The Year in Music…

Jason Isbell can’t do wrong. Well, except for recording Super 8 and putting it on 2013’s Southeastern. (p/c: http://www.savannahmusicfestival.org)

Every year it seems I have less time to check out new music.

I went through my old laptop the other day and couldn’t help but to be amazed by the amount of music I had on there. Back when I was an undergrad at Robert Morris, there were very few days where I didn’t download something new. My end-of-the-year album lists then were almost 50 projects deep; although just about all of them were of the hip-hop or R&B genres.

Now? I don’t have as much time to dive into new music with a full-time job and mostly just listen to stuff through Spotify. My tastes have expanded a bit too, even if it doesn’t seem like it based on the below lists.

I changed it up this year and broke down my 10 favorite songs of 2015 rather than albums, finding that I listened to individual tracks and self-created playlists moreso than full-length projects. I also have an album list on here, but it’s only five LPs deep (plus a large “honorable mention” section) with little commentary.

Expect the R&B genre and all deviations of it to be represented heavily through this.

Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2015

10.) March Madness – Future

Two critically-acclaimed mixtapes and two number one albums – it can’t be said enough about how great of a year Future had. There are numerous choices for his best song in 2015 (this bracket in particular breaks it down well), but the most common pick I’ve seen is March Madness from 56 Nights. I’m in agreement with that opinion (at least when it comes to solo tracks), partially because I wasn’t a big fan of Future prior to hearing it for the first time. If you haven’t already, check out this performance of March Madness by the Southern University band.

9.) Have My Money – The Diplomats

There are three things I want from music in 2016: the second installment of Maxwell’s blacksummers’night trilogy, a full-length project by dvsn (more on him/them later), and Diplomatic Immunity 3. The latter might come as a surprise, but Have My Money shows that a new Dipset album has loads of potential as Cam’ron, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana trade verses over a superb Vinny Idol beat with the same charisma that they had 12 years ago. I’ve always been biased towards the trio, but between this song and Cam’s Dipshits from 2014, a new album could be incredibly enjoyable with the right people in charge.

8.) Special Affair – The Internet

Confidence is a wonderful thing. Syd of The Internet is full of confidence throughout the band’s third album, Ego Death, but her poise shines the brightest on Special Affair. I admittedly never dove into the band’s music when Odd Future was at its popularity peak, but judging from interviews it always seemed like Syd was incredibly shy – which is exactly why this song is so great. A stimulating bassline immediately sets the tone for the once-reserved frontwoman of The Internet as she croons to her conquest for the night. While the lyrics aren’t overly impressive, the way Syd sells her message with this newfound aura is truly a treat.

7.) Sorry – Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber cries for forgiveness throughout his fourth (original) LP, Purpose, but his newfound willingness to apologize is most prevalent on the aptly-named Sorry, which serves as the album’s best song. Skillrex, who also produced another album highlight in Where Are Ü Now, gives Bieber a whirlwind of a beat as the former’s EDM background goes well with the progression of the latter’s vocals. If you would have told me that in 2015 I’d enjoy a Bieber album, I’d ask what do you mean – but here we are.

6.) Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

Prior to recording his second full-length studio album, The Weeknd told his record label that he wanted to become the biggest pop star in the world. As someone who loved his trilogy (House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence) sound and disliked most of Kiss Land, that statement initially scared me, but those fears were put to rest with Can’t Feel My Face. Supplied with a modern-day disco-funk beat by Max Martin (the same one who helped N’SYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears blow up), Abel Tesfaye intertwines infatuation and intoxication, tiptoeing between the two states of mind in a pristine matter. It’s the magnum opus of my favorite 2015 album and has me excited about how he can expand upon this sound in future years.

5.) You Are Luhh – Frank Ocean

It’s been (unfortunately) a quiet year for Frank Ocean. Besides a Tumblr post that seemed to depict a new album slated for a July release, Frank’s moment in the 2015 spotlight came in January when he released You Are Luhh. A cover of (and tribute to) Aaliyah’s You Are Love (with that being a remake of At Your Best by The Isley Brothers), You Are Luhh is a vocal exercise that has Frank at his most vulnerable, with his golden pipes only joined by a lonely piano. The minimal production forces Ocean’s vocals to take center stage and be the determinant of the song’s quality, and he excels with possibly his finest performance to date.

4.) When We Were Young – Adele

While Hello had garnered the most attention following its release, I’ve always preferred Adele’s second “single” (single being in quotations because it has not been technically released as such) from 25, When We Were Young. Her vocal prowess is at full display here – especially on the Live at Church Studios version – and it complements the song’s theme exceptionally. Even if it’s meant to be viewed in a light where the character is reliving all sorts of nostalgia in the distant future, When We Were Young is beautifully relatable no matter what the listener’s age.

3.) Jumpman – Drake & Future

Quick story: We hosted a basketball tournament at Allegheny College in the middle of November, and were in between games when our men’s team came out of the locker room for warm-ups. Playing over the speakers was a Billy Joel song picked by one of my work-studies, which didn’t seem to please the players. (Looking back at it, in-game music probably wasn’t the best job for him.) I asked them what they wanted and Jumpman was a near consensus answer. This is an immaculate hype song that probably resides in every pre-game playlist, and will probably remain in those playlists for years to come like Fort Minor’s Remember the Name from 2005.

2.) Flagship – Jason Isbell

Flagship will almost certainly be played at the next wedding reception you attend – or at least, it should. Isbell, the incredible storyteller that he is, reiterates his selfless approach to the relationship he’s in because he sees what monotony can do to a couple. While the subject matter might be tried and true, Isbell’s take on love always seems to be a refreshing one, based on drawing from past experiences and his wordplay.

1.) The Line – dvsn

Comfortability is something that we all strive to find in life, whether that is regarding employment, place of living, or the people one surrounds him or herself with. For dvsn and his partner in The Line, finding that place of well-being means stepping outside of their respective comfort zones.  It’s a beautifully crafted song that details the uncertainties of letting guards down, which in turn produces an intoxicating fall into love once that line is actually crossed. While the message is clear, dvsn does a brilliant job of delivering said message by mixing a sincere falsetto and slightly unintelligible croon that showcases his own doubts. Those doubts subside throughout the song’s duration however, showing that sometimes it just takes a step outside one’s comfort zone in order to capture the feeling we desire.

Favorite Albums of 2015

1.) Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weekend
2.) 
Wildheart – Miguel

Modern day Prince album. coffee, the valley, and waves in particular are incredible tracks and just missed slotting into my top 10.

3.) Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell

Not quite as good as the superb Southeastern, but still worth your time.

4.) T R A P S O U L – Bryson Tiller

Consistent listen from front-to-back. Tiller toes the R&B and hip-hop line nicely. Really like the samples used on this too, especially on Exchange.

5.) DS2 – Future

Honorable Mention Albums

25 – Adele
Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

The title track made the iPad Pro commercial (you know what one) my favorite. Don’t Wanna Fight almost made my top 10.

Depression Cherry – Beach House
Big Grams EP – Big Grams
Purpose – Justin Bieber

Starts off great, then falls off at Big Sean’s verse on No Pressure. Doesn’t really pick back up again until the title track, but the deluxe songs are really solid.

Kill The Lights – Luke Bryan
All Love Lost – Joe Budden

Much better than No Love Lost, but ultimately doesn’t have the replay value that the Mood Muzik series did.

Every Open Eye – CHVRCHES
If I Should Go Before You – City and Colour
Caracal – Disclosure
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake

I favor his Take Care and Nothing Was the Same sound, but there’s a lot of good stuff on here. Love that he sampled Ginuwine’s So Anxious on two different songs.

What a Time to be Alive – Drake & Future
Compton – Dr. Dre
Fetty Wap – Fetty Wap

On here strictly for Monty’s “they like, ‘Monty, can you be my baby daddy?’ I’m like yeah” line on 679. (Well, not just strictly that – there’s a lot of enjoyable tunes on here.)

56 Nights – Future
Beast Mode – Future
Between the Pines – Sam Hunt

Really enjoy Hunt’s covers of Kenny Chesney’s Come Over and William Michael Morgan’s I Met a Girl, but I’m naturally a sucker for acoustic stuff.

Ego Death – The Internet
Late Nights: The Album – Jeremih

Jeremih is making The-Dream music better than Terius Nash at this point. oui just missed my top 10.

To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

This album is excellent and worth a lot of the praise it’s getting, but it’s a damn chore to get through. Definitely prefer Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City over it.

GO:OD AM – Mac Miller
Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T
Music For My Friends – Skyzoo
SremmLife – Rae Sremmurd

Incredibly fun.

Traveler – Chris Stapleton
The Album About Nothing – Wale

A solid listen despite it not quite being what I wanted to complete the Seinfeld “trilogy”.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Challenging the Status Quo…

80 grade bat, 80 grade hair. (p/c: nytimes.com)

It seems like MLB award voters might finally be getting it.

Last week it was announced that Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt were named finalists for NL MVP. The three were the best position players in the NL this season, but none of their teams played in the playoffs – something that was almost needed in order to be a candidate. (Some people in baseball circles still believe in this however, which explains the erroneous discussion of Yoenis Cespedes being a candidate after just 57 games with the Mets.) Whichever player wins the hardware will be the first MVP on a non-playoff team since Albert Pujols in 2008.

Without boring anyone with more of an introduction, here’s my hypothetical MLB award ballot.

AL Manager of the Year
1. A.J. Hinch, Astros
2. Jeff Bannister, Rangers
3. Paul Molitor, Twins

NL Manager of the Year
1. Joe Maddon, Cubs
2. Terry Collins, Mets
3. Mike Matheny, Cardinals

Unfortunately, we do not have metrics to evaluate in-game performance for managers yet, so the status quo for this award is to pick the skipper of a surprising team. Hinch’s Astros and Maddon’s Cubs were a year ahead of schedule, so they get the nods here. For future reference, if the Dodgers hire Gabe Kapler and find success, then chances are I’ll be voting for him every year because I’ll be “sure” of his decision-making thanks to his analytical background.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (.313/.358/.482, 12 HR, 128 wRC+, 10 DRS, 4.6 fWAR)
2. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (.279/.345/.512, 22 HR, 133 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR)
3. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (.269/.385/.530, 18 HR, 151 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR)

A second look at Lindor’s season provided enough background for me to choose him over the favorite Correa. The former number one pick was slightly better with the bat and on the basepaths than Cleveland’s top prospect, but Lindor showed surprising pop (his .169 ISO was 64 points higher than his career minor league ISO) and might have been the AL’s best defensive shortstop (10 DRS was tops among AL SS; 18.9 UZR/150 best among all SS). Also warranting a mention here is Athletics centerfielder Billy Burns, who I had the opportunity to work with during my summer in Hagerstown. Burns’ first MLB homer (over former Suns teammate Steven Souza Jr.) was one of my favorite moments of the season, and he somehow ended up with five (!) after hitting a total of two in the minors.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (.275/.369/.488, 26 HR, 136 wRC+, 7.1 BsR, 6.5 fWAR)
2. Matt Duffy, 3B, Giants (.295/.334/.428, 12 HR, 116 wRC+, 9 DRS, 4.9 fWAR)
3. Jung-ho Kang, SS/3B, Pirates (.287/.355/.461, 15 HR, 130 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR)

With respect to Duffy, Kang, and Mets flamethrower Noah Syndergaard (3.24 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 2.91 xFIP, 22.4% K-BB%, 150.0 IP, 3.1 fWAR), this award had Bryant’s name engraved on it in April. The Cubs phenom on the hot corner lived up to the hype as he posted the third-highest wRC+ among third basemen and sneakily was the league’s fourth-best baserunner according to Fangraphs’ BsR metric. Duffy and Kang were revelations for their respective clubs – the Giants infielder replaced the departed Pablo Sandoval handily, while South Korea’s favorite son made up for the expected declines of Josh Harrison (100 wRC+) and Jordy Mercer (68 wRC+). Kang also became one of my favorite players in the league because we have similar tastes regarding our favorite American things.

AL Cy Young
1. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (2.48 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 2.75 xFIP, 18.1% K-BB%, 232.0 IP, 6.1 fWAR)
2. David Price, Tigers/Blue Jays (2.45 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 3.24 xFIP, 20.0% K-BB%, 220.1 IP, 6.4 fWAR)
3. Chris Sale, White Sox (3.41 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 2.60 xFIP, 27.2% K-BB%, 208.2 IP, 6.2 fWAR)
4. Chris Archer, Rays (3.23 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 3.01 xFIP, 21.4% K-BB%, 212.0 IP, 5.3 fWAR)
5. Corey Kluber, Indians (3.49 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 3.05 xFIP, 22.6% K-BB%, 222.0 IP, 5.5 fWAR)

Flip a coin between the three southpaws. Keuchel’s worm-killing ways give him the edge here – his groundball rate (61.7%) was the AL’s best, thanks in part to elite soft (25.2%) and hard (21.2%) hit rates – and his strikeout numbers were no slouch (23.7%, 8.38 K/9) either. Archer gets my fourth-place vote after the terrific trio with the best season of his young career, while Kluber provided a solid encore after his Cy Young performance in 2014.

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (2.13 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 2.09 xFIP, 26.3% K-BB%, 232.2 IP, 8.6 fWAR)
2. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (1.77 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 2.61 xFIP, 21.6% K-BB%, 229.0 IP, 7.3 fWAR)
3. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (1.66 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 3.22 xFIP, 19.0% K-BB%, 222.2 IP, 5.9 fWAR)
4. Max Scherzer, Nationals (2.79 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 26.9% K-BB%, 228.2 IP, 6.4 fWAR)
5. Jacob DeGrom, Mets (2.54 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, 22.2% K-BB%, 191.0 IP, 5.2 fWAR)

There isn’t a wrong choice here either. Kershaw has the best advanced stats of the ace triumvirate, Greinke’s earned run average was ninth-lowest in MLB history since the Deadball Era (pre-1920), while Arrieta has an enticing mixture of both advanced and traditional statistics. (22 wins!) Kershaw gets my vote here because you could make the argument he was just as good as he was in 2014, just a tad unluckier. His 301-strikeout season was the first of its kind since 2002 (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling) and became the second pitcher since the Deadball Era to post two sub-2.00 FIPs (Sandy Koufax).

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels (.299/.402/.590, 41 HR, 172 wRC+, 5 DRS, 9.0 fWAR)
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays (.297/.371/.568, 41 HR, 154 wRC+, 11 DRS, 8.7 fWAR)
3. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles (.286/.359/.502, 35 HR, 134 wRC+, 13 DRS, 6.8 fWAR)
4. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals (.307/.361/477, 16 HR, 129 wRC+, 6.2 BsR, 18 DRS, 6.6 fWAR)
5. Nelson Cruz, DH, Mariners (.302/.369/.566, 44 HR, 158 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR)
6. Dallas Kuechel, LHP, Astros
7. David Price, LHP, Tigers/Blue Jays
8. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles (.262/.361/.562, 47 HR, 147 wRC+, 5.6 fWAR)
9. Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox (.291/.341/.479, 18 HR, 119 wRC+, 8.3 BsR, 4.8 fWAR)
10. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox

Playoffs, clutch, yada, yada. Donaldson’s going to win this award because of the Blue Jays success, and although he’s certainly deserving of the honor, Trout had the better overall season. Last year’s MVP held an 18-point edge in wRC+, despite playing 81 games in the AL’s toughest hitters park, and was worth more wins above replacement by both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference (9.4 to 8.8). Donaldson was better defensively, but that gap isn’t significant enough to close the offensive difference.

I don’t think we talk about Machado quite enough. After posting a six-win season at 21 years old (!), he saw his walk rate jump 5.7 percent and wRC+ improve by 32 points since then, while showing no ill effects of his knee injury from last year. Orioles fans jumped the gun putting him in the same breath as Trout and Harper when he arrived in the majors, but he might be one of the top five position players in the game today.

NL MVP
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals (.330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 197 wRC+, 3.2 BsR, 9.5 fWAR)
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (.314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 172 wRC+, 7.4 fWAR)
3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Cubs
5. Zack Greinke, RHP, Dodgers
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks (.321/.435/.570, 33 HR, 164 wRC+, 3.1 BsR, 7.4 fWAR)
7. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates (.292/.401/.488, 23 HR, 146 wRC+, 5.8 fWAR)
8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (.278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 145 wRC+, 10 DRS, 5.5 fWAR)
9. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals
10. Jason Heyward, OF, Cardinals (.293/.359/.439, 13 HR, 121 wRC+, 24 DRS, 7.0 BsR, 6.0 fWAR)

Harper put it altogether this season as he led the league in fWAR, bWAR (9.9), ISO (.319), OBP, SLG, wOBA (.461), and wRC+. His wRC+ of 197 – meaning he was 97 percent better than the league-average hitter – was 25 points higher than second-place Trout and Votto. To put that difference into context, the last time there was a gap as large as the one between Harper and Trout/Votto was in 2004 with Barry Bonds (233 wRC+) and Albert Pujols (171 wRC+). To put the historical magnitude of Harper’s season into context, the only offensive year better than his for a 22-year-old or younger was Ted Williams’ magical 1941 season (.406/.553/.735, 221 wRC+). The Nationals could have finished 0-162 for all I care – there was absolutely no reason for anyone else to sniff this award in 2015…

…which is a shame for Votto, who quietly put together the best year of his career. His second half was Bonds-esque (.362/.535/.617, 211 wRC+), while his full season walk rate (20.6%) was only the ninth 20+ percent rate since 2000. (Others to accomplish that during that timeframe: Bonds [4 times], Brian Giles, Jason Giambi, Jose Bautista, and JACK CUST.) He’s the most interesting hitter in the league when healthy and it’s a shame he’s stuck on an organization that probably has the worst immediate future in baseball.

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The Ultimate Crapshoot…

Washington, this is what could have happened in 2012 if you didn’t shut down your TJS survivor. (p/c: Andy Murray / USA Today)

One of the biggest draws to playoff/postseason competition is that every team in the field has a “realistic” chance to come home with a trophy.

This belief stretches across all sports at all levels, and has proven to be true in many instances. A recent example would be the Ohio State football team, who snuck into the inaugural College Football Playoff with its third-string quarterback and ended as the last team remaining in the four-team bracket. A lesser-known example (but known too well by yours truly unfortunately) would be the Rochester Institute of Technology women’s hockey team, who entered the College Hockey America (CHA) Tournament as the lowest seed but left with the league’s first automatic NCAA bid.

Last Wednesday, the New York Mets advanced to their first World Series in 15 years with an 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Mets entered the MLB postseason with a 90-72 record, which was the lowest mark among the National League (NL) playoff teams. (They were slotted into the bracket as the third seed, but that’s for another debate.) Pointing that tidbit out isn’t to disregard their accomplishment, but rather it encouraged me to look at what teams were advancing to the championship game/series in their respective sports.

I decided to look at the “big four” American sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) and determine if their postseasons over the last 20 years are bigger toss-ups than the others. To do this, I ranked the postseason teams in their respective conferences/leagues based on regular-season record and not playoff seeding; however, ties were broken by the latter. After conducting that research, I counted the amount of times each “seed” made it to the final(s) and whether they were victorious or not.

(Disclaimers that went into this brief research include: the expansion of the MLB playoff field in 2012, the addition of divisions in the NFL, NBA, and NHL, and work stoppages in the 1995 MLB, 1998-99 and 2011-12 NBA, and 2004-05 and 2012-13 NHL seasons. This year’s MLB postseason was also not taken into account.)

Top 10 championship game/series appearance rate:
1.) #5 MLB – 66.7%
2.) #1 NBA – 47.5%
3.) #1 NFL – 45%
4.) #2 NBA – 37.5%
5.) #1 MLB – 32.5%
6.) #2 NHL – 26.3%
7.) #2 NFL – 25.0%
8.) #2 MLB – 22.5%
9.) #1 NHL – 21.1%
t-10.) #3 MLB – 20.0%
t-10.) #4 MLB – 20.0%

Obviously, the top spot here is extremely skewed due to a small sample size of three seasons. Top seeds seem to rule in the NBA and NFL as one of them seems to advance to the championship almost half of the time. The data also shows all five MLB seeds in the top 10, which is expected due to its smaller playoff field.

Below are MLB’s World Series results over the last 20 years:

Major League Baseball1
19952: #1 ATL (90-54) over #1 CLE (100-44) in 6 games
1996: #2 NYY (92-70) over #1 ATL (96-66) in 6 games
1997: #2 FLA (92-70) over #4 CLE (86-75) in 7 games
1998: #1 NYY (114-48) over #3 SD (98-64) in 4 games
1999: #1 NYY (98-64) over #1 ATL (103-59) in 4 games
2000: #4 NYY (87-74) over #4 NYM (94-68) in 5 games
2001: #3 ARZ (92-70) over #3 NYY (95-65) in 7 games
2002: #3 ANA (99-63) over #4 SF (95-66) in 7 games
2003: #3 FLA (91-71) over #1 NYY (101-61) in 6 games
2004: #2 BOS (98-64) over #1 STL (105-57) in 4 games
2005: #1 CHW (99-63) over #3 HOU (89-73) in 4 games
2006: #4 STL (83-78) over #3 DET (95-67) in 5 games
2007: #1 BOS (96-66) over #2 COL (90-73) in 4 games
20083: #2 PHI (92-70) over #2 TB (97-65) in 5 games
2009: #1 NYY (103-59) over #2 PHI (93-69) in 6 games
2010: #2 SF (92-70) over #4 TEX (90-72) in 5 games
2011: #4 STL (90-72) over #2 TEX (96-66) in 7 games
20124: #3 SF (94-68) over #5 DET (88-74) in 4 games
2013: #1 BOS (97-65) over #1 STL (97-65) in 6 games
2014: #5 SF (88-74) over #4 KC (89-73) in 7 games

#1 – 13 appearances, 7 wins, 6 losses (3 times 1v1)
– 32.5% WS, 53.8% win, 46.2% loss
#2 – 9 appearances, 5 wins, 4 losses (1 time 2v2)
– 22.5% WS, 55.6% win, 44.4% loss
#3 – 8 appearances, 4 wins, 4 losses (1 time 3v3)
– 20% WS, 50% win, 50% loss
#4 – 8 appearances, 3 wins, 5 losses (1 time 4v4)
– 20% WS, 37.5% win, 63.5% loss
#5 – 2 appearances, 1 win, 1 loss (0 times 5v5)
– 66.7 % WS, 50% win, 50% loss

Judging from this (and again, the fact that it has the smallest playoff field), it seems like baseball has the most balanced postseason in regards to any team being able to win. The top seed still holds serve as the favorite, but recently the fourth or fifth best team has made an appearance and/or won the World Series in four of the last five years.

National Football League
1995: #1 DAL (12-4) over #2 PIT (11-5), 27-17
1996: #1 GB (13-3) over #2 NE (11-5), 35-21
1997: #2 DEN (12-4) over #2 GB (13-3), 31-24
1998: #1 DEN (14-2) over #2 ATL (14-2), 34-19
1999: #1 STL (14-2) over #3 TEN (13-3), 23-16
2000: #3 BAL (12-4) over #1 NYG (12-4), 34-7
2001: #2 NE (11-5) over #1 STL (14-2), 20-17
2002: #3 TB (12-4) over #1 OAK (11-5), 48-21
2003: #1 NE (14-2) over #3 CAR (11-5), 32-29
2004: #2 NE (14-2) over #3 PHI (13-3), 24-21
2005: #5 PIT (11-5) over #1 SEA (13-3), 21-10
2006: #3 IND (12-4) over #1 CHI (13-3), 29-17
2007: #4 NYG (10-6) over #1 NE (16-0), 17-14
2008: #2 PIT (12-4) over #6 ARZ (9-7), 27-23
2009: #1 NO (13-3) over #1 IND (14-2), 31-17
2010: #5 GB (10-6) over #2 PIT (12-4), 31-25
2011: #6 NYG (9-7) over #1 NE (13-3), 21-17
2012: #5 BAL (10-6) over #2 SF (11-4-1), 34-31
2013: #1 SEA (13-3) over #1 DEN (13-3), 43-8
2014: #1 NE (12-4) over #1 SEA (12-4), 28-24

#1 – 18 appearances, 8 wins, 10 losses (3 times 1v1)
– 45% SB, 44.4% win, 55.6% loss
#2 – 10 appearances, 4 wins, 6 losses (2 times 2v2)
– 25% SB, 40% win, 60% loss
#3 – 6 appearances, 3 wins, 3 losses (0 times 3v3)
– 15% SB, 50% win, 50% loss
#4 – 1 appearance, 1 win, 0 losses (0 times 4v4)
– 2.5% SB, 100% win, 0% loss
#5 – 3 appearances, 3 wins, 0 losses (0 times 5v5)
– 7.5% SB, 100% win, 0% loss
#6 – 2 appearances, 1 win, 1 loss (0 times 6v6)
– 5% SB, 50% win, 50% loss

The NFL has seen one of its top seeds in the Super Bowl for the majority of this 20-year stretch, but it seems like the fifth seed is a lottery ticket of sorts. Only three of them have played a game in February, but all (2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2010 Green Bay Packers, 2012 Baltimore Ravens) came out with the Lombardi Trophy.

National Basketball Association
1995-96: #1 CHI (72-10) over #1 SEA (64-18) in 6 games
1996-97: #1 CHI (69-13) over #1 UTAH (64-18) in 6 games
1997-98: #1 CHI (62-20) over #1 UTAH (62-20) in 6 games
1998-995: #1 SA (37-13) over #8 NYK (27-23) in 5 games
1999-00: #1 LAL (67-15) over #1 IND (56-26) in 6 games
2000-01: #2 LAL (56-26) over #1 PHI (56-26) in 5 games
2001-02: #3 LAL (58-24) over #1 NJ (52-30) in 4 games
2002-03: #1 SA (60-22) over #2 NJ (49-33) in 6 games
2003-04: #2 DET (54-28) over #2 LAL (56-26) in 5 games
2004-05: #2 SA (59-23) over #2 DET (54-28) in 7 games
2005-06: #2 MIA (52-30) over #2 DAL (60-22) in 6 games
2006-07: #3 SA (58-24) over #2 CLE (50-32) in 4 games
2007-08: #1 BOS (66-16) over #1 LAL (57-25) in 6 games
2008-09: #1 LAL (65-17) over #3 ORL (59-23) in 5 games
2009-10: #1 LAL (57-25) over #4 BOS (50-32) in 7 games
2010-11: #3 DAL (57-25) over #2 MIA (58-24) in 6 games
2011-126: #2 MIA (46-20) over #2 OKC (47-19) in 5 games
2012-13: #1 MIA (66-16) over #2 SA (58-24) in 7 games
2013-14: #1 SA (62-20) over #2 MIA (54-28) in 5 games
2014-15: #1 GS (67-15) over #2 CLE (53-29) in 6 games

#1 – 19 appearances, 12 wins, 7 losses (5 times 1v1)
– 47.5% NBAF, 63.2% win, 36.8% loss
#2 – 15 appearances, 5 wins, 10 losses (4 times 2v2)
– 37.5% NBAF, 33.3% win, 66.7% loss
#3 – 4 appearances, 3 wins, 1 loss (0 times 3v3)
– 10% NBAF, 75% win, 25% loss
#4 – 1 appearance, 0 wins, 1 loss (0 times 4v4)
– 2.5% NBAF, 0% win, 100% loss
#5, #6, #7 – 0 appearances, 0 wins, 0 losses (0 times 5v5, 0 times 6v6, 0 times 7v7)
– 0% NBAF, 0% win, 0% loss
#8 – 1 appearance, 0 wins, 1 loss (0 times 8v8)
– 2.5% NBAF, 0% win, 100% loss

The NBA findings are probably the least surprising, with its top three teams in each conference making the Finals 95 percent of the time. The rare outlier here is the 1998-99 New York Knicks, who advanced to the NBA Finals in a strike-shortened season as the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.

National Hockey League7
1995-96: #2 COL (104) over #4 FLA (92) in 4 games
1996-97: #3 DET (94) over #2 PHI (102) in 4 games
1997-98: #2 DET (103) over #4 WAS (92) in 4 games
1998-99: #1 DAL (114) over #6 BUF (91) in 6 games
1999-00: #2 NJ (103) over #3 DAL (102) in 6 games
2000-01: #1 COL (118) over #1 NJ (111) in 7 games
2001-02: #1 DET (116) over #7 CAR (91) in 5 games
2002-03: #2 NJ (108) over #7 ANA (95) in 7 games
2003-04: #1 TB (106) over #6 CAL (94) in 7 games
2005-06: #2 CAR (112) over #8 EDM (95) in 7 games
2006-07: #2 ANA (110) over #3 OTT (105) in 5 games
2007-08: #1 DET (115) over #2 PIT (102) in 6 games
2008-09: #4 PIT (99) over #2 DET (112) in 7 games
2009-10: #2 CHI (112) over #8 PHI (88) in 6 games
2010-11: #4 BOS (103) over #1 VAN (117) in 7 games
2011-12: #8 LA (95) over #5 NJ (102) in 6 games
2012-138: #1 CHI (77) over #3 BOS (62) in 6 games
2013-14: #6 LA (100) over #5 NYR (96) in 5 games
2014-15: #4 CHI (102) over #3 TB (108) in 6 games

#1 – 8 appearances, 6 wins, 2 losses (1 time 1v1)
– 21.1% SCF, 75% win, 25% loss
#2 – 10 appearances, 7 wins, 3 losses (0 times 2v2)
– 26.3% SCF, 70% win, 30% loss
#3 – 5 appearances, 1 win, 4 losses (0 times 3v3)
– 13.2% SCF, 20% win, 80% loss
#4 – 5 appearances, 3 wins, 2 losses (0 times 4v4)
– 13.2% SCF, 60% win, 40% loss
#5, #7 – 2 appearances, 0 wins, 2 losses (0 times 5v5, 0 times 7v7)
– 5.3% SCF, 0% win, 100% loss
#6, #8 – 3 appearances, 1 win, 2 losses (0 times 6v6, 0 times 8v8)
– 7.9% SCF, 33.3% win, 66.7% loss

The eight-team playoff field in the NHL is the only detractor from its claim to postseason balance. Each seed has been represented in the Stanley Cup Finals at least twice over the last 20 years, while the second-best team leads the way in SCF appearances with 10.

This isn’t designed to prove which playoffs are better than the others (although, I prefer watching the MLB and NHL playoffs over the others), but rather to examine recent trends in the leagues’ respective postseasons. As I believed prior to conducting this research, the NHL and MLB have the most “wide-open” playoffs while the NBA and NFL mostly have gone according to chalk. These trends will almost certainly remain the same with the new Wild Card game in baseball and the “hot goaltender” theory in hockey.

1 – Prior to 2012, teams in the same division could not play each other in the Divisional Series.
2 – The 1995 MLB season was 144 games due to a work stoppage.
3 – The lowest “seeds” in the AL (Chicago White Sox) and NL (Los Angeles Dodgers) were the fifth and eighth best teams in their respective leagues.
4 – The Detroit Tigers finished the regular season with the seventh best record in the AL. Non-playoff teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels were left out despite having better records than the Tigers.
5 – The 1998-99 NBA season was 50 games due to a work stoppage.
6 – The 2011-12 NBA season was 66 games due to a work stoppage.
7 – Only 19 NHL seasons are listed due to a full-season lockout in 2004-05.
8 – The 2012-13 NHL season was 48 games due to a work stoppage.
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The Most Unexpected Power Surge…

Matt Carpenter has enjoyed one of the most unlikely power surges since the turn of the century. (p/c: USA Today)

Matt Carpenter was an interesting study before he made his major league debut on June 4, 2011.

Coming off a five-year career at TCU that included Tommy John surgery and a stint where he ballooned to 240 pounds (25 more than his current playing weight), Carpenter was selected in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. The former Horned Frog advanced to High-A Palm Beach in his first professional season and excelled in Double-A Springfield the following year, slashing .316/.412/.487 with 12 homers.

Despite the aforementioned brilliance in Double-A and subsequent success (.302/.419/.465, 12 HR) in Triple-A Memphis, Carpenter never was listed among the Cardinals’ elite prospects, partially due to his age (26 entering 2012) and his reputation of being below-average defensively and on the basepaths, as well as the notion that he lacked the power to play every day at third base.

While his minor league hitting profile carried over to the majors and his defensive and baserunning woes were proven to be blown out of proportion, the power never matched up to his hot corner counterparts. To determine this I used Fangraphs’ Isolated Power (ISO) statistic, which is simply slugging percentage minus batting average. I also looked at his homerun total in comparison to other third basemen.

20121: .169 ISO, 17th in MLB / 6 HR, T-29th in MLB
20132: .163 ISO, 13th in MLB / 11 HR, 18th in MLB
2014: .103 ISO, 22nd in MLB / 8 HR, T-21st in MLB

1 – I adjusted the plate appearance qualifier to 300 because Carpenter was not a full-time player.
2 – I compared Carpenter to other third basemen despite him playing 132 games at second base.

The .140 ISO over first four seasons (19 plate appearances in 2011) fell in line with his minor league track record of a .151 ISO. This is why I find Carpenter’s 2015 season to be so fascinating.

For those who haven’t been following the St. Louis Cardinals this season, Carpenter’s performance might have gone unnoticed. His season isn’t fascinating because he has posted the second-highest wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) of his career at 138 – in simpler terms meaning he has been 38 percent better than the average offensive player this season – but it’s fascinating because of the way he has achieved that mark.

Carpenter has more than doubled his career homerun total in 2015, pacing the Cardinals with 28 dingers. That number is the fifth-highest among third basemen (topping notable players such as Kris Bryant [26] and Kyle Seager [26]), and his ISO (.234) is fourth-best at the hot corner and tied with the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo for 18th in the league.

To put this absurdity into some context, Carpenter entered the season hitting a homerun once every 71.4 plate appearances. This season he has been doing so once every 23.68 trips to the plate, basically tripling his homerun output.

I was curious to see how Carpenter’s power surge compared to other outlier performances since the turn of the century. To determine my sample, I hand-picked players based on a Fangraphs search who had spent parts of at least three seasons in the major leagues and had hit 25 homeruns in one of those years. After targeting their first season with 25≤ homers, I looked at their respective HR/PA rates leading up to that season and the rate during their power surge. Below is what I found3:

Asdrubal Cabrera (2011, 25 HR):
– 89.44 PA/HR before 2011, 26.68 PA/HR in 2011, 62.76 PA/HR difference
Jacoby Ellsbury4 (2011, 32 HR):
– 75.65 PA/HR before 2011, 22.88 PA/HR in 2011, 52.77 PA/HR difference
Matt Carpenter (2015, 28 HR):
– 71.40 PA/HR before 2015, 23.68 PA/HR in 2015, 47.72 PA/HR difference
Aaron Hill (2009, 36 HR):
– 67.82 PA/HR before 2009, 20.39 PA/HR in 2009, 47.43 PA/HR difference
Joe Mauer (2009, 28 HR):
– 54.27 PA/HR before 2009, 21.64 PA/HR in 2009, 32.63 PA/HR difference
Brandon Inge (2006, 27 HR):
– 47.07 PA/HR before 2006, 22.26 PA/HR in 2006, 24.81 PA/HR difference
David Delluci (2005, 29 HR):
– 40.89 PA/HR before 2005, 17.86 PA/HR in 2005, 23.03 PA/HR difference
Jose Bautista (2010, 54 HR):
– 34.54 PA/HR before 2010, 12.65 PA/HR in 2010, 22.89 PA/HR difference

3 – I omitted six players from the sample after completing research due to the PA/HR difference not being significant enough.
4 – I’ve always said Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 season is one of my favorite single-season performances in baseball, and this study only cemented that.

Carpenter has posted the third highest plate appearance per homerun rate in the sample, trailing Asdrubal Cabrera and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011. His jump in power is comparable to Aaron Hill of the 2009 Toronto Blue Jays, who also more than doubled his career homerun output during his “outlier” year.

Cabrera’s ISO rose .087 over his career mark in 2011, while Ellsbury’s soared by .116. Hill’s 2009 ISO was .088 higher than his career mark, although the latter was slightly boosted by a 17-homerun 2007 season.

Is this to suggest Matt Carpenter will turn into Aaron Hill or Asdrubal Cabrera after this year? Certainly not. Carpenter’s best season by wRC+ (146 in 2013) surpasses their tops (133 for Hill, 119 for Cabrera), while his career line drive rate (25.8%) is at least five percent higher than their marks (20.4% for Cabrera, 19.9% for Hill).

Regardless of what happens from here, Carpenter’s power surge is one of baseball’s great statistical oddities and should be appreciated as such.

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Musings on the NFL, baseball’s Hall of Fame, and the year in music – Woy’s Words (Vol. 2)

I thought about writing a separate post for each one of these topics, but figured it’d be easier to cover my thoughts on them in this brief rundown.

Tony Romo has unfairly received a lot of criticism during his career. (p/c: ESPN)

Die narratives, die.

While it’s easy to blame my declining interest in the NFL on the Tennessee Titans’ struggles, or the league’s handling of the Ray Rice scandal, another (obvious) reason came to the forefront after some thought today.

Out of the four major American professional leagues, the NFL trails its competitors in analytical evaluation. Baseball has been the leader in this for quite some time now, with even casual fans starting to accept some of the advanced statistics out there. Basketball has been strong analytically, with its fellow “winter” sport, hockey, recently growing in this department as well. The NFL has its set of fancy numbers that better measure player and team performance, but they aren’t as accepted as sabermetrics in other sports.

The norm to evaluate players in the NFL seems like it stems from media narratives, unfortunately. While it’s hard to convince avid First Take fan John Doe that Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of all-time, advanced statistics show that the all-time touchdown king isn’t a postseason choke artist as we are pushed to believe. Because the NFL’s fan base is so large, it’s even more difficult to change the common way of thinking, leading to viewpoints such as Skip Bayless’ to be accepted or at least entertained. And that’s a damn shame.

Peyton Manning won the MVP last season. Is he due for another this year? (p/c: sportsinsights.com)

The NFL MVP race is very intriguing.

So naturally after bashing the NFL and how it’s discussed, I find myself wanting to talk about the league’s MVP race.

There are five quarterbacks that have garnered attention for the award: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo. Instead of pointing at cases such as team records, playoff positioning, and supporting casts, I’m going to look at their respective cases with some different numbers from Advanced Football Analytics and Football Outsiders.

  • Brady: 0.17 WPA/G1, 0.20 EPA/P2, 50.3 SR%3, 7.5 AY/A4, 5.7 TD%5, 1,173 DYAR6, 18.1% DVOA7
  • Manning: 0.25 WPA/G, 0.20 EPA/P, 51.3 SR%, 8.1 AY/A, 6.5 TD%, 1,433 DYAR, 24.5% DVOA
  • Roethlisberger: 0.25 WPA/G, 0.23 EPA/P, 52.8 SR%, 8.5 AY/A, 5.3 TD%, 1,598 DYAR, 27.5% DVOA
  • Rodgers: 0.32 WPA/G, 0.34 EPA/P, 53.6 SR%, 9.5 AY/A, 3 TD%, 1,563 DYAR, 32.2% DVOA
  • Romo: 0.28 WPA/G, 0.28 EPA/P, 53.7 SR%, 9.1 AY/A, 7.8 TD%, 1,198 DYAR, 27.9% DVOA
1 – WPA/G: Win Probability Added Per Game, from Advanced Football Analytics … a measure of an individual player’s impact on the outcome of his games, on a per play basis.
2 – EPA/G: Expected Points Added Per Play, from Advanced Football Analytics … a measure of an individual player’s impact on the scores of his games, on a per play basis … differs from WPA/P in that it is not as context-sensitive because it does not consider game score and time remaining.
3 – SR%: Success Rate, from Advanced Football Analytics … the proportion of plays in which a player was directly involved that would typically be considered successful … SR is the percentage of plays resulting in positive Expected Points Added (EPA).
4 – AY/A: Adjusted Yards gained per pass attempt … (Passing Yards + 20 * Passing TD – 45 * Interceptions) / (Passes Attempted)
5 – TD%: Percentage of touchdowns thrown while attempting to pass
6 – DYAR: Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, from Football Outsiders … gives the value of the quarterback’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage
7 – DVOA: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, from Football Outsiders … number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations

Judging by those statistics, Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo have been the league’s two best quarterbacks this season, with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger competing for bronze. Rodgers gets the nod over Romo with advantages in all categories but success rate and touchdown percentage.

Rodgers’ biggest challenger for MVP isn’t Romo, however; J.J. Watt has a legitimate case to be the first defensive player to win the award since 1986. It’s hard to compare Watt’s credentials to the Packers signal-caller, but his dominance shouldn’t be undersold in this discussion.

  • 21 sacks, 44 QB hits, 54 QB hurries, 10 batted passes, 50 tackles, 4 FF, 5 FR, 1 INT, 2 defensive TD, 106.0 PFF rating

Watt has been the best player in the NFL this season, and while that should be the reason why he wins the award, I find it hard to not reward Rodgers for his accomplishments. That being said, here would be my ballot:

1A. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
1B. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
3. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
4. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

Shockingly snubbed last season, Craig Biggio should get the call in 2015. (p/c: CBS Sports)

The call to Cooperstown.

Here’s my irrelevant ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2015:

  1. Jeff Bagwell
  2. Craig Biggio
  3. Barry Bonds
  4. Roger Clemens
  5. Randy Johnson
  6. Pedro Martinez
  7. Mark McGwire
  8. Mike Piazza
  9. Tim Raines
  10. Alan Trammell

Some brief thoughts:

  • McGwire gets the nod over some other guys like Curt Schilling mainly because of my team affiliation. Bad reasoning, I admit, but at least I’m not voting in Carlos Delgado.
  • That being said, if the 10-player limit was lifted (which it should be), add these names to my ballot: Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker.
  • I used my last choice on Trammell because it’s a shame he isn’t in Cooperstown right now. According to JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score System) on Baseball Reference, Trammell is the 11th best shortstop to play the game with a score of 57.5, just ahead of the recently retired Derek Jeter. The accumulation of his top seven seasons according to bWAR comes out to 44.6, which is eighth best.

D’Angelo surprised the world with a new album earlier this month. (p/c: Billboard)

Better late than never – my top 11 albums of 2014.

I stretched my list out to 11, since I liked Pinata too much at its release to not mention it.

(Album Name — Artist — Favorite Song — Metacritic Score)

1. Black Messiah — D’Angelo — “Really Love” — 95/100
2. Clivia Demo — Isaiah Rashad — “Modest” —82/100
3. HEAL — Strand of Oaks — “JM” — 83/100
4. Run The Jewels 2 — Run The Jewels —“Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” — 89/100
5. Seeds — TV On The Radio — “Right Now” — 78/100
6. What Is This Heart? — How To Dress Well — “Repeat Pleasure” — 69/100
7. Half The City — St. Paul & The Broken Bones — “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” — 72/100
8. They Want My Soul — Spoon — “Do You” — 81/100
9. LP1 — FKA Twigs — “Two Words” — 86/100
10. In The Lonely Hour — Sam Smith —“Lay Me Down” — 62/100
11. Pinata — Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — “Thuggin’” — 82/100

Below is a Spotify playlist featuring these albums:

Happy New Year, folks.

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The Dreaded ‘D’ Word…

Madison Bumgarner put together a performance last night that might have made Old Hoss Radbourn proud. (p/c: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Blind resume time!

Which one of these teams feels out of place?

Team A – 1,557-935 (.625) over 16 seasons, 9 WS titles, 14 pennants, 14 playoff trips
Team B – 799-427 (.651) over 8 seasons, 6 WS titles, 7 pennants, 7 playoff trips
Team C – 786-506 (.608) over 8 seasons, 4 WS titles, 6 pennants, 8 playoff trips
Team D – 632-406 (.609) over 7 seasons, 4 WS titles, 4 pennants, 4 playoff trips
Team E – 683-443 (.607) over 7 seasons, 2 WS titles, 4 pennants, 5 playoff trips
Team F – 530-235 (.693) over 5 seasons, 2 WS titles, 4 pennants, 4 playoff trips
Team G – 509-263 (.659) over 5 seasons, 3 WS titles, 4 pennants, 4 playoff trips
Team H – 476-326 (.594) over 5 seasons, 3 WS titles, 3 pennants, 5 playoff trips
Team I – 436-374 (.538) over 5 seasons, 3 WS titles, 3 pennants, 3 playoff trips
Team J – 389-217 (.642) over 4 seasons, 3 WS titles, 3 pennants, 3 playoff trips
Team K – 313-143 (.686) over 3 seasons, 2 WS titles, 3 pennants, 3 playoff trips

If you chose Team I, then you would be correct.

The group above is a list of MLB teams that are considered dynasties by the majority of experts. Each has their redeeming qualities, from stacked lineups to impossible-to-hit pitching staffs.

Now to reveal the teams from above:

Team A – 1949-64 New York Yankees
Team B – 1936-43 New York Yankees
Team C – 1996-03 New York Yankees
Team D – 1912-18 Boston Red Sox
Team E – 1970-76 Cincinnati Reds
Team F – 1906-10 Chicago Cubs
Team G – 1942-46 St. Louis Cardinals
Team H – 1971-75 Oakland Athletics
Team I – 2010-14 San Francisco Giants
Team J – 1910-13 Philadelphia Athletics
Team K – 1929-31 Philadelphia Athletics

The term dynasty in sport terms means a team that dominates its game or league for an extraordinary length of time. This rings true for every team in this study besides one – last night’s victor, the San Francisco Giants.

Yes, the Giants have won three titles in five seasons – an impressive feat, certainly. But have they been dominant? Hardly.

As the research showed above, their winning percentage of .538 during this stretch is by far the worst among the accepted baseball dynasties. Other than the 1912-18 Boston Red Sox and 1910-13 Philadelphia Athletics, the Giants are the only franchise in this list to only make the postseason on the years that they’ve won a title. In one of those playoff-less seasons (2013), San Francisco went 76-86 – one of two sub-.500 records among these teams. (The 1971 Cincinnati Reds went 79-83 after winning a National League pennant, then proceeded to average 100.4 wins in the remaining years of their stretch.)

The Giants’ winning percentage of .543 this season is the fourth-worst among World Series champions, “trailing” only the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (.516), 1987 Minnesota Twins (.525), and 2000 New York Yankees (.540). If we were still under the “old” postseason format (one wild card instead of two), San Francisco would have missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

While the numbers posted below are not perfect, they also show a lack of dominance from the Giants during this five-year stretch:

2010: 9th in NL offensive R/G (4.30), 6th in NL wRC+ (98), 2nd in NL pitching R/G (3.60), 3rd in NL FIP (3.74)
2011: 16th in NL offensive R/G (3.52), 12th in NL wRC+ (88), 2nd in NL pitching R/G (3.57), 2nd in NL FIP (3.33)
2012: 6th in NL offensive R/G (4.43), 3rd in NL wRC+ (101), 6th in NL pitching R/G (4.01), 7th in NL FIP (3.78)
2013: 10th in NL offensive R/G (3.88), 4th in NL wRC+ (100), 11th in pitching R/G (4.27), 8th in NL FIP (3.80)
2014: 5th in NL offensive R/G (4.10), 3rd in NL wRC+ (101), 6th in NL pitching R/G (3.79), 7th in NL FIP (3.58)

In addition, the postseason is practically a coin-flip nowadays. Since 2000, the top seed in either the AL or NL has made the World Series just six times, or 20 percent of the time. For the AL, the first and third seed, as well as the Wild Card winner, has advanced to the Fall Classic four times each. In the NL, the Wild Card team has played for the championship in seven of the last 15 seasons.

Even though circumstances are different and there’s more parity in the game today, it’s unfair to the baseball dynasties of the past to place the 2010-14 San Francisco Giants right beside them.

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Putting Life Into Perspective…

RIP Oscar Taveras, 1992-2014. (p/c: Associated Press)

I’m still shaking two hours after the news broke.

Sports have a funny way of twisting our emotions. A bad day at work can be washed away with a victory from your favorite baseball team. A tough loss can offset the feeling of relief after a good workout.

You become attached to these teams and these players, giving them nicknames that they’re not aware of or that other folks may not understand, performing rituals that you swear helped them hit a homerun in their previous at-bat, and scolding them from the comfort of your living room because they didn’t run hard to first base.

Now that I work in athletics for a living, I try not to get overly emotional about the teams I support doing poorly or succeeding. But sometimes, as silly as it is to admit, I look at some of these players as family members or as close friends, even though it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever meet them.

That’s why I’m heartbroken after the announcement of Oscar Taveras’ passing.

In April of 2004, my high school alma mater lost its finest athlete in a car crash, and in June of 2013, I received the news of one of my close childhood friends passing after an ATV accident. Both, like Oscar, had promising lives ahead of them, filled with goals they were sure to fulfill and lives they were going to change. As obvious as it may sound, it really puts life into perspective when people – especially those who I am close to – around my age pass away within a blink of an eye.

I’m a religious person, but I don’t know if it will ever make sense to me that these folks’ lives are taken so early. There’s so much yet to learn about life, so many stories to tell, so many memories to be made, that it breaks your heart even more when those opportunities are unable to come to fruition.

Because of team affiliation and the suddenness of it all, this tragedy was made even tougher because it immediately evoked memories and emotions from Darryl Kile’s death in 2002. I still remember watching the Baseball Tonight episode that evening, breaking into tears as the news was released. Even though I was only 11 at the time, I felt like I lost a friend that day, just like how I currently feel now.

As cliché as it is to say, life can be taken in an instant and that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Happy flight, Oscar.

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