Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Progressive (Jacobs) Field review

Despite only having visited Cleveland, Ohio for two short trips I feel like I understand the city more than almost any other big city this side of Minneapolis, Jackson (if you can call Jackson a big city) and maybe Columbus.  I have this confidence because I feel like I understand people from Cleveland since there always seemed to be people from Cleveland in my life while I was at Miami University.  It started with the girl I liked freshmen year who after talking over the situation (liking me) with God (her words, not mine) picked her current boyfriend over me. Then there was the fact that I lived with three people from Cleveland, who could spend hours discussing Dennis Northcutt and the "best receivers in the NFL."  My knowledge of the actual city might be less than impressive, but for reasons I might not be explaining well I get Cleveland.

I think that my understanding of Cleveland and its fans gives me a unique perspective on Jacobs/Progressive (from now on I am going to call it Jacobs Field, because Progressive seems too weird) Field.   I felt like I could go to the park as if I was a native from Cleveland who had been cheering on the Indians since the days of Bob Feller.   From that standpoint I can understand why Jacobs Field is considered such a great ballpark.  However, when I tried to be more objective (and Cleveland fans should never be considered objective when it comes to their teams) I found faults that others might have missed.   Below is my review.

Scalping/Ticket Prices - A-
Thanks to my friend Megan I was able to get my ticket for free, which means I wasn't able to try out the scalpers or even check the ticket prices at the box office.    Still I give this category an A- based on my initial research on the prices (reasonable) and the fact that there were amble scalpers available outside the park.  The same "trying to find a competent scalper" problem I had in Kansas City or outside US Cellular in Chicago didn't seem to be the case in Cleveland.  If you wanted tickets there seemed to be plenty of people willing to negotiate with you.

Aesthetic Appeal - B
From the outside there isn't much to praise or complain about how Jacobs Field looks, so I will just stick with an average ranking.  As for the view from the inside Jacobs Field does a good job of showcasing Cleveland's skyline. Of course Cleveland's skyline isn't the most impressive site ever, so there is only so much that one could do in building a ballpark.  The stadium overall looked nice, but I felt like their was something distinct missing. I was looking for an old time scoreboard (Wrigley Field), or waterfalls (Kauffman Stadium) or even an incredible out of town scoreboard (Busch Stadium) and Jacobs Field just didn't have that. The scoreboard wasn't very small, but also wasn't very big.  The only distinct thing about the outfield was a Progressive car that would periodically open up its doors and shoot t-shirts into the stands.  Also, there were fireworks that went off in between innings to apparently scare of the birds that have been known to swarm the outfield.    In fact if I was looking for something unique about the park I might have to go with the bugs, birds and other animals that have made appearances in the past.

Fans - C
I have never been to Fenway Park, so it is an accurate statement to say that I will never visit Fenway pre-2004 World Series victory. Therefore I think the most "woe is me" fan base I will ever get to experience is Cleveland fans.  Even up 9-0 on there in-state rivals the Reds I could hear some fans muttering about how no lead was safe with Cleveland's bullpen.    The anticipation of defeat is something that in my experience is uniquely Cleveland.  There is something in the water (besides the pollution) that breads a negative attitude in the town and frankly it is draining.  I fully expect Mike Brown or someone to pull a Rick Pitino speech and quote something like "Mark Price is not walking through that door.  Brad Daugherty is not walking through that door and if you expect them to walk through that door they will be gray and old and announcing Nascar.  All the negativity in this town sucks."

Buzz - C+
I heard the old Jacobs Field used to be a rocking place to go to when it was selling out every game. This Jacobs Field was only partly full for a "rivalry" game and didn't have much buzz. I will cut the Indians fans some slack because this year's team is terrible and I know that if it is an important game the entire city will show up to support the team. 

Food - C
In all my ballpark visits I have never seen better pictures of food than the ones above the concession stands at Jacobs Field.  The disappointing thing is that whoever took the pictures didn't actually take the pictures of the food served at the park.  The food ranged from slightly above- average (the $4.50 sausage pizza) to average (the $6 wings), to below-average (the hot dog according to my friend).  I did think the variety of the food was lacking since besides the basic options there wasn't really much else.  Again I am going back to the common theme that Jacobs Field needed something to distinguish themselves from other parks.

Fun things to do besides the game - C-
I guess you can eat the average food or hope to see birds in the outfield, but besides that there aren't many options for fans.  Originally I had this as an F, but I have since changed my mind and upgraded it to a C- because I remember the incredible fireworks show after the game.  The Indians have a promotion called "Fireworks Friday" and they definitely delivered a memorable display after the game.  The fireworks went off behind the scoreboard in the outfield and were set to current music.  I don't normally care much about fireworks, but this was very impressive and probably is the most impressive thing most Friday nights with this Indians team.

Overall impression - B-
I like the availability of the scalpers, the sight lines, the view from home plate and the fireworks display.  I was lukewarm about the the buzz and overall aesthetic appeal.  I found the fans, the food and the fun things to do besides the game to be below average for a variety of reasons.  The good news for Jacobs Field is that the there are easy fixes to most of the problems.   The fans need a championship in order to get the 1964 monkey off their back.    I think people from Cleveland have the potential to be normal fans, but right now most of them are completely insane and annoying when it comes to their teams.  The other fix I would immediately implement would be to improve the variety of the food.   

However, my last complaint is the biggest and the toughest one to fix because I don't know what they can do to add a signature item to the park.  Until they do I think the park is good, but not great and ultimately a park that is strangely boring.   If the action on the field is compelling then I would go to the game, but otherwise there isn't much else drawing the average fan to Jacobs.

My last point is that I have heard the Twins are using Jacobs Field as a model for the new Target Field.  As a model I think that is a fine idea because the idea of a having a downtown park with the skyline visible is a good one.  My only suggestion to the people in charge of Target Field is to improve upon the model with some small but meaningful changes.  I don't think it is too much to ask than to be better than Cleveland.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Twolves draft preview 2009

In the past few weeks I have been involved in a few taste test challenges.    There was the Diet Coke vs. Diet Pepsi challenge that got everything started.   (The two people both correctly identified the correct cola.)  After that I moved on to 5 different kinds of root beers.  (The surprise winner was the one diet root beer in the challenge.)   Then this past Sunday I gave M two rum and cokes to taste test.   (She picked the cheap kind instead of her favorite Sailor Jerry's.)   

My favorite thing about blind taste tests is that branding, marketing and preconceived notions don't matter.   All that matters is true personal preference of the quality of the product.    My 2nd and 3rd favorite things are the moment before and the moment after the test has been administered.  The moment before is full of anticipation and the moment after is full of analysis to try to determine how everything compares.  

My taste challenges serve as a good analogy for this year's Twolves draft preview.   The Twolves are full of anticipation with the 4 first round picks (5th, 6th, 18th and 28th) and in a draft with only one projected superstar there will be plenty of analysis afterwards.    For one I am very excited for tomorrow's night draft because the Twolves before and the Twolves after are going to be two very different teams.  

This is the 2nd year of previewing the draft for the Twolves for those of you who remember the "Hold the Mayo.  All You Need is Love" post.     This year is more interesting and complicated because besides power forward the Twolves have a job opening at every other position.   Here is the current roster for the Twolves with a quick analysis.
  • Point - Bassy Telfair and Kevin Ollie.  (The worst tandem in the league.)
  • Shooting Guard - Rodney Carney (Without Mike Miller and Randy Foye they are now lacking both quality and quantity.)
  • Small Forward - Ryan Gomes and Corey Brewer.  (Combined they might make a decent small forward)
  • Power Forward  - Al Jefferson and Craig Smith  (No problem here)
  • Center - Kevin Love and Jason Collins  (Kevin Love is more suited to be a power forward and Jason Collins is more suited to be retired.)
In other words the top priorities should be both guard spots and center.   Based on the team's priorities, John Hollinger's words of wisdom and my own combing through the stats here should be the Twolves strategy.
  1. Consider trading with the Grizzlies for the 2nd pick, but don't pull the trigger if the price is too high (think 5th and 6th or anything involving Love).  This is basically a 1 player draft with a bunch of wild cards after that, so moving up to 2nd doesn't make that much sense.  It would be better to roll the dice two times with the 5th and 6th pick then to try your luck once with the 2nd pick.
  2. Draft Ty Lawson with the 5th or 6th pick and put him in the starting lineup.   He shoots, scores and will be a great passer for Love and Jefferson.   I can already imagine Love throwing a great outlet pass to Lawson who then finds Jefferson streaking to the basket for a dunk.    
  3. Hope Thabeet falls to the Twolves with one of their first two picks..   He would be a great defensive player and fit in well with both Love and Jefferson as they rotate front court minutes between those 3 players.
  4. Stay away from DeMar DeRozan with the 5th pick, 6th pick and even the 18th pick.
  5. There aren't any shooting guards that stick out as definite picks, but I would definitely draft Gerald Henderson with the 18th pick and if Thabeet and/or Lawson wasn't I would even consider him with the 6th pick.   
  6. Stay away from James Harden.   He scored 20 points a game and fills a position the Twolves need, but he plays old.   It is hard to describe besides the fact that when I watched Arizona St. play it looked like he was playing in slow motion.  There is no way he is going to be a better player than Gerald Henderson.
  7. Stephen Curry is a great point guard or combo guard option.   If the Twolves aren't sold on Lawson then I would prefer they go with Curry.   I have mixed opinions on Curry because I usually don't like combo guards (like Foye) who don't have an true position, but on the other hand it is Stephen freakin Curry.   Did you see the NCAA tournament last year?  There aren't many people who can make LeBron James gasp by playing basketball.  He is an unbelievable shooter who would provide much needed scoring to the Twolves.  I am not confident that he will be a great point guard option (not as confident as I am with Lawson), but I do think he would be an above-average player in the Nba.   My expectation for him is to be a better all around version of Ben Gordon.  
  8. If Gerald Henderson has already been picked or they already drafted shooting guard then don't think twice and draft Jeff Teague with the 18th pick.   I don't care if they draft Lawson with the 5th pick and Curry with the 6th pick they should just take Teague and not worry about it.   Currently he is my hope for the Jazz at the 20th spot, but the Twolves could use him more than the Jazz.    I loved watching Jeff Teague play this year in the ACC and would love to see him in either a Twolves or Jazz uniform.
  9. Stay away from Hansbrough.   
  10. Draft Danny Green with the 28th pick.   He can play a wing position for the Twolves and is a very versatile player who I am glad is finished playing for UNC
That is my draft strategy for this year.   Best case scenario the Twolves get Thabeet, Lawson, Teague and Green.   Most likely scenario the Twolves will draft Curry, DeRozan, BJ Mullins, and some European player they won't see for a few years. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kauffman Stadium Review

If you didn't know me that well you might start to think that I am a Royals fan. Why? I have been to 4 Royals games in the last month and a half. My current favorite writer is the Kansas City Star's Joe Posnanski. I read every one of his blog posts, and because of him I know the difference between Mike Jacobs and Mark Teahan. I even considered buying a Royals player t-shirt because I think the name DeJesus is really funny. I am not a Royals fan (they play in the Twins division), but lately I have been immersed in all things Royals. The immersion included 3 Royals games at Kauffman stadium, and because of that I feel more qualified than ever to write this stadium review.

Now that my credentials have been laid out for you, it is on to the review. First, if you want to read Eric Neel's review, just click on this article.

Scalping/Ticket Prices - B-
The good news is that ticket prices are reasonable, and also there don't seem to be any truly bad seats in the smaller ballpark. The stadium has a vertical, enclosed feel which eliminates the "I need to have binoculars to see what team is at bat" seats.

The bad news are the scalpers. Never before have I been around such an amateur, disorganized, clueless and, in some cases, non-existent group of scalpers. In my three games there I encountered scalpers who didn't have the tickets, tried to sell Royals-Os tickets for face value and were completely disinterested in negotiating. I went up to one scalper and asked him how much for 4 tickets, and he responded with "4 for $100." When I responded with "how about $80?" he just walked away with a disgusted look on his face. Never before have I met a scalper who didn't negotiate or try to sell us on why his tickets were worth his price. Also, the scalpers are tough to find with some of them positioned near the ticket office and some in the parking lot. In general there isn't a good place to get scalped tickets, which is why I had to buy tickets from the box office for two out of the three games. If tickets weren't reasonably priced with most of the seats being pretty good then I would have given this category a D-.

Aesthetic Appeal - A
While it might not look like more than a concrete stadium from the parking lot, I love Kauffman Stadium's look. I think the view from I-70 is great, but what I really enjoy is the view from inside the stadium. It has a really symmetrical feel to it with the most amazing scoreboard (and currently the largest in all of sports) in center field dividing the famous waterfalls pictured below:

The waterfalls run throughout the game, but really come alive during the mid-inning breaks in the action. I would recommend anyone visiting the K to watch an inning or two from behind the waterfalls. The only downfall of that view is that you aren't able to see the current biggest scoreboard (about to be eclipsed by the Cowboys new stadium's scoreboard) in professional sports. This scoreboard is crystal clear and obviously incredibly large. During the game action the Royals provide all the relevant information for the true baseball fan. For the not-so-true baseball fan they can look forward to the Kiss Cam, trivia, games and (my favorite) the Smile Cam shown on the scoreboard. I don't know if I would change anything aesthetically about the stadium besides maybe the players on the field.

Fans - A-
Royals fans seem like a good-natured bunch (reference the Smile Cam) who do not live and die with the outcome of the game. This is probably a good thing since for the most recent years the Royals have been terrible. However, just because they might not be the most maniacal fans does not mean they do not support their team. The Royals support their team without being mean, condescending or negative. The boos you might hear at Yankee stadium or other ballparks are not something that you should expect to hear at the K. The fans seemed very family friendly and relaxed about the outcome of game. Royals fans must have some good Midwestern values.

Buzz - B-
If the Royals were to play an important game I would like to think that there would be a buzz in the air at Kauffman. Instead the Royals have been bad lately and the three games (Orioles twice and Reds once) I saw weren't exactly games that would lead off Sportscenter. I give it a B- because I imagine the park would be exciting if the game warranted it. However, I can't give it more than a B- because I just didn't see an electric atmosphere.

Food - A-
The best thing I can saw about the food at the ballpark is that I wish I had more of it. The problem was that before two of the three games I went to get BBQ from Arthur Bryant's and Okalahoma Joe's. Those two places left no trace of hunger and unfortunately prevented me from getting anything at the ballpark. The one game I did eat at was a joy because I was able to devour a KC cheese steak from the Rivals bar in outfield. This cheese steak had a smokey feel to it and was truly one of the best cheese steaks I have ever had:

My friends commented that they enjoyed the food they got as well, and I was very impressed with the amount of options that were available. There were no complaints on the food besides the below-average smoothie I got, but really that is my fault for getting a smoothie at a ballpark.

Fun things to do besides the game - A-
For adults you can watch the game, eat or watch the giant scoreboard:

However, if you are a kid then you are in paradise in the outfield. There is a carousel, a mini-baseball field and other things to entertain the young ones. Also, coming soon there will be a Royals Hall of Fame, which I can only imagine to be a shrine to George Brett.

Overall impression A-
I loved the park, the people, the food, the scoreboard and the fact that the Royals are normally such gracious hosts to the Twins. (Sorry for the dig Royals fans.) The only thing that prevents the park from getting an A or an A+ is the lack of quality scalpers. Not to harp on that too much, but that is something that can be improved upon to make a better fan experience at the K. Still, it is best not focus on that since Kauffman Stadium is a great, great park, and I am pleased at least to have pretended to be a Royals fan for the past month.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Limiting the probability of success

I am absolutely perplexed with how Twins manager Ron Gardenhire uses one of his best pitchers Joe Nathan. He is following current day conventional wisdom about how a manager should use a closer, but still it seems to make so little sense that I find myself scratching my head. For those of you who don't follow the Twins often I can tell you pretty much the only times Joe Nathan will be used:
  • At the start of the 9th inning when the Twins have a lead of 3 runs or less.

  • At the start of the 9th inning when the Twins have a lead of greater than 3 runs, but Joe Nathan hasn't pitched in a long time and Gardy (nickname for Gardenhire) doesn't want Nathan to get rusty.

This isn't anything strange since most managers use their closer in the same way, but my question on that is why. Why limit your best pitcher to such a predefinied situation? Why do managers think the 9th inning is more important than the 6th, 7th or 8th inning? I have seen just as many teams lose the game in 7th inning as in the 9th inning. Managers need to stop thinking of the 9th inning as being this super special inning with mystical powers that need a designated closer.

Let's look specifically at my favorite team the Twins. How do the Twins use Nathan and why I am I so perplexed? I would like to at first highlight the fact that Nathan is one of the Twins best pitchers by looking at Nathan's stats. Below are Nathan's team rank by stat by year with the team rank being in parenthesis. For example ERA - 2009 (1st) means that Joe Nathan is leading the Twins with the lowest ERA among all pitchers.

  • ERA - Nathan - 2009 (1st) , 2008 (2nd), 2007 (1st), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (2nd), 2004 (1st)

  • WHIP - Nathan - 2009 (2nd), 2008 (2nd), 2007 (2nd), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (tied for 1st), 2004 (2nd).

  • K/9 innings -2009 (1st), 2008 (2nd), 2007 (1st), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (2nd), 2004 (2nd).

As you can see from the above stats he is pretty good and also extremely consistent. In ERA, WHIP and K/9 innings he finished first or second in team rank every year since he joined the Twins in 2004. Now let's look at how many innings he pitched compared to other Twins pitchers with the team rank listed last:

  • 2009 - 23.1 innings pitched - 9th

  • 2008 - 67.2 innings pitched - 10th

  • 2007 - 71.2 innings pitched - 8th

  • 2006 - 68.1 innings pitched - 10th

  • 2005 - 70 innings pitched - 9th

  • 2004 - 72.1 innings pitched - 8th.

How is that one of the Twins best two pitchers year in and year out hasn't finished in the top seven of innings pitched? How does that make sense? Wouldn't it make more sense to pitch your best pitchers more? The batting equivalent would be if Gardy decided to give Joe Mauer 200 at bats and Delmon Young *600 at bats.

*Strange thing I found was that last year Carlos Gomez came up to the plate 577 times, Delmon Young came up 575 times and Joe Mauer came up to the plate 536 times. That doesn't make much sense, but for this argument I am going to focus on the pitchers.

A perfect real world example would be yesterday's game between the Twins and the As. The Twins and the As were tied 3-3 in the 9th inning and Gardy sent out Sean Henn to face the As. He walked the only batter he faced before Gardy decided to bring in Matt Guerrier. Three batters latter the As are celebrating a win. Why in that example wouldn't Gardy use Nathan? The game was close, so go out and try to win the game. Better yet try to give your team the best chance of not losing the game by throwing out second rate pitchers like Henn and Guerrier. The goal at the bottom of the 9th inning in a tie game on the road is to extend the game and Nathan gives the Twins the best chance of extending the game. In a tie game on the road in the 9th inning the only way to win again is to be able to get your hitters to the plate at least one more time. If you don't get to bat anymore then you are guaranteed a loss. Also, in this situation it would have been even better for the Twins to extend the game one more inning because the top of the lineup was scheduled to hit if there was a 10th inning.

It seems to make sense to me not to limit your best pitcher to such a detailed time. If the game was close in the later innings I would bring Nathan in to pitch as many pitches as was smart for both his health and effectiveness. There is always the chance that Nathan is able to have an easy 9th inning and could come back and even pitch the 10th inning. Just pitch him up into a certain pitch count point. By doing this you would have your best pitcher pitching in close games and giving yourself the best chance of winning. Yesterday ended with Henn getting the loss, Geurrier walking off the mound after giving up the winning hit, and Nathan sitting unused in the bullpen. That makes no sense to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saved by the Bell and other thoughts

For any Saved by the Bell fan out there you should probably check out this clip from the Jimmy Fallon show. One of my friends sent it to me and it had me laughing for almont all of the 9 minute length of the clip.


The last big (more than one series) roadtrip the Twins outscored their opponents (the Yankees and White Sox) by a combined score of 42-35 and somehow only went 1-6 in wins and losses. This roadtrip they have outscored their opponents (the Mariners and Atheletics) 17-14 and yet are only 2-2 in games. Winning games 20-1 and then losing games 4-3 will do that for you I guess.

This year the Twins have been absolutely terrible on the road and need more victories like the one last night. The win last night put their overall road record at 8-19 (winning - 30%) compared to a home record of 21-12 (winning- 64%). It is a small sample size of games this year, but if this home/road winning difference holds up then it will be by far the largest difference in the past 7 years. The problem isn't the home winning % because that is close to the Twins home record over the past 7 years where they have won on average 61% of the games. The reason for the large difference is that the road record is lagging way behind the average 51% winning percentage over the same time period. If the Twins had only matched their approx. 500 play on the road so far then they would have a two game lead in the division instead of being 4 games behind the Tigers. This all makes me wonder what the move to Target Field is going to be like next year and if the Twins are going to be able to maintain their average 61% winning percentage there. Is the 61% winning percentage attributed to the Metrodome? Or maybe are the Twins so bad on the road because they get used to playing the Metrodome? Will their home win % drop, but maybe their road percentage go up because they get used to playing outdoors?


I am still loving my new place for those of you who care. It makes me thinks that the key to life is to find and make small, meaningful improvements. The easiest way to do this is to start off by lowering the bar so that *normal stuff seems like a luxury. For me sleeping in a place with A/C is so much more enjoyable after spending 2.5 years sleeping in a place without A/C. These small things add up and really can make a huge difference in one's happiness. Small, meaningful improvements are more important to me then big, sweeping changes like winning the lottery or trying to quit smoking.

*normal is of course relative since I am writing this from the position of a privileged American who hasn't really had any big suffering in my life. I don't mean to sound intolerant.

More to come on the blog later as I have to get to my review of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.