Wampeters Foma And Granfalloons

This is the time of year when fans of those NFL teams that stunk out the joint in the previous season work themselves into a frothy lather over draft picks and which player in the draft is “the key” to making the playoffs next year. The fact is that most of those squads are far more than one player away from the playoffs is put aside in the spirit of seeing the glass as at least 50.1% full. Fueling that interest – - some might say pandering to it – - this time of year sees a spate of “mock draft” columns. Most of them are about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

One of the assertions made by many of the mock draft writers is that one need not draft a running back in the first round because there are gems to be found late in the draft – - which is unarguably correct. The problem is that the conclusion they draw from the presence of those “late round gems” is that running backs at the top of the draft need to be devalued. To look at the situation in a sort of objective fashion, I want to get away from the arguments that Arian Foster was an undrafted free agent while CJ Spiller, taken in the first round, has not performed to nearly Foster’s level. I think it is more informative to look at the running backs who gained 1000 or more yards last year.

With a 16-game schedule, a back needs to gain 62.5 yards per game to reach the 1000-yard level. If I counted correctly, 15 running backs did that in 2011; here is the breakdown as to how they were drafted:

    Round 1: 8
    Round 2: 3
    Round 3: 2
    Round 5: 1
    Undrafted Free Agent: 1

Looking at that distribution, I think the metaphor of finding a “gem” of a running back in the late rounds is very appropriate. You do not find them very often; but when you do, they are quite valuable. On the other hand, another way to look at it is this:

    Last year, about 85% of the running backs who gained 1000 yards for the season went in the top half of the draft.

One of my favorite authors was Kurt Vonnegut. One of his works – - a series of essays – - was Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons. I am not about to do a book review here but a “Foma” by Vonnegut’s definition was an idea that was taken to be factual by people who need simplicity in their lives. It may or may not be true, but believing it to be true causes no harm to anyone. I think the idea of not taking running backs early in the NFL draft is a current-day Foma.

The Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a 9-year contract worth $214M. That is not just a life-changing amount of money; that is a generational life-changing amount of money. Fielder is 27 years old and – - barring injuries of course – - should be a top-shelf hitter for most if not all of that contract. The fact that the Tigers are in the league that uses the DH makes Fielder’s utility to them potentially greater in the final years of this deal.

Regarding the 2012 season, the Tigers might be one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Prince Fielder can really only play first base; he plays hard but let me be generous and say that he does not have great range at the position. If he plays first base, that means Miguel Cabrera might show up at third base on some days. Picture in your mind a six-foot high traffic cone; that is about the range Cabrera would display as a third baseman. Moreover, while those guys anchor the infield, the Tigers might put Delmon Young somewhere in the outfield… On days when those three guys are playing the field together, the Tigers’ defense will be about as effective as was the Maginot Line in the early days of WW II.

The other thing that comes to mind when considering the Tigers’ signing of Fielder is that a bunch of AL teams seem to be loading up for a run at the AL pennant at the very least. In addition to the Tigers activities this winter:

    The Angels signed Albert Pujols for $240M
    The Texans signed Yu Darvish costing them more than $100M
    The Yankees and Red Sox are hardly penurious.

Those five teams look to be “all in” – - to use current jargon – - while the “Moneyball” guys in Oakland have chosen to demonstrate how they have “run the numbers” better than anyone else with a signing announced in today’s Transactions in the agate section of the Washington Post:

The A’s signed Jonny Gomes to a 1-year deal.

Just in case anyone is wondering how any player might be worth more than $200M to a team, the answer is that by himself, the player is not worth that kind of money. However, if a player can make a team into a consistent winner/contender for the World Series and possibly a World Series Champion, he does bring a lot of money to the team in an indirect way.

    Good teams fill the stadium regularly.

    The vast majority of people who go to games these days deck themselves out in official licensed team gear.

    Plenty of other people buy and wear that official gear too if the team is a winner.

If you stood back and looked at those fashion choices rationally, you might ask yourself what these chronological adults are thinking stocking their closets with a jersey or two that can cost more than $100 each where the value is contained in the name of a player on the back of the jersey. In fact, if you look at it rationally, you might want to take some of them aside and ask – - not necessarily in the politest tone of voice:

    What the Hell are you thinking?

Finally, I started off today mentioning teams that will have high draft picks in the NFL Draft come April. Here is a Tweet from Dan Daly of the Washington Times that I found through Facebook that explains the Washington Redskins’ situation in the NFL:

“It’s not just that the #Redskins are in last place — again. It’s that pro football still doesn’t have an NIT. #NFL”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  • Steve  On January 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I recall a foma example given by Mr. Vonnegut, “Prosperity is just around the corner.” The thought that “we are just one good running back away from the playoffs” follows the notion of foma pretty well.

  • Ed  On January 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Fielder may injure himself with a knife and fork. He’s scary big. I realize he is supposed to be a vegetarian, but he is likely contributing to deforestation…

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On January 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm


    There are lots of “truths” regarding the NFL that Professor Vonnegut might put in the category of “Foma”.

    “Run to set up the pass” – - or is it “Pass to set up the run”
    “Defense wins championships”

    You get the idea…


    The thing about Fielder that might concern me regarding a 9-year contract is if he suffers a serious knee/ankle injury. Rehab for such a thing could be problemmatic…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>