Articles by Joe Sheehan

A listing of all the articles written by Joe Sheehan for the RotoWire Blog.

Fisher Fail

Twelve hours later, it still doesn’t make any sense.

Jeff Fisher had a very small chance to help his Titans pull off a miracle comeback win against the Colts last night. With just under three minutes to play, down nine points, his offense was on the field with the Titans holding one time out. With just one timeout left, and needing two scores, the Titans’ path to a win had to involve recovering an onside kick. There wasn’t sufficient time or time-outs remaining for the Titans to kick away after a score. There was no way to tie or take the lead on this possession. The only thing that mattered was getting to a second possession, which would mean an onside kick, which would mean a score of any type.

Over the next two minutes, Kerry Collins chipped away for 50 yards, moving into field-goal range with just under a minute to play, a first-and-10 at the Colts’ 24-yard-line. There was some argument for kicking a field goal right now. After all, the first score was somewhat irrelevant: the Titans’ chance to win the game was wrapped up entirely in their recovering an onside kick. (This cannot be stated enough times, although I will test that theory within this post.) On the other hand, this is a fairly standard situation, and given that the Titans had a timeout in hand, about a minute left and the ball approaching the end zone, there was value in playing for the touchdown and needing only to pick up about 30 yards on the second possession to reach field-goal range.

The Titans ran three first-down plays. The first two produced an exchange of five-yard penalties and ran 13 seconds off the clock. The third was an eight-yard dump to Javon Ringer on which the rookie was tackled in bounds. This forced the Titans to call their final timeout with 32 seconds left.

This dramatically changed the equation. Having lost their final timeout, the risk of running additional plays increased dramatically, as the cost in time would be high should another player be tackled in bounds. In addition, with 32 seconds left and no time outs — and a minimum of eight seconds required for a touchdown play and an onside kick — it was unlikely that the Titans could, on their second possession, produce a viable field-goal attempt starting from their 40 with 24 or fewer seconds remaining. Seeming to recognize this, Fisher actually sent Rob Bironas on to the field during the timeout, then called him back and put his offense back on the field. This was his first, but not his worst, mistake.

On second-and-two, Collins connected with Bo Scaife for eight yards and a clock stoppage. On first-and-goal, Collins hit Justin Gage over the middle just shy of the end zone, and when Gage was tackled at the two, the Titans’ nightmare scenario had kicked in. Collins rushed to the line and clocked the ball with ten seconds remaining.

This is where Fisher basically threw the game. Again: the Titans cannot tie on this possession. They must possess the ball twice to change the outcome. There is, throughout this drive, the idea that you’d rather need a field goal rather than a touchdown on the second possession, and so long as you’re not in fourth-down situations, you should continue to pursue that goal. However, once inside 30 seconds without timeouts, the chance that you can get a field goal with the second possession dwindles rapidly. You need at least one play in a situation where the sidelines will be well-guarded, and as bad as the Colts are defensively, they’re not the Bengals. Once inside 20 seconds, there’s basically no chance to kick a field goal on the second drive. You will have to hope for a touchdown on that second possession, so you may as well get to it.

With ten seconds left, you can do the math. If you kick the field goal from the two, you’re certain to make it — it’s an extra point — and it will take one to two seconds, leaving you time for an onside kick and, if you possess the ball, a Hail Mary. It’s a small chance of winning, but it’s your best chance. If you run a play and score, that will take at least four seconds, and you then run a greater risk of the clock running out during the onside kick. If you run a play and do not score, the game is over, because the clock will run out on either the subsequent play or the onside kick, and you will never get another snap. However, in terms of your chance to win the game, there is no difference between a field goal and a touchdown, because you will be throwing a Hail Mary even if you snag the onside kick!

By running a play with ten seconds left rather than kicking a field goal, Jeff Fisher quit. He made the decision that he would rather lose by two than by six, even if losing by six gave him a tiny chance of winning by one. I have absolutely no idea what would make someone think this way, and if you dare cite some fifth-tier tiebreaker allow me to note that the first tiebreaker is "how many games did you win?"

My primary expertise is baseball, and heaven knows that the state of MLB managing is pretty poor. Managers don’t understand very basic concepts of resource allocation and the value of events, and they buy into archaic notions long debunked by oceans of data. NFL coaches, though…as a group they combine cowardice and incompetence in a way that your average U.S. Representative has to admire. We see this every single week, but on Thursday night, we saw it boil down to one very clear option: lose by less, or try to win. Fisher chose the former.

Picks, 10|FRONTS|28|FRONTS|10

I guess I could have tacked on "over 5.5" last night, but it seemed that would have put too many units in play. Tonight, many of the same factors that led to the Giants’ big win are in play, primarily their ability to beat up left-handed pitching. I think we’ll see, if not the same number of runs scored, another good night for the black and orange as they take advantage of C.J. Wilson. I’m more enthused about the over, given that both teams worked their pens last night and that both these pitchers were among the most fortunate during the season in categories such as batting average on balls in play and HR/FB rate.

Giants -113, 1.5 units
Giants over 7 (-105) three units

Total runs + hits + errors in game over 24.5 (-105), one unit

Picks, 10|FRONTS|27|FRONTS|10

The postseason has not gone very well. I should say the Division Series, although had I continued the project into the NLCS, I might be in the red for the year.

I admittedly still owe a "lessons learned" post, and I will get that up, probably after the postseason and my annual Arizona Fall League trip. This blog did fall by the wayside a bit lately, a function not of any lost love for Rotowire…well, Liss is annoying…but all the work I’ve been doing for SI, and my newsletter.

I think there’s a real opportunity tonight, though, and I want to get this up early enough to take advantage of it. There’s an idea out there that Cliff Lee has some special ability to pitch in the postseason. It’s wrong; Lee is a great pitcher who has had a series of fantastic postseason starts. The two are different, and that difference creates an advantage. The Rangers are favored tonight entirely because of Lee. They’re on the road, facing the two-time Cy Young Award winner, down a bat in their lineup, using a starter in Lee who, while very talented, is a southpaw facing a team that is loaded with right-handed power.

The key for me is that Lincecum is being underrated, and beyond that underrated against this particular team. Lincecum eats right-handed batters, and thanks to Ron Washington, he’ll face six of them, plus a pitcher. There’s no rationale outside of "Cliff Lee is super duper!!!" to favor the Rangers tonight, and that view completely misses that the other guy has been better in every season of their careers.

Giants +116, three units.
Giants -1.5 (+260), .5 units
Giants to have highest-scoring inning, +190, .5 units


This is my overall pick, so…

Rangers in seven, +450, .5 units

Picks, 10|FRONTS|8|FRONTS|10

The Rays’ no-show has been costly, and I have to say I’m pretty shocked. Forget the checked-swing controversy; they have scored one run in the two games, and no amount of umpiring makes up for that.

I picked the Phillies in four, and tonight’s the game I see the Reds winning. They have enough left-handed pop to get to Roy Oswalt, and once the bullpens get involved, they have a big edge.

Cincinnati +181, one unit
Cincinnati over 7.5 (-110), 1.5 units

The over opened at 7, but I didn’t get to it in time.


San Francisco -135, 1.5 units.

Batting fifth, the center fielder, Melky Cabrera.

Picks, 10|FRONTS|7|FRONTS|10

The Rays’ game pick and 3-0 future pick went down early, as Cliff Lee escaped a first-inning jam with some help from Tim Welke and went on to throw seven excellent innings. Since I think the Rays are the better team, it stands to reason that I’ll be back on them today, as well as jumping on a bet that I should have made yesterday and didn’t.

Tampa Bay -130, two units. James Shields is much better than his ERA indicates, which is the biggest reason for this play.

New York (AL) -115, one unit. Still like the left-hander against the Twins, and Carl Pavano has been living on the edge all year long.

I lean to both overs, but will stay off both.


Giants -160, two units. The gap between these teams over the course of the season was one game. The gap between them right now is much, much greater than that.

Picks, 10|FRONTS|6|FRONTS|10

The end of the regular season was a mess, so I shut it down with about 10 days left. The final tally means that if you followed me completely on every call, you made a 25|PERCENT| return for the year. Based on the time invested, I project that the required unit size necessary to make it worthwhile for me would have been something between $200 and $300 per, requiring a bankroll of $20,000 to $30,000 as a conservative estimate.

I’ll eventually get into lessons learned, I promise. Today, though, with "winning tonight’s game" back as the primary goal for all the teams on the schedule, I’m back to continue the project. At least for today, I’m going to stay away from the prop bets that tend to come up for the postseason, but we may get into those a bit over the next couple of weeks. Also, series bets are available, and can be interesting value propositions.

The latter comes up when looking at the Reds/Phillies series. I think the Phillies will win, as just about everyone alive does. That said, they haven’t made the Division Series matchup where one team is a 3-1 favorite over the other. The Phillies are -300 and climbing, which is just a terrible number. So with that said, you look at the flip side, the Reds at +250 (big vig at these numbers), and given that they have better than a 30|PERCENT| chance to win the series, there’s value there. It’s comparable to my fetish for taking big numbers in the regular season, where the odds are overstating the difference between any two teams in any one baseball game. There’s value in the Reds at +250, and therefore, I think it’s worth putting some units on.

The other series price that’s interesting is Rays -145. The Yankees and Rays played possum in September, and I think that’s affected the perception of both teams. The Rays are a lot better than the Rangers are, so much so that I have them sweeping. They’d only need to be 3-2 to win to make this bat value, and I think it’s higher than that, as much as 63|PERCENT| or 64|PERCENT|.

Series picks:

Reds +250, one unit.
Rays -145, three units
Rays in three (+475), .5 units

Game Ones are hard, because the quality of the pitchers is so high. The Rays/Rangers total has slipped to 6 1/2, which is a number I often like to go over because the balance of strategies will often lead to a 3-3 tie even with good pitchers on the mound. If I like the Rays at -145 and also like them to sweep, David Price at -130 would seem to follow logically. The other two games don’t have much, although I’d look at the Yankees/Twins over if it slipped to 7. The Yankees’ offense and the Twins’ poor range could combine for a lot of runs.

Day’s picks:

Tampa Bay -130, one unit.

For in-depth analysis of every postseason game, please check out my subscription newsletter. For $15 you get the best postseason breakdowns you’ll find anywhere, For excerpts and more information:

Picks, 9|FRONTS|23|FRONTS|10

With 11 days left, I’m now comfortably at a point, up about 26 units, where I probably can’t blow a positive season. I’ll do some postgame next week. Suffice to say that I do have some regrets about my season, and some significant lessons learned. The nut graf is this, though: I think a committed, disciplined "stathead" can beat the books.

Tonight, again, a light night:

Colorado -102, 1.5 units. Fading the sweep, to some extent. A flyball, righthanded pitcher, in Ian Kennedy, is as good as it will get for the Rockies, and they’re just this side of desperate. Maybe Huston Street will pitch, instead of being saved for winter ball.

Oakland +115, one unit. The Rangers’ offense continues to struggle, and l’m not completely sold on the idea that Cliff Lee has been magically cured.