Author Archives: Hank

What can the Phillies learn from King Pyrrhus of Epirus?

I’m developing matching calluses on my palm and forehead. This is Ruben Amaro’s fault. Every time the man speaks these days I face an uncontrollable instinct to bury my face in my hand with increasing haste, as if this could somehow shield me from his wanton disregard for reason.

Ugh

Thus far, my efforts have been unsuccessful.

The latest chapter in my increasingly violent distaste for the Phillies’ front office front man comes courtesy of David Murphy.

Amaro: “Right now, we’re trying to win as many games as possible… At the same time, at some point, we’re going to have to start looking to the future. And once we’re ‘eliminated’ … listen, is it a long shot to get back into this Wild Card race? It is. Numerically it’s not impossible, but right now obviously I’d be foolish to say it’s something that’s probable…. And at some point, we may be looking more at what we have to do for 2015 as far as what’s going on, on the field. But until then, we’ll make the decision when it’s the appropriate time, when it’s time to start to looking to 2015 and beyond. We’re not quite there yet.”

Trying to win as many games as possible. While that might be a nice thing to hear from a player, whose present entertainment value and future paycheck rely entirely upon his immediate performance, this is an impossibly ignorant and disheartening thing to hear from the general manager of a woefully uncompetitive major league baseball team. It has become clear at this point that self-reflection is not Amaro’s strong suit.

Perhaps Amaro, Montgomery, and the rest of the Phillies’ brass would be better served by a lesson that comes not from self examination, but from history. Not baseball history, but Mediterranean.

King Pyrrhus of Epirus was always a warrior. He was not a king that came from the political class. While he was indeed the heir to the title by birth, he was expelled from power four years into his reign, and had to take to the battlefield to regain his throne. So in 281 B.C.E., King Pyrrhus was already an expert battlefield commander when he answered the pleas of the beleagured city of Tarentum, which was under threat of destruction at the hands of Rome. Pyrrhus, sensing an opportunity to expand his kingdom, sailed to Italy with an army.

"Pyrrhus and his Elephants" by Helene Guerber - Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pyrrhus and his Elephants
Story of the Romans – Helene Guerber. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

After early successes in the field, in 279 B.C.E. Pyrrhus turned his troops north towards the city of Asculum. His army numbered around 40,000, and the Romans met him with an equal number. The battle lasted for two days, and at the end of the second day, the Roman forced had been decisively defeated. But Pyrrhus was hardly in a position to celebrate. Although his army had killed twice as many Roman soldiers as it had lost, winning the battle had cost Pyrrhus a strategic defeat.

The Greek historian Plutarch sums up the aftermath: “Pyrrhus said to one who was congratulating him on his victory, ‘If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.’ For he had lost a great part of the forces with which he came, and all his friends and generals except a few; moreover, he had no others whom he could summon from home, and he saw that his allies in Italy were becoming indifferent, while the army of the Romans, as if from a fountain gushing forth indoors, was easily and speedily filled up again.”

This is the event from which we draw the term Pyrrhic Victory: winning the day with grave consequences for the future. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, this is precisely the kind of win that Amaro is referencing above.

The Phillies’ misguided attempts to win today, or indeed during the second half of the 2014 season, have prevented them from making the moves that must be made in order to start building another championship-caliber roster. By holding onto aging, but still productive, talent, the Phillies have already lost out on too many opportunities to get any better in the future. Likewise, they’re pushing themselves further and further away from the highest picks in next year’s draft, which this team sorely needs in order to start replenishing its decimated farm system.

Actually, comparing Pyrrhus to Amaro and Montgomery isn’t very fair to Pyrrhus. At least he realized the cost of glory. He demonstrated an ability to remove himself from his personal pride and see the ultimate consequences. This Phillies management group has repeatedly proven incapable of thinking with such lucidity. Every extra win that this team earns in the waning days of summer could rightly be termed a Phillic victory, and they should be “celebrated” accordingly. It would serve the Phillies - and more importantly, what remains of the Phillies’ fan base – to see that the net result of their current philosophy can only lead to ultimate failure.

The Phillies think we’re all just jerks with wallets

AmaroYet another trade deadline has passed, and yet again the Phillies did absolutely nothing to alter their course. It’s damned near inexplicable. Not only are they 4 games back from the hapless Mets and 5.5 back from the penniless Marlins, but they also have the league’s second oldest lineup – 31.0 years old – and the third highest payroll in the whole goddamned MLB.

Anybody – I mean really, anybody – can see that this bullshit ain’t gonna get better on its own. Old players are old, and no amount of wishful thinking can make them young again. Sometimes bad players are good, but more often they stay bad. Especially if they are already old. This shit ain’t exactly fucking science.

The period preceding the non-waiver trade deadline is generally the best sellers’ market in the MLB calendar. Unlike the relative mystery of the hot stove, teams know exactly where they are with respect to the league, managers have an excellent idea of their units’ deficiencies, and when contenders make moves, other playoff-bound teams are put under pressure to keep up with the Joneses. The 2014 non-waiver deadline was one of the most active in memory, and a number of marquee players were involved in the deals.

And yet, the Phillies couldn’t pull off a single one. Not one goddamned trade to make this squad better in the future. Nothing to indicate that they have any intention of making it to the World Series again.

Make no mistake, this is a terrible missed opportunity for the future of Philadelphia baseball. But in and of itself, it’s not worth taking personal offense to a quiet deadline. No, what’s truly onerous about the situation is the attitude coming from the man in charge, the grand marshall of this shit parade: Rubén Amaro, Jr.

Amaro: “We were not looking for exorbitant payback, so to speak. We were looking for players that would help us. I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don’t think the clubs were aggressive enough for the kind of talent we have on our club.” - NJ.com

Let me translate that into human English: “Nobody wanted to sell the farm for the bullshit that I was peddling, so I’m gonna peddle bullshit to my fan base instead.”

I take offense, Rubén. I take offense because you just looked me in the eye and called me a stupid asshole.

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Is Chip Kelly in for a Sophomore Slump?

Chip KellyRejoice! The doldrums of summer, and the seemingly-endless stream of unsubstantiated speculation about the coming season is mercifully subsiding. Eagles training camp is here, and thus marks the official unofficial start of the 2014 NFL season. Huzzah! Now we have some actual news to read about!

But games that count are still quite a ways away, and something has been bugging me. While perusing the various forms of Philadelphia sports talk-radio over the last couple of weeks (Hey! Have you heard our excellent podcast yet?), I noticed that one of the more persistent topics of unsubstantiated conjecture debate has been “Are Chip Kelly’s Eagles going to improve or decline in year two?”

The argument generally breaks down into one of two run-on sentences: 1) Chip’s offense has been torn apart in NFL film rooms all offseason, and it’s a college offense anyway, and it was sort of a flukey year, and the defense still sucks, so the Eagles will be worse in 2014, or 2) Chip is a genius, so when opposing teams make adjustments, Chip’ll adjust them right back, the team is used to Chip now, and the defense didn’t get any worse but the offense is gonna get better, so the Eagles will be better than last year.

Frankly, both sides make a somewhat cogent point. What bothers me – what always bothers me – is the lack of context…

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Mocking the Draftniks: Are NFL draft “experts” actually any good at mock drafting?

“Say what?”

[Note: This is a write-up that Hank did last year following the 2013 draft, but it's still totally accurate and well worth your time.] 

Mock drafts are stupid.

There, I said it. You and I know that as much as we all love them, they’re not consequential. They’re not inherently insightful. They’re often nothing more than speculative conversation pieces. At best, they’re educated guesswork.

Now I’m likely to be dragged to the town square and stoned for saying that, but so be it, it needed to be said. I’ll die a martyr for the cause of reasonable, retrospective sports analysis. A worthy ideal, certainly.

Sarcasm aside, I really was convinced that if there ever were a year when I could successfully prove that the draftniks really are all just soothsaying con-men, this was the year. There were no sure-fire top-5 quarterbacks, no stud wide outs or corners. No truly obvious picks. The consensus seemed to be that the real talent in this draft was along the lines, some of the hardest positions in the sport to scout. If there really is such a thing as a “draft guru,” this is the kind of draft that would expose him as either a true expert or a useless hack.

With this hypothesis in mind, I collected an assortment of 14 “final” 1st-round mock drafts published before the draft started last Thursday. As a control, I asked my buddy Frank to submit his own 1st-round mock. Frank watches far more college and pro football than anybody can reasonably consider healthy, but he’s not a paid analyst, nor does he have a support team, league sources, game film, nor any other resources that pro analysts or sports columnists can access.

Here’s what I found out.

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If the NFL moves the Extra Point, this is why smart teams will stop kicking them entirely…

Shout out to the pro-football-reference.com database for the stats in this article. You guys rock.

So we’ve all heard the rumblings from the NFL’s competition committee recently: “The extra point is sort of boring. Let’s screw with it!” seems to be the general gist of the conversation.

The Commish himself has gone on record about his distaste for the extra point. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd. So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”

The gripe might be legitimate. In the last ten season, NFL kickers have completed the extra point attempt a whopping 98.9% of the time (11058 attempts). In 2013, the success rate was 99.6% (1267 attempts). This is as close to automatic as it is going to get in the NFL. The problem, of course, is that there are still 21 players besides the kicker on the field, so major injuries can still occur. Rob Gronkowski, the Pats’ ginormous, extraordinarily gifted tight end, famously broke his forearm on a simple extra-point attempt. While that was a highly visible incident, there are undoubtedly countless, unreported minor traumas that occur during extra point attempts every season. The logic is that the 1.1% of kicks that aren’t made are outweighed in importance by the danger of the play.

Goodell intimated that there are several proposals to change the rule, including one where the point is automatically given after the touchdown unless the offense wants to attempt a two-point conversion. But football purists are certain to be appalled by the idea of taking another step to remove feet from football, so this complete removal of the kick attempt would be a fairly radical move to make in one fell swoop.

So the NFL competition committee is floating a compromise idea: Move extra point kick attempts to the 25 yard line, making the kick a 42 yard attempt rather than its current 19. This solution makes some sense on its face. Teams are still allowed the option of attempting a slightly-riskier but still very makeable extra point, or they can go for the two-point play from the regular spot two yards out. This presumably would leave the strategy of the game intact but provide for a more interesting post-touchdown play.

But this proposal has a major flaw: Any team that chooses to kick in that scenario is run by stupid people. Here’s why:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

TL;DR

If they move the extra point kick back pretty much at all, statistically minded coaches will stop attempting it almost completely. There’s a graph above that says so! The yellow line is how much extra points would be “worth” on average from a given yardage, and the horizontal lines are multiple approximations for the expected points of any regular two-point conversion attempt. Extra Point attempts start being worth less than two-point conversions if they are attempted from 15-16 yards out, so if the extra point were moved to the 25, smart teams would go for two almost every time.

I’ll admit the above graph doesn’t have the best labels in the world, so please allow me to elaborate. Explanation after the jump.

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Around the Cooler 2/18/14: Incognito

 Here’s what we’re talking about:

  • A great deal has been revealed about a man named Incognito, and the irony is too much for us to handle.
  • We’re joined by longtime friend Ray McC* for our baffled response to the NFL’s latest, strangest controversy.

Play on your Mobile Device or Right Click to Download: Around the Cooler 2-18-14

What are you talking about around the wooder cooler this week? Leave us a comment!

Follow us on Twitter @TheWooderCooler

Musical theme written by Matthew Schwalm.

Around the Cooler 1/2/14: New Year

 Here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Vince and Hank bounce back and forth between last week’s victory in Dallas and the impending showdown/shootout against the Saints

Play on your Mobile Device or Right Click to Download: Around the Cooler 1-2-14

What are you talking about around the wooder cooler this week? Leave us a comment!

Follow us on Twitter @TheWooderCooler

Musical theme written by Matthew Schwalm.

Around the Cooler 12/21/13: The submarining Sixers

 Here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Vince, Ray, and Ransom chat it up about the 76ers artfully-designed tank job. (Also, Ray declares himself to be the classiest member of our troupe. We aren’t inclined to disagree.)

Play on your Mobile Device or Right Click to Download: Around the Cooler 12-21-13

What are you talking about around the wooder cooler this week? Leave us a comment!

Follow us on Twitter @TheWooderCooler

Musical theme written by Matthew Schwalm.

Around the Cooler 11/08/13: Bay Area Beatdown

Here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Nick Foles raids the Raiders
  • Can the Eagles beat the Rodgers-less Pack?

Play on your Mobile Device or Right Click to Download: Around the Cooler 11-08-13

What are you talking about around the wooder cooler this week? Leave us a comment!

Follow us on Twitter @TheWooderCooler

Musical theme written by Matthew Schwalm.

Comparing Offenses: Chip’s 2013 v. Reid’s 2012 through 7 Games

After 7 games, Chip Kelly’s Eagles are 3-4. Incidentally, through 7 last season, Reid had also earned a 3-4 record. This parallel shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise: Despite a massive overhaul of the defense, the Eagles still can’t stop anybody. We expected this. DC Billy Davis has a long history of putting together middling to bad defenses, and he has very little talent to work with. On the other hand, there are few new faces on offense. Jason Peters returned from injury, Lane Johnson was drafted, and Jeremy Maclin tore up his knee (and nobody sane can call Riley Cooper an upgrade at that spot). All told, 8 of this year’s starters on offense also started last year, and 9 were active on last year’s squad.

So the defense still stinks, the offense is comprised of the same stiffs, and their W-L records are identical. Sounds like a perfect time to compare the two groups! And since we know both defenses were/are crap this deep into the season, I’d rather just focus on the offense. The raw numbers are after the jump, but this graph really says it all.

Behold:

Offensive Efficiency Chart

Click Image to Enlarge

(A quick explanation of what you’re looking at: For every stat above, 0 represents the NFL average after 7 games. If you’re not familiar with standard deviations and z-scores, just know that in general a score greater than 0 is above average, greater than 1 is good, and greater than 1.5 is close to the top of the league. The reverse is true for negative numbers.*)

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