Monthly Archives: March 2013

Episode 04 Posted

Episode 04: “Urinalysis” has been posted and is available for download!

It’s a good thing that the full crew is back this week, because a pressing golden topic leads off our show this week. After debating the latest in bathroom entertainment, we break down what we do and don’t like about the big new contracts signed by Misters Wainwright, Goldschmidt, Verlander, Posey, and Lohse. Then, in honor of Opening Day, we offer up even more baseball talk, including several disagreements on team over/under bets. Despite Justin’s apathy, Owen and Raphael recap the best stories of March Madness so far and look ahead to who they think will win it all. We also dip briefly into NFL news, discussing whether we’d rather have Tony Romo or Joe Flacco and if Dez Bryant’s talent outweighs his stupidity. Next, our foray into the NBA makes sparks fly: Justin and Owen argue about the refereeing in the Heat-Bulls game, Justin has some words for Chris Bosh, nobody can agree on who poses the biggest challenge to the Heat this season, and Owen is disappointed in Derrick Rose. We start a new Kobe vs. MJ debate, and Raphael shows off his internationalism. Finally, we praise some under-appreciated tennis players, ridicule a common tennis practice, and talk about Beers of the Week both good and bad.

Show length: 1:23
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Owen: 1-0; Raphael and Justin: 0-1

While the ‘Stros-Rangers game has not yet ended, with the ‘Stros up 7-2 in the bottom of the 7th, I am already declaring victory in my bet against Justin and Raphael re: the Astros Winning.

I believe this is commonly referred to as “counting one’s chickens before they hatch” or “hubris.”

I laugh in the face of such cosmic forces.

Anyway, here is a GIF that expresses the outcome of this particular bet.

(Justin and Raphael are the pitcher, and I am the batter. This post is the gratuitous bat-flip and slow trot.)

Owen’s Finalized 2013 MLB Standings Predictions

On last week’s show, Justin and I talked about our predictions for each division, as well as the wildcard, pennant, and World Series victors. Since then, my opinions have changed slightly due to a last-minute free-agent move, and new opinions of some players’ abilities. But mostly, this article is about bold predictions. While it is likely that most of what I predict here will not come to pass, I will point to any events I predict that do come to pass as evidence of my genius. Read on for more…

Here are my finalized predictions for 2013:

AL East:
Blue Jays
Rays
Red Sox
Yankees
Orioles

If you listened to the podcast, you know how much I like the Blue Jays. This year, they lead the league in home runs and runs scored, while also finishing top ten in runs allowed. All starters not named Emilio Bonifacio finish the season with more than twelve home runs apiece. I’ve also changed my opinion on the Rays, elevating them above the Boston Red Sox (who I do think will surprise some people this year). The Rays will be carried by their pitching and by scoring runs at exactly the right time, which amazes everyone but Joe Maddon, who shrugs, holds up a calculator, and says, “I pretty much had this figured out last week.” The Yankees are booed repeatedly at home by their own fans, causing a noticeable uptick in the Global Happiness Index, as the rest of the world celebrates their failure. Vernon Wells hits 30 home runs. The Orioles lose two of their elite relievers to injury and Jim Johnson fails to replicate his 2012, probably because he can’t strike anybody out…ever. Consequently, the O’s finish in the basement yet again, causing a major crime wave in Baltimore as fans unleash their anger. No one notices the crime wave.

AL Central:
Tigers
Royals
White Sox
Indians
Twins

Justin Verlander fails to post a sub-2.00 ERA with 300 strikeouts, but still ends up sub-3.00 with over 225 strikeouts, all while making 33 starts (they skip his last start when they’ve already clinched). Offensive production is hindered as V-mart just can’t stay healthy and everyone not named Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder fails to do anything with the bat. As much as it pains me to do so, I’ve elevated the Royals above my team, the White Sox. Driven by anxiety that he will never be able to live up to the combined performances of Jake Odorizzi and Will Myers, Shields excels, posting an ERA around 3.00 and winning 17 games. Ervin Santana tries to give up home runs, but nothing reaches the fences in Kaufmann stadium, where they’ve gone against the grain and moved the fences back to remove seats in an effort to make the stadium look more full. Hosmer and Gordon enjoy bounce back seasons and help to make the Royals top six second best in the league. The White Sox pitching staff continues to be strong and Chris Sale makes more than 30 starts, defying every self-appointed elbow surgeon, physical therapist, and ESPN analyst under the sun. The Pale Hose just tell John Danks to go home, using Axelrod and Santiago as a 5th starter combination every bit as dominant as that thing in Power Rangers that was just the combination of all of their robotic spirit animals put together that they should have just used at the start of the final battle because that would have made much more sense… Konerko continues to age slowly, Dunn continues to strikeout too much, Rios has a slightly down year and Viciedo isn’t prepared to carry the team offensively. The Indians improve, but no one notices, and the ~9,000 fans they do have don’t even notice that they’ve hired Terry Francona, one of baseball’s best personalities. The Twins have a worse record than the Marlins but a better record than the Astros.  Joe Mauer convinces management to sign his new-born twins to minor-league contracts. Gardenhire’s contract is not renewed and GM Terry Ryan resigns (again) after season’s end. The new GM focuses on building a team that actually fits their ballpark, rather than building a ballpark that doesn’t fit their team.

AL West:
Athletics
Angels
Mariners
Rangers
Astros

The Athletics continue to use platoons at virtually every position to great effect. Their pitching staff continues to be among the best in baseball, with a whole bunch of dudes you’ve never heard of winning games at some point or another. During an early-May game, controversy erupts after a ground-rule double is ruled on a ball that gets lost in Josh Reddick’s beard. George Steinbrenner emerges from his grave and convinces Bud Selig to mandate that Reddick shave daily. The Angels’ offense carries the team, with Mike Trout’s regression to a sub-.300 BA going unnoticed due to his still stealing 50 bases and scoring 130 runs. Jason Vargas, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, and an aging, dead-armed Jared Weaver hold the Halos back. The Mariners surprise everybody with a big second half, mostly due to huge home run numbers from Morse, Smoak, Morales, Montero, and (maybe) Saunders. Those who know what weather is like in the Pacific Northwest are not surprised. The Rangers have an extremely disappointing year, deal most of their valuable contracts in August and September to begin rebuilding, call up Jurickson Profar, and, most importantly, fire Ron Washington before the season ends. The Astros surprise everyone by winning 65 games.

NL East:
Nationals
Braves
Phillies
Mets
Marlins

Nationals pitching continues to dominate and Bryce Harper leads a sufficiently powerful offense to lock up the division late in the season over the talented Braves. Harper throws out more than ten baserunners attempting to tag-up on fly-balls hit to the warning track. Announcers repeatedly confuse the Upton brothers, and then just start calling Jason Heyward “Jason Upton,” confusing everyone even more. The Phillies struggle offensively, but get good enough pitching from Hamels and Lee to outpace David Wright and 24 other guys you don’t give a shit about. After an ineffective but occasionally promising first half, it is revealed the Roy Halladay will need yet another surgery on some part of his arm, and he announces his retirement at the end of the 2013 season. The Marlins surprise everyone by winning more than 60 games and Giancarlo Stanton surprises no one by hitting a baseball through the glass at the back of Marlins stadium and then giving Jeffrey Loria the finger.

NL Central:

Reds
Brewers
Cardinals
Pirates
Cubs

The Reds dominate this division again, while the Brewers take everyone by storm. With a good offense and pitching that’s more than just good enough, they eke into second place. The acquisition of Lohse proves smart, as Lohse wins 16 games despite an elevated ERA. The bullpen ultimately costs the Brewers a shot at the playoffs, whether in the regular season or in the first round of wildcard play that we all know isn’t the real playoffs. Adam Wainwright disappoints by not making significant improvement on his 2012 performance while Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn and the rest of the rotation collapse around him like the 2012 staff of in-state rivals, the Royals. The Cardinals lose at least one outfielder to injury, who is promptly replaced by Oscar Taveras, who fails to meet expectations set for mid-season rookie OF call-ups in 2012 (see: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper). Andrew McCutchen continues to carry the Pirates but their pitching absolutely sucks, with A.J. Burnett failing to replicate his 2012 (and frankly not giving a shit, since he’s basically already announced his retirement at the end of 2013), Wandy Rodriguez continues to decline, and second-half-of-2012-James-MacDonald continues to suppress the blossoming flower that was first-half-of-2012-James-MacDonald. The Cubs disappoint all of their fans by failing to win more than 70 games. The fans, none of whom are from Chicago anyway, since they’re just a bunch of Lincoln Park yuppies, respond by saying, “Huh? Where’s the beer guy? I gotta go piss in one of those troughs.” But then they accidentally piss in the dugout and no one stops them. Several drunken yuppies are killed by falling concrete at Wrigley.

NL West:

Dodgers
Giants
Diamondbacks
Padres
Rockies

Tim Lincecum rebounds and the Giants starting rotation continues to post one of the lowest ERAs in baseball. Buster Posey remains healthy, and Brandon Belt steps up, but the poor health of Kung-Fu Panda and the rest of the team’s general suckitude suppress overall offensive output. The Dodgers don’t blow anybody’s mind in the early going, and Carl Crawford just all out blows, but the team picks up the pace when Hanley returns, doing more just enough to eke out the division. Greinke makes 30 starts, Beckett posts a sub-4.00 ERA, and Kershaw continues to send asses to the pine like nuns at a Catholic elementary school. Kenley Jansen takes over the starting job before the end of May (least bold prediction EVER). The D-backs are sorry they traded Upton, and their pitchers continue to not quite live up to expectations. Adam Eaton becomes the new face of the franchise, scaring away any and all potential new fans. The Rockies score a ton of runs, but their pitching staff surprises everyone by still being as bad as they were in 2012. The Padres get marginally better, but still basically suck. Cashner isn’t ready and only Maybin can do anything with a bat, but Street stays healthy enough to earn 30 saves and post a sub-2.00 ERA.

AL Wildcards: Rays, Angels
AL Pennant: Blue Jays

NL Wildcards: Braves, Giants
NL Pennant: Nationals

World Series: Blue Jays.

Episode 03 Posted

Episode 03: “Fantasy Island” is now available for download!

Raphael is away being “responsible”, so Owen and Justin decide to set aside their roid rage and carry the podcast themselves this week. We open the show by marveling at Tiger Woods’s successes both on and off the field, then Owen bids adieu to a longtime Bear. Next, we delve deep into MLB before Opening Day. Our Yankee Schadenfreude continues, and we reveal our division-by-division predictions: Justin loves the Angels and Rays, Owen is all-in on the Blue Jays and A’s, and Raphael in absentia predicts no teams will make the playoffs. But most importantly, the end of March means fantasy baseball. We take advantage of Raphael’s absence to make fun of his team, and Justin and Owen contrast their drafting strategies. Finally, Owen sees a Big 10 team emerging from March Madness on top, and yet another bold prediction is made.

Show length: 1:04
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Blind Men Only See Black Skies

by Justin Freeze

In his most recent article, Owen tried to convince you of two things: (a) that steroids have a substantial positive impact on a baseball player’s performance, and (b) that this impact clearly shows up in the statistics of the period. If you did as little honest digging as Owen and those who think similarly seem to have done, you were probably convinced. However, I am confident that by the end of my piece, you will realize that these arguments collapse once their severely exaggerated credibility is exposed.

My goal with this post is not the masturbatory self-congratulation that Owen appears to seek. Rather, it is to provide a dispassionate examination of the facts surrounding steroids and their potential impact on the game of baseball. I shall start, as all good science should, with the null hypothesis: steroids do not significantly impact the game or its players’ performances in any perceptible way. We shall see if the available information is able to refute that hypothesis.

I present my article in three parts. Part 1 – Medical Science and Steroids will examine the medical research on the impact steroids have on the body, and whether this translates to better performance in the batter’s box. Part 2 – The Discontinuity Dilemma will look at the curious cases of abnormal performances during the so-called “Steroid Era”, and whether or not this allows us to reasonably conclude that certain players were juicing during this period. Finally, Part 3 – Should We Care? wraps up my piece by questioning whether or not this whole debate ought to affect our assessment of baseball and its history.

Those who are neither friends of math nor logic, nor those who are so obsessed with proving their own dubious correctness that they refuse to engage in fair discussion need not read on. To pun on Owen’s title, the correlation between blindness and thinking you’re always right is also one.
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The Correlation Between Knowing What Science Is and Being Right Is 1.

By Owen McMurtrey

During our most recent podcast, an argument arose between Justin and myself in which I claimed that an expository essay on steroids in baseball was “flat-out wrong” in its claim that anabolic steroids do not improve lower-body strength sufficiently so as to affect the distance that a ‘juiced-up’ batter can hit a baseball. Here at Sports Symphonies, we’re all about bold claims, and so, rather than using ‘hedge language’ as my old history professor George Vrtis would call it (an avid White Sox fan, good man), I just said that this Mr. Eric Walker, the author of the aforementioned expository essay, was full of shit. One benefit of making such bold claims is that it offers the claimant, in this case myself, the opportunity to gloat mercilessly in the face of any and all counter-claimants when able to  demonstrate my supreme rightness (in all other instances, the issue of my being wrong will be quietly and politely ignored).

First, let’s clarify the structure of the argument that we’re dealing with:

1) A batter generates power using primarily the muscles of the legs and torso. Arm, shoulder, and chest muscles are not as important.

2) All other things being equal, stronger leg and torso muscles will allow a batter to hit the baseball farther.

3) Anabolic steroids (and, therefore, HGH, since they work similarly) significantly increase lower-body strength in baseball players.

4) The use of anabolic steroids enabled players who took them to hit more home runs than they otherwise would have and this is evident in the baseball statistics.

I believe we agree on items 1) and 2), but we clearly disagree on item 3), which is what this debate is basically about. We also disagree on item 4), to an extent. I believe that it is impossible to prove item 4), and I also believe that the effects of a few bad apples taking steroids across the whole game was relatively small, but we’ll get to that later.

In the case of item 3), my bold prediction paid off. For I am RIGHT! Behold, Raphael, Justin, and probably no more than four other readers:

Storer et al. (2003) found that testosterone caused a dose-dependent increase in maximal voluntary strength of the leg (i.e., amount of weight lifted in a leg press), as well as in leg power (i.e., the rate of force generation).

Storer

And:

Bhasin et al. (1996) fount that “in the testosterone-plus-exercise group, the increase in muscle strength in the squatting exercise (38 percent) was greater than that in any other group, as was the increase in bench-press strength (22 percent).”

Bahsir

I could stop here and just move on. But no. It is not enough that I am right. I, in my great magnanimity, will explain just exactly how any and all counter-claimants are wrong and why their wrongness is a product of their inadequacies as critical thinkers.

Continue reading

Episode 02 Posted

Episode 02: “Anabolic Asterisks” is now available to download!

We begin the show by delving deep into NFL free agency, wondering whether anyone will be able to stop the Seahawks next season. Next, we expound at length on several topical subjects in baseball: Owen loves vuvuzelas and is ashamed of his country, Justin thinks the “Steroid Era” is severely overblown, and Raphael is unimpressed by some recent Hall of Fame candidates. Our stupid sports debate of the week debuts with undue rationality, then Raphael informs us of some very depressing and very different developments in the careers of Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka. Finally, we don’t expect the Heat to cool off anytime soon, and our Beers of the Week take a turn for the weird.

Show length: 1:18
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Is This the End?

by Raphael

First off, let me clarify that yes, this article is biased. I am a huge Roger Federer fan. I despise all things Rafael Nadal. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me begin.

As I watched Rafael Nadal deliver a resounding 6-4 6-2 beat-down to Roger Federer at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open, I was not angry. I wasn’t even disappointed. I was sad. I was not sad because Federer was losing. I was sad because I was thinking about a post-Federer world.

The Federer-Nadal rivalry is, in my opinion, the greatest head-to-head rivalry in the history of all sports, not just tennis. All of this has been said before. The contrasting styles, the contrasting personalities…. we get it. If you’re a serious sports fan, you’ve probably seen Federer and Nadal play each other at some point. There are points from the 2008 Wimbledon final that are permanently burned into my memory. Their matches used to make me so nervous that I would pace around in the front of the TV during big points.

As an avid tennis player myself, I have enormous respect for Rafael Nadal. He is incredible. His forehand is ridiculous. His movement is scary. On the other hand, Roger Federer represents everything that a serious tennis player wants to be. He can do it all. At the height of his game, from, 2004-2006, Federer’s forehand was probably the single greatest shot in the history of the game. His ability to force every opponent to play on his terms was mind-boggling. He literally invented shots that have become a necessary part of a successful pro’s arsenal. Watching him play so far beneath his ceiling last night, largely due to a sore back that limited every aspect of his game, I accepted that the best days of this rivalry are probably behind us. There’s a good chance that Federer will beat Nadal again, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be in a Grand Slam final. Rafael Nadal, at 26, is still close to his physical peak, even with his wobbly knees. Federer, at 31, is clearly not. Last night’s back injury was part of a larger pattern that has emerged over the last two or three years. He now plays most of his evening matches wearing an undershirt to apply pressure to his back and keep it warm. His feet are starting to slow down. He only hit a sprinkling of forehand winners last night, compared to what felt like a billion errors.

This rivalry was a huge part of why I fell in love with tennis. As it begins to wind down, I think we should all take a moment to think about how lucky we are to have seen these two guys play. The Djokovic-Murray rivalry is alright, but they play virtually the same brand of tennis, and their matches all come down to who executes just a little bit better on that given day. Federer-Nadal was different. It just was. I’m going to miss it.

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Harvin to Seahawks a win-win?

By Owen

Prospective readers beware: This post was originally intended to be short, like just three paragraphs. But then it got really long somehow. There’s clearly no reason why anyone would want to read an article this long about the Percy Harvin trade, so I don’t know why I made it this way and I apologize if you actually wanted to read a normal article.

News broke yesterday that highly-touted, if oft-infirm, Vikings wide-out Percy Harvin was traded to the Seahawks in exchange for a first round pick in the 2013 draft and a third or fourth round pick in the 2014 draft…Oh, and also a seventh round pick this year.

The Seahawks gained a stud receiver and returner in Harvin, and lost a #1 pick. The Vikings lost the same, but gained a #1 pick. So was this a good deal for the ‘Hawks? For the Vikings?

For the Seahawks…

Pete Carroll clearly wants to give quarterback Russell Wilson a little more free reign this year. Everyone expects the Wilson-led ‘Hawks will come into September running a finely-tuned pistol, read option-heavy offense. But before the trade, they lacked a true deep threat at receiver. While Harvin’s numbers over the past three years suggest that he’s more a piece for the short passing game, no one questions his abilities as a play-maker. He has shown a lot of pent-up potential as a deep threat due to his ability to get open, as well as terrific ball skills. If you listen to Harvin, the only reason he hasn’t put up a Megatron-like highlight reels the past couple of years is quarterback Christian Ponder’s generally uninspiring quarterbacking.

I expect Wilson and Harvin will have a connection in the deep-passing game like that of Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright at Baylor, with Harvin catching some absurd number of TD passes over 40 yards in 2013-14. Of course, Harvin also exceeds the NCAA version of Wright in his ability to play a variety of other roles on offense and special teams. The Seahawks had plenty of cap space to make this deal, so they don’t have to sacrifice any crucial pieces already in place to pay Harvin the $10 million+ that they’ll have to pony up for this trade-and-pay deal.

Had they not signed Harvin, the Seahawks would have had the option to take a receiver in the first round of the draft. Is Percy Harvin worth $9.5 million more than Justin Hunter? Yes. Yes he is.

The one issue is Harvin’s health. Between the mysterious illnesses, the migraines, and the history of leg injuries, no one should be surprised if Harvin fails to suit up for sixteen games for the fourth year of his short career career next year.

Seahawks Verdict: Good Trade. More than anything else, this shows me the amount of confidence that Pete Carrol and Seahawks front office have in Russell Wilson. I’m going to make an insanely early prediction that the Seahawks win the 2014 Super Bowl.

For the Vikings…

The issue is at once simpler and far more complicated. The Vikings need receivers more than the Seahawks, so how can they deal one of the best receivers in the game? Especially since Adrian Peterson does not approve…

I think the answer is fairly straightforward: Percy Harvin would not have played for the Vikings next season. I think the decision to trade Harvin this off-season was made when he was placed on injured reserve near the end of last season, despite evidence that he was on track to recover from his injury before the end of the regular season. Let’s take a look at a timeline of Harvin’s shenanigans:

November 2010: Harvin and then-head coach Brad Childress have to be separated after Childress reportedly questioned Harvin’s effort. Childress probably did that, and he’s a dick, but I think it’s possible that some of Harvin’s the practices and games Harvin missed for migraines and illness were just a way of taking a day off from working for an organization he clearly loathed.

June 2012: Harvin requests a trade. Probably because fewer than 50% of plays called in the huddle refer to Harvin by name.

November 2012: Harvin shrieks shrilly at Leslie Frazier on the sideline after the Vikings fail to execute a on a passing play that clearly shouldn’t have been thrown to anyone but Harvin. (Bullshit high school English lesson: alliteration is good.)

December 2012: As mentioned before, Harvin is placed on injured reserve, because it was really better at that point if he just left.

March 2012: 1) Harvin requests (read: demands) trade version 2.0. 2) Harvin is traded.

So, it’s more complicated in that we can’t really take Harvin’s production into account in evaluating the trade if we accept that Harvin would have flat-out refused to play for the Vikings this season. In this case, isn’t dealing him now better than dealing him later in the year for a pick in the 2014 draft, a la Carson Palmer and the Bengals? The Vikings were able to win without Harvin, and if Peterson’s back can continue to bear the weight of Christian Ponder and the entire rest of the franchise, then the Vikings are a contender right now. Second-year wide-out Jarius Wright coupled with a free agent acquisition (such as Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings), and a first round pick (such as Keenan Allen or Tavon Austin), would make for a better receiving corps than the sorry bunch of rejects the Vikings put on the field after Harvin was injured this year.

Vikings Verdict: Good Trade. And with that extra pick? The Vikings do what they’ve done so many times in the last few years by drafting an underrated Notre Dame prospect. With the Vikings needing to fill a hole at inside linebacker, at least one player comes to mind who fits the bill: Carlo Calabrese.

Oh, I meant with the 4th round pick in the 2014 draft. Who did you think I was talking about?

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A Tale of Two Bauers

by Justin

Trevor Bauer and I have a lot of things in common. We’re both white, we both like hip-hop, and we both think he’ll be a very successful major league pitcher. Where we differ is on our opinions of our own rapping ability. I am quite convinced that I cannot rap. Trevor seems to think he can. Trevor is wrong.

If you didn’t know before, you certainly know now that Trevor Bauer is a terrible rapper. I know this, you know this, the whole world knows this — except for Trevor. When Trevor’s “haters” come out, Trevor responds with even more rapping:

Trevor recorded that “song” in response to critiques of his performance and his work ethic last season, which led to his eventual trade to the Indians. Some have even speculated that Trevor aimed this song in particular at his catcher, Miguel Montero, who was very outspoken in his criticism of Trevor.

Trevor, allow a fellow white guy who likes rap but can’t do it himself to give you some advice. It’s not a power move to respond to your critics with something that’s clearly a weakness of yours. Let’s look to your kin, Jack Bauer. When Jack Bauer’s haters crawl out of the woodwork, does Jack Bauer respond by handing out free puppies and ice cream? No, Jack Bauer does not. Jack Bauer does what Jack Bauer does best.

Trevor Bauer, take a cue from Jack Bauer. Quit the rap game, get healthy, and focus on your strengths. After all, your best weapon certainly isn’t your flow; it’s that devastating curveball.