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As a draft filled with uncertainty at the position approaches, there are lessons to be learned from the profiles of (relatively) recent quarterback busts.

Here are their stories.

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MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Washington Nationals

It is easy to get too cute when thinking about pitching. For all the attention given Masahiro Tankaka’s splitter and Jose Fernandez’s curveball and Stephen Strasburg’s change up, there is no substitute for a good fastball.

There is no one set way to attack hitters but a good fastball goes an awful long way. Without one, pitchers are at the mercy of hitters to expand their zone and go after bad pitches.

Velocity isn’t everything but it certainly helps. Even a pitcher without his “peak” velocity can still dominate using a well-place fastball.

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matt cooke

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Two minutes into the second period of a scoreless game between Minnesota and Colorado, Jan Hejda ran the puck back to Tyson Barrie just inside the Avalanche blueline. Matt Cooke was playing the left side in the Wild’s neutral zone forecheck, and seeing the pass, he rightfully jumped the play.

The pass was long enough that it might have given him time to put some body on Barrie, so he set out to fulfill his job and do just that.

His timing off, and with Barrie reading the forecheck, it happened: the Avs’ best offensive defenseman jumped right, and feeling he might miss Barrie and come up empty, Cooke extended his knee left.

The result: Four to six weeks from now Barrie should be able to skate again after his MCL heals, and long before that, Matt Cooke will meet with the Department of Player Safety.

***

Names like Matt Cooke are not popular around the league. Their reputation precedes them, as will happen when you leave a trail of bodies in your wake over the length of your career. He’s been suspended, vilified, and has deserved just about all of it.

But there’s a reason players like Cooke have had such long, prosperous careers: they’re really good at what they do, and what they do (outside of injuring people) has value, particularly in a salary cap league.

***

I never liked playing against this particular genre of player for all the obvious reasons. They’re physical, in your face, usually dirty, and they make scoring harder. They made me fear for my well-being, and they were usually not that interested in reasoning. They exist more to antagonize than fight, so they were actually a much bigger burden on players of my ilk than pure tough guys. I always knew I’d never have to fight the thugs, but there was no avoiding the whacks from these guys.

On-ice contribution Read the rest of this entry »

Norwich City v Liverpool - Barclays Premier League

Liverpool Football Club has worked diligently all season toward their first league title since 1990. Now, at the end of April with the team on 80 points, five ahead of Chelsea, it is realistically within their grasp. Should they win the prize that many couldn’t over the past two and a half decades, they will have earned every last inch of the trophy.

Even so, Liverpool’s triumph will have been aided heavily by some fairly unsustainable numbers, numbers which should spur Brendan Rodgers to action in the club’s off-season.

On the surface, Liverpool’s dominance is something a statistical outlier (“That’s cuz those numbers don’t explain passion and romance! etc. etc.”).

Why? Well their shots ratio, which has held steady most of the season, is ranked 5th in the Premier League (for an explanation of all these concepts, read this piece).

Meanwhile Liverpool’s PDO (sh% plus sv%, a measure of good luck when well above the median of 1000 and bad when well below) is high but not screamingly high at 109.47 (thanks Ben).

At first glance, it’s difficult to see where Brendan Rodgers is getting his secret sauce. Taken together, based on how well TSR correlates with points (and how quickly PDO regresses to the mean), these numbers shouldn’t really put Liverpool top of the table on 80 points with three games to go. This is a low probability event.

I’ve posited before that Game States might hold some of the answer. LFC spend a lot of time winning, which means a lot of time at at least a +1 game state. What does that mean? Well teams at +1 tend to take fewer (but generally more accurate) shots and concede more, which would in theory lower their overall TSR. Yet Man City have spent even more time winning than LFC and their TSR is sky high, commensurate with a first or near first finish.

Maybe that’s because City build up leads, which tends to diminish the GS effect (at +2, things start to revert back to normal). Or maybe City’s TSR is skewed by a small number of games in which they wildly outshot inferior opposition.

Maybe though something else is going on, and this is where we arrive at this pair of tweets from James Grayson which I nearly missed yesterday, but that carry a difficult truth for Liverpool FC.

Shots on target percentage is exactly what it says it is—the percentage of total shots which are on target, for and against. You can measure this percentage against your average opposition SoT%, and come up with a differential. Liverpool’s is evidently quite high.

Why does this matter? Well as Grayson worked out last year, SoT% is roughly split between luck and skill. As Grayson notes in the second tweet, In Liverpool’s case it would explain why a team with a mediocre TSR and a not-that-high PDO is rocking it in first place.

The temptation in Liverpool’s case would be to look at LFC’s very high SoTF% and their very low SoTA% and conclude, “It must be something Brendan’s doing on the training pitch.” This was my line of thinking yesterday when I speculated on why LFC’s differential is so high.

Yet this would only make sense if SoT% for and against was consistent at the team level year over year. So then, here’s the bad news, at least as far as next season is concerned:

In other words, their SoT%s are going to regress. And if LFC post a similar TSR and PDO next season but with a much lower SoTF% and SoTA% differential, they likely won’t finish near or at first place.

Does this mean Liverpool aren’t worthy of their Premier League trophy, should they win it? Of course not. You win it on points, not on abstract probabilities.

What it does mean is that the team should consider seriously strengthening their squad ahead of next season.

Regression is never a popular subject in sports, let alone football. No one wants to believe their team is winning on the back of random variation. We want everything on the pitch to be explainable, even if we know, like all football-loving folk, that luck plays a big role from game to game, hence the mantra about championship teams winning matches “they should have lost.”

Liverpool will deserve their PL trophy, should they win it. But they shouldn’t fall prey to complacency. Look what it did to Moyes’ United.

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It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which losing six games in a row could be positive, but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently stuck in a four-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff entries, the half dozen straight defeats that led the team to this point seem especially horrific.

On Tuesday night, Toronto suffered its most recent failure, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily throughout the game, not unfairly tagged as a primary accomplice to his team being outshot 49-25.

It was a bad day at the office, and as a result, the defenseman opted out of his obligation to speak to the media following the loss. This, to the many pundits who weighed in following Phaneuf’s no-show, represented an atrocious lack of leadership, and partly explained Toronto’s recent struggles.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when Phaneuf phoned in to a local sports talk radio show to explain himself, after one of the hosts ranted about the player’s notable absence following his poor performance.

To be completely honest with you, I was emotional about the game. I didn’t want to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel bad about not being available. At that point in time, I was disappointed in the way that I played and I was emotional after the game. That’s why I did not talk.

As sports fans, we grow to accept the flawed “conventional wisdom” force fed to us by years of following our favorite players and teams through newspapers, television and radio.

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As some of you may be aware, I recently started a new gig here at theScore that sees me write/talk about the NBA as a whole on a full-time basis, so while I won’t be able to provide RaptorBlog posts and general Raptors commentary with nearly the same regularity, I hope you’ll continue to read/listen along with me this season (You can read my season preview here and my predictions here).

As for the Raptors, what I’m going to try to do is take some time every weekend to post my wide ranging thoughts on the week that was in Raps Land, in a similar fashion to how I usually wrote my “Thoughts On the Game” posts. Again, I’m hoping you’ll stop by on weekends to get the little bit of Raptors ranting I’m still able to do on a regular basis.

Other than, most of my Raptors thoughts and observations can be found through twitter, where I’m prone to my fair share of passionate Raps-related tirades.

As for the coming season, I’m predicting a 40-42 season for Toronto that results in a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, though if Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star report proves correct, Masai Ujiri and MLSE may blow things up before such a mediocre finish is allowed to fully take rot.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s source indicates a 45-day deadline for the Raptors, which would take us to December 13. The Raps play Philadelphia in the 21st game of the season that night, and I’ve got them as a 10-11 (7-14 worst case scenario, 12-9 best case scenario) team at that point, so the question is really what will Ujiri find acceptable to continue with, and what’s his line in the sand of ‘we can’t go on like this’?

I also feel like with the Honeymoon period that exists between Raptors fans and Ujiri, he wouldn’t have lost any support had he decided to blow things up as soon as he got here to put this team in a better position to properly take a strategic step backwards this season, so I don’t quite understand the point of now reportedly setting a hard deadline on whether to tank or not if that’s they’ve wanted all along.

In any event, a Raptors season opener wouldn’t feel quite right without at least a little drama (last year it was DeRozan’s extension), so let’s get this intriguing season of questions under way, shall we?

I know Stripes and Drake are ready…are you?

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For the first time ever in a UFC video game, EA Sports’ upcoming UFC title will feature playable female characters, headlined by UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and top bantamweight contender Miesha Tate.

“This is a great moment for videogames and for Mixed Martial Arts,” said Dean Richards, General Manager, EA SPORTS UFC. “In our commitment to delivering the most realistic fighting experience ever achieved, we wanted to represent the full spectrum of talent and diversity of all the fighters in the sport, including women who have become an undeniable force to be reckoned with.”

Programming note: Fin.

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I’m not one for long goodbyes, but as previously mentioned in our last show, TBJ and theScore are going in separate directions, meaning this post marks the end of our tenure here.

Thank you to theScore for the opportunity to make something that shows just how much fun the NBA can be. And thank you most of all to anyone who’s listened, watched, read, commented, emailed or in any other way been even a small part of TBJ over the past three years. It has been awesome.

Please follow all of our Twitter accounts to see what the future holds. We’re very excited for our next step, you will be too and the season starts soon, so don’t worry too much.

Bye for now.