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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fun With Lineups And Other Stuff

Feel like procrastinating? Give the 2006 Projection Lineup Toy a shot. Beautiful in its simplicity, here's how it works. First, you select nine baseball players (hitters only). Then the toy takes projected stats from the coming season (you can select one of two projection methods) and spits out a suggested batting order. The formula it uses is as follows:

1. Put the best OPS in 3rd
2. Put the best remaining SLG in 4th
3. Put the best remaining OBPs in 1st and 2nd (with the better SLG in 2nd)
4. Arrange the remaining players in order of descending SLG

I gave it a shot using the Phillies' projected starters (and used Tomas Perez as the ninth player, because I knew he'd be suggested as the pitcher's spot in the ninth hole). Here's what I got:

1. Pat Burrell
2. Chase Utley
3. Bobby Abreu
4. Ryan Howard
5. Aaron Rowand
6. Jimmy Rollins
7. Mike Lieberthal
8. David Bell

Very interesting. I like how the bottom of the order turned out - J-Roll's OBP just isn't leadoff material. However, Burrell leading off? That's a little silly. I wouldn't mind seeing Abreu get a shot at the top of the order - he gets on base and he can also steal a base. I'd move Rowand up to second (I hate the suggestions that Bell should bat second - please bury that guy as far down the order as possible). Then bat Utley third and Burrell behind Howard. Alternatively, switch Burrell and Howard so that the top six in the order alternate L-R-L-R-L-S. Of course, it's all a moot point, because Rollins is entrenched in the leadoff spot and everything will follow from there.

For more fun, I tried out a possible lineup for the U.S. and the Dominican for the upcoming World Baseball Classic (the teams I expect to meet in the final). What I got (taking a guess at starters, and using players I think are still going to play):

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Chipper Jones, 3B
3. Derrek Lee, 1B
4. Mark Teixeira, DH
5. Ken Griffey Jr., LF
6. Chase Utley, 2B
7. Vernon Wells, RF
8. Jason Varitek, C
9. Johnny Damon, CF

That's pretty good, but I don't know if it compares to this lineup:

1. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
2. Vladimir Guerrero, RF
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Wily Mo Pena, CF
6. Miguel Tejada, SS
7. Jose Guillen, LF
8. Alfonso Soriano, 2B
9. Ronny Paulino, C

Wow. How does a pitcher even think about getting through the 2-4 hitters in that order unscathed? The U.S. better hope it can outpitch the Dominican, or the Dominicans could cruise.


As part of Bob Costas's introduction to last night's closing ceremonies, he noted, "You know, I'm guessing Andrea Bocelli never imagined that he would one day find himself on the same bill as Ricky Martin and Avril Lavigne. But the Olympics do bring people together."

Actually, I saw Andrea Bocelli perform at Live 8 in Paris this summer, where he shared a bill with, among others, Muse and Shakira, so I don't think the tenor was particularly surprised by his fellow performers at the closing ceremonies.

Nice try at capturing the Olympic spirit, though, Bob.

(By the way, did you know Andrea Bocelli is also blind and a lawyer? And here I thought Ben Affleck's character in Daredevil was the best-known blind lawyer out there.)


You don't want to be a terrorist, do you?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

One Reason Why I Like The Olympics

You hear it often: Athletes are just like you and me. Were it not for their 95-mph fastball, or their 4.2 40, or their seven-foot height, they'd be leading the same lives as we do. They'd drive around town in a Camry, grab lunch at Subway, and drink Bud Light because it's on special at the bar. Well, that's not the case. Because of their physical gifts, a handful are able to command millions in salary and lead lifestyles that end up inspiring shows like ESPN Hollywood.

The Olympics are different. Excepting athletes like Bode Miller and Sasha Cohen, who are acutely aware of their celebrity, the athletes who go the the games really are, for the most part, like you and me. They work jobs at Home Depot so they can train in their event. You wouldn't recognize them if you walked by them on the street.

And, like a lot of other people in their demographic, they do things like put up MySpace pages.

Meet skier Ted Ligety. As you can see from his page, this guy is exactly like someone you knew in college. He would like you to know this about him:
well im a virgo...i like long walks on the beach and sunsets while holding a lover. hahaha i enjoy being extremely sarcartic, while making fun of myself and myspace. but really... I ski 90% of of all waking hours of my life yet only think of it 10% (cuz my mind is always in the gutter!!).
Like most any straight guy, he digs Maria Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova. And hey, the guy drinks Keystone Light:That's him in the Nike shirt. I feel like I was at that party, probably because I've been to dozens just like it.

But you know what happens when you send that guy with his arms around his boys with the 'Stones to Turin and put him on top of a mountain? He proves that he is the best skier in the world in the men's combined slalom.How cool is that? I happened to catch this particular medal ceremony on TV, and it was awesome to watch. When the U.S. anthem played, his face was a picture of awe and emotion, and you could just tell that here was a guy who probably worked his ass off to do exactly what he had just done, and now he had the satisfaction of a mind-blowing sense of accomplishment, backed by the pride of a nation.

Tomorrow, there will be 6.5 billion people on this planet. I wonder what it's like to know that not a single one of them is better than you at something. It must be a staggering feeling. I mean, there are a lot of things that I'm good at, but to be the best? In the entire world?


And the coolest part is that this guy, who is better than 6,499,999,999 people at what he does, is really just like a lot of them.UPDATE: Deadspin has linked to Ted's MySpace page (I confess, it was I who tipped them to it), so I suggest checking it out before he notices an unusual spike in people requesting to add him as a friend and cleans it up. Then again, he may not give a crap and keep it the way it is, which is probably more likely.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Jack Bauer, NBC Olympic Commentator

These days, America needs heroes. And where better to look for a hero than to a man who has died for his country - twice? I speak, of course, about Jack Bauer. Unfortunately, Jack Bauer is fictional. Instead, we have to look to reality for heroes, and so some people turn to the Olympic Games for stories of human triumph. NBC, the host network for the Games, has been having some struggles with keeping ratings up in the face of competition from American Idol and other shows, though, so I got to thinking.

What better way to give ratings a boost - or even a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart - than by having Jack Bauer help broadcast the events?

Cue dream sequence effects...

Bob Costas: Good evening, and welcome to Day Three of our coverage of the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino. The big story today was in the men's downhill, where American favorite Bode Miller finished fifth. Let's go to Sestriere, where our reporter is with the controversial skier.
Jack Bauer: Bauer.
Costas: Jack, it's Bob Costas back in the studio. How is Bode Miller taking his fifth-place finish in the downhill?
Bauer: Well, Bob, I spoke with him earlier, and here's what he had to say.
Bode Miller: The variables that determine a ski race are too many to count.
Bauer: What?
Miller: The way Deneriaz skied today, he was pretty much untouchable.
Bauer: Look, Bode, I'm done talking with you, you understand me? Now you read my file. First thing I'm gonna do is take out your right eye, then I'm gonna move over to your left, and then I'm gonna cut you, and I'm gonna keep cutting at you until I get the information that I need. Do you understand me?
[quick cut back to Costas in the studio]
Costas: Uh, interesting stuff there, Jack. I understand you also spoke with Shaun White about his gold medal run in the half pipe today.
Bauer: Yeah. But let's get something straight, Bob. The only reason Shaun White is still conscious is because I don't want to carry him.


Ted Robinson: ...we are just about to hit the last lap here in the semifinal of the 1,500 meter short track race, and Apolo Anton Ohno still hasn't made his move to the front of the pack. Here he goes now, trying to pass Li Ye of China on the outside! No! He stumbles! Ohno will not be in the final!
Bauer: DAMMIT!


Scott Hamilton: ...so, a good performance by Johnny Weir in the short program, and we'll go down to Jack Bauer, who's with the American right now.
Bauer: Johnny, a strong showing tonight. Where do you think this sets you up heading into the free program?
Johnny Weir: I wasn't expecting that. To show that the judges are giving me that kind of support, that kind of love is really encouraging for the free program.
Bauer: How could you think the judges wouldn't give you high scores?
Weir: I know that a lot of people, especially the more Republican-style people, are very afraid of what I mean to the sport and what I'’m going to say, what kind of revolutionary, crazy things are going to come out of my mouth. Good for them; they should be scared.
Bauer: Listen to me, Johnny. You probably don't think I could force this towel down your throat, but trust me, I can. All the way. Except that I'd hold onto this little bit at the end. When your stomach starts to digest the towel, I pull it out. Taking your stomach lining with it. Most people probably take about a week to die. It's very painful.
Weir: Eek!


Mike Emrick: ...one minute remaining in the third period, and the U.S. looks like they will have to settle for a disappointing tie with Latvia.


Oh, by the way, the field of 24 on American Idol has been submitted to the public for its voting pleasure. Sometime in the next few days, I'll get around to a few picks there, but in the meantime, just remember - I picked Katharine McPhee to win back on February 2, even before the entire Hollywood crew was selected.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I Want To Ride It All Night Long

From Beerleaguer:
Phillies purchase contract of indie league pitcher
The Phillies purchased the contract of pitcher Tom Cochrane from the Ohio Valley Red Coats of the Frontier League. Cochrane went 7- 6 with a 4.73 ERA while striking out 109 in 19 games.
If they don't play "Life Is A Highway" when this guy comes into the game, someone needs to be fired.

Unfortunately, his name is actually spelled "Cochran." But that doesn't really matter now, does it?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Three Bad Reasons To Bet On The Steelers (Or, Pick Like A Champion Today)

I still stand by my pick that the Seahawks will win SBXL today, but the Steelers have unquestionably been the popular pick over the last two weeks, and a conversation I recently had confirmed this. Some of these picks are based on good football reasoning. These are good reasons to bet on the Steelers. However, (while I will not break down blitz packages or anything) I will give you... Three bad reasons to bet on the Steelers.

1. The Seahawks had the easiest schedule in the NFL this year.

My friend Z pointed out to me that the Seahawks were not as strong as they appeared, since they played in a weak division and stacked their record against a bunch of cupcakes. I don't really see how this is a knock against the 'Hawks. They don't control who they play; the NFL gives them opponents and they play the games. And it wasn't as though Seattle barely made it into the playoffs; they were the top seed in the NFC, proud owners of the second-best record in football. Good teams win the games against the weak opponents, which is exactly what the Seahawks did. How did they do against good teams? Well, they beat the Colts (best record in the regular season), they lost to the Redskins (in overtime, and then they avenged that loss in the playoffs), and they lost to the Jaguars (in week 1).

The point is this - you don't get to the Super Bowl without being a good team. If you made it this far, you have a chance to beat one more team.

2. Pittsburgh is a blue-collar city; Seattle is drowning in rain and lattes.

I think people see the Steelers as a hard-nosed, tough-to-beat football team because they are from a blue-collar city, they have a hard-ass team name, they have a running back nicknamed "The Bus," and they have classic uniforms that have changed little, if at all, since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have a balding quarterback, play in a city known for tech nerds, coffee, and rain, and have uniforms that look like the Blue Man Group.

Witness:However, this has absolutely nothing to do with what happens on the football field. Cleveland and Detroit? Also blue-collar cities. And their football teams suck!

3. You know more about the Steelers than you do about the Seahawks.

Yes, East Coast Bias exists. If it's in Eastern Standard Time, a team will receive more coverage than its counterpart in Pacific Standard Time. Therefore, the public (and media) generally know more about the Steelers than the Seahawks, and they feel more comfortable going with what they know.

Why does East Coast Bias exist? Here's my theory, based on my experiences at ESPN. When you watch the late SportsCenter (or ESPNews), it's the same show, over and over, until about noon the next day. They record it and then go home for the night. So when a game in, say, Pittsburgh ends at about 10 p.m. EST, there's time to put together a good highlight package, maybe throw in an instant analysis from Sean Salisbury, whatever, before the final product is aired, recorded, and looped. However, when a game in Seattle ends at 1 a.m. EST, everyone wants to get out of the studio ASAP, so they put together the highlights as the game is going on (you'll sometimes notice that a West Coast game's highlights are heavier on plays early in the game). Then, once the highlight package is complete, the talent will record the segment quickly and bust it out of there. No analysis. Sean Salisbury is already home or at the bar. So the West Coast highlights get the short end of the stick.

Now, admittedly, this applies more to hockey, baseball, and basketball, since there are more night games in these sports. But on the other hand, NFL Prime Time replays after the Sunday Night Football game ends - without the highlights from the Sunday Night Football game. So you can see my point. Don't fear the unknown, just because you've heard more about Troy Polamalu's hair than you have about the man with the coolest name in football, Mack Strong.

Anyway, with these caveats in mind, go ahead and take the Steelers if you want. But don't take them for stupid reasons such as "I like that Ben Roethlisberger - he's just like me!"Pick like a champion today.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Three Very Specific Predictions For 2006

1. Ryan Franklin will allow at least 41 home runs.

You probably didn't hear it here first, if you follow the Phillies, but about a month ago, the Phils picked up pitcher Ryan Franklin, who is currently slated to be the fifth starter. Assuming Franklin stays healthy for the whole season and keeps his starting job, he will have one of the ten worst seasons, in terms of homers allowed, in baseball history.

The Phillies play in Citizens Bank Park, which has been repeatedly shown to be one of the most homer-friendly parks in the majors. Even though they're moving the left-field fence back a few feet this season, I still think it'll be conducive to the longball. It should still be more so than Safeco Field, where Franklin used to pitch as a Mariner. It's a myth that Safeco dampens home run numbers - it ranked 15th in HR park factor last season - but it's still easier to keep a ball in the yard there than it is in Philly.

Franklin is just the type of pitcher to take a beating in Citizens Bank Park. He's a fly ball pitcher, words that should not go together. In each of the last three seasons, he's been in the top 10 in the AL in homers allowed, including 2003, when he led the league. Check out Franklin's fly ball ratio (first graph) over the last four seasons - he consistently allows them more often than he does grounders. The blue line represents fly balls; the green line is grounders; the red line is line drives. Blue shouldn't be on top. You don't want your pitchers giving up the booty like that. For a comparison, check out NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter's graph (second graph). Notice that the ground balls are much, much more plentiful than the fly balls, even before Carpenter got hurt in '02. So what will Franklin's graph look like this year? I'm afraid we could be looking at something like Eric Milton (third graph), who in 2004 got burned for 43 homers in Citizens Bank Park's inaugural season. Goo! Over 50 percent fly balls!

Anyway, I hope this prediction is wrong. I hope Ryan Franklin turns out to keep his fly ball and homer numbers down, win 15 games, and turn the Schuylkill into wine. If that happens, this prediction will be long forgotten, a relic of the blogosphere. And if I'm right and Franklin serves up a ton of gopher balls, then I can at least say I saw it coming 10 months ago.

2. Katharine McPhee will win American Idol.

Yep, there are still two cities left to audition, and there must be about 200 people going to Hollywood, and about 150 of them will never even get the chance to sing for the voting public. So I don't even know for sure if she'll make it that far. But I just have a hunch about Katharine McPhee, a 21-year-old from San Francisco.

Eventually, there will be odds somewhere on who will win Idol. Sportsbook.com already has odds on whether the winner will be female (5-6) or male (1-1). When the odds on the individual contestants come out, if she's still in the running, I'm going to put five bucks on her, because in the early going, she couldn't possibly be more than a 20-1 shot.

3. The Seahawks will win Super Bowl XL.

I have no analysis to offer that has not otherwise been said at some point during the past two weeks, so I will only give the pick: 23-20, Seattle.

For the second straight year, the Pennsylvania team will rally late and fall short by a field goal.

And the halftime show will suck.