Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sectionals 2007

Alex recounted the details of the tournament pretty well over on his blog, so I’ll just recap them here and give more impressions, which is really what all of you want to read.

We started out terribly, losing a grudge match against the Gunslingers, 13-9. There were numerous rookie mistakes that game on all parts, people just a little too anxious to impress and make plays, and not enough of the seamless efficiency we were famous for. As with the rest of the weekend, we played a basic offense with a four-person play and fills. We stayed with man-to-man defense for too long that game when it wasn’t working that well. I didn’t leave that game with a good feeling about things.

Game 2 was similarly unimpressive. We got broken twice (out of four points) against a college zone D in the first half, the lowest point of the weekend and possibly my career.

I missed the third game to attend the Bolton Fair with my wife, son, and parents for about 20 minutes. There was horrible traffic management there. Coming from the east, fairgoers were forced to wait for 30-45 minutes just to park. There were three huge parking lots, but all the cars from the east (which had 75% of the cars) were shunted to the first lot. However, the parking lot traffic directors were inefficient. They would frequently stop traffic to allow a few cars from the other direction to come through, and occasionally stopped traffic for no apparent reason. There were a few cones in the lot intended to direct foot traffic, but no one enforced it and so car access to the lot was frequently restricted as a result. Only once in the 20 or so minutes I stood watching did they do something proactive, waiving about 20 cars ahead to one of the other under-utilized lots. I am reasonably confident that I could have gotten cars parked twice as fast with no more than one accident. So, instead of spending an hour there, I had just enough time to pay admission, stand in line for tickets for my son to go on rides, and watch him ride one thing. The rides were a ripoff, too, generally $3 per person for a typical carnival ride. They did have a lot of other county-fair type activities (including a Frisbee-catching dog!).

Back to the fields for a brief warmup prior to the Red Tide game. In another low point of my career, I did the math incorrectly in evaluating the tiebreak possibilities, at least twice. (It was easy enough to do that as soon as the game ended, I thought about it for two seconds and said, “Hold on, that’s not right” without even running the numbers.) We started out with a gift turnover and break, expanded our lead, and won convincingly to take 1st place in the pool.

Semis on Saturday was another grudge match, this time for us. If you remember correctly, this was the team that sent me to the hospital when we played them at Boston Invite. The offender was pointed out and acknowledged me but never bothered to mutter even a simple “sorry about that”. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I am obviously ok now, but it was a bit reckless, and I did need stitches. I think I made a joke about being entitled to kick him in the groin at some point. Again, we had our chances this game, and it would have been nice to win to get a chance against my old mates and the new kids.

So, impressions. First off, it remains weird playing in a tournament I don’t think I have a chance to win (although some part of me thought it _could_ happen). This was especially so because it was Sectionals, where I hadn’t lost a game since 1991. That was also approximately the last time where I was actually looking forward to Sectionals. That was an interesting year, by the way. I had a foot injury that fall and so didn’t practice or play much. I sat out most of Sectionals except for the game against Titanic. Our team may have beaten Harvard by just 1 goal, in fact, but we made it to the finals. I was warming up by playing football with our opponents, and Gary Lippman felt it necessary to point out how bad we were that year, and that just really pissed me off. In a game to 13, I threw three goals and caught five more. On the bad side, though, I had a critical late turnover on their goal line and we lost by 1. Rats. There were two more scares for the #1 Boston team since then. In maybe 1995, we were close late in the game against Snapple, but they gakked it away as they were wont to do. And we beat Dos Manos by only 1 in 1998 as we were working on our split stack offense the entire game. (Late in the first half, I asked an opponent the score, was told we were losing, and didn’t believe him.) So, Boston #1 continues to have the longest streak of Sectional titles in the country.

It is also weird to take pride in finishing 3rd in the Section and in losing a close game to a team that will not make Nationals (but no pride in losing badly to a team not expected to make the second day of Regionals). But it’s action, isn’t it?

I think I had four blocks on the weekend, five if you count the one where I called a foul on myself, completely surprising the offensive player. The block itself was clean but I was pretty sure I went through his body to get there. He wouldn’t have called anything, either. All but one of these were on handler cuts, and I left my feet on two of them. I was only overmatched once all weekend, by a little squirrelly guy. I had been told he was squirrelly and volunteered to take him, but I thought he was a squirrelly handler. He was instead a squirrelly receiver, so he combined actual running with his squirreling and so had me spinning. Oh, I also took out a pivoter. The lanky opponent had caught a disc near the line and I thought he may have been out, so was thinking about that a little as I jogged downfield with my guy. I think I followed in my guy’s steps, a foot or two outside the pivot foot (but six feet from the thrower’s body), only to be surprised by a rapid pivot back to the forehand side, and I bowled him over. Whoops. I should have been more alert and known that was a possibility. I apologized to the guy on the other team who yelled at me about it, to the thrower, and again later to the thrower, and now to the unwashed masses.

As typical of the past couple years, I felt better later in the weekend than at first. I played basketball last Monday but then nothing again until Saturday, which explains it a bit. I would like to get in one speed workout per week the rest of the season, and will try to break a sweat the day before Regionals. (Goals must be achievable, you know.)

Overall I felt really good, though. I was able to move quickly, went up nicely the one time I had to, got open pretty easily both downfield and near the disc. With another tournament (Clambake) this weekend, I expect to be rarin’ to go at Regionals.

I don’t think I changed my opinion of Sectionals, though, as a result of being “one of those teams we have to play because the UPA says so.” While it would have been nice to play a game against “Boston #1” where they were trying hard, not playing them didn’t significantly alter my Sectionals experience (other than it meant we lost a game we wanted to win). Boston Ultimate blanked the first two teams they played, and even shut out New Noise in the first half on Saturday, I heard. In a Section that has a handful of teams, perhaps it is necessary to the UPA for a team like Boston Ultimate to play, but here, where there were 25 teams total, there were still plenty of opportunities to play good games even without them (and for lower level teams to play someone significantly better). I guess I still don’t see the point of playing a 15-2 game, for either team.

I’m a little disappointed that we don’t have an Open RRI, just a Masters RRI. Oh, heck, let me just figure out an estimate. I looked at all of our games, pro-rated it to a game to 15, and took the RRI of the team that expected to finish with that score against that opponent. For instance, first game was a 13-4 loss to Boston Ultimate. Translate that to 15-4.6. I went to the Score Predictor for BUY and saw that the middle team that would lose 15-4.6 had an RRI of 1974. Repeat for the entire schedule. Average the scores.

Result: Average 2331. Best game was 15-7 against Phoenix at Boston Invite (2656), then 13-12 over Bro White at WMO (2598) and 13-7 over Red Tide at Sectionals (also 2598). A typical low-level Nationals team has an RRI of about that, but I don’t buy that on our best day we would be on an equal footing with them. There is, of course, the problem that each of those games is just a sample and likely not indicative of our true “best” game. Our average is right around the teams that will probably go into Regionals in the 5-9 range. Our worst performances were against Gunslingers at Sectionals (1958) and Boston Ultimate Y at WMO (1974), which puts us at the “didn’t qualify for Regionals” level. It would be kind of interesting to repeat this best-and-worst for other teams, but nah.

Workout this week: did a sprint workout in front of my house tonight. 4x100, 6x50, 8x30, 6x(backpedal fast for 5 seconds and sprint back). Started each rep on the minute, 5 minutes between sets.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The game is afoot

Big Ego Ultimate/DoG plays its first tournament since June this weekend, entering Sectionals as the #4 seed. We open with a pivotal game against the Gunslingers, who we beat by 1 at Boston Invite, and close with Red Tide, playing a couple college teams in between, then the usual format machinations on Sunday to guarantee that if the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th best teams are in one pool and all teams play consistently, the game to determine the antepenultimate spot to Regionals is fair, or something like that.

Ok, I was kidding. They don't care about the antepenultimate spot.

We're in the Score Reporter as Big Ego, but I submitted our roster as simply "DoG", although whether it stands for "Death or Glory" or "Delusions of Grandeur" has yet to be determined. As usual, our shirts our nowhere to be seen. During our heyday, I don't ever remember having team shirts at Regionals (other than the year where we didn't get new shirts and just used the ones from the year before), and at least once they showed up at Nationals (and one year at Worlds, they didn't even show up, and we played with only a light shirt). Now, we need freakin' numbers on the shorts. Is there a chance this rule is going to be revoked? Anyway, we gotta get working on that.

So how does the team look? It's hard to say. We'll have something like 20 of our 30+ at the tournament, I think, although not everyone has bothered responding to the poll. We've averaged about 10-12 of us (plus some outsiders sometimes) at the four practices we've had the last three weekends. Since we've had so few and needed to play so much, we haven't really talked a lot about what our strategy is. We will probably use our bye this weekend to do some walkthroughs and even chalktalk about things like defense against the ho stack.

We will treat this weekend as a learning experience, and also a bit of a reunion. It will be less about subbing to win than about getting familiar with each other and having some good times (although the prohibition against alcohol will inhibit that).

If we keep winning (or if we finish 2nd on Saturday), we'll get to play Boston Ultimate. Perhaps we'll ask them to play zone D in order for them to practice and us to score. Or maybe we'll just pull off the Best Win Ever and take them down.

The Masters race is wide open in the Northeast this year. There are three teams competing for two spots (plus two other teams, as well as five Grand Masters teams), and it's anyone's guess who will make it. Two Canadian Masters teams which finished 1 and 2 at their Nationals (one of which won NE Regionals last year) combined, but apparently they will be bringing a reduced team to Regionals because of Canadian Thanksgiving. Above & Beyond has made Nats three years running, losing in semis last year and finals in 2005 (although we did steal Mooney back from them). We beat A&B twice this year at Masters Easterns, but that was early June. A&B lost to Wesleyan (!) at Sectionals last weekend, but they probably had only half of their players. Of course we think that we're the best team (hence the name Big Ego Ultimate (hmm, Delusions of Grandeur also applies)), but we also know it's up for grabs.

We are also going to Clambake. I think this is only the 2nd time I've played there, and I'm really looking forward to it. From what I remember and all I hear, they throw a really good event (it's a Clambake theme). It's a bit of a shame this year that it falls on the only weekend between Sectionals and Regionals, or else it might attract more top teams from the area, but it has in the past and there is no reason that it can't again with a little bit of effort (vintage DoG went once, recent DoG went once). Great chance to bond as a team. More to come about this when it's time.

Workout this week: played basketball Monday night. I avoided covering that one guy who cheats most of the night, but in the last game he matched up against me, then did a couple pushoffs, so I worked him hard and didn't let him get away with his lowering the shoulder or hand to the stomach when cutting. I'm sure we'll match up again. It's kinda fun in a way, and as I get better from playing, I'm sure I'll own him, but I could also just blow my top. We'll see.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

goaltimate strategy

We played some goaltimate at the start of practice last weekend and actually had to stop in between games to explain some basic strategies. Although I was surprised that we had to, I guess I shouldn’t have, as most hadn’t played before. The two key ones were:
  1. Get the disc to a power position just in front of the goal.
  2. Position yourself on defense like you’re playing basketball, not ultimate.

Now, the first of these may be partially or mostly dependent on the style of offense and defense that we play, which is largely unchanged since we won $2500 at the Inaugural Goaltimate tournament in San Diego in 1999. Atlanta had great success against us at the Goaltimate Grand tournament by setting up 5-10 yards outside the goal and extending the defense, but otherwise we’ve not really gone with any setup much different from “get it in front”, and the defense is generally “clog the front”. But perhaps this is due to offensive success at the fast break, quickly taking advantage of any defense that extends all the way out to the clear line (and fails to get the turnover). Hmm, another factor is that probably half of all goaltimate games played in the Boston area in the last 10 years have been in the snow, which acts as a great impediment to wanting to run a lot. Whatever the reason, we tend to play half-court.
For defensive positioning, we face-guard a lot when we play ultimate but that is deadly in goaltimate. Even when the defender does more triangulation, the basic position is between the thrower and the receiver. In goaltimate, the default has to be between the receiver and the point beneath the center of the arch, facing the clear line with body turned to the outside. But some were initially playing even with or in front of the receiver, allowing the receiver a clear path to the goal for a leading pass.
There was also a little bit of unawareness of feet, with at least two uncontested, not that difficult catches coming with a receiver just beyond the goal.

We played again today and though it was better, there was still a little more faceguarding than is good. We also got plenty of good experience at dealing with bad calls from the other team, and one of our games ended up with both teams declaring themselves the winner.

I suggested once or twice that we ought to play a full game (or even a point) completing following the rules, but then I thought, "what's the point?" other than to prove a point. Notable violations would include miniscule travels, saying "stall" or just "one" instead of "stalling", invasion of body space, and offsides by both teams if playing ultimate. I vacillate between being a rules lawyer and a hippie. Most of the time, I end up following the rules myself, noting others violations, and doing nothing about them other than an occasional snide remark.

Got off one good zing as a teammate was misintepreting the rules on a few occasions, as he does with the golf rulebook. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Jordan." Alex laughed, as did I, and that's all that matters.

Anyway, any comments on goaltimate strategy?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Another year, another title

The Cougars rallied to win the B Division playoffs in the Sudbury Men’s Modified Fast-Pitch Softball League. We lost the first game in the series 18-14, then in the second game hung on for a 9-8 victory as the potential game-winning run took a called third strike, setting the stage for our heroics. Copying the template that won us the C league championship two years ago, we went down big (8-1), began rallying with a Parinella home run, and scored several in the last inning to win it.

[Quick rules: 10 fielders, fast-pitch but with no windmilling, no leading or stealing, “courtesy” runners allowed for gimps, everyone bats, otherwise regular rules except for the occasional 6 feet high/4 feet wide strike zone. We averaged about 10 runs per 7 inning game this year.]

The final inning was as boring as a comeback could be. Down three, we got a bunt single, two outs, a bloop, an infield single, three outs, and another single up the middle, followed by complete dejection from the bitter opposing captain, who normally pitched for the team but got relegated to catcher due to wildness in his previous outings (roughly two walks per inning in 5 games against us this year).

Our team got outhomered 35-7 this year, and even outscored 218-208 despite putting up a 12-8 record (4-1 in the playoffs). We had three blowout losses (16-1, 11-1, 16-4) and no blowout wins (biggest was 15-9).

I put up a discouraring offensive line of .412/.424/.588 (BA/OBP/SLG), not very far off from the team line of .397/.468/.518. In a high run environment like this (about 1.5 runs per inning), slugging is less important than in baseball, since each runner is more likely to score. Previous years:
2006: .535/.549/1.070
2005: .439/.455/.756
2004: (just 2 games) .667/.571/1.333
2003: .536/.567/1.000
career: .508/.523/.958, an extra base hit every 4.2 AB

This year I just could not hit the ball squarely, with just two HR, a gift 2B and 3B, and a smattering of hard-struck singles and line outs in 51 AB. I figured out the end problem (bat is hitting bottom of ball, popping it up) and the preceding cause (right shoulder too low) but could not get at fixing the root cause (too upright of a swing plane). I can't say that I tried to fix it with practice, as almost all my swings all season were in games (took a few swings in BP a couple times, made it to a cage about a week before the end of the year). It was my most frustrating season in ball since age 11 when my coach thought he had all these hot shot 12 year olds.

On the plus side, this was easily my best fielding season, aided in large part (I think) by the purchase of a new glove. I had been using a Bobby (yes, Bobby) Bonds baseball outfielder glove purchased in the '70s, and the larger softball never seemed to bounce too easily into it, leading to a fair number of imperfectly fielded grounders. But I got a new softball infielder's glove for Father's Day and immediately noticed a difference, and fielded practically every grounder cleanly the rest of the season. That combined with my strong arm and above-average range led to a high Range Factor/Zone Rating/Plus-Minus/pick your advanced fielding metric.

Just like completion percentage in ultimate, fielding percentage in baseball or softball is only telling when other things are equal, and they usually aren't. Even in a high-quality league like the majors, the variation in errors at a position is significantly smaller than the variation in number of plays made, even after correcting for opportunities. Advanced fielding metrics today calculate on a play-by-play basis, comparing the fielder in question to a league average on balls hit in that area at that speed.

The parallel to ultimate stats is that an individual's contribution to scoring goals and avoiding turnovers is only partly captured by the number and percentage of passes he completes. A guy who clogs or cuts at bad angles is every bit the turnover machine as a teammate without a forehand, yet might show up high in the throwing stats. An effective cutter could actually appear worse relative to his teammates because he always provides them an easy target while never getting to throw to himself. And at a higher level, throwing percentage is to some extent simply a choice, inversely related to the yards per throw.

So, I actually got a little belligerent at the bar afterwards when discussing fielding, as one of my teammates was listing errors as a proxy for how well the team fielded, so I countered with "plays not made" (which I actually listed as "errors"), including what would have been just a single had he cut it off before it hit the gap, and a hard-hit ball that the third baseman couldn't field, and a short fly that fell in, etc. There are many more of those in a game than errors, and even if each is only a 50/50 proposition while errors happen on balls that should be outs 95% of the time, the net number of extra outs is greater due to plays not made.

And I would be remiss if I didn't trumpet the triumph of our demographic in this game. we have two guys younger than 35, and our pitcher is 62 (but still throws hard and locates the ball well), while our opponents were probably a median age of 22, with many of the players members of the state champion high school baseball team a few years ago.