New England quarterback Tom Brady is obviously not underrated. He’s not overrated either … everybody realizes just how good Tom Brady is and how good he has been.
That said: You hear SO MUCH about Tom Brady’s intangibles, his leadership skills, his team building talents, that it’s easy to forget something — the guy has a bazooka for an arm. I don’t know how many quarterbacks can make ALL the throws — five quarterbacks maybe? Brady is one of them. He can throw the deep ball, of course. He has the touch for the swing passes and screens. He has the strength of arm to throw those deep down-and-outs.
And just now he made a couple of powerful throws over the middle that had enough juice on them that the safety had absolutely no chance to get over in time. Tom Brady’s greatness as a quarterback is a complex thing made up of decision-making and quick thinking and versatility and toughness and a good sense for how to deal with teammates and many other things. But the guy also has some kind of arm, and I think sometimes people miss it.
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Another thing I’m thankful for: The yellow first down line on television. Technological gimmicks like that usually doesn’t work. The glowing puck in hockey was an obvious failure. I’m not crazy about the strike zone box they show during baseball games. But the yellow first down line in football is one of the great television innovations that seamlessly becomes part of the viewing experience. It’s so great that whenever I see games WITHOUT the yellow line, it feels a bit empty.
You know what it’s like? I do probably 75% of my book reading now on my iPad. Well, with iPad readers like iBooks or the Kindle, you can press down on a word and instantly get its definition. That’s a great thing, and now when I read a real book I found myself tempted to press down on a single word in the hopes that it will magically pull out a dictionary and define the word for me.
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So, you may have noticed that this year — for the first time in a few years — the league leaders in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement won the Most Valuable Player award. Josh Hamilton led all of baseball with an 8.0 WAR. Joey Votto led the National League with a 7.4 WAR. The last time it happened was 2003, when F-WAR leaders lAlex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds won the MVP. Over the last 20 years, it’s happened three times — it also happened in 1994 and 1990.
American League F-WAR Leaders (and MVPs):
2010: Josh Hamilton 8.0 (Josh Hamilton)
2009: Ben Zobrist 8.4 (Joe Mauer 8.0)
2008: Grady Sizemore 7.1 (Dustin Pedroia 6.6)
2007: Alex Rodriguez 9.2 (Alex Rodriguez)
2006: Grady Sizemore 7.3 (Justin Morneau 4.3)
2005: Alex Rodriguez 9.4 (Alex Rodriguez)
2004: Ichiro Suzuki 7.2 (Vladimir Guerrero 6.2)
2003: Alex Rodriguez 10.7 (Alex Rodriguez)
2002: Alex Rodriguez 9.8 (Miguel Tejada 4.5)
2001: Jason Giambi 9.3 (Ichiro Suzuki 6.1)
2000: Alex Rodriguez 9.6 (Jason Giambi 7.8)
1999: Manny Ramirez 7.5 (Ivan Rodriguez 6.9)
1998: Alex Rodriguez 8.4 (Juan Gonzalez 5.3)
1997: Ken Griffey 9.4 (Ken Griffey)
1996: Ken Griffey 10.2 (Juan Gonzalez 3.7)
1995: John Valentin 8.4 (Mo Vaughn 5.2)
1994: Frank Thomas 7.8 (Frank Thomas)
1993: Ken Griffey 9.0 (Frank Thomas 6.7)
1992: Frank Thomas 7.7 (Dennis Eckersley 3.0)
1991: Cal Ripken 11.1 (Cal Ripken)
1990: Rickey Henderson 10.5 (Rickey Henderson)
National League F-War Leaders and MVPs)
2010: Joey Votto 7.4 (Joey Votto)
2009: Albert Pujols 8.7 (Albert Pujols)
2008: Albert Pujols 9.3 (Albert Pujols)
2007: David Wright 8.6 (Jimmy Rollins 6.3)
2006: Albert Pujols 8.3 (Ryan Howard 6.5)
2005: Andruw Jones 8.3 (Albert Pujols 7.9)
2004: Barry Bonds 12.2 (Barry Bonds)
2003: Barry Bonds 10.7 (Barry Bonds)
2002: Barry Bonds 13.0 (Barry Bonds)
2001: Barry Bonds 12.9 (Barry Bonds)
2000: Todd Helton 8.6 (Jeff Kent 7.6)
1999: Jeff Bagwell 8.2 (Chipper Jones 7.7)
1998: Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire 8.8 (Sammy Sosa 7.4)
1997: Craig Biggio 9.7 (Larry Walker 9.4)
1996: Barry Bonds 9.1 (Ken Caminiti 7.6)
1995: Barry Bonds 7.7 (Barry Larkin 5.3)
1994: Jeff Bagwell 7.8 (Jeff Bagwell)
1993: Barry Bonds 10.6 (Barry Bonds)
1992: Barry Bonds 9.8 (Barry Bonds)
1991: Barry Bonds 7.9 (Terry Pendleton 6.4)
1990: Barry Bonds 10.1 (Barry Bonds)
Of course, F-WAR is just one statistic, and it too sometimes spits out interesting choices like Ben Zobrist last year or John Valentin in 1995. But I think the point I take from this is that while an advanced stat like F-WAR isn’t often EXACTLY the same as the subjective view, they are usually pretty similar. And I think it’s easy to miss that point. Again and again, we hear about the conflict between advanced stats and observation, between what these numbers tell us and what we believe about baseball. It’s supposed to be a war (lower case).
And yes, every now and again the MVP voting spits out a weird winner like the Dennis Eckersley in 1992 choice. Yes, every now and again RBIs seem to play a disproportionate role and Justin Morneau or Miguel Tejada or Juan Gonzalez or wins. But more often than not, I think F-WAR and what we see are not very different. This year, the NL MVP could have been Joey Votto or it could have been Albert Pujols, and they were separated by .1 F-WAR which, really, means absolutely nothing. The AL MVP could have been Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera or Robinson Cano, and all three had at least 6.0 F-WAR, which means they all had very good years.
The best baseball stats do a couple of things, I think. One, they reflect what we believe about the game. And two, they tell us something that we may not have noticed. I think F-WAR (and Baseball Reference WAR, just as a starting point) does that. I don’t always agree with what F-WAR suggests, or what Baseball Reference WAR suggests, or what xFIP suggests, or what any one number or one angle or one philosophy suggests. But I really don’t think the gap is nearly as wide as we so often say. Stats tell us things, and our eyes and sense of the game tell us things, and they probably agree 90% of the time. There may be some people who think Miguel Cabrera should have won the MVP over Josh Hamilton. But I don’t think anyone would deny Hamilton was pretty great.
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I love Thanksgiving. I mean, seriously, I love everything about it. I love turkey. I love cranberry sauce. I love how the house smells on Thanksgiving day. I love falling asleep in my recliner. I love that one a day a year I’m allowed, no, encouraged, no, commanded by American law and the powers of tradition to sit in front of the television and watch the Detroit Lions play football. I love hearing the kids ask what time dinner will begin.
I love the blitz of “wake up at 4 a.m. so you can get stand in line and get the most cheaply made DVD player on the market for 19 bucks” commercials.
I love going to the airport like I will today and seeing the last remnants of families coming together for the holiday — not many people travel on Thanksgiving, I guess, but the ones who do are committed. They are often military families. They are often sons and daughters who could not get off work before today. It’s a good scene.
I love that the Christmas lights are glowing already, and people complaining because it seems too early to have them out — “pretty soon people are going to start putting them out on the fourth of July,” someone will mutter grumpily* — complaining like they do every year and yet it changes the way everything looks in a happy and familiar way.
*With the same inflections as the summer “hot enough for you” voices.
I love that we all just agreed that one day, at least, we should feel thankful. I’m a thank you addict anyway. Always thank you. It’s like a nervous tic. I say thank you to airport security. I say thank you to the police officers who give me tickets. I say thank you to annoying sales call to the house. At big sporting events, reporters will get dozens and dozens of pages of notes and quotes and various other press releases, and they always come one at a time so that it feels like you are constantly bombarded by a parade of interns and junior public relations people stuffing these mostly-meaningless pages at you — and yet I always say thank you, every single time, not because I’m exceedingly polite, not because I’m an especially thankful person, but because those are the words that come out. It’s pure habit at this point. I couldn’t quit if I tried.
And so I love that there’s a day when I can think about all the stuff I’m really thankful for … for quite a few years I wrote a Thanksgiving column in The Kansas City Star where I wrote about those thankful things. People came to realize that mostly I was thankful for food — Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends in Kansas City, Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, Basso56 in New York, Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, the Slanted Door in San Francisco and, oh a hundred other places. But I was always thankful for other things too. It was never a particularly hard column to write.
This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t write the column for The Star. I love my 13 years there, treasure them, am more thankful for them than anything I’ve ever done professionally. But the Star has a terrific young columnist now, my friend Sam Mellinger, and they just hired a new sports editor who I hear great things about, and they don’t need an old ghost haunting the place.
Instead, I’m writing this Live Thanksgiving Blog — updating it throughout the day with thoughts, ideas, a little football commentary, some of the half-written blog posts I’m not going to finish and, of course, a few thank yous, starting with the corniest one: Thank you for reading.