Monday, March 28, 2016

Trump Will Win Wisconsin

Credit: Andrew Harnik
Danville, Kentucky -- It was Winter of 1986. February, maybe March, but I don't remember. I've had long-term memory problems since my accident at the GM plant a few years back. The days, weeks, and months blend together and become indistinguishable during wintertime in the Great White North of our (once great) country. Entire chapters of your life can be lost in a haze of slush and frost. Following a disappointing Cincinnati Reds season, I once again found myself in my '69 Ford pickup truck voyaging through the Northern wastes of America; that frozen grey area between the Midwest and our syrup-slurping Canadian neighbors. As I took to the open road to become reacquainted with my own inner self, my expedition led me to Deerfield, Wisconsin, a sleepy town of less than a thousand residents. The empty streets, lit only by flickering street-lamps, were blanketed by fluffy tufts of fresh snow. The night sky was cold and empty. The warmth of the sun felt worlds away. As I rubbed my shivering hands together to generate heat, I spotted a humble-looking pub.

I don't normally eat at non-chain restaurants, but this place was fantastic. A cackling fireplace provided atmospheric lighting, with shadows dancing on the wall like a tantalizing ex-wife. A disreputable looking man sat in the corner smoking a pipe as vagabonds played billiards. The sounds of a hockey game emanated from a TV that nobody seemed to be watching. I drank cheap beer out of a dirty and chipped glass mug that night, snacking on fried cheese curds: a golden brown and crispy exterior with sumptuous melted aged Wisconsin cheddar hidden inside. In the Winter of '86, I fell in love with Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is a great American state: the pioneering state that brought us cheese curds, fine pilsner beers, right-to-work laws, and Ray Allen. All paths lead through Wisconsin. In Home Alone (1990), John Candy (R.I.P.) and his merry band of polka musicians were on a voyage to Milwaukee and took Macaulay Culkin's mom to Illinois along the way.

In 2016, Donald Trump is on a voyage to the White House and must pass through America's Dairyland on his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Why Trump is a Lock in Wisconsin

The state of Wisconsin has good taste. They like big blocks of cheese, especially the bold orange kind. Wisconsin is the land that baptizes its indefatigable denizens in golden rivers of locally-brewed Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite, fine ales that plebians everywhere drink graciously after a hard day's work.

Wisconsin won't vote for John Kasich. They're too fond of Fargo, which took place in nearby North Dakota. They've seen what happened across Lake Michigan in Ohio, where Kasich and NAFTA conspired to annihilate good manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin is a state of Badgers, not Buckeyes.

Wisconsin won't vote for Lyin' Ted. Although Wisconsin is perilously close to Ted's native Canada, it's a state of strong family values, that prizes men who are loyal to their wives and who follow through on their promises to bust-up big government. Wisconsin wants results, not adultery and government shutdowns.

The state of Wisconsin has good taste. That's why Trump will triumph in America's udder this Tuesday. Donald has many advantages in Wisconsin that other candidates don't enjoy.

First, Wisconsin is a state of cheese-heads. Donald is a blockhead who looks like cheese. His wrinkled face is orange, like an old wedge of cheddar that Wisconsinites love ever so much.

Second, Donald and Melania Trump are a shining example of the American family values that Wisconsinites cherish, in a way that Ted and Heidi Cruz have never been. Wisconsin knows Donald has made mistakes: like Trump University, the USFL, and inviting Hillary to his wedding. But Wisconsin is a state that believes in second chances. Wisconsin is the home of the Milwaukee Brewers: the team who forgave 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun for using steroids, and gave Hernan Perez -- the little utility infielder that could -- a second chance at breaking into the majors after the Detroit Tigers gave up on him. If Wisconsin can forgive Braun and believe in light-hitting Little Hernan, they will surely see the wisdom of casting votes for Trump.

Hernan Perez: Milwaukee's Comeback Kid (July 1, 2015 - Source: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America)
Why Wisconsin Needs Trump

The Wisconsin of today is very different from the Wisconsin of 1986 that I fell in love with. The Wisconsin of 2016 has been emptied of jobs by NAFTA and Scott Walker's austerity agenda.
Walker devastated Wisconsin's educational system and busted up the unions. The people of Wisconsin have seen through Walker's charade. When Scott Walker parades around on a Harley Davidson, he doesn't look presidential. He looks like Mike Dukakis in a tank.

Not satisfied with destroying Wisconsin, Walker is trying to destroy America by joining the pathetic #NeverTrump movement. Just as the blue-collar Green Bay Packers once considered moving to big-city Milwaukee, the establishment is trying to make the GOP the party of white collar hucksters like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan instead of a blue collar Trump party.

The problem is, it's going to take a comeback more miraculous than an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary to stop Donald now. Cruz and Kasich don't have a prayer of securing the required 1,237 delegates. Wisconsin borders two Great Lakes, but only one candidate on the ballot tomorrow can Make America Great Again. For the good of Deerfield, and good villages across America, we need Trump.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Clubhouse Chaos: Why I Don't Believe in the 2016 White Sox

Danville, Kentucky -- The year was 1998. NAFTA had all but emptied the heartland of good-paying union jobs, and I was left on the outside looking in at the benefits of globalization. I was between jobs, and working at a Dave and Busters in the metro Cincinnati area. Dave and Busters was a lone beacon of hope in a sea of despair, lay-offs, and unemployment. The burgers were plump, juicy, and generously adorned with high-quality condiments. The beer was golden like the locks of an ambrosial blonde German lass, foamy like the oceans across which my job had been outsourced, and affordable to boot.

Best of all, it was the perfect place to take your kid. The claw machines weren't rigged, like the type you might find at a lesser sports-bar/arcade complex. You could take your child to Dave and Busters without fearing that they'd sink $20 into an unwinnable arcade game, laboring for tickets and prizes in a Sisyphean manner. There wasn't a better way to provide affordable food and family-friendly entertainment.

But like all good things, my job at Dave and Busters was not meant to last. With my own kids having recently left the nest to pursue college degrees, I took my employment at this fine establishment as an opportunity to bond with one of the last children left in my life: my nephew. My nephew loved Dave and Busters. Who doesn't?

My boss first approached me about the inordinate amount of time my nephew spent around my workplace in June of '98. I paid him no heed, until I was dismissed from D&B in August of '98. Did I occasionally give my nephew free appetizers? Yes. Did the 9-year old kid make a habit out of patrolling the restaurant for half-empty beers to finish? Yes. Did my nephew get so skilled at several of the arcade game that it hurt D&B's bottom line? Perhaps. Did my facilitation of these behaviors warrant firing me? Probably. But I'd rather lose my job than lose the respect and love of my nephew. I put family first that day, and lost my job because of it.

If Dave and Busters is a great place to raise a kid, an MLB clubhouse is even better.
Folks, it's not everyday that a wise old slugger like Adam spits truth like that. An MLB clubhouse is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom and veteran experience. It's why Little Victor Martinez spends so much time around the Detroit Tigers clubhouse.

It's why young Prince Fielder spent so much time around the Detroit clubhouse when his father, Cecil Fielder, was on the team.

You don't learn how to be a good person or how to succeed at life in a classroom. There are some lessons that only the world can teach you. The world is not in your textbooks -- it's out there. God bless Adam LaRoche for trying to be the best father he could. None of us are in any position to criticize his parenting. He knows what is best for his child.

If only the White Sox front office knew what was best for the team. Most franchises would kill to have guys like Adam LaRoche -- high-character guys, father figures, mentor figures -- in their clubhouse. Yet the White Sox have driven him into retirement by heavy-handedly banning his son, Drake, from the clubhouse.

Why I Can't Buy Into the White Sox

I don't care to engage in the he-said/she-said about these events. We still don't know alot of the details. Did another player complain to a higher-up about Drake's excessive presence? Did the GM or owner unilaterally ban Drake without being bidden to do so by a player? This Danville man doesn't pretend to know.

But let me say this: when representatives of the liberal mainstream media report that White Sox players complained to higher-ups about Drake, and home-run derby hero Todd Frazier says "no players asked Sox to remove Drake LaRoche," I'll believe the Todd-father nine times out of ten.

We may never know what exactly happened. What I do know is that the White Sox have done a bad job of managing their clubhouse. For a couple of years now, the White Sox have made flashy off-season acquisitions: Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, etc. Yet, they have perennially under-performed. This may sound quaint in an era of fangraphs and analytics, but I think it's because of clubhouse chemistry. How can you be a contender when the clubhouse is such a dramatic mess? At the very least it's a huge distraction, over-shadowing the hard work that needs to be done on-the-field.

Hear me out: the White Sox have made a habit out of neglecting clubhouse chemistry. They've let too many players with character problems onto their team. We all heard the rumors about the dubious deeds of Avisail Garcia in his Detroit Tiger days. Reports that he slept with Prince Fielder's wife and scrapped with 2-time MVP Miguel Cabrera should've been a red flag. In 2015, Rant Sports documented the 15 biggest jerks in the MLB. Three of them are current or former White Sox: Brett Lawrie, Jeff Samardzija, and A.J. Pierzynski.

We all saw Brett Lawrie's dirty slide at Alcides Escobar.

We all saw Chris Sale instigate a benches clearing incident vs. the Tigers in 2014, and we all heard about him storming the Royals' clubhouse spoiling for a fight after being ejected in 2015.

There are too many examples to ignore. The White Sox front office has systematically failed to bring high-character players into the organization. When your clubhouse is in a constant state of chaos -- because your players are starting brawls, getting ejected, having attitude problems -- it's hard for your team to stay mentally focused and win.


Don't get me wrong -- I have great respect for the White Sox franchise. Hawk Harrelson is the greatest living baseball announcer, except for Vin Scully. RBI-machine Frank Thomas is one of my favorite players of all time. I love many current White Sox players: Tyler Saladino is one of the grittiest guys in the league. I just wish the White Sox would do a better job identifying hard-working, decent men like Tyler. They appear to have found one such man in LaRoche, only to drive him from the game.

The White Sox have their work cut out for them. Upgrading the roster with flashy signings and trades doesn't matter if the pieces don't gel inter-personally. The White Sox need to attend to the human element of roster construction. Landing Todd Frazier is a good first step: as a Cincinnati Reds fan, I assure you, Todd is an excellent player and an excellent person: just a humble kid from Jersey trying to make a name for himself. It's a good sign that the White Sox players, despite all their character flaws, are circling the wagons by rebelling against the front office for the unfair treatment of Adam LaRoche.

With LaRoche retired, the White Sox need a designated hitter. I think it's time to give Paulie Konerko a call. Paul Konerko was a premier slugger, and a classy man. He led the team to a World Series title in 2005. At 40 years old, he's only slightly older than LaRoche was. He's family. In the game of baseball, like Dave and Busters, family should come first.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why Francisco Lindor Must Bunt for His Life

Danville, Kentucky -- Every once and a while, an idea bounces around the sabermetric echo chamber that's so patently absurd, it begs to be refuted. The notion that Francisco Lindor needs to stop bunting is one such argument.

Lindor is a great player. I've taken interest in him since his minor league days, and was fortunate enough to witness his first major league hit (and goofy tumble in between first and second base) in-person. But Lindor is now under fire from the spreadsheet-gazers. He broke two of the Ten Commandments of Fangraphs: never be a good teammate or sacrifice bunt. When Tito Francona weighed in on the issue recently, it sparked an outcry:
And I mean an outcry. My twitter feed is full of articles about why this poor kid is ignorant and misguided for trying to advance a runner. (See the following articles: [1][2][3])

The anti-bunting argument goes as follows: Lindor is a very good hitter (no argument here) and shouldn't give away free outs because it decreases his team's run expectancy. By this logic, the sacrifice bunt is a selfish rally-killing move that is detrimental to the team's scoring probabilities. It's the type of argument that sounds superficially plausible if you ignore how the game is actually played on the field. It's the type of argument made by people who have never been on a baseball field, down by one run, with a sense of fierce urgency in their heart as they try to put their team in a position to win.

I had to chuckle to myself when August Fagerstorm wrote:
in the games in which Lindor attempted a bunt, the Indians, who finished the season above .500, went 7-10
I thought it was no longer politically correct to cite win/loss records? Isn't win/loss record an archaic, meaningless stat? The problem is, when you look at the results, Lindor's bunting was actually quite helpful to the Tribe.

The Record Speaks for itself: Lindor Must Bunt

You can denigrate Lindor's decision-making with all manor of stats. I'm a more results oriented guy, so I decided to look at the actual outcome of Lindor's sac-bunting. According to baseball reference, Mr. Lindor laid down 13 sacrifice bunts last year. Unlike team spreadsheet, I decided to revisit the game-logs before issuing a verdict on whether or not Francisco is well-served by continuing the practice. I was startled by how successful Frankie was at bunting.

June 22nd, vs. the Tigers. Lindor advances Jason Kipnis to 3rd base. Michael Brantley hits single, Kipnis scores. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked.

July 5th, vs. the Pirates. Lindor advances Kipnis to 3rd base. Brantley hits single, Kipnis scores. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked.

August 3rd, vs. the Angels. Lindor advances Ramirez to 2nd base. Brantley hits single, Ramirez scores. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked. In fact, judging by Carlos Santana's propensity to K, it's a good thing Lindor advanced Ramirez to 2nd.

August 8th, vs. the Twins. Lindor advances Jose Ramirez to 2nd base. Michael Brantley singles, Ramirez scores. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked.

August 13th, vs. the Yankees. Lindor advances Giovanny Urshela to 3rd base and Jose Ramirez to 2nd base. A Brantley lineout and Santana single score both runners. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked. 

 August 25th, vs. the Brewers. Lindor advances Kipnis to 3rd base. Brantley walks. A Santana double and Lonnie Chisenhall single scores both runners. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked.

August 30th, vs. the Angels. Lindor advances Kipnis to 3rd base. Brantley scores Kipnis. Rally not killed. Verdict: the bunt worked.


Surprising, isn't it? Judging by the tone of the Lindor bunting debate, you'd think he was haphazardly giving away outs, single-handedly thwarting the Indians offense. An analysis of THE ACTUAL GAMES, rather than a spreadsheet, reveals that in 7 of his 13 sacrifice bunt attempts, the Indians scored. That's a better than 50% success rate. Given that baseball is a game of inches, I'll take those runs produced by Frankie's selflessness. You could always gamble -- letting Lindor swing freely instead of bunting -- but that opens up the possibility of hitting into a double play and makes it more likely that you strand the runner. For a team with documented RISP-struggles like the Tribe, it makes sense to bunt and score at least one run.

What about the 6 times that Lindor's sacrifice bunt did not result in an Indians run? That's on the people batting behind him in the lineup. I've said for a while that the Indians lack of RBI-production will be the bane of their World Series hopes. If you can't score a runner from second with one out, that speaks to the team's slugging deficiencies, not the wisdom of Lindor's decision to bunt. Lindor can lead a horse to water, but he can't make it drink, especially if this horse isn't clutch. This problem could be easily fixed by the Indians acquiring Matt Kemp, but that's an argument for another day.

Sacrifice bunting is part of the game. You want to know who else sacrifice bunts alot? 2015 American League Championship Series MVP and All-Star shortstop Alcides Escobar, of the World Champion Kansas City Royals™., who boasted 11 sacrifice bunts to his name in 2015. You can't blame Frankie for trying to emulate the best. Lindor taking advice on bunting strategy from baseball bloggers is a little like Donald Trump taking advice from Marco Rubio on how to run a successful presidential campaign.

I encourage those disparaging Lindor's bunts to actually look at the historical record instead of run expectancy charts. Lindor has gotten the job done. Undoubtedly, Lindor's success is part of why Francona has been reluctant to reign him in despite the protestation of saber-inclined Indians fans. I trust Lindor's judgement. I think you should too.

What a teammate. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Ring That Got Away: TWTW's Royals @ Reds Preview [3-15-16 -- Spring Training]

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, I don't usually write about Spring Training games. Spring is a time of renewal; of pitchers stretching their arms out, and batters learning to see the ball again after a Winter of baseball-less discontent. Baseball games played in March are very easy to dismiss as irrelevant compared to the grueling 162 game stretch that awaits. It takes a Spring Training game of special magnificence to prompt me to put down the margarita and pick up the keyboard and start writing about baseball.

Tomorrow's match-up between the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds is one such special match-up. Brandon Finnegan will toe the rubber for the Reds against his former team. To understand why I am about to spill serious ink on a baseball game played in Spring -- the season of Shamrock Shakes, March Madness, and Peeps -- we must return to the Autumn of 2014.

Finnegan's Finest Hour: The 2014 American League Wild Card Game

September 30th, 2014. It was a brisk Autumn night, with brown leaves littering the parking lot of the picturesque Kauffman Stadium, and a sold-out crowd that resembled an ocean of the most royal blue hue.

After early exits from Big Game James Shields and trade deadline hot commodity Jon Lester, the Kansas City Royals scored off of Oakland Athletics proven closer Sean Dolittle in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game at 7-7. The season hangs in the balance.

Enter Brandon Finnegan: the former TCU Horned Frog and first round draft pick who would go on to become the first player to appear in both the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year. The Irish flamethrower's work was cut out for him: he had to shut down the Athletics -- a team that had earlier been anointed prohibitive World Series favorites by the sabermetric crowd -- and give the Royals offense a chance to win. It was a situation that would've overwhelmed a lesser 20 year old.

Young Brandon remained calm, cool and collected, but his fastball was fire. He struck out three batters over 2.1 innings, putting the Boys in Blue in a position to win. After some 12th inning heroics from Eric Hosmer, Christian Colon, and Salvador Perez, the Royals had advanced to the ALDS, and the image of a Salvador's pulled ground ball just barely escaping the reach of a diving Josh Donaldson was now immortalized in the collective memories of Kansas City sports fans.

Thanks to many more strong outings from Brandon Finnegan, the Royals eventually reached the World Series later that Fall. The rest is history. After losing in 7 games to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants in 2014, the Royals became World Champions themselves in 2015.

But not every member of the 2014 Royals was around to share in the triumph of Kansas City's World Series victory in 2015. Brandon Finnegan was one such man.

March 15th, 2016: Finnegan Faces his Former Friends

As Brandon takes the mound to pitch against his former team, he'll remember the feeling when he received the phone call saying that he had been traded to the lowly Cincinnati Reds for eventual postseason hero Johnny Cueto. It was a mixture of shock, confusion, excitement, and even betrayal. Brandon will recall the feelings of trepidation as he donned the uniform of the AAA Louisville Bats, the finest baseball team in Kentucky. More than anything, Brandon will remember the Ring that Got Away: the ambivalent feeling of sadness and pride he felt as he saw his former teammates celebrate a World Series championship without him last October.

As Brandon walks out onto the field of Goodyear Ballpark, in the heart of Arizona, he'll observe his surroundings. There are no Autumnal colors to be seen today: just a clear blue sky and sandy stretches of golden desert in the background, topped with swaying palm trees.

Everyone knows in Spring Training that the process is more important than the product. Brandon will give up some hits, and perhaps even walk a batter or two, in spite of every Royal batter's earnest attempt to put the ball in play rather than improve their OBP. Wizened dugout general Ned Yost will be impressed by the young Irishman's command of his high-voltage fastball, and the late movement on his off-speed offerings. Regardless of what the box-score shows today, Brandon's MLB future is bright.

After the game, Brandon will share an expensive dinner with old friends from his Kansas City days, perhaps Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Dyson, or his old bullpen mentor Wade Davis. Brandon will slowly sip on a glass of Jameson Whiskey, watered down as ice cubes melt away, like Autumn melts into Winter which melts into Spring which melts into Summer. The crew will discuss other heroes of 2014 who didn't enjoy the triumph of 2015: Nori Aoki, the slap-hitting speedster who was the spark-plug in so many Royals rallies, and Billy Butler, the rotund designated hitter with a heart of gold.

If ever there was a person who deserved to win a World Series in a Royals uniform, it was Billy Butler, who was drafted by the Royals and stuck with the team through the good times and the unspeakably bad times. Country Breakfast was synonymous with Kansas City itself, like blues music or barbecue sauce. You may not remember, but Billy Butler actually had his own barbecue sauce. After being a lone bright-spot of excellence on 95-loss teams for most of his Royals career, Billy finally tasted postseason action in 2014. Billy savored the taste, and hungered for more, like an impatient child at IHOP. Yet, fate is often cruel and Billy also watched from afar as the team he helped nurture and mentor celebrated a World Series win in his absence. As Brandon ponders the tragedy of Billy Butler, the headstrong twenty-two year old will feel plucks of melancholy and nostalgia on his heart-strings as he fondly recalls his time in Kansas City.

Ultimately, Brandon's thirst for a ring will be his greatest motivator. Brandon was inches away from winning a ring in 2014, and was wrongfully denied a ring in 2015. When Brandon takes the field for the Reds in the upcoming 2016 campaign, he'll be competing to reclaim the Ring that Got Away. As a Reds fan, I eagerly await the opportunity to see this fine young arm pitch in the Great American Ballpark this summer.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

TWTW's March Madness Takes

Danville, Kentucky -- March: a month that begins with wanton consumption of Shamrock Shakes and Irish Whiskey. March: a month that ends with several straight weeks spent at my local Buffalo Wild Wings watching college basketball. It's a thing of beauty. With golden foamy beer on my right and shiny sauced-drenched boneless chicken wings on my left, I feel at one with the universe as the drama of college basketball plays out before my eyes on multiple high-definition big screen TVs. From this perfect vantage point, I can see seniors scrap for survival while mid-major underdogs prove to the world that they truly belong amongst the world's top collegiate athletes. More importantly, the stirring story-lines of the NCAA tournament offer a brief respite from the banal drudgery of my middle-aged, divorced existence.

Lots of nerds will offer lots of hot takes about the tournament. They'll cite Kenpom, eFG%, PER and all manor of statistics as they offer advice on how to fill out your bracket. What these number-crunchers don't understand is that the glorious March tradition of cannot be explained or predicted by looking at a team's Pythagorean win/loss record. March Madness is like the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome: statistics mean nothing when a scrappy Cinderella team like 2012 Norfolk State is determined to defy the odds in stunning fashion.

Don't trust the metrics. Trust your own eyes. Here are my thoughts on March Madness. Fill out your brackets accordingly.

Don't Sleep on Bakersfield

Bakersfield is not like the rest of California. A solitary bulwark of working class values in an otherwise irredeemably blue state, Bakersfield has been at the receiving end of the gut-punch that is globalization and unfettered free trade. It's Bakersfield that bears the brunt of Los Angeles' profligate air pollution, boasting the worst air-quality in the country. Bakersfield is one of America's top energy producing cities, where many folks' economic well-being lives or dies on the oil rig. The recent crash in gasoline prices has hit these good folks hard; the only thing they are holding on to is the dream of the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners making a run at March Madness glory.

And let me tell you, the people of Bakersfield are good people. My Uncle Truman, named after the last president truly tough enough to win a war, has lived there his whole life. Bakersfield is a hard-working city, where people go to premier watering-holes like Goose Loonies Tavern after a long day at the oil rig. Bakersfield is one of the few cities to stand up against the forces of globalization that are holding back American ingenuity and innovation. In 1993, Donald Trump spoke out against NAFTA at the Cal State Bakersfield campus. In 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield endorsed Trump as the candidate most likely to energize the Republican Party. Bakersfield is ground zero for NAFTA's devastation, but this city is also where NAFTA will meet its final defeat.

The proletarian grit of the Bakersfield Roadrunners doesn't show up on a Kenpom spreadsheet. Oklahoma (2) versus CSU Bakersfield (15) has major upset potential, for those of you at home filling out brackets. Oklahoma's recent defeat in the Big 12 tournament at the hands of the scrappy full-court pressing West Virginia Moutaineers bodes ill for the Sooners' chances against the similarly feisty Roadrunners. If Bakersfield pulls a page from genius coach Bob Huggins' playbook, it could be a long night for OU, a team that shoots way too many threes. Bakersfield, fresh off a clutch buzzer-beating win in the WAC championship game, has all the momentum. The Roadrunners play a high-intensity, physical brand of defense that could very well thwart jump-shot reliant players like Buddy Hield. Don't bet against the Roadrunners.

Baylor Bears: Young, Scrappy, Hungry

The Baylor Bears have TWTW. Taurean Prince was once a commit to LIU-Brooklyn. I'm not sure what LIU stands for, but Prince stands for winning. He now projects to be a first round NBA draft pick? How did he do it? By spending his summer in the gym instead of playing Xbox One Live.

Then they have Rico Gathers. He's planning to play in the NFL. Baylor has a pro day for the NFL. Lots of kids skip class to go to parties. Rico is skipping pro day to go play in the tournament. What a player - he cares more about the team he's committed to than having "measurables" for Roger Goodell. With a matchup against Yale nerds in the first round, don't bet against the Bears.

Wichita State Seniors: Experience Counts

The Shockers are a team so good I can't believe Kenpom likes them. There's a lot to like about the Shockers: they have senior veteran leadership, tons of tournament experience, and great chemistry. Evan Wessel, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet are not only top tier talents, but best friends. They've been to the big dance before. Most important of all, the Shockers will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after being disrespected by the selection committee with an 11 seed. On paper, Wichita State probably wasn't as good as the Kansas Jayhawks team they beat in the 3rd round of the tournament last year. But Wichita State had something that doesn't show up on paper: hustle and friendship. I like this team to make a deep run.

Greg Marshall even turned down job offers to coach this team. Coach Marshall knew he could head to Alabama or some other state that also has great seafood. Instead, he realized you can still get great seafood in Kansas if you just know where the right Red Lobster is located. Marshall knows where the right wins are in the tournament. Take them to advance.

KU: A Team in Need of 2's

The Kansas Jayhawks are another team that is difficult to pick against. They have Shocker-esque chemistry and camaraderie.

They've also got a ton of momentum on their side, coming fresh off an authoritative romp through the Big 12 tournament. Yet, I have my reservations about this team. Long story short, they shoot too many 3's. The folks calling for KU to take more threes, Five Thirty Eight included, are dead wrong. Unfortunately, Bill Self seems to have listened to them. I've never understood the second-guessing nerds who think they can design a better offense than 12-time Big 12 champion Bill Self. There's a reason Bill Self is the coach, and there's a reason his critics are mostly bloggers. The KU three-pointer debate is often framed as a forced choice between chucking up threes and feeding the ball to Perry Ellis down low. Folks, I know the perfect middle ground: KU needs to stop being afraid of taking mid-range two-pointers.

I think there is big upset potential if KU has to face Connecticut. Connecticut is angry they were left out of a major conference. It's why they won the tournament in 2013 despite having nowhere near the best players - that team needed overtime in the round of 64 to beat St. Joe's before winning the whole ship.

The House Tom Izzo Built: This is (March) Madness

Folks, nobody does more with less than Tom Izzo. His recruits aren't as flashy or beloved by metrics as some other schools, but his great in-game managing ensures that the Spartans get the most out of the roster that they have. The "snub factor" I described with Wichita State is also at play here with MSU -- Izzo and his boys know they're a #1 seed, and will be pumped up as they attempt to prove the selection committee wrong. This could be the year Izzo gets Michigan State a second NCAA Championship.


You could spend hours creating a bracket by analyzing luck ratings, home/road splits, and strength of schedule numbers. Or you can go with your gut. The NCAA tournament is predictably unpredictable. But there is one thing I can confidently predict: narrative matters.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ban Kasich

This man is a weirdo
Danville, Kentucky - In 1996, life -- like it often is -- was not easy. The perils of NAFTA entered year two, as factories closed and health plans disappeared. We needed hope.

One great film of 1996 gave us hope: a comedy called "Fargo." For those that have not seen this cinematic achievement, finish reading this article, then go find the movie. I would advise you to go rent it at Blockbuster, but you can't, because NAFTA so devalued the idea of labor that we let mom and pop stores and the joys of teenagers getting summer jobs instead of summer drugs get replaced by Netflix and Hulus.

John Kasich does not love Fargo though, in fact he moved to ban "Fargo."  Kasich wanted to ban "Fargo," a comedy folks, I mean Blockbuster -- the world's greatest movie store in history -- classified it as such. Kasich called it a drama unfit for the shelves of Blockbuster. Folks, we should be pretty surprised. I've called for banning a lot of things -- the St. Louis Cardinals, the Colorado Rockies, Marco Rubio, Cam Newton, and honestly, some things I can't even remember. But I would never call for banning America's great film.

The signs so many stores faced in Kasich's America
The sins of Kasich date far before 1996 though. They date to what Jay-Z once called, "The year was '94." That year we all had a choice: the American worker or multi-national corporations and Canada. Kasich choose to align with Canada. America has never recovered. The financial crisis of NAFTA is unending, few things could be worse.

I just love Mario and Luigi
Somehow Kasich may have found one of the few things worse than NAFTA. From 2001 to 2008 -- longer than Perry Ellis has been in college -- John Kasich was a Managing Director for Lehman Brothers. For those of you with better things to do than follow brothers that are not Mario and Luigi, Lehman Brothers was a firm that gave adjustable rate loans and other dirty real estate tricks to ruin the economy. Yet, Kasich made dollar after dollar while the American economy fell into the gutter. The few Americans lucky enough to not lose their jobs from NAFTkAsich suddenly dealt with a firm collapsing the economy. One man was at the center of both: Kasich, or more like, this case makes me sick.

Then there's Kasich's horrendous tenure as the Governor of Ohio. Look no further than the Cleveland Browns. The fine blue collar workers of Cleveland have dealt with many devastating defeats. From the Indians in the 1997 World Series to the entire existence of the Browns. Kasich once again sold the worker out at the expense of "free trade." While the Patriots cheated by paying Tom Brady less than his fair market value, similar to how Mexico pays their workers way less than fair market value so we can't compete, Kasich allows the Browns to operate in a league where they can't compete. Trump didn't stand for that -- his USFL tried to challenge such a wasteland of a league like the NFL. Kasich only perpetuated it.

A good boy watching Kasich outsource America jobs
Where has Kasich been for the people of Ohio? Johnny Manziel is an absolute disaster. Yet, Kasich is too busy running for President to deal with the QB of the Browns, the most important face in Ohio next to LeBron James and every Bengal. Trump actually makes sure his employees are in okay shape. In fact, Trump makes his clothes in China to make sure he doesn't have American workers under his watch facing the perils of NAFTA. Trump makes sure he doesn't have people he fails to care for like Kasich.

With all this, many wonder: how has Kasich managed to keep getting elected if he is this bizarre? One word: LeBron. In 2010, LeBron James left the Cavs. That summer, he went to Miami. The horrendous then Governor, Ted Strickland, failed to keep Ohio's most important player. LeBron was an inspiration to Ohio and he was outsourced to Miami. In 2014, just in time for Kasich's reelection, LeBron announced he was coming home. Kasich went on to win nearly every county. LeBron won't be there to save Kasich forever though. Unless, Kasich makes LeBron his V.P. Knowing Kasich though, he'll probably ask for a guy who lives on adjustable rates, or the 3 point line like Steph Curry. It's time to once and for all ban the man that has banned Ohio's jobs and scarred its collective psyche. Ban Kasich.

Trade Trout: Why the Angels Must Let Go

Danville, Kentucky -- I've written before about my beloved Basset Hound, Barry Goldwater. Barry is a wonderful dog. His authoritative and baritone howling keeps my humble Danville abode secure from intruders, giving me peace of mind. Ever-loyal, Barry has stayed at my side through many divorces and unfounded embezzlement allegations.

Mike Trout has been the Barry Goldwater of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. His All-American smile is the face of the franchise. Since sky-rocketing onto the major league scene in 2012, Mike Trout has loyally defend center-field with a tenacity reminiscent of my hound dog. Mike's a tough and gritty guy, even though he doesn't steal bases as much as I'd like these days.

Because of this, what I'm about to suggest might sound like a drunken fever dream, but hear me out.

The Los Angeles Angels should trade Mike Trout.

Reason #1: The Los Angeles Angels franchise -- from top to bottom -- is in a state of disrepair.

The Angels' 40 man roster is top-heavy. There are bonafide stars -- Albert Pujols, Johnny Giavotella, Al Alburquerque, and Trout -- but there are scrubs. The Angels' rotation will be counting on at least 150 innings from Jered Weaver and his 79 mile-per-hour fastball, and the rest of the rotation just had Tommy John surgery. Folks, I haven't pitched since 1972, but if I could pass a physical there's a chance I'd be an upgrade to the Angels rotation.

Angels fans when you suggest trading Trout
The Angels' left-field platoon (Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry) is reminiscent of a mid-2000's Moneyball roster constructed on the cheap by Billy Beane, hardly befitting a team with a $150,000,000 payroll.

Unfortunately for the Angels, there's no cavalry coming from the minors.

This is a farm system more barren, empty, and devoid of sentient lifeforms than a Marco Rubio rally. For all the holes in the major league roster, there's no plugs to be found here. If you spend enough time around the Angels' minor league affiliates, you might choke on dust like it's Oklahoma circa 1934.

live look-in at the AAA Salt Lake Bees
This is a serious crisis for the Angels. Big Bert Pujols can't be expected to swat 40 bombs forever. Their proven closer, Huston Street isn't getting any younger. C.J. Wilson has great hair, but the name on the back of the jersey now eclipses his actual usefulness to the team.

If the Angels don't move to replenish the farm system now, we're looking at 7 years of famine, à la biblical Egypt. Given the current holes in their roster and the stiff competition coming from the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, it might be a stretch to imagine this iteration of the Angels competing in the short-term. Without improving their minor league pipeline, they won't compete in the long-term either. A move must be made for the long-term health of the franchise.

Reason #2: Baseball is a Team Sport.

Upon hearing the suggestion that Mike Trout should be traded, the natural inclination of most Angels fans will be to insist that any team can compete for a playoff spot with a generational talent like Trout. Some Angels fans have an almost superstitious belief that Trout's presence will keep their team's window of contention open. Trout's merits aside -- I was relieved when he didn't win MVP in 2015, and didn't think he deserved it in 2012 or 2013 -- this argument is questionable.

Trout is a great player. He's hit 134 dingers the past 4 seasons. He's an athletic defender. But Trout alone will not take the Angels to the playoffs, not when his surrounding cast is scrubs and the Angels' rotation consists largely of batting practice machines. Let's also remember that the last World Series winner -- the World Champion Kansas City Royals™ -- won it all without a transcendent superstar talent like Trout. Team-wide balance and depth are far more important than Trout's 9.0 WAR in 2015. Art Moreno and Billy Eppler needs to take notes on the Dayton Moore theory of roster construction.

It's time to let go, Angels fans. You can't pin an entire city's World Series dreams on one man.

Reason #3: Trout's Value is High

Trout hit a career high 41 dongs last season, with a respectable 90 RBIs, and a .299 batting average (an improvement from his disappointing .287 average in 2014). He's a known commodity. Moreover, the analytics craze means you could probably get quite a few GMs to salivate in Pavlovian fashion once the Angels' front office makes it known that they are hearing offers for Trout. I don't put much stock in sabermetrics, and hope the Angels don't either. But, in the words of Philadelphia Phillies assistant GM Scott Proefrock:
Proefrock said the Phillies' primary use for sabermetrics is in determining how other teams may view players.
"From our perspective, it is important that we are aware of those things because there are other clubs that value them more than we do and look at them more than we do," Proefrock said. "So that can give us an indication of what they may think of some of our players and what guys they value maybe even more than we do because of the metrics."
(source:, "Inside the Phillies: Who needs sabermetrics?")
If this strategy is good enough for proven winner Reuben Amaro, it's good enough for the Angels. Putting Trout on the market is opportunity to fleece the nerds who care more about BsR, BABIP, and wRC+ than winning ballgames.

The return on Trout could be Yuge -- Yuge enough to replenish that ghost-town farm system overnight -- perhaps a cross-town trade to send super-prospects Julio Urias and Corey Seager to Disneyland?


There comes a time when a man needs to let go. That time came all too soon for me, when I lost custody of Barry Goldwater in my last divorce. Consider yourselves lucky, Angels fans. I lost my best friend and didn't get any Baseball Prospectus Top 100 prospects back in the settlement either. I can still visit Barry on weekends, just like Angels fans might be able to see Trout after the Angels trade him, if they're willing to watch Trout wear Dodger Blue.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Trust Deficit: How Credit Cards Bankrupted Rubio

Danville, Kentucky -- The 1960s were a simpler time. No instant replay, no internet, no international free trade agreements. Cash was the currency of the land. Every now and then somebody would write you a check, but during my time working on an oil rig in North Dakota, we were consistently paid in cold, hard, physical dollar bills.

The strenuous nature of the job demanded that us oil-men be rewarded with cash. We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up to work on a rig. It meant 16 hour days on the rig. It meant waking up at 4 AM to get to the drill-site bright and early. It meant long nights at the bar trying to numb the pain of burnt skin with whiskey and gin. It meant living in a ghost town, populated only by other lonely oil-men trying to make a living before boom-time became bust-time.

As I laid awake at night in my log cabin near the drill-site, I would often wonder if any amount of money could make the risks we took worthwhile. It was dangerous work. The toxic fumes billowing from the core of the Earth would sear and sting your lungs like a cigar from Hell. Some men fell 50 feet or more to an untimely end. Sometimes there were unsightly accidents with the drilling machinery, with gruesome results.

For me, the promise of a cash payment was worth putting my safety on the line. It was a tangible reward for the hard work that I put in. The feel of a crisp dollar bill on my black tarry fingers was a grim reminder of what I had done to earn this salary.

Kids these days will never know that feeling -- the feeling of a cash reward after a hard day's work. The advent of credit cards ruined it all. Millennials trade Bitcoins and use Venmo and Paypal, rendering cash obsolete. The physical, at-your-finger-tips nature of cash induced a sense of restraint and responsibility in young Americans. Credit cards encourage frivolous spending by making money seem out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

The best part about cash was that it was all yours. You were free to pocket it, spend it, or stick it under the mattress. Thanks to credit cards, you don't even really own your own money. You have to put your money in a bank that puts your money on a card. Folks, banks can go under like in '08, taking your savings with them. That's why I only deposit my money into a pillowcase.

Thanks to credit cards, some crook in Portugal can steal your identity to buy hundreds of dollars worth of potatoes and fish. Credit cards and digital payments have made wasting money easier and more convenient than ever before, but they've made us all vulnerable to cyber-crime and prevented generations of Americans from appreciating the value of tangible, crisp cash.

Credit cards ruined America. Credit cards ruined Marco Rubio. While Speaker of the House in Florida's legislature, Marco racked up a 6-figure tab on a credit card issued by the Florida Republican Party. We can only guess what Marco spent those hundreds of thousands of dollars on: extramarital affairs, wild nights at Miami strip-clubs, Dolphins tickets, secret trips to visit his comrades in Cuba, or a cocaine habit. What we do know is that the moment Rubio accepted this credit card from his GOP establishment sugar daddies was the moment that Rubio became a puppet. In exchange for going on shopping sprees with his sugar daddy's credit card, Marco would be a Manchurian candidate, beholden to his corporate masters.

Americans are faced with truly difficult choices this November. Nearly every candidate has a fatal flaw. Hillary emailed on the job. Bernie is a socialist. Ted's a Canadian. Donald is an Anchor Baby who bought into the myth that college is a worthwhile investment. Add Marco to the list. His use of credit cards disqualifies him from the office of Presidency.

Working on an oil rig wasn't just about the money. It was about a sense of independence. Working on an oil rig was about proving that if a man was willing to get his hands dirty, he could make a living in this country. By using the GOP establishment's credit card, Rubio sold his independence to corporations and became a financial dependent. Like my ex-wife at IKEA, Marco has been swipe-happy at the American people's expense. Marco has overdrafted from the credit card of our faith, spending his way to trust deficit. It's time to close the account.