Saturday’s Den: Baseball questions, with spring training underway

— Baseball changed lot of rules this year; going to be interesting to see how that impacts play this season. No more shifts, a play clock to quicken pace of play, bigger bases, a limit to how many times a pitcher can throw to first base. I think they’ve made good rule changes.

— Watching the first spring training games Friday with the pitch clock, TV broadcasts will be changing; lot of fewer replays of action right after it happens, because there is a 0:30 clock until the next pitch is thrown. Lot less small talk between pitches.

— San Diego Padres spent lot of $$$ this year, trying hard to unseat the Dodgers in NL West, but then star 3B Manny Machado said he will opt out of his contract after this season, hoping to make more than the $30M/year he was scheduled to make thru 2028. 

Will that be a distraction for the Padres, or is is just business as usual?

— I’ve mentioned this here before, but my dad grew up in New York City, was.a big Brooklyn Dodger fan. When I was a kid, I learned quickly to never say the name “O’Malley”— Walter O’Malley was the Dodgers’ owner who moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. My dad didn’t like Walter O’Malley, not one bit.

San Diego Padres are now owned by Peter Seidler, who is Walter O’Malley’s grandson. Wish my dad was here to get his reaction to that; chances are he wouldn’t like the Padres very much.

— Highest current projected payrolls for this baseball season:

$300M— New York (NL)
$261M— New York (AL)
$241M— Phillies
$225M— Braves
$212M— Angels
$205M— Padres

— Lowest current projected payrolls for this baseball season:

$40,925,000— A’s
$45,025,000— Orioles
$59,262,500— Pirates
$64,451,211— Rays
$48,624,500— Reds
$75,010,000— Guardians

— Mets’ owner Steve Cohen has raised a lot of eyebrows by also spending a boatload of $$$ to make his team a winning team. Hell, wish he owned the A’s, but now they’re just as despicable as the other New York team. It is no fun rooting for a team that doesn’t try to win.

Cohen loosely inspired the character Bobby Axelrod on the Showtime series Billions.

— The A’s situation will be interesting; will they move to Las Vegas? Portland? Doesn’t sound like they’ll get a new stadium in Oakland. Would be nice if their cheapskate owner would try to win— what a novel idea.

If they move to Las Vegas and are still cheapskates, someone might wind up like Joe Pesci’s character in Casino.

— Tampa Bay Rays also have a stadium issue; will they stay in Florida or move to Montreal? Charlotte? Nashville?

— Once the two stadium issues are resolved, MLB will move ahead with expanding to 32 teams; the expansion fees will recoup $$$ owners lost during the shortened 2020 season. Having 32 big league teams will make scheduling a lot easier.

— Texas Rangers are paying SS Corey Seager/2B Marcus Semien a combined $57M a year, but they went 68-94 last year, so they hired future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy as their new skipper, added Jacob deGrom as a mound ace. We’ll see if that makes Texas a contender; they’ve had six straight losing seasons. 

— Angels have two of the game’s great stars, Trout/Ohtani, but they were 73-89 last year.

Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2014- their last winning season was 2015, and all that with a payroll of $212M for this year. Pitching is kind of important; the Angels need more of it.

— Speaking of Ohtani, he can be a free agent next winter; going to be quite a bidding war for his services. Would the Angels consider trading him this summer?

— Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs last year; what does he do for an encore? Teammate Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 homers in 2017, but hasn’t ht more than 38 since then.

— Not sure what the Red Sox/Cubs are doing; big market teams that aren’t spending much $$$. Red Sox won World Series in 2018; they’ve made playoffs once since then. Boston finished last in AL East last year, 21 games out of first place.

Cubs missed the playoffs in three of last four seasons; their prospects for this year aren’t great. 

— Detroit Tigers moved their fences in this year, mostly in CF; will that help their hitters/hurt their pitchers?

— Cleveland Guardians won AL Central by 11 games last year; they were only team in the division to finish over .500. Will they be challenged more this year? White Sox let Jose Abreu go, Minnesota re-tooled some but not a lot. Cleveland made playoffs five of last seven years, but has not made it to the World Series since losing Game 7 to the Cubs in 2016.

— Seattle Mariners made playoffs last year for first time since 2001; at this time last year, I had three Seattle hitters on my fantasy team, but their ballpark isn’t conducive to scoring runs— got rid of two of the three, and the third guy got traded to Milwaukee. 

— My baseball TV experience will be better this season; couldn’t watch the World Series last year. The local FOX station was/is at war with DirecTV, so that station was off my TV, so no World Series. I’ve dumped DirecTV for YouTube TV. Looking forward to this season. 

Friday’s Den: Identifying trends for this year’s NCAA tournament

Are there any characteristics that can identify teams that will win the college basketball national title? I’ve studied the last six national champs, and came up with some trends:

— Last five national champs were #1-seeds; Villanova was a #2-seed when they won in 2016, Duke was a #1-seed when they won in 2015.

In 2014, 7-seed UConn beat 8-seed Kentucky in the national title game; since that year, six of the seven national champs have been #1-seeds.

The teams that lost the last seven national title games: four #1-seeds, two #3-seeds and a #8-seed (North Carolina last year)

Power conference teams have ruled the tournament, which doesn’t bode well for Houston in this year’s event.

— Tempo/pace of play— Nothing here; last six national champs have been all over the board as far as tempo goes.

— Offensive efficiency— This one is huge; last six national champs were all in the top 10 in this category. As I type this, that would narrow the potential national champs to:


— Defensive efficiency— Last six national champs were all in the top 25 in this category; there are five SEC teams in top 25 defensive efficiency.

— eFG%— This is same as regular FG%, except 3-pointers count as 1.5 baskets made. Five of the last six national champs were in the top 30 in this category.

— eFG% defense— Little bit of a mixed bag; Baylor was #121 two years ago, North Carolina was #71 in 2017. Doesn’t seem to be as important as the offensive end.

— 2-point FG%— Four of last six national champs were in top 50 in 2-point FG%.

— Point distribution— There seems to be no correlation, none, to how national champs got their points. This especially applies to foul shots; of the last six champs, Kansas last year (#184) ranked in the top 200 of getting their points on the foul line. 

To beat quality teams, you cannot depend on getting the best of the whistles. Fewer fouls are called in March; guys have to play through contact to have success.

— Non-conference strength of schedule— Baylor ’21/Virginia ’19 had terrible non-conference schedules; the other four champs ranked in the top 90, but Kansas LY (#49) had the only top 50 non-conference schedules.

— Overall strength of schedule— This indicates a trend: five of the last six national champs had an overall strength of schedule in the top 25, pointing us towards the power conferences to pick our national champ. Baylor is 2021 (#54) is the lone exception from the last six years.

— Depth— This one is surprising; of the last six national champs, only North Carolina in 2017 (#69) had bench minutes in the top 200. TV timeouts are longer in the NCAA’s; depth doesn’t mean as much.

— Experience— Of the last six national champs, only Baylor in 2021 was in the top 100 in this category; talent is more important than experience, and there is no metric that measures talent.

— Continuity— This category helps some; four of the last six national champs had a continuity in the top 80, with Baylor (#31), Kansas (#45) winning the last two years. In this day and age when kids transfer a lot, talented teams that bond over a period of 2-3 years have an advantage. 

In Thursday’s play……..
— Maryland 68, Purdue 54— Purdue had only two players score more than 6 points; they’ve now lost three of their last four games, after a 22-1 start. Boilermakers scored 54-58 points in their last two games. 

— Gonzaga 108, LMU 65— Zags avenged an earlier loss to LMU; they led 68-28 at halftime.

— Middle Tennessee 74, Florida Atlantic 70— Owls are 3-2 in their last five games, after a 21-1 start; they’ve given up 80 ppg in their last three games.

— Iowa 92, Ohio State 75— Buckeyes are in free fall; they’ve lost seven in row, 12 of last 13 games- they’re shooting 46.1% inside arc in Big 14 games. 

— Memphis 64, UCF 63— Tigers led 43-35 at halftime; they hung on to win, scoring 20 points in second half. Memphis turned ball over 24 times; they’ve won eight of their last nine games.

— NC-Wilmington 72, Drexel 71, 2OT— Drexel led by 15 early, by 4 with 1:16 left in the first OT. Dragons were just 13-21 on foul line in a one-point loss. UNCW won six of its last seven games; the last two seasons, Seahawks are 48-16, 28-8 in CAA play.

— Southern Indiana 82, Little Rock 81— Trojans lost 11 of their last 14 games; five of their last six losses are by 4 or less points.

— South Alabama 85, Southern Miss 54— Golden Eagles had won nine games in a row, but South Alabama shot 74% inside the arc in this game. USM leads Marshall/Louisiana by one game each in Sun Belt standings. 

— RIP Tim McCarver, who passed away at age 81. McCarver caught in the major leagues for 21 years, appearing in four different decades. He then became one of the game’s best TV analysts, working 24 World Series.

McCarver was especially good as a TV analyst for the Mets in the late 80’s; he was great when he worked every day on.a local broadcast, as opposed to only once a week on network TV. I learned a lot listening to him every night.

RIP, sir. 

Saturday’s Den: 12 of my favorite Super Bowls………

13) Steelers 31, Rams 19:
— Even though they lost, it was first time Rams made it to a Super Bowl.
— Rams led 19-17 after third quarter; they were 10.5-point underdogs.
— This was Pittsburgh’s fourth Super Bowl title in six years.

12) Giants 17, Patriots 14:
— The thought of a New England team going 17-0 was nauseating.
— Subway sandwich chain has been sued by people who claim the “tuna” in Subway’s tuna subs is something other than tuna.
— I used to eat lot of Subway subs, until they hired Bill Belichick to do commercials, then I switched to Jersey Mike’s. Much better subs.

11) Chiefs 23, Vikings 7:
— NFL Films’ highlight film of this game made KC coach Hank Stram a household name.
— “Keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys” NFL Films struck gold miking the coach.
— This was the last game before AFL/NFL merged; Chiefs were a 12-point dog.
10) Raiders 32, Vikings 14:
— Minnesota made the Rams’ life miserable in 70’s playoff games, so this was a good result.
— This was my senior year in HS; I played in a CYO basketball league where the games were played in a Jewish Community Center. Go figure.
— We had a game scheduled at same time as the Super Bowl; our refs didn’t show up until after the football game. I sat in a lounge and ate chips/drank soda watching the football game. Needless to say, I was fairly useless during the basketball game.

9) In his ten Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s team scored one first quarter TD; this was the first Super Bowl where Brady’s team led after the first quarter (1-4-5). He won seven of the ten games SU.

8) Patriots 13, Rams 3
— Game was 3-3 in 4th quarter; the Rams being in this game made it great for me.
— This was Sean McVay’s second year as Rams’ coach; before that, Rams had 13 consecutive losing seasons. Winning is more fun than losing. 

7) Only twice has the team that lost a Super Bowl won the big game the next season:
— Dallas lost Super Bowl V to the Colts, beat Miami the next year.
— New England lost Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia, won the Super Bowl the next year.

6) Saints 31, Colts 17:
— Saints were in the NFL 21 years before they played a playoff game.
— Someone made a commercial of Saints fans’ reactions at home parties when Tracy Porter ran back a pick-6 74 yards to clinch the game for New Orleans. It is a great commercial.

5) Chiefs 31, 49ers 20:
— Whenever the 49ers lose, I’m probably pretty happy.
— I’ve never heard anyone say they dislike Andy Reid, and I know someone who hates Ray Romano. Reid won his first world title in his 21st year as a head coach.
— 49ers led this game 20-10 after third quarter.

4) Eagles 41, Patriots 33:
— Nick Foles is 29-29 as a regular season starter, 4-2 in playoff games.
— He’s played for six teams in 11 years, but will always be a Philly legend.
— Foles caught a TD pass on a trick play to give Philly a 22-12 halftime lead.

3) Steelers 27, Cardinals 23:
— Arizona lost, but getting Cardinals here put Kurt Warner in the Hall of Fame.
— Warner threw a 64-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald with 2:37 left to put Arizona ahead.
— Big Ben won it with a 6-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 0:35 left.

2) Rams 23, Bengals 20:
— Stafford-to-Kupp with 1:25 left was the game-winning score.
— Bengals led 20-13 midway thru third quarter.
— Sean McVay is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.
— Second year in row the host team won Super Bowl; before that, it had never happened. 

1) Rams 23, Titans 16:
— 73-yard TD pass from Warner to Bruce with 1:54 left put Rams ahead.
— Mike Jones tackles a Titans’ WR on 1-yard line as time ran out.
— Warner capped off a storybook season, throwing for 414 yards.
— 13 years later, then-Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher was hired as coach of the Rams. 

Tuesday’s Den: More Super Bowl prop bets……..

You can bet on almost anything during a Super Bowl; here are some more prop bets that have been posted for Sunday’s game:

— Will there be a successful 2-point conversion?
Yes +230
No -270

— Will first turnover of game be……..
Interception -170
Fumble +150

— Will at least one quarter be scoreless?
Yes +400
No -500

— Total number of players throwing a forward pass:
over 2.5, +130
under 2.5, -150

— Will the team, that scores first to win the game”
Yes -165
No +145

— Over/under passing yards for Patrick Mahomes: 288.5

— Over/under passing yards for Jalen Hurts: 238.5

— Over/under longest completion for Patrick Mahomes: 38.5 yards

— Over/under longest completion for Jalen Hurts: 37.5 yards

— Over/under receiving yards for Travis Kelce? 77.5

— Total net yards for the Chiefs: over/under 372.5

— Total net yards for the Eagles: over/under 367.5

— Total punts for both teams:
over 7.5- even
under 7.5- under -120

— Total net yards for both teams: over/under 731.5

— More pass completions:
Mahomes (-6.5) vs Hurts

— More passing yards:
Mahomes (-50.5) vs Hurts

— More receiving yards:
Travis Kelce (-2.5) vs AJ Brown

— Jersey number of player who scores first touchdown:
Over 11.5, +130
Under 11.5, -150

— Who will have more points Sunday?
Eagles (-3.5) vs Tyrese Maxey on the 76ers

— Who will have more points Sunday?
Jayson Tatum on the Celtics (-6.5) vs Chiefs

— Who will have more points Sunday?
Eagles (-2.5) vs Purdue’s Zach Edey