Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Top 10 World Cup Stars Arsenal Should Buy

Alert Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dustin Hoffman, I've got an outbreak of World Cup Fever! Also, a small monkey humped my leg the other day and I may have come down with something ...

Regardless of my physical state, this World Cup has seen the dramatic rise and fall of some of the world's greatest players. For Arsenal, a team with more holes right now than BP's plan to stop the oil leak, the World Cup is a microwave, cooking players under the hottest nuclear temperatures to see if they can handle the brightest lights and possibly join the Arsenal. This is their chance to earn a move to some of the biggest clubs in the world, not out of reactionarianism (new word?), but out of a kindling of talent. So who are the top 10 players Arsenal should target from the World Cup?

As always, click "E-mail Erik" to the right and send in your questions (sports or non-sports!) and be featured in the next Q&A!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quick Takes - A little reminder of the awesome Arsenal

When I'm feeling blue, stuck in the summer transfer window watching Arsene Wenger hunt down 24-year-old pencil-defenders whose names I can't spell without "Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V", I watch the Arsenal Goals of the Season and remember that the first game of the 2010/11 Premier League season is only two months away ...

And then I remember we're going to win a trophy next season.


Kim Jong-Il responds to North Korea's 7-0 defeat to Portugal in the World Cup

Kim Jong-Il, dictator of the mysterious country of North Korea, held a press conference today from his elephant-shaped superpalace in Pyongyang. Only a few hand-picked reporters were allowed in, as they most-closely resembled Bill Cosby out of the reporter crop, whom Mr. Jong-Il is a huge fan of.

This is the official transcript from today's press conference.

JONG-IL: "Hello! (long pause) You may think that us North Koreans are sad and lonely about losing to the stupid Portugal seven-nil today ... well guess what?! We're not! We don't care! We have a big plan that we are going to unleash on the World Cup, oh yes, a very big plan ...You see, inside each North Korean player is a nuclear bomb, and when our players stop running, the bombs are going to blow up!"

REPORTER #1 THAT KINDA LOOKS LIKE BILL COSBY: "Um, excuse me, Mr., uhhh, Jong-Il ... the players stopped running earlier today. The game's over. Nobody blew up." 

REPORTER #2 THAT ALSO LOOKS LIKE BILL COSBY: "Also, isn't that similar to the plot of 'Speed'?"

JONG-IL: "Ha! Silly reporters, trying to make up silly stories about my good friend Keanu Reeves. No, Keanu is not on the North Korean football team, he is locked in my basement in a Princess Leia costume."

REPORTER #1: "You have Keanu Reeves locked in the palace basement?"

JONG-IL: "Nooo, nooo, relax, Bill Cosby, he's filming a documentary about my life. Now, back to the North Korean football team ... the reason our players didn't blow up is because ... uh ... because they have to really stop running, have to go super slow to make the bomb go off ... so yeah, they're going to blow up later tonight (mutters a swear word under his breath)."

REPORTER #3 THAT SLIGHTLY RESEMBLES BILL COSBY: "So we can expect roughly 20 nuclear explosions to go off tonight? Is that correct, sir?"

JONG-IL: "Correct, roughly 20 bombs will explode in North Korea tonight."

REPORTER #1: "Sorry ... I notice you said they'll explode in North Korea -"

JONG-IL: "Yes, yes, that's correct ..."

REPORTER #1: "And you do realize the World Cup is in South Africa -"

JONG-IL: "Yes, yes ..." 

REPORTER #1: " Well, forgive me if I'm overstepping my bounds, but how are nuclear bombs going off in North Korea related to the World Cup?"

JONG-IL: "Mr. Cosby ... may I call you Bill?"

REPORTER #1: "Uhhh ..."

JONG-IL: "Bill ... the word is a complicated place, and I am a complicated man. You lack the foreskin to understand my plans, but don't worry, I will let you in on my little secret ... Our players don't have any bombs in their bodies, no, they have bombs in their spirits! And when you die, and they die, maybe because an asteroid hits the earth and Bruce Willis has to come save the day but can't because he's locked up in my basement, maybe in a Han Solo costume this time, you will meet my football team in heaven and they will blow you up."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Goalkeeper, goalkeeper, make me a match

With Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski headlining the goalkeeper show again for Arsenal next season, Arsenal fans could be in for a "Transformers 2" type of sequel: Even crappier than the last! It's up to Arsene Wenger, our fearless director, to bring in someone special to protect the Gunners' goal next year.

As always, click "E-mail Erik" to the right and send in your questions (sports or non-sports!) and be featured in the next Q&A!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

'Twas the night after England

'Twas the night after England, and all through Africa's South,

Not a Brit was still sober, after watching that bout;

The Yanks had come storming back down from a goal,

When Robert Green returns home, he'll need constant patrol;

America had high hopes as they entered Bafokeng,

Would Wayne Rooney escape punishment for his cantankerous slang?;

England struck first, thanks to Steven Gerrard,

Later he'd be lucky to avoid a red card;

But when everything looked to be stacked against us,

Clint Dempsey fired a shot from his boot blunderbuss;

Green had plenty of time to gather the shot,

And if he'd kept focus, the ball surely would've been caught;

But the ball hit his hands, the Americans were in luck,

Slow-motion replays showed Green yelling "Fuck!";

The score was now level at one goal apiece,

At least we weren't forced to watch any more of Greece;

The halftime whistle sent the teams to their lockers,

Fabio Capello began to go off his rocker;

The second half was filled with chances galore,

Ashley Cole and John Terry are equally whores;

All of a sudden, Jozy burst down the left flank,

But his shot hit the post with a thunderous clank;

The tension was mounting as the clock reached climax,

Sometimes I wish I had a home-theatre IMAX;

But I don't so my TV will have to make due,

The final whistle sounded, the Americans had drew!;

They celebrated wildly like they'd gained superpowers,

Too bad most Americans sit in ivory towers;

On Adande, on Smith, on all of ESPN,

Don't cover the great draw, just whine about it being un-American;

But I hold my head high, an American football fan,

At the stout U.S. team and its smart battle plan;

The children nestle down in their warm American beds,

As visions of stanky legs swam deep in their heads;

One day they'll be football stars, rampaging the Cup like Godzilla,

Let's hope by then, FIFA's banned the vuvuzela.

I've got one thing to say, before I finish this write,

Merry World Cup to all, and to all a good night!

The Gunning Hawk >> The perils of purchasing an Arsenal jersey

Halftime of the World Cup game between England and the USA seems the perfect time to run out an article! Right? How bout that goal?! That's how we do it in the YOO ESS of A!

Anyway, buying a sports jersey has become a laborious affair in the last few years, to the point that fans would rather smatter their own names on the back of their jerseys than waste their money on players who are eventually headed to Barcelona to lick clean Joan Laporta's shoes.

But luckily for you, I've come up with a guide to help you buy your next Arsenal jersey.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Mariners baseball: Believe big, achieve little (PART II)

Since the publication of my scathing statistical analysis of the Seattle Mariners, yes, scathing, I've done some deeper research into sabermetrics, specifically the Runs-Created Approach, and discovered a fatal flaw with the initial findings (good eye, Hickey): It doesn't take outs into account.

Luckily for me, Bill James, the sabermetrics wizard who created the formulas ("You shall not pass!"), saw that gap himself and developed a way to calculate the total number of outs a player has used in a season. Outs are probably the most important statistic in baseball because they're absolute. There are 27 outs per regular nine-inning game no matter what. You can't have 28 outs in a nine-inning game, trust me, the Mariners have tried, and that means it's critical for players to contribute the least-amount of outs they can to a game in order to sustain the possibility for more runs to be scored.

By calculating the number of outs a player has used, even run-scoring outs like a sacrifice, ground-into-double-play, or caught stealing, you're effectively closing the bridge that would, in effect, give a player who simply had more official at bats a better chance of creating more runs (remember, scoring runs and creating runs are two different things). And that'd be unfair, wouldn't it?

Think about it like this: If a player had 200 walks in a season, he'd have 200-less official at bats than a player who had zero walks that same season. Getting 200 walks shouldn't be counted against a player who happens to have a good eye, because that player may "create" more runs from those 200 walks than a player who had zero walks but 200 more outs. So to combat that error, Game Outs Used needs to be calculated and then compared against the total number of Runs-Created.

Check out this formula for Game Outs Used:

So I built that badass formula and then took Runs-Created, divided it by Game Outs Used, and then divided that by 26.72 (which is the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a Major League Baseball game). What I ended up with is the real sabermetric look at the offensive contributions of the 2010 Seattle Mariners based on runs-created per game.

Let's just say the findings were a bit ... surprising.

Seattle Mariners Runs-Created Game outs used Runs-Created/Game
Eliezer Alfonzo  3.89 11.676 8.90
Josh Bard 4.62 16.604 7.43
Ichiro Suzuki 41.20 152.878 7.20
Franklin Gutierrez  33.09 145.328 6.08
Josh Wilson  15.36 73.146 5.61
Mike Sweeney  14.04 68.398 5.49
Ryan Langerhans 3.86 19.55 5.27
Michael Saunders 6.05 42.028 3.85
Jack Wilson  7.33 60.65 3.23
Milton Bradley 12.29 107.606 3.05
Jose Lopez  19.82 173.986 3.04
Chone Figgins 18.83 171.4 2.93
Casey Kotchman 14.31 142.94 2.67
Rob Johnson  6.96 75.47 2.46
Adam Moore  3.75 44.974 2.23
Ken Griffey, Jr. 5.05 82.236 1.64
Matt Tuiasosopo  2.50 42.082 1.59
Eric Byrnes  1.18 29.42 1.08

Eliezer Alfonzo, come on down! You're the best sabermetric hitter on the Seattle Mariners!

Your prize?

Third-string catcher behind Rob Johnson and Adam Moore.

Go Mariners.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mariners baseball: Believe big, achieve little

Bill James revolutionized baseball with the development and incorporation of advanced metrics (better known as 'sabermetrics' ... because ancient dinosaur cats are sweet). As the pioneer of baseball analytics, James poured over historical data, running models and numbers to try to find patterns and percentages hidden between the lines of information. He churned out more than 24 books since 1977 on baseball statistics and single-handedly created a revolution in not only Major League Baseball, but throughout the sports world. James envisioned an analytical player model beyond batting average, homeruns, and RBI, archaic statistics leftover from the trading card era (if it didn't fit on a baseball card, it didn't matter) that overvalued the wrong things.

But why does it actually matter how often a player gets a hit? Why does it matter how many runs a player drives in? How does that compare to a player who scores runs but doesn't drive them in? How does any of that stuff actually contribute to wins? Those are the very types of questions James asked himself trying to define a statistical generation. What really matters to a batter, simplified to its Jamesian core, is how often he gets on base (OBP), and beyond that, how often he gets on base combined with how often he gets an extra-base hit (OPS). Extra-base hits drive in runs and have the potential to drive in multiple runs. Singles don't. Sorry Ichiro.

James wanted to know the inner-workings of a baseball team, not from the transparent "let's score more than the other team" standpoint, but from a statistical foundation built around probabilities of success and the contributing variables to increased winning. If you add more runs-created at a certain position by X amount, how much will that contribute to your overall winning percentage? One game per year? Ten? If your best player naps in the dugout every fourth inning, will he finally hit a homerun? Or is it every fifth inning?
Toiling questions, no doubt.

It's with Bill James in mind that I've watched the Seattle Mariners struggle through the first third of the season. They can't hit, they can't win close games, they can't win PERIOD, and I've spent a lot of brain-scratching days trying to understand the why of that enigma. The Mariners' painful inability to produce runs is their biggest catalyst for failure, obviously, but I want to look even deeper into the statistics, using some of the James sabermetric-methodology, to grasp the true nature of Seattle's failures. We know they can't hit, but who, specifically, isn't producing? We know they aren't winning, but are they actually playing better than the statistics say they should?

Scary thought, huh?

The hardest part about sabermetrics is that they're disconnected from everyday language. They're distant, foreign, even a bit arrogant at times, and that's why they've had a hard time replacing the trading card trio (Avg., HRs, RBI) that 99.9% of baseball fans have come to accept as scripture.

But the two most-important takeaways from Bill James are his Baseball Pythagorean Theorem and the Runs-Created Approach, bear with me as I try to de-nerdify math.


Baseball Pythagorean Theorem

James discovered that by using a wonky version of the Pythagorean Theorem (a² + b² = c²), he could accurately predict winning percentages for Major League Baseball teams with less than 2% variance. He'd unlocked the Holy Grail of baseball statistics: An accurate winning predictor.

For James, his a² + b² = c² turned into a slightly-more complicated formula that takes the scoring ratio (runs scored/runs conceded) and divides and squares and adds ... well, shit, I'll just show you what it does:

Remember, Bill James figured this out by himself, this 98% historically-accurate baseball formula, locked away in some sweaty love nest with a pile of acid papers stuck to the roof of his mouth. "Dude ... dude ... check this out, my hands are purple, and they're made of elves ... also, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to win 37% of their games this year ... whoa."

And my mom thinks LSD's a bad thing.

For the Mariners, in this case, their current scoring ratio is an abysmal 0.84232. They've conceded 241 runs while only scoring 203. Not going to win a lot of games with that ratio. So what does that mean in terms of projected winning percentage based on their current success?


For those of you keeping score at home, rifling through your Baseball Prospectus while your mom makes you grilled-cheese sandwiches, that's actually GOOD NEWS for Mariners fans! Hooray! Good news, everyone!

The Mariners are currently 22-34 with a winning percentage of .393 (39%). So, yeah, get excited Mariners fans, the team is absolutely terrible right now, eight games out of first place just a third into the season, but they're going to be roughly 3% better the remainder of the year! Awesome!

Unless the variance is 2% lower ... then they'll basically be this bad forever.


 Runs-Created Approach

Earlier this year, I scoured over box scores trying to crack the Bavasi Code of why the Mariners aren't scoring a lot of runs, putting together some wicked pie charts in my article "The Mariners and delicious pie." What I realized is that the issue extended beyond the Mariners' inability to simply "get hits," it came down to their inability to create runs and maximize their run-scoring opportunities.

Defining a player's individual contributions to his team is the ultimate goal for every general manager ... well, every general manager other than former Seattle GM Bill Bavasi, whose ultimate goal was to destroy the Mariners like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. Baseball is unique in that it's a team sport constructed entirely around individual success, which makes the weight of statistical analysis so much more valuable than in sports like football or rugby. Tweaking one part of a line-up can change the scope of your season, because a player creating more runs directly-contributes to the overall winning percentage of your team (see Pythagorean Theorem above).

Bill James developed runs-created as a way to define individual player contributions. He took the real meat and potatoes of baseball statistics, not the trading card trio, but real statistics (total bases, hits, walks, and at bats), and developed a formula that focused on what each player is doing to maximize run-scoring opportunities for his team:

I know it's accurate because it shows former Mariner Eric Byrnes contributed the least runs-created to the team before getting cut and joining a beer league softball team. James probably had that predicted in an Excel file somewhere.

But let's look at the rest of the Mariners, the non-beer league ones, and see how this pathetic team stacks up, who's really contributing and who should be cleaning up elephant poo at the Woodland Park Zoo. Wow, nice rhyme, Erik.

 Seattle Mariners  Games  Runs-Created
 Ichiro Suzuki 56 41.20
 Franklin Gutierrez  54 33.09
 Jose Lopez  55 19.82
 Chone Figgins 56 18.83
 Josh Wilson  30 15.36
 Casey Kotchman 49 14.31
 Mike Sweeney  27 14.04
 Milton Bradley 37 12.29
 Jack Wilson  26 7.33
 Rob Johnson  29 6.96
 Michael Saunders 20 6.05
 Ken Griffey, Jr. 33 5.05
 Josh Bard 8 4.62
 Eliezer Alfonzo  5 3.89
 Ryan Langerhans 14 3.86
 Adam Moore  19 3.75
 Matt Tuiasosopo  22 2.50
 Eric Byrnes  15 1.18

How about that, Ichiro contributes the most to the Mariners, no surprise there. But after Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez, there's a dramatic drop-off in the team's productivity. Consider how high Mike Sweeney and Josh Wilson are in their limited number of games compared to the regular starting line-up and it's no surprise that the team finally started winning when Jack Wilson went on the DL and Ken Griffey, Jr. retired. Scoring more runs leads to more wins. Rocket science, eh?

But let's see how the Mariners compare to the rest of the AL West ...

I took the top nine hitters with the highest-number of games from each AL West team (Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, and the Oakland Athletics) to determine the average "runs-created" per archetypal starting line-up.

 MLB Team Runs-created Avg.
 Los Angeles Angels 26.67
 Texas Rangers 25.42
 Oakland Athletics 21.98
 Seattle Mariners 18.54


That's the thing about statistics, they're depressing. I'm depressed now. Because of baseball. And for the rest of you bastards still holding out hope that the team's just been unlucky, is just about to turn the corner, is still going to make the playoffs this year (yadda-yadda-yadda), well guess what, Bill James thinks you're an idiot. So does math. So do I.

Bill James, math, and I think you're an idiot.

Go Mariners.

View Part II here!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Why Arsene Wenger needs more Jose Mourinho

If that's not a tasty headline I don't know what is.

As always, don't forget to click the E-mail Erik button to the right to send in your questions for the next Q&A! I love you all like my own mutant offspring.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Pirates of the Barcelona

Barcelona are holding the Arsenal ship hostage ... what are we going to do about it?

Enjoy everyone, and don't forget to click the E-mail Erik button to the right to send in your questions for the next Q&A!