Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Praise of the NFL's 2014 Thanksgiving Day Schedule

The NFL will hold three regular-season games on Thanksgiving Day this year, as it has each season since 2006.  One week from today, Chicago plays in Detroit, Philadelphia heads to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, and Seattle will travel to San Francisco.  I think the NFL should be praised for creating a schedule this year that honors tradition and focuses on rivalries.  

It was November 29, 1934, when the Lions hosted the Chicago Bears and began a long-running tradition of playing home contests on Turkey Day.  The Dallas Cowboys joined the fun in 1966, when they defeated the Cleveland Browns by the final score of 26-14.  To the NFL's (and the teams' ?) credit, both Detroit and Dallas continue play on the fourth Thursday in November.  The Lions' have played nearly half of their 74 Thanksgiving Day contests against one of their two long-time rivals, the Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

Not as many of Dallas's Thanksgiving Day games have been against current division rivals.  This season's game against Philadelphia will be just the tenth Turkey Day game for the Cowboys against either the Eagles, Redskins, or Giants since Dallas began playing on the holiday.  You have to credit the schedule-makers, though, for adding a game between NFC East franchises to this year's docket, since the division itself is full of fierce and traditional rivalries.

The Seahawks and 49ers games are "new" rivals: The two teams have shared a division only since the last realignment, which took affect starting in 2002.*  But they've played some close games over the last few seasons, with four of their seven meetings since the start of the 2011 being decided by seven points or less.  It's good to have two combatants who've had some tightly-contested tilts in recent years scheduled to play Thanksgiving night.

So hats off again to whomever created this year's NFL Thanksgiving Day schedule.  You've put together a fantastic set of games that appeal to the tradition of NFL Thanksgiving football while also providing fans with great rivalries.

*Note-Actually, this sentence is not entirely correct.  San Francisco and Seattle actually played in the NFC West during the Seahawks' inaugural NFL season, in 1976.  Yeah, I was surprised too.  The Seahawks then moved to the AFC West for 1977 and didn't return to the NFC until 2002.

**Note 2-Sources for this post were,, and the following two pages on Thanksgiving Day football from Page 1 and page 2.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Many Factors Should Be Taken Into Account When Evaluating Great Running Back Performances

On Saturday, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon set a new Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record for most rushing yards in a single game, with 408 running yards against Nebraska. Gordon's performance should be immediately inducted into the pantheon of great college football accomplishments, but what I'd like to discuss here is that a wide array of factors should be taken into account when deciding which FBS running back had the best-ever single-game performance.  

In addition to accumulating rushing yards, I think running for touchdowns can help a running back put together a day that's worth debating as the greatest ever.  For example, on November 17, 2012, Temple's Montel Harris rushed for 351 yards on 36 carries against Army, including seven touchdowns.  While Gordon had more yards than Harris on fewer carries, he still would have scored fewer than seven touchdowns if he'd played the entire game (based on the pace at which he scored touchdowns through the first three quarters of the game).  

Other types of yards can also help running backs put up single-game performances worth considering as the greatest ever.  On November 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White racked up a whopping 578 all-purpose yards in a game against New Mexico State.  Well over 100 of those yards were on receptions. I think a good way to evaluate White's day would be to determine how many of his receiving yards came with him lined up in the backfield, because it would help reflect his performance as a running back.

There are potentially endless variables one could come up with when discussing which college running back had the best single-game performance ever.  Who had the best blocking?  Which player's opponent had the best rush defense?  What was the weather like for each player?  The list goes on and on.  So while a game such as the one Melvin Gordon played on Saturday is certainly great, don't make anybody's day the day until you've examined all the factors that make it so fantastic.  There are, after all, quite a few of them.  

**Note:  All statistics used in this post came from, except for the facts about Melvin Gordon breaking the single-game FBS record for most rushing yards and his playing only three quarters of Saturday's game.  I used a combination of this page and this article for those facts, and the facts also seem to be available in a variety of other sources.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Michael Cuddyer Signs with the Mets. Now How Might He Contribute Offensively?

The New York Mets announced this afternoon on Twitter that they have "signed outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year contract." While I'm not totally sure what financial ramifications this deal and its reported worth will bring ('s Adam Rubin cites a "source" as saying the contract is for $21 million), I would like to discuss the signing from the standpoint of batting stats.

I think Cuddyer's hitting ability is a good fit for the Mets because his 2015 Steamer projections in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+ are better than the 2015 Steamer projections for each of the other Mets outfielders in those same statistical areas. He also has a good deal of experience at first base and would in fact be the perfect platoon partner for incumbent first baseman Lucas Duda.  Cuddyer has put up a career 132 wRC+ against lefty pitchers (compared to Duda's 75) and Duda has a career 138 wRC+ versus righty pitchers (compared to Cuddyer's 105).  Rubin writes that it is "conceivable" for the New York franchise to also use Cuddyer at first "if Duda continues to struggle against left-handed pitching."

There's at least one obvious knock against Cuddyer: The slugger will be 36 in late March.  But perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect him to be at least average when it comes to, say, getting on base.  His lowest single-season on-base percentage during his three seasons as a Rockie (ages 33, 34, and 35) was .317, just five points below his current Steamer projection for 2015.  

So while I'll admit I'm not exactly certain about the value of Cuddyer's reported contract, I do think the outfielder is a good fit for the Mets offensively.  He's projected for good numbers compared to the rest of the team's outfielders, would fit in as a perfect platoon partner for Duda at first should the Mets choose to use him that way, and could potentially perform well with the bat despite his age.  According to the offensive stats currently posted online, I think the Mets made a good choice in signing Cuddyer.

**Note: All statistics and information used in this post came from, except where noted otherwise.  Steamer projections are listed on the fangraphs site.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Even Gods Retire: Kevin Youkilis's Playing Days Are Over

Former major leaguer Kevin Youkilis is retiring according to multiple sources, including a Tweet from Pro Star Management, who lists Youkilis as a client. Youkilis was excellent when it came to reaching first base, with a .382 career on-base percentage that's currently 156th-best in MLB history among qualifiers.  

Also known as "Youk" and "The Greek God of Walks," there was more than one occasion on which the former member of the Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees could have gone to the Oakland A's (1), but he ended up donning a BoSox jersey for much of his time in the majors instead. 

Youkilis ended his career with 21 games as a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle, collecting nearly as many walks (12) as hits (14). Had he drawn just three more bases on balls in Japan, he'd have ended his career the same way he started it: More walks than hits over the course of a season (2).  True, his time in Japan was short, but it's still a fitting swan song for The Greek God of Walks.


1.  The fact that Youkilis could have gone to the A's is discussed more fully in Michael Lewis's Moneyball, particularly in chapters nine and 12.

2.  In his first year in professional baseball, Youkilis played for two of the Boston Red Sox' minor league teams, getting on base 73 times via the walk compared to just 60 times by hits.

3.  All statistics and information used in this post, other than that which came from Moneyball or are otherwise noted to have come from other sources, appeared on