened the door for Cam Sexton. Sexton shared starting responsibilities in 2006 before losing the job, barely saw the field at all in 2007, then started this year as the backup.

Sexton hasn't exactly set the world on fire this time around, but he has played well enough. His average day is 10 of 17 for 179.5 yards. Sexton has 3 touchdowns and an interception in two starts, and for what it's worth, both of those starts have been wins. If Sexton struggles, though, 7 Mike Paulus may be an option. Paulus - brother of cager Greg - has played three games' worth of garbage time so far this year.

UNC's wide receivers are led by the talented 88 Hakeem Nicks, who is averaging 5 catches and 82.4 yards per game. Brandon Tate is averaging 3 catches and 75.2 yards per game, and 1 Brooks Foster is averaging 2 and 20.4. Tight end 17 Zack Pianalto is averaging 1 catch and 11.2 yards per game. Tarheel running backs have only combined for 4 catches on the year, but that's no reason to forget about them.

Notre Dame is giving up 237.4 passing yards per game. North Carolina has three very talented receivers who have accounted for 3/4 of the teams' catches. It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame chooses to cover all three at once. Terrail Lambert, Raeshon McNeil, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton have rotated between the two outside spots, leaving Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown manning the slot receivers.

But Smith and Brown have struggled in man coverage, while Gray and Blanton have done well in their first year of collegiate competition. Will the Irish try to mix things up and take hybrid safety/linebackers Smith and Brown off the field to replace them with more talented corners? As the North Carolina backs and tight ends are not much of a factor in the passing game, that may be an option.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. North Carolina Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen just keeps getting better every week. Clausen is now averaging 21 completions on 34 attempts and 249.6 yards per week. He's up to 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions on the year, an improvement on his 6-and-6 mark two weeks ago.

Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have developed into Clausen's top options; each is averaging upwards of 4 catches per game. Tate is averaging 79.4 yards per game to Floyd's 66.6; each has three touchdown catches on the year.

Complementing Tate and Floyd are David Grimes and Armando Allen, each averaging 3+ catches per game. Grimes is averaging 40.8 yards per game to Allen's 22.6. Kyle Rudolph is also becoming a key cog in the passing attack, averaging 2 catches and 27.2 yards per game.

Like their offense, North Carolina's defense thrives on big plays. Mark Paschal is truly the leader of the defense. In addition to leading the team in tackles and TFL, his 2 sacks are first on the team and 2 interceptions are second. Safety 31 Trimane Goddard has 4 interceptions for a squad that has recorded 12 picks through 5 games. Jimmy Clausen has looked great in his last two games, but this is the type of defense that could make him look like a mortal sophomore again.

Special Teams

North Carolina has a pair of freshman place kickers, and the guy who plays on Saturday is the guy who performs better during the week. So far, 18 Jay Wooten has had the edge over 11 Casey Barth in practice and in games. Wooten has gone 4-6 with a long of 43. Barth has only made one of his 3 attempts a 31-yarder. For the Irish, Brandon Walker is now 1 for 7 on the year.

JUCO transfer Terrence Brown is back for a second year as the Tarheel punter. He's averaging 40.3 yards per punt and has a long of 53 yards. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 42.0 yards per punt with a long of 52. Maust will have to be on his toes Saturday, as North Carolina has already blocked 4 punts in 5 games.

Brandon Tate has been North Carolina's primary kick returner, with some help from Hakeem Nicks. Tate is averaging 27.7 yards per return on 11 tries; Nicks 21.2 on 4. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 62.2 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with an 15.7 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has returned three-fourths of the kicks for a 23.5 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 20.8 yard average with a long of 28. Jay Wooten has handled all of UNC's kickoffs, with a 61.3 yard average and 0 touchbacks. He's had his struggles, with 3 of 31 kicks going out of bounds. The Tarheels have been solid in kick coverage, giving up 17.4 yards per return. That in turn gives opponents an average start on the 26 yard line.

Brandon Tate is also NC's punt returner. He's averaging a spectacular 24.8 yards per return, with help from an 82 yard touchdown run. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Brian Smith, Kyle McCarthy, Brandon Walker


Notre Dame 28, North Carolina 24

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Random Updates/Link Dump

  • If you're not watching it yet, be sure to check out The Subway Alumni Show, a weekly 15(ish)-minute video on Notre Dame football. One of the two hosts is an Ignatius guy and proud of it.

  • Basketball fans know who James Naismith is. If you do, or even if you don't, be sure to stop by Naismith Lives. While you're there, check out the Top 50 Basketball Commercials of All-Time.

  • Not content with frequent appearances in the NFL playoffs, Notre Dame alumni have started taking over the MLB playoffs as well. Jeff Samardzija and Craig Counsell may be done, but Brad Lidge and the Phillies are still alive. Matt Macri and Aaron Heilman were knocking on the playoffs' door until the last week of the season.

  • Don't forget the WNBA playoffs either. Ruth Riley made another WNBA finals appearance as the sixth woman for San Antonio, who fell to Bill Laimbeer's Detroit Shock.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Notre Dame 28, Stanford 21

Quarterback: Jimmy Clausen showed great poise and decision-making, and it led to a career day. Clausen completed 29 of 40 passes for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns. He hit the deep balls. He hit the checkdowns. He even scrambled 3 times for 16 yards.

Running Back: Clausen bailed out the running game in this one. The Irish ran 27 times for 83 yards, and 23 of those yards came on Harrison Smith's fake punt run. Armando Allen had the best day of any Irish back, running 9 times for 33 yards and a touchdown. Allen's 3.7 yards per carry averaged more than doubled that of Robert Hughes (8 carries, 14 yards) or James Aldridge (5, 9), who both earned only 1.8 YPC. Allen also had 66 receiving yards and a touchdown on 7 catches. Hughes added 1 catch for 4 yards.

Receiver: Notre Dame's receiving depth showed in this game. As mentioned above, Clausen recorded a career-high 347 passing yards this game, and he did so with his leading receiver - Golden Tate - limited to 3 catches and 30 yards. Michael Floyd had 5 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, and David Grimes added 5 for 60. Duval Kamara, who is struggling for playing time these days, had 1 catch for 2 yards.

Tight End: Kyle Rudolph is really starting to find a place in this offense. Rudolph owned the middle of the field, recording 5 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Line: The running game struggled again, and Clausen was sacked when a blitzer raced through the line untouched. But that was the lone sack of the game for one of the top sack teams in the nation. Like the rest of this team, the offensive line may have its ups and downs, but it's definitely grown from last year.

Defensive Line: Pat Kuntz stole the show at Friday night's pep rally, and he did his best attempt to steal the show on Saturday. Kuntz recorded 3 tackles, two of them sacks, knocked down a pass, and intercepted another. Justin Brown added 3 tackles - one for a loss - and a quarterback hit. For one day at least, Kuntz and Brown quieted the critics of Notre Dame's blitz schemes and the defensive line's production.

Linebacker: Brian Smith had the best performance of any Irish linebacker, recording 6 tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit. Maurice Crum added 4 tackles. Darius Fleming had the best game of his young career with 3 tackles and a sack.

Safety: For better or for worse, Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton once again led the Irish in tackles. I don't know if it's possible to have a quiet day when you rack up 14 tackles, 1 TFL, and an interception, but somehow McCarthy happened to do that. Bruton added 9 tackles and an interception of his own. Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown each had 3 tackles, and Brown added a sack.

Cornerback: Raeshon McNeil and Terrail Lambert led the unit with 4 tackles apiece.

Kicker: It seems pretty obvious that Brandon Walker's troubles at this point are mental, especially when kicking from one of the hashes. I'd love to see the kid get a few tries from the middle of the field to build up his confidence. Not that Notre Dame should waste their third down tries to set up a field goal instead of trying to convert the first down, of course.

Punter: Eric Maust averaged just over 40 yards per punt with a long of 50.

Kick Returner: Armando Allen had three kick returns for 54 yards with a long of 24. Golden Tate had one kick return for 18 yards.

Special Teams: Notre Dame seemed to struggle on special teams in this one, relatively speaking. The return team averaged only 18 yards per attempt, and the coverage teams gave up 11.5 yards per punt return and 22.2 yards per kick return.

But as far as special teams go, the highlight came when Stanford returner Doug Baldwin was stopped at the 3 yard line late in the contest. Prior to the game, Baldwin came over to the Notre Dame Alumni Band pounding his chest and proclaiming, "This is war!" Because, apparently, when you're 5'11" and 185 lbs, the only people you can intimidate are middle aged bandos. But the band had the last laugh when Baldwin fielded a punt at his own 2, ran back into the end zone, then took it out to the 3 - and was tackled right in front of the same band members who were the subject of his pregame taunts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 5: Stanford

Stanford Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Stanford has gone with a 60/40 run/pass mix this year, with 7 Toby Gerhart getting a majority of carries. The 232-pounder is averaging 25 carries, 84 yards, and 1 touchdown per game. Backup 5 Anthony Kimble is averaging 9 carries and 50 yards per game. Third-stringer 32 Jeremy Stewart has also gotten in on the action to the tune of 2-3 carries and 15 yards per game.

Not counting sacks, quarterback 14 Tavita Pritchard is averaging 4-5 carries and 12-13 yards per game. Cardinal fullbacks have not gotten any touches, but wide receiver 89 Doug Baldwin does have two carries - a 38-yard touchdown and an 8-yard loss.

Maurice Crum leads the Irish in tackles for a loss with 2.5. Brian and Harrison Smith, Kerry Neal, and Justin Brown each have two TFL. Crum and Brian Smith are third on the team with 25 total tackles for a defense that is giving up 134 rushing yards per game.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Stanford Rush Defense

Notre Dame followed a 16 yard rushing performance against Michigan State with a 200+ yard performance against Purdue. The Irish, averaging 108.8 yards on the ground as a team, will look for consistency against the Cardinal. Armando Allen is averaging 10 carries and 51 yards per game. Robert Hughes is averaging 12-13 carries and 42 yards per game. James Aldridge is averaging 7 carries and 25 yards per game. Aldridge has still been kept out of the end zone for his entire career, while Allen has one rushing touchdown and Hughes two this season.

The Cardinal have been so-so against the run this year, giving up 128 yards per game. Linebacker 44 Pat Maynor leads the team with 42 tackles and 4 tackles for a loss, but all of his TFL to date have been sacks. Cornerback 24 Kris Evans is second to Maynor with 35 tackles and 3 TFL, so the Irish backs will have to watch for him on blitzes.

Stanford Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Tavita Pritchard has been effective but not phenomenal this season. His average game consists of completing 12 of 21 passes (56.5%) for 138 yards. He has 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on the season. Pritchard's main target has been wide receiver 8 Ryan Whalen, averaging 3 catches and 27-28 yards per game.

Following Whalen are four Cardinal with exactly 8 catches on the year. Doug Baldwin is averaging 32 yards per game. Lanky wide receiver 9 Richard Sherman is averaging 27. Toby Gerhart is averaging 17 yards per game, while tight end Austin Gunder is averaging 12. Anthony Kimble has 7 catches on the year and is averaging 12 yards per game as well.

The Irish are giving up 251.2 passing yards per game. The team still has only one sack, courtesy of Maurice Crum. They do however have 8 quarterback hits, led by John Ryan with 2. David Bruton, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, and Kerry Neal each have an interception, and Raeshon McNeil has 4 of the team's 19 pass breakups.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Stanford Pass Defense

For Jimmy Clausen, an average day means completing 19 of 33 passes (57%) for 225 yards with 2 or more touchdowns and 1-2 interceptions. Clausen's main target has been Golden Tate, averaging 5 catches and 92 yards per game. Behind Tate are Michael Floyd at 4 catches and 55 yards per game, and David Grimes at 3 catches and 34 yards per game. Tate leads the team with 3 receiving touchdowns, while Floyd and Grimes have 2 each.

Armando Allen is averaging 3 catches and 12 yards per game, while tight end Kyle Rudolph is averaging 2 and 16-17 yards per game. Robert Hughes and Duval Kamara are also averaging at least one catch per game. Robby Parris has only played two games, but does have 5 catches to show for them.

Cornerback Kris Evans is a do-everything man for the Cardinal. As mentioned above, he's second on the team with 35 tackles and 3 TFL. He also leads the team with 2 interceptions. Safety 2 Bo McNally has the other. Opposite Evans at cornerback is 6 Wopamo Osaisai, who has yet to intercept a pass but does lead the team with 5 pass breakups.

As also mentioned above, linebacker Pat Maynor leads the team with 4 sacks. Defensive ends 41 Tom McAndrew and 94 Tom Keiser also have two sacks each.

Special Teams

11 Aaron Zagory was Stanford's kicker in 2006, lost the job in '07, but regained it this year. Zagory has made 6 of 7. His lone miss came on a 49-yarder, his first attempt of the season. But Zagory did make a 52-yarder. Brandon Walker made his first of five attempts last week, a 41 yarder.

38 David Green is Stanford's new punter. He's punted 23 times in 5 games, with an average of 40.2 yards and a long of 51. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 42.2 yards per punt with a long of 52.

Jeremy Stewart has been Stanford's primary kick returner, averaging 23.1 yards per return with a long of 52. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 62.2 yards per kickoff for the Irish. That's not spectacular, but he has been improving over the course of the season. Couple Burkhart's numbers with an 13.9 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 22.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has returned three-fourths of the kicks for a 24.8 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 21.5 yard average with a long of 28. 18 Travis Golia is Stanford's kickoff specialist. Golia is averaging 60.1 yards per kick with zero touchbacks. (Isn't it nice to see an opponent's number that low for once?) The Cardinal give up 19.3 yards per kick return, starting opponents at the 30 yard line on average.

Doug Baldwin is the Cardinal punt returner. He's averaging a pedestrian 7.2 yards per return with a long of 35. Stanford has already blocked two punts on this young season. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle McCarthy


Notre Dame 28, Stanford 20