Yo Joe! Football and Rock ’n Roll WAR

From Brilliant Reader Ed:

Yo Joe! Can football be saved? Right now the physical toll on the players and the violent culture are dragging the game down.


Pro football remains the most popular spectator sport in America by a landslide so “saved” might not be the right word. Most people love football so much — along with the various extras like fantasy football, gambling on football, the NFL Draft and so on — that they are willing to look past just about anything.

I will admit, though, the NFL is not as much fun for me as it used to be. When I was a kid, I was an enormous NFL fan — way bigger than baseball. I lived and died with the Cleveland Browns. t hasn’t been nearly the same since the Browns left town. It dropped much more in the last few years for many reasons including the safety issues and the arrogance of the league. But my sense is that I’m something of an outlier on this — the sport, by most measurements, is more popular than ever.

There is the question: Can pro football get me and people like me and you back? Well, I just don’t think that’s much of a priority.

From Brilliant Reader Paul:

Yo Joe! f you have a spare moment, could you rank your favorite Springsteen albums in order? Tongue now firmly in cheek....: can you compute a WAR for him?


I’ll give you five: 1. Born to Run; 2. The River; 3. Darkness on the Edge of Town; 4. The Rising; 5. Nebraska. But ask me again in 20 minutes I’d probably give you five more.

More interesting to me than Bruce’s WAR is who would represent replacement level rock and roll. I’m going with Hootie and the Blowfish or Huey Lewis for now, but would love to hear opinions.

From Brilliant Reader Charlie:

Yo Joe! What's your 'walk up to the plate' song? Or, perhaps you're a closer - what's your entrance song?


I’ve got to say that I’m a bigger fan of closer entrance songs — Hell’s Bells and Enter Sandman are songs I wasn’t even crazy about on their own but I absolutely loved them as entrance songs. I’m fascinated by the idea music changing character when you hear it in a different environment. For instance, I always loved the song “Layla.” But now when I hear it, I think only of the meat locker scene in “Goodfellas.”

Point being, I probably wouldn’t want a song I LOVE to be my closer entrance song because it would then change for me. Maybe it could be ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

From Brilliant Reader Jonas:

Yo Joe! I'm a Notre Dame grad, and an ND football fan. My 70 year-old mother, who did not go to Notre Dame, is a bigger fan than me, but does not waste her time in keeping up with the unbearable and inscrutable morass that is college football at large. I was trying to answer her simple question: "Why are Notre Dame and Michigan not playing any more?" I started to get into ,the number of games ND and Michigan have actually played, how that rivalry compares to other rivalry games for both schools, conference ties, the machinations of the power conferences and how it affects schedules, the enlargement of the Big 10, Notre Dame's deal with the ACC, the benefits and drawbacks of football independence, the CFB playoff, and finally, realizing that this answer was needlessly complex, misleading, and thoroughly boring, I stopped and just said "Money."

Can you think of one word that would definitively and accurately answer more "Why" questions in sports than "Money"?



From Brilliant Reader Richard:

Yo Joe! Shouldn’t “Post Season” stats be separated into “Playoff” and “World Series” stats?
Think of all those great players who never got to pad their career totals because they had no more than seven (or 9 in a few cases) “post-season” games each year that they could be in. Bob Gibson. Christy Mathewson. Gil McDougald. Frankie Frisch. But when you add in all the extra games from the extra rounds of playoffs, names like David Justice and Bernie Williams appear on the lists. Fine players, but given an unfair advantage.


Yes, I don’t care much for postseason numbers as such but then I wonder if we have a real handle on postseason numbers at all. We all know they are hugely important and yet, when looking at a players career totals, postseason accomplishments are often ignored or considered as a smaller side item.

When someone asks how many home runs Babe Ruth hit, it’s always listed as 714 — even though he hit 15 more in the World Series. Then they will add “Oh, he was also good in the postseason” like it’s something just worth mentioning. That just seems weird to me. I think that’s part of what made the Jack Morris Hall of Fame case so controversial — nobody really knew how much credit to give him for his World Series masterpiece.

From Brilliant Reader Brian:

Yo Joe! I was looking at the potential playoff lineups in each league the other day, and I noticed something really quirky (as of Sept. 10) that I know you’ll appreciate. Check this out:

1. LAA 1. LAD
2. BAL 2. WAS
3. KC 3. STL
4. OAK 4. SF
5. DET 5. PIT

Do you see anything weird about those lists?

Maybe look at it this way:

1. LAA – LAD
2. BAL – WAS
3. KC – STL
4. OAK – SF
5. DET – PIT

All five of those pairings are interleague rivalry pairings! What are the odds?


Pretty cool. Detroit and Pittsburgh and not really rivals — but if Cleveland catches Detroit for the second wildcard spot (and Kansas City holds on) you have something here.

From Brilliant Reader John:

Yo Joe! My brilliant wife asked me during a game, "Since starting pitchers are so hard to find, why not just use 6 or 7 guys to pitch the whole game?"
My best answer why not is that everybody has a bad time once in a while, and if you use 7 pitchers, the odds are good that someone is having a bad day.
I know the Rockies tried a 4 man rotation asking their starters to go 75 pitches in 2012. How long before we see another team brave enough to try something new? Who do you think is most likely to try something?


I do keep thinking some team will try something wildly different with pitching staffs because (1) The current system doesn’t seem particularly sound logically and (2) Pitchers continue to get hurt a lot. But I don’t think we’re in an environment right now for anyone to be bold on that front because so few runs are being scored.

It’s easy to miss JUST how crazy this year has been for pitchers. Teams are scoring 4.09 runs per game, the lowest average in a full season since 1976. Strikeouts are at their highest point ever. Home runs are at their lowest in more than 20 years and — this one will blow your mind — hitters are drawing fewer walks than any time since that crazy 1968 season, and fewer intentional walks than any time since they started keeping count.

Point is: With pitching thoroughly dominating baseball I doubt anyone will go out on a ledge and try a new pitching concept. Offense will come back, and that’s when pitching experiments will begin again.

From Brilliant Reader Scott:

Yo Joe! You recently wrote, "It's one thing to say Larkin was as good a player as Jeter. It's another to say that Jeter was as good as Larkin with about 25% more career." That's fair enough, but it ignores a different reality: given that they have almost the same career WAR - a cumulative stat - Larkin was a better player per game, so to speak, than Jeter. They are pound-for-pound about the same, because Jeter's longevity brings him up to Larkin's level. Saying that Jeter is as good as Larkin but played longer is to count the same stat twice.
In the same way, the career WAR of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker averaged together is percentage points higher than that of Derek Jeter. Thus, if you had the opportunity to have Derek Jeter and his second base equivalent on your team for a full career, or the combination of Trammell and Whitaker over their careers, it would be a tossup, with a slight edge to the Tiger combo. But because Trammell-Whitaker played fewer games, if you had a choice of two Jeters or Trammell-Whitaker for a single game, you would be wise to choose Trammell-Whitaker.
I admit that the flaw in my argument is that it arguably gives undue weight to WAR, but to me WAR remains the ultimate stat.


Well, I don’t have time to get into more WAR talk but I would make two quick points:

1. Jeter’s offensive WAR (95.1) absolutely swamps Larkin’s (67.5) so in order to believe that Larkin’s overall WAR is as good or better than Jeter you will have to believe he was 28 or so wins better than Jeter defensively. I feel sure that Larkin was a much better defender than Jeter, but that’s a lot of wins, and that’s a pretty big leap even for many people who like WAR a lot.

2. Jeter had many better offensive seasons than Larkin — largely because Larkin simply could not stay healthy. That’s not Larkins “fault" but it’s a reality. On days that Derek Jeter played and Barry Larkin did not — and Jeter played in four more full seasons worth of games — he was worth A LOT more than Larkin.

Put it this way: Dwight Gooden in 1984-85 was one of the greatest pitchers I ever saw. Tom Glavine was never as good for a sustained period of time as Gooden was those two years. But if I am drafting, I take Glavine first every time. Presence matters.