King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Angels, Rangers brawl, and almost fight too! Plus: Another writer suggests firing the punter. It's crazy, but it's good crazy.


Salon Staff
August 17, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Funny headline on the front page of Yahoo Sports and elsewhere Thursday morning: "Brawl mars Rangers' victory over Angels."

Hey, listen. I watched that game. The brawl was the highlight. And it wasn't even much of a brawl.

It was a hilariously typical baseball fight. The Angels and Rangers, division rivals and, more important, teams that have over the years copied each other's uniform designs, have been engaged in a simmering beanball battle since last week that exploded into open warfare Wednesday night when Angel Adam Kennedy charged the mound after being plunked by Scott Feldman.

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Two Angels pitchers had been tossed in the previous half inning for hitting Rangers batters, so Kennedy figured this latest HBP, square in his butt, had a message stapled to it. He rushed out toward the mound.

Feldman, who's 6-6, 225 pounds, or about six inches and 40 pounds bigger than Kennedy, dropped his glove and waited for Kennedy with what can only be described as giddy anticipation.

Kennedy kept coming, to his credit. I'd have done that thing baseball players often do when they're charging the mound, slowed down ever so slightly so that catcher Gerald Laird could tackle me from behind and defuse the whole situation.

Fortunately for Kennedy, Feldman threw a punch with his pitching motion, kind of a sidearm slap. They grappled briefly as others converged on the mound, third baseman Mark DeRosa tackled Kennedy, and then everybody did that other typical baseball fight thing, find someone as unwilling as you are to fight, grab each other and play peacemaker.

Do 50 guys squared off, holding each other's jersey with one hand and patting each other on the back with the other, constitute a brawl?

I've seen more exciting fights on Don King pay-per-view telecasts, and that's really saying something.

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Never punt? Now you're talking! [PERMALINK]

What if NFL teams never punted? I don't mean go for it more often on fourth down, I mean never, ever punt. Fire the punter. Regular readers know this is a fantasy of mine, but I'm thrilled to have found another writer proposing it.

Jason Scheib asks the question in a column in Football Outsiders headlined, and I'm breathing heavily here, "Never Punting."

Mmmmm. Never punting.

Then he spends 10,000 or so words and some amateur mathematics trying to figure out the answer. What if NFL teams never punted?

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His theory, simplified, is that punts should be considered turnovers. A better way to put it might be nonscores. This is very much the way basketball analysts look at things.

Every possession results in either a score or a turnover, he writes, or a nonscore, we might say, and so he introduces a new stat, ATR, for actual turnover ratio, which simply measures the ratios of scoring drives to nonscoring drives. Basketball statheads like to look at what's usually called efficiency, which is a similar idea, points per possession.

Scheib finds that ATR does correlate to wins, so it stands to reason that by cutting down on turnovers, as defined here -- meaning nonscoring possessions -- a team can win more games. He argues that by never punting, offenses will improve because they'll get into what he calls a four-down mindset, and because converting even one former punting situation into a scoring drive per game should result in a net gain in wins.

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Is he right? Who knows. Ten thousand words is a lot to slog through when there are mathematical equations interspersed, and I'm not sure I follow every nuance of Scheib's argument.

He also admits that he's no statistician, so the math itself might be either poorly conceived or just incorrect. Or both.

Scheib writes that he published the piece just to get a conversation going, and he succeeded. There are well over 100 comments following the piece, just about all of them smart, and many of them carefully picking apart Scheib's arguments.

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But the important thing is that we'll never know if Scheib's right, because no NFL coach is ever going to try never punting. NFL coaches are radically risk averse. It's one of the great projects of the 21st century to get them to stop punting on fourth and inches from midfield.

They're not going to try a strategy that, should it cost their team a single game, would result in the wholesale roasting of their keisters on talk radio and in the local blats.

Actually, that's not the important thing. At least not to me. The important thing is that this is the kind of junk that makes sophisticated, statistics-based analysis of sports, the sabermetric approach, if you will, fun. Let's toss a theory out there and try to figure out if it would work in the real world.

Baseball, which is way ahead in the sabermetric approach -- the word itself was derived from the acronym of the Society for American Baseball Research, after all -- is way ahead in this kind of pie-in-the-sky what-if-ism.

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What if teams went back to a four-man rotation? What if closers weren't only used to protect leads in the ninth inning? What if you never bunted, or intentionally walked a great hitter every single time? What if you had a whole staff of relief pitchers whom you asked to pitch three innings max, but on a three-day rotation?

It's exciting to me to see this approach spread beyond baseball to other sports. Because even though this sort of conversation is often a sports version of an angels on the head of a pin debate, it's the kind of thing that can lead to new ways of thinking, and to innovation.

At some point, somebody said, "What if we only use our best pitcher in the ninth inning?" or "What if we went to a five-man starting rotation?" New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was indulging in this kind of thinking when he figured out how to fill out his roster with role players who did specific things well without putting an undue burden on the salary cap.

I think Scheib's theory doesn't fly. I'm not sure about the math, but I think he's underestimating the role of field position, and he's basing his thinking and calculations on a world in which teams do punt. If a team decided to never punt, the world would be different. Its opponent would defend differently and probably game-plan on offense differently. There would be unintended consequences.

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I think any coach would be thrilled to hear that Sunday's opponent had a strategy of never punting.

But here's where I agree with Scheib. It's from the "Conclusion" section of his piece:

"Turnovers as better defined are the inverse of scoring," he writes. "A punt is a turnover. Punts are also the most common turnover. The most common turnover is done voluntarily. That at least puts a different perspective on punting ...

"Something as simple as a traditional definition can affect people's perception of the game and even how to be successful at it. I hope that even if my argument for never punting isn't convincing enough, that at least I have successfully challenged some conventional wisdom."

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Fun stuff.

Previous column: Dodgers streak

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