Sunday, March 22, 2009


Oklahoma St.
FG: 26-56
FG%: .464
3PT: 12-29
3PT%: .414
FT: 12-12
FT%: 1.000
OffR: 4
Reb: 20
Ast: 18
PF: 20
Points: 76

FG: 28-57
FG%: .491
3PT: 11-28
3PT%: .393
FT: 17-26
FT%: .654
OffR: 15
Reb: 35
Ast: 17
PF: 11
Points: 84

What do you know? Best shooting team did win. Coincidentally, the best shooting team also controlled the boards by a staggering degree, and didn't get into foul trouble. Negligible, right, Bob?

"The best shooting team will be tied at half time...

...with the worst shooting team."

Not as concise or catchy as this headline: "The best shooting team will win", but accurate nonetheless.

Oklahoma St.
FG: 17-28
FG%: .607
3PT: 10-17
3PT%: .588
FT: 5-5
FT%: 1.000
OffR: 2
Reb: 7
Ast: 15
PF: 9
Points: 49

FG: 17-29
FG%: .586
3PT: 8-16
3PT%: .500
FT: 7-11
FT%: .636
OffR: 7
Reb: 12
Ast: 12
PF: 4
Points: 49

Smizik is arguing that if Pitt shoots well, they'll be fine. I agree with this. So does everyone who has ever seen a Mesoamerican ballgame. I think the Smiz realized this, and to beef up what would otherwise be an inane truism, he churned out a theorem:
When the talk gets around to what wins basketball games, the conversation usually drifts to rebounding, defense and turnovers and is broken down even further into offensive rebounding and assist-to-turnover ratio. Those are important but not nearly as important as shooting. Rebounding and turnovers help create baskets. Good shooting doesn’t need any help.
Now we're just entering the realm of the crazy. Two points to be made.

Firstly, that shooting does not exist in a vacuum. Rebounding, turnovers, assists, defense in general... all that directly influences the open looks allowed to yourself and your opponent.

Secondly, all this non-shooting activity is essential for those days when you're just not getting it to go in. Here, I'll quote Camus:
Shooting comes and goes. It has nothing to do with effort. Some days the shots fall, some days ithey don't. Even the greatest shooters have off days. When they do, their teams often lose.
How fatalistic and true. But note the key word between "teams" and "lose" : "often." Not always. Teams don't always lose when they can't make a shot. Because sometimes a team has a system in place.

As I publish this, we're picking up the D and making free throws. Our game from the field is still as underwhelming as can be expected. Do we want to be a better team shooting? Absofuckinglutely. Will it happen? Probably. But that's going to be on account of our defense and passing system giving us the edge by default. No more truisms for now, Smizik. I need to focus on this game.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Sad Case of Matt Jones

Those of you not obsessed with offseason moves by borderline playoff teams probably missed the fact that wide receiver Matt Jones was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday. This comes four years after he was a first-round pick, almost a year after he was arrested for cocaine possession, and just a few days after he violated his plea agreement by drinking a couple beers. By almost any reckoning, he was a disappointment as a player, though his 2008 season was going very well until his suspension for the aforementioned blow.

So, once again: problem child player who never lived up to physical potential and never played anywhere near Pittsburgh cut by sort-of-good team. Why am I writing?

Because I remember when Matt Jones was running a 4.5 at the 2005 combine as a massive, intelligent, incredible quarterback-turned-receiving talent, and at least three of the authors of this blog were convinced he was going to be special, and that the Steelers should take him if he fell to them in the first round (he didn't, and the Steelers eventually took Heath Miller).

So, on this day of celebration, as the Steelers toast the new ambassador to Ireland, I am stuck wondering if we were wrong, if Matt Jones was always going to be a fuckup, and if he will always be a fuckup.

At least one person I know - who knows football much better than I do - is convinced Matt Jones was ruined by John Del Rio, who for years had giant receivers and refused to throw high to them or design schemes to take advantage of their physical gifts. In a system that didn't use the athletic freak, he languished, and, I suppose one could argue, got tired of being called a disappointment and developed a bad attitude.

If one agrees with that, then Jones would certainly have benefitted from the discipline and support of the Steelers system, and the intelligence and adaptability of coaches like Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians.

Of course, part of the reason Matt Jones was the subject of debate at the time was his character, which seemed laid-back and perhaps not that interested in football. While I saw no evidence of this, aside from his long hair and the fact that he seemed like he wasn't trying while running a 4.5, it was repeated as a fact - as such things are - by cognoscenti of the draft. If they were better informed than we were, and if they were right, then it's a good thing the Jags jumped on the grenade so that the Steelers grabbed Miller, who I believe we can call a success.

Really, this debate is one of those central ones that seems to be existential rather than sporting. Does situation matter as much as - or more than - individual ability? Is Matt Jones - or any of the countless other busts we could think of - a waste of a pick, or just a victim of a bad team?

While we'll never know which scenario is more accurate - and in fact, most people would agree it's somewhere in between - it bears thinking about, if for no other reason than we can wonder if the Steelers or some other team should sign him.

Jones will likely be suspended a further few games by the league, but he's still reasonably young and doesn't appear to have lost a step - some teams will be interested. But, given the trouble caused by talented-but-troubled receivers so far, it's likely that fewer teams will be interested than could use him on the field. In all liklihood, Matt Jones will wind up on the Raiders or Cincinattica or Dallas, where he'll be mostly renowned as a sideshow. I hope this isn't the case, but the odds of him making a comeback in some stable, effective system as a complementary part are pretty slim, if we take our cues from history.

I don't think the Steelers should run a charity for troubled talents, but I do hope they give Matt Jones an offer - even a lowball one - because he can help them on the field (we've lacked a big, physical fast receiver since Plax left). But also because he could probably help them more than he could help a lot of other teams, and because I want to believe that he could succeed in a system like that of the Steelers. And also because - like all pundits - I want very much to believe that I was right four years ago, and that the Matt Jones I saw in 2005 wasn't the screwup who didn't care about football, but the rare athletic talent who could thrive with a good quarterback and a coach who understood how best to use his talents.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Live from Bradenton, Part V

"He's had a big league track record, that until last year, wasn't too shabby. Last year was disastrous."
-Bob Walk on Craig Monroe, after referring to him as a young man
Sorry, I don't mean to pick on Bob Walk like I have some superior knowledge of baseball. I don't want to be that guy. I'm just wrecked by a couple of subpar seasons, and probably the seven walks issued last inning. I'm not attacking anyone for being wrong, so much as I'm attacking people for being happy. I guess I'm that guy. You know... Bob Smizik.

Anyway, on with the attacking...

Craig Monroe's OPS+ by season:
2001 - 66
2002 - 16
2003 - 97
2004 - 116
2005 - 104
2006 - 99
2007 - 65
2008 - 83
career- 95

I'm totally stoked by the way this guy is swinging the bat/glove at the moment, but let's face it: he's 32 years old and is a couple of plate appearances away from having a career OBP below .300. This is spring training and that's enough of a reason for him to be on a tear.

Neal Huntington is being interviewed. He's so unbelievably dreamy. He said FAs aren't part of his philosophy, and if you read between the lines he meant: "Joe Randa? FUCK THAT NOISE!"

Live from Bradenton, Part IV


Live from Bradenton, Part III

We pulled Maholm and promptly walked six guys in one-third of an inning.

Midseason fucking form.

Live from Bradenton, Part II

Joe Kerrigan is being interviewed. He's definitely as more-than-competent as the Smiz raved he would be. Discussed some of his philosophy (throw early strikes) and backed them up with numbers (splits for 0-1 and 1-0 counts). Then they asked him about something, which I found quite amusing: ... the practice of visualization!

Apparently, Joe wants his pitchers imagining positive outcomes (i.e. the ground ball to second when they set up to throw their sinkers away). I'm entirely sure that this can't hurt a thing, and I don't begrudge the method one bit. However, I do think very mild hilarity ensues if we take this to its logical extension (John Russell holding team meditation sessions before every game; it's not "Ya Gotta Believe!" with our team, it's "Ya Gotta See It In Your Mind's Eye!", etc.).

All I know is that I just yelled "C'MON JACK! VISUALIZE THAT SHIT!" when he made a terrible throw to first.

This will catch on.

Live from Bradenton

"They know how to swing the stick as well as the leather."
-Bob Walk, on Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson
I feel like that pretty much sums them up. It also begs the question of how "leatherswinger" didn't emerge as a contemporary of "southpaw" and "bullpen." Our vernacular seems disturbingly thin, all of a sudden.

p.s. Bob Walk will be very surprised if Freddy Sanchez isn't sitting around .310 or .315 by the end of the season. My prospectus subscription ended a couple of days ago, can someone check to see how surprised PECOTA will be if Bob Walk is right about this?

p.p.s. I'm rooting for you, Fred! Sorry if it seems like I'm being cynical!