Tuesday, October 19

Downtown report

Ive written here occasionally about some of the local minor league and college sporting events I've attended here in Northeast Ohio, and I have to say that they really add a great deal to my enjoyment of athletics as a spectator. Two notable ballpark experiences for me are those of the Class A Lake County Captains in Eastlake and the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters right downtown at the Q. The Cap'ns are a solid value and a fun evening, particularly if you only attend on $1 beer Mondays, as I do. It's hard to beat $8 seats and $1 drafts to sit in the sun at beautiful Classic Park and watch Lake County take home the Midwest League title. Even if they did lose every game I went to, except for the title game.

The Monsters are also a boon to hockey fans like me living in Cleveland, which has historically not been much of a hockey town. As I've written before, hockey appreciates greatly when watched in person, and Lake Erie provides fans the opportunity to watch players just a step removed from the bright lights of the NHL. In this fan's case, that opportunity is just a short walk from one's apartment, making it all the better, as construction on State Route 91 is probably the chief drawback to attending Captains contests. The Monsters haven't been much to write about on the ice (though they did win an exciting come-from-behind 3-2 decision against Syracuse in the opener, which I attended), but the fan support is tremendous (I've been to sellouts) and lively. I still don't understand why they yell "what official?" whenever the PA guy announces an official timeout, but that's OK.

Considering that all three of our major-league teams are pretty far away from any sort of serious contention, it's nice to have some low-pressure minor-league action to enjoy now and again. But those top-level clubs are the ones we really sink ourselves into, and thus it's time to address the raisons d'etre of FCF.

By any metrics other than "performance of Chris Perez and Shin-Soo Choo" and "not being the Kansas City Royals," 2010 was an unsuccessful season for the Erie Warriors, as the club finished 4th in the AL Central with a 69-94 mark. I spent some time a while back describing the exploits of those two special talents, so the major thing left to evaluate is: how bad were the 2010 Indians, actually?

First off, the good news: better than the 2009 club (and 2003!), despite an improbable run of injuries and bad luck that had 100 losses in play headed into September. Also: better than six other teams (counting Washington, who technically had the same number of wins and losses but play in the NL, which sucks). Also: better than Pittsburgh, who posted 105 losses and a mind-boggling SRS (-1.8). For some perspective, that means the Buccos sucked about three times as bad as Cleveland, and only a little better than the ghastly 43-119 Detroit Tigers of 2003 (-2.1). Bad.

So Cleveland wasn't especially good, but they weren't hopeless either - just not quite as good as their opponents night in and night out. The chief culprit was Cleveland's inopportune offense and starting rotation. The Cleveland bats hit to the tune of a 97 OPS+, yet netted the third-fewest runs in the AL, owing partially to playing in Progressive Field but also to frequently minimizing quality scoring chances despite a weird prowess at plating two-out runs. The pitching was a little easier to understand: none of our starters except for Fausto Carmona (102) managed to top the 90 mark in ERA+, which is no kind of way to win baseball games. Despite some generally strong bullpen work, the Wahoos still ended up next-to-last in ERA+. I have to regard the Tribe's starting rotation as the biggest question mark heading into 2011 and beyond.

As has been well-documented, part of the reason why it's going to be difficult for Cleveland to quickly regain the position they held among baseball's top clubs as recently as 2007 is the game's financial structure. MLB apologists have become a bit of a cottage industry of late, with pundits suggesting that the system is indeed somehow fair and citing the evidence that teams can, at times, overcome the ridiculous financial inequalities between MLB's haves and have-nots and secure playoff berths. Bert Blyleven wrote a column on ESPN to this effect, and Terry Pluto authored a similar piece in the PD about how the Indians can as well. But pointing out that a team like, say, Minnesota has achieved success despite having the deck stacked against them misses the larger point made crystal clear in the graphic below, which you simply must see. (New York Times, David Leonhardt and Amanda Cox)

Yes, teams can put it all together for a season or two, but on balance, payroll is an extremely good predictor of a franchise's success. One simply cannot look at this graphic, which averages wins over the past 10 years and plots them against average player payroll, and conclude that MLB's economics are in any way fair. If I had to summarize this graphic, I would do so as follows:

Yankees suck.

Blargh, so we lost to the steelers again. We'll get there in a minute. I thought I should clear up the quarterback situation real quick. First off, Jake Delhomme doesn't play again this year, under any circumstance. That's all there is to it. I'm sure he's a nice fellow, and I greatly enjoy the t-shirt featuring him that I photographed at a local CVS that somehow disappeared off my DROID, but no, you don't get to play quarterback anymore.

If Colt McCoy continues to play as well as he did against Pittsburgh this past Sunday, which is not unreasonable since Pittsburgh has one of the league's dirtiest best defenses, then he keeps playing. I thought Seneca Wallace played admirably, but there is zero chance that he is a future long-term option behind center for the Cleveland Browns. Unless McCoy shows that he's truly not ready, he stays.

What's that mean for the rest of the season? Well, let's look at this rationally. We're not winning in New Orleans next Sunday, so we'll probably go into the bye week (most hacky sportswriters would have said "limp into the bye week" but I'm a special hack) at 1-6. Not what you wanted to see, especially since they've led every game except last week's at some point in the second half. Let's look at the nine games awaiting us after Halloween:

@ Jags
@ Dolphins
@ Bills
@ Bengals

Three of those are definite winnables: Jacksonville, Carolina, and Buffalo. Let's say we win two of those.

Two more of those are against somewhat mediocre clubs: Cincy and Miami. Let's say we grab one of those too.

Four of them look damn tough: Boston, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Hard to imagine we win any of those. But I bet we do anyway.

That's a 4-5 post-bye slate, tending a bit optimistic on my part. Using my most reasonable powers of analysis, I think we'll probably notch three, including one unexpected one. 4-12 seems like the most probable finish for these 2010 Brownies, but hey, we've kept almost every game close so far, so maybe they'll outperform even that. On the flipside, though, they've shown an inability to close games, so let's keep it there for now.

Driving home from Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon, I had the distinct misfortune of listening to the end of the Browns game on the other team's radio station. In addition to the lead broadcaster, the group of hillbillies they have manning the booth consists of guys who call each other "Tunch" and "Wolfie" and who have the collective IQ of a chair. You could give the steelers' three stupidest fans headsets and not notice much of a difference, and that's saying a lot considering the fan base we're dealing with.

Anyway, as the steelers were on their way to one of the most annoying covers in sports history, Tunch and Wolfie decided that the play of the game was not the deep TD pass from sexual assault expert and quarterback #7 to wide receiver #17, but rather a play where linebacker/headhunter/psycho #92 delivered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland's Josh Cribbs. Typical. What sort of professional celebrates a brain-scrambling injury like that? Absolutely no class, just like the team they broadcast. Read #92's embarrassingly stupid comments about his performance if you don't believe me. Can you imagine Jim Donovan, Bernie Kosar, or Doug Dieken glorifying a serious injury to an opponent like that? Of course you can't.

But whatever, that's entirely representative of the kind of organization and fan base that welcomes back rapist quarterback #7 with adulation and handmade signs, posts moronic foolishness like "Zero Tolerance" at their field, and actually thinks those monstrosities the players were wearing in place of jerseys were fashionable. The only saving grace of Sunday was that #43 and #86 were non-factors, so I didn't have to hear the announcers gush about how great they were. I'm throwing my support, such as it is, behind the Baltimore Ravens if it indeed comes down to those two clubs in the AFC North. I've learned, at last, to never underestimate how much I can dislike the pittsburgh steelers. Go jump in a river.

I really don't want to spend a whole lot of time rehashing what happened in Camp Randall Stadium last Saturday night. Ohio State got beaten up front all night long and were outplayed by a really solid-looking Badger team. That's about it.

But let's not forget: the Big 10 is still in play. The only real test Ohio State has remaining is at Iowa in November; the Bucks should be able to handle Purdue and Penn State at home and Minnesota on the road. Take down the Hawkeyes on the road and we can finish with one loss and quite possibly earn another share of another Big Ten title.

Wait, I forgot a team! We still play the mighty michigan wolverines at the end of the season. Whatever. Coach DickRod's team has been completely exposed for the fraud they always were, and are in for another thrashing in Columbus come Thanksgiving weekend - it's going to be fun to ring up seven straight. I'm planning to once again run the Pigskin Classic here in Downtown Cleveland; 5K run three hours before kickoff, tailgate outdoors up until the game, then watch the Buckeyes smash michigan. What's not to like? But first there's business to take care of, starting with Purdue in the Horseshoe at noon on Saturday and including Nick and my pilgrimage to Ohio's capital on November 13 to watch OSU take on Penn State.

The buzz surrounding the 2010-11 Cavaliers is almost deafening at this point. People are psyched for this club. Aw hell, no they're not. I've heard a number of people tell me personally that they're giving up on the NBA after this summer's shenanigans. I think that's the wrong way to play it - basketball is still a great game, and if you give up on the Cavaliers just because they lost one guy in the offseason, well, then the terrorists have won.

The Cavs aren't going to contend for the NBA Championship as they have in past seasons, that's for sure. I think they're going to win around 35 games. But I'll be damned if I'm going to give up on a club I've supported for almost 25 years just because they no longer rank among the league's elite. No way.

The national media isn't real high on the Clevelanders this season. ESPN's Bill Simmons recently ranked all 30 NBA teams in order of how excited he would be to see them in person, and slotted the Cavs in at...#30. Kelly Dwyer, the normally astute Yahoo! basketball writer, penciled Cleveland in for 12 wins, which is ridiculous. Even the Lottey-tanking 2002-03 Caballeros won 17, and that team was brutal. I have no idea what Dwyer was thinking or if he was even being serious, but I'd expect the Cavs to win at least twice that, if not three times. We'll see starting October 27th what this squad is made of. Go Cavs!

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