Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ramblings (or: Possible Future Column Ideas)

  • Former Indians GM John Hart said that the new MLB CBA was a good thing because "it gets the best players on the best teams, and that's what fans want." No, fans want their own team to be competitive.
  • The new CBA limits spending on the draft and international amateurs, but does nothing to limit spending on free agents. Why? Well, look at the parties involved. One one side, the owners want to save money (and some/most care about saving money more than winning). On the other side is the Players Association. Draftees and international amateurs aren't in the union yet (neither are signed minor leaguers until they're added to a 40 man roster), so cutting their money keeps the owners happy without taking money away from those in the Players Association.
  • There are some that say the Moneyball approach is stagnating, some 10 years after the book was published. Well, now the arms race begins again as smart teams who had been spending their resources on the draft and international amateurs will now spend their time and effort trying to get ahead in the climate of the new CBA. It sucks as a fan of a small team, but it will be fun to watch nonetheless.
  • No, the Albert Pujolses and Chris Pauls of the world shouldn't be "well-paid slaves" - they should be able to play wherever they'd like. That doesn't make it any easier for the clubs they're leaving though.
  • That being said, the NBA needs to watch that they don't become a league consisting only of the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Knicks, and 26 feeder teams. Of course, the only way for the "feeder teams" to counter their unattractiveness to superstars, they will need to develop their own Moneyball approach to roster construction, whether through underrated veterans, four-year college players, or even a return to a team-first college approach that simply out-hustles the superstar teams.
  • Robert Blanton is expected to be a mid-to-late round draft choice. But I wouldn't be surprised if his career outshines his draft position. Blanton has always been a hard-hitting ballhawk, and could easily play both corner and safety. That versatility can keep him in the NFL for a long time, much as it has for Cleveland's Mike Adams.
  • Those few people still complaining about Brian Kelly running the new-fangled spread offense at Notre Dame remind me of the people who complained about Frank Leahy going with the new-fangled spread over Knute Rockne's traditional box formation. And for what it's worth, Kelly's "spread" looks a lot like Charlie Weis's "pro-style," which to me means there's a lot more to an offense than just the name.
  • Moneyball is a recurring theme in this post, and there's a point where Billy Beane asks why his [stuff] doesn't work in the playoffs. Arguably, it's because his hitters' top ability is taking walks, which works over the course of the season against a variety of pitchers, but fails against the best teams and their shortened rotations. But I digress. A similar question is, "Why doesn't Mike Brey's [stuff] work in the tournament?" Is there a specific component of Brey's gameplan that works well enough during the long season against a variety of opponents, but fails against the best team? Definitely worth further research.
  • Speaking of Brey, should he be praised for his great ability to bring in transfer students like Ryan Humphrey and Ben Hansbrough? Or does it just seem like the basketball team takes in a lot of transfers since the football team takes in almost none? How many transfers do other schools take in, in basketball and in other sports? Yet another component of Brey's legacy worth looking into.
  • I can't understand the (mostly national) media calling for Colt McCoy's replacement as Browns quarterback. He's a second year starter who had about a month to learn a new system before the start of this season. Plus, as other clubs have shown, it doesn't matter how good the QB is if he's surrounded by a good run game and good defense. (Sorry Dave, it's not the best Obligatory Tebow Reference, but it's the best I could do.) The Browns have too many other holes right now to waste a high draft pick on another quarterback who may or may not work out.
  • Speaking of the Browns defense, they have some good pieces in their front seven, but have been pretty bad against the run. Is it because the unit hasn't played together enough yet? Or because the young guys like Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard focusing too much on the pass rush because it's their specialty? Or is this unit just not as good as the sum of its parts?

Friday, December 09, 2011

It's Ballot Time Again!

Once again, it's time to vote for the KankaNation Hall of Fame.

List up to 10 people you think should be in the KankaNation Hall of Fame, and email to by 5 pm Eastern on December 31.
Those who receive a certain percentage of the vote (depends on how many ballots are received; usually 66-75%) will join the Classes of 2004-2010. Those who received multiple votes last year will receive one carryover vote this year.

To view past inductees and voting results, click one of the links below:
Class of 2004
Class of 2005
Class of 2006
Class of 2007
Class of 2008
Class of 2009
Class of 2010
Class of 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Notre Dame Football 2011: BEAT SC Game Preview

USC Offense vs Notre Dame Defense

USC's offensive playcalling has been more-or-less balanced, only slightly favoring the pass. The Trojans may want to favor the pass a little more this Saturday, both because of Notre Dame's defensive reputation, and because leading rusher 26 Marc Tyler is expected to miss the game after dislocating his shoulder against Cal. Tyler's primary backup, 22 Curtis McNeal, is averaging an impressive 7 yards per carry, but that's mostly as a 5-7, 180 pound change of pace back. Assuming McNeal can't take a full game's worth of snaps, the Irish will also see a healthy dose of 30 DJ Morgan.

Quarterback 7 Matt Barkley wouldn't be considered a mobile quarterback by most standards, but he has gained more yards on the ground than he's lost (thanks partly to only 4 sacks on the year). Fullback 40 Rhett Ellison has only run the ball once this year (for -5 yards), but he has been an effective outlet in the passing game, averaging two catches per contest.

USC's passing attack centers around wideout 2 Robert Brooks, who is averaging 10 catches per game. Fellow receivers 9 Marqise Lee and 80 Brandon Carswell are averaging less than 3 catches per game, and no other Trojan receiver (outside of fullback Ellison) is averaging more than one per game.

Regardless of who he's throwing it to, Barkley has been a very accurate passer this year, completing 68 percent of his throws, with 16 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.

Not surprisingly, Manti Te'o is the key component of Notre Dame's defense. Te'o is leading the team in tackles (59), tackles for loss (8.5), and sacks (4). Cornerbacks Robert Blanton and Gary Gray have two interceptions apiece to lead the team, while Harrison Smith has 7 pass breakups - many of them near interceptions.

Notre Dame Offense vs USC Defense

The Irish have put up spectacular numbers on both sides of the ball. The run game is averaging close to 200 yards per contest, with Cierre Wood at 108 yards per game and Jonas Gray at 66.

Tommy Rees is completing 66 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Not surprisingly, Michael Floyd has been his main target; Floyd is averaging 9 catches per game. Tyler Eifert has come on of late as Rees's #2 option, and is averaging 5 catches per game. Wideouts not named Floyd (Theo Riddick and TJ Jones) are averaging 4 catches per game, and Cierre Wood is averaging 2. Riddick got a boost of confidence with playcalling that centered around him in the Air Force game - now let's see if he can carry that forward into this week.

As usual, USC's defensive strength is in its linebackers. 18 Dion Bailey is a converted safety, and he still plays like one in many ways. While Bailey leads the team in tackles with 48, he's also first on the team in interceptions with 2. Defensive end 8 Nick Perry leads the Trojans with 4 sacks. Both are impressive numbers, but this is a USC defensive unit that isn't quite as good as it was in its glory days last decade.

USC also has 5-8, 165 21 Nickell Robey starting at one corner. Even if Robey isn't matched up on Michael Floyd, it's likely that he'll have to guard the 6-2 TJ Jones, and that's a matchup Tommy Rees will have to look to exploit.

Special Teams

Southern Cal's 48 Andre Heidari has been near perfect on the year, converting 10-11 field goals, including 3-4 from 40+. David Ruffer, by comparison, is 4-8 with a long of 39.

USC punter 35 Kyle Negrete is averaging just 39 yards per punt, but he has put 10 of 18 inside the 20. However, opponents are averaging 16 yards per punt return. The Irish punt team has similar mediocre numbers, with Ben Turk averaging 37 yards per punt and opponents are averaging 22 yards per return.

USC's primary punt returner is Nickell Robey. He's averaging 10 yards per return with a long of 44. For the Irish, John Goodman is averaging just 0.3 yards per return, but rumors are flying about Michael Floyd dropping deep to return punts in this game.

Robert Woods returns kicks for the Trojans, and he's averaging 26 yards per return. For the Irish, George Atkinson is averaging 29 per return, including an 82-yard touchdown.

Andre Heidari also kicks off for the Trojans, and he's averaging 63 yards per kick, while his teammates are giving up 20 yards per return for an average start at the 26. Five of Heidari's 36 kicks have gone for touchbacks. Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza is averaging 67 yards per kick, with 7 of his 35 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 22 yards per return, meaning opponents start at the 24 yard line on average.


Notre Dame 33, USC 25

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Evacuating Notre Dame Stadium

In the past 13 years of attending games at Notre Dame Stadium, I've sat in a pile of ice and snow, and I've baked on cloudless 95-degree days.  I've seen the crowd cheer for a squirrel running into the end zone when the Notre Dame offense could't, and I've seen sprinklers try to stop Pittsburgh when the Notre Dame defense couldn't.  But I'd never had to evacuate the stadium until Saturday - and neither had anyone else.

Saturday started as one of those cloudless 95-degree days.  When PA announcer Mike Collins did his usual pregame weather report, he got wild cheers when he mentioned they were tracking storms headed to the stadium, since rain sounded like quite a relief at that point.  I had also seen a weather report that called for possible showers, but they didn't look possible at that point.

Towards the end of the first half, there was a brief but refreshing shower.  They sky still didn't have any storm clouds though - at least until the end of the half.  As the band was running on the field for their halftime show, Collins asked them to stay on the sideline.  Immediately after that, he asked them to seek shelter in the tunnel.  Then, the now infamous announcement came:

"Would Usher 800 please report to the press box?"

While still in school, I knew a student who had gotten a job as an usher after graduation.  This was briefly after 9/11, and he had told us that a message calling usher 900-something to the press box was code for a terrorist attack.  So I knew this message was a similar emergency code.  Sure enough, minutes later we were being asked to seek shelter.

Fans were given the option of simply staying on the concourse, or moving to one of the nearby buildings.  One of the buildings mentioned was Fitzpatrick, the engineering building.  I figured that would be our best bet.  One, our group wouldn't have to stand on a packed concourse for an undetermined amount of time.  Two, we'd have easy access to restrooms and vending machines in a building that probably wouldn't be ask crowded as the other options mentioned (among them DeBartolo hall and the Joyce Center).  Plus, Fitz has not one but two basements in case of a tornado - not that one had been mentioned in the weather reports.

The evacuation itself was quite orderly - I don't think people were taking the threat of lighting seriously, especially when it wasn't even raining yet.  In fact, if anything people were slow in leaving the stadium - my wife and I waited close to 10 minutes for my dad and sister to catch up with us from their seats 11 rows above.

My wife, dad, sister, and I set up shop on some couches on Fitzpatrick's second floor, right outside the dean's office.  The wife and I then set out for some vending machines.  When we came back, my dad and sister were nowhere to be found.  It was a bit eerie - their coats and newspapers had been abandoned as if they were kidnapped or needed to flee to the basement.  As it turns out, they had just been invited into the dean's office - by Dr. Brockman, one of my former professors - for freeze pops.

After a two hour delay that included Dr. Brockman and his son stopping outside to play Frisbee between the storms, and a text from my brother-in-law about the press box being hit by lightning, we finally got a message - piped from the stadium press box into the designated evacuation buildings - letting us know the game would be starting again soon.

We made it back to our seats after missing only the kickoff and USF's brief opening drive.  The crowd was electric at that point.  Maybe it was the fact that most of them had been standing around on the concourse for over two hours.  Maybe it was that others had used that as additional drinking time.  Or maybe it was just the announcement that Tommy Rees had taken over for a jumpy Dayne Crist.  But that crowd was ready to go, and the team responded.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, we could see more lightning off to the south of the stadium. On the field, it seemed like NBC was making up for lost commercial time, and I groaned that that was going to cause us to get stuck in another weather delay.  Sure enough, with just under five minutes left in the game, Usher 800 was again called to the press box.

This evacuation was a little less orderly, as most people just wanted to get out and go home at that point.  But there were still no incidents, at least in my section.  My pregnant wife refused to climb the ramp a third time that day, so our group made the decision to pack up for the hotel, and just lie and say that we had stayed if the Irish did in fact come back to win.

We started to make the trek back to White Field, stopping for about 15 minutes under the overhang of the library when it started pouring.  Believe it or not, after 11 hours on campus, that was the first time we had actually gotten rained on.  After the rain let up, we continued to White Field, and heard the announcement about the game resuming as we were passing Stepan Center.  However, we decided to continue on.

We made it to our car shortly after the game resumed, and were amused by a very cranky Don Criqui's take on the events of that day.  We were able to listen to the final touchdown as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, and see the onside kick from the hotel lobby.  The Irish weren't able to recover that kick, but at that point the group was too concerned about drying off and getting to bed to care.

So, it was a very eventful home opener this year.  And an eventful day for Jim Smith, who in his first game as Head Usher got to call the shots on the first two evacuations in Notre Dame Stadium's 82-year history.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Notre Dame Position Previews: Defense

Defensive Line

Spotlight: Ethan Johnson
Also Returning: Sean Cwynar, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brandon Newman, Emeka Nwankwo, Kona, Schwenke, Christopher Skubis, Tyler Stockton, Hafis Williams
Lost: John Belcher, Martin Quintana, Christopher Skubis, Ian Williams (graduation)
Gained: Bruce Heggie, Louis Nix III (DNP as freshmen), Chase Hounshell, Aaron Lunch, Tony Springmann, Stephon Tuitt (freshmen)

Ethan Johnson has had a good career at Notre Dame, but he's yet to become great. This year, he'll look to join Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri, current NFL defensive ends who made the leap from good to great late in their Notre Dame careers. In past years, Johnson got a lot of attention from opposing lines for being the one good player on ND's line. This year, with a very good all-around line, Johnson should see less double teams and his numbers should improve.

That very good line starts at the other end, where Kapron Lewis-Moore has put together a good career for himself as well. In the middle, Sean Cwynar becomes the opening day starter after finishing the season in that position last year.

How good is Notre Dame's future on the defensive line? The starters are all seniors, of course. But three youngsters - freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, and sophomore Louis Nix - have made the two-deep without playing a snap of college football. Sophomore Kona Schwenke joins them on the two-deep after playing his way onto the field last year as well. The line is so deep, in fact, that Hafis Williams - last year's other key backup - isn't anywhere to be found on the two-deep this year.

Aaron Lynch was the star of the spring game, but at 265 pounds will need to bulk up a bit before he can play every down. Louis Nix sat out all of last year after showing up to camp out of shape. He's trimmed down and improved his conditioning, and if he can prove he can stay on the field, he'll be a starter on the end of the field. Meanwhile, Stephon Tuitt is already college-sized (and perhaps NFL-sized) at 6-6, 295.


Spotlight: Prince Shembo
Also Returning: Carlo Calabrese, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Dan Fox, Anthony McDonald, David Posluszny, Sean Oxley, Danny Spond, Manti Te'o
Lost: Steve Botsford, Kerry Neal, Steve Paskorz, Brian Smith (graduation), Derek Roback (transfer)
Gained: Jonathan Frantz (walk on), Kendall Moore, Justin Utupo (DNP as freshmen), Ben Councell, Jarrett Grace, Connor Little, Troy Niklas, Anthony Rabasa, Joe Schmidt, Ishaq Williams (freshmen)

As the season went along, Prince Shembo earned more and more playing time with his relentless nose for the quarterback. This year, he's taking over Kerry Neal's outside linebacker role, where he'll have to prove he's capable enough in pass coverage to be an every down player.

Also joining Shembo in the starting lineup is Dan Fox. Fox replaces Carlo Calabrese as the inside linebacker next to Manti Te'o, although Fox and Calabrese will likely see even playing time. Anthony McDonald also returns as depth on the inside.

On the outside, Steve Filer, now a senior, has one more chance to convert his exceptional athleticism into results on the field. If he can't, he'll be passed up for sophomore Danny Spond or highly-touted freshmen Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas.


Spotlight: Zeke Motta
Also Returning: Dan McCarthy, Zeke Motta, Chris Salvi, Jamoris Slaughter, Harrison Smith, Thomas Smith
Lost: Thomas Smith (graduation), Eilar Hardy (injury)
Gained: Blake Breslau (walk on), Austin Collinsworth (position change - wide receiver), Connor Cavalaris (freshmen)

Jamoris Slaughter has regained his starting position at strong safety, but both he and Zeke Motta should see their fair share of playing time this fall. As in the past, Motta could resume his hybrid linebacker/extra safety role on passing downs. Or, with the dearth of experienced cornerbacks on the roster, Motta could come in at safety and Slaughter move to corner in nickel and dime sets.

Last year, Harrison Smith went from the Jim Sanson of defensive players to one of the best free safeties Notre Dame has had in recent memory. Smith finished with seven interceptions, thanks in large part to his performance in the Sun Bowl. He'll be backed up again by Dan McCarthy.

Austin Collinsworth makes the move to safety this year, a position he played (at least part time) in high school. His depth will be welcome in the defensive backfield, especially after a knee injury will cost Eiler Hardy his freshman season.


Spotlight: Lo Wood
Also Returning: Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Nick Lezynski, Andrew Plaska, Ryan Sheehan
Lost: Michael Garcia, Darrin Walls, Barry Gallup, James Redshaw (graduation)
Gained: Bennett Jackson (position change - wide receiver), Joe Romano (walk on), Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown (freshmen)

Notre Dame has two very capable starters in Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, but after that they are very thin at cornerback. That makes Lo Wood a critical piece to this team. Not only will he be needed against three-plus receiver sets that are becoming more and more popular these days, but Wood would also be the "next man in" to move up to a starting role if Gray or Blanton were to go down.

The cornerback position is so thin that converted wideout Bennett Jackson has cracked the two-deep. Jackson showed great speed and a nose for the ballcarrier last season on special teams, but the cornerback position is still new to him. Behind Jackson is a group of freshmen and walk-ons. Essentially, anyone in that group that impresses on the practice field against the first team offense will earn himself playing time on Saturdays.


Spotlight: Ben Turk
Also Returning: Mike Greiko, David Ruffer, Nick Tausch, Ben Turk
Lost: Brandon Walker (graduation)
Gained: Kyle Brindza

Ben Turk wins the spotlight again after another up and down season in 2010. For now, the punting job is Turk's to lose. But strong-legged freshman Kyle Brindza has already won the kickoff specialist role, and many already have him penciled in to replace Turk as punter at some point this season.

Nick Tausch continues to be the odd man out on this kicking unit, thanks to a historic 2010 by David Ruffer. Fortunately for Irish fans, Ruffer is back for another season in the blue and gold. Fortunately for Tausch, the starting job should be his again in 2012.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Notre Dame Position Previews: Offense


Spotlight: Dayne Crist
Also Returning: Matthew Mulvey, Tommy Rees
Lost: Brian Castello (graduation), Luke Massa (position change), Nate Montana (transfer)
Gained: Andrew Hendrix (DNP as freshman), Everett Golson (freshman)

As long as Brian Kelly is the head coach at Notre Dame, there may never be a lack of depth at quarterback. There will probably be no lack of controversy, either. This year, Dayne Crist wins back his starting job even after Tommy Rees finished 2010 undefeated as a starter.

Of course, Rees was the beneficiary of a vastly improved defense and run game late in the season. Had Crist been healthy, he likely would have finished the season on a similar high note. Crist finished 2010 with better passing numbers than Rees, plus he is a threat to run - a major component of the Brian Kelly offense. One thing to watch this season is how much Kelly will let Crist run. Will Dayne run less, knowing his propensity for injury, or will he run more, now that he has a more than capable backup in Rees?

The second thing to watch is the fight for playing time for newcomers Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Both are greater running threats than either Crist or Rees, and speculation abounds that one or the other will be used in wildcat or goal line situations. Of course, with all the depth in front of him, it may benefit Golson to preserve a year of eligibility.

Running Back

Spotlight: Jonas Gray
Also Returning: Patrick Coughlin, Cierre Wood
Lost: Armando Allen, Bobby Burger, Derry Herlihy, Robert Hughes (graduation), Cam Roberson (injury)
Gained: Tyler Plantz (walk on), George Atkinson III, Eric Lee, Cam McDaniel (freshmen)

In a very thin running back rotation, Jonas Gray is the key. With the graduation of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, and the loss of Cam Roberson for the year with a knee injury, Gray is the only separation between starter Cierre Wood and a collection of freshmen and walk ons. Sure the freshmen are talented. But the play of Jonas Gray will determine how often Notre Dame will have to rely on those freshmen in key situations. Cierre Wood is good, but he can't play every down. Plus, as with the end of last year, the more Notre Dame can rely on their run game, the less they have to rely on their quarterback to do everything.

There have been a number of running backs in recent memory - Travis Thomas comes to mind - that began their Irish career as "that running back who fumbles too much," but left Notre Dame as an effective player. If Gray can become the next such back, the offense will be in good hands this year.

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: TJ Jones
Also Returning: Michael Floyd, John Goodman, Theo Riddick, Daniel Smith, Robby Toma, Deion Walker
Lost: Dan Franco, Christopher Gurries, Duval Kamara (graduation), Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson (position change - defensive back), Shaq Evans (transfer)
Gained: Luke Massa (position change), Nick Fitzpatrick, Ryan Liebscher, Ryan Sharpley (walk ons), DeVaris Daniels, Matthias Farley, Eric Lee (freshmen)

TJ Jones came out strong at the start of last season, but nagging injuries prevented him from having a truly great freshman campaign. (In fact, the injuries limited his production so much, I didn't even realize he got into 12 games - it seemed like far less.) Jones, Michael Floyd, and Theo Riddick will truly be working as a unit this year. If the opposing defense puts an extra player on Floyd for being Floyd, or Riddick for being a threat to run or catch, then Jones will be in a position to catch some passes in single coverage - and he will need to make those plays to keep the offense going. And if TJ can prove himself as a reliable threat in this offense, it will prevent defenses from doubling up on Floyd or Riddick, allowing them to do what they do best.

For some reason, it seems like the receiving corps is a lot thinner than last year, but that may not be the case. In Floyd, Riddick, and Jones, the team has three capable starters. Robby Toma, originally the "player to be named later" when the team added Manti Te'o, had a very productive 2010 and could see starter's minutes in 2011. John Goodman proved himself as a reliable option when injuries increased his playing time. There are a trio of talented freshmen coming in, plus former quarterback Luke Massa, who had a few nice catches in the spring game. The wild card is Deion Walker. Now a senior, Walker appeared to be a casualty of the coaching change after not getting any playing time last year. The coaches then called his number quite a few times in the spring game, and he responded with five catches and 56 yards. Any production out of Walker this fall would make the unit so much stronger.

Tight End

Spotlight: Tyler Eifert
Also Returning: Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic, Mike Ragone
Lost: Bobby Burger (graduation), Kyle Rudolph (NFL)
Gained: Arturo Martinez (walk on), Alex Welch (DNP as freshman), Ben Koyack (freshman)

Anyone worried how the tight end position would fare in the transition from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly are at ease after Tyler Eiffert's freshman campaign. Forced into action after Kyle Rudolph's injuries, Eiffert finished with one less catch and one less touchdown than the current NFL rookie. Eiffert proved himself a more than capable receiver on long or short passes, and a matchup problem for opposing defenses as well. His blocking needs some improvement, which one can expect from a young catch-first tight end. But that will come with time.

As a whole, the tight end position is finally building up some depth again. Mike Ragone has never been much of a receiving threat, but he has been a reliable blocker when healthy. Jake Golic, now already a junior, will continue to struggle for playing time if he can't beat out Alex Welch, who had four catches in the spring game, and freshman Ben Koyack.

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Trevor Robinson
Also Returning: Braxston Cave, Lane Clelland, Jordan Cowart, Taylor Dever, Mike Golic Jr, Ryan Kavanagh, Dennis Mahoney, Zack Martin, Andrew Nuss, Chris Watt
Lost: Bill Flavin, Mike Hernandez, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Dan Wenger (graduation), Alex Bullard (transfer)
Gained: Matt Tansey (walk on), Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols (DNP as freshmen), Brad Carrico, Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Jordan Prestwood (freshmen)

Trevor Robinson gets the spotlight for the second year in a row. Last year, it was because he was the best young lineman coming in. This year, it's because injuries led to a disappointing season, and he's looking for redemption. Robinson is one of four returning starters on the line, as only opposing guard Chris Stewart ran out of eligibility. Chris Watt will replace Stewart in the starting rotation after being one of the team's top backups last year.

This year, the line's "sixth man" will be Andrew Nuss, who could see as much playing time as Watt. The unit will also have plenty of depth with Mike Golic and Lane Clelland coming back as veterans, Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols joining the mix, and a full line's worth of freshman joining the squad.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Trade Deadline Thoughts


Acquired Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs for Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith

The Indians do need outfielders while Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo are out. While Fukudome isn't the power right handed bat they were hoping for, he is a serviceable veteran starter with a high on base percentage. His tendency to fade down the stretch is a concern, but Sizemore and Choo will be back relatively soon, and hopefully before that fading does any serious damage.

On top of that, the Indians didn't give up much in return. Smith is a AAA reliever, which the Indians have plenty of. Abreu is having a good season, but he's also playing high A ball the second time around this year.

Traded Orlando Cabrera to the Giants for Thomas Neal

Neal also isn't the power-hitting right-handed outfielder the Indians were hoping for, but he's a decent return for Orlando Cabrera. With tons of depth at second base in the majors and AAA, the Indians could afford to get rid of Uncle Orlando. Jason Kipnis's home runs in three straight games since the trade has helped as well.

The Giants, meanwhile, continue their role as a final resting place for former All Star middle infielders.

Didn't acquire Ryan Ludwick

As mentioned above, the Indians were looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. Ludwick and his 90 OPS+ (which does take Petco Park into account) isn't the answer, and when the Padres raised his price, the Indians were wise to let him go.

Acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for Joe Gardner, Alex White, Matt McBride and a player to be named later (Drew Pomeranz)

Yes it's a gutsy move, but it's a good one. Jimenez is only signed through 2013, but so are all the other Indians stars. As much as I don't like the model of competing only once every five years, at least the Indians are committed to it, and this trade proved it. Playoff success is built with two ace pitchers, and the Indians may have them now in Jimenez and Justin Masterson.

Of course, Jimenez didn't come cheap. White is already major league ready (as evidenced by his 3.60 ERA in a handful of start), and Pomeranz is expected to be better. But both are injury risks at a certain level. Gardner and McBride are essentially throw-ins; the latter is a great hitter at AA but hasn't proved much above that level.

So again, although the Indians gave up quite a bit in the trade, I like it because it shows they're going all in for the next two and a half years.


Acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres for a player to be named later
Acquired Derrek Lee from the Orioles for Aaron Baker

Both acquisitions show an aggressive Pittsburgh front office, which is just what Pirates fans want to see right now. Lee may only be a league-average hitter at this point, but that's still an improvement over what the Pirates had been getting at first base.


Traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers for two players to be named later

Closers, good or bad, aren't needed much on rebuilding teams, so they're always a good piece to trade away.

Acquired Zack Wheeler from the Giants for Carlos Beltran

Beltran was perhaps a bit underappreciated during his time in New York, but Mets fans were still sad to see him go. Beltran will add some pop to a lifeless Giants offense and move to right field, where his range will be a benefit in San Francisco's home park.

Wheeler is a great return for half a year of Beltran. The pitching prospect does have control issues, but he also comes with tons of upside.


Acquired Mike Adams from the Padres for prospects Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin

When I first heard about this trade, the announcer erroneously reported that the Rangers acquired Heath Bell, not Mike Adams. While I have nothing against Bell, Adams may in fact be the better pitcher. This move obviously gives the Rangers great bullpen depth. Plus, if they can re-sign him again next year, they have the option of moving him to closer and making Neftali Feliz a starter, if they so choose.

Blue Jays

Acquired Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen from the White Sox for Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart
Acquired Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and PJ Walters from the Cardinals for Edwin Jackson, Marc, Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson

Teahen, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are all 3B/RF/DH types. Bautista is obviously a star. Teahen isn't, but he's a definite step up from Encarnacion.

The unenlightened Blue Jays fan may think Colby Rasmus is another underachieving center fielder in the mold of Vernon Wells or Alex Rios, but in fact Rasmus is a burgeoning star. In a way it's funny that Rasmus, highly underrated by the casual fan, was traded for Edwin Jackson, who's somewhat overrated by the casual fan.

Also, Brian Tallet is awesome.

Red Sox

Acquired Erik Bedard and Josh Fields from Seattle as part of a three-way trade

Bedard is having a great comeback year, and Boston starters are having trouble staying off the DL. If Bedard can hold off that DL curse, this will be a great pickup for the Sox.


Acquired Jason Marquis from the Nationals

Playoffs, here they come!


Acquired Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, and Juan Abreu from the Braves for Michael Bourn
Acquired Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, and Josh Zeid from the Phillies for Hunter Pence

The Astros were wise to at least try rebuilding for once. I think they were helped by the down year for available position players as well. Schafer and Cosart are the headliners in this deal, and Schafer will step into the starting outfield right away.


Acquired Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers for Alex Castellanos
Acquired Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson from the Blue Jays for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, and Brian Tallet

Tony LaRussa's personal grudges may finally be catching up for him. The Furcal deal is to make up for trying to replace Brendan Ryan with Ronnie Theriot, and replacing Rasmus with Patterson doesn't look like a good move even with the other names thrown in that deal.


Traded Jonny Gomes to the Nationals for Bill Rhinehart and Chris Manno

Does this mean my "Jonny Gnomes" gnome is even more of a collector's item now?


Acquired Mike Cameron for a player to be named later or cash

Cameron was underappreciated in Boston, as he was everywhere he's been. That said, I fail to see how this move benefits the Marlins at this stage, unless it's too take some pressure off of Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton in the lineup and in the outfield.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Looking for the KankaNation message board? Click Here

Welcome to Phase I of the new and improved Kanka's Sports Page. Obviously, this is still a work in process. I promise to have all the bells and whistles back soon. Until then, please post any feedback on the message board, or email me at

Monday, June 06, 2011

Baseball America Bracket Challenge

It's College World Series time again, and after a year off I'm back in the Baseball America Bracket Challenge. Last time, I missed three picks all tournament, and finished in a very close second place. This year, the first round isn't even over and I've already had four teams eliminated. Oh well.

Anyone interested in following the challenge can do so through the link above, and you can see my bracket here. To follow the baseball tournament itself, check out ESPNU, ESPN3, or

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Laetare Sunday

For the fifth straight year, Kanka's Sports Page is proud to announce the recipient of the KankaNation Laetare Medal. The KankaNation Laetare goes to the KankaManiac "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of Kanka's Sports Page and enriched the heritage of humanity."

This year, the award goes to...

Ooh, more multimedia

F-Bomb, for being an active participant on the message boards, for posting the Irish Eyes video from my wedding on Youtube, and for pushing the (still unrealized, thanks to laziness on my part) KankaNation 2.0 project. 2.0 will come some day, I promise.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Community Playing Time Forecast

Once again, Tom Tango is asking everyone - including you - to predict the playing time for everyone on your favorite MLB team. So if you're willing to make some educated guesses about how much everyone on your favorite team, head over to

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sabermetric Bracketology 2011

I've been applying sabermetric (or, more appropriately, APBRmetric) principles to my NCAA bracket selections for the past three years. In the contest that uses upset points, I was the big winner the first two years, then fell to a disappointing fourth place last year. So, I've been looking to change my methodology for this year.

Fortunately, master prognosticator Nate Silver came up with his own bracket forecast this year, which I was able to modify for my upset contest's scoring system.

To recap the upset scoring system, a team gets a point per round for winning (one point for winning in the round of 64, two for the round of 32, up to six for winning the championship game), plus bonus points for defeating a lower ranked seed. Bonus points are the difference between the two seeds. For example, if a 12 beats a 5 in the first round, they get one point for the win, plus 12 - 5 = 7 bonus points, for a total of 8.

I then took the potential points each team gets for the win and multiplied by the probability of winning to get the team's expected value for each game. In the first round, this was easy - it's just the probability of winning times the difference in the seeds. For example, Notre Dame has a 91% chance of beating Akron. So ND's expected value is .91*1 = .91, while Akron's is .09*(1+15-2) = 1.26.

In later rounds it's a bit more complicated, since the number of points a team gets for winning depends on who they play. If Marquette wins their first round game, they might play Syracuse, a lower seed (which would earn them bonus points with a second round win), or Indiana State, a higher seed. So, the calculation adds a layer.

In the Marquette example, they have a 90% chance of playing Syracuse in the second round (since that's the Orange's probability of winning the first round game) and a 10% chance of facing the Sycamores. Marquette has a 16% chance of advancing past the second round, and would earn 2 points for beating ISU and 10 for beating Syracuse. So the calculation becomes .16 * (.90*10 + .10 * 2) = 1.47.

I propagated this formula for every team for every round, until I got a total expected value for all six rounds for every team in the tournament. From there, I started pairing off the teams into games. I determined the winner by choosing the team who had the greater expected value over the remainder of the tournament, figuring that that would help maximize my value. I'm not sure if this is the best method - some sort of Monte Carlo simulation would probably be the ideal - but it was at least something I could take for a test run.

Some interesting observations along the way:
  • Silver's bracket has Notre Dame as the "worst" two seed, with just a 1.8% chance of winning it all. Of course, that may be more because it likes Purdue so much, and not because it dislikes Notre Dame.

  • Upset points considered, Clemson is a heavy favorite over West Virginia. Of course, before I could write Clemson into the second round on my bracket, I had to make sure they first won their play-in game.

  • As with my past methods, the odds still favor putting all the #1 seeds in the Final Four. Since I'll be playing against a bunch of Ohio State homers in my upset contest, I'm hedging my bets by having Duke beat them in the semis and beating Kansas in the finals.

  • I also used Silver's bracket to fill out a bracket that had a more straightforward scoring system. But I also took some liberties, putting Notre Dame in the finals, where they'll lose to SDSU. Apparently I'm not as big of a homer as Luke Harangody, who has the Irish winning it all in the "celebrity" bracket he did for Fox Sports Ohio.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

SABR Day in Cleveland: Mike Chernoff's Comments on the Indians

This past Saturday was SABR Day, and Cleveland's Jack Graney Chapter celebrated with a meeting in the press room of Progressive Field. One of the star guest speakers was Mike Chernoff, the new Indians Assistant General Manager. Chernoff is a 2003 Princeton graduate, where he studied economics and played baseball.

Chernoff's dad was in the back of the room; father and son have played a game of catch monthly for as long as the two remember. The elder Chernoff works in the Mets radio team, and the younger's career began as an intern with that very same team. Since then, Mike has worked his way up from Indians intern to Indians AGM. Here are his thoughts on this year's team.
  • The front office expects to contend and suprise ahead of schedule, like it did in 2003 and 2004.

  • Carlos Santana will start season, and in fact should be ready ready at start of spring training.

  • Chernoff compared Matt LaPorta to the Cliff Lee of 2007-2008 - a player struggling with injuries and inconsistencies who spent some time in the minors and was poised for a breakout.

  • Because of all the time Asdrubal Cabrera lost to injury last year, his return is like a "new acquisition" for the team.

  • Other teams call all the time for Michael Brantley as their CF.

  • Shin-Soo Choo is an elite RF, but "don't tell his agent I said that."

  • Austin Kearns was re-signed as insurance in case Grady Sizemore can't play every day at the start of the season. (Kearns would play left field with Brantley moving to center.

  • Jason Donald and Jayson Nix are in the mix at third, with Luis Valbuena at second.

  • Second and third base are the biggest holes right now, but also the biggest positions of strength in the future.

  • It would be unrealistic to start Lonnie Chisenhall in the majors without more time in AAA, but Chis may prove the team wrong in spring training.

  • Understandably, the team gets a lot of calls about Chisenhall.

  • Cord Phelps is ahead of Jason Kipnis right now, but both have similar star power.

  • The second half of the season was much better than the first for the Indians, especially the pitching.

  • Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, and Carlos Carrasco are set in the rotation. The fifth spot will go to one of the guys from last year, or a free agent.

  • The Indians have 10-12 available bullpen arms who are young but good.

  • The front office, who has struggled putting together an effective bullpen in the past, has determined that they need to get tons of guys with flexibility (options), so they can swap parts in and out as needed.

  • Bryce Stowell, Josh Judy, and Zach Putnam are all candidates for a bullpen spot.

  • Travis Hafner is still productive, but not a "seven day" (everyday) player. He's most effective against righthanders, so hopefully playing Pronk against righties and Kearns/Shelley Duncan against lefties will give the combined production of a top five DH.

  • Mike Hargrove will have a variety of roles with the Tribe, on the field and off. For example, he will be an instructor at spring training. He also will serve as a liason between the front office and fans, both by spreading the team's message to the fans, and by relaying fan feedback to the team.

  • For what it's worth, the business and baseball departments are now more closely tied to each other.

Chernoff also fielded a few questions:
  • A SABR member asked why Manny Acta seemed so distant and reserved. Chernoff was a bit surprised, as he sees the manager as an open door guy with the team and the community. As an example, Chernoff noted that Acta is often out on the field with a fungo bat in his hands. Personally, I'd side with Chernoff on Acta - an aloof manager wouldn't be out enjoying Snow Days.

  • Another question was asked about Valbuena. Chernoff didn't sugar coat things, saying that, "It's not like you're sitting there saying he's terrible, and I'm sitting there saying, 'Oh wow this is great!'" He said that the team sees a player that is still young and has tools, with a good minor league track record and one option left. If they get decent defense and good power out of him, he'll stick around. If he plays like last year, he won't just be off the field, he'll be off the team.

  • Someone asked about Hafner's shoulder. Chernoff said that the shoulder is in the best condition it's been in in three to four years, but Hafner still needs to work on it constantly.

  • There was a very good question about psychological tools employed by the team. The Indians do have an on-staff psychologist that meets with the players regularly. Scouts notice players' makeup on and off the field. And all potential draftees are given a psychological test.

  • One questioner mentioned the concerns about Drew Pomeranz's throwing motion. Chernoff said that because of the injury risks, the Indians may consider fast-tracking Pomeranz to maximize what they can get out of him.

  • Alex White is the farthest along of any minor league pitcher. He'll start in AAA, but may reach the majors this season.

Chernoff kept referring to the Indians as a small market team, so there were a few questions about that.
  • He said that the mid-90s were essentially a perfect storm of consequences (my words, not his) that allowed the team to have such a high payroll. The stadium was brand new, the Browns were gone, and Cleveland's economy was doing well. Now, the stadium is one of the oldest in the league (There were cherry pickers parked outside the stadium in several locations for renovations), the Browns are once again the most popular team in Cleveland, and the economy hasn't been great for anyone in the area.

  • The quote of the day from Chernoff: "Really? The Angels can just take on the entire Vernon Wells contract?"

  • Someone asked how the Indians can go from small market to middle market. Chernoff really didn't have an answer, except to say that if the Indians aren't bringing in money in ticket sales, they can't put that money into payroll. He did say the team was working to figure out why Cleveland finished behind teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City last year when the Tribe has had more recent success than those two clubs.

  • Chernoff said the best way to handle free agent attrition was to focus on trade returns and diversify the "portfolio" of players gotten back. He pointed out that Casey Blake was signed as a 29-year-old minor league free agent, and the Indians eventually got Carlos Santana back for him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 Cleveland Indians Lineup by The Book

Last year, Manny Acta made a splash by dropping Grady Sizemore to second in the batting order. This year, he's considering moving him back to leadoff. Is either the right move? And how should the rest of the lineup look?

The Book, one of the best sabermetric books you can find, did extensive work on lineup construction. Their main conclusion was that lineup order didn't matter too much, but it can be optimized for marginal gains. The Book's findings are summarized very well in this Beyond the Boxscore post.

To get the stats for Cleveland's upcoming season, I used the Cairo Projections, which are described (and available for download) here. The nice thing about version 0.5 of this years Cairos is that they include lefty/righty splits. It uses wOBA, which is decribed in detail in the new Frangraphs library. As you can see, wOBA is scaled to be comparable to batting average, with a .321 wOBA being the league average in 2010.

First, here's how the Indians lineup should look against lefties. I took the top nine players in terms of wOBA against lefties, and fortunately things worked out nicely in the field.
1Shin-Soo ChooRF.343
2Matt LaPorta1B.351
3Shelley DuncanLF.332
4Carlos SantanaC.346
5Austin KearnsCF.342
6Jayson Nix3B.327
7Asdrubal CabreraSS.326
8Travis HafnerDH.326
9Jason Donald2B.325

The glaring omission, of course, is Grady Sizemore. Cairo projects Sizemore to have a wOBA of only .309 against lefties. But if you insist on playing him (both in the name of fan interest, and so Kearns doesn't have to play center), you can remove Hafner from the lineup, DH Duncan, and move Donald up to eighth with Grady batting ninth.

Some other items of note:
  • Everyone in this lineup is projected to hit above a .321 wOBA. That's nice, but .321 was the average in 2010 against all pitchers. The average against lefties in 2011 may be higher or lower.
  • Indians fans should be especially pleased to see such a nice number for Matt LaPorta, especially after his struggles at the plate these past few years.
  • LaPorta and Santana have very similar numbers, but Santana has a slight edge in power, giving him the fourth spot over LaPorta. While Choo also has very good power, his on base percentage is just too good to put anywhere but first.

Now, the lineup against righthanders. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take just the best nine hitters this time. Michael Brantley and Travis Buck both rated ahead of Jack Hannahan. Brantley, Buck, and Duncan all rated ahead of Nix and Donald as well. But somebody has to play second and third base.
1Shin-Soo ChooRF.390
2Carlos SantanaC.359
3Matt LaPorta1B.332
4Grady SizemoreCF.363
5Travis HafnerDH.342
6Austin KearnsLF.322
7Asdrubal CabreraSS.318
8Jack Hannahan3B.309
9Jayson Nix2B.307

If you don't think Jack Hannahan is going to break camp with the Tribe, feel free to move Nix up a spot in the order and plug Jason Donald's .303 wOBA into the nine hole.

Notes on this lineup:
  • Choo blew everyone away in both on base percentage and slugging. But I chose to hit him leadoff, just to give our best hitter as many at bats as possible.
  • Believe it or not, Sizemore is expected to have better slugging numbers than Santana, and Santana better on base numbers than Sizemore. That's why Grady is hitting fourth and Carlos second.
  • Cabrera, Nix, and Hannahan/Donald will need to be good with the glove to make up for their below-average projections. Other than that, though, this isn't too bad a lineup.

Finally, for those interested, here are the numbers for a few key players who failed to crack either lineup:
namewOBAvs Lvs R
Michael Brantley.310.291.316
Travis Buck.306.288.312
Luis Valbuena.300.286.302
Trevor Crowe.289.283.290
Adam Everett.268.282.264

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Class of 2011

We had a total of five voters this year, including the carryover. The threshold of three votes gave us four inductees this year.

Dave (4 votes): "Mr. Best Man" is seen here with 2010 inductee Klondike.

Knute Rockne (4 votes): "One loss is good for the soul. Too many losses is not good for the coach." Rock only lost 12 games in 13 years, and put Notre Dame (the football program and the school) on the map in the process.

F-Bomb (3 votes): Ooh, multimedia.

Randy Waldrum (3 votes): Coach Waldrum has been receiving votes ever since the Hall of Fame started, but his second National Championship at ND finally put him over the top.

The also-rans. Remember that the multiple vote-getters will receive one carryover vote next year.
Cleveland2One of the best cities!
JL2for his epic performance at Pete's bachelor party
Kanka's Dad2
Anyone not named Rafael Palmeiro1
Ellie the Dog1for still being alive
George Hatton1
Joe Posnanski1
Kanka1Yes, I think you should go in again like a player who later becomes a coach
Kirk Cameron1for reassuring us these are not the end times
Manti Te'o1because he's a bad man
Muffett McGraw1
Notre Dame1The whole university
Pete's Dad1for traveling to Pete's bachelor party and spending the weekend with us idiots
Ron Santo1
Softball1For bring together the Kankas and making drinking a part of the week
Taylor Swift1
The Midwest1

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Under Armour All-American Game

Tonight at 7:00 Eastern on ESPN is the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game. The game features head coaches Mike Ditka and Steve Mariucci, and Notre Dame verbals DaVaris Daniels and Ben Koyack. So if you can tolerate the ridiculous uniforms and even more ridiculous team names (Team Micro-G vs Team Click Clack), be sure to check it out.

For more information, check out Under Armour's official site for the game.