Baseball: The 100 Pitch Count

Baseball pitchers have been a fragile bunch. Over the last 10 years there have been an average of 16 Tommy John surgeries a year on Major League pitchers. Even though the success rate of this surgery is extremely high the rehab period is usually long and hard taking 12 to 18 months. Some pitchers have had to go through this twice. Because of this, organizations do everything they can to protect young pitchers and work them gradually up the ladder into the Major Leagues. When they get in the majors, the magic number seems to be 100 pitches per game. When a pitcher approaches this pitch count, no matter how he is doing, this becomes the time to take him out. There are some exceptions, and we will see these later in the blog, but 90% of the time this is the unwritten rule. Pitchers are taken out even when they are throwing a no hitter. Because of this, many fans and sportscasters wish for the good old days, when pitchers almost routinely pitched complete games, and would never be taken out if they were pitching well, let alone pitching a no hitter. This leads to the question of why do so many pitchers have arm problems today, even though they are monitored much more closely than they were 40 to 50 years ago. My answer to that is who cares, this is just the way things are at the moment. The quest should go on to find out what can be done to help avoid all of these arm problems. Until that happens, major league teams should accept the fact that this is the way it is now and do even more to protect their pitchers. Before we go into that, lets go back 35 seasons to 1988, the first year that pitch counts were on the stats in baseball reference.

Let us look at 5 pitchers from the 1988 season, Orel Hershiser, Frank Viola, the 2 Cy Young award winners, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Dave Stewart, 3 of the best pitchers from that era. We will look at games started, complete games, and average number of pitches per game. Hershiser started 35 games, completed 15 games, and averaged 101 pitches per game. One game he threw 153 pitches for his season high. Frank Viola started 35 games, completed 7, and averaged 106 pitches per game. Three times he threw 122 pitches and once 121. Roger Clemens was the big workhorse that year. He started 35 games completed 14 and averaged 119 pitches per game. He had one game where he threw 162 pitches and had 12 games of over 130 pitches. No wonder he took steroids at the end of his career. Greg Maddux started 34 games but there were 2 games where no pitch counts were recorded. For the 32 games they did he averaged 105 pitches per game and completed 9 of them. He had an 11 inning 167 pitch game and 6 others that were over 130. Dave Stewart pitched 37 games, completed 14 and averaged 114 pitches per game. Now we head to 2022 and start with Sandy Alcantara the current Cy Young award winner. Alcantara started 32 games, completed 6, averaging 102 pitches per game. His highest pitch count was 117. Gerrit Cole started 33 games, completing 0, and averaged 99 pitches per game. His highest count was 118. Corbin Burnes started 33 games, completing 0, and averaged 99 pitches per game. The most pitches he threw in a game was 115. The stats are about the same for every well know starter in baseball last year. Even though they rarely completed a game their pitch counts did not average that much less than the pitchers in 1988, even though the complete game was much more common. The pitchers of 2022 were really never allowed to get their pitch count to a very high level as they did in 1988. One of the highest in 2022 was Miles Mikolas who threw 129 pitches trying to no hit the Pirates. This pales in comparison to the over 160 pitches that Clemons and Maddox threw that year. There is no question that it takes a lot more pitches today to accomplish the same thing that pitchers did in the 80’s. This is due to more batters being selective or to put it another way, begging for walks. This is the way it is in baseball at the present, and teams should change the way they think about how pitchers should pitch and on how much.

The above data shows that pitchers today get a lot less done on about the same number of pitches. Now it takes about 100 pitches to get through 6 to 7 innings. Pitchers back in the 80’s could complete a game on about the same number. Teams need to make 100 pitches the max any pitcher throws regardless of the situation. This would be the most effective way to help preserve pitching arms. This policy will also help them be more pitcher ready for the playoffs. Another thing that would help pitchers is to abandon the so called waste pitch. If you have a batter down no balls and 2 strikes, just challenge the guy and be damned about the results. In today’s environment every pitch is precious. You got two strikes on the batter get the third one and if he hits hit it out, he hits it out, who cares. The old way of thinking about an 0-2 count has got to stop. Pitchers need to think about throwing strikes on every pitch and forget about burying one in the dirt. It is the only way that pitchers have any chance of going deeper into games than they are now. Here is one last curiosity about pitch counts. How many days rest does a pitcher need if throws 50 pitches. I have often thought what if teams limit pitchers to 50 pitches a game and just start rotating them in the game. Forget about the role playing that pitchers do today. The average number of pitches thrown in a game is about 150. That would mean about 3 pitchers per game. With 12 to 13 pitchers on most teams, that means they would throw about every 4 games. They might even be able to cut that down with more aggressive pitching, by eliminating the waste pitch. Of course, starting pitchers would not like this idea, but in the long run it might be the most effective way to prevent runs. I would love to see some team put this into play. Tampa Bay are you listening? Twelve to thirteen pitchers just rotating through the games every 4 to 5 days. Even though this is unlikely to happen, teams still need to apply the 100 pitch mode as a hard and fast rule. In the long run this will save arms and may make your staff one of the best in the playoffs.

Pirates Mid-March Report

Spring Training is in full swing with opening day 17 days away. Already the Pirates have a big injury with Jarlin Garcia going down with some kind of unexplained arm injury where he cannot even grip the baseball. Who knows the outcome of this one. He would have been a big part of the bullpen. He had been a solid left hand bullpen guy with no history of arm issues in the past. His injury is not changing my mind about this team being a contender, but it is a blow, none the less. Ke’Bryan Hayes seems to be as fragile as ever, with now a thumb injury being the culprit, but until proven otherwise, I am going to remain optimistic about him and his ability to play a full season. I am not as confident, injury or no injury, that he will become an above average hitter. If he would, then that would be a great asset to add to his superb fielding. The only other thing of note, it does seem like Travis Swaggerty is making some noise this spring. This is a number 1 pick who has done nothing, up to this point, to warrant him playing in the majors. I think the Pirates missed a big opportunity last year in not bringing up for about 2 months, and showing what he could do. Even if Swaggerty continues to have a good spring, I doubt seriously he will beat out Canaan Smith-Njigba for a roster spot. If anything, because they are so thin at outfield, they may wind up keeping both of them. It will be interesting to see if he gets a legitimate shot. Even though the Pirates have given up a lot of runs this spring, the pitchers that you expect to be on the team are doing well. Most of the runs that are being given up are by pitchers that won’t be on the opening day roster. For the most part Spring Training is going well, especially for the starting pitchers.

The main purpose of Spring Training is to get ready for the regular season. It is to stay healthy and work on your game. Despite this, I still read things trying to put significance on spring training performances. They are absolutely 100% meaningless, with so many examples that I am not bothering to even write about them. What Travis Swaggerty is doing in these games I put no stock in. I will be happy to be wrong about this concerning him. The Pirates can always use a bat that is a decent fielder. I think the players are working nicely toward their goal of getting out of the gate well, with the intention of setting up a winning attitude for this team. I am making no real speculation on who is going to be on the opening day roster. We will know this soon enough and then I will give an opinion on how I feel about who is going up North. I will blog about the team a couple of days before opening day and then the Pirate Morning Report will start once again giving a synopsis of each game in a brief concise no holds barred format, sparing no punches. It will be a new year and thing, with the Pirates trying to win games for the first time in about 22 months.

Sports: Random Thoughts

Since baseball’s regular season has not started and even though I am golfing on a semi-regular basis, during this new thing called “winter”, I thought this would be a good time to just have some random thoughts on various topics. Nothing earthshattering, but these things have been rattling around in my brain for a while now. In no particular order let us begin.

Pro Football: You would think that pro football would be able to find 32 people in the world that could punt a football at least 70 yards. I think punting is the worst performed specialized job in America. Seven days a week these guys only have one thing to do. Take 2 steps and kick the crap out of a football, that’s it. Some have the added duty of holding on field goals but how long does that take out of the day. Just think about it for one moment. Two steps, boom, two steps, boom, two steps boom. There are nearly 8 billion people in the world, and you have to find 32 that can punt. You would think that there would be tall lanky guys that could really do this. If a punter could boom punts 70 to 80 yards every single time, he would never have to have contact. After he punted, he would simply run off the field. Yet, what would seem like an easy thing to find, seems to be almost impossible. Every week during the pro football season, you see one guy on the team, the punter, who does his job at best, mediocrely. Almost every game you see a punter shank one 15 yards, punt the ball on such a low trajectory that it is returned for big yardage, or simply punt the ball straight up in the air for 25 net yards. Pro football doesn’t seem to care about this, even though it is one of the most important parts of the game. All I can say is, if you are a young individual I would immediately start practicing.

College football now is allowing players to be able to make money on their names and go from college to college to play the game. There are certain rules concerning the so-called transfer portal but like most things there are ways of getting around them. In the not-too-distant future I expect to see this story. Today, quarterback Joe Blackburn, who quarterbacked for LSU, TCU, SMU, Utah, BYU, UCLA, and Nebraska, announced his retirement from football today, at age 36. Blackburn, who majored in Economics, and got his masters and PhD, while playing football, said that he has invested the money he made playing college football well, and no longer needs to work and risk any further injury, especially to his brain. Not as farfetched as it sounds the way things are going.

March Madness is about to start, with the conference tournaments set to begin. College basketball is the only sport where every team has a chance to win the National Championship no matter how bad they played during the year. It would be a shocker, if some team that only won 1 or 2 conference games during the regular season, went on to win the conference tournament and continued to a NCAA Championship. No matter, it is something that is possible in college basketball. Despite all the hype and the upsets in the NCAA tournament, the highest seeded team ever to win the championship is Villanova at no. 8. A nice argument for making the field 32. It so happens that there are 32 conferences eligible for the tournament. Isn’t that nice. If I was the Czar of the NCAA tournament this is how the field would be set. In order to play in the conference tournament, you would have to finish 8th in the conference. Who ever won the conference tournament would still get an automatic bid to the tournament. Depending on how many of the conference champs were also the regular season champs, then this would open up the remaining spots. This would be the new at large berths. Now on the rare occasion, when all the conference champs were not the regular season champs, then there would be no at large births available. This would do two things. It would make the regular season more meaningful, by making only the top 8 in each conference eligible for the conference tournament. It would give the regular season champ more incentive to win the tournament on the off chance there would be no spots left. As it stands now, the regular season champ, in the major conferences, always gets in, no matter what they do in the tournament. It makes the conference tournament more of an extension of the NCAA tournament. It would make everything in college basketball more meaningful and exciting.

I haven’t said all that much about the LIV golf tour, which has taken players away from the PGA Tour, paying them much more money, to essentially play in exhibition events, where there are only 48 players, playing 3 rounds with no cuts, for a lot more money. I have never been into the economics of sports and could care less about salary caps, strikes, and player contract disputes. The players that joined the LIV did it strictly for the money. I have no problem with that, other than the fact that they tried to hide behind the statement that this is going to help the game of golf. Frankly, I am surprised that even more players have not joined. It is quite a difference in purses. The thing that is going to interest me the most, however, is how are the LIV players going to do in the majors. This will be a back to reality check for these players. Besides the pressure of the major, there will be a rather new pressure for these players of having to make a cut again. There are players on the LIV tour that have won majors, and are elite players, but to play one way for weeks at a time, then to have this new experience at a major. Will they be able to adapt? Just another reason to watch the Masters on Thursday and Friday.

Last but certainly not least is the new changes in baseball. I think the pitch clock and the larger bases are going to have a big impact on the game. The “banning” of the shift, I am not too sure. First of all, with left hand hitting pull hitters, the shortstop will still be able to play close to the second base bag and there goes the hits up the middle. Then I can see one of the more progressive teams, like Tampa Bay, deciding to move their right fielder down to where the second baseman played out in the outfield, leaving the other outfielders to cover the ground, with the centerfielder shaded well toward right field and the left fielder well toward center. I don’t know if this would happen with every line up, but if a line up is loaded with left handers, I can see it happening. Maybe this won’t happen, depending on the data that is out there. If it does happen, then baseball will have to make another decision on whether they want to limit what the outfielders can do. Banning shifts may open up a whole new can of worms, rather than solving the problem of helping incompetent left hand hitting batters.

Sports: Cheating

In sports cheating is supposedly frowned upon. I follow golf, baseball, pro football, college football, and some basketball. I don’t consider NHL hockey a sport, and the players in hockey, really can’t cheat, because there are no rules. If anybody cheats in hockey, it is probably the referees, since they are supposed to call penalties on both teams about the same number of times. What a league! The other sports have all had some kind of cheating scandals or individuals who are not playing by the rules. Each sport seems to handle cheating a little differently and we will delve into that as we go through each sport. There are different ways of cheating, and some sports seem to cheat more than the others. Golf being an individual sport, makes the cheating narrow down to one person rather than an organization.

Let us start with football because most of football’s cheating is off the field. With the instant replay rules as they are, this did bring out one element of cheating on the field. That is where a player knows he did not catch a ball and the team lines up quickly before the officials can review the play and overturn it. The NFL sees no reason to curb this kind of cheating. The only other thing that happens on the field may be guys trying to get away with holding on the offensive line, but there is not a lot of other things you can do that will affect the outcome of the game. Football more than makes up for this with all the cheating that goes on off the field. In pro football, there is trying to spy on practices, giving out false injury reports, and spying on coaching signals during the game. We also know about deflate gate. In college football it is more about trying to keep football players academically eligible, by getting other people to take tests and write reports, while the player does not even attend class. College football is plagued with many recruiting violations as well. We will look at punishments for these infractions at the end of the blog.

Golf has had its ups and downs when it comes to cheating. Golf is considered the sport of honor, where many professionals have called penalties on themselves, that have cost them tournament victories. Golf is the sport where ignorance seems to be a defense for cheating. This has led many pros to be penalized, literally the next day, from somebody calling in seeing a rule broken. Many a time a golfer has gone to bed thinking that he shot one score only to wake up, go to the course and find out that he has been penalized 2 strokes for a rule he broke while on TV. Thank God, no other sport does this. Could you see teams having to go back the next day to take up the game from the point that the obvious rules infraction was missed. You cannot help but wonder how many rules have been broken by golfers not on TV. This may have not affected who won the tournament but making the cut and a final paycheck would have to be affected. There are players on the tour who have been accused of cheating. Patrick Reed currently is the poster boy for cheating and every time there is any questionable ruling involving Reed people think that he is in the wrong. There have been other players that have had the cheater moniker put on them over the years, but Reed is the bad boy today.

Basketball is a sport where there is an art to getting away with fouling and not getting caught. There have been articles written on how to do this in various publications. It is college basketball that has really had the most rules broken in trying to keep players and allowing them to play with little or no academic participation. The list of college basketball programs that have broken NCAA rules is endless. There have been countless examples of players and referees who have helped gamblers by giving information and shaving points. In fact, point shaving seems to be the popular way to cheat in basketball. Your team still wins but does not win by the point spread and everybody that bets on your team loses. Falsifying test scores seems another way for players to continue their college basketball careers.

But no sport cheats on the field as much as baseball does. It is such a big part of the game, that it would not seem like baseball, if cheating, or trying to cheat to get an edge was not happening. The biggest cheaters in the game are the pitchers. From the spit ball to the Vaseline ball, to putting something on the ball to help with “gripping the ball”, pitchers have done everything they could to keep the batter from hitting the ball. The spit ball was once a legal pitch. When baseball finally made it illegal, they still allowed players that were throwing the spit ball to continue to throw it. In other words, they were grandfathered in to continue to throw the pitch. Another method used by pitchers to help ball movement was to scuff the ball. Now this is not to say that it did not take a special skill to throw these illegal pitches because if it was easy everyone would have thrown them. For the pitchers who could master these substance or defaced ball pitches, wound up having a tremendous advantage over the hitters. The hitters are not angels either. The very first batter that comes up, will dig his feet and eventually obliterate the batter’s box so he can stand outside of the box. They have also used corked bats which can give them an advantage. The steroid era in baseball could easily be called the cheaters era. These chemically enhanced players set season records that will most likely never be broken, unless someone can invent another performing enhancing drug that cannot be detected and has little or no side effects. If it does ever get invented, you can bet that baseball players will be lining up to take it. Then there is sign stealing. The Houston Astros took it to the next level. The higher ups were punished but the players were not. Many thought that other teams used the same video methods that the Astros used but for some reason were not revealed or punished. It does make you wonder about some of these major slumps that some players have had since the sign stealing scandal was brought to light. Let’s face it if you know what pitch coming, it really makes hitting a lot easier.

This leads us to what have the ruling bodies done to help curb this propensity to cheat? The answer to the question is almost nothing. When something is done , it is usually to the wrong party. When it comes to the gambling scandals, which is a form of cheating, those individuals are breaking the law. There have been many people sent to jail for those violations. But when cheating is just breaking the rules within the game not a whole lot happens. The ruling bodies of the sports involved dish out some punishment but most of the time it is of minor consequence. None of the suspected cheaters on the PGA tour have ever been suspended. The PGA is so closed mouthed about what their players do on and off the course, it’s impossible to tell how much cheating or drug use is going on in that organization. This squeaky clean image they try to present is far from true in my view. Fortunately for the tour, most of their bad boys went to the LIV tour where they belong. Perhaps the worse ruling body of any sport is the NCAA. They have no trouble dishing out punishment for rules violations. Instead of punishing the people that committed the rules infractions, the coaches and the alumni, they punish the “PROGRAM”. This only affects the athletes on the team who in most cases have had nothing to do with the infractions. The coaches do not lose their jobs unless they are fired by the university and in most cases will find a job with another team. NCAA never bans anyone from coaching for a period of time for cheating. Baseball did not suspend any players for the cheating scandal. For all the players that have these inflated statistics due to steroid use, none of their seasonal records have been removed from the record books. It might be going too far to say that the ruling bodies of sport condone cheating, but they do not really do anything to stop it.

Pirates, Mid-February Report, The Unkown.

Spring training has started, and the beginning of the season is not far behind. Barring any kind of major injury problems, the Pirates should contend for the division title. There is not a lot of support for this opinion on the local scene and none on the national level. The most optimistic thing I have read about the Pirates in the national media is that the Pirates will be “pesky” in 2023. There are 3 unknown factors that will help determine how this season will turn out. I will take them in what I consider the least unknown factor to the most unknown factor.

The first unknown factor is will management try and win games this year. Last year there was no question, despite many people refusing to believe this, the Pirates lost games on purpose. I documented this all of last year and the Pirates accomplished their goal by getting the no. 1 pick in the lottery and delaying free agency until 2028 for many of their young players. It would be shocking if management did this again this year. They seem to have a major league roster this year but some of their most recent minor league contract signings could indicate that if things don’t go well in the first 60 or so games that they will have plenty of Josh Van Meters around to ensure that the season turns into a complete disaster. For that reason it is imperative that the Pirates get off to at least an acceptable start by playing around .500 ball going into June. I don’t think the Pirates are going to lose on purpose like last year, at least for the first 2 months of the season.

Next, will we find out what kind of manager Derek Shelton really is?. Last year he did what he was told and that is to contribute to losing games. He did the same thing in 2020. What did he do? He started strange lineups, made even stranger in game moves and at times “seemed” to fall asleep at wheel, during critical moments of many games. The Pirates of 2021 were a team in kind of a transition phase to start the season. They still had some veterans on the team, and I believe that management had some doubts that this team needed a total tear down. There was this brief time in 2021 where lineups were more consistent, Shelton seemed to be managing the bullpen well, and in game strategy made sense. However, as 2021 progressed, it became apparent that this team was going to need the total rebuild and the rest is history, with 2022 becoming the ultimate tanking season. One thing is for sure, this will be Derek Shelton’s make or break season. I will not be shocked no matter how it goes, but if I was forced into making a decision on what I think will happen, I think it will turn out that he is the man to lead this team to the promise land.

The biggest unknown is how will these Pirate players respond to playing meaningful games in August and September. The Pirates made it to the playoffs as a Wild Card for 3 straight years from 2013 to 2015. The 2012 Pirates were in the hunt and on July 22nd had a record of 54-40 to be .5 games out of first place. It was without a doubt a new experience for many of the players. This team did have some veterans that had some experience being in a pennant race, but it did not help. The Pirates had the worst record, 25-43, of any team in history that had been this far above .500 that late in the season. The Pirates gained from that experience, making the playoffs the next 3 years, including winning 98 games in 2015. If this team gets to that point this year, who knows how they are going to respond. Again, this team does have some veteran presence that has experienced being in a pennant race, but that is no guarantee. This is by far the biggest unknown factor for this 2023 season.

The next report will be mid-March when the spring training games will be in full swing and the opener about 2 weeks away. We should have a good indication of who will be going up north with the team by then. I had a small hope that one of the young catchers might be making the trip but that was dashed when the Pirates picked up all those garbage catchers in the last 2 weeks. Shelton had said as much during the winter meetings in December. I can’t imagine no matter how Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez perform during the spring games that they will be on the team come March 30th. It will be an interesting spring training to see what team the Pirates will have to start the season.

Golf: Are The Good Shots, Just Luck?

We have all had runs of good golf shots. When I hit a few good shots in a row, one of my favorite sayings is ” I don’t know where they come from, and I don’t know where they go. The reason I say this is because good shots seem to come out of nowhere. You can see this on the pro tour. I remember the 1987 Masters when Corey Pavin was in contention after 2 rounds but blew up in the 3rd round, being 10 over for the round, going into the 18th hole. For whatever reason CBS decided to show him playing the last hole of this horrific round. He hit a beautiful drive around the bend, then hit an iron about 5 feet from the pin and make the putt for a final birdie to shoot 81. These good shots can follow any type of pattern or length. They can be at the beginning of the round, the middle of the round or the end. Good shots may last from one good shot, to hitting good shots for up to 5 to 10 holes. Rarely do they last longer than that, never spilling over into the next day. There is no question that something clicks and all of a sudden, we are hitting good shot after good shot. If we are working on something or trying something new, we think that this is it, having found the lifelong swing fix or swing move. But somewhere along the round the good shots disappear quickly, and we are left with that what happened feeling.

Let’s work backwards and see what the reasons are given for why the good shots disappear. I’m not saying that I believe these are all true, but all have been written up in many golf articles. One of the big reasons that good shots end is if you start out a round really well. Then you start to become too aware of your score and the shots become more significant, which causes tension, and the bad shots start to happen. There can be other times when something seems to unclick so to speak due to the circumstances of the shot. This affects your concentration with a bad shot as a result. No one gives a reason why you lose your concentration, you just do. Sometimes the good shots go all the way to the end of the round. You leave the course invigorated and may be playing the next day. You get to the course all fired up and promptly slice your drive right into the woods, starting out 5 over par for 3 holes. Sometimes the good shots may be brief. You play 11 holes lousy but on the 12th you smash a drive and birdie 2 or the next 4 holes. You get to the 16th tee with all the momentum in the world and proceed to go bogey, bogey, double bogey to end a nice 4 hole round. This may be considered letting adrenaline getting the best of you and again losing your concentration. Is any of this really true? Before we draw any final conclusions, let’s take a look at why we start hitting good shots in the first place.

There are again plenty of reasons given why we start hitting good shots during a round. It could be that the new swing thought or supposed fault that we have corrected is now allowing us to strike the ball better. Some people feel that good shots start to flow when we stop caring so much about where the ball is going. This seems to be true concerning putting. If we have more of a devil may care attitude and do not think about making the putt or the significance of the putt, we have more of a chance of making the putt. Sometimes a shot just fits our eye, feels simple and the result is a good shot that can start the flow of good shots. There are thoughts as to why we may find our game during a round, but the bottom line is this, it is always related to some kind of physical move that we are going to control, that is related to a specific skill set. Some of us may have a better skill set than others, but we are controlling the ball to the best of our ability. Could there be another reason why these shots seem to come and go?

Could just plain old luck be the reason that our games just seem to come and go. Earlier in the blog I wrote that something just clicks, and you begin to hit good shots. Could it be that you have a perfect distance for one of your irons? Could it be that the ball is sitting perfectly whether in the fairway or rough? Could it be that you have an easy target for the first time today? Maybe the wind has died down. You could be hitting a club that you really like to hit. Whatever it may be, once you hit the good or great shot, the brain and body have now connected to this feeling of a good shot. Even that swing flaw you have, somehow has compensated in a way that allowed you to pull off the shot. With that feeling of the great shot you go on to play X number of holes really well. Then your luck simply runs out. Is there a way we can figure out when this is going to happen and how we can deal with it. I think we can, and I will deal with that in the next blog. In order to move forward, you must believe that luck is the primary factor here. It is a little hard to swallow considering how much time is spent practicing and working on one’s game. Even though there is the old saying I would rather be lucky than good, luck always seems to get a bad rap. Many players are embarrassed at being “lucky”. But luck is a huge part of golf and not just in bounces and where the ball ends up. You may need luck just to hit the ball with instruments that Winston Churchill said, ” Were singularly ill-designed for the purpose”. I don’t think you are going to get much of argument about golf clubs, even today.

Sports: The Steelers, 2010’s

This was the decade where the Steelers continued to have regular season success but had 6 frustrating playoff failures during this decade. The decade started out fine with the Steelers making it to the Super Bowl, but losing to the Green Bay Packers, in a game that was made close by the Packer receivers’ failure to catch the football. The Steelers were in the same position they were, 2 Super Bowls before, with a chance at a game winning drive late in the 4th quarter, but this time they turned the ball over on downs. Green Bay then ran out the clock to win the game. The Steelers would only get to one Conference Championship game in 5 more playoff tries. Those playoff losses could be attributed to star players not playing, and to some surprise performances from their opponents.

Record For The Decade: 102 Wins 57 Losses 1 Tie

Best Year: 2017 13-3 2010 12-4 Lost Super Bowl.

Worst Year: Three years at 8-8 2012, 2013, and 2019

Why The Steelers Won More Than They Lost: The Decade was built around 3 offensive players who when they were well, were 3 of the best players in franchise history. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Bell played from 2013 to 2017 and in 3 of those years he had around 2000 yards from scrimmage in rushing and receiving. One year he was only able to play 6 games due to suspension and then injury, and his rookie season he put up a little over 1200 yards from the line of scrimmage. Antonio Brown was even more spectacular. For 6 straight seasons Brown caught over 100 passes and gained at least 1200 yards per season with his top year being 2014 when he gained 1698 yards. Ben played for all 10 years, and we know that he is going to the Hall of Fame. The defense had its ups and downs during the decade and also had some bad playoff games. Overall, the defense contributed mightily to the success of the decade.

Significant Games: I always thought the most significant game of the decade was the opening round loss to the Denver Broncos in the 2011 season. We were a wild card team because we had lost the tie breaker to the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos were 8-8 but that was good enough to win the weak Western Division. We had the no. 1 defense in scoring and total yards in the NFL. We were also no.1 against the pass. This was the game that Tim Tebow decided to have his greatest game, by far, in his NFL career. The next week against New England he would go back to being his mediocre self. He would only start 2 more games for Denver after that playoff loss. On that day against the Steelers, he accounted for 366 yards and 3 TD’s. Denver won 29-23 in overtime and that seemed to set the tone for rest of the Steelers’ playoff runs for the rest of the decade, even continuing into this decade. Tebow had never accounted for 300 yards and 3 TDs in a game before, and he would never do it again. Bell and Brown would only play in 3 full playoff games together winning 2 and losing the 45-42 debacle to the Jacksonville Jaguars where the Steelers played their worst quarter and a half of football in history until the 1st quarter of the 2020 Wild Card game against the Cleveland Browns where they fell behind 28-0.

The Decades Best Player: Ben Roethlisberger was the constant glue that held the team together through thick and thin. According to Pro Football Reference he is the Steelers all-time best player. I could give some argument for that, but certainly for this decade he was by far the best. No question that Bell and Brown had some great stretches during the decade but for various reasons they flamed out quickly and became non-factors for a lot of the decade.

The final full decade that the Steelers’ played football was the decade of playoff frustration. The Steelers have played 3 seasons in the 2020’s and that frustration is continuing. The last 2 years the Steelers have been in the throes of mediocrity. They are having in my view, the most important draft since the early 70’s. They are going to have 3 of the first 51 picks, no. 17, 32, and 51. If the Steelers are going to get out of this rut of playing close to .500 ball but not much better, then these picks better have an immediate impact. I know that is a tall order and a lower pick can always surprise, but if the Steelers are going to get to the next level and finally make a playoff run this needs to happen.

Sport: The NFL Final Four, Finally

We have finally made it to Championship weekend in the NFL. On the NFC side, the Philadelphia Eagles are hosting the San Franscisco 49ers, and in the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals are traveling to face the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite the NFL’s claim to parody, 3 of the 4 teams were in last year’s title games with Philadelphia the only newcomer. Yes, that salary cap sure keeps things competitive. Don’t you just love sports socialism. Just to get the perfunctory predictions out of the way, I think it will be the Bengals vs. the Eagles in Super Bowl. I considered the conference Championship games to be the last real football games of the season. The Super Bowl to me, is and always will be, a circus that sometimes affects the outcome of the game. I look at the true champions being crowned this week and whoever wins in that sideshow as a bonus victory. What other championship game in any sport is there, where people watch for the commercials and the halftime show, which is about twice as long as the normal halftime. The game almost becomes the most insignificant part of the day. I am not going to go through any type of analysis of the two games coming up or why I think the Bengals and Eagles will win. Today I am going to write about some interesting facts about the participants, which may give a little insight as to why the outcomes will be what they will be.

This will be Andy Reid’s 10th Conference Championship as a head coach. He has lost 6 of the previous Championship games with 4 of those being home games. Many people consider Reid an offensive genius. However, in 2 of those losses his team failed to score more than 10 points. In the last Super Bowl he coached, the Chiefs could only muster 9 points. To be able to take a team to 10 Conference Championship games is quite an accomplishment. For whatever reason it seems very difficult for Reid’s teams to get over the final hump. Nine Conference Championship games and one Super Bowl championship. Doesn’t seem like Reid is one to learn from his mistakes. Will this be his 7th Championship game loss or will he get over the hump this weekend with some new strategy. Thank God he won that one Super Bowl, or we would have an example of big game failures second to none.

What is it with this Joe Burrows guy? He is the epitome of consistency that is downright freaky. In his first full season, 2021, he completed 70.4% of his passes for 4611 yards, 34 TD’s and 14 INT’s. This past season he completed 68.3% of his passes for 4475 yards, 35TD’s and 12 INT’s. In 6 playoff games over the last 2 years, he has completed 68.1% of his passes for 1556 yards, 8 TD’s and 2 INT’s. In those 6 playoff games he has never thrown less that 32 passes and never more than 38. He has completed between 22 and 28 passes in all 6 games and in 3 of those games he completed 23 passes. Going into this Championship Game do you think he will do all right?

On the NFC side of things, we have 2 quarterbacks who are similar, in that for the NFL they are short, 6’1, have played against each other before, in the Big 12, and have had a lot of negative things said about their ability until this recent surge of success. To me, Jalen Hurts has proven that he is a top of the line NFL quarterback. Even though not tall he is a dynamic player who is a dual running and passing threat. This may seem like a small thing, but I like the way he gets ready to receive the ball from 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He is in a crouched position with one foot in front of the other. It just looks like he is ready to move and do some positive things to create some offense. On the other hand, Brock Purdy has started 7 games, and 6 of those were against mediocre to bad football teams. Last week against Dallas, some of his inexperienced showed, and if it wasn’t for a spectacular catch by the tight end and Dak Prescott being Dak Prescott in the playoffs, the 49ers could have easily lost at home to the Cowboys. Brock Purdy has two of the most dynamic players in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel at his disposal. It will be interesting to see if Purdy can have a good game on the big stage, on the road.

I always look forward to Championship weekend in the NFL. Will I be surprised if both my picks lose on Sunday? No, I won’t be. Football is the only sport where one game decides the title. If that were true in the other 3 professional sports, there would be a completely different list of League Champions. Let’s face it, in one game anything can happen, and the NFL wants you to completely forget about that when it comes to Championship games. In my view the 3 quarterbacks and the Chiefs head coach will make this one, of the more memorable Championship weekends.

Sports: The Steelers, The 2000’s

Since 1960, this decade was the 2nd most successful for the franchise. The Steelers won 2 Super Bowls and had only one losing season. The Bill Cowher era came to an end in 2006 and Mike Tomlin took over in 2007. The Super Bowl winning season of 2008 was the most exciting season in Steeler history. There were more big plays in that season than all the other seasons combined. The 2008 group was not the best Steeler team of all time by a long shot. In fact, they may not have been as good as the team that lost the Super Bowl in 95, but they were the most entertaining of all the Super Bowl winning teams. They had a great defense that only gave up 223 points to lead the league. Only the 2001 defense and the defenses of the 70’s gave up fewer points. They also gave up the fewest yards that year. This was the decade that the Steelers solidified themselves as one of the premier franchises in all of sports.

Record For The Decade: 103 Wins 56 Losses 1 Tie

Best Year: 2004 15-1 2008 12-4 Won Super Bowl

Worst Year: 2003 6-10

Why The Steelers Won More Than They Lost: They found a franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. They had one of their better defensive stretches during this time. They again hired a great coach in Mike Tomlin. They picked up one of the all time great safeties in Troy Polamalu, who became the heart and soul of those great defenses of the 2000’s. The other defensive stalwart on those teams was James Harrison. To this day he has what could be considered the greatest play in Super Bowl history. There weren’t as many Hall of Famers during this decade but the Steelers had many great players that included, Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis, Aaron Smith, Ike Taylor, Joey Porter and Willie Parker, to name just a few.

Significant Games. There was one significant game in each of the two Super Bowl winning years. The first was a 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengels and the game was not as close as the score indicated. This was the Steelers 3rd loss in a row to send their record to 7-5. After the game many of the Bengal players were talking that this was the end of the line for the Steelers, they had no chance of making the playoffs and the Bengals would be dominating the division for the next few years. From that point on, the Steelers won their last 4 games and snuck in as the 6th seed. They beat the Bengals in the opening round and then upset the Indianapolis Colts, who had soundly beaten the Steelers in the regular season. Three weeks later Super Bowl win number 5 would be theirs. In 2008 the Steelers started the season 2-0 but the second win was an ugly 10-6 win over the hapless Cleveland Browns. Then the next week they laid an even bigger egg in Philadelphia losing 15-6 with the offense only gaining a total of 180 yards and Big Ben was sacked 9 times. The next week the Steelers came home to face the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. The Steelers were behind 13-3 at halftime and looked just as bad as they had for the whole game in Philadelphia. The Monday Night broadcast crew was wondering what Mike Tomlin was going to do and it was going to be a difficult week for the Steelers upcoming. The third quarter did not start any better and the booth was still talking about how much trouble the Steelers were in and the coaching staff had their work cut out for them. Then with 5 minutes to go in the third quarter the Steelers offense moved the ball, got another 15 yards on an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Ravens. Three plays later Ben threw over the middle short to Santonio Holmes, he broke a tackle and scampered 30 yards into the endzone to make the score 13-10. The first play after the kickoff James Harrison stripped the ball from Joe Flacco on a 9 yard sack, and Lamar Woodley pick up the ball and scored a touchdown, to take the lead 17-13. In the span of 13 seconds the Steelers scored 2 touchdowns and went on to win the game in overtime 23-20. The announcers didn’t have any more to say about the Steelers problems. They went on to win Super Bowl number 6 when the defense came up with the play of the year, a 100 yard interception return for a touchdown to end the first half. It was, indeed, the year of the big play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Decades Best Player: This was another easy choice as Troy Polamalu was the dominant player of the decade. He started playing for the Steelers in 2003 and was the standout defensive player. During those 7 years he had 20 interceptions and made spectacular play after spectacular play. He would have great years going into the other decade, as he was the defensive player of the year in 2010. Without him there would be no Super Bowl victories.

The next and last full decade of Steeler football would be best summed up as a decade of frustration. The Steelers would make the playoffs 6 of those 10 years but would lose every year, and many times in bizarre fashion. There would be no more Super Bowls for the franchise quarterback.

Pirates Morning Report: Mid-January

The last time I wrote about the Pirates in late November there have been two big stories. Bryan Reynolds asked to be traded and the Pirates signed Andrew McCutchen to a one year deal to bring him back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates continued to unload dead wood during this time. The sent Bryce Wilson with his -1.1 WAR and Zach Thompson with his -0.3 WAR, both packing. They got money and a pop machine for Wilson. They picked up a minor league outfielder and 4000 yards of bandage materials for Thompson. They got rid of Diego Castillo and his -0.9 WAR for a minor league pitcher and 49 rosin bags. None of these moves were very surprising. I thought they might try both pitchers in the bullpen but the fact that they are gone is fine with me.

Signing Andrew McCutchen was a great PR move, and the fans seem to love it. Many cynics out there feel this move is going to precede the trading of Reynolds and was done to appease the fans. Many in baseball feel that McCutchen will do little to enhance the Pirates ability to win games. I find it interesting that there were reports that McCutchen was offered similar and even better deals, but took the Pirates offer because it included the opportunity for more playing time. I think coming back to Pittsburgh might give McCutchen a performance boost in all phases of the game. Even if he just performs as he did last year, he would be an average major league hitter, and this is something that the Pirates desperately need. They had only 3 players last year that were above average hitters. I think he still has a lot to offer and if he can stay healthy, he should contribute to a Pirate winning season. He looks in great shape and other than a freak knee injury in 2019 he has played in at least 130 games every year. There is no question he is an outfield upgrade.

It was not a shocker when Bryan Reynolds made public that he wanted to be traded. His name has been part of trade rumors for well over a year now. I have no emotional feeling over a Bryan Reynolds trade. They either trade him, or they don’t, and hopefully they get a return that would have an immediate impact on the club. I stated that if that is what it takes to get him out of centerfield then I am all for it. I felt that the Pirates would not have a winning season with him in centerfield. Since watching the Top Ten Centerfielders Now, on MLB Network, I have changed my mind. On the 6 human ballots and the infamous MLB The Shredder, Reynolds ranked anywhere from third to seventh as one of the best centerfielders in the game. It was brought up on the show how bad his defensive metrics were for 2022 but it was also mentioned that he was about an average fielder in 2021. It looks like the Pirates are not going to get a real centerfielder anyway, so I think the Pirates will do fine with Reynolds in center. Maybe he was just trying to help the Pirates lose games in 2022 like they wanted to. There is no reason to believe that he cannot make a comeback on the fielding side of the ball. Therefore, I no longer think that getting Reynolds out of centerfield is a prerequisite for the Pirates to have a winning season and contend for the division title.

With spring training to begin in earnest in about a month, the Pirates continue to make moves that are improving the ballclub. Although there have been some in the local media that have been putting out some positive vibes on the upcoming Pirate season, I have not seen anyone in the national media saying the Pirates may be a surprise or contending team in 2023. Most feel the moves that the Cubs have made are making them the main threat to the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, there are lots of unknowns out there when talking about the Pirates, but I still feel that if they can avoid major injury and arm trouble that they will win 80 some games and make a run at the playoffs. However, I feel there is a minimum performance level, of at least winning 75 games. If this group cannot come up with at least this many wins in 2023 then this rebuild is in major trouble.

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