Sports: College Football, Meaningless Championship Weekend.

This is conference championship weekend, with the 5 major conferences having their championship games Friday and Saturday. Instead of this being an exciting weekend, and a first step to a possible National Championship, there are only 2 teams, that the games have any kind of significant meaning. Southern California and Texas Christian must win, or they most likely will fall out of the final four. If Michigan or Georgia would lose this weekend, they most likely would stay in the top 4. Georgia for sure and Michigan most likely, unless unexpectedly they would really embarrass themselves. There are five teams, even if they win, will have no chance of getting into the playoffs. Those are Purdue, North Carolina, LSU, Kansas St. and Utah. Then you have the strange case of Clemson. The committee decided to make them the worst ranked 2 loss team. Even if they beat North Carolina decisively, it would be shocking to see them jump 6 places to get into the playoffs. Because college football puts no value on winning a conference championship, there are only 2 out of 10 teams that have a chance of making the playoffs. The playoffs are going to expand, but even that is up in the air on exactly when. Somehow, they came up with the number 12. They are going to “allow in” the top 6 ranked conference champions. There are 10 Division 1-A college football conferences. To use this year as an example, it would still be very unlikely for Utah, Purdue or North Caroline to get in if they somehow pull off the upset. All the 12-team format does is give more power to the committee. If a team is playing in a conference championship game and becomes team 5 through 12, it would mean they would play 17 games to become National Champion. So much for college football players playing too many games. Welcome to the NFL.

I have always advocated an 8-team format. To me it is simple, the 5 conference champions are in, and then the committee picks 3 at large births. Now that the powers to be have said that they want 12 teams, it would be quite easy to go to 16 teams without any extra games. In fact, the most any team would have to play is 16. To use this year as an example, we would have the 5 conference Championship games. Now take the next 6 highest ranked teams that are not in conference finals. In this case, you have Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee, Penn St., Washington, and Florida St. They could play this week or the next week, with Ohio St. playing Florida St., Alabama playing Washington, and Tennessee playing Penn St. You would have 16 teams with the chance at the National Title. After those games you have 8 teams left and the playoffs could go on right on schedule and the committee would have been done this past weekend. In order to get better teams in the conference championship games, conferences could be much more liberal in changing the division make up every one or two years. You could also have more conference regular season games by eliminating the sisters of the poor games. You know those games, Ohio St vs Akron, or Alabama vs. Chattanooga. I always felt that championships should be settled on the field. This is an easy way to do this, and there would be more continuity to the college football season. I know this will never happen, but it does not keep me from wishing it would. It is time for a Division 1-A football conference championship to mean something.

Pirates Morning Report: Good Early Moves

The last time I wrote about the Pirates I said they would contend for the division title in 2023. I did say a few things would have to happen for me to continue to believe that. Two of them have happened already. Kevin Newman is off the team. They have not one but two first baseman. None of the moves are earth shattering, but they made the team much better and gave more potential to the bullpen. Let us look at the new Pirates.

The Pirates acquired Dauri Moreta from the Reds when they traded Newman. At first glance it appears that the Pirates may have gotten another stiff. For the entire season Moreta had an ERA of 5.40. However, most of that was due to a horrible May. He was sent down to the minors and when he came back in mid-June he obviously found something. His last 20 appearances he had one bad outing where he gave up 4 runs. In the other 19 outings he pitched 23 innings, gave up 4 runs, 14 hits, walked 6, and struck out 22. If he can continue something like that into 2023, we may have found Dwayne Underwood Junior’s replacement. The fact that we got anything for Newman is pretty remarkable.

The Pirates signed a free agent and made a trade to shore up first base. They acquired Ji-Man Choi from the Rays and signed Carlos Santana to a one year deal for 6 plus million. Led by Michael Chavis and Yoshi Tsutsugo the Pirates had the worst WAR at first base, in the entire major leagues at -4. Both Choi and Santana had WARs of 1.2, not great but huge upgrades from what was there. For the first time in a long time the Pirates are going to have real first basemen. Choi is an average fielder, while Santana is an above average fielder. Santana gives added flexibility in that he is a switch hitter. His overall OPS+ is 100 which is league average, but his OPS+ against lefties was 124. They should be a very good tandem at the position, and both have experience at DH. Santana will be turning 37 but the Pirates are experts at giving players rest and this time they will have to.

I would say the off season has started nicely for the Pirates but there is a long way to go. They still need a catcher and a centerfielder if they are going to contend. Any pitching additions should help, as we all know, you cannot have too much pitching. The winter meetings are coming up and the Rule 5 draft. Hopefully the Pirates can maintain this momentum and get some more help to win the division. Yeah, baby.

Golf: Trouble With The Irons

All my scoring problems for the 2022 golf season could be traced back to having a horrible year with the irons. I would have my normal share of problems with putting and the short game once in a while, but even my yips were not as much of a problem. My driving continued to be the best part of my game, which amuses me now, because in my younger days it was the worst part of my game. I have been playing these irons for 2 and 3/4 seasons now. These irons are unique in two ways when compared with my previous sets. They are graphite, with regular shafts. I have always played steel shafts when it comes to irons and have used stiff shafts. The irons I have now are the Titleist AP 3 irons. They are investment cast irons, which most of my sets have been forged. They also have very strong lofts for the individual irons. I look at them as a 1/2 iron stronger. In other words, my 8 iron is more like a 7.5 iron. Because of their uniqueness and my problems, I thought of giving up on them and getting a new set of irons, every golfer’s solution. For the time being I have ditched that idea and will give them one more year.

During the season I had some really bad spells hitting irons. In fact, in one round, it was so bad that I did not hit one green in regulation. A record that can only be tied but never broken. There were other rounds where I hit the green only 2 or 3 times. This does leave you with many birdie opportunities. One problem, of course, was I did not make solid contact. I was consistently inconsistent. During the same round I would often hit irons thin and fat. I had some rounds where my contact would be good but had terrible direction. That would be inconsistent as well. All within one round I would hit shots left and right of where I wanted the ball to go. I tried many things to try a correct the problem, most of them were pre-shot. I tried to move the ball back in my stance, stand closer to the ball, and play my hands much more forward. None of these things seem to make any difference. One of the more frustrating aspects of this whole ordeal, was I would go through periods where I hit my irons well. These periods would be mystifying and would not last that long, but I would go maybe 2 or 3 rounds with some very good iron play. These rounds kept my index below 7. One method that seemed to work to some degree was aiming more left of the target. This got me to hit the ball on a more descending blow and I would make solid contact. This would work for a while but then I would eventually hit everything left, right where I was aiming. I also have developed a mental block that I have had with these irons, almost from day one, that I have not been able to overcome.

I am able to hit these irons a lot further than any irons I have ever owned, even for an old guy. This is the typical scenario that leads to a very bad iron shot. It really does not matter what iron it is. I will use the 7 iron for an example. I have a distance that I think is too far for the 7 iron. This may be due to the conditions, the lay of the land, or the lie of the ball. Simple enough, just use the 6 iron. Then for whatever reason instead of swinging the 6 iron easily I have this mindset that this may not be enough club, or if I really hit it will be too much club. Needless to say, the shot turns out to be a disaster. Sometimes when I am going through this bizarre thought process I will drop back to the 7 iron, really smoke it, and wind up short. Now once in a while the 7 iron will get there to produce a good shot. This scenario does not happen every time I hit a bad iron shot. I hit bad irons when I have had no doubt about the club selection. But that issue is strictly mental and no amount of swing or set up changes are going to correct it. So, what’s next.

This has been the worst ball striking issue I have ever had in over 50 years of playing. In my own brainwashed way, I have made a swing change. I instituted this in my last round, with some mixed results. That last round was my 75 caused by my best putting round in about 5 years. In my brainwashed mind I attributed most of my bad shots in that round, on trying something new with the swing. Because of the weather I have not played since, but it does look like we might be able to get out the next couple of days. Hopefully I can get two rounds in. I know the conditions will be far from perfect but that should not affect my iron play if I am striking it well. Hopefully I will see some light at the end of the tunnel on this horrific period of iron play.

Golf: We Are Brainwashed

Playing golf can be one of the most frustrating endeavors known to man. Everybody wants to improve their game which means that they want to improve their score. Some of us took up the game when we were young. I started playing at the age of 8. Others did not take up the game until they were adults and in the case of one of my newer golfing buddies, he did not take up the game until he was 73. Many people take up the game only to quit after so many years of trying to improve and get better. Many people do get to the point where their handicap is in single digits only to get stuck there seemingly for the rest of their life. Some of these people quit due to this apparent lack of progress. One of the problems in golf is that our faults do not seem to be consistent. Our game seems to change from round to round. One round we cannot drive the ball. The next round we seem to have trouble with our iron game or our short game. Another round we just putt horribly. Even within these problems, the issue is not consistent. One round we may be hooking all our drives and the next topping drives. Irons may be hit fat one round and then thin and to the right on another. All of these things seem to happen out of the blue. The reverse can happen also. One time when I was in the throes of one my worst periods of the chip yips, I had a round where I had spectacular chipping. I put every chip, which there were many, within inches of the cup and wound-up shooting one over par. The bottom line is this. Whatever the problem may be with our games we want it fixed. Believe me that is no problem for golf instructors.

No matter what the problem is, slicing, hooking, fat shots, top shots, pulled shots and even the yips, there is somebody out there that can fix it. There is always a constant with these fixes. The first constant is that the fix is easy. The results are guaranteed. Sometimes there will be multiple ways to fix the same problem. You can easily find these on the internet or go to a local pro and the fix will have the aforementioned elements. You know what? Most of the time the fixes will work. The instructor will change something in your set up or swing and sure enough the problem seems to get resolved. The other thing that gives these physical changes more validity is you will read or hear about a top tour pro changing something and voila wins a tournament. It makes no difference that whatever the change was, does not seem to work forever, or another problem crops up in your game. It makes no difference that the pro you read about who made the change and won a tournament, has now missed the cut in his last 6 event. We are all brainwashed, including yours truly, into thinking that we need to make some change in our swing or technique to get better or solve a golf problem. We just cannot get over this philosophy even when we know that it is not a viable or permanent solution to our golfing woes.

There is no question in my mind that the reason our golf games remain stagnate and we do not get better is the brain. At one point in this blog, I went through a long period of playing and writing about what I called 100% mental golf. However, I really could never do it. There was another phase of my golfer education where I thought the game was 50% mental and 50% physical. I had very logical thinking when explaining my reasoning. I wrote that you could have the best mental attitude and course management, but if you swing and golf fundamental were bad you would not be able to score. You could have the perfect golf swing and fundamentals. but if your mental attitude was bad and your course management was unsound, then you would not score either. Naturally it probably is somewhere in between. I think we all have had this experience playing golf. We are having a bad day striking the ball. All of a sudden, we hit a spectacular shot that ends up about 3 to 6 feet from the pin. The opposite can happen also in a good round. You’re hitting the ball very well and in the middle of the round, you hit a horrible shot, that causes you to make double bogey. I have a saying when I finally hit a good shot in a round. I don’t know where those good shots come from, and I don’t where they go. So, what’s a golfer to do. These problems with our games are not going away. Be aware that most of your game’s problems are mental. Probably close to 90%. That is the first place to go when considering bad shots. Remember more of the mental feeling on good shots. Look for pre swing problems before you go anywhere else. Your good shots are not accidents. They are the result of a functional golf swing and a well-planned shot. Bad shots are usually from not planning shots, self doubt, and trying to do shots beyond your capabilities. Try to undo the brainwashing by looking at your swing as a last resort to improve your game. Next, an in-depth look at my struggles with the irons.


Golf: Yes, I Am Still Playing

I have not written anything about golf since the end of March. Since many times I have written about quitting the game, some of you may have thought that I had finally come to my senses and quit. I am not that smart. I played a lot of golf this year as usual, with 137 rounds recorded. The handicap season will be over around November 15th and the weather is bad this week, so it is very unlikely that I will be getting in any more handicap rounds. I finished the year with an index of 6.1 after starting with a 5.2. My year was typically up and down but having my index go up almost a full stroke shows that it was mostly down. There were some highlights and one of them shows just how goofy this game really is, but we already know that.

I play in a 9-hole senior league on Wednesday mornings, and they have various events. One is the 4-club event, where you can only play with 4 clubs. It is held twice a year. I missed the first one last year but in the 2nd one I shot 37 and won the low net. This year in the first one, I completely fell apart and shot 50. Then in the second event, I parred the first two holes and 3 putted the 3rd hole to make a bogey. From that point on I almost made every putt I looked at to go birdie, par, par, par, bogey, birdie to shoot 35 and win going away. The four clubs I used were driver, 8 iron, gap wedge, and putter. What is amazing is that those were the best 9 hole rounds I had each year. Just another example of you know what. The other goal each year is to try and shoot my age, which is now 72. I did have a 71 last year to do it for the first time. I came close this year, but no cigar. I did on consecutive days put two nine-hole rounds together of 36 each. Late in March I had one of those freaky early in the year rounds, where everything goes right, and shot 72, but at the time I was still 71. I won’t turn 73 until April so there is some time left. We did win a scramble in the nine hole league and another 3 man low net event. Other than that, my year was pretty mediocre, as I went through some long stretches of poor scoring.

I had 15 rounds over 85 and 2 rounds over 90. Though I did not feel that this was much of factor, I had a weird thumb injury on Father’s Day Saturday. It was unusually chilly for mid June and I was not dressed well enough for the temperature, so I did feel cold when I teed off the first hole. I was only going to play 9 that day because the course was very crowded. The very first swing I hit a drive that was a low hook that started right and curved back to the middle of the fairway. I felt this pain at the base of my left thumb, when I made the swing. It got worse quickly, and I tried several methods to alleviate the pain. I finally came up with just wrapping my left thumb around the club much like a baseball grip. Even though this felt awkward it worked pretty well and I hit the ball ok with no pain. The pain slowly went away over a period of about 4 to 6 weeks, and I went back to my normal grip. Rest did not really seem to help and even though the injury occurred swinging a club, playing and swinging the club did not seem to make it worse. Whatever it was, it went away pretty much entirely, and I continued on my inconsistent way, the rest of the season. The worst part of my game was my iron play. I really could not figure it out, and even though I would have periods where my iron game was back on, for the most part I just ruined many a great drive, with some very poor iron shots. Needless to say, my play on the par 3’s was not very good. I continued to battle the chip and putting yips but overall, they were not a major factor in my scoring woes. My driving was by far the best part of my game. Anytime you run into a scoring slump, one of the big factors is just how bad some of your shots are. I would hit some of the most horrible shots in the middle of rounds, that were not going all that bad. I did finish up on a high note last Thursday before the weather turned bad. I shot 75 that was entirely due to a spectacular putting round. They are always fun and do not come along all that often. I had 23 putts, with only 9 putts on the front nine and had 0 putts on 3 holes. If I had been striking the ball at all, I would have shot my age. The weather is not looking good for a while, but I am sure there are at least 3 more rounds out there before the year ends, which will put me at the 140 count. I tried many things to help me with the irons and other aspects of my game, but none of them really panned out. Like always, there was a few things I thought I learned about this goofy game, and I will pass them along in future blogs. For a 72 year old, being able to play 140 rounds in a golf season, was by far the best part of 2022. See you on the links.

The 2023 Pirates, They Will Contend.

It is always hard to predict what a team will do in a coming season. There is always the unknown, such as injuries, young player performance and what if any moves the team is going to make. I feel the Pirates will be in the hunt for the division title in 2023. However, there will be a few things that will have to happen, or all bets are off. This is assuming that the Pirates will really try to win in 2023. I feel they are not going to drag this out for another year. Before I get to why I think the Pirates are going to win in 2023, let’s look at the things that have to happen, first. There are some things I would like to see happen, but I do not feel they are absolutely necessary for the Pirates to contend.

First, both Kevin Newman and Ben Gamel should not be on the opening day roster. They are 30 year old players who have shown they do not have much to offer at the major league lever. They had WAR’s of 1.1 and .1 respectively. Gamel is a horrible fielder, and both are below average hitters. If this is what’s on the bench next year, then the Pirates cannot be serious about winning. The second thing that must happen is they must get Bryan Reynolds out of centerfield. The SABR Defensive Index, which contributes to the Gold Glove Rankings, lists him as the worst fielding centerfielder in all of baseball. The Pirates have to find themselves a centerfielder. I do not know that they have to go to the extreme of getting a Jackie Bradley type, all field, no hit player, but they have got to have a big upgrade at one of the most important defensive positions. There are always trade rumors concerning Reynolds, but if that is what it takes to remove him from centerfield, then let’s do it for the right return. If Reynolds is out in centerfield on opening day, then it will be hard for the Pirates to contend. My own opinion is to put him in left field, and I think he becomes an asset again. This is a player who slashed .262/345/461, with an OPS+126, yet only had a 2.9 WAR. In comparison Oneil Cruz, who had over 200 less at bats than Reynolds, had a WAR of 2.3. Even with his defense, he came close to Reynold’s WAR in about 2/3rds of the playing time. The final part of this equation is good old free agency. Will the Pirates sign some legitimate free agents and not those scumbags they signed last year, with the exception of Jose Quintana. The Pirates could sign 3 players at 20 million a year or 2 players at 30 million a year and their team payroll would still not top 100 million. They need help at catcher, centerfield, the bullpen and even at 1st base. Getting Ji-Man Choi is a huge upgrade at 1st base, but he has not done that well against left hand pitching. Even if the Pirates do little on the free agent market, I still think they will contend. Anything they do there or the trade market that would be considered significant, I would consider a bonus, and would increase their chances of winning the division.

I feel the Pirates will contend because I feel the young talent they have is ready to step up their games and perform at a higher level than they did last year. The infield should be solid with Castro, Cruz and Hayes. It would be nice to see Hayes pick up on his hitting. He has been a below average hitter the last 2 seasons. If he can improve on that and stay healthy, he would become even more of an asset. Diego Castillo can fill in when needed. The outfield needs to find a centerfielder. Reynolds should be fine in left and Jack Suwinski is solid in right. Cal Mitchell and Ji Hwan Bae will fill in. Catcher is basically empty right now. Henry Davis could make his debut in 2023 but injuries have slowed his progress somewhat. A lot will depend on who the Pirates obtain but I do not look at this being a critical move. The starting rotation if they can avoid the surgeon’s knife should be a strong point for this team. In fact, if they make any free agent moves when it comes to the starting rotation, they could do a 6 man rotation. Right now, the rotation would be Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, J.T. Brubaker, Johan Oviedo, and Luis Ortiz. Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson did little to distinguish themselves last year, even though they had plenty of opportunities. I don’t put much stock in Wilson’s final very good outing. These two may do better in the bullpen, much like Will Crow did last year. Yes, last but certainly not least the bullpen. There is no question the most volatile and unpredictable part of any ball club. Teams have spent heavily on the free agent market on relief pitchers, only to see it all go down in flames as these pitchers under performed. The bullpen had its ups and downs last year but seems to have a solid core, with David Bednar, Chase De Jong and Will Crowe. I should have put Duane Underwood Junior in my list of, if he is still pitching in the bullpen, then all bets are off. Whether it is from within or without the Pirates will have to find some arms to shore up the bullpen. There are plenty of them out there.

The main reason I think the Pirates will contend is Ben Cherington. He has the pedigree. He took Boston from worst to first from 2012 to 2013. He left Boston because of a change of ownership. He left Boston with a slew of good young players that helped them win another title in 2018. He is like any GM, he is not infallible, but the young talent the Pirates have, look pretty good at the moment. There are things that can happen that can change the fortunes of a team in the blink of an eye. I know they have the same cheapskate owner but maybe he will finally spend some money. Only time will tell. Even if he does not, the Pirates have a young core that can make things happen. The Central Division is far from a strong division. This is the year the Pirates should make their move and win their first division title in 30 years.

The 2022 Pirate Season, Disgusting But Brilliant

The 2022 Major League Baseball season is officially over with the Houston Astros winning the World Series in 6 games. The only good thing was that Dusty Baker got that World Series Ring. The Astros proved once again that good pitching will shut down good hitting. The 4th and 5h games were the pivotal games, especially the 4th game when the Astros no hit the Phillies. I think it gave them the phycological edge. Winning the tight game 5 with some spectacular defense sealed the deal. The Pirates 2022 season ended on opening day. This is the season where management had 2 goals, get a top draft choice and keep player control until 2028. There was no question that the Pirates fielded a team that was guaranteed to lose a lot of games and then made in game decisions to cement loses. This was a team that lost games on purpose, and we will prove that point later. First let us look at what the Pirates could have done during the 2022 season and the most likely result.

The Pirates could have decided to put the best team on the field and win as many games as possible, with those new young players. We will even give them a break and say that Roberto Perez does not get hurt and plays the entire season. Oneil Cruz and Rudolfo Castro would have played full seasons. There would have been other young players who would have played a lot more games. If the Pirates had gone all out and tried to win as many games as possible this year, they probably would have come close to playing .500 ball, winning between 75 and 83 games. The bullpen was too thin, and the starting pitching was not good enough to do much better than that. They would have been drafting in the middle of the pack, unless they got extremely lucky in the lottery. The young players would have become free agents in 2027. We all know the Pirates did not do that; therefore they have control of these players until 2028. These players did gain considerable major league experience, but not enough to move up their free agency. Here is what the Pirates did do.

It has been hard for many people to get their head around the fact that the Pirates did exactly what they wanted to do in 2022, lose baseball games. They lost baseball games on purpose. As much I find this repulsive, I blame this on the MLB system, rather on the Pirates. The Pirates just played the game that MLB has set up and should reap the rewards with some pretty good seasons coming up. The Pirate management team could not come out and say they were losing games on purpose but there really is no other explanation for who they put on the field. They allowed certain players who shall remain nameless, because they have families and children, to make 1072 plate appearances. That is equivalent to two full time position players, or 22% of your starting lineup. This group of individuals had a batting average of .156, an on base percentage of .218 and slugged .230. To put this in perspective, in 2016 the San Franscisco Giants pitching staff had a batting average of .144. It was like the Pirates, instead of using a DH, let pitchers’ bat in two spots of the batting order. The Pirates allowed a group of pitchers to throw 31% of the team’s innings for an ERA of 6.31. I did not include position players pitching in that number. Many times, they put these pitchers in key moments of the game when there were much better choices. According to baseball reference the Pirates were fortunate to lose only 100 games. Despite management’s efforts, the Pirates were a respectable 21-27 in one run games. If they could have done that well in all their games, they would have won 70 games, but management made sure they did not. The 2022 Pirates did exactly what they wanted to do. The 2023 Pirates will contend for the division title. There will be a few things that will have to happen, but more on that tomorrow.

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