Monthly Archives: May 2011

RPI does not compute

Kansas State is in the NCAA baseball tournament and I’m not sure I understand why.

The Wildcats have an RPI of 41 and a strength of schedule ranking of 72, according to the Boyd’s World projections which, I suppose, are about as good as any.

I’m telling you right up front, I’m no math major. RPIs are voodoo to me with mathematical equations so difficult that it makes me want to drop the class. A little story here: I dropped several math classes at Wichita State, eventually giving up on getting a journalism degree and settling for a General Studies degree. All because of the math requirements. So, you see, I’m a big wuss when it comes to math.

That being said, Kansas State gets in, the sixth of six Big 12 teams to do so. The Big 12, of course, is a very fine baseball conference. Boyd’s World has it ranked as the third best in the country.

But, BW has the Missouri Valley Conference ranked as the seventh best baseball conference in America. I’m not sure I understand why, but that is the case. The Valley jumps all over the place in RPI from year to year. Just last season, it was ranked No. 15. It dropped as low as No. 16 in 2004 and has been at No. 7 now twice, including in 2005.

I’m surprised the Valley is the No. 7 conference. From what I’ve seen of the MVC, it’s been slightly better this season than in most seasons. But I would hardly call it a power conference.

What I say, though, doesn’t matter. The RPI thinks highly of the MVC, yet the Valley has only one team in the 64-team NCAA Tournament. If the Valley had a No. 7 ranking in men’s basketball, it would get two, three or maybe even four teams into the Big Dance.

Wichita State is No. 71 in RPI, according to Boyd’s World, with a No. 114 strength of schedule. WarrenNolan.com has the Shockers at 71 in RPI, too, but at No. 100 in SOS. The Shockers’ RPI is behind that of Creighton (26), of course. The Bluejays won the regular-season championship and beat WSU in the championship game of the Valley tournament.

But WSU also ranks behind Missouri State (61) and Illinois State (65) in RPI.

Remember, I’m not a math guy so I’m sure my opinion about the RPI is tainted. But I think it’s all a big cover-up for selection committees to hide behind when it comes time to picking teams for NCAA Tournaments.

Numbers can be crunched a variety of ways, and can end up supporting almost any argument.

Kansas State, for instance, is just 7-14 against the rest of the NCAA Tournament field, 6-12 against fellow Big 12 teams and 1-2 in non-conference games. That’s right, K-State played only three non-conference games this season against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, one each against Creighton, California and Coastal Carolina.

Wichita State was 10-5 against teams in the NCAA Tournament and 8-3 against non-conference teams in the field: 2-0 vs. Alcorn State; 2-0 vs. Arizona; 1-0 vs. Dallas Baptist; 1-1 vs. Oral Roberts; 1-1 vs. Kansas State; and 1-1 vs. Oklahoma State.

Is Kansas State’s body of work that much more impressive than that of the Shockers?

Kansas State did benefit from playing in the Big 12. But the Wildcats were 2-11 in games against Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas.

K-State, it’s safe to say, is in the NCAAs because of its 4-1 record against Oklahoma, which is a No. 2 seed at the Fort Worth Regional this week hosted by TCU. The Wildcats beat the Sooners twice in the conference tournament last week and would have been in the championship game had it not been for an extra-inning loss to Texas A&M.

Kudos to Kansas State for getting in, even though I’m not sure why the Wildcats are a more-deserving team than Wichita State. Then again, it was a foregone conclusion that the only way the Shockers were going to get into the NCAA Tournament was to win the Valley tournament in Omaha last week.

Wichita State is partly a victim of its non-conference schedule, which included games against Niagara, North Dakota and Alcorn State, all teams with ugly RPIs. And the Shockers are partly a victim of their conference, even though the Valley received high RPI marks this season.

I don’t think the RPI is a great tool for measuring a team’s strength, and especially not in baseball. There are just too many nuances in the game, too many factors that can’t be gauged by computers.

LeBron James is still my guy

I know you’re probably a LeBron James hater. Most people are nowadays. I get it, because of the way he went about leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, the whole ESPN spectacle. No doubt, he gave it to Cleveland and it was distasteful.

LeBron James

But let’s take all of that ugliness out of the equation for a minute and look at James’ decision for what it was, an attempt to win championships. He had finally accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to happen in Cleveland, that Cavaliers management was not going to step up and give him the tools (i.e. talent around him) to do that.

The Cavs made it to the NBA Finals in 2007 and were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Then Cleveland went about trying to add those final missing pieces to the puzzle but was never able to find them. Players like Ben Wallace, Wally Szerbiac, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal helped the Cavs improve their regular-season record, but Cleveland was consistently pushed back in the playoffs.

James was in Cleveland for seven seasons. That’s a long time. I don’t think he would have ever left if the Cavaliers had been more serious about surrounding him with talent. All-star type of talent.

In James’ seven seasons with the Cavs, he played with a total of two other All-Stars. Zydrunas Ilgauskas joined James on the 2004-05 Eastern Conference squad while Williams was a replacement for then-Toronto forward Chris Bosh on the 2008-09 Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Two other all-stars in seven seasons.

By the time Jamison (a two-time All-Star) and O’Neal (an All-Star 14 times) showed up in Cleveland to help James, they were far past their primes.

In Miami, he has joined forces with perennial All-Stars Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It took the Heat a while to mesh. There were some concerning growing pains as the Big 2 and Bosh (why can’t somebody come up with a really creative nickname for the Miami trio?) figured things out.

Honestly, there were a lot of times this season when I thought the Heat were not serious championship contenders this season. Even with three outstanding players and two who are among the game’s best four or five today, it looked as if Miami needed to add another piece or two before winning titles became a reasonable goal.

But the Heat has played great in the playoffs. Wade and James have figured out how not only to co-exist, but to thrive. They have easily put their egos aside for the betterment of the team while Bosh is picking his spots and has actually been the go-to guy in a few of these playoff victories.

Other players like Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers are filling their supporting roles admirably and the Heat looks like a good bet to beat Dallas in the Finals, which start Tuesday night in Miami.

James was an almost universally loved player in Cleveland, where he tried and tried to lift the underdog Cavs to a championship. It was a fantastic story as he played for his near-hometown team (James is from Akron). Ultimately, though, it’s the Cleveland management that is most to blame for this nasty taste in the mouths of Cavs fans.

Again, I don’t condone the way James went about leaving town. ESPN should be ashamed of itself for airing that charade. It was not the right way for James to conduct his business. I thought he was smarter than that.

Ultimately, though, it’s impossible to argue against his decision to leave Cleveland. He was beating his head against a wall there. You saw what the Cavs did this season without about the same cast of characters they surrounded James with in 2009-10. They went from 61 wins to the bottom of the league.

I haven’t forgiven James for his shoddy treatment of Cleveland fans. They were, no doubt, as disappointed with the front office’s continuous failed attempts to put a better team around him. But they didn’t deserve to be slapped in their faces.

However, I am pulling for James and Miami, even over a Dallas team I really like and a Mavericks player, Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the best player in these playoffs.

I want James to win championships. I want the Cleveland front office to step up and admit to the Cavs’ fan base that it did a poor job of surrounding an iconic player for all those years. As it is, that front office has been able to hind behind James’ awkwardly made decision to go to Miami.

James took his talents to South Beach because the Cavaliers didn’t surround him with enough talent on Lake Erie.

Thoughts about things

This morning, I wrote a column about the Wichita sports figures – or people important to our city’s sports history – who deserve to have a statue in their likeness erected. I hope people take this to heart. It would be a great thing for Wichita. I came up with 10: Joe Carter, Hap Dumont, Ed Kriwiel, Xavier McDaniel, Satchel Paige, Jim Ryun, Barry Sanders, Dave Stallworth, Gene Stephenson, Lynette Woodard.

I would really like to see something like this happen. So I’m willing to put up the first $150. How would we go about taking up a collection? Any ideas are welcome.

Sad to hear about the passing of Paul Splittorff, the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history. Split, as he was known

Paul Splittorff, who died Wednesday at the age of 64.

around the Royals, was nothing close to a dominating pitcher. But he was the epitome of the word “crafty,” a left-hander who figured out how to retire hitters. He didn’t blow them away, but he painted corners and changed speeds and was a true pitcher.

After his baseball career ended, Splittorff became a very fine broadcaster for the Royals who was able to branch out and do college basketball games. Very talented guy who will be missed.

I think Lauren Alaina wins tonight on “American Idol.” It’s not a slam dunk, but she’s a better singer than Scotty McCreary. Both will do just find going forward, I think. It’s been a good year for talent on AI, not such a good year for the judges, whose inability or refusal to offer much in the way of critiques has made their roles almost irrelevant. I really like Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, but they’ve become one-trick ponies over time. Thank goodness for Jimmy Iovine, who has become the most interesting of the non-contestants on the show.

Not sure why I’m liking LeBron James so much. But I am definitely pulling for the Heat and for James, even though I hated the way he chose to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer. I swore then I would never pull for James, yet here I am.

He’s just such a dominant player. So big, so strong and so agile. I mean, the guy was guarding lightning-quick guard Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls during much of Tuesday night’s Eastern Conference finals Game 4, which Miami won to take a big 3-1 lead.

James is a freak and it’s hard to take my eyes off of him. Plus, I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I just think he did a dumb thing with his one hour ESPN special to announce he was taking his talents to South Beach while simultaneously sticking it to adoring Cleveland fans.

Dallas looks like a lock to wrap up the Western Conference championship, probably tonight in Game 5 in Dallas. The Oklahoma City Thunder just doesn’t have the experience or maturity yet, even though I think OKC is a more talented team than Dallas. I’ll be curious to see how Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant grow from this point forward.

In this series, Westbrook and Durant have not had the kind of chemistry you’d expect from the point guard and star player from an elite team. Westbrook doesn’t look comfortable being a distributor and Durant has to have the ball in his hands on almost every possession if the Thunder is going to be successful.

They’re both such young guys, but it almost looks to me like Westbrook is going to have to make some concessions about his own game if OKC is to be a legitimate championship contender.

I’m really enjoying watching the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball so far this season. It’s been a real over-achieving team, what with Adam Wainwright lost to Tommy John surgery, Albert Pujols struggling through the first two months to find his stroke and Chris Carpenter going into today’s game against San Diego with one victory.

Yet the Cardinals are 10 games over .500 and 3 1/2 games clear of Cincinnati in the National League Central thanks to guys like Daniel Descalso, Kyle McClellan, Allen Craig, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas.

Fun stuff. I’m a very good front-runner. Catch me when the Cardinals lose four or five in a row.

Thanks for reading. I’ll try and check in with a couple or three blogs a week.

It’s OK to steal

* I was watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs this afternoon (yea!), and the broadcasters started talking about former Cub and Cardinal Lou Brock, acquired by St. Louis in a trade with the Cubs in 1964 for right-handed pitcher Ernie Broglio. It’s one of the

Lou Brock steals his 105th base against San Diego in 1974, breaking Maury Wills' single-season record.

greatest trades in Cardinals history and, thus, one of the worst for the Cubs.

Any discussion of Brock – who by the way will be 72 this year – makes me think of his ability to steal a base. He pilfered 938 of them during his 19-year career, including a then-record 118 at the age of 35 in 1974. Can you imagine a 35-year-old stealing 118 bases?

Rickey Henderson eventually broke both the single-season and career stolen base records held by Brock, but the former Cardinal still ranks second all-time in both categories.

The stolen base isn’t as much a part of the game of baseball as it used to be, but there are signs that the running game is making a comeback. So far during the 2011 season, there has been an average of 0.65 stolen bases per game, the highest since an 0.76 mark in 1999.

The strongest evidence that there was a Steroids Era in Major League Baseball rests with the numbers.

The seasons from 1980 through 1992 produced the most stolen bases in the game’s history. But when the ball started flying out of the ballpark with great regularity, the base paths got quieter. Only once from 1999-2008 did a season produce less than one home run per game (0.99 in 2005). But through the early part of the 2011 season there have been only 0.84 homers per game, which if it holds would be the lowest per-game average since 1992, when 0.65 homers were hit per game.

Stolen bases, obviously, decreased with all of the added home runs. Teams didn’t need to rely on taking extra bases to score runs, they could wait on a two- or three-run homer.

I like the home run as much as anyone, but it’s nice to see stolen bases becoming a bigger part of the game. It’s not like it was in the 1980s, when almost every team in baseball was running wild. But it’s better.

A player hasn’t stolen 80 bases since 1988, when Rickey Henderson swiped 93 for the New York Yankees and Vince Coleman stole 81 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Jose Reyes (78 in 2007), Scott Podsednik (70 in 2004) and Jacoby Ellsbury (70 in 2009) are the only players with 70 or more stolen bases since 2000.

No players are on pace for that many steals in 2011, but there are already 14 players who have 10 or more stolen bases.

The current big leaguer with the most career steals is Chicago White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre, with 533. That ranks No. 30 all-time. Boston’s Carl Crawford is next on the active-player stolen base list with 414.

Stealing a base has been a dying art, but there are small signs that it is again becoming a point of emphasis. That’s good, because I always felt a sense of anticipation when Brock reached first base. I felt the same during the Whitey Herzog era in St. Louis. Herzog built his team around speed to fit the stadium in which the Cardinals played. Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Lonnie Smith were all great sprinters who happened to be good baseball players, too.

Those fast St. Louis teams rank among my all-time favorites.

The Cardinals of today steal about a base a week. Running is not Tony La Russa’s thing; the Cardinals have had only one player reach 20 stolen bases since 2004 – Cesar Izturis swiped 24 in 2008.

Shockers’ OPS list full of familiarity

* Wichita State junior catcher Chris O’Brien is having an All-America like season behind the plate and especially at the plate.

Chris O'Brien

O’Brien, who has come into his own as offensive force this season, is batting .408 with 23 doubles, seven homers and 59 RBI as the Shockers prepare for a game tonight against Oral Roberts.

O’Brien has a slugging percentage of .631 and an on-base percentage of .477. That’s a combined 1.108 OPS (combined slugging and on-base percentage) and I knew it had to be among the best in Shocker history.

It is, provided you consider ranking No. 32 as being among the best.

It’s been a while since a Wichita State lineup produced the way the Shockers used to back in the day. You can make a case that the 2008 team that came within a game of reaching the College World Series before dropping a Super Regional series to Florida State was that type of team, and indeed two Shockers from the ’08 squad rank above O’Brien in OPS.

I think OPS is a great indicator of a player’s offensive worth. Not only does it value hitting the ball and hitting it for power, it also rewards walks and other less glamorous ways of getting on base. And O’Brien is clearly the offensive force of the Shockers’ team in 2011. Interestingly, his father, Charlie, is one of the players who has had a better OPS as a Shocker. Here’s the full list:

1. Pat Magness, 1.431, 1998

2. Jeff Ryan, 1.415, 1998

3. Russ Morman, 1.369, 1983

4. Mike Davis, 1.333, 1980

5. Phil Stephenson, 1.324, 1981

6. Mark Standiford, 1.318, 1988

7. Joe Carter, 1.311, 1979

8. Phil Stephenson, 1.308, 1982

9. Eric Wedge, 1.265, 1989

10. Phil Stephenson, 1.264, 1980

11. Joe Carter, 1.249, 1980

12. Zach Sorensen, 1.246, 1998

13. Phil Stephenson, 1.244, 1979

14. Bruce Morrison, 1.241, 1979

15. Bob Bomerito, 1.223, 1978

16. Kevin Penner, 1.220, 1983

17. Casey Blake, 1.210, 1996

18. Joe Carter, 1.205, 1981

19. Russ Morman, 1.199, 1982

20. Conor Gillaspie, 1.197, 2008

21. Mark Standiford, 1.187, 1985

22. Bruce Morrison, 1.181, 1981

23. Jim Spring, 1.178, 1983

24. Tim Raley, 1.175, 1987

25. Jason Adams, 1.165, 1995

26. Drew Moffitt, 1.158, 2004

27. Dan Juenke, 1.147, 1985

28. Damon sublett, 1.142, 2006

29. Darren Dreiford, 1.141, 1993

30. Mike McDonald, 1.132, 1989

31. Andy Dirks, 1.130, 2008

32. Charlie O’Brien, 1.120, 1981

33. Toby Smith, 1.110, 1993

34. Chris O’Brien, 1.108, 2011

* You can argue Phil Jackson suffered a blow to his legacy Sunday while his Lakers were being blown out and classless during a Game 4 playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks while potentially on the cusp of being blown up.

I don’t buy it.

Jackson certainly was as mortified as everyone else when Lakers center Andrew Bynum took a cheap shot with an elbow against the

Phil Jackson hangs with his best girl, Jeanie Buss.

Mavericks’ tiny point guard, J.J. Berea, late in Sunday’s long-since-decided game in the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals.

With that elbow, Bynum not only knocked Berea to the floor, but also smacked his legendary coach upside the skull with inexcusable disrespect that made Jackson’s final game as a coach – if indeed, it is – memorable for all the wrong reasons.

In the right world, the Lakers would have taken their lumps like men. Bynum and Lamar Odum, who delivered a cheap-shot screen against Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki just a few minutes before Bynum cracked Berea, would have come out of the game in the fourth quarter with their dignity. They would have approached the bench and given a hug to the coach – the man – who has done so much for the Lakers and for them.

Instead, both were chided as they left the court at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, disgraced and you would think totally humiliated by their behavior.

Yet Bynum wasn’t apologetic after the game. He might be more so when NBA commissioner David Stern hands down what should be a lengthy suspension (I’m hoping for 10 games) to start the 2011-12 season.

Jackson, meanwhile, appears to be headed to his ranch in Montana with his gal pal, Jeanie Buss, the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss. He takes with him 11 NBA championships, making him the most successful coach in the league’s history. Whether he’s the best coach in NBA history can be argued. I tend to believe he is while others point out that he was dealt hands that included Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Yes, he was. But all great coaches have great players. And coaching in the NBA is all about handling the egos and personalities of egomaniacs, especially in this day and age. Nobody has been better at that than Jackson, although it appears he finally lost control of this team.

You could sense that Jackson struggled with the notion of returning this season after the Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. But, as he noted during his post-game news conference Sunday, the allure of chasing a three-peat held special incentive. It was clear, though, that he found out early on this season that the Lakers probably didn’t have the right players, or the right chemistry, to be able to pull it off.

It was strange to hear Jackson say – out loud – that he was glad the season was over. That’s not the usual spiel from a coach who has just lost in the playoffs. But when he said it, I believed him. And I felt happy for him.

Jackson maintained his class while those around him toss theirs to the ground. Best of all, he doesn’t have to clean up the mess.