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I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

On Wednesday, January 18, 2017, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote for enshrinement to the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. The BBWAA holds the keys to such an elite fraternity, which must be a daunting task. They are voting on players to proverbially sit next to Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mathewson and the like.  As done in years past, I will provide my ballot as if I were a BBWAA member.

Here is the full 2017 Ballot (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)

There are a few major factors that cannot be ignored when it comes to voting.

1) The specter over the Hall will continue to be Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) use in baseball primarily in the 1990s, for which many players accused are now appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot.  There are players whose performance clearly merits first ballot election, however because of their associated with substances that enhanced their performance, members of the BBWAA has been hesitant to cast votes their way.  Because the official voting rules include the words "integrity, sportsmanship, and character" and integrity, so their reluctance is justified in my mind.  For my selection, I will not presume guilt, but if there is legal (including Mitchell Report) or anecdotal evidence of PED use, I will strongly weigh against voting.  I'm not alone, since fewer than half of voters have written in Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who no doubt Hall of Famers if not for PEDs.

2) A batch of candidates making their way onto the ballot or relief pitchers who specialized in finishing games in which their team was winning by 3 or fewer runs.  In other words, closers.  To date, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, and Goose Gossage are the modern day versions in the Hall.  Three candidates on the ballot have more saves than each of them.  It's a measure of how the game has changed (with the advent of the specialty closer0 whether or not they get strong consideration from the BBWAA.

3) A final point of discussion is how to handle starting pitching.  Whereas the 300 win plateau used to be a norm, it's become increasingly more difficult to get wins in the era of specialty relievers with starters leaving the game before the end of the sixth inning many times in close games.  Conversely, however, one would think this would benefit starting pitchers ERA by seldom going through a lineup more than 3 times.  In the end, I strongly weigh dominance over a discernible period of time, along with Cy Young Awards, All-Star games, Win titles, and ERA.

4) There is also first and last ballot bias.  First ballot some BBWAA voters will hold their vote to protect some sort of integrity of being a "first ballot hall of famer".  Evidence, three voters who did not include Ken Griffey Jr. last year.  Likewise, when a player is on his last ballot, voters who previously withheld tend to pay a bit more attention to their candidacy considering it's a final shot.  So a bump is normal (not significant, but 5% ish).


With a limit of ten players on a ballot, here are the players I would put on my ballot (in order of credibility).  I don't use all ten votes.

1) Vladimir Guerrero - A five tool player (.319 average. 449 HR, top arm/glove in the league, and plus speed). Nine All-Star Games, an MVP, and a hit title.  His career numbers fall short of some major benchmarks (like 500 HR) as he retired at age 36.  If he had taken PEDs he might have played another 5 years and approached 600 HR.  No doubt one of the most feared hitters for a decade or so.

Factors against him: Lack of single team identity, no World Series titles, first ballot bias

To me, he meets all of the criteria and should get in with about 80% of vote.

2) Jeff Bagwell - He was an offensive machine in the mid-1990's, career numbers reflect that (.297, 449 HR, 1529 RBI). More walks than anyone else on the ballot besides Bonds and Sheffield (fear factor and eye), .408 OBP.  He also stole 200 bases and was an above average 1B (Gold Glove in the closet). No hard evidence of PED's, although suspicion without evidence seems to be an argument against.  His numbers are nearly identical to Vlad yet he sits here in his seventh year on the ballot.

Factors against him: Perceived use of PEDs, playing in a small market, lack of postseason success.

At 71.6% last year, it would be historic if he dropped back from that.  He'll get in this time (just barely, not much over 77%).

3) Trevor Hoffman - One of two members of the 600 career save club (and we know the other will get in first ballot).  That's 40 saves per year for 15 years (average).  Seven All-Star appearances and twice finished runner up in the Cy Young, which is rare for a reliever.

Factors against him: reliever bias, played in a small market, was probably never the number one reliever at any given time

At 67.3% last year, the first ballot bias should be overcome. The NL reliever of the year award is named after him, he'll get in with 81% of the vote or so.

4) Ivan Rodriguez - The only think moving him from number 1 to number 4 is potential PED suspicions.  Note that for Rodribues, the evidence against him is mostly anecdotal (from Jose Canseco).  I suspect he was using, but not extensively.  That behind us, his numbers as a catcher are elite:  .296 average, 311 HR, an MVP, best arm behind the plate in the game and a great teammate.  Ten straight Gold Gloves (six of those years he won a Silver Slugger).

Factors against him: Perceived PEDs, first ballot bias

Tough to forecast if he'll make the cut due to PED suspicions.  There might be enough to hold back their vote to keep him in the 65% range.  Most interesting total to see on the ballot IMO.

5) Larry Walker - He was another 5-tool player, finished his career with a .313 batting average, higher than anyone else on the ballot besides Vladimir Guerrero.  Let me repeat that, second highest batting average of anybody on the ballot. Also stole 200 bases, also hit 383 home runs. He has so many gold gloves he probably had to build an extra section on his trophy case. Like Bagwell, he won one MVP. He's also a member of the .400 OBP club (with Bagwell, Manny Ramirez, Bonds, and Edgar Martinez the only four on the ballot).

Factors against him: Perceived higher numbers due to playing in Colorado, soft-spoken personality, injury-prone (only 4 seasons of 140+ games).

He only received 15.5% of the vote last year (regressing), that needs to trend up significantly for people to start noticing. He's not going to make it.

6) Edgar Martinez - He's of the mold of the previous two players. Hit for high average, good (but not awe inspiring) power, gets on base all the time. While I am not a fan of the DH, if MLB has it as a position, you can't hold that against him. With the previous two, defense pushes their case, for Edgar it can't but he still deserves it. Career .312 hitter, .418 OBP, slugged .515 (more than Fred McGriff). He's also a member of the 300 HR club for a guy who didn't try to lift the ball as much as others.

Factors against him: Primarily a DH, played in small market, lack of speed

He was voted for the affirmative on 43% of last years ballots he's moving up slowly.  He needs to get closer to 50% to continue the momentum, now in his eighth year probably not going to make it now

7) Billy Wagner - This pick might raise some eyebrows, but when comparing to the four major relief pitchers already in the Hall (Eckersley, Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage), he has 30 more saves than each of them.  And a lower ERA.  And a better K/9 IP.  His 7 All Star Game appearances are comparable to all as well.  He sits sixth in career saves and his stuff was dominant.  I noted above we're teetering on how to treat relievers, I believe we're going to see fewer relievers going forward with huge career numbers because so many are going to flame out with arm problems given their use.  Wags should get strong consideration.

Factors against him: relief pitcher bias, lack of postseason success

Only in his second year (10% vote last year), he's more likely to fall off the ballot than to surge to even more than 25%.  I'm guessing he never gets in during the 10 year window, but may get in on a veteran ballot in decades to come once the Hall figures out how to handle relievers.

8) Lee Smith - As mentioned, the Hall of Fame is still figuring out how to accommodate closers, it's my opinion that they are indeed a key element to the game and the best of the best should be included. With Smith, it's not about the numbers (ERA, W-L) as much as the raw pile of saves he accumulated (478, which was tops for a long time after his retirement). No matter where he played, he never seemed phase by a momentary lapse of success. Fourteen seasons in a row of 25 or more saves shows a level of consistency matched by few. If there are going to be closers in the HoF, Smith should be there.

Factors against him: relief pitcher bias, wasn't overpowering, lacks team identity

Languishing around 35% of the vote last year, he'll need more than double to get in in this, his last and 15th year.  He might get to 50% and like Wagner, maybe get in later once relievers get their due.

9) Jeff Kent - Quietly one of the top offensive second basemen of all time.  His line across the major stats is .290, 377, and 1518.  He has an MVP in his closet, and three other Top 10 finishes.  Add to that six All-Star appearances.  His power numbers dwarf Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, but is getting very little buzz or momentum.

Factors against him: Very average on defense, played in a power era in which his home run numbers aren't considered extraordinary, cold to media

With below 20% of the vote last year, no reason to think he'll move significantly now, or over the next six years.

First four out

10) Tim Raines - Rock falls just short on the numbers. Besides SB's (of which he is more than deserving), his average and power are lackluster, no Gold Gloves. He did accumulate 2,600 hits playing to the age of 40.

Factors against him: mostly small market teams, average defense, never was higher than 5th in an MVP vote, not a feared hitter.

At 69.8% last year and in his last year, wow this is going to be close.  How much of a last ballot bump will he get?

11) Mike Mussina - Without 300 wins or a dominant ERA, he's not quite Hall worthy in my opinion.  No Cy Young Awards, a one-time 20 game winner, five All-Star games.  Career ERA is 3.68, not spectacular even in the power era (considering he didn't face line ups four times in most starts). 

Factors against him: Doesn't have 300 wins, not dominant, played on winning teams but never won a World Series.

At 43%, surprising he's below Schilling.  Won't move much until he approaches the end of the ballot.  Not likely to get in during the 10 year window.

12) Fred McGriff - You can't ignore the near 500 home runs, but he hung on a while to get so close and wasn't elite enough in his prime to warrant the Hall. Average defense, below average speed, not an outstanding OBP. He also never broke 110 RBI in a season.

Factors against him: Unspectacular batting average, lack of dominating seasons, lack of speed

At only 21% last year, he's not moving much. I doubt he gets much closer in this, or the next two years.  Could be a veteran ballot candidate, was very popular with teammates and media and did things the right way.

13) Curt Schilling - Seems to get way more media discussion than others as deserving (like Kent or Mussina or even a Bagwell).  3.46 ERA and barely over 200 wins (216).  For careers starting after World War II, only Don Drysdale has fewer wins in the Hall (six fewer seasons, ERA half a point better).  Postseason success aside, it's not a strong case at all.

Factors against him: Low wins, unspectacular ERA

At 52% of the vote, he could make a move (fourth highest returning).  If he can get to 60% now he could eek across 75% by year ten.

The remaining repeat candidates fall into the PED category.

Steroid specter (stats more than deserving, even before they might have juiced, but would not get my vote): Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield.  Ramirez gets his first consideration, it will be most interesting to see how he fares.  Sheffield was surprisingly low last year considering he's a member of the 500 HR club with a batting average over .290.  Goes to show the PED mountain is too high to climb.

Newcomers that might stay on the ballot (besides those mentioned above and Ramirez): Jorge Posada

So my opinions aside, here's who I think gets in (in order by vote percentage).
Trevor Hoffman
Vlad Guerrero
Tim Raines
Jeff Bagwell

They will join "Today's Game" enshrinees John Schuerholz and Allan H. “Bud” Selig, along with J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers) winner Claire Smith, and Bill King as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence.  The induction ceremony is a homecoming of baseball elite, and will be July 30, 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 12/25/2016

A number of key NFL contests went down over Christmas weekend, but it was a stealthy MVP candidate that delivered his team to a potential first round bye.  Matt Ryan had a very crisp and clean performance in dismantling the favored Carolina Panthers in Charlotte to put the final dagger in their playoff hopes, while positioning the Falcons (with a surprising Seahawks loss) for they key bye.  Overall, Ryan was 27/33 for 277 yards and 3 TD.  His 27 throws targeted 10 different receivers which kept the Panthers defense off balance.  He's the only QB in the NFL to rate in the top 3 of passing yards, passing TD, and QB rating.  His 7 INT are among the lowest for regular QB as well.  The Falcons are a dark horse team to unseat the seemingly invincible Dallas Cowboys and if they do, it will be because Matt Ryan slays them.  He is our Sportsman of the Week!

This is Matt Ryan's second nod as Sportsman of the Week (9/7/2014)

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 2016-17 Bowl Pick Special

It's time for the Big Boys to play, let's get it on!
The second in the two part J.R. Ewing Bowl picks, the first being straight up underdog picks.  This set is the five best bets ATS; noting that the first week or so of games featured Group of 5 conference that I had not seen much of this season, so it didn't make sense to pick.  Beginning December 26, the Power 5 conferences will take center stage.

Many of these will be favorites, given that I already selected several underdogs to win, therefore go ahead and take those ATS if you're feeling less confident.  Note both playoff games are included!

Just to continue to trumpet a successful college football regular season:

Summary:
Final Week: 3-2 (+80)
Season: 37-31-2 (+$290, 3.8% profit)

Note that the profit takes into account house take at $10 for every $100 wagered.

Here are the five best College Bowl Bets ATS:

December 27, 2016 (10:15 p.m. EST) - Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, Phoenix, AZ
Boise State (-7.5) vs. Baylor

Baylor was the most overrated 6-0 team in history.  They have lost six straight, only two were within a TD, and two losses were to non-bowl teams.  Meanwhile Boise State has just two losses overall, and always step up their game against Power 5 opponents.  Both teams are an odds defying 3-9 ATS, but it's Baylor who is mailing it in.  The coach and staff are out, some players are skipping the game, and they haven't won since October 15.  Boise takes this big.

December 28, 2016 (9:00 p.m. EST) - Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston, TX
Texas A+M (-2.5) vs. Kansas State

The Aggies will be anxious to match up with their former Big 12 opponent.  The game is in Houston so expect a lot of maroon filling the 65,000 seat NRG Stadium.  Kansas State is a scrappy team in the regular season, but is only 1-7 in their last 8 bowl games, usually drawing a more talented team with time to prepare for their unorthodox, grinding style of offense.  As is the case this year.  A+M will want to finish the season on a positive note after nosediving from the College Football Playoff poll.  They win by 10 or more.

December 30, 2016 (Noon EST) - Autozone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN
Georgia (PK) vs. TCU

TCU has just two wins in their last six games finishing a disappointing 6-6 on the season in a very mediocre Big 12.  A young Georgia squad with a new coach and QB battled tough but loss some heartbreaking losses to rivals like Tennessee and Georgia Tech.  Given a chance to catch their breath, they can focus on building momentum for 2017 with a win here.  TCU is historically good in bowls, but this team isn't like the recent ones that have gone 4-1 / 8-2 in their last five/ten Bowl Games.  Georgia wins a see saw affair.

December 31, 2016 (3:00 p.m. EST) - Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl, Atlanta, GA
Washington (+14.5) vs. Alabama

Alabama is being tabbed as the odds on favorite to win their second straight playoff and why shouldn't they?  They are the only undefeated team remaining and talent laden.  Two factors have me thinking this is closer than experts think.  One is that the top of the SEC was much softer than some of the others Alabama navigated.  It enabled Alabama to have a lot of eye pleasing blowouts, but Washington is a sound team.  Washington is young, so they must step up to the big atmosphere.  I think this is either really close or a Crimson Tide blowout.  I'll lean toward close and a cover.

December 31, 2016 (7:00 p.m. EST) - Playstation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, AZ
Clemson (+3) vs. Ohio State

I think media and fans fell a bit too much in love with the Big 10 this year.  Because of the quantity of teams, the cream of the crop really only faced a worthy opponent 3 or 4 times during the conference season.  Ohio State went 2-1 in such games, with both wins in overtime.  Not exactly dominating.  Clemson was here last year and tasted the atmosphere.  With a veteran squad (vs. a young Buckeye squad), I see this is a near pick'em.  So I'm leaning to the Tigers to get it done and punch their ticket to Tampa.

Enjoy your holiday week and the Bowl Action and we'll see you in 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 2016-17 Bowl Upset Special

I like money.  Let me make you some.
After a romp in the regular season, we turn our attention to Bowl Season.  These games are difficult games to pick, because of the layoff, coach defections, and unpredictability in inspiration by the teams.  That's where I step in to give you the edge.

One final look at regular season performance, nothing short of solid and profitable:

Summary:
Final Week: 3-2 (+80)
Season: 37-31-2 (+$290, 3.8% profit)

Note that the profit takes into account house take at $10 for every $100 wagered.

This is the first of two Bowl Predicts.  This game focuses on straight up upsets.  No point spreads, but rather games that I've pegged as underdogs winning.  Put $100 on each and if you snag two of five, you get a very nice profit.

December 27, 2016 (Noon EST) - Heart of Texas Bowl, Dallas, TX
North Texas (+320) vs. Army

These teams already played once and North Texas rolled.  People look at UNT and their scant five wins and dismiss them, however Army isn't world beaters.  They did beat Navy, although Navy had a very inexperienced QB and was beat up all over the field.  And how much did that take out of the team?  This game is in my home city of Dallas, at over 3 to 1, I'll see if North Texas can put together a solid effort.

December 29, 2016 (8:00 EST) - Belk Bowl, Charlotte, NC
Arkansas (+225) vs.Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech hasn't defeated a Bowl team since October (0-2 since).  Arkansas is a Jeckyl and Hyde team, but typically plays well in Bowls under Bret Bielema (2-0 and both were blowouts).  Couple that with historic strong play in bowl games for the SEC, and getting this money line seems like a nice play.

December 30, 2016 (8:00 EST) - Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, FL
Florida State (+225) vs. Michigan

Michigan quietly lost two of their last three and never really played that well away from the Big House (roll over against Rutgers withstanding).  Meanwhile Florida State has won six of seven, the one loss a close one to ACC Champion Clemson.  FSU is at home and with a chip on their shoulder.  Michigan felt like they should have beat Ohio State and perhaps made the playoffs despite a loss.  Given the money line, taking the 'Noles.

December 31, 2016 (11:00 EST) - Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
Louisville (+140) vs. LSU

There were times this year in which pundits noted that Louisville was the best betting matchup against invincible Alabama.  Then Louisville dropped their last two inexplicably to 17 point or more underdogs.  This is the game they rally; they're not that bad.  LSU had a roller coaster season shedding a head coach and playing without an effective Leonard Fournette (who is out of this game).  Lamar Jackson is the best player on the field and Louisville wins it (as a slight underdog).

January 2, 2017 (1:00 EST) - Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
Western Michigan (+260) vs. Wisconsin

A few factors at play here, one is the Western Michigan is the team with something to prove.  Wisconsin is licking their wounds after a tough Big 10 title game and season of close losses to the top teams.  This game will have very few fans in attendance (relatively) as both teams have a ways to travel and outside of Southfork Ranch, Dallas isn't necessarily a tourist hot spot.  Combine all that with an early kickoff and Wisconsin could be lethargic.  Given the money line play, I like this play.

Coming up next, Top 5 point spread games!

- JR

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 12/18/2016

College Football Bowl season has kicked in, and there was a weekend of undercard action for fans.  The game with most renown was the Las Vegas Bowl, which featured Mountain West Conference Champion San Diego State against giant slayers Houston Cougars who had knocked off Oklahoma and Louisville, two teams that might have made the playoff if not for those losses.  But it was an lesser known name who stole the show.  And the record book.  San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey broke one of the most hallowed records in NCAA football.  The career rushing record.  Pumphrey did it in dramatic fashion early in the third quarter and ended his career with 6,405 yards to former record holder Ron Dayne's 6,397.  It was that close.  Although in an unexpected route (the Aztecs were underdogs), San Diego State ran away with an easy 24 point victory.  One of the benefits of bowl season is you get to see some of the lesser known players from less recognized schools perform.  Pumphrey more than fits that, and is our Longhorndave Sportsman of the Week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 12/11/2016

The NFL playoff push is in full effect, and an emerging team is the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Thanks to Le'veon Bell, they are suddenly seeming like a short list team to beat in the AFC.  But it was Bell this week that did things that no other Steelers back has done.  In less than ideal conditions against the Buffalo Bills, Bell ran for 236 yards and 3 TD to set a single game Steelers record for rushing yards.  He also added 62 yards receiving to account for 298 of the Steelers 460 total yards.  Most importantly, the win thrust the Steelers a game ahead of the rival Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and positioned well to host a playoff game the first weekend.  This is Bell's third nod as Sportsman of the Week (first time, and second time) thrusting him into elite company with five others like of Peyton Manning and LeBron James.  A deserving Sportsman of the Week!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 12/4/2016

Storybook.  That can be the only adjective (or is it a noun, or both) to describe Eric Berry's return to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.  For the first time in his career.  Having been there last time to recover from lymphoma.  On the field, his Kansas City Chiefs won the game 29-28.  In a battle of playoff favorite teams, it was two plays that he tilted for his team.  He scored an interception return for a 30 yard TD in the first quarter.  Then in improbable fashion (like never been done in the NFL), he returned a 2-point conversion attempt by the Atlanta Falcons back 99 yards to turn a 27-28 deficit to a 29-28 lead.  Single handedly carrying his team to victory.  The second Kansas City Chief in a row, Eric Berry is our Sportsman of the Week!