Weekly Review and Preview: Analytics, Leaf Tix & Grumpy Old PacWeather
It’s been a busy week over here, but I’m not complaining.
I’d rather be busy than bored, and I’d rather be writing than doing just about anything else. So a busy week is a successful one, and this week saw me published, self-published and re-published. We’ll detail all of it below.
Of course I’m not the only person out here writing stuff worth reading, so after I update you on my work I’ll share a couple of pieces published elsewhere that stood out to me. When I’m in a groove on the job I try to write stories other people wish they’d written, and I’m always looking out for stories that both captivate me and make me a little jealous I didn’t pen them first.
I’ll pass along a couple of those in a moment, but first…
I wrote this week about a the Toronto Maple Leafs’ decision not to raise season ticket prices. Might not seem like that big a deal since a) the Leafs already have the NHL’s most expensive tickets and b) the story centers not on an action, but on a lack of it.
But in Toronto any story involving the Leafs and the everyday fan’s ability to buy the league’s most coveted tickets is big news. It’s even bigger given that the Leafs, despite dwelling near the bottom of the NHL’s overall standings, could have raised prices for next season and sold out the Air Canada Centre anyway.
The club tells me holding ticket prices steady is an attempt to both foster goodwill among (deservedly) frustrated fans and counter the widespread perception that Leafs ownership prioritizes profits over on-the-ice success.
You can read more about it right here.
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Friday brought one of my favourite events on the Toronto sports calendar, the UofT Sports Industry Conference.
Last year I showed up with videographer Anne-Marie Jackson and asked various conference delegates about their dream jobs.
This week I wrote something about one of the sexiest topics in sport:
I attended the conference’s analytics panel, and felt vindicated when New York Giants assistant GM Kevin Abrams told delegates that hand-timed 40-yard dashes are an ineffective measure of actual speed. Then we I chatted with the head of UofT’s sports analytics group about where students fit into the equation, and where the entire trend is headed.
To read the recap, click right here.
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In between all that I updated this blog with the next instalment in my recurring series of previews to the big Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight.
This week we addressed the idea that Mayweather only agreed to this fight because Pacquiao, at 36, is finally too old to mount a serious challenge to the fighter who bills himself as The Best Ever.
That theory is widespread and deeply believed. And it’s also wrong for several reasons, some of which I lay out, and some of which Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach explained to me five years ago.
To read about why age is more than a number in the upcoming PacWeather showdown, click here.
*Shouts out to the young man Ed Maisonet for republishing that piece at The Sports Fan Journal. Always happy to help out one of the smartest and funniest and hardest-working dudes in Sports Blogistan.*
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After you finish catching up on my work, you should check out a couple of stories I really enjoyed last week.
The first is a New York Times Magazine profile on New Jersey-raised running prodigy Mary Cain, who is turning pro at 18 and who has a lot of people betting she’ll turn potential into world-class performances — and soon. This tweet from the NYTimes’ sports department sums up the stakes.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 5, 2015
Every few years we read about at talented American teen who’s poised to break the East African stranglehold on middle-and long-distance running success. Before it was Cain it was Galen Rupp, and before him it was Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenheim. Rupp grew up to set records and win Olympic medals, while Webb and Ritzenheim never quite blossomed into world-beaters.
It’s a tough space to occupy.
Kenya and Ethiopia, where nature and nurture combine to create distance running empires, you might have 20 teenage girls with Mary Cain talent. If 10 of them burn out at 18 and eight more get injured or lose interest, you still have two Olympic champions waiting to happen. But in the U.S. there’s only one Mary Cain, and something goes wrong between here and her athletic prime nobody can guarantee another once-in-a-generation talent will materialize to replace her.
Anyway, it’s a fascinating read that touches on the mechanics of fast running, the minefield that lies between having talent and achieving world-class success, and the inefficiency of the NCAA model of developing athletes. It’s worth the half-hour so if you’re interested in how world record holders are both born and made. Check it out here.
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Finally, the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner visited Cincinnati Reds training camp to check out how Cuban relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman is warping budgets, batters’ minds and the laws of physics with his 105-mph fastball.
I’ve written about Chapman a few times in the past.
A few months after he signed with the Reds he was apprenticing with Cincinnati’s triple-A affiliate and I drove to Buffalo to interview him about his transition to life in the U.S.
I chatted with then-Reds manager Dusty Baker about Chapman’s unique skill set and he said a couple of things that stuck with me.
First, Baker said he didn’t need Chapman to pitch 101 mph all the time, and that he’d rather see 98 under control than 100-plus out of the strike zone.
Second, Baker said Chapman was the fastest runner on the team, which surprised me even though it shouldn’t have. Kepner’s story mentions some MLB scouts say Chapman’s physical skills are more suited to the NFL or NBA. And while I’d argue that his 105-mph fastball is compelling evidence that he’s playing the right sport, I get their point. Major League Baseball is full of great baseball players, but Chapman is a great athlete who chose baseball as the medium to express his elite ability.
Kepner’s story confirms that Chapman is still faster than any other Red, including Billy Hamilton, who once claimed he could outrun Usain Bolt around the bases.
But beyond that, the profile explores Baker’s first point about Chapman, and the need to become more than a mere flamethrower. What you learn reading this piece is the extent to which Chapman has embraced the craft, and learn to make accuracy and pitch selection work with his other-worldly fastball, and not at its expense.
If you love beisbol and have 10 minutes or so, give it a read.
As for me, I’m back on the grind. Monday morning you’ll see a story about the changing nature of sports sponsorships — they’re not just about naming rights anymore.
Monday night I’m catching up with media members from across Toronto for the Starkman Cup Media Trivia Challenge. Playing with a team from the Star’s Sports Department, and I don’t plan to lose.
Tuesday night I’m visiting Centennial College to chat with j-school students about jobs and careers and whatever else they want to know.