Thursday, May 1, 2008

FMTMQR: Gregg Easterbrook Thinks You Are a Fan of the TV Show "Friends"

So I'm sitting there, looking at LOLCats (and subsequently laughing out loud, just like the name promises), when I realize that I never finished this up. Everyone enjoy it- it's the last we'll hear from Mr. Young Joe Pesci Lookalike until August.

I also hope you don't take tenths or hundredths of a second seriously, though the draftnik system surely does.

I'm skipping his big intro about how the draft is a quasi-joke because no one really knows which players will be good and which won't. It's wrong, it's right, it's been done before. Let's instead jump to Gregg's completely asinine attempts to devalue modern timing systems. It's a continuous thread throughout the column, and gets stupider and stupider each time he brings it up. It's in the exact same vein as his refusal to understand that just because a team threw an incomplete pass while leading with 7 minutes left, and then lost on a last second field goal by the other team, that doesn't mean the first team would have won the game had they run up the middle instead of throwing that pass. You'll see what I mean. He's so tragically dumb I just can't explain it. What a lummox.

Aqib Talib went 20th, to the Bucs. Before the draft, the Houston Chronicle reported Talib's stock was rising because at his pro day he ran a Wright 40-yard dash, improving on the 4.46 he ran at the combine. Set aside that it is inconceivable the timing was accurate enough to make this a statistically significant difference. Suppose the timers were flawless -- 4.42 is 0.9 percent faster than 4.46. Vernon Gholston went sixth, to Jersey/B. Before the draft, Todd McShay reported that Chris Long looked slow at 4.75, but Gholston looked fast at 4.67. Assume it's 10 yards to the quarterback, considering forward and perpendicular movement. A defensive end who runs a 4.67 would get there 7 inches before a defensive end who runs a 4.75.

As odd as it seems to obsess over hundredths of a second, if you don't think that seven inches could matter to a pass rusher, or even that four or five inches could matter to a defensive back in deep coverage, you have probably not watched more than five football games in your entire life. How you can be Gregg Easterbrook, a (presumably) well-paid part-time pretentious NFL analyst, and make fun of the concept that teams might want a DE to get to the QB seven inches quicker, is beyond comprehension. Football being "a game of inches" might be the truest cliche of all time. That seven inches could be the difference between a TD pass and a forced fumble. The four or five inches Talib picked up could be the difference between a TD pass or a deflection that turns into a pick. Unbelievable. I hate the draft and draft hype as much as the next guy, but to mock this process is to basically claim that it doesn't matter how fast football players are. Fucking. Unbelievable.

Meaningless decimals have run wild throughout football scouting and commentary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who went 16th to Arizona, ran the cone drill in 6.74 at the combine. Not in 6.73, not in 6.75 -- in 6.74.

Yes. That was his time. The world record in the 100 meter dash, held by Asafa Powell of Jamaica (glad I looked that up, I had no idea) is 9.74 seconds. Not 9.73. Not 9.75. You know why it's good to be that precise? I'm going to act like a caricature of an angry woman and not tell you why. You should already know.

Absurd hundredths were scattered throughout combine results. Last year on draft day, the ESPN broadcast crew debated whether Yamon Figurs runs a 4.29 or 4.3. A player running a 4.29 would complete a 40-yard dash 3 inches ahead of a player running a 4.3.

And that faster player would be able to make maybe a catch or two per season that the slower player wouldn't.

And this business of wanting to run on a "fast surface" for the best possible hundredths-of-a-second readout.

We've kind of gravitated away from picking on poor technical writing here at FJayM, but that's a sentence fragment. Just saying. And this idea that Gregg Easterbrook is really smart.

Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma ran a 4.68 on FieldTurf at the University of Oklahoma, then arranged a retest during which he ran a 4.63 on AstroTurf. So the "fast surface" improved his time by 1 percent. And NFL scouts took this seriously.

Back when timing first became this precise, the scouts that laughed at this kind of precision were probably looking for new jobs relatively soon thereafter. This is like making fun of a company for keeping track of their accounting down to the penny and caring about a 1% gain in sales over the course of, say, a week. Haw haw! What a bunch of maroons! It's just a percent! We here at Eastercorp aren't worried about that kind of nitpicking! We only consider changes in sales significant if they're more or less 15%. That way, you know it's a big deal.

Absurd tenths in women's basketball: In the Tennessee versus Rutgers women's basketball game in Knoxville on Feb. 11, Tennessee won 59-58 when, according to The Associated Press, "the game clock appeared to pause for more than a second just before reaching zero, and Tennessee made a pair of foul shots with two-tenths of a second remaining." The speculation was that a homer clock operator helped the first-ranked Vols win the game. AP reported, "Television replays showed the game clock seemed to pause at two-tenths of a second for more than about 1.3 seconds" as Tennessee struggled for a last-gasp rebound and got the foul call. Thus The Associated Press has introduced the concept of "about 1.3 seconds." If not for the absurdity of tenths of seconds on the game clock, the clock would simply have ticked from one to zero and Rutgers would have won.

This is a nice little trick. You tell a story that has nothing to do with your awful argument, then act like the only logical conclusion of the story is something that reinforces said argument. Here's the thing, fucknuts- some things you can do on a basketball court take less than a second. Say there are ten seconds left in an imaginary game between the Jemeles and the Jaybirds. The Jemeles are leading by one. (This is starting to feel like the kind of rules quiz you'd see in Sports Illustrated for Kids. I don't have a problem with that, and you shouldn't either.) The Jaybirds have the ball. They inbound it, dribble around for a little bit, then put up a shot that gets blocked out of bounds. The whole process took 9.7 (how ridiculous of me to use such precision! but anyways) seconds. Since a full ten seconds didn't pass, however, and the clock doesn't measure tenths, it still shows a full second remaining. When it is restarted, it will take a full 1.0 seconds to expire. Suddenly you've extended the quarter by .7 seconds, and according to the NCAA and NBA, that's enough time to catch and shoot a jumper. The Jaybirds capitalize on this opportunity and hit a baseline turnaround to win the game. After the Jemeles are done claiming their defeat was somehow a product of racism, and switch over to blaming the timing system, what are you supposed to tell them? They got screwed, plain and simple. Going back to the real life example, say there hadn't been a mysterious clock stopping discrepancy and Tennessee had legitimately been fouled with 0.2 seconds remaining. Now what, Gregg? Can Rutgers blame their loss on the clock then? Yeah, I thought so. Go back to your tower.

Absurd tenths in men's basketball: In the 2007 NCAA men's Sweet 16, Southern Illinois trailed Kansas and had an inbounds play with 3.1 seconds remaining. The pass was deflected out of bounds by a Kansas player, and when the referee signaled Southern Illinois to try again, he noticed the clock erroneously still showed 3.1. As officials huddled around the replay monitor trying to decide how much time to take off, CBS color commentator Bill Raftery pronounced, "They should take two-tenths off, two-tenths is the correct number." CBS announcers can sense the fifths of seconds!

Raftery is a train wreck, but I don't think he was "sensing" it like a goddamn fortune teller. He was looking at the tape in slow motion and estimating how much time elapsed while the ball was in midair post-deflection.

Following inspections of the replay, officials ordered the game clock reset to two seconds. Verne Lundquist protested, "That's too many tenths of a second." CBS announcers can sense tenths of seconds!

In slow motion, they absolutely can. This is called looking at something and then processing the information you acquire. Many humans are very good at it.

Absurd Tenths in the NBA: In Game 4 of the 2007 NBA Finals, at the end of the second quarter, the ball careened out of bounds -- Cleveland possession with 0.2 seconds showing. Referee Bennett Salvatore confidently signaled the scorer's table to change the clock to 0.5 seconds, making it possible under NBA rules for the Cavs to attempt a catch-and-shoot. NBA referees can sense thirds of seconds!

I... I don't see what's so hard about this. Perhaps Gregg is unfamiliar with slow motion replays. That would fit with my earlier guess that based on his mockery of the scouting process, he must not have seen many football games. If he actually tunes in to check out a few contests this fall, man, he's in for a treat.

Better still was a Golden State-Washington regular-season game in 2007. The clock expired with the Warriors ahead by two points, and a Wizards player was fouled seemingly just after time expired. Officials looked at the replay and ordered one-tenth of a second put back on the clock, thus allowing two free throws and an opportunity for Washington to tie the contest. This ruling could have been correct only if basketball officials can sense a tenth of a second.

Or, alternatively, this could have been correct if the officials had magic powers (and capes!) and were capable of looking at a split-screen view of the clock and the on court action in slow motion and determining whether or not the foul occurred before time ran out.

When Golden State coach Don Nelson used profanity to protest the decision to restore one-tenth of a second, officials correctly signaled a technical foul on Nelson. Washington proceeded to hit all three free throws, winning the game. You don't often lose after being ahead when the clock expired!

Except that they weren't, because they fouled the other team before that happened.

NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson reviewed the ending and declared, "The crew made the correct decision to conduct an instant replay review which ultimately resulted in putting one-tenth of a second back on the clock." Even NBA executives are now able to sense one single tenth of a second.

Using italics there makes you come across as even more of an ignorant horse's ass. I'm done repeating the same points over and over; like I said back at the beginning, this is just like his "if only [Team] had run the ball up the middle instead of throwing a clock-stopping incompletion with 11:32 remaining in the 4th, that field goal would have never been attempted!" garbage. How can someone not understand this? How? Get your head out of your rectum, Gregg, and go back to square one. Start with the concept that time can be divided into tenths of a second without using magical voodoo. Then consider that some things in sports take less than a second to do. Then try to move up to the idea that sometimes things happen between the point when there are 1.0 seconds left in a game and when there are 0.0 seconds left in a game. If you get there, but still can't figure out why these segments I've copied and pasted here are a pile of shit, email me and I'll cuss you out some more. Silly goose.

Record ratings for series finale of "Debate Friends": Jon Stewart says Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama debated so many times, their smackdown was a reality series. Now the 21-epsiode series has ended -- but without a series finale. Here is the tear-jerking series finale episode:

Shown: A familiar apartment. Scattered around are various sentimental objects: a foosball table, coffee cups from Central Perk, a deck of pinochle cards, bowling balls, travel brochures to Hawaii, Bibles, camouflage hunting suits and lots of shotguns. Hillary Clinton is seen dabbing back tears.

HILLARY: I can't believe I went to the wrong airport! I thought he was arriving at Dulles, but it was Andrews Air Force Base. I went to the wrong airport and missed him! I was going to beg him not to take his new job as president, and just go on debating me forever. (Throws back a shot of Crown Royal.) Maybe I should shoot some ducks to take my mind off this. (Picks up a shotgun.) I wonder which end the bullets go in? (Pours another shot of whiskey and throws her head back.)

(Unseen by Hillary, Barack Obama has stepped into the doorway and has been standing behind her the entire time.)

BARACK: I can't leave you. I just gave my ticket on Air Force One to John McCain. He can be president -- that seems to be what the Democratic National Committee wants, anyway. We'll go on running against each other forever.

HILLARY: Are you bitter?

BARACK: There's a campaign bus outside waiting for us. I heard there's a primary in Manitoba. It's nonbinding -- but let's go!

HILLARY: Oh Barack, promise me there will be sniper fire!

(They leave hand in hand. Schmaltzy music plays, and we see the apartment door close.)

I hope you didn't read all that. I sure didn't. I just copied and pasted it to show that he really, actually, just wrote a 250-ish word joke BASED ON THE SERIES FINALE OF "FRIENDS." Boy, that Easterbrook really knows his audience, doesn't he? First of all, didn't that show end like five years ago? Regardless of everything else, this is heinously untimely. Why not just go the whole nine yards and make a joke about "Cheers" or "M*A*S*H" while you're at it. Second, besides Chris Hart, how many of his readers actually like "Friends" enough to get/enjoy what he's done here? I'd be astounded if it were more than ten percent of them. Nicely done. Ho hoooooo. I'm holding my belly. This is even funnier than that time Matthew Perry's character had that cheeky one-liner, and Jennifer Aniston's character got fake upset about it! Roll the laugh track, and make sure we present a version of New York City that contains nothing but white people with lavish apartments. SMACK!

Absurd hundredths on NFL Network: As noted by many readers, including David Warder of Cumming, Ga., last season during the Saints-Falcons game on MNF, Ron Jaworski said quarterback Chris Redman of Atlanta was doing a good job because he was "making his three-step drops in 2.1 seconds." Warder adds, "If only he'd have shaved those drops down to 2.0 seconds, the Falcons might have won."

I haven't seen the segment in question, but if Redman got sacked or had his delivery badly altered several times just before he was about to unload the ball, that would be a perfectly fair bit of analysis.

The time sense possessed by the "Monday Night Football" booth crew turns out to be nothing compared to the perceptive powers at NFL Network. NFLN's Rich Eisen was narrating combine coverage when Darren McFadden ran his 40. McFadden hit the finish line, and before his number was flashed, Eisen pronounced, "I'm going to say that was a 4.38."

I'm not going to blame him. He was "announcing" probably the most useless sport-related event ever to be shown on television. He's got to fill up the airtime with something. Put anyone in that booth and make them watch 20 hours of guys lifting weights and sprinting and they'll probably start playing guessing games like Rich did. Hell, assuming the NFLN crew was on location, were I in their position eventually I'd just start asking the combine organizers if I could do the drills.

The last thing I wanted to share with you is from Gregg's team-by-team draft reviews. He managed to put a little something in the column for all 32 franchises. Some were detailed and analytically sound. Others were like this (reprinted in its entirety):

San Diego: The Bolts tabbed DeJaun Tribble in Round 6. Wasn't DeJaun a character in "Star Wars"?

You're a fucking embarrassment.


Bengoodfella said...

I am not sure that Gregg Easterbrook is a good writer at all. I did not read the article, but why are we going to have to wait until August to hear from him again?

Does it take him that much time to think of crappy material?

blanco said...

I hate to say it, but I don't Easterbrook is way off here. There a couple problems with thinking that a 4.42 is significantly better than a 4.46.

First, it assumes that this will always be the case if you ran the race 100 or a 1000 times (talk about small sample sizes). A guy who gets a 4.46 today can also one day get an exceptionally good jump, or remember to eat his wheaties on another day, or have a better surface (which has nothing to do with YOUR personal speed). If I run a 40 yard dash on grass, then run a faster time on a track, I'M not actually faster, just like I'm not actually faster if I get a 20 mile/hr wind to my back one day and on another I don't get the benefit of that wind. It assumes that there is no statistical variance what so ever and it's absolutely impossible to run the same 40 time every single time.

Secondly, it also assumes that a timing of a 40 yard sprint in ideal conditions is the same as a 10, 15, or 20 yard sprint in the exact opposite of ideal conditions (with guys trying to pummel you along the way). It's like projecting that someone is going to be a monster homerun hitter because he hits a lot in batting practice against a pitcher throwing 85 m/hr right down the middle. Let's see you do that in a game. Now, obviously we can't replicate football conditions and we kind of have to take the 40 yard dash as an approximation of someone's true "football" speed, but that's exactly the problem. One guy might be faster in an ideal situation, but throw in QB cadences that try and mess up your ability to jump off the line at the right time and a few 300 pound line men, and a moving target and you have a completely different situation.

Yeah, a 40 yard dash is a nice approximation for lack of a better method, but I'm not putting a ton of stock if one guy one time ran a really tiny bit faster than another guy at another time. If you could prove to me over a significant sample size, providing me data on the variance between all the different times, I might buy into it. Or maybe we could just watch their game tapes and see how many times they got to the quarterback or separated from the corner, or returned a kickoff for a touchdown to estimate their speed.

blanco said...

Ok that last sentence kind of didn't make sense. I don't mean that we should watch tape to make mathematical guesses, only that it helps to see them in action more than to see them run the 40.

Andy said...

I'll agree with Blanco here to an extent. I think those 10ths make a bigger difference for wideouts, but it's still a bit of a stretch. If wideout A can run a 40 .3 seconds faster, but wideout B can shake off the man trying to jam him at the line .4 seconds faster, who wins?

The overarching point "TMQ" is trying to make is that they overhype so much useless shit that it gets harder to tell relevant details from useless shit. I grow more and more tired of the NFL draft hype every year. A football season is 24(?) weeks long, but for some reason, I have to hear about it for 50...and it drives me fucking crazy.

Tonus said...

Anyone who actually sits through the NFL combine on TV deserves to get treated to Rich Eisen guessing how fast someone's 40 time is, down to the hundredths of a second. Who the hell decided that showing the combine on TV was a good idea?

Chris W said...

Come on, Easterbrook (and Blanco)--let's say we just say that we're only going to try to be accurate to one decimal point.



Anyone see a problem with that?

Bengoodfella said...

I can see how a 4.42 is better than a 4.46 in football and can be seen as preferable, but to base your draft decision based on that is stupid. Or at least Raider-esque. That being said, to write an entire column on it is beyond stupid. Then to question how commentators, executives and referees know how much time is left when they can watch it in slow motion is incredibly dumb. I am with Larry, this article fucking sucked and was the dumbest thing I have read today.

Larry, every girl I have ever dated has loved Friends, so I therefore know way too much about it and actually got the scene he dramatized. I hate myself.

Jeff said...

Good point - Chris W.

Easterbrook's point isn't that bad, but his incredulous attitude towards the examples are. What would he say if he were in Stu Jackson's shoes? "I don't know - it's only 1 tenth, I can't sense that shit!" Then he'd be fired.

When I read the column i didn't read any of the Obama skit. Then I saw it in here and I didn't read any of it - skipping ahead to read the comments right after where you said that you didn't read any of it.

Smitty said...

I agree with a lot of the posts up there. It would also make a lot more sense if they had the prospects run in pads, since that likely affects players differently. But the other thing is that for a linemen the whole 7 inch thing doesn't matter. If they lined up 40 yards away and ran without any obstacles, then yes Vernon Gholston would get there 7 inches faster. But of course, they lineup much closer with large men in between them and the quarterback. I actually love the draft so I want Easterbrook to be way off, but I'm not sure he is.

blanco said...

Chris W.
I think you missed the gist of what i was saying. my point wasn't that we shouldn't go out to 2 decimal points. It's that a few one hundredths of a point difference between one guy and another on a race run one or a few times, is not enough to convince me that one guy will be definitively faster than another guy once they are both on the field.

CitizenX said...

I think you guys are actually in support of Barry lee's point. Unsurprisingly, I kind of agree with everybody.

Using the 40 yard dash as your only criterion, or even your an important criterion, is stupid draft policy, and is likely to result in a lot of oooohlookhow fast busts.

However, it becomes more useful the more accurate it is. Can you imagine if we just rounded everybody off to the nearest second (not that anybody's suggesting that)?

It's like most isolated stats: doesn't tell nearly the whole story, but the more refined it is, the better it tells its particular chapter.

dan-bob said...

I think I played baseball against DeJuan Tribble in high school. Back on Tatooine.

Smitty said...

DeJuan Tribble fell to round 6 because he only had 2.89 mitochlorians per square inch. Had he measured 2.91 mitochlorians per square inch, he was a possible 2nd rounder.

Edward said...

While Easterbrook at least has a defensible point in that, on a football field, there's not much of a difference between 4.42 and 4.46, his examples are complete shit. In fact, his examples about basketball prove that tenths of seconds matter. What if they had just been rounding up the whole time? Then, the free throws with 0.2 seconds left would never have happened, and the outcome of the game would have been different.

Chris W said...


But here's the thing. Easterbrook's full of shit.

Have you ever heard draft analysts say "Oh man, I liked this guy but he ran a 4.45 40 instead of a 4.42 40"?

No. Everyone realizes that .01 of a second doesn't make much difference. People DO care about .05 of a second, which is not a whole lot sillier than caring about .1 of a second (which is something no one would question).

Look at the example he uses:

Long at 4.75 and Gholston at 4.67. That's 8 100ths of a second. That's nearly a 10th of a second, which would be a huge deal. I mean, even if we only read tenths, Gholston would be at 4.7 and Long would be at 4.8 and that would seem like MORE of a difference--Long would suffer even more if we were less accurate.

BTW: agreed 100% at it being stupid to run these guys in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers. Yes, it is a controlled environment and everyone runs in the same shit, but this is why Justin Fargas never played as fast as his 4.3--he's a fucking LITTLE GUY. Of course he's going to seem fast in shorts and moderately fast in pads. He just isn't as strong!

Chris W said...

edit: Blanco, not Tonus :blush:

Chris W said...

pps: I agree that the combine (40 times, vertical leap, and bench drill in particular) is retarded, and that GM's are absolutely idiotic to use it (or pro days) as the biggest factor in their drafts

Martin said...

I'm not sure, but I think it's Simmons, of all people who I agree with about evaluatiing college to pro football players,( though it could just be the lack of sleep right now) who says that actual play on the field, and game film, is what should be considered much more then combine results. The so called "measurables" have led to many worse considerations in the draft then they have helped I would wager.

larry b said...

Smitty- re: your point about the difference between Gholston and Long's times, read what Easterbrook said again. Although it doesn't even come close to accounting for all the errors, he shrunk things down to 10 yards. So it's slightly more relevant than looking at the 40 time.

larry b said...

Blanco, I can see where you're coming from, but my anger about the basketball clock still stands. Yes- referees with access to slow motion replays can sense single tenths of a second.

larry b said...

Let me clarify one more time that I think the combine is a crock of shit and for the most part a waste of time. It's also, of course, maybe the biggest waste of broadcasting time in television history. The NFL network would do better to replay the worst regular season game ever played on a continuous loop with no announcers than to show guys running cone drills and benching 225. And I understand where Blanco and others are coming from re: small sample size and possible variance. But Easterbrook's point seems to reach further than that; he really seems to be saying that 7 inches worth of pass rush don't matter. And that's beyond idiotic. I know it's a ton to assume, but if you could be reasonably sure than Gholston will on average get to a QB 7 inches sooner than Long (given that they put the same move on their potential blocker) on a consistent basis, that would make him a more desirable player. One 40 run padless 6 months before the season starts doesn't come close to guaranteeing that, of course. But 7 inches are 7 inches (That's what she said!) and they matter. Gregg is saying they don't. Therefore: I'm not budging on this one.

Thanks to Chris W for keeping the dialog going while I was at my stupid job.