What’s cooking in Houston?

Living less than 200 miles from Houston, I should be a Texan fan. But I have no affinity for this team, one of only four who have never appeared in the Super Bowl. In fact, no professional football team from Houston has played in a Super Bowl.

Granted, the Texans have only existed since 2002. But Houston had the Oilers until 1996, so the fourth largest city in the country has had an NFL team in 48 of the 54 years the Super Bowl has been played. I repeat, no Super Bowl appearance.

I asked my son today for his reaction to the Texans trading for Brandin Cooks, and he summed it up like this: Houston got rid of the best receiver in the league and replaced him with a castoff from three different teams. The logic also escapes me.

In a nutshell, what GM/Coach Bill O’Brien did was trade DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and Cooks since the Texans sent the same second-round pick they had received from Arizona for Hopkins to the Rams in the Cooks deal.

Yes, this is the second time this offseason, the Texans have  traded for an offensive player with declining skills and plenty of risk. Does anyone in their right mind believe Cooks can replace Hopkins as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver?

From a fantasy perspective, I don’t know if this elevates Cooks. He gets an upgrade at quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who has a career 66.8 percent completion rate and an 8.1 yard per attempt average. But there are other mouths to feed.

In Los Angeles, Cooks had to share targets with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. In Houston, Cooks will have to share with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. On the Left Coast, Cooks’ exit helps Kupp, who has become Jared Goff’s favorite receiver.

Texan fans can hope Cooks returns to his pre-2019 form, when he more than 1,000 years from 2015-2018. But Doubting Thomas has his doubts. Cooks had some success early in 2019, but concussions in Weeks 5 and 8 derailed his season.

I was already wondering what O’Brien was thinking when he traded Hopkins for Johnson, another player with declining skills. Did he watch any film on Johnson? This was a trade one unnamed NFL executive called “a joke.”

Texans owner Cal McNair clearly believed in O’Brien when he decided to forgo hiring another general manager after firing Brian Gaine last Summer. Wearing two hats gives O’Brien all the power in making personnel decisions.

Gaine,  who was handpicked by O’Brien after the latter got his contract extension, apparently fell out of favor. Perhaps, O’Brien told McNair he could do a better job than Gaine. I wonder if McNair is beginning to have his doubts.



The love of money

Instead of working out in preparation for the upcoming NFL season (if there is one), Todd Gurley took to Twitter yesterday to complain about the Rams not sending him his paycheck. The timing of this tweet showed a lack of sensitivity.

Memo to Gurley. More than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three weeks (10 percent of the workforce). With the COVID-19 pandemic insuring there will be millions more, clearly these people need money more than you.

It’s not as though other NFL players haven’t shared their wealth with those less fortunate. Matt Ryan, Jared Goff and Russell Wilson, just to name a few, The NFL has donated more than $35 million as part of the COVID-19 relief efforts.

But Gurley’ greed comes as no surprise to those of us who have followed his career since his college days in Georgia. I remember when Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for taking $3,000 over two years for signed autographs and memorabilia.

Hey, Todd, maybe it’s time to think about someone besides yourself. With your $45 million in guarantees from the Rams and your $5.5 million with the Falcons, why don’t you share your immense wealth with some of those less fortunate folks?

Gurley reportedly gave his life to Jesus Christ in 2012. As a college Freshman, Gurley joined two Bulldogs teammates in baptism one Sunday. He tweeted back then that “It felt great to see so many people give their life over to the Lord.”

But wasn’t it the same Lord, Jesus Christ, who said: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth?” And an apostle named Paul also warned about loving money: “Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith.”


We need sports now

“The American people need sports right now,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said yesterday during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I think that’s something most sports fans would agree on at this point.

On the 29th day of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re still sheltering in our homes. I spend most of my day in front of my computer. Replays of classic sports are playing on ESPN. The problem is that I already know who won those games.

“That’s typically something that’s really brought us through a lot of tough situations in our country,” Brees said in his interview with Ellen DeGeneres. “People have been able to lean on a lot of sports teams or national teams to just unite them.”

Yesterday, I wrote about how the 1968 Detroit Tigers united a city torn apart by racial strife. We’ve seen sports do this repeatedly through the years. People can forget about their problems and their differences and rally around their team.

When the coronavirus became a pandemic four weeks ago, sports stopped, along with everything else. Now, I need to ask a question that goes beyond the world of sports. Has the solution to the crisis become worse than the virus itself?

No one knows the full impact of what social distancing and isolation has done. The economic, social and above all, human cost of the total shutdown policy can’t be measured yet. But suffice it to say that it has been devastating,

We hear about how the spread of coronavirus creates a curve of the number of people infected. But the economic shutdown is creating a curve of the numbers of people affected, losing their jobs, their homes and their businesses.

At some point, we must say “enough.” It’s time to get back to work, and this includes our professional and amateur athletes. We need to see sporting events being played next month – even if they are played at first in empty stadiums.

Recalling Kaline and 1968

Hall of Famer Al Kaline,  known as Mr. Tiger after playing 22 years in Detroit,  died Monday at age 85.  Kaline’s career included 18 All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves in the outfield, a batting title at age the tender age of 20, and 3,007 career hits.

When I think of Kaline, I will always remember the 1968 World Series and how his Tigers stole the series from my St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds had been up 3-1 in the series but lost the fifth game in Detroit and the sixth at home.

But I wasn’t worried.  The Cardinals were playing game seven at home, with Bob Gibson on the mound. This was the same Gibson who pitched three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series, won by the Cardinals in seven over the Red Sox.

Gibson was even better in 1968. He posted a 1.12 ERA for the regular season and had recorded 17 strikeouts during Game 1. He also won game four in Detroit, and Cardinal fans knew he was going to deliver another world championship at Busch Stadium.

I was in the stands on that October day to witness one of the greatest pitching duels of all times between Gibson and Mickey Lolich. Gibson had retired 20 of the first 21 batters he had faced and looked unstoppable. Then the wheels fell off the wagon.

Two singles put the go-ahead runner in scoring position. Then Jim Northrup, a career .267 hitter with an OPS under .800, lifted a deep fly to center. I was sitting in the centerfield stands, and I could see the ball climbing as Flood raced in.

“No,” I cried out with 55,000 other helpless Cardinal fans as the ball dropped behind Flood. It’s really sad that Flood, a Gold glove winner for seven consecutive seasons, will always be remembered for that mistake.  The Cardinals lost that game 3-1.

But I digress. Back to Kaline, the son of a broom maker, who grew up to become one of the greatest ever to swing a bat. If he had hit one more career homer he would have been one of only 10 players in history with 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.

It was Kaline’s Tigers who united a troubled city, torn apart in 1968 by race riots. It was Kaline who scored the winning run two week earlier when the Tigers won the American League pennant by rallying in the ninth and beating the Yankees, 2-1.

Kaline’s playing days were just the start of his Tigers legacy. After hanging up his spikes, Kaline stepped into the broadcast booth as a television analyst, becoming familiar to a new generation of Detroit fans. He was with the organization for 67 years.


Playing fantasy baseball

I play in a fantasy football league each fall with my son and several friends. I have invited them to play fantasy baseball, but no one is interested. Too much work, they say. One of my friends commented that it’s like “a full-time job.”

There’s no doubt fantasy baseball takes more time and focus than fantasy football. In the latter, you have 13 weeks and the playoffs (if you qualify). You don’t have to look at your team, or the waiver wire, every day – especially early in the week.

With fantasy baseball, you have to look at your team every day. You have to check your roster and set your lineup, and you should be checking the waiver wire daily. Players are dropped and added much more frequently than in fantasy football.

I love it because I know that over a six-month season, my effort will be rewarded. There is less luck involved with baseball than in football because there are more games and there is also a larger player pool. You can replace players easier.

Since I can’t find enough friends to form a baseball league, I play in public leagues each year. If you’re just getting started, I would recommend you do the same thing. You can sign up for a league on ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports, and other sites.

Before you join a league, you must decide on a type of league. ESPN, for instance, has five scoring system: Roto, Head-to-Head Points, Head-to-Head Each Category, Head-to-Head Most Categories and Season Points. For me, the choice is easy.

In my opinion, Roto, or Rotisserie, is the oldest and best way to play fantasy baseball. Not everyone agrees. I mentioned in an earlier blog, my brother-in-law prefers Head-to-Head (H2H). I prefer Roto because there is less luck involved.

Roto scoring compares a team’s season totals to others in eight or ten categories. There is “4×4” and “5×5”, based on the number of statistical categories counted, as in four or five categories for hitters and four or five for pitchers.

The categories are batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases for hitters, and wins, saves, ERA and WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) for pitchers in 4×4, with runs scored for hitters and strikeouts for pitchers added in 5×5.

The scoring awards points to teams in descending order by standings rank in each category. These standings change as games are played and totals change, and the team with the most points after the season’s final game is the league champion

There’s an element of strategy in Roto not found in the other formats. As a manager, you must balance players’ individual accomplishments as well as each team’s statistical totals over the course of an entire season. This is not the case in points leagues.


Vive la différence

Yesterday, I discussed the possibility of MLB games starting in June, with a 140-game slate. If so, it’s likely that fantasy baseball drafts will resume when a start date is announced. Some of you have already drafted teams, but others have not.

When I was in Florida attending spring training games with my brother-in-law in February, before all this COVID-19 madness started, I watched Jack and his wife, Candy, draft teams. They are diehard Head-to-Head players, while I favor Rotisserie.

While the best players (i.e. Mike Trout) are still the best, there are some who fare better in one format than in the other.  In this blog, I want to highlight reasons why certain players fare better in Head-to-Head (H2H) and others in Rotisserie (Roto).

Please keep in mind that for the purpose of this blog, when I talk about H2H leagues, I am referring to points-based scoring rather than category-based 5×5 scoring. In categories-based leagues, players are valued about like they are in Roto.

In H2H leagues, there’s no need to balance categories. Every point a player produces is of benefit to you, and the benefit isn’t relative to what you already have. You must consider  the full scope of a player’s contributions, which is different than Roto.

In H2H, players have value if they excel in the areas not normally rewarded, like hitting doubles, drawing walks, avoiding strikeouts and, for pitchers, accumulating innings. Percentage stats like batting average, ERA and WHIP have no direct value.

First baseman Carlos Santana is a good example of a player who is more valuable in H2H than in Roto. Santana’s walk rate is consistently among the highest in baseball, and his strikeout rate is low, which helps in H2H but not in Roto.

On the other hand, first baseman Jose Abreu is better in Roto than Santana because he makes up for his lack of on-base skills (which go unrewarded in Roto) with a consistently high batting average (which goes unrewarded in H2H).

Yankees’ infielder D.J. LeMahieu was a stud in both formats last year, batting .327,  with 26 home runs and 100 plus runs and RBI. But I expect him to regress in home runs and batting average this year, which makes him less valuable in Roto.

Lastly, let’s consider outfielder Victor Robles, who stole 28 bases in his rookie season. A steal leader is gold in Roto because there are so few of them. But Robles’ low walk rate and high strikeout rate make him much less valuable in H2H.



What will MLB season look like?

In yesterday’s blog, I predicted an NFL season will be played. I put an MLB season in the “iffy” column, but most analysts think there will be one. If the COVID-19 curve flattens as predicted, there will be a season because so much money would be lost otherwise.

If there is a 2020 baseball season, what will it look like? The consensus is that there won’t be a full 162-game schedule, the playoffs would extend into November and postseason games would be played at neutral, warm-weather sites, or in domed stadiums.

There is a lot of speculation, of course, and no one knows anything for sure at this point. But according to baseball columnist Jeff Passan, who probably knows more than anyone else about what might happen, here’s what the season could look like:

  • Launch spring training in mid-May.
  • Begin the season in late May or early June and run into October with a schedule of about 140 games. The season was originally scheduled to end on Sept. 27.
  • Include more split doubleheaders than usual.
  • Possibly cancel the All-Star Game.
  • Add more teams than usual to the playoffs.

In my opinion, this is a fairly aggressive timeline. Other analysts are saying July 4th might be a more realistic start date. It’s the effectiveness of the coronavirus containment strategies that will determine when the season starts and how it starts.

Games played in June or July could be played without fans in the stands. This would still be profitable because with huge television deals, MLB teams rely less on ticket sales and in-stadium purchases (concessions, merchandise, etc.) than before.

I’m glad I decided to attend spring training games in February in Florida because those were the only games I will be attending in 2020. Rest assured, however, that I will be in front of my television set (and on my computer) watching them.