Poker & Lifestyle Blog
As i write this on April 3rd, the Kansas City Royals are only one game back from first place. They are on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time since they won the World Series back in 1985.
As i write this on April 3rd, the Royals are on pace to lose 162 games.
Both statements are 100% accurate.
In those forgettable 28 years of no postseason baseball I have entered this world with a modest amount of hair, grown a full head of hair, and then subsequently lost it during this 28 year run of futility. Are those things related? Would i have flowing locks in New York?
Tis the beauty of Spring baseball, where optimism or skepticism can seem totally justified. For myself i'm always dressed for the sunny weather until storm clouds roll in. Spring training stats are always inflated and its very easy to look at stats of individual players and team records and get excited.
Exhibit A) The team your rooting for wins the league its in during Spring Training (what the Royals have done this year) and although you know its just Spring Training you think to yourself, "Well its better to be playing well and winning games than not right? My team is in a groove and rolling downhill heading into Opening Day. Would it be better to be losing?"
Exhibit B) Your team isn't exactly playing well, perhaps your a Phillies fan and Roy Halladay is getting shelled topping out at 88mph. Your reaction. "Ahhh its Spring Training it doesn't mean anything, the goal isn't to win games but to work on your deficiencies and stay healthy and settle position battles, the game isn't managed to win its structured to evaluate talent."
It becomes very easy to interpret Spring Training through any lens but at the end of the day most people seem to be optimistic. Why not? Its April right?
As it relates to Royals fans' optimism, P.T. Barnum usually has the last laugh come June when the Royals have effectively been eliminated from contention.
"There's a sucker born every minute."
In Kansas City, there's a lot of suckers spotted every Spring.
Despite a very reliable historical record to suggest the opposite, i always get excited during the Spring. There's always been a bevy of prospects coming around the bend which makes Spring Training all the more exciting because there's that unknown factor of what these players are going to become. As a Royals fan thats what you're left hoping for. We have to grow our own stars. We can't buy em'.
Last Spring Eric Hosmer was perhaps the most hyped prospect in all of baseball. He had the elite pedigree of a top ten overall prospect, blending plate discipline with power & the ability to hit for a high average while being an above athlete who can defend well. There wasn't a blemish on his body of work and playing well the previous half season only lit the fuse for the bomb Royals fans were expecting to explode last year. I remember listening to a national baseball podcast before the season had started and Hosmer was someone analysts tabbed as a darkhouse AL MVP candidate, envisioning a situation where the Royals broke through and Hosmer had that monster season. That actually was a good call, they just picked the wrong prospect, it was 20-year-old Mike Trout. The Las Vegas Hilton even had a line set on Hosmer's over/under total for home runs which is an honor in of itself as only a handful of players deemed relevant to garner action make the proposition sheet. The fact that an unproven youngster from Kansas City made that sheet speaks to the buzz he'd created.
Then the 2012 season happened. Hosmer hit two bombs in his first series against many experts projected World Champs, the Anaheim Angels. The Royals roar was beginning to build as they took 2 of the 3 on the road in Anaheim. It was about time right? Finally a Royals prospect that didn't take years to water....wait.... and bloom like Alex Gordon. This was our Ryan Braun, our Prince Fielder, an elite prospect who became an elite player from jumpstreet. Then the Royals reality check bounced and Hosmer's play plummetted....HARD. The Royals had a 10-game home losing streak to start the season, putting Hosmer and the Royals in a funk they could never recover from. Hosmer's 2012 season line, .232 batting average & only 38 extra base hits over 152 games. Oh yeah, if you bet under on Hosmer's 22.5 homers, you were collecting tokens without much of a sweat as he finished with 14 homers & tallied a meager five homers in the second half.
That's what they call a sophomore slump i suppose. Welcome to Kansas City cuz, where sports fans come to die.
Perhaps fueled by an extremely disappointing 2012 campaign, Royals General Manager Dayton Moore decided that he was tired of folding and waiting for a good run of cards to transpire. After all, he'd built up a good stack of chips from amassing a slew of prospects even objective observers afar were jelly off and this was the time to leverage that equity and to make a bold move. It was time to go all-in.
As a Royals fan, i was always extremely frustrated with the Royals mentality of never going all-in, never going for it. We were always the team trading away major league talent for minor league prospects. Phrases like "its a process" & "5-year plan" were the mission statements of this company. For Royals fans it wasn't "Wait and See" but "Wait and Wait". We'd waited for that Mark Teahen check to cash but as usual, Billy Beane knew it wouldn't. What was that P.T. Barnum line again?
I never thought i would be disgusted as a Royals fan that my team "went for it". But i'll never forget the moment the Royals traded Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and a few high ceiling lottery ticket prospects in former elite prospect Mike Montgomery and young hitter Jake Leonard. In return, the Royals finally addressed their glaring deficiency, starting pitching, bringing back James Shields (2 years) and Wade Davis (5 years). Add in re-signing Jeremy Guthrie who pitched well since being acquired in the second half and signing enigmatic but talented Ervin Santana and all of the sudden the Royals had amassed a rotation that perhaps isn't amazing but at least recognizable. When's the last time a casual baseball fan outside of KC would have heard of a few of our starters before?
My main issue with the move is that it didn't really transform us into a playoff team, although i agree it definitely made us closer to a playoff team or put another way, gave us a higher percentage chance to be a playoff team. When the trade happened i thought and even posted on Facebook "The Royals just mortgaged their future to be like a 78-win team" which is funny because thats about exactly what Vegas has projected for the Royals this season and given they take in millions and millions of dollars based off these lines, i tend to have a very healthy respect for the numbers they come up with. If a number is off by much, very sharp and well capitalized bettors will pound on any market inefficiency. The Indians and White Sox are projected right at about 80 wins and the Tigers are projected at 93. After this bold move, the Royals are still on the outside looking in to make the playoffs which effectively comes down to winning the division, which sportsbooks have at 7-to-1 odds against which too me is nowhere near enough to justify trading away Wil Myers and company. We won 72 games last year, how likely is it really that we leapfrog a Tiger team projected to win 93 games and two other teams in the White Sox and the Indians that are right there with us. Seems like a pretty big illogical leap.
To be fair, Shields is not a one-year deal, and we rate to be an even better team next year that should have more than have a punchers chance to make the playoffs but to me i think its foolish to trade away all that cost controlled talent for what effectively comes down to like a 15% chance to make the playoffs this year and a 25% chance to make the playoffs next year.
People also look at this trade very fundamentally wrong, they say, "Well if we didn't get Shields and Davis our rotation would give us virtually NO chance to contend this year. You have to start trying to win at some point, you have to change the culture," they say. That's a very valid opinion if you're one to look at Point A and Point B and assume there's only one path between those two points. There were other ways to upgrade our rotation without giving up all that talent. Shaun Marcum, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, etc were all available during free agency. I'll not include Anibal Sanchez or Zack Greinke here, who to be fair were too expensive for this small market team. While all those affordable guys may not be as good as Shields, is it unrealistic to think they can be 75-90% of Shields? Can you envision a scenario where they outpitch Shields?
Not only did we trade away perhaps the most talented young hitter in the game but he directly addressed a massive hole we have in right field replacing Jeff Francouer, who according to sabermetric stat geeks was the worst position player in baseball last year. Not only was he not productive and a disappointment, he was historically terrible. If we traded away a third base or first base prospect i could live with it way easier as it has way less of an impact on our team in the present and future for obvious reasons but trading away Myers for Shields and Davis is addressing one need at the expense of another.
Trevor Bauer was an uber elite starting pitching prospect who got traded away for pennies on the dollar basically because of personality issues with the Diamondbacks brass, not talent. Why weren't the Royals closing in on that one? Whats the harm in taking a shot there? We could have given up way less than Myers to get Bauer. Perhaps your argument is Moore knows more than i do and your contention is that FA pitchers wouldn't sign with the Royals which is a very fair and reasonable point i think fans fail to realize very often. Your point is the Royals had to make a trade that hurt to get a valuable proven starter but i have a hard time believing that at least one of those starters would not have signed with the Royals. Edwin Jackson committed to a lousy Chicago Cubs team, a team projected to win only 72 games this year and doesn't rate to be contenders in the near future. Marcum signed with an equally helpless Mets team, who just traded away its proven star R.A. Dickey for prospects. I'd much rather trade Cheslor Cuthbert or whatever package of prospects for Trevor Bauer and sign Edwin Jackson whose 5-year deal is about as much money as we're committing to Shields and Davis while also still having the best hitting prospect in baseball replacing a black hole in right field for seven years at an extremely favorable contract.
Everyone says prospects are very unpredictable which is a true statement but is one that is painting in very broad and misleading strokes. Not all prospects are created equally and when looking at prospects the caliber of Myers, they aren't that hit or miss really, quite often they hit and hit big. There's a big difference between a guy who ranks as the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball or No. 58. Don't put every prospect in the same bucket. Its a great way to frame an argument to look right but it's not very accurate when you actually look at it critically.
Clouding this questionable decision is many factors that i think led to the rash move made not in the best interest of the Royals but in the best interest of the man pulling the trigger, Dayton Moore. This is a GM who hasn't had success at the major league level yet in his first run as a GM. He's fully aware that the next bad season by the Royals could be his last as a GM. Does Moore make this "Win Now" decision if he's signed on for the next ten years? I really wonder. If Moore made this move because he has real doubts about Myers than i'm fine with it. If he thinks Myers is closer to the "Can't Miss" prospects that missed like Delmon Young or Jeremy Hermida than he is Ryan Braun than i'm on board. But if he traded away Myers thinking he just traded away an All-Star caliber bat for some much needed starting pitching than i have a massive issue with the trade for above stated reasons. There were other ways to acquire starting pitching while keeping this potential cost controlled All-Star hitter. And you could make a very strong argument that the window to gamble and make a bold move for the present isn't even this year, its next year at the earliest. But guess what, Moore's contract is up at the end of 2014. For him its time to crap or get off the pot and this prospect dump is one that stinks for the future of the Royals.
The unnoticed and often unmentioned part of this trade is Wade Davis, who the Royals have for five years. He's been decent as a starter but was pedestrian enough to lose his job due to finding himself in the best rotation in baseball. He elevated his stuff last year, however, dominating in the bullpen increasing his strikeout rate by leaps and bounds from his days as a starter. Will he be able to maintain that newfound stuff in a starters role or will he return to the guy who would be a decent No. 4 starter on most staffs? Given i don't think the Royals have that great of a chance to make the playoffs in Shields two years as a Royal, i think Moore wins or loses this trade mostly on the back of Davis, who has the chance to be the most valuable player in this trade, potentially anchoring the rotation for five years. If he flounders as a starter, he will find himself of not much use in a loaded young bullpen. That salary won't play well as a reliever either as his options won't be exercised in the event he's a reliever.
Another element at play in this controversial trade is Moore's love affair with Francouer, a player who he had a part in drafting back in Atlanta when Francoeur was a first-round pick in 2002. Francoeur bloomed into the top prospect of a very talented system and was one centerpiece of the prospects known as the Baby Braves who played a key role in a 90-win campaign along with backstop Brian McCann.
Oh...there was another Baby Brave you may recognize. Kyle Davies. Remember when Davies kept getting shelled but somehow kept getting ran out there every five days as a Royal and nobody could figure out how he kept getting innings.
You can accuse Moore of a lot of things but you can't say he isn't loyal.
We all know coaches, scouts, executives and GM's have a strong desire to prove themselves right and often have an unhealthy soft spot in their heart for players they draft high or trade for.
See Luke Hochevar.
See Matt Cassel.
As good as Moore felt about bringing Francoeur to the Royals when he had a good first year with the club, he must have felt even worse about extending him off that euphoria and seeing him absolutely nose dive the next year in year one of a two-year deal. Promoting Myers to the major league roster this season would move Moore's boy to a bench role or less, putting Francouer in a position where it would be impossible for him to make good on the extension Moore gave him. Trading away Myers conveniently keeps the love affair with Francouer alive and makes it possible for Francouer to earn and validate the promise ring Moore gave him after their thrillingly successful romance in 2011.
Moore has stubbornness in spades but Francouer was a hand he needed to flush.
As i'm writing this i'm watching the Royals and they are currently on the verge of losing yet another game and starting the season 0-2. They scored zero runs on Opening Day. They have two runs heading into the ninth. It's always been easy to point at the Royals lack of success recently due to their woeful starting pitching but what goes unnoticed is that the offense has been yielding less runs than the parts would seem to indicate. Why is this? Part of it is the Royals inability to work counts and draw walks. The Royals are always in the basement in walks drawn. Manager Ned Yost also loves giving away outs. Its a key element in scoring runs to him. He loves giving away outs via stolen base attempts and bunting. When will he realize this is an antiquated way to manage a baseball team. It's typing on a typewriter. Its watching a movie on a beta tape. Its watching standard definition television. Given that archaic approach, it should come as no surprise that Yost found a way to get canned as his team was in the midst of a playoff hunt in mid-September!! It was a good move. The Brewers recovered and made the playoffs. It takes a special kind of manager to get fired on September 15th during a playoff run.
The Royals lost.
They've managed to score two runs in two games.
To quote one of my favorite movies Major League
"We're Shittay again"
As i've mentioned earlier its April and my mood will not be muffled. Not yet anyways. Given the Royals tremendous offensive potential with Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez all entering their prime or formative years, i just can't help but to realistically project our offense to take a pretty noticeable step forward. The Royals should have a tremendous defense with elite defenders at catcher, shortstop, center field and left field. Their not too shabby on the corner infield either with Moustakas and Hosmer having Gold Glove potential. The bullpen should be incredible. Kelvin Herrera led the majors in average fastball velocity last year and there's a stable of young flame throwers behind him in Tim Collins, Greg Holland, Aaron Crowe and Louis Coleman. There's still potent reinforcements in the minors. The rotation isn't great but it shouldn't be terrible either with a full season of Guthrie, Shields, Davis, and Santana , all who weren't on this roster Opening Day last year. Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy rate to give the rotation a shot of life at some point this season and contributions from prospects Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura can't be ruled out either.
No matter how bad a team is, its incredibly unlucky to lose twelve games in a row. When ten of those losses come at home its even more bizarre and of all the times to have that happen its psychologically the most destructive early and especially crushing when its the first homestand of a season when you're finally projected to break your losing ways. The Royals improvements in the rotation should make such losing streaks less of a possibility. Despite all of that poor luck and terrible starting pitching last year the Royals won 72 games and according to Pythagorus, an old wise man who knows a lot about baseball and stats, they rated to win 74 games last year. Keeping guys like Cain and Perez healthy for a full season, something that didn't happen last year, could go a long way in the Royals finally fulfilling their potential. Throw it all in a blender and i think this ends up being a refreshing yet ultimately disappointing 81-win postseason-less year.
I'll find something to do in October anyways. I've done it my entire life.
Once again i found myself in Europe in 2012 for the second year in a row. There's many things i deeply regret in my life, one of them is not traveling more when i was younger when i had plenty of opportunity to do so. I strongly encourage all of you to travel abroad, especially those who play poker for a living or any other job where its not incredibly difficult to take a few weeks off from work. Among the many perks of being a poker player is the flexibility it provides in our lifestyle. Not exercising this opportunity is truly a waste and i may go so far as to say is disrespectful to those hardworking people who would love to travel but aren't afforded the freedom that we have. Don't be rude.
There's so many interesting cultural differences and wrinkles that you're just never really are aware of unless you travel. It's really cool to be in a completely different environment and seeing the similarities and differences of life in different countries. One difference i noticed was how much traveling is emphasized over in Europe. From staying in the hostels (which i highly recommend over hotels) you come across a lot of young travelers in their early 20s and many of them finished college (or as they would say University, college there is like our high school afaik) and it almost seems like a part of their curriculum is to travel upon graduation. And when these people travel....they really travel. I'm not talking about a weekend in Vegas at the Hard Rock followed by a few days at the Grand Canyon, i'm talking about like a minimum of 6-months of traveling various different countries with a backpack and some ambition as their only essentials. Maybe i'm just a diva and i hang around people with similar tendencies but i don't know many people in America that just up and travel around like that. We get bent out of shape when our hotel doesn't have HBO in HD, or when we have one of those old-school box TVs or heaven forbid if our WiFi connection isn't strong enough to stream, let alone a temperamental shower with cold water which you will invariably come across in hostel life. This one girl i met in Ireland was telling me about her plans to travel around for two years after she graduates. This wasn't said with like a pie in the sky enthusiasm, her fingers weren't even crossed, this is happening. I can't imagine telling my Dad right after i graduated, "Yo cuz, college was fun, glad i got this diploma, but i'm just gotta roll out and walk the earth for a few years, i'll holler at these jobs when i get back in a few years. Break me off a few stacks and i'll hit you up on Skype." That would not fly in hardly any traditional American households that i've stepped foot in. You get your courtesy summer after graduating and that's about it. Anything "fun related" is gonna be paid for on your own dime. Time for work. Cue up the cubical. And as each month goes by after that courtesy summer, you're left feeling increasingly bad about not being employed. After all, you're really slowrolling your parents, who are just waiting to tell their friends or parents of your friends who they bump into at the grocery store what their little Johnny is up to. For parents of poker players, that little dance i feel like is a delicate one, each poker players' parents holds out hope and BS those they meet about little Johnny applying for jobs or whatever general answer they can come up with or whatever script they've rehearsed but at some point the levy breaks and the poker vocation is one they have to come to terms with when they speak of their kids whereabouts.
Another difference i noticed from traveling around Italy, France, UK, and Ireland was how different the restroom situation was. After walking around the city center area in Paris, i had to use the restroom, and for the first time i encountered pay restrooms. I believe it cost one or two euros which would be like two bucks. Shelling out money to facilitate a basic need like that made me feel like i had to double barrel it and also pinch off a download while i was there to get max value! Most of the sinks also use a foot pedal instead of a twisting knob like we use. I have to say i like the foot pedal game better. It's also funny how most restaurants or cafe's over their price food, beverages and service. Most restaurants and cafe's will have two different charges for whatever you get, there will be a dine-in charge and a to-go charge, obviously to-go being cheaper. I'm also pretty sure i remember it costing more to eat outside in a patio area as well i think at a few places.
I thought it was funny how in Paris outside most of the cafe's and coffee shops damm near every single person who was eating or drinking their cappuccino outside were all facing the street to watch the all the people and whatever goes on. I guess when paying extra for that outside seat they feel the need to soak in everything going on outside. In London, outside most of the bars, heaps of people drink their pints and smoke outside in the street. Oh yeah, people in Europe love saying the word heaps and sorted. When a situation is resolved its most definitely "sorted". The airport situation is a bit different over there as well, i'm a big fan of not having to de-shoe when going through the security check, i wonder why its not necessary over there but necessary here in the States. Oh yah and there's the tipping phenomenon. Yeaaaaah we tip a lot more money for everything here in America and we tip for way more services. In Australia when i got a taxi from the airport, the guy wouldn't accept a tip. When playing poker, the dealer's couldn't accept any tips either. As i understand it, pretty much in most restaurants where there's not a service fee added, tipping seems to be pretty optional, and if you decide to be above the rim generosity wise, a 10% tip is greeted with a very warm smile. It makes sense to me to make the employer and not the customer pay for its employees wage. However, not surprisingly as a result, the service in most situations is better in America as a result of the worker having more incentive.
Vincent Vega (John Travolta) also noted a few subtle differences between American and European life in probably my favorite movie of all-time in Pulp Fiction, "You know what the funniest thing about Europe is....it's just the little differences, I mean they got the same sh** over there that we got here its just a little different. You can walk into a movie theatre in Amsterdam and buy a beer and i ain't talking bout a paper cup i'm talking about a glass of beer and in Paris you can buy a beer in McDonalds."
True Dat Mr. Vega...True That.
I wouldn't be a poker player worth my salt without posting at least a few hands i've played or encountered along the way.
Persons of Interest: Phil Laak
This hand happened about eight months ago actually but it came to my mind the other day when playing with Mr. Laak again briefly. I'm sitting about 8k deep at 10/20 NL at the lovely Commerce Casino and Mr. Laak not too surprisingly has me covered. He's terribly partial to the teal 1k chips at the Commerce. Since this hand is a bit old there's a decent chance raise amounts & details can be slightly off for what its worth. Laak makes it $70 from middle position, gets two calls, i re-raise to ~$300 with AA, Laak calls, others fold. Flop is Ac7d8d, Laak checks, i bet ~$350, Laak gets familiarized with my stack and throws in a stack of teals, putting me all-in. I call rather happily and ask Laak if he wants to run it once or twice at which Laak, rather shrewdly i mite add, says he wants to run it only once. (For those unfamiliar, in all-in pots you can run out undetermined cards and extra time, say in this instance the pot is 16k, if we ran it twice it would create two 8k pots where there would be a turn and river resulting in one board, one 8k pot, and another turn and river for the other 8k.) The turn is the 3d and the river is a blank and Laak ships the pot with AdJd.
Persons of Interest: Freddy Deeb
Another hand which was played months ago but playing with Freddy Deeb recently reminded me of a hand we played. I need to start writing these hands down ASAP so i can preserve the details of the situation better. This hand is more fuzzy in a few spots but it was $10-$20NL, I can't remember if Deeb opened or called a raise preflop, i believe he opened, but he either opens and a few calls by the time it gets to me in bb or its opened and he is one of a few callers. In any event, i get AQ in the bb and re-raise to ~$400. Mr. Deeb calls like $300 more, others fold. Flop is JT2 and i bet ~$450 at which point Mr. Deeb looks at me... figures out what i had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and raises to like $1200 with like $1000 behind. I begrudgingly fold and Mr. Deeb shows like K4o no pair no draw.