Apr 12, 2013

Don't Drop the Ball, Augusta

On a day that so much attention was given to a rules infraction, it’s another rules infraction that everyone should be talking about.

We all know that 14 year old Guan Tianlang, competing at a level far beyond his age, was assessed a 1-stroke penalty for slow play. While basically nobody liked this ruling or agreed with it, it was technically correct.

USGA Rule 26 governs drops when a ball is in a water hazard. Per this rule, a player can replay the shot from “as nearly as possible from the spot from which the original ball was last played.” A player can also go back as far as he’d like keeping the flag and the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line.

When Tiger Woods hit his approach into hole 15, his ball caromed off the flagstick and went into the water hazard near the front-left portion of the green. Per Tiger’s post-round comments, he then went back to where he played from, but went 2 yards farther back. When he did this, I tweeted “Whe did TW's ball last cross the margin of the hazard? Near the bleachers. Shouldn't he have dropped on that line, not the line he did?”

Clearly, Tiger could have dropped from his original spot, but admitting that he dropped 2 yards farther back eliminates the “re-hit” drop option from consideration. The only other option he had was to keep the point where the ball last crossed the margin in line with the flag.

As I stated above, the ball bounced off the stick and rolled off the front-left portion of the green and into the hazard. That is the point the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, and that is the controlling point for the line Tiger needed to take his drop from.

It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility Tiger just assumed his ball crossed the hazard on the line he originally hit it (it did, at first), but that line does not control where you take your drop. Check out the last paragraph of this Rules Decision:

“If a ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard as described in the situation above, it appears that the ball crossed the margin of the hazard three times (e.g., first, the initial time it crossed; second, when it crossed over the hazard onto land; and third, when the ball rolled back into the hazard). So when the Rule states that the ball must be dropped “keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is to be dropped,” it is referring to the third (final) time. It is the reference point for the 26-1b option only.” From http://www.usga.org/ourexpertsexplain.aspx?id=2147496891

On a day that rules were being enforced, the Officials might want to go have a look at this one.

Apr 3, 2013

Final Score: Yu Darvish - Good, Houston Astros - Awful

Yu-mania (and all the associated “Yu” puns that go with it) is upon us.  While tensions continue to mount with North Korea, America and its pastime are falling in love with another Asian import, and for once it’s not an electronic product, a car, or this guy.  Major League Baseball has an odd habit of having a big opening day of games followed by a relatively light slate, which was just fine as Yu Darvish’s performance against the Astros was more than enough to captivate all audiences.

The stat line is impressive:  8.2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 14 K’s

Darvish faced twenty-seven batters (we must use the term liberally when referring to the Astros), and it wasn’t until that twenty-seventh man hit a grounder up the middle that Darvish’s bid for the twenty-fourth perfect game in Major League history came an end.  It would have been Mon-Yu-mental…See, it’s just too easy with this guy’s name, and damn is it annoying.  I’ll take the pledge now to avoid anymore awful “Yu” puns. 

Darvish is a trendy pundit selection for A.L. Cy Young coming into the season because: A) He’s on a good team and should get some wins, B) Has a gaudy strikeout rate (2nd in the A.L. in 2012 among qualified starters with a 10.4 K/9 rate), and C) is a classic “I’m smarter than you” pick.  It’s no fun for writers and analysts who follow the game to pick Felix Hernandez (2010 winner), Justin Verlander (2011 winner), or David Price (2012 winner) even though all three of those guys are still in the prime of their career.  That would be so passé.  No, the analysts need to pick someone just slightly off the beaten path (even though that path is paved, well-lit, and privately maintained) because if it hits, the analyst gets to puff their chest and walk around with a smug sense of self-confidence often seen on Fox News shows.  It also helps that Darvish is a very, very good pitcher.

Enter tonight’s start.  The analysts mentioned in the paragraph above love to talk “sample size” and not taking any one start too seriously.  Don’t you dare suggest that spring training darling Yasiel Puig is legit to these guys.  They will figuratively, and if close enough to them in a Home Depot literally, take out their pitchforks and attempt to stab you for suggesting spring training results matter or that 60 at bats have any meaningful correlation to long-term success.  All of that, naturally, goes out the window when discussing their pre-season crush’s start versus the lowly Astros.  Sure, they might pay lip service to “it’s only one start,” but similar to the flow of this sentence their quote too will have a “but” attached to it.  As in:

“It’s only one start, but Darvish was absolutely brilliant tonight.”  Or..

“It’s only one start, but the movement and command of the zone Darvish displayed tonight is why [I] am so excited about him this year.”

To be fair, both of these sentences could be true.  They also contain absolutely no added value because at the end of the day, one game, is one game, is one game.  Since 2000, there have been four perfect games in the American League.  They were thrown by:  Mark Buehrle (2009), Dallas Braden (2010), Phillip Humber (2012), and Felix Hernandez (2012).  Exactly zero of those guys won a Cy Young the same year.  Only Felix Hernandez even received a vote for Cy Young the same year.  Hell, it’d be more correct based on the previous 4 perfect games to assume Yu Darvish was facing the Tampa Bay Rays (3/4 occurred versus the Rays), then to assume this near perfect game is any indicator of Cy Young success.  Of course, this wasn’t a perfect game, and Darvish wasn’t facing the Rays.  Instead, he was facing an Astros team that is more popular than a Yu-Darvish-Cy -Young-prediction to finish with the worst record in baseball this year. 

Were I to have to select between predicting Yu Darvish to win the Cy Young or the Houston Astros to actually be no-hit this year, I’d select the latter.  As a matter of fact, I think the Astros might get no-hit multiple times this year.  I don’t want to pile on the Astros.  This is a team taking a radical, aggressive approach to rebuilding not just their major league team but their entire method of operation.  Short-term be damned. 

In 2012, the Astros led all major league teams with a 22.7 K% by their batters.  Since 2005, only the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks had a team K% higher than last year’s Astros.  While strikeout loving players like Jordan Schafer and Bryan Bugosevic are no longer getting consistent at-bats, the Astros have added some other impressive human fans to their everyday projections.  Barring injury, the Astros will likely give at least 400-500 at bats to Rick Ankiel (25% career K-rate), Carlos Pena (26.8%), and Chris Carter (32.5%).  Small sample-size recognized, the Astros have struck out on 42.86% of their at bats over these first two games.  The guy the Astros faced in game 1, Matt Harrison, matched a career high with 9 strikeouts in just 5.2 IP.  Harrison has appeared in 127 major league games and has recorded 7 or more strikeouts in only 10 of those appearances.  It was 2011 the last time Harrison recorded 8 or more strikeouts in a single game.

Just before the season began, the Astros trotted out most of their regulars for a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves and faced Braves rookie Julio Teheran.  The line-up for that game varied very little from the one Darvish faced tonight, and the Astros made Teheran a very happy guy by solidifying his place in the Braves rotation after he managed to throw 6 hitless innings while striking out 10.  This Astros team is bad.  Like, real bad.  And they have the potential to be historically bad.  It’s hard to imagine that they will manage to go 160 more games this season without putting up a goose-egg in the hits column over 9 full innings (as opposed to doing it over just 8.2).

Yu Darvish probably just had the best start he’ll have all season versus an awful line-up.  While it’s fair to applaud his efforts, let’s hold-off on passing out the Cy Young ballots just yet, 

Apr 1, 2013

Phil Mickelson: Ph.D or Phraud?

Late last week, Phil Mickelson stated that he had something special in the works for the upcoming Masters Tournament, to be held next at the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club.

“We have a special club we’re making that I’ll be hitting on Monday,” Mickelson said Friday. “So, we’ll see.”

Today, I got the inside scoop on this “special” club Phil and his Callaway friends are creating. But its uniqueness might not lay in what the club is, but how the club is used.

As most avid golf aficionados know, to excel at Augusta, you must be able to work the ball right-to-left off the tee. Crucial driving holes like 2, 9, 10 and 13 all demand a hard right-to-left ball flight in order to maximize birdie or eagle opportunities. For right-handed players, a hard right-to-left draw will land running and get that extra nudge of distance all golfers want. For Phil, though, being a lefty means on holes like this, his soft fade leaves him at a disadvantage.

“I hate not being the longest guy on those holes. My right-to-left fade just lands too soft and doesn’t run out,” Mickelson lamented today.

As Phil’s popularity has swelled over the past decade plus, Phil’s backstory has also reached the masses. Most people know that Mickelson was born right hand dominant, but learned how to golf left-handed as a way to mirror his father’s right-handed golf swing.

What most people don’t know is that Phil can also swing a pretty smooth stick from the right side of the golf ball.

“The secret club I’ve had Callaway make is a right-handed driver to compliment my strong left-handed 3 wood,” Mickelson explained to a select few reporters. “I’ll just take my normal driver out of the bag next week. We all know there have been a few guys like Notah Begay III that have putted both right and left-handed in competition, but I don’t think anyone has ever tried it on the full swing. I really think being able to rip a draw with my Calaway X-Hot driver right-handed will help me out tremendously at Augusta. This way I can hit a draw from either side of the ball, and hit it farther than everyone else. That’s what I like doing.”

Will this plan be a success for Phil as he tries to win his fourth green jacket, or will it backfire like his ill-fated attempt to play the longest U.S. Open venue in history (Torrey Pines, 2008) without any driver at all? We’ll see, indeed.

*The only quotes actually attributed to Phil Mickelson are what is contained in the second paragraph. The rest of this entry is JLD's attempt at some April Fool's day fun!