Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell Won't Shut Up About The Full-Court Press

And to my mind, he shouldn't. He's right.

Gladwell's part of a discussion on today in which he expounds more about the inflexibility of pro teams to adopt unorthodox strategies to win.

It's not just basketball. Last football season, sports commentators went crazy when the Miami Dolphins started using a "Wildcat" offense-- using the quarterback position as more than just a passer or a guy that hands the ball off. The Dolphins strategy paid off-- a team that finished last in the AFC East the previous year suddenly won the division... despite fielding a quarterback that was outright dropped by his former team.

It was impressive enough a display that EA Sports is even including a "Wildcat" playbook in its Madden X game coming out this year.

Of course, while some NFL teams began instituting their own "Wildcat"-style plays (if only as "trick" change-of-pace plays), there was still evidence that the powers that be are reluctant to celebrate innovation: the two-quarterback, 11-receiver A-11 offense was banned by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

I asked blog readers to chime in on their winning sports strategies that are puzzlingly not-used by the pros. No one really offered any. So here's mine:

Golf: Happy Gilmore Tee-offs

There's nothing in golf's rules that say you can't tee off like this:

But, as the New York Times reported yesterday, driving like that can actually increase a drive's distance by quite a lot.
It turned out that Harrington generated about 7 miles per hour more club head speed with his driver doing it Happy’s way, and he increased his usual drive of 296 yards by about 30 yards.
A long video of how it works, here.

Sure, messing up would earn a lot of laughs. But with enough practice, you're telling me that a skilled golfer can't pull this off? If it means turning a Par 4 into a Par 3, then why wouldn't you at least try??

Football: The No-Huddle

Peyton Does It

The Colts do it. The Patriots do it. They don't huddle before the play, they just launch into the next one. The result? The opposing defense can't get the right personnel in. They get tired. They get confused.

Now, there are times you want to control the clock. Keep your defense off the field for some rest. But why not use the no-huddle more as a surprise? First down, you use a huddle. Second down, you huddle. But then on third and short, you fake walking back to the huddle, but quickly turn around and hike the ball. Chances are, you'll catch the defense sleeping.

Why don't teams do this all the time???

Ice Hockey: Stop Fighting

Sean Avery's A Douche

I never played ice hockey. But I do watch it. And one thing that consistently baffles me is fighting. Don't get me wrong: I love it. Goalie fights especially. But it seems like fighting is a losing strategy.

In today's NHL, starting a fight carries a 2:00 penalty on top of a 5:00 penalty for fighting. That means, at the very least, the team that starts the fight will be a man down for two minutes.

Yet, teams stockpile "enforcers," guys who do little more than skate and punch. They claim its to defend their stars from dirty play. But isn't that what the refs are for? And in what backwards bizarro world does purposely putting your team at the wrong end of a power play get revenge for a cheap shot on your star player?

Most sports tell players to avoid penalties. Hockey is the one sport that signs players who intentionally cause them.

Baseball: Using Your "Closer" Whenever

More Mo

Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of the last decade. His career ERA is 2.30. He's compiled 488 saves. When he's on the mound, hitters rarely do damage. Yet, the most innings he's ever pitched in one season was 107.2, back in 1996. His ERA that year? 2.09. Oh, and by the way, the Yankees won the World Series that year.

My point? If Mariano is so good, why not put him in when the game is on the line... which isn't always the ninth inning.

On May 6th, Mariano did pitch the ninth... in a tie game against the Tampa Bay Rays. But then the Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, took Mo out in the tenth. Phil Coke promptly let up the game-deciding home run. Why couldn't Mo pitch two innings? Shouldn't a major league reliever be able to pitch more than one inning?

The day before, May 5th, Mariano didn't even get in the game. Although maybe he should have. Against the Red Sox, down 4-3 in the top of the eighth inning, the Yankees still had the game within reach. Then the Red Sox got Jason Bay on base due to an error. Bay stole second. He moved to third on a ground out. To score a run, all the Sox had to do was hit one marginally deep to the outfield. The Yankees walked J.D. Drew to set up a possible double play.

But they stayed with reliever Albaladejo. They didn't go to Rivera, their best pitcher, even though he would only have to get two more outs than he usually would.

Albaladejo gave up the sacrifice fly. And then a single. 6-3 Boston.

Why not put your best reliever in when you need him? Especially in the eigth, when he'd only be pitching 2 more outs than normal. Is that 2/3 of an inning really going to destroy Mariano's arm?

No. Closers should get a new name. I like Stoppers. They stop the bleeding.

Any other winning sports strategies that teams don't use? Drop me a comment.

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