Friday, February 26, 2010

How To Hold On To the Winter Games, Electronically

I like a good videogame now and then with a few conditions:

1. No first person shooters. I am incompetent at all first person shooters.

2. Nothing that takes longer than 15 minutes to play.

3. Nothing that requires multiple button combinations. If it’s harder than a ShoRyuKen, it’s too hard. And even that’s pushing things a bit.

In short, I like old-school NES games (or the occasional Super NES game).

The Winter Olympics come to a close this week, but what if you don’t want the fun to end? How will you fill the void left by not having any biathlon for 4 years? What will you do on weeknights without the orchestral version of Linkin Park’s greatest hits in the Ice Dancing competition? And will we ever be able to recapture the feeling of watching Apollo Ohno become the most decorated athlete in Winter Olympic history by losing to Koreans again and again and again?

Absolutely. The 8-bit video game is here to soothe the soul.

1. Winter Games

Actually, let’s start in the pre-8 bit era with this classic, which can probably be successfully emulated on most coffee makers these days. This game was originally created for the Commodore 64 in 1986, but I played a port on the Atari 7800. Winter Games uses your standard Atari stick figures to represent Alpine Skiing, Ski Jumping, Freestyle Skiing (known as the Hot Dog at the time), Bobsled, Luge, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, and Biathlon.

The Hot Dog was the best of the bunch, as the controls were fairly responsive and you could actually pull off some neat tricks. To receive a perfect ten you had to perform 3 backward flips followed by something that we called a “daffy”, though I don’t know why. Alpine skiing is your standard back and forth racer, and it’s OK, but a bit slow in that particular Atari way. The worst game is bobsled (and probably luge too, though I don’t remember ever playing it), which requires you to look simultaneously at a top-down drawing of a map of the course and the back of your sled, and turn when you approach a curve on the map. You can’t actually see a turn approaching from the first-person point of view. It just shows up all of a sudden. It’s like you can only see the world 3 feet in front of you but no further, and so everything is a surprise. The fact that someone with this handicap is in the bobsledding competition at all is the kind of uplifting story that makes the Olympics so special, though it’s a pain in the ass to actually play.

There’s some good and some bad here, but the most interesting event is probably the Biathlon. While you’re skiing in the biathlon you are constantly haunted by the sound of a very loud, very irregular heartbeat. In fact, at the end of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, “The Telltale Heart”, I suspect the murderer’s roommate is playing Winter Games in his bedroom with the sound on too loud.

In the Biathlon you have to move fast but also keep your heartbeat reasonable, and if you don’t, when you reach the target range the targets will appear microscopic. The whole time you’re playing you feel like you’re going to give your character a heart attack, and the way his heart jumps around, he definitely needs to see a specialist.

I don’t remember figure skating. I’m sure I never played it as I can’t imagine a worse idea for a game. Well, OK. There’s at least one. But this is still pretty bad.

2. Slalom

There is a video game company called Rare. Rare hates you.

Rare is probably most famous for making games of a shockingly high level of difficulty, but not the fun kind of difficulty. Sometimes it’s rewarding to overcome a great challenge and succeed in your goals, but Rare games were more existential in nature. They taught us that life was precious, short, and could end at a moment’s notice, and therefore to appreciate what we have right now. Their most popular impossible game is Battletoads, however for my money, the boat racer/fighter Cobra Triangle is more frustrating by several orders of magnitude. (There’s a stage in Cobra Triangle where you have to jump your boat across several waterfalls. To do so you must hit moving ramps at a certain speed, but the ramps are very random. Unlike most videogames you can’t just memorize a pattern. And if you miss even one jump, which you will, you have to start over. I’ve heard that this level actually repeats itself later in the game, though this is likely just speculation as no one has actually ever completed said level.)

Slalom is comparatively forgiving, however your skier does spend the entire time mooning you with very detailed, very carefully crafted 8-bit butt cheeks. Rare might not be hurting you this time, but they are mocking you.

Other than that, Slalom is a very realistic representation of Olympic level skiing, complete with other skiers trying to run into you, randomly built snowmen in the middle of ski runs, and trees galore. There’s also a small glitch in the game that will allow you to continue skiing after time expires if you can keep jumping in rhythm. Not by hitting jumps. By jumping. Because jumping on skis is a big part of skiing, so they had to include it in the game.

Slalom is not without its charm, but it handles like molasses and the lack of tight controls will eventually leave you frustrated when you run into your 18th snowperson and you can’t get the image of your skier bending over out of your head.

3. Ice Hockey

Now we’re getting somewhere. Ice Hockey is a NES classic, and as an added bonus it reignites that Cold War angst that the modern Olympics is sorely lacking.

Ice Hockey was one of the first releases for the Nintendo Entertainment System and either Nintendo never thought to seek out an NHL license, or they didn’t want to pay for one. Instead you get to choose from one of several international squads including the US, Canada, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the dreaded USSR.

You also got to create your team by choosing either skinny fast guys, average guys, or fat, powerful guys at all of the positions, and while you needed one skinny guy for face-offs, fat guys are the way to go. They have devastating slap shots, can effortlessly knock over the other players, and are themselves very difficult to check. This makes Ice Hockey one of the few things in existence where being a squat, overweight man is a serious advantage.

Ice Hockey actually plays really well. The controls are very responsive and the game still looks pretty good, especially considering that it’s only two years younger than the extremely primitive Winter Games. Even the music is catchy. Controlling the goalie is a bit wonky, but you eventually get used to it and it’s actually pretty fun. There are even fights! And not just two guys weakly punching each other either. Fights in Ice Hockey are full-on brawls complete with guys getting forcefully thrown out of the scrum.

If you’re looking to recreate the Miracle on Ice, this is your best bet.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

UW's Rafalski dominates Canada

with just a small bit of help from Miller and no help from filthy Gophers, who have pretty much decided to take the Olympics off.

North Mexico's home Olympics just keep getting worse.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prospect spreadsheet is nerdily fantastic

Brett Lawry is challenging Escobar for top Brewer prospect.

The other nice thing is that you no longer need to look to CBS Sports for intelligent baseball prospect commentary. Mark Rogers the third best prospect in the organization? Really? Jeremy Jeffress still ahead of Braddock and Arnett? Just delete CBS Sports from your bookmark folder now, folks. They have nothing smart to say.

Dude pulled a Shuster

wikipedia vandalism:
John Shuster (born November 3, 1982, died February 18, 2010) is an American curler from Chisholm, Minnesota and Olympic medalist. Nicknamed "The Largest Choke Artist Alive", Shuster distracts his opponents with horrible shots and general terrible overall play. He is known for folding under pressure situations and never making clutch, let alone easy, shots. He received a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.[1]

He participated on the American team at the 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009 World Curling Championships.

Shuster curls out of the Duluth Curling Club. As a young boy Shuster was interested in other sports, such as golf and baseball. During the memorable 1996 Masters event, he served as a caddy for Greg Norman.

Shuster won the 2010 United States Olympic Curling Trials and is representing the United States at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

At the 2009 Curling World Championships in Moncton, Canada John Shuster and his team finished in fifth place. They ended the Round Robin portion in a tie for the playoffs; however, they lost to Team Norway in the tiebreaker.

In a side note, in 2008 Shuster attempted to commit suicide. Unsurprisingly to those who know him and have watched him play, he failed at the attempt; Shuster used a gun and once again completely messed up the shot.

Shuster's 2005 college roommate stated that he only bought Shuster a shot once. He said that after the first attempt, he never trusted Shuster with a shot ever again.

Shuster has come to be known as the biggest choke artist of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and is the lone reason the USA curling team has not won a single game this Olympics.

Upon John's pathetic performance at the 2010 games, he has decided to retire from the sport. And an hero.

Shuster said he draws inspiration from Bill Buckner, Brad Lidge, Scott Norwood, and the city of Cleveland.

He currently works as a quality control specialist for Toyota.

Quote of the day

From Will Carroll:

Remember, ESPN tried to roll out OPS last year as a “new statistic,” explaining it on virtually every broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball. Jon Miller would read a short script, give an example, and then Joe Morgan would say something about the Big Red Machine. All planned out, in great detail. Yet people I know at ESPN have told me that in their testing, their viewers rejected OPS as “too complicated.”

Shaun White

I don't really like sports that involve judging like figure skating or gymnastics. I always think that judges are crooked, and I like things to be as objective as they can. (Though I realize that even in sports like football and baseball there is a good deal of "judging" going on, and I still like those.)

For this reason, I did not expect to enjoy the snowboard half-pipe event yesterday. I don't really watch the X-Game stuff, and I always figured events like this were added to the Olympics basically to get Americans more medals (and to grab that "18-35 year-old males" demographic). And this is probably true.

That said, I am shocked at how much better Shaun White was than everyone else. Even someone completely unfamiliar with the sport (like me) could tell that he was clearly the class of the competition. He must have been getting an extra 5 feet of air over his next closest competitor on every jump, and his landings looked effortless. I didn't think I'd ever say this, but Shaun White is an amazing athlete.

(Snowboard Cross is also really cool, but I think that event is finished.)

The Olympics started a bit slow, but yesterday was highly entertaining all around.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jon Shuster...curlings Greg Norman

Choking son of a......

Rob Neyer On Prince Fielder

He says the Brewers should trade him now.

He makes a strong case.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Check out this tweet. (Hat tip, BCB.)

I've been thinking the same thing as I get my various iterations of the PECOTA spreadsheets. Something isn't right here.

Here's what we know:

1. BP has been hemorrhaging talent, the latest being Joe Sheehan.

2. Nate Silver is gone, and Nate Silver, more than anyone else, is responsible for PECOTA.

3. BP has insinuated that they have attempted to further automate PECOTA, transitioning it from a bunch of somewhat disorganized spreasheets that Nate could make sense of to a more user friendly system.

I'm not going to speculate on exactly what is going wrong, but it's easy imagine several ways in which PECOTA could have gone wrong given these facts. It's been all over the map to this point, and I'm skeptical this year as well.

Friday, February 12, 2010

SABR's Emerald Guide to Baseball 2010 FREE!

To get your free PDF of The Emerald Guide to Baseball 2010, as well as the guides for 2007–2009, please fill out the form below and hit "Submit." You'll get an email with a download link, and one or two more from SABR, but that's it. We won't sell or give your information to anyone else. If you're a SABR member, you can download the file on the members' site.

On the subject of books here is a minireview: the barnes and noble nook is amazing.

Download the free PDF here.

I Enjoy Watching Curling

I’ve heard a lot of people ripping on curling as these Winter Olympics approach, and I don’t think that’s fair. I tried curling for the first time last year, and I’ve always enjoyed watching it. It actually reminds me of baseball.

I think some people see it as a form of bowling, and while I don’t want to denigrate bowling, curling is far more difficult, requires more athletic ability, and most importantly, requires a ton of strategy.

(Quick disclaimer in case any actual curling experts read this. I’ll probably misstate something. I’m working mostly off of my one time curling in person, and watching curling in bars with the sound off. But I’ve at least got the gist of it.)

You can read about the rules online in many different places, and I won’t go over them in detail here. What I do want to do is point out a few things that you may not learn from simply watching the broadcast.

1. Curling is hard.

The first thing you learn upon trying curling is not to step on the ice with your slider foot first. When you curl, you wear a special frictionless shoe called a slider. You spend a lot of time moving on the ice by pushing yourself along with your normal shoe while sliding on the slider. If you step on the ice with your slider shoe before your regular shoe, you will fall. The second thing you learn is that sliding down the ice while sweeping as fast as you can is an intense aerobic workout. You don’t have as much leverage as you normally would because of the ice, and you sweep for a long distance. The playing surface is 50 yards long, and over the course of a match, all of that sweeping really adds up.

You also have to be pretty flexible. The throwing motion is awkward. It’s easy to lose your balance, and if you happen to wear jeans while curling, people will probably see more of you than you intended.

Oh, and that stone weighs 40 pounds.

2. You have to yell really loud to communicate.

Some time when you’re on a football field, have one person stand on the goal line and another person stand at the 50, and have a conversation. The curling match requires you to communicate constantly at that distance. When I played, my position (skip) required the most yelling, and frankly, I don’t really have the pipes for it. Even at my very loudest people had a hard time hearing me.

3. The ice isn’t smooth.

The reason the sport is called curling is that when you throw a stone, you can get a certain amount of lateral movement by turning (basically, gently spinning) the rock as you release it. If memory serves (which is probably doesn’t), every rotation of the stone will create about 2 feet of lateral movement over the course of the pitch. You can really get a ton of movement on the thing. The reason it curls is because the surface is prepared by spraying it with water droplets, which causes “pebbling” on the surface. The friction between the pebbled surface and the stone allows for the curl. The sweeping eats away at the pebbling, and causes the stone to flatten out.

Because of this, curling is one of the only sports where you have some power to alter your throw in mid-throw (like pitching in a baseball video game).

4. Curling has ten “innings” which are called “ends.”

I mentioned that I think curling is like baseball, and the untimed, “inning style” is one of the reasons.

5. Throwing the last rock in an end is advantageous.

For obvious reasons, throwing the last rock (or the “hammer”) gives you a better chance to score. Determining who shoots last in the first end is usually decided by coin flip, or alternatively, the captains of each team will each throw a rock, with closest to the bulls eye (the middle of the “house”) gaining the honors. In each subsequent end the hammer will be reserved for the team that did not score in the previous end. In the event of a tie (or a “blank end”) the hammer stays with the last team to have it.

The team that is not throwing last will generally play a more defensive oriented end, setting up more blockers in anticipation of the last throws. The order plays a huge role in strategy.

There is a lot going on in a curling match. I really think it appeals to my baseball sensibilities. It fits into the “pastime” category nicely. You can watch in a low-intensity way, yet just like baseball, every throw is important, and there is potential for big moments and spectacular plays. (Really! An example would be a final shot that results in a huge, perfectly calibrated chain reaction.)

If you love baseball, try watching a match. And if you ever want to try it, I'd recommend the Chicago Curling Club. We had a great time there at a "learn to curl" event.

Corey Hart Has World's Greatest Negotiator/Lawyer

He won his arbitration hearing and will receive $4.8 million next year.

Now, I understand why this happened. Hart was making less than he would have received on the open market, and so even though he has gotten steadily worse since becoming a major leaguer, there is a rational reason as to why he should get paid more now than he was paid before.

Still, for a player who has seen his power fall off a cliff since becoming a regular starter (his slugging fell from .539 in 2007 to .459 in 2008 to .418 last year), whose OBP is almost entirely tied up in his BA (though he did walk more last year, thank god), and who finished 13th in the NL last year in VORP behind Milton Bradley and Kyle Blanks, it's pretty galling to see him win in arbitration.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So bad I can't even make fun of it.

It's too easy. I tried, but man is this bad.

Basically, this guy thinks that the Saints' onside kick to start the second half was cheating. His reasoning is, and I kid you not, that the coin toss entitles you to the ball, and so by kicking onside to start a half, the Saints were defying the coin toss. Even though it's not illegal. And even though the same argument could be made for kicking onside on the opening kickoff, which the Philadelphia Eagles did in November, and which teams do a few times a year.

Have fun.

Friday, February 5, 2010

10 Super Bowl Predictions

1. CBS plays so many CSI commercials that we hear the entire Who halftime set 32 times before halftime.

2. Tim Tebow’s commercial will end with the Florida star claiming that God told him: “if no one drafts me in the first round, I’ll die.”

3. Former Packer Mark Brunell will hold like a champion.

4. Indianapolis Colt WR Austin Collie will win the annual Animal Planet Puppy Bowl MVP. He will dedicate his award to the memory of recently deceased Puppy Bowl announcer Harry Kalas.

5. During the broadcast an announcer will awkwardly conflate Hurricane Katrina with the earthquake in Haiti.

6. If he has anything that can be considered even remotely close to a good game, Pierre Garcon, who is of Haitian descent, will win the MVP award.

7. Peyton Manning will lead a thrilling 4th quarter comeback for the win, moving him past John Elway and into a tie with Dan Marino and Colt legend Johnny Unitas for first all time in the category.

8. The world suddenly ends when New Orleans Saint RB, #23 Pierre Thomas catches 4 balls for 8 yards, has 16 carries for 42 yards, and ends the game by taking off his helmet, eliciting a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

9. Curtis Painter uses his free time backing up Peyton Manning to paint.

10. After the game, Mike Bell visits Philadelphia, Drew Brees goes wind surfing, Melvin Bullit visits a shooting range, John Gill goes fishing, Roman Harper visits Italy, Justin Snow hits the slopes, Tony Ugoh buys a crappy car, and Jermon Bushrod does…uhm…something else.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Quick and Dirty Analysis of Wisconsin Badger Basketball.

I was reading this the other day. It’s an article about the most efficient shots in (professional) basketball. Basically, you should maximize your free throws, 3-pointers, and shots that are “close to the rim”. Mid-range jumpers will get you nowhere fast.

Bo Ryan’s “Swing Offense” viewed in this light is extremely efficient. The swing offense frequently has options for every player (including guards) to post up and get easy shots near the basket, or to take 3-pointers (including big men). The mid-range jumper is rarely used (with one notable exception that we will get to in a moment).

It’s actually pretty obvious that these shots are efficient. It is easier to make shots if you are closer to the rim, and the extra point gained from a three pointer outweighs the added risk of taking the shot. This alone is not what makes the system go.

What does make the system go is utilizing certain positions in unusual ways. Take Trevon Hughes. In his senior season he’s developed a complete game, but I think his primary offensive skill is in the post. He’s frequently able to score over guards down low, and failing that, often finds a wide open big man cutting for a layup.
Posting up isn’t easy, but unlike some other basketball skills (athleticism, vision, speed), it can be learned. Moreover, most post moves are designed for somewhat unathletic big men. Even if a guard isn’t as explosive as the John Walls of the world, he will probably be athletic enough to quickly pickup a post move or two.

Post-up guards are an undervalued resource in college basketball, and Wisconsin capitalizes on this seemingly every year. Wisconsin fans don’t really think about Alando Tucker (generously listed at 6-6 by the NBA) as a guard because of his post-up game and because he played like a power forward. But while most recruiters probably saw a “too-slow-for-guard, too-short-for-forward player” Bo saw what he always sees; a guard who will be a monster in the post. Marcus Landry (a more accurate 6-6 who is listed at 6-7 by ESPN) was a similar player.

Big-time colleges tend to focus on great athletes who probably wouldn’t be happy playing the post-up game. These are the players who get on Sportscenter and make Dick Vitale go nuts. Wisconsin’s offense is perfectly suited to capitalize on this inefficiency.

The second part of the equation is good outside shooting, especially from big men. Keaton Nankivil currently excels in this role, as does Jon Leuer when he’s healthy. Brian Butch was a better inside presence but still shot over 30% from outside the arc, and certainly wasn’t averse to taking the shot. Mike Wilkinson was also a huge threat from inside and outside.

Big men with an outside game are certainly not as rare as post-up guards, (especially in the post-Nowitzki NBA), but they are still frequently more available than “true centers” or the “bruiser” type of power forward. The result of this is that any given Wisconsin player is generally capable of scoring from the two most efficient spots on the floor at any given time.

The one notable exception to this in recent Wisconsin history was Joe Krabbenhoft, who never saw a mid-range two he didn’t like. To be fair, Joe was pretty prolific at the shot, however much of the predicted Wisconsin downturn this year was predicated on not being able to replace Joe. Since he excelled at a shot where it’s difficult to be efficient, I wonder if it was easier to replace him than people thought. And, you could make a similar case for Marcus Landry, who played in the post but who would also step out for a long two.

If you’re looking for a “Moneyball” style college basketball team, you could do worse than Wisconsin.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Are you in favor of a 96 game NCAA tournament? I'm not sure myself. I could see it adding an extra layer of fun, but you might get some really really bad games on that first weekend.

Then again, you already get those. And you just might get an epic upset or two.


BP is basically telling everyone to ignore those first PECOTA spreadhseets they sent out.