Friday 3-Pointer: NFL Lockout Jobs, Lively in the Ivy & Easy Baseball Math

March 11, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

Friday 3-Pointer


#1 – Lockout Jobs


Whether or not the NFL and the NFLPA can come to an agreement or more likely another extension before the expiration of the league’s current CBA, the Ravens’ Tom Zbikowski will be stepping into the ring on the pay-per-view under card of the Miguel Cotto vs. Ricardo Mayorga fight on Saturday. While Zbikowski’s decision may have been at least partially inspired by the impending NFL lockout, his status as a restricted free agent insures his ability to compete on Saturday whether or not some form of labor accord is agreed to before then.


In addition to his match-up with Richard Bryant (1-2) on Saturday, there appears to be substantial interest in pitting Zbikowski against Chad Ochocinco in the squared circle (something tells me that even Bengals fans and Marvin Lewis might be dying to see this too). While the notion is even of putting Ochocinco into the ring with an actual skilled professional is even more absurd than the annual debates over whether the best college football or basketball teams could beat the NFL or NBA’s worst, it’s still fun to think about.


Apparently Zibby and Ocho aren’t the only ones thinking about alternative avenues for their athletic talents if a prolonged work stoppage happens, as Yahoo Sports is reporting that Titans’ running back Chris Johnson would look for a spot on the US Track and Field team if he found himself with an inordinate amount of free time in the near future. That might give us not only the chance to settle the Johnson vs. Usain Bolt argument once and for all, but may also eventually turn Johnson back loose on the NFL with professional speed training that might take his already prolific speed over the top.


While a prolonged NFL lockout seems somewhat unlikely at this early stage of negotiations, the NBA is poised for a contentious round of collective bargaining of their own at season’s end. There are many up close observers of the mind that the NBA’s lockout may indeed linger on long enough to possibly compromise the entire season. While there are quite a few NFL players with crossover sports potential, the NBA clearly houses the biggest and best athletes on the planet. Imagine if they took advantage of a prolonged work stoppage to settle the debate about basketball players’ NFL crossover potential. For one season at least, it could be a lot of fun.




#2 – Getting Lively in the Ivy


For all of the highly anticipated college basketball action scheduled for this weekend, there’s one somewhat “off the radar” game that I surely intend to make time for. On Saturday at 4 o’clock, Princeton and Harvard will square off for the Ivy League title and a berth into the field of 68.


Harvard beat the Tigers a week ago assuring themselves at least a share of the Ivy League title and compelling the Harvard students to storm the court. As Harvard students are generally pretty good at math, I’ll chalk their court-storming episode up to the inherent excitement over beating a hated rival rather than the presumption that they had already earned a trip to the tourney. They had to know after all that Princeton would have the chance to tie their record and force a neutral site playoff (the game is at Yale).


Princeton coach Sydney Johnson was sure aware of the Tigers potential. So sure in fact that he (now famously) forced his Tigers to sit on the bench after their loss and watch the ensuing celebration. Princeton kids are pretty smart too; they’re not likely to forget that feeling anytime soon. Johnson a former Princeton baller himself certainly showed his brainy side with the motivational technique. His team responded to it by beating Penn 70-58 to force the playoff.


The Princeton offense, when run correctly, is a thing of beauty. Known for aggressive dribble drive tactics and lots of back door cutting, when shooters can knock down shots from the perimeter it’ll make for a long day for opponents. A long day with few possessions that is, as the Princeton offense is methodical relying on limiting opponents’ possessions and making leads tough to surmount. Predictably, it’s a thinking man’s offense, relying on the teams’ ability to think in concert with one another more than their athletic prowess. Harvard is an interesting story too, a win would get them into the NCAA’s for the first time since the 1940’s despite the fact that the team lost a player in Jeremy Lin from last year’s team who went on to the NBA (a rarity to say the least at Harvard).


The game should be contentious and refreshing at the same time. The Yale component may prove interesting too. I may have to go to ESPN3 to see it on Saturday, but there’s no way I’m missing Harvard vs. Princeton.




#3 – Easy Baseball Math


While baseball has seemingly become the realm of the numerically gifted and advanced metrics have changed the way that we view the games and assess value to the statistics garnered therein, baseball might still most easily be summed up by 2 simple equations; 2 simple formulas that really indicate the value of luck and timing when it comes to being successful in baseball.


The first is what I call “Crash Davis logic” as it was taken from Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Bull Durham. The statement was that a baseball season is essentially 25 weeks long (excluding the abbreviated All-Star week) and that in a 500 at bat season stretched over 25 weeks, the difference between batting .250 and .300 is simply one hit per week (“one dying quail…one grounder with eyes” I believe was the exact quote). Coincidentally 1 hit per week is worth 50 points regardless of whether we’re talking about the difference between .300-.350, .100-.150 or .325-.375.


In 20 plate appearances per week, a .300 hitter will pick up 6 hits. If he turns those 20 plate appearances into 18 with a couple of walks or HBP, those 6 hits now make him a .333 hitter. In a 6 game week, if everyone on the team sees 20 at bats and hits .300 you’re getting 54 hits (9×6) in 54 innings (9×6). Suddenly the value of a couple of walks, reaching on an error, and most importantly timely hitting (the ultimate combination of timing and luck) week in and week out becomes magnified, as does the effect of giving those things up defensively. If a fleet footed leadoff man legs out 1 infield hit per week, it suddenly makes the accomplishments of a guy like Ichiro more understandable (while not less impressive).


Additionally, it makes the formation of the 1-4 in your lineup a little more concerted too. As the numbers laid out above are overly simplified and “in a vacuum” in a manner of speaking, because the length of games is unpredictable, teams will never see plate appearances distributed evenly. The turnover of the lineup late in the game can allow for players at the top of the lineup to see between 5 and 7 more plate appearances per week than those at the bottom. While we like to define the 1-4 spots in the order in terms of their first inning rolls, what you really want in those spots are the players who you’d like to get to the plate most often and those most likely to have productive at bats in those instances leading to more opportunities for others.


The second formula I’ll credit to my dad, although I’m certain it wasn’t his own creation. He however is the one who taught it to me and the one that I think of anytime I hear someone else offer it. That is that in any baseball season you can expect every team (barring very few historical examples) to win 50 games and to lose 50 games, meaning that the other 62 will essentially decide the season.


While it’s easy to keep tabs on the races to 50 in each column, if we go back to the terms of the 25 week season, that means that every team can expect to win 2 games per week and to lose 2 games per week. What they do in the other 2 or 3 games will decide the season. Pick up 2 wins in a week and you’re making ground with every win thereafter. Lose 2 games in a week and you’re losing ground with each subsequent loss. In the All-Star week the 2 wins and losses are already “built-in” and all of the games played there will move the hypothetical needle. Go though a week without 2 wins or 2 losses and you’ll make or lose major ground either way. Expect those though to be balanced out by future weeks going the other direction. Call that one the “Market Correction Theorem”, or simple historical perspective. Eventually the statistical anomalies are bound to even out.