Monday, January 14, 2019

Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Yeah, I know, this is a bracketology blog. But baseball was my first love, and two of my favorite players have a good chance to get inducted, so I wanted to do a quick "if my votes counted" Hall of Fame ballot. Like the real things, I can only take 10 players. Here's who I'd take (not who I think will get in) and why:

1. Mariano Rivera. He's the best reliever ever, regular AND post season. You can believe that the modern closer doesn't pitch enough innings, and that they're not worth the money they're paid, and that they'd be better used in higher-leverage situations if they're really that good. And you might be right. This guy's still a slam dunk and it'd be a shock if he didn't get in.

2. Roger Clemens. We'll get this out of the way. I don't love Clemens as a person. I know there's accusations and evidence of PED use. I also know that, like #3 below, he was probably a Hall of Famer before he allegedly started using them. And if you think PEDs gave him an edge, then quantify it for me. How many wins, points of ERA, and K's are we going to shave off to normalize him? I bet what's left is a Hall of Famer too.

3. Barry Bonds. See Clemens above, and substitute batting stats for pitching and "Bonds" for "Clemens" and my argument is the same. These two guys aren't "just makes the threshold" hall guys. They're among the all time greats, well beyond the minimal HoF expectations. Time to move on from the steroid mess and recognize greatness (of the player, if not the person).

4. Roy Halladay. I think he'd have gotten in eventually even without his untimely, tragic death, but I'd be ready to vote him in right away. He had a great peak, even if his counting stats don't look quite as impressive. And he was pitching during the offensive explosion, too.

5. Mike Mussina. Moose and Halladay have what I think of as the modern era's new Hall of Fame-worthy stats. Innings pitched and total number of starts are way down, as are win totals, compared to earlier days. No one's going to win 20 games five years in a row like Catfish did in the 70s. Guys who get 200 IP, an ERA in the low 3's, and 17-18 wins a year are going to be the hall-worthy starters eventually, because they'll still be a cut well above the rest of the league. Is Moose a Maddux-Pedro-Randy level starter? Probably not. But there's a long drop from those guys to the Hall cut line, and I think Mussina crosses that line to get in.

6. Edgar Martinez. A great hitter, pure and simple. I think what's holding him up is A. he's a great hitter in an era of great hitting, and B. he spent too much time DHing and too little time in the field. Well, plenty of guys in the Hall were worthless on D (or amazing on D and worthless at the plate), so I'm not willing to exclude a guy at Edgar's level just because his team DHed him all the time. I think he deserves to get in.

7. Todd Helton. I'm not sure Helton gets in. He and Larry Walker had their stats somewhat inflated by playing in Coors Field. This vote is simply about me thinking I'd like to see his case debated further.

8. Andy Pettitte. Now, my heart (which bleeds pinstripes... I know, I've said I bleed Orange, so maybe it's orange pinstripes) would like to see Andy get in. Mostly his case is on his playoff legacy, which is largely due to him playing on one of the great dynasties, and on his win totals, which fans of advanced stats will tell you aren't a good measure of a starting pitcher (and I agree). There's also the matter of his admission that he used PEDs (once, while rehabbing) and his close friendship with Clemens, so haters have a confession and guilt by association. I don't expect him to get elected (unless there really is an east coast bias), but again like with Helton, I think the debate should take place.

9.  Omar Vizquel. If there's a place for Ozzie Smith, (and there is, and there should be), then there's a place for Omar Vizquel.

10. Curt Schilling. Based on his numbers, his career regular season and postseason performances, I have to give him my last vote. Based on his bloody sock and the fact that he stuck it to my team not once but twice, he'll get that vote grudgingly. But I think he's a borderline case, less so than Pettitte (who I think might head the Hall of Very Good) and about as much so as Mussina.

I think 10 is too few. I could've voted for Larry Walker, maybe the Crime Dog, maybe Sammy Sosa too. The Hall has squeezed voters by only giving players 10 years on the ballot and only giving voters 10 slots. The Hall should not be only for guys like Maddux and the like. Yeah, a line has to be drawn somewhere, but it should be behind the Mussinas, Edgars and Omars, not in front of them. And guys are getting kicked off the ballot way too early, which is why it's hard to criticize voters for not having a 100% ballot for anyone. Someone really wants to keep Manny Ramirez on the ballot so he gives Manny a vote instead of Mariano. Whatever... that's the fault of the rules the Hall set up.

Hoping to see Moose and Mo both in, rooting for Roy too, and even Edgar. Really hoping the PED issue dies down as we get farther from the worst of it, too.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Jan 13 Update


This is the third bracket of the season and the first I'm feeling some confidence in, though again, there continues to be lots of movement. Had a terrible time with the play-ins. You have to watch the conference affiliations AND be sure one play-in leads into a Thursday site and the other leads into a Friday site. That's a lot. But I also feel like the top three lines are coming into focus. Placing those teams in those lines is tough, though, with five ACC teams in the top 16 (for now).

I moved Buffalo up to a 6 this week, partly because of their big win but much more due to the teams around them losing, sometimes multiple times. I still think they'll get shorted at tournament time, but at least they didn't lose to Rutgers (sorry Buckeye fans). I don't mean to dwell on the Bulls, but they will be a very interesting case in March for the Committee. Their best wins (West Virginia and Syracuse) look a little worse each week. While Syracuse righted itself after the loss to Buffalo (at least until Saturday night), West Virginia has lost four straight and is at the bottom of the Big 12. So they beat the Big 12's worst team, and two bubble teams ('Cuse and San Francisco). Better than most other mid majors? Definitely. Worthy of an at-large? I'd say so. Five or six seed material? I'm not so sure, especially once the MAC schedule pushes those non-league wins further back.

Ole Miss makes its first appearance of the season. Whacking two top 15 teams, including one on the road, makes for a fast-track to a single-digit seed even coming off the bubble.

I think from here I'll be doing a new bracket on Saturday (not Sunday) night, and maybe doing reflections like these on Sunday. My projections are now appearing in my local newspaper on Mondays, so that's an exciting development (for me).

Monday, January 7, 2019



So here's my latest projection. Some things I considered:
1. I know I had Tennessee on the top line last week, and bumped them down this week even though they didn't lose. My problem was that I couldn't leave unbeaten Virginia as a 2-seed, especially after the way they hammered Florida State. And even though Kansas also lost (and I know that the Committee doesn't really look at head-to-head but rather body of work), I couldn't put the Vols ahead of a team that beat them when push came to shove. I have a feeling that after Michigan and Duke there'll be a lot of volatility (though we'll see what happens after Virginia plays Duke in a week or so!).

2. I couldn't leave Nevada as a 2 after taking that loss to New Mexico. Again, I feel like the Committee is relatively unforgiving of teams outside the Power Five (or six or so), and that Nevada will have to earn its way back to the 2-line.

3. By the same token, I had trouble putting Houston as a 4. They were actually among my 5-seeds, but I had trouble putting Florida State there after their loss to Virginia (no shame in that, though), and I had nowhere to put an ACC school with 4 already in the top 16, so for now I bumped them down and Houston up. Personally I think Houston can get a top 4 seed, but like Nevada, they won't get much margin for error. And I hated to drop FSU that far down. These early bracket projections are tough but they get easier as the overall body of work grows.

4. Is the best Pac-12 team really just a 9-seed? Is the best A-10 team really just a 12-seed? Is the best Big East team really only a 6-seed? Just doesn't seem right.

5. If we consider the "power" conferences to be Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, ACC, Big East, then there are two at-large bids currently going to schools outside of those leagues, both to schools in the American. And that's not exactly a wimpy conference, either, consisting of some traditionally strong basketball programs (UConn, Cincy, Temple, Memphis, Wichita State), along with some newer upstarts (Houston, UCF). It hurts that the A-10 is in such a down year since they're usually good for at least one and usually 2-3 at-large bids.

These early brackets will change a lot from week to week. The last two years I learned a lot from the Committee revealing their top 4 seeds (top 16 teams) and was able to use that information to improve my projections going forward. At that point I can see if the Committee thinks there are 5 ACC teams in their top 16 (and what they did with that fifth team!), and puzzle out how they came to that conclusion, and use that info as I project going forward.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

First Bracket of 2018-19


I'm excited to post my first bracket of the 2018-19 season at last! I like to wait until the non-conference season is mostly in the books, so we have a true body of work to look at. And the first bracket of the season is typically a pretty rough product, as I work out all the rust from not making them in several months.

I wanted to say a few words about this year's big mid-major story, Buffalo. While I believe that Buffalo deserves a single digit seed as of today, I do think that their conference schedule will weigh them down. The impression that their non-conference record, which includes wins over West Virginia and Syracuse (and a beat-down at Marquette), will make on the committee will entirely depend on the fortunes of the Mountaineers and Orange. Neither is a tournament team right now, and while those might've been symbolic wins in terms of road wins at serious D-I programs, if those two teams are bubble or NIT teams, those wins won't carry as much weight. If either (or both) bounce back strong in the conference season, that rising tide will raise UB's boat as well. So to keep their single digit seed, I think they need one or the other (and preferably both) to find their footing. And fast. And as bubble teams, 'Cuse and WV both should hope UB continues to win, because if UB turns into a blue pumpkin those losses could further damage them on Selection Sunday. Their chances of improving their standing from here aren't good, short of running the table.

I also think the committee, consciously or unconsciously, really sticks it to teams outside the power conferences. Once you get past the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac 12 and Big East, teams have to be truly exceptional to have a hope of getting an at-large bid, let alone a single-digit seed. The A-10 looks like it might be a one-bid league this year, and that's a conference that's usually a 2-3 bid league and whose champion often gets a solid seed. I won't be surprised if the American only gets 2-3 bids instead of the 4 that I have here today.

See you next week!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Potential Final Four Matchups

Now that there's 16 teams left and most of the pretenders (and even a few "sure things") have been sent packing, we can take a look at some Final Four matchups that are actually, you know, possible. Lots of ways to group these guys.

1. The Cinderella Final Four
By Cinderella, I mean "teams you almost never see anywhere near a Final Four", not just the lowest seed. In the South there's three, but we'll default to the Loyola-Chicago/Nevada winner since K-State has made some Elite 8's. In the East it's got to be Texas Tech, since Purdue and West Virginia have made the Final Four in my lifetime and Tech's not your average "hoops school". The Midwest's entrant has to be Clemson, as 11-seed Syracuse is a traditional powerhouse. And out West, either Florida State or Texas A&M could play Cinderella equally well (in basketball, anyway). So...
Loyola-Chicago vs Texas A&M; Clemson vs Texas Tech

2. The Football Playoff
Just what we need, football infecting college hoops again. Clemson again wins the Midwest. West Virginia takes the East, as they're a more consistently good football program than TTU. In the South, K-State takes a weak bracket (in that regard). And out west, I'll take Florida State just to balance the bracket: two Big-12 teams and two ACC teams.
FSU vs K-State; Clemson vs West Virginia

3. The Bluebloods
A shame three bluebloods are clogging the Midwest region. We can only pick one and that one will be Duke. Villanova is the closest thing to hoops royalty in the East. Down South, you know it's Kentucky. And out west, there's no true hoops blueblood, but Michigan gets my nod over Gonzaga due to longevity - they have been a consistently strong hoops program for decades.
Michigan vs Kentucky; Villanova vs Duke

4. Defensive Showdown (per KenPom.com)
This goes by straight-up defensive efficiency rankings in KenPom. Michigan would win the West and Texas Tech the East. Syracuse snags the Midwest, and the South would go to Kansas State. Kansas state, really?
Michigan vs Kansas State; Syracuse vs Texas Tech

5. Offensive Showdown (again per KenPom.com)
Personally I'd rather see some scoring. So... Villanova barely ekes out Purdue here, which was only surprising in that they're 1-2! They'd take on Duke, who ekes out Kansas. Nevada blows away the South, and Gonzaga would win out West.
Gonzaga vs Nevada; Villanova vs Duke

6. Geographically True Regional Winners (per a map)
If we're calling the West the West, then Gonzaga is the farthest west so they'd win. The South... well, technically K-State and maybe Nevada are farther south than Kentucky, but Kentucky is a more "southern" state (and they do play in the SOUTHeastern Conference). Villanova rightfully wins the East, and Kansas is certainly the most "midwest" of those teams.
Kansas vs Villanova; Gonzaga vs Kentucky

7. My Gut
Of all of these Final Four combos, my own picks here are probably the least likely to come about. But here goes.
South: Kentucky. It's not novel but they're the best team remaining in this group. They are better than K-State, they won't allow a Nevada comeback, and Loyola hasn't played a team this good and playing this well. Second choice: Nevada.
West: Gonzaga. Not an easy choice. They're not as good as last year, but neither is this region. They ought to handle Florida State, and while Michigan and A&M both would pose defensive challenges I think their experience will see them through. Second choice: Michigan for sure.
Midwest: Duke. The team best able to overcome the Syracuse Zone also has more talent and less likelihood of a meltdown than Kansas. It's just hard to see them losing this weekend. Second choice: Kansas
East: Villanova. Like Duke vs Syracuse, Nova is uniquely suited to counter their opponent's (West Virginia) unique defense. And a battle-tested Nova team will be able to beat a dinged up Purdue team or a "wow, we're in the second weekend" TTU team. Second choice: Purdue

I know, kinda chalky. Even my second choices are the next highest seeds. Not very "gut"sy I admit.  But Kentucky's so much above their region in KenPom.com analytics. I trust Duke over Kansas in crunch time. I trust Villanova's and Gonzaga's experience. And I just think that there are fewer upsets in the second weekend (usually). Talent and coaching wins out and this final four would feature Calipari, K, Wright and Few, some of the greatest coaches of our time. And my "second choices" include Self and Huggins and Bielein, no slouches themselves. Which is why they're here.

Let's see what happens.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Final Bracket Thoughts

So now the rubber hits the road and the games get played. Spreadsheets, rankings, ratings, and rants no longer matter. It now gets settled on the court.

On my brackets, I usually have some pretty consistent selections. Here's some of my lines of thinking that were consistent on all (or nearly all) of the brackets I filled out this season:

SOUTH
1. Loyola-Chicago over Miami. This isn't original, I know. BPI has this more clearly favoring Miami, but KenPom sees a more even matchup and I tend to agree. You don't finish third in the ACC without being a good team, but I think they can and will be beat this year.

2. I've read in multiple places this year about making "value" picks - not taking the favorites all the time so you can zig when the rest zagged. Between this line of thinking (which has worked or nearly worked for me in the past) and Virginia's recent injury to their sixth man, I'm not taking Virginia to make the Final Four. Which is rough - I think they'd be a very worthy champion.

3. An article in FiveThirtyEight.com tells me I should take Buffalo over Arizona. Not happening. I have all respect for that site but I simply can't go against a preseason title favorite with a national player of the year favorite who just won their conference AND tourney in favor of a team whose best victory was, who, Toledo?

4. But the winner of the Arizona-Kentucky game will beat Virginia and ultimately lose to Cincy.

WEST
1. Michigan is the key team here for me. If their layoff throws them off, Montana or Houston could pull upsets. Montana's a good 14 seed, and I'm not afraid to take Houston over Michigan in a 3/6 game. But I believe if Michigan escapes this weekend, they can beat UNC and X or the Zags and make the Final Four.

2. I have Gonzaga vs UNC in the Elite 8 and was trying to figure out why it'd be any different than last year's final.

3. Xavier is really getting very little love. Taking them would be going against the grain despite it being "chalk". And it's not like they're not a really strong team. But Missouri and Gonzaga will be tough challenges and I don't see them beating Michigan or UNC. I think they're the first 1 to go down, maybe to Missouri.

4. I will take the winner of the Michigan/UNC game (or the lower half of that region) to make the Final Four.

MIDWEST
1. I at first thought Kansas was in trouble with Michigan State and Duke in their region. But really, nobody is going to stop them (except themselves) before the Elite 8. So it comes down to that game, for me.

2. I love my Orange and they can beat TCU, but they're not beating the Spartans. We're definitely getting a Duke-MSU Sweet 16 game. And I think Sparty takes it.

3. Again, it's not original but I think New Mexico State takes down Clemson. The Tigers just aren't playing as well lately. I also think they beat Auburn. None of these three teams is a match for Kansas though.

4. Michigan State is my team to beat in this region. Duke comes out a touch ahead in BPI and KenPom, and has done well against a tough schedule. But they have their lapses too, and I just think the Spartans are going all the way.

EAST
1. To get it out of the way, Villanova's the pick here. The 8, 4 and 5 seeds aren't that intimidating.

2. Referring back to that FiveThirtyEight article, they picked Murray State as the most likely upset, which is funny because I figured WV was a pretty safe pick here. I'm not taking the Racers here, mostly because I felt WV was closer to a 3 than a 5 and deserved a 4-seed (probably over Gonzaga, though it's a tough call).

3. I'm not at all sold on Texas Tech but Florida's inconsistency (or a Bona upset!) should help TTU get to the Sweet 16. I'm having trouble going against Purdue, though I think Butler will give them a real scare in the second round. But neither of these teams should stop Villanova, despite Nova's recent history of early exits.

4. Virginia Tech vs Alabama is a big 8/9 mismatch. Tech should win that one big.

So my final four looks like Villanova vs Michigan State and Cincinnati vs North Carolina, and I'll take the Spartans over the Tar Heels (in their third straight final!).

My advice is to NOT do the same!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bracket Matrix Submission Review

In 2014 I took Joe Lunardi's Bracketology Certificate course (and I got to meet Joe that same season when he came with St. Joe's to the tournament games in Buffalo, which was cool). It took me a couple years to get the nerve (and find the time) to start this blog, but last year I finally did it. I probably wouldn't have done it without the motivation of the Bracket Matrix, which I took to be a collection of amateur and professional bracketologists not too different from me who all love to try and figure this stuff out. Last year was my first year in the Matrix, and my goal was to finish in the top half of the 1st and 2nd year entries. And I did it, barely... I was about the 51st percentile among those brackets, and about the 42nd overall.

So my goal this year was to improve on that, to try and get into the top third (I take the advice of Richard Dreyfus's psychologist character in What About Bob? - baby steps!). My oldest son, who's 17, usually sat in while I worked on it and gave me a hand looking up information.

And the projections took a major step forward. This year's "final exam" (as I think of it) finished tied for 24th (out of 187) overall, not just among the 1st and 2nd year folks. Ironically, we made the decision to leave out our favorite team, Syracuse, and it backfired, costing us six points and the chance to finish in the top 10. Still, I'll take it.

I whiffed on USC (and the Orange), and in hindsight I was sucked in by their 2nd place Pac-12 finish and their being the runners-up in the Pac-12 Tourney. Syracuse had better wins and a tougher schedule. But I must admit, I had Arizona State as my last team in, so I'd still have lost those points, I guess.

In seeding, I have some excuses for the three I missed on by more than one line. It seems that many agree that Penn was way under-seeded as a 16, and I had them as a 14. I'd do that again. Creighton showed up on mine as a 10, but they were downgraded from a 9 only because I had Villanova and Xavier as 1's and Providence and Butler both as 9's (but ahead of Creighton) and I couldn't put Creighton in 'Nova's or X's regions. That cost me a point. And I'll just admit that I wasn't entirely sure where to put SD State, and I underestimated them a bit too much.

I'm sorta proud that I got the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 teams in the South correct. The fun part of this process for us is building the bracket and assigning the teams to cities and seeing the potential matchups. I also had Xavier, Gonzaga and Michigan all in the LA region, though the Zags' seed was off.

All in all I had 67/68 teams correct, 45 teams correctly seeded, and another 19 off by one line, three off by two lines, and one team that didn't get in. Last year I also had 67/68 teams correct, but with 26 teams one line off and three off by two or more lines. So I'm getting a little better with the seeding.

Lots of fun this year.