Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happy P & C Day!

It’s finally here, the day I’ve been waiting for since October, My favorite day of the year, P & C day! P & C day, or the day that Pitchers and Catchers report to spring training is  a holiday in my household.  Even though nothing much actually happens, the players merely report to camp and perhaps have a couple of languid games of catch in the Florida and Arizona sunshine, it’s a sign that spring is in the air and my favorite sport will soon once again enter the daily fabric of my life. I love baseball for many reasons, the balance of strategic gamesmanship and planning, juxtaposed with bursts of athletic grace and energy. It is the athletic equivalent of chess, with moves set up innings, games, even months in advance.  Greg Maddux once declared that he purposely allowed a batter to get a hit in a game he believed he had well in hand, merely to set up a potential thought in a hitter’s mind as to what he would do later in the season when they matched up again, likely in a more important situation. It is this mix of the cerebral and athletic that I so love. There is always something to pick up, I catch something new in every game I play, watch, or coach. Baseball is a game where the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and today marks the kickoff of a fascinating 8 month journey culminating in the World Series.   

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Peyton's Place: Indy or Elsewhere?

The Super Bowl week spat between Peyton Manning and Colts owner Robert Irsay has fostered much debate about what the Colts, owners of the first pick in the draft, should do. Should they release Peyton and save themselves $28 million, and draft Andrew Luck, considered the best QB prospect coming out of college since…Peyton Manning?  Should they keep Manning to mentor Luck and tie up much of their salary cap in one position?  I have heard scouts say that while Luck has great talent, he’s no Peyton Manning nor ever will be. They recommend trading the pick and keeping Manning (assuming he passes their physical). The real question is not whether Luck will be better than Manning ever was , now, or in 5 years. It is whether he will be better than Manning at that point in time. The answer is almost certainly yes, even if Luck turns out to be no better than Jim Sorgi (former Manning backup QB who virtually never saw the field in Manning’s heyday). Manning will almost certainly be gone in five years. The real question is whether Luck will be better than the players they would have drafted if they traded the pick.  Secondarily, will the Colts transform back into contenders next year if Manning is back near the top of his game?  Will the other players they may draft help them get there more than a bench riding Luck next year (almost to a certainty). It’s a tough call as to when to cut ties with an icon, and unless Manning  retires gracefully (something he’s given no indication of doing), there is no easy answer for the Colts.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Juan More Year

So the decision has been made to retain Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator for the Eagles, a decision met with chagrin by most of eagle fandom. Most people wanted the former offensive line coach replaced with an experienced defensive coordinator, with the majority favoring former Eagles assistant and recently fired Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo chose New Orleans and the eagles are keeping Castillo, with most of the public believing he is a lame duck that was only retained because the eagles were slow to pull the trigger. The Eagles will counter that Castillo grew on the job, and grew rapidly at that, showing vast improvement in defensive statistics compiled during their season ending four game winning streak.  Critics counter with “Who did they play?” Four teams that, like the Eagles, are outside  looking in at the playoffs.  Separating improvements in Castillo’s performance benefits derived from a decline in the quality of opponents is virtually impossible. 
The fact remains, the defense did improve. Schemes were revised and adjusted to take better advantage of personnel.  Just as with anyone who get a promotion or switches jobs, there is a learning curve. You don’t come in knowing everything.  You make mistakes. If you’re smart and work hard, you’ll improve your performance, your mistakes will decrease, and you will come up to speed. Castillo should be given the same opportunity, and all indications are he is improving. You can quibble he should never have been given the job in the first place, but once the deed was done, he deserves a chance. Additionally, you can bet the eagles will try hard to give him better tools to work with. Expect them to invest many of their draft picks or free agent dollars in players on the defensive side of the ball, perhaps even that elusive stud linebacker the eagles have long eschewed, and a position that is so necessary to stopping the run with the wide 9 defensive alignment they employ. The wide nine generated a lot of quarterback pressure, but the left the team vulnerable to the run and to tight ends running short patterns in front of the secondary.
            Castillo will have a whole off-season, including mini-camps, training camp, etc. to refine his schemes, incorporate the new personnel, build on his hard won experience, and develop a cohesive unit. He deserves a chance to show he is up to the challenge.