Friday Links

(Divorce: A Love Story, is now available. Did I mention it’s only $2.99 and that you can’t afford *not* to buy it?!)

1)ESPN has announced that it is shutting down its boutique micro-site, (forgive me if I’m using the wrong terminology) Grantland. This is a loss for high quality sports content. I guess once Bill Simmons left ESPN, Grantland was in trouble. Substantively, ESPN is worse off for this move. Clearly, the company is undergoing an economic retrenchment and Grantland is, in part, a victim of that process.

2)Nate Silver, et al., have a good discussion about the Royals and Mets at 538. As always happens, when a team goes on a run (even a two-game run) at this time of year, analysts impute to that team’s approach, philosophy, character and so forth all kinds of qualities they likely don’t warrant. The Royals are now a two-time defending American League champion and two wins away from their first World Series title in thirty years. One consequence is that their offensive approach – the low-strikeout/put-the-ball-in-play game that seems to be driving the Mets flamethrowers mad so far – is being extolled to the mountain tops. But the reality is this: the Royals were a slightly above average offense during the regular season, and their performance so far in the World Series is pretty consistent with their regular season level: (from 538’s Harry Enten):

“Let me offer this piece of hope for the Mets (because, as Neil notes, they are in trouble): The Royals are hitting at about their average through the small sample size of two games (.721 OPS vs .734 in the regular season), while the Mets are hitting quite below their average (.432 vs. .712 in the regular season).”

The Royals have scored 12 runs so far in two games, which is very good, of course. But they’ve done it in 22 innings, which isn’t world beating. The Mets have scored five runs so far and one in the last 15 innings. Royals’ hitters are doing a very nice job so far of getting good at-bats against New York pitching. Particularly notable is that Royals’ hitters have as many walks as strikeouts (ten each) in the first two games. That’s a far cry from the Royals approach during the regular season, when their hitters had a strikeout to walk ratio of about 2.7-1.

But with that said, the real story so far, as Enten suggests, is Royals pitching and Mets’ hitting, not the other way around.

More to the point – per Silver et al, “randomness” really does account for what happens between two evenly matched teams over all of two games.

3) It’s hard to overstate how much better and smarter Dan LeBatard (and Stugotz) are than Cowherd. Indeed, I really have much less fodder for this blog, as long as I’m going to focus on ESPN, now that Colin is no longer there. Six hours of LeBatard and Bomani Jones is pretty tough to beat for smarts, political and cultural awareness in the sports media space.

LeBatard began this morning’s show hammering the NFL for putting on Thursday night football. It’s an inferior product, because football players cannot get themselves ready in three days to play another football game. But more than that, it’s cruel and despicable. The players, LeBatard argued, aren’t complaining about playing on Sunday (or Monday). But they’re complaining bitterly about the Thursday night games, which they view as physically unsustainable. Stugotz readily agreed that it’s essentially unconscionable to run the players back out there and that the NFL is making as clear a statement as it can – money over health.

LeBatard was frustrated that we, the viewing public, are capable of experiencing empathy for athletes on those rare occasions when they breakdown and show human emotions (as University of Miami coach Al Golden did last week, at the end of a 58-0 loss, after which he was fired). Since we can relate to athletes’ emotions – at least some times – why, LeBatard wanted to know, can’t we show the requisite empathy for the physical agony Thursday football is inflicting on players? Stugotz responded, appropriately, that the difference is our ability to identify with players’ emotional experiences – whether it’s losing a job, the loss of a loved one or whatever. But almost none of us can relate to the physical experience of playing football at the level professionals play it. In that regard, it’s an abstraction. Since we love our football, generally think the players are being paid enough that they can live with the physical pain and we don’t *really* know what they’re experiencing, it’s easy to let it all slide. LeBatard was frustrated with Stugotz for this line of argument, but Stugotz’ understanding of the distinction between the relate-ability of emotional experiences versus the physical ones football players endure is undoubtedly correct.



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